Every great cannabis business has a mission they’re striving to accomplish and an audience they’re speaking to – and cannabis vapor technology company Airgraft may be pursuing the most unconventional message yet in cannabis today.
Crafted by a team of cannabis outsiders, the company was founded by tech mogul Mladen Barbarić, one of the industry’s most surprising contributors, who makes things work in his own way.
Barbarić recently sat down with The Bluntness for a candid interview.
He reveals how he and his team were heavily involved with designing products for the medical community when they were approached with a new idea they ultimately couldn’t pass up.
“We have a bunch of investors who support us, and they started messing around with the cannabis industry,” Barbarić says.
Barbarić’s investors reached out to him one day about the lack of tech knowledge combined with medical and scientific knowledge, specifically within the cannabis sector, and that’s when things really got started.
Barbarić’s Airgraft 2: Fusing Tech and Cannabis
Prior to founding Airgraft, Barbarić didn’t have much experience in cannabis – in fact, he didn’t have any at all. After attending product design school at a young age, the entrepreneur was picked up by Ford Motor Company at 19 as the result of winning one of the design contests, which he’d entered to help pay his tuition as a Bosnian refugee.
“I paid for school by doing a bunch of competitions and winning them,” Barbarić says. “I’d do these competitions, win the money, and then like two days before the final deadline for tuition, I would somehow make it to the next semester.”
After winning a motor trend competition, Barbarić caught Ford’s attention, resulting in a whirlwind career designing supercars. During his time with the company, Barbarić learned how to connect brand and product design in a holistic way.
He spent a few years working with engineering design teams, but left when he felt the industry was slow-moving and slightly superficial. Barbarić would go on to found his own design agency in Pearl Studios, a brand and product development firm.
Barbarić’s work at Pearl introduced him to the world of entrepreneurship, and to the medical community. His team worked on a lot of products within medical device delivery, like tiny bracelets that read your blood pressure.
“I just so happened to have a team that has fantastic knowledge in drug delivery and small devices to get a job done, sort of a weird set of skills.” Barbarić says.
“And these investors called us and said, ‘Hey, delivering cannabis is still very primitive, but there’s opportunity here. These vaporizers on the market are really sketchy. Check it out.’”
Barbarić was initially hesitant, having never used cannabis before and unaware how this industry could fit into his work. However, after looking into the issues a little more, he had a change of heart.
“Something like 25 percent of the adult population in America has used cannabis, and 90 percent of it is inhaled,” Barbarić says.
“Furthermore, [many of] these vaporizers on the market weren’t actually vaporizing. You have this heater and an on/off switch, and that’s it. When that oil heats up, it turns to smoke, not vapor. So I thought, okay, this is a meaningful cause. There’s millions and millions of people exposing themselves to a shitty way of consuming this substance. Let’s fix that.”
Thus, Airgraft was born as a technological solution to the problem. However, once Barbarić and his team really got to work, they uncovered even more issues within the cannabis industry.
Now, they are seeking to address these big issues in the world of cannabis concentrate vaping with the Airgraft 2, cannabis pod membership, and beyond.
The Major Issues With The Cannabis Vaporizer Industry
“One of the biggest issues with cannabis vaporizers is the delivery,” Barbarić says. “As a result of our innovations, you’re consuming actual vapor – not smoke. It tastes better, delivers better, and is overall more effective.”
Beyond this innovation, Barbarić and team discovered a major issue in pricing throughout the industry. With legal cannabis comes the obvious need for licenses and taxes, not to mention the fact that most cannabis products get marked up through every step of the supply chain before they even reach the market.
“What happens in the industry today is, extractors and producers buy cartridges from hardware companies, fill them, and move them through this chain of supply,” Barbarić says.
“As a result, for every dollar the cartridges cost, the consumer ends up paying about $4.50. We realized if we wanted to fix the problem, we had to change the economics. This is the second part of what we’re doing: finding a way to make the good stuff while keeping it accessible.”
Not only does this make Airgraft products available to a wider range of consumers, but it also helps close the gap with the informal market. Providing consumers with a variety of affordable, tested products disincentivizes them from engaging with untested, riskier sources, which is important for safety and continued liberation and understanding of the plant – especially following the vape scares of 2019.
How Airgraft 2 Defies The Cannabis Norm
Addressing problems like these is how Barbarić has always found his way, but his methods often make him feel like an outsider in the industry. However, he also believes it’s disruptions like these that will help the cannabis community truly succeed.
“Cannabis, of all industries, is so difficult,” Barbarić says. “Regulation is so inconsistent. But on the other hand, it takes a certain bit of bravery, and maybe even slight craziness, to get into cannabis. The people who are in it are pioneers in their own way, and they just don’t function like other businesses do. We didn’t know what to do right away, honestly.”
Because of the intricacies of the industry and the fact that much of it still operates underground, cannabis definitely has its own way of doing things, and before Airgraft, the fusion of weed and technology was indeed hungry for a new chapter in innovation.
Yet, innovation isn’t alway so easily understood at first.
“When I talk about what it is we’re trying to achieve, a lot of people look at me and go, ‘We’re just selling weed, man,’” Barbarić says.
“I have to keep pushing and believing that our cause is the right thing to do. Eventually, when we can get it into people’s hands and they understand we’ve delivered a better way to inhale cannabis that costs less and is healthier for you, then the results will speak for themselves and people can really get it.”
When Barbarić first came up with the membership model, many of the people he consulted with looked at him with a lot of hesitation. Luckily, his experience with entrepreneurship and spearheading startups prepared him for this response.
“Look at any disruptive success story, and the first response to what they’re doing is: that’s stupid,” Barbarić says. “Because it pushes convention, it has risk. And when you do that in an industry where there hasn’t been any technological and business model challenges to the status quo, then you’re even more likely to get that response. But I’m hard-headed enough to keep pushing through.”
Designing the Airgraft 2
When creating Airgraft 2, Barbarić and his team reflected on the first model, figuring out what the optimal design could be for this device. After all, it isn’t every day a product designer gets to work on a project that actually passes the ‘turnaround test’.
“Very few products pass the test,” Barbarić says. “Basically, if you leave your house without an item, would you turn around to go back and get it? Only three things are this ubiquitous: phone, keys and wallet. But for those who vaporize, that vaporizer is one of them. That’s a profoundly important thing, because when something is so important to your lifestyle that you would go back home to get it, then that device deserves a lot of attention.”
While cannabis vapes have historically been cheaply-made, throwaway, sometimes-risky investments, Barbarić aims to redefine vaporizers by turning them into something consumers are proud to carry around – something they don’t have to think twice about before setting it on a desk or table in public.
Airgraft 2 designers also took comfort into consideration, ensuring the product is short and sleek enough to fit in a pocket easily. They also redesigned the device’s interior, making enough room for 1 gram pods without having to increase the vaporizer’s size.
What’s Next For Barbarić and The Airgraft Team?
Ever since Airgraft 2’s July 1 launch, consumers have been flocking to the membership, ordering their pods straight from participating dispensaries on the Airgraft website.
“Within 30 seconds of us flipping the switch [from pre-launch phase to the regular membership], people started ordering from the delivering dispensaries, and it’s only accelerated since. It’s really exciting...and slightly scary,” Barbarić laughs.
As of now, Airgraft is only available for consumers in California, but the brand has plans to expand nationwide, and even across the border into fully legal Canada.
“I think we’re going to be launching in Colorado as soon as September,” Barbarić says. “There’s several other states in the pipeline too. It’s a bit of a process to bring in new states and Canada, but we’re working methodically through. Hopefully by the end of next year, we’ll be in most U.S. states.”
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