With Oregon’s cannabis industry booming, Mark Lewis, a former rocket scientist and social entrepreneur, wants to help people savor the flavors and therapeutic benefits of the herb. His innovative device, The Pong, replaces the conventional lighter and transforms almost any pipe into a high-performance herbal vaporizer. By making vaping affordable, intuitive, and available to everyone, he is fueling the evolution of recreational and medicinal cannabis use. Following customer testing and final product development, Mark plans to bring The Pong to market in early 2019.
Here’s more from Mark:
The problem it solves: With legalization in multiple states, cannabis is rapidly losing its stigma. Increased research and consumer education have led to recognition of its therapeutic benefits. As a result, users are integrating cannabis more positively into their lifestyle choices. And they are seeking cleaner, healthier, more flavorful ways to do so.
Vaping is the obvious choice. Herbal vaporizers heat plant material enough to release the full flavor and essence—without burning, so you don’t inhale harmful combustion byproducts. For those who haven’t experienced it before, I’d say that vaping is to smoking as sipping a lovely Pinot is to downing a shot of whiskey. It’s a much gentler and tastier experience.
But today’s herbal vaporizers are expensive, complicated, and a hassle to clean. The Pong eliminates these barriers. It’s extremely intuitive with no real learning curve to master. You don’t need to save up to buy one. And it gives you the freedom to use your own pipe as a vape, delivering the full spectrum of taste without the hassle, expense, or ash.
The spark that inspired the birth of your concept: My first vaporizer broke a few weeks after I bought it, and I didn’t want to shell out $300 for a better model. It seemed to me there had to be a simpler, more affordable, and elegant way to heat up plant material than a device with a bunch of chambers, lids, and confusing settings. So, I set out to make one.
“After all,” I thought to myself, “you really just need hot air to vape.” So, I grabbed my pipe and a small heat gun to experiment with. Once I throttled back the heat gun’s fan from blowing material around the room, I was able to get some vapor. It was a promising start. I kept at it until The Pong was born.
How you came up with the name: The shape is the giveaway here. Ping pong balls were used as molds for the current prototypes undergoing customer testing and feedback. I think the quirky, chic playfulness of “The Pong” expresses the simplicity and approachability of the device.
How you differentiate from your competition: A decent herbal vaporizer can cost over $250. For under $50, The Pong delivers an equally full spectrum of flavor, if not better. Plus, many people also find herbal vaporizers to be technologically intimidating. The gunky residues require frequent cleaning and several models make you wait while they heat up. The Pong dramatically simplifies the process, requires almost no cleaning, and is as fast and easy to use as a lighter. If you can use a pipe, you already know how to use The Pong.
The best advice you’ve received: The best advice I’ve received is to get advice! While I’ve been a successful social entrepreneur, this is my first time bringing a physical product to market. Therefore, I am seeking sage advice and experienced business partners from all quarters.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur: I love identifying unaddressed needs in the world and then finding unique solutions that help people live better. The productive tension between creativity and pragmatism is absolutely thrilling!
What you’ve learned from failure: For me, failure is just another name for learning, so long as I’m paying attention. Given all the different paths and ideas that didn’t work out in developing The Pong, I guess you could say that I’ve learned a lot—and there’s a lot more that I need to learn as I bring it to market.
What you wanted to be when you grew up: I was raised during the space race of the 60s and 70s, and fancied that one day I’d make it to outer space. It’s thrilling for me to see the recent advances by SpaceX and others.
Fun fact: Though I didn’t quite make it to space, yet, my first career was launching and controlling the orbits of communication satellites.