CEO Peter Calfee's startup aims to provide patients with consistently reliable vaporization, while positioning the company's product for the mainstream medical market.
"When you look at this industry, for the true medical patients, there's no consistency or repeatability -- and it's a big problem," says Calfee.
It's not only a problem for cannabis patients, it's a problem for the medical establishment, which relies upon standardized dosages.
The GoFire vaporizer is "the first inhalable medicine product that allows for us to control that dose," says Calfee, "in a way that no other products were able to achieve." The product is still in the beta stage, but it's set for release by July 2018, according to Calfee. He says an initial production run of 5,000 devices is scheduled, with the vaporizers retailing for about $500.
There are a few aspects to, as Calfee puts it, the GoFire "ecosystem." There' s the device itself, which resembles an iPhone, except it's about twice as thick (partially due to a long-lasting battery).
Then there's the app, which allows patients to monitor exactly how much cannabis they're vaping, adjust temperature settings, and record their reactions to what they've just ingested -- for instance, whether a specific dosage or cannabis oil has been helpful for insomnia, anxiety, or pain.
If patients choose to record their reactions using the app (which is strongly encouraged and incentivized), those results will then be anonymously shared with a community of users, who can see what others users have found useful for their specific ailments. The app also allows consumers to locate dispensaries where they can purchase the cannabis oils. "We like to think of our system as Fitbit meets Yelp for the alternative health space," says Calfee.
GoFire only makes the vaporizer. It contracts with cannabis oil manufacturers to fill the cartridges which are inserted within it. As for the cannabis companies he's working with, Calfee says the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. "They are ecstatic," Calfee says. "For them, we are the first company that's collecting post-purchase, consumer-use data." That information will help those contractors build better formulations and sell more products, he adds.
When a consumer loads a cannabis-oil filled cartridge into the vaporizer, the app reads the cartridge's microchip and lets consumers know the exact content of cannabinoids like THC, THCA, and CBD contained within, as well as the terpene content, based upon the pre-existing lab analysis of the oil. The device allows users to extrude a "dose" of cannabis oil into a chamber in 2.5 milligram increments, with a maximum capacity of 7.5 milligrams per use. And it lets consumers know how much of those 2.5 milligrams are the actual cannabinoids: Calfee uses the analogy, "Eight ounces of lemonade is not eight ounces of lemon juice."
"This is not for someone that looking just to get high," says Calfee. "This is for someone looking to track the effects of their consumption and looking for a way to create a consistent, repeatable experience."
As for the flavor experience, the device doesn't burn the oil like some vaporizers with filaments do. It heats the oil that's been extruded into the chamber via convection. "The flavor profile on this has exceeded expectations," says Calfee.
The vaporizers are made with medical-grade materials and assembled in an ISO-certified facility in Loveland. The information generated by users of the app is anonymized, making the sharing of data between users confidential and, Calfee says, HIPAA-compliant.
Between the company's employees and advisory boards, GoFire can count on a HIPAA expert, twelve physicians, a technical officer who's assisted in bringing close to 30 inhalable medical products onto the market, a patent attorney, a former federal prosecutor who advises on compliance issues, and a onetime Procter & Gamble product expert. "My strongest asset is my team," says Calfee. The team is "taking a chance because of the impact this company can have on hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives."
And if cannabis is eventually rescheduled by the Drug Enforcement Agency to allow for its medical use, Calfee says GoFire will be ready to meet regulations. "We are taking the steps to make sure we are set up for FDA approval," says Calfee. So far, the company has raised around $3 million towards achieving its mission.
Calfee, 26, leads an impressive team. And he displays dogged determination, despite personal setbacks. A few months after founding the company in December 2014, Calfee's back was severely injured in a car accident, leaving him with two broken vertebrae. He was told he wouldn't walk again. But Calfee's back on his feet. "I attributed it to the drive of the company," he says.
Calfee vaporizes microdoses of cannabis using his GoFire product. "I'm in pain all the time," he says. "I'm on no other painkillers, other than the natural sort. And I still have to run a company."
"At the end of the day, I'm doing this because I see the impact it can have," he says. "But I feel a moral obligation, because I have the skill sets to do it -- to build this and see this thing through."
Challenges: "It's always interesting marketing in a highly-regulated environment. We have to be very careful about how we present ourselves," says Calfee. "We're definitely ahead of the times from the true medical application of this product."
Opportunities: The potential adoption of cannabis by the medical field: "We're in the midst of a serious opioid crisis and everyone's looking for an alternative. I wouldn't be surprised if this plant becomes that alternative."
Needs: Getting GoFire into the hands of consumers and increasing its community of users. "We are looking at building our community," says Calfee. "How do we bring new consumers onto the market, walk them through what this device can do for them and their lives, and generate that word-of-mouth buzz that this product is available and out there?"