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Get Up Close and Personal(ized) with PAX Vaporizers

The Silicon Valley company hopes to revolutionize how we smoke.

PAX's Head of Brand Lauryn Livengood / photography via PAX Labs, Inc.

In our frenzied tech climate of dot.com startups, augmented reality interfaces, and AI-driven e-tailers, “disruption” is a relative term. What makes a truly innovative product, when every gadget company purports to offer a smaller, smarter, and easier device? PAX Labs, Inc. has a simple mission: make the experience of smoking better. It’s taking an entrenched social ritual and turning it on its head, much like how the iPod transformed music listening. Since launching with the PAX 1 in 2012, the Silicon Valley-based brand has become synonymous with intuitive operation, smart software, and category-defining industrial design. It doesn’t hurt that the devices are easy on the eyes, too. Offering a suite of experiences, from the PAX 3 dual-use vaporizer to the PAX Era pen-and-pod system, PAX is reimagining the aesthetics and hardware of smoking culture. Quiddity talked with Lauryn Livengood, PAX’s Head of Brand, about design-thinking methodology, cannabis culture, and how the brand credited with designing the “iPhone of vaporizers” continues to innovate.

PAX was founded in San Francisco by two graduates of the Stanford Design Program, and its current CEO Bharat Vasan is an established Silicon Valley power player. How integral is Silicon Valley culture to PAX’s philosophy of innovation and design?
I grew up in Silicon Valley and I watched it morph from orchards and farms into this place where problems are being solved and lives are being simplified. PAX vaporizers fit right into that ideology.

What was the state of the vaporizer industry when PAX came onto the scene in 2007?
When Adam [Bowen] and James [Monsees] launched Pax, they were creating solutions to improve the experience of smoking. The smoking industry hadn’t changed for hundreds of years, and it hadn’t experienced innovation in the ways that other common consumer goods had. PAX was always based in trying to improve the experience of smoking.

How has PAX contributed to defining and disrupting the vaporizer category?
One of our fundamental pillars has always been about quality experiences, and in order to achieve quality experiences you need high-quality parts. Alongside of innovative design, we’ve made sure that our vaporizers are reliable, durable, and built to last.

When we came out with PAX 1 in 2012, there was nothing else like it on the market. Volcano had been around for years, but as far as a durable and reliable portable vape brand, there really wasn’t anything that existed. As we’ve moved forward, I’ve seen this massive change, not just for the vaporization category but for the cannabis category in general. When I first came on board, we were running into challenges like finding PR firms that would work with us, finding creative agencies that would work with us. So I think that PAX in general has really been a leader in the normalization of the cannabis category. The design and the form factor of PAX has really helped folks who were maybe a little intimidated by the stigma of cannabis use.

The other core brand pillar is this idea of personalization. That’s where our app technology comes in. We’re really taking advantage of tech to affect the consumption experience.

PAX is a company that is looking to be a leader. We consider ourselves leaders, and you’ve got to walk the walk.

Can you speak more about how the app enables a personalized vaping experience?
The app enables different features depending on the model, so I’ll speak to the PAX 3 features. The app connects you to your device personally. You get to name it. One of my favorite features is that you’re able to lock the device from your phone, so if you have kids or annoying roommates that want to use your stuff, you can very easily lock the device so that other folks can’t use it. We’ve also created a set of modes that you can pre-set on your device, so if you’re looking for an opportunity to save your battery for example, we have an efficiency mode that manages that for you. If you’re looking to be extra discreet, we have “stealth” mode that turns off the LED light on the front of your device.

The long term vision for the app is to capitalize on this idea of personalized experiences. We’ve become so used to being able to pick and choose things at our leisure—there’s this idea that the control is in our hands now. With the app, we’re getting to this cool place where people are able to personalize and repeat the experiences that they love.

Is there one main way of vaping that you prioritize, from a marketing standpoint?
That gets down to our product portfolio and the types of technologies that we offer. We were a looseleaf vaporizer company for a long time. In 2015 we launched PAX 2, which built upon the technology of PAX 1. And then when we launched PAX 3 in 2016, we made it concentrate-compatible because we were watching the market and consumers were really getting into this idea of concentrates being a much more simple way to consume CBD than looseleaf.

We also launched our PAX Era in late 2016, which is a pen-and-pod system where you buy the device and then you buy pods that go into the device. That was speaking to this wave of consumers that were looking for a more simple and even more portable experience with cannabis.

PAX products can be used for a variety of consumable materials, from nicotine and marijuana to CBD and other looseleaf dry herbs. How does PAX navigate all these different potentials?
PAX is a technology company, and our technology happens to make experiences with cannabis better. That’s where we focus, that’s how we choose the partners that we work with, and that’s how we determine our distribution strategy.

PAX recently partnered with Oregrown, a premier extractor of cannabis concentrates, to celebrate Pride month in Oregon and raise money for Oregon-based LGBTQ organizations. In California, PAX partnered with Jetty Extracts to donate to Mr. Friendly, an LGBTQ non-profit. How do activism and philanthropy play into your overarching brand?
CSR is a relatively new endeavor for us. We’ve had numerous conversations to help craft and shape where we go with it and who we work with. In particular, LGBTQ is something that we’re passionate about. We’re born and raised in San Francisco—it’s our backyard—and LGBTQ is a major pillar of our community here.

PAX is a company that is looking to be a leader. We consider ourselves leaders, and you’ve got to walk the walk.

PAX has collaborated with the likes of The Weeknd and art collective K-HOLE on limited-edition models. How integral are these collaborations to the PAX brand? How do these partnerships come about?
They’ve all come about pretty organically. I’m quite particular in working with folks who are actual PAX consumers. Working with partners who you’re just paying to say a word or hashtag on Instagram isn’t real, and consumers see through that.

There are a couple things that I love about partnerships. One is that we both get access to each other’s audiences and if there’s natural alignment it’s pretty likely that our audiences are similar to each other. Another thing is that it allows us to remain relevant to consumers. We’re a tech company—we come out with new products every year and a half, every two years. It’s a nice way to stay on people’s minds and to say “what’s up” authentically and with some fun.

PAX is credited with designing the “iPhone of vaporizers.” Was this a deliberate goal?
The deliberate goal that our co-founders were working towards was providing a solution. They were industrial designers and they had an eye for beautiful design. The experience was intuitive: there was one button on the device, versus five. It was a simplified experience. So the fact that we got dubbed the “iPhone of vaporizers” was of course an honor, but that was never what they were setting out to do.

How do you continue to distinguish PAX from other vaporizer brands as the cannabis industry proliferates?
PAX considers itself a steward for doing what’s right. We’ve got an amazing legal department and compliance department and we’re extra, extra careful and very deliberate in the ways that we choose to follow [regulations]. And it’s complicated! Things change so frequently. We take a lot of care to be respectful. The time is now for the industry—we all need to be good stewards of any compliance and regulatory systems that are being put out. It’s really important for the health of the entire category.

The idea of choice and personalization [sets us apart]. We’re able to provide consumers with so much more choice than they’ve ever been able to experience before with just one vaporizer.

What are some of the largest misconceptions about vaping CBD products? How do you negotiate alarmist media coverage and public misinformation?
We’re a tech company—we make hardware. We haven’t ever gotten to a place where we thought that we were even an authority to talk about the [Cannabis] plant or the prescribed experience for people. What we do talk about, and what we do focus on, are the features and benefits of our device itself. There’s a lot of really great work being done in the industry from a lot of other consumption brands that speak to [consuming] the plant. PAX has chosen to focus on the products that we consider ourselves experts in, and that’s our hardware.

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