Flavorah: The “Julia Child of Vaping” has Reddit to Thank for their Success
December 10, 2018
As a marine, Brendan Woodward had friends who were desperate to quit smoking.
In an effort to help them, he handed out electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigs). It was at a time when the industry was fairy new and research was minimal.
Nonetheless, as Brendan himself says, “these e-cigs were a compelling product and a really effective way for everyone I encountered to quit smoking.”
While serving in the Marine corps, Brendan wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do once he was discharged. All he knew was that he wanted to start a business. His experience with e-cigs piqued his interest.
“I started to research the industry and where it was. After a while, I began to think that I could maybe launch a brand of e-juice.” E-juice or vape juice is the flavored liquid used in e-cigs.
Few people had proven knowledge on how to create vape flavours which led to a lot of experimentation in the community.
At the time, few people had proven knowledge on how to create vape flavours which led to a lot of experimentation in the community.
“People were pretty much putting anything in the cigarette pipes, smoking it and posting reports online about the results,” Brendan says. “People were going to the grocery store to buy and use baking flavour extracts and beverage and candy flavors.”
Collaborating with a friend who was in the flavor industry, Brendan produced and released a line of 20 flavors to test the waters. Flavorah received a great reception from the tiny vape community. After fans started to rave about them on online forums like Reddit, their popularity began to grow.
It’s a very different industry from what Brendan thought he’d be in. But surprisingly, the former marine found that producing vape juice was a perfect way to combine his interests in technology and science.
This might be where the happy ending usually occurs. But the first product launch, despite the overwhelmingly positive reception it received, did not lead to smooth sailing for Flavorah.
Since its founding in 2013, the US vape industry has been hit with various regulations from the FDA. There’s been a lot of speculation as to why, but Brendan thinks it’s in an effort to protect the failing tobacco industry.
“Because of this, we’ve had to pivot towards international customers,” Brendan says, “We’re exporting our products a lot more now.”
This isn’t a reality he envisioned, but ironically the restrictions in the US have led to more international exposure and success than they could have imagined. Flavorah would never have been as successful if Brendan hadn’t met Aaron Theis, his right-hand man and Director of Customer Service.
Flavorah would never have been as successful if Brendan hadn’t met Aaron Theis, his right-hand man and Director of Customer Service.
“We met through our partners,” Brendan says. “His girlfriend and my wife were both phlebotomists and worked in the same blood lab.” Aaron, a lab manager with experience working in the Mayo Clinic and the University of Washington worked nights processing the blood work going out to the hospitals.
Like the best business partnerships, Brendan and Aaron clicked after they started a conversation about vaping and the then one-man startup, Flavorah. “I was looking to do something else with my career,” Aaron says. “It was very much a startup at the time and it seemed like a fun opportunity.”
After Brendan hired Aaron, Flavorah grew into a much loved small business. Together, they expanded their products to a current, mind-boggling line of 180 flavors. Most people have trouble coming up with 50 flavors, let alone 180. But Brendan and Aaron are constantly innovating and finding new, interesting ideas online.
Aaron stresses the importance of listening to your customers to improve your business. “There’s a prolific DIY vaping community, especially in the US and we work very closely with them,” he says, “We look at the market and see what flavors are popular in the region. We also have customers who purchase our flavors and tell us what they wish we had.”
“We keep track of all these requests,” he continues, “We compile them and figure out which ones we think we can use and can improve.”
This crowdsourcing of ideas has led to the creation of unique vape juice flavors like Pound Cake, Smoked Butterscotch and Waffle.
Flavorah gives major credit to Reddit, the social website popular with online subcultures.
“Reddit has been ground zero for the business,” Aaron says, “They helped take it off the ground.”
“It’s a very vibrant community,” Brendan adds. “Things never stagnate there. Whenever I talk to someone who’s thinking of starting a business, I tell them to soft launch it on Reddit because the people there give you the feedback you need to get the product in ship-shape. When you’re ready to launch it as well, some Redditors even help connect you with the people that might benefit from your product.”
“As a small business, we have leveraged Reddit in many ways,” Brendan continues, “Sometimes we send moderators samples of our unreleased flavours and they give feedback. We sometimes use this feedback on our products, making this relationship a mutually beneficial one.”
Whenever I talk to someone who’s thinking of starting a business, I tell them to soft launch it on Reddit because the people there give you the feedback you need to get the product in ship-shape.
A simple search shows Flavorah’s appreciation for Reddit’s vaping community is reciprocated. The company’s products are hugely popular online, with many users posting online reviews about how good the flavours are and mixing multiple products to create unique recipes.
The website has been a big part of why Flavorah has been able to expand so quickly abroad.
“People from all over the world find our products from a Reddit review on regular basis,” Brendan says. “I recently noticed we were getting a bunch of traffic from Russia and I was worried it was a bunch of bots or spyware, but it turned out it was just people trying to improve the quality of their vape juice.”
While Flavorah continues to grow, it’s also forced to deal with the challenges that come with supplying products to international customers. “Abiding by US regulations and figuring out shipping and payments is a huge part of being able to grow our business,” Brendan says.
Figuring out a reliable payment system especially hasn’t been easy for Flavorah. With customers all over the world and several small payments being sent and received everyday, the company was hemorrhaging cash through expensive wire transfers.
Conquering the vaping world with Veem
Despite their longtime relationship with Wells Fargo, they found processing payments through the bank was a daily headache.
“They nickel-and-dimed everything in a way that’s just petty and ridiculous,” Brendan says, “so much that it made me, as a business owner, do everything I could to get out of their sphere.”
Online payment options weren’t helpful either. “Paypal is the most expensive. For international transfers, we’ve had fees as high as 4.5% with Paypal. We regularly process $5,000 to $10,000 orders and that percentage stacks up quickly.”
Upon hearing about Veem, Brendan processed his first payment through the platform and was immediately a fan. Now, the company processes its international payments through Veem, sending and receiving money up to four times a week.
“What used to be a tedious, time-consuming process to work with a bank, involving all kinds of insulting fees which drove me crazy, is now seamless. We’re very satisfied with it.”
Brendan has big plans for Flavorah. He’s confident that, given the company’s popularity, that Flavorah will remain an authentic American small business for the foreseeable future.
Paypal is the most expensive. For international transfers, we’ve had fees as high as 4.5% with Paypal. We regularly process $5,000 to $10,000 orders and that percentage stacks up quickly.
“I see us growing our flavor offerings,” he says, “It’s the bread and butter of our business.
The more we’re featured in these vape juice recipes being written and the more people share recipes with our flavors, the better we do and the further we go.”
“It’s our goal because this popularity trickles down and becomes wholesale accounts as well.”
Brendan’s dedication to the flavor offerings might be unusual for a small business achieving great success. But it’s obvious Flavorah has no plans to compromise on the variety that made them the darlings of the vaping community.
“There’s no Julia Child for vaping yet,” Brendan says.
“We’re going to change that.”