By Alyssa Stahr – Photos courtesy of Taman Powell, Ph.D.
An Australian living for the past 20 years in London, Taman Powell, Ph.D., not only worked in marketing for Procter and Gamble, but he also served as a strategy consultant for 10 years. Powell, a 20-year-long smoker and a lecturer in strategy and innovation, had no interest in electronic cigarettes—until he decided to holiday in Portugal to get away from the London gray. Once he saw a cigalike in the airport, he was taken on an exciting path of no return—into the world of vaping innovation.
VAPE: So, the cigalike was just an airport novelty to you at the time?
Powell: I grabbed it as sort of a novelty; it was a bit of rubbish. I started doing more research into this vaping subculture that I’d never heard of. I started trying all these things, and I got a great vape. I actually prefered it to smoking. Why is vaping the future? Because it’s better than smoking.
VAPE: And your journey as a vaper began …
Powell: It was somewhat sort of a typical journey. As a researcher, I found all of the devices a bit ugly and complicated; I wanted something a bit more easier to use. I started working on this idea that is sort of an espresso system, and that was about two years ago. I think the idea was sort of a simple idea— very small, good capacity, I wanted something that had some movement like a Zippo lighter or a pen. It took quite a long time, and it was quite a tough journey. In my opinion I think it’s quite beautiful; I think in terms of what I’m hoping for at the moment. I’m a big believer in vaping is massively better than smoking, but I think part of the problem in the current market is that it’s very male dominated. And the people who are getting quality vaping—you have to know too much and use something that’s a big and silly looking.
VAPE: And you’ve found that with XOLO?
Powell: It’s a vaporizer that lives up to the hype. Vaporizers and electronic cigarettes currently on the market are not powerful enough to help smokers quit. It’s the poor quality of most vaporizers and e-cigarettes on the market that is the real problem. I’ve designed a vaporizer that is simple to use, looks attractive and is high-performance. If you want to quit smoking, XOLO will help you. It’s simple—the better the device you use, the more likely you are to not smoke. We wanted a vaporizer that was easy to use, but it also was important to me for the product to look beautiful, because unless it’s something easy to use and also “cool,” the majority of people won’t use it—it’ll stay a niche pastime.
VAPE: What are some of XOLO’s features?
Powell: It’s about the size of 10 cigarettes. If you think of most vaping devices, they’re pretty similar—they have a coil, wick and you can play around with the resistance. It’s kind of the same thing, but it’s much more convenient and has a flavor pod that can last a week that you can pop in and out and use different flavors. There’s not clean out of tanks to get out the old flavor. It’s sort of anonymous; it fits into your day-to-day life. Given the coil is integrated into the flavor pod, it is disposed of, and it doesn’t get degraded. We can fine-tune the setup of the coil, customizing the setup for the specific liquid. It sort of guarantees the fidelity of the flavors.
YOLO try XOLO
Launched in early June on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform, XOLO is made from anodized CNC aluminum. The XOLO vaporizer is 50 percent smaller and 70 percent lighter than most vaping products. XOLO can be taken apart to switch flavor pods in just 10 seconds, while a simple dial on the bottom of the device can adjust the strength of the vape.
According to Powell, the coils are basically the Aspire Nautilus BVCs modified slightly for the XOLO.
“We will be customizing the resistance in the coil for the specific liquid, and of course you can easily vary the voltage/wattage with the dial on the bottom. We’ll also be monitoring coil improvements and integrating these into the pod design as they come through.”
Pods are 10 ml, and should last around a week for the non sub-Ohm crowd.
Fitting in the palm of your hand and about the size of a pack of 10 cigarettes, the device only needs to be charged every couple of days. Powell and his team also are curating a wide range of flavors— mints, desserts and fruits—for XOLO, which will be produced in the U.K. and the United States.
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VAPE: Let’s go back to the female demographic for a bit. There’s been a lot of talk about this being such a male marketed industry.
Powell: I hope it’s attractive to the female. My girlfriend won’t use any of the devices [currently on the market]. A lot of people vape with a poor-quality kit, and they don’t realize it’s of poor quality, and they don’t know why. I wouldn’t like to say it’s just women … but I would hope that it’s particularly appealing to women. If you walk down the street, most people are using cigalikes and eGos, but it is changing a bit. I think the broader market don’t use the high-performance devices because they are complicated. Most women think it’s too industrial looking and masculine. So, I think the product could particularly appeal to women, but I hope guys use it as well.
VAPE: What did you most want vapers to get out of the product during the trial and error phase?
Powell: It’s funny, because it’s one of those things where you look at the final design, and you say “That’s pretty obvious.” It took a long time, and it was quite tedious. It always seemed the end result was right around the corner; I didn’t think it would take this long of a time. The idea took two years, but when you look at each stage we went through there was great improvement. I think there will be a few pod systems coming up; it’s a logical product. We could’ve brought out one of our prototypes 18 months ago, but I think it was worth persevering to have something that was beautiful and small, and hopefully it was worth the wait.
VAPE: How did you come up with the name?
Powell: The name was almost driven a little bit by the logo, something styled that was graffiti-like. If you look at the branding and the positioning of vaping products, I don’t think they’re thought about that much. The biggest company in the U.K. is probably Totally Wicked, and I don’t think it was a brand they thought was going to be that big, and it evolved. Even a brand like Blu—it’s not a very interesting brand name. We thought about how we wanted to position this product.
VAPE: You’ve come a long way from that airport cigalike.
Powell: What is vaping? In essence it’s smoking without the bad stuff; we want smokers to switch to a healthier product. I’m convinced about vaping in general; I didn’t try Nicorette or go to a psychologist. It’s just nicer. It makes me very happy that I’m probably not going to die from lung cancer. That’s great, but I think it’s great that it’s just better for you.
We’re trying to convert smokers. In Breaking Bad, they’re talking that they only have 95 percent purity and the guy says, “We’re selling to meth heads, it really doesn’t matter.” I don’t think the way to sell a better product to a smoker is the right way to say, “Oh, you didn’t care, then.” You’re using this device because the flavors are amazing; you’re doing it because it tastes amazing, and because of that you stop smoking. Then it has this massive health benefit.
VAPE: Are there any future variation plans?
Powell: We’ve been through so many differentiations of the design, and we’re really happy where we ended up. I think there’s a couple of tweaks, but we don’t see any dramatic changes at the moment. Maybe a polycarbonate version at a cheaper price point. But, I think it’s largely going to be about getting it out there, getting a nice range of flavors; we’re looking at teaming up with artists because there are no economy of scales as far as they’re made. We want possibly graffiti art patterns across them, and maybe have people upload their own designs. We really want to make it so people can make the product their own and customize it.
If we’re thinking product improvement, typically, maybe better wicking, better air flow. Those are very easy to integrate into the pod as we move along. Hopefully it will end up as a collectible.
VAPE: Since you teach strategy, I’m curious. What’s your prediction for the future of the vaping market? Where do you think regulations will fall?
Powell: I work in a business school as a professor of strategy and innovation, and I’m actually doing research in the vaping market. I wanted to take a more active part and in policy. It should be endorsed by governments— doesn’t mean it will be. But I think there’s a couple of angles to this. There’s some very powerful companies that don’t want vaping to be successful. If we look at Big Tobacco, it’s a $750 billion industry worldwide. Historically, if you look at pharmaceutical companies and Big Tobacco, they are serious competitors that don’t want this product to be successful. I think there’s an issue there.
There’s a lot of very important parties that have a strong vested interest in killing vaping or to make it so regulated that you have to be a pharma company or Big Tobacco to make it work. But, if you look at the history of prohibition, it’s just too late. Vaping is just too big to ban. I think the other interesting thing about vaping is how it’s been dealt with all around the world. No one is quite sure of what it is. It’s been linked too close to smoking, which is a shame. I think the market is really complicated, and it’s really fascinating. I think we have enough research that vaping is massively more safe that smoking. It should seriously be endorsed and supported by governments and not overly regulated. I think it won’t die. I think people will realize it’s so much better than smoking. If the govt tries to ban it, it will go black market. They have the potential to be one of the biggest public health breakthroughs in the last 50 years, and I hope Big Tobacco will eventually die. Vaping is a really huge breakthrough, and I think it’s got a great future, although it’s not going to be easy.
To learn more about Taman Powell, Ph.D., visit tamanpowell.com. For more information about XOLO, visit http://xolovape.com/.