“I’m a heavy dabber,” PuffCo founder Roger Volodarsky shares with me by phone. “This is a product that I made for myself.”
His breakthrough invention, the Puffco Peak, is a portable electronic rig designed to make dabbing accessible to a whole new generation. Volodarsky says the journey began with a genuine love for cannabis and concentrates.
A New Jersey native, Volodarsky took an ill-fated detour into mortgage finance before dropping out of business school. On a trip to California in 2010, he encountered concentrates for the first time, describing his initial dab hit as “painful and intense,” but nonetheless compelling due to its incredible potency.
“It seemed like the rite of passage for giving someone their first dab was trying to borderline kill them [by] torching a hot hit — this was in a time before carb caps, before innovation caught up with the needs of concentrates,” Volodarsky recalls. “So my first dab ended with me coughing for 25 minutes, profusely sweating on the floor, having the most intense high I’ve ever had.”
At the time, the earliest concentrate technology was starting to hit the market, including devices like the Vapor Swing, which was just an attachment for a standard bong, available even before torches and titanium nails became standard gear for hardcore heads. In 2012, Volodarsky had a life-changing encounter with a G Pen, one of the most popular first-generation vape pens.
He’d decided to spend the day visiting the world-famous Metropolitan Museum in New York City, home to masterworks from Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollack, Vincent Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Edgar Degas. Using the G Pen to get high discreetly amidst all this high art gave him a feeling of liberation and sophistication that he’d later try to bring to his own addition to the pantheon of game-changing paraphernalia.
Increasingly obsessed with the emerging vaporizer market, Volodarsky began reverse-engineering vape pens, seeking to improve on generic devices manufactured in China. In 2013, with a $1,300 loan from his mom, he launched his first product — the Puffco Classic — followed by an improved version dubbed the Puffco Pro that dropped in October 2014. When the Pro won High Times’ 2015 “Vaporizer of the Year” title, Volodarsky knew he was onto something big.
Reaching the Peak
Captivated by the idea of an electronic dab rig that would make the improvised torch-and-nail method obsolete, Volodarsky sketched the first Puffco Peak prototype in 2014 — three years before tasking engineer Avi Bajpai with actually building the device. Intended to make dabbing more socially acceptable, Volodarsky wanted to use the Peak to “give [people] a dab and have it not seem like we’re freebasing hard drugs.”
Back then, the bad optics associated with blowtorches and intimidating glass rigs restricted the appeal of concentrates while, at the same time, Volodarsky saw vape pens loaded with prefilled cartridges of THC distillate explode in popularity. These simplistic devices made concentrates more accessible to more people, but the inherent limitations of vaporizing just one isolated cannabinoid meant all those newbies were getting a far less than optimal experience.
“Smoking pre-fills, it’s a shadow of the experience,” Volodarsky explains. “THC is just one single cannabinoid and it doesn’t give you all of the effects that a complete concentrate will.”
He believed there was a way to make an electronic dab device that would offer a fully realized experience with “no learning curve and no stigma.” But there was pushback to the idea. Even Bajpai doubted that the market would respond. “We didn’t know if people would even want [the Peak],” Volodarsky remembers. “They’d say ‘that’s cool, but it seems like it would serve a small percentage of users.’ I’m very proud to have proven everyone wrong — including Avi!”
Debuting in 2018 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the Puffco Peak proved immediately popular, one of the few inventions truly capable of revolutionizing cannabis use. Designed to be intuitive, the handheld device operates with a single button that cycles through four temperature settings indicated by color-coded lights. A slight vibration lets the user know when their dab hit is ready to be inhaled. Glowing reviews from the press praised the disruptive potential of the Peak, with Mashable hailing the arrival of a “smart bong,” and Engadget calling it “concentrated genius.”
But despite the enthusiastic media reception to the Peak, problems with the first generation of devices necessitated ongoing improvements, as users complained about short battery life and defunct atomizers. Responding with magnanimity, Puffco replaced devices — every $380 Peak comes with a warranty — and continued to refine the design. Transparent about the challenges involved in creating some- thing entirely original, Volodarsky says he “immediately got to work on revisions to prevent problems from continuing and offered no-questions-asked replacements.”
With improved Peak units shipping out to customers today, the future looks bright for this bootstrapped business, which recently moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in order to participate in the renaissance of cannabis culture blooming on the West Coast. While Volodarsky won’t release sales figures, he “can confidently say that many tens of thou- sands of Peaks have been sold.” In 2018, Puffco brought in more revenue than the previous five years combined, an exponential increase Volodarsky hopes to repeat in 2019.
Looking to the future, Volodarsky sees this type of creativity as vital to continued growth, saying “We’re not wondering how we can capitalize on today. We’re wondering [what happens] if we build out
TELL US, have you ever used a Puffco Peak?
Originally published in Issue 36 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE