Control, Transparency in Vaping: Q&A With Airgraft CEO Mladen Barbaric
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Tech commands our daily lives. But the talent in silicon valley’s elite kept their drive focused to find the next ‘Facebook’, never to find the next way to consume cannabis. But times are changing and some in the tech space have since shifted from traditional ventures to seek industry fixing solutions for cultivation, distribution, manufacturing, retail, and yes, even consumption for the cannabis industry.
Enter Canadian based Airgraft.
After raising a staggering $33 million dollars through two rounds, Airgraft launched itself to the world as ‘The Clean Vaporizer’. by using a proprietary smart-cart technology Airgraft enabled the user to recognize how much of each cannabinoid and terpenoid they were consuming in any given session. Not only that, but Airgraft guaranteed that their carts were unhackable and thus couldn’t be replicated by bootleggers, a common problem that exists even today in traditional 510-threaded vaporizers.
We sat down with Airgraft Founder & CEO Mladen Barbaric to discuss what separates his vaporizer from the pack and how technology is changing the world of cannabis in this exclusive interview.
Marijuana Retail Report: Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us today.
Mladen Barbaric: Of course it’s my pleasure.
MRR: Why don’t we start out by you telling us a little about Airgraft?
MB: Well first of all we’re product and tech people. We’re not originally cannabis people. We have built products, we’ve built brands, we’ve sold products, we’ve sold brands. We’ve done over a hundred million devices worldwide across traditional industry. Wearables, healthcare and medical devices, consumer electronics, and so on. There’s a group of investors that always does deals that we’re in because we have a pretty good reputation at what we do.
Some three years ago, they happened to get into cannabis. They nudged us and said, ‘Hey, there’s this gaping hole in vaporization that nobody’s really addressing and you should take a look at it.’ Our first response was that it’s just a simple mechanical device. Projects aren’t that interesting to us unless it’s really meaningful or it has a massive net positive and there’s a real chance to do something different. But they pushed me and asked me to really think about it. I think it took a year and a half or two of prodding until I said, fine, we’ll do some due diligence. So we dug in and we tried to understand where the holes really were. Sure enough, nobody’s actually tracking where the substance comes from. Nobody’s actually thinking about the fact that cannabis oil is different from oil to oil, and should be vaporized differently.
On a pure intellectual level, vaporization is awesome because all it is, is boiling an oil. It’s small particles of liquid, atomized, except most people are not really atomizing. Typical vaporizer is zero to way too high. You turn it up high, the curve goes almost vertical and somewhere along that line is the optimal boiling temperature. Everything beyond that is actually burning the oil.
When I take a pull on an Airgraft vaporizer, what I can do is watch the dosage in very, very accurate terms because we’re actually watching the flow. But more than that, I can tell you precisely how much CBD or how much of each terpene that you’ve just ingested per draw. If I do it again, per session cumulatively, you can actually know how much you’re ingesting. Secondly, when the vaporizer recognizes that this particular cart that I have inserted is Relaxed & Recovered, it adjusts to a specific heating algorithm. When we pull up any specific oil, that oil is boiled at that oils perfect boiling profile and boiling profile isn’t just a temperature. It’s actually how we bring up the heat, how we modulate at which point, how we drop off, and then how to consecutively take draws. What happens is this…if I took one oil, put half in Airgraft and half in a typical 510-threaded device and passed it to you, you wouldn’t believe it’s the same oil.
MRR: Overheating material seems to be a common problem in vaporization. Let’s say you were boiling the Airgraft solution down to 3-key points. What would you say those points are?
MB: The three key things we’re doing. Well the first thing is we’re doing absolutely clean vapor. That means it’s not only better tasting, but it’s also better for you because we are not introducing any combusted material.
The second thing is, we’re providing complete transparency so that people can understand exactly what they’re consuming. We’re setting standards for creation of oil. For example, there’s no distillate on the platform. It can only be full spectrum or living resin. No additives, no cutting agents, no solvents, no additives, no artificial flavors, and no flavorants of any sort unless they’re really part of the whole plant extract. We have a zero allowance policy which includes no detectable heavy metals or pesticides. Our standards is a higher standard than California uses. What we do for each oil is, when the oil is created and the batch is created, the certificate of analysis comes in from a third party certified lab. That report gets uploaded to our system. It’s only when that report is approved by Airgraft that the oil can be activated on the platform. What’s really cool is people that are using the oil can now see exactly what’s in it as well as certificate analysis. They can actually access the third party lab report directly to see exactly what it was tested for. Transparency is very important to us.
The third important thing is to provide control. In vaporization it’s very easy to have a bad experience. If you don’t actually watch it, you could take too much without really noticing much of a difference, except in the effect after the fact. What we’re trying to do is figure out a way to give people the tool set to have a repeatable pleasant experience. To understand how much they’re consuming, so they can consume responsibly and continue to create an experience and educate themselves on consumption.
MRR: When you initially started your due diligence process into vaporization were you surprised to find that tamper-proof technology wasn’t the standard?
MB: Our first reaction to it was why the hell is nobody doing this? Granted it does take a lot of development. It took us a while and it took a bunch of money. We raised probably more money than anybody else in the field this early on. I mean PAX raised a bunch of money overall, but they’ve been around forever. We did it from the start. It’s costly and it’s not easy.
When it comes to the unfortunate set of incidents, we’ve been thinking about this for a while and we’re surprised that it hasn’t happened before. The core issue that we see is there is very little control about something you’re inhaling. This is bonkers to us! Even nicotine products have to go through the FDA. There’s regulation and there’s a lot of accountability for what happens after that product enters the field.
Look, we’re all humans and sometimes we like to do things more profitably, not necessarily always the right way, but the oil from a vaporizer is an ingested product so it should always be done responsibly. We’ve already talked to a bunch of regulators who are saying ‘Wow this is the actual solution to the problem so why don’t we just implement this?’ Of course, we say go ahead, but it’s always been a very authentic response to the problem. We also address tampering in black markets, so you can’t make duplicates of our cart and put it in our device. We write to and read from in a specific way that’s very similar to how banks do chipped credit card transactions. As a matter of fact, our software team that is working on these features, comes from banking. We actually hire in-house hackers who worked for MI6 and the NSA to try to break this and to try to figure it out. The idea is that you can’t make a duplicate of this and fill it. You can’t refill it. There’s a system that authenticates it. If you were to buy this, we track how much is used and it’s shut down after the use and can’t be reactivated.
MRR: You had mentioned you wanted to limit the amount of companies that are producing oils for you. What goes into consideration as to which strains you want your partners to produce?
MB: To us, it’s less about strains. It’s about quality of the flower, quality of the extraction, and the integrity of the process. The integrity of the process is important in order get to zero heavy metal, zero pesticides, and so on. If we held tomatoes to the standard, I’m pretty sure ninety percent of your tomatoes at the grocery store would not pass. This is a very high level, so it requires people that are more like us and a little bit OCD. A little obsessive about what they do. They’re few and far between, but they’re like artisans and craftsman of what they do. They generally really give a lot of love to the flower. Extraction is really a result of what you put in. It’s just like cooking. If you put bad ingredients in, the food is going to be bad. If you put good ingredients in, the food is going to be good. There’s a lot of art to the process. Lastly, there are not a lot of people doing really good full spectrum and living resin extractions. There’s a lot of people labeling them as full spectrum and living resin and not actually doing that. It’s still distillate with more terpenes or maybe two types of distillate. It’s like, here’s some THC distillate and here’s some CBD distillate. We put it together and now it’s full spectrum. That’s not full spectrum.
MRR: You bring up an interesting point in mislabeling of products. Consumer education to help identify what they are buying is getting better but isn’t quite there yet. How can the industry help fix the knowledge gap?
MB: It’s going to take some education. The pop up in Los Angeles we did was all about brand awareness. It’s about talking about the issues that are happening in society, talking about the issues that are happening with athletes. We had an awesome panel at the popup with Al Harrington, Matt Barnes and Steven Jackson. They came in and they openly discussed cannabis and sports. How they were using painkillers before, how bad they were for them, and why they turned to clean forms of cannabis. Obviously that speaks to our target audience because we’re clean. We’re talking to people that really care about what they’re putting in their bodies. They want to understand. They’re turning labels. They’re reading macronutrients. They’re thinking about calories. It’s the same thing with cannabis. Before they put something in their body, before they take something in, they want to know that it’s clean and safe. That it’s good for them and it’ll help them. It’ll be beneficial.
We’re going in there and we’re marketing in a different way. We want to do everything differently. We don’t want to market this as something to get you high or gives you a better high. This is something where if you’re going to use, be safe about it. Understand what you’re taking in. The first thing that we need to do is exactly what you said. It’s educate people on what’s going on because people don’t know. People don’t understand what’s out there. They don’t know. They just bought something from some guy and that’s scary. That’s scary and that’s why Airgraft really exists. To instill that confidence that you are getting a truly clean top-tier product.
The first thing that boggled my mind is that a lot of oil makers were responding to the notion that all people do is read the label and go for highest concentration of THC at the lowest price. How do you respond to that? How do you actually make more product that’s like that? Educate the people. All that means is just a hell of a lot of distillate. It’s a very monolithic experience. That’s not the plant. That’s just an extract of THC that you’re consuming and the price is low because the garbage has been made from trim. It’s the cheapest way to make it. That doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the best product. We will spend some time, effort, and money on educating because I think that’s the right thing to do. People should enjoy cannabis if they’re going to use it. We’re going to make sure that we give them something that they can actually enjoy. The feedback so far has been that we’re right on the money, so we intend to keep doing what we’re doing.
MRR: We’ve seen an explosion in interest with CBD products, are there other cannabinoids like Delta-8, CBN, CBG, ext.. coming to the forefront in the coming years?
MB: Absolutely. The problem is always marketing dollars. CBD has gotten traction and now people are looking for CBD. But CBD may be a way to put the wedge in for curiosity about cannabinoids. It’ll take time, and money, and effort, but there is a significant shift happening. I think the next step is all the other aspects of the plant that are interesting. It’s not just to get you high. It’s not just CBD. There’s all these other cannabinoids, and cannabinoid combinations, that are beneficial for many different things. We’re super excited about that, which is part of the reason why we’re always focusing on breaking it down. You start to learn to be aware of how much of what you’re consuming. At least it brings to the forefront ‘Hey, it’s not just CBD in here or it’s not just THC in here’. There’s all these different things in this plant, they’re all beneficial, and we’ll start the education process.
MRR: Any front-runners for you?
MB: We’re still studying. It’s very early on to see. THCV, CBN, there’s interesting applications for all of them. The issue to us is how they’re produced. It needs to be done in the right way and not in a way that sort of violates the plant. It also needs to be done with scalability so that a pod doesn’t cost $500 bucks. That’s missing the point. We’re still in the earlier stages of understanding and we’re watching what everybody’s doing in the lab. The yeast grown varieties and so on. Studying to see if that is as good or merits cause. It feels artificial, but we grew a lot of other things to be studied.
MRR: Looking forward into 2020, what do you guys have on the market?
MB: What we’re focusing on is refining the current version, making it more widely available, studying and making sure that partnerships work, that distribution works. The focus is on version 1 and getting it to as many hands as possible within controlled reason.
To learn more about Airgraft visit them online at www.airgraft.com