Voice of the Modern Manufacturing Economy Since 2013

Hopper Labs

by Gregory Daurer on October 2, 2017, 02:31 pm MDT

www.grasshoppervape.com

Boulder, Colorado

Founded: 2013

Privately owned

Employee: 15

Industry: Cannabis

Products: Vaporizers

Trevor Vita and Matthew Most make cutting-edge cannabis vaporizers, the only domestically manufactured vapes on the market.

Since they first began mass-producing their Grasshopper vaporizers in April 2016, Vita and Most have sold 40,000 units. "We're trying to get up to 100,000 units per year relatively soon," says Vita.

The vaporizers come in two different metal exteriors: titanium or stainless steel. The titanium weighs 30 percent less than the stainless steel model. But even the stainless steel model is lighter -- and half as bulky -- when compared with other commercially-available flower vaporizers on the market, say the partners. It has a discreet design as well, looking like a large pen.

Click the vaporizer on and it impressively heats up, ready to go, within five seconds. As but one example of their resourcefulness, they custom-designed that spring pin with its four-piece assembly.

Grasshopper Vapes work on convection, rather than conduction. Place your lips on the device and draw the outside air in. The air gets heated before passing uniformly over the flower that's been placed in its chamber -- that's instead of the chamber walls doing the heating, often unevenly, like with some other types of vaporizers. The heated air releases the cannabis' essential oils for the consumer.

Long before entering the vaporizer business, Vita and Most, both 27, met as technically-minded, high school kids in the Carmel-By-The-Sea/Monterey area of California. They reunited after attending separate colleges in California; Most had received an engineering degree and Vita had studied environmental science. After beginning the R&D for their vaporizer in North Carolina, they decided on Boulder as their headquarters and production facility. Most says, "We got to a point where we had to figure out where we were going to set up shop, and Boulder was an up-and-coming place for the [cannabis] industry, at that time. It still is."

In Boulder, they've overcome numerous technical challenges to produce the Grasshopper, and they're still tweaking the device as they see fit. Since it's assembled right in their lab, they can make adjustments on the fly. That's something they wouldn't be able to do if it was manufactured overseas. And they control all the materials going into its assembly, as well, providing oversight that wouldn't be available if they were using a Chinese contractor, who relies on subcontractors for parts. Vita and Most visit each of their parts manufacturers three to four times per year to ensure quality. Most and Vita say they're producing the only U.S.-manufactured vaporizer on the market.

There are 80 components in all. "The number of aspects involved in building this device is just insane," says Vita. "We built and designed every single part of the device. You know, the circuit boards, the mechanical design, the software, the battery chemistry, everything."

Engineer Most adds, "There are two circuit boards in the device. The circuit boards are the 'brains' of the device. There are also custom-designed 'brains' in all the custom assembly and testing equipment we've built to manufacture the device."

Although they sell those vapes for less than other commercially available models (from $200 to $350), the devices are built for the long haul, not planned obsolescence: They come with a lifetime warranty. The vaporizer provides a variety of heat settings: from 266 to 430 degrees Fahrenheit. The device can be used with two different mouthpieces; one can even be inserted into the standard 14-millimeter stem on water pipes (a.k.a. "bongs"), so that the vapor can also pass through water.

Speaking to their ingenuity, they've developed a proprietary battery for the device, as well; they sell replacements for $7 each. Vita says the intention wasn't to create a monopoly, but rather there was "no available battery on market that would work" for the size of their product.

Their spirit of innovation has also led to them acquiring four patents for different aspects of their vaporizer's design, with others pending. "We've developed processes that have implications in many other industries, as well," says Vita. Most cites spacecraft propulsion as one potential application.

Vita says that part of the joy of the business is "designing and building products that are really radical and out-there compared to what else is on the market."

He adds, "We're encouraged that we haven't done that much [advertising] and we've had as much success as we've had."

Challenges: Vita cites funding: "The capital financial outlay required to actually manufacture a consumer product on any sort of scale."

Opportunities: Exposing more people to the device, says Most: "We've really flown under the radar in a lot of ways. We have only come across a few people in our entire lives that have heard of the device independently. The vast majority of our potential customers don't know it exists, because we've spent absolutely no money on marketing. Until now, we haven't had the production capacity to meet an increasing demand. We're working on that, every day; that's one of our primary focuses."

Needs: Vita says they could use more advertising dollars: "We need more people to know about the device, and that is happening, but our [sales] model has been [to] spend every dollar on making the device good, and then worry about the advertising and marketing later," he says. "Our customers have responded to having a really good product. That's why we've been able to sell so many devices just via word of mouth."

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