I had the pleasure to interview Ian Lyubinsky & Alexander Gadas of Intev Technologies LLC and the inventors of ZeptoVape.
Intev Technologies LLC is an early-stage technology company specializing in the design, engineering, and manufacture of premium adult-use vaping products and accessories for both the e-cigarette and cannabis vaping industries. Intev distinguishes its products by a strict focus upon creating unique, outside-of-the-box products that enhance user experience through design innovation in every aspect of vaporizing; including user interface, taste, feel, aesthetic, quality and most importantly, seamless integration into the user’s every day carries (Wallet, Phone, Keys).
Alex and Ian are life-long friends as well as cousins. Both coming from business backgrounds, they had entered this project with a true entrepreneurial spirit in mind.
They each bring their own skill set to the table between creativity, operations, marketing, engineering, and more. But most importantly, they have a strong drive for success.
Between the both of them, they’ve managed to tackle and take charge of this venture head-on, learning whatever new skills were necessary along the way, and teaching each other throughout the process.
Can you share with us the story of what first introduced you into this business or helped you get interested in the business?
What got me interested in, and ultimately introduced me to, this industry is definitely the cliché, “I saw the potential for improvement.” But really, that’s all it takes! Being a vape consumer myself, I identified flaws, and I saw a way to solve them. This motivated me to pursue building a startup that targets these issues and solves them through innovative hardware and accessories, designed to make the consumer’s life much more streamlined.
2. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you both began leading your company?
Ian Lyubinsky & Alexander Gadas:
There’s definitely two here:
The first, which was more surprising than anything, would be getting featured in MG Magazine for sure! I remember one day we noticed a social media post from an older connection of ours, and it was of a magazine page in a cannabis-focused publication.
We had done no paid marketing, had no product on the market, and we didn’t even yet have our first prototype, so we were shocked to be featured as a ‘Best Brand’ in the industry. We guess that the word somehow spread, and we were beyond excited, happy, and confused all at the same time.
One of the most interesting stories would have to be when we first pitched the concept and idea of our product live in front of about 1,000 consumers and investors.
One day, we received an email from a California-based cannabis company who were interested in speaking with us. The conversation ultimately led to an invite for us to pitch our product as one of the top 10 cannabis startups.
We had about a weeks’ notice to book our tickets, create a pitch deck, and fly down to San Francisco to give it our best shot. At this point, we had no prototypes, and our patent was not yet approved. I remember working on the pitch deck, and our pitches on the plane ride there, trying to perfect everything for our first real-time launch to the public.
The first round of the pitch I remember was a 3-hour networking craze where investors would visit each booth and place votes for companies pitch on stage and the top 5 would get chosen to go up. We were voted as a top 5 company, and therefore chosen to pitch, and that’s when we just felt so reassured that we really had something here that people liked — a product that people could relate to and see themselves having.
I also remember the anxious feeling before hitting the stage and talking in front of the crowd; but nothing ever will compare to the moment when we presented our product slide and introduced “Zepto, the world’s first credit card-sized vaporizer” — and the oohs and ahhs we received from the crowd. It was truly amazing, unforgettable, and hands down the most interesting, wonderful experience since starting this company.
3. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
(This isn’t the funniest mistake, but just a mistake in general that we want to share with others that can learn from it.)
We rushed into hiring a large engineering firm that was beyond our budget very early on. Unfortunately, the engineering firm did not deliver what was promised — and we shortly parted ways. It was an expensive mistake, indeed, but from that experience, I learned to not rush into hiring, especially when it’s for something as important as engineering.
If you have a tight budget, a few alternatives you may want to consider are going directly to a manufacturer that has experience in the type of product you’re looking to build, and hopefully locking in a deal or contract with them. Another option is trying to build an in-house engineering team. While this may take a bit more effort initially, it will allow you to move much, much faster in the long run vs. outsourcing engineers. However, be prepared to part with some equity in order to secure this type of talent early on, and to have them really dedicated to your project.
4. Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Ian Lyubinsky & Alexander Gadas:
We do have a few other products and concepts in the pipeline that we would to like begin developing. However, as we’re currently filing patents on some IOT products, we can’t disclose much more than that. Those projects are currently in stealth mode!
5. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
What I learned along the way is to not expect an angel investor or mentor to swoop in and help you to success. While it does sometimes happen, no one should rely on that. In my case, it was the involvement of two people that got me to where I am today. My father and my co-founder. After I ran out of funds, I came to my father with an approved patent and partially complete design, and he was willing to help me. My co-founder Ian was the greatest help along the way. That is why today I believe it is all about the team. You can have the greatest idea, but without a great team to bring it to life, it is just that… an idea. — Alexander Gadas
6. This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
When it comes to marketing online, I believe the best way to really market your product in this day and age is to not only create a beautiful, consistent image that can resonate with people who follow you, but to also show them the lifestyle use of it, and by providing an image of how they can eventually see themselves using one. For our product, we took shots and videos of it going into a wallet, wirelessly charging at Starbucks, attributes that we felt others could relate to when using our product. Being a startup, what was also super important was sharing our journey along the way with our followers. Being able to relate to them more than just a brand, but also portraying the vision, the journey, and the steps we took to get to where we are. — Ian Lyubinsky
Along the way, we also realized how important it was to portray the vision not only to customers, but also to companies, investors, and partners. The vision has to get people excited. We took several approaches and used different types of mediums to convey our vision such as pitch decks and videos for example. While pitch decks are relatively quick to create, the amount of information you can squeeze onto each slide is limited, and videos take some time to develop, whether they are filmed or animated. Our go-to strategy has more recently been to portray the vision through the use of simple & beautiful PDFs with renderings that explain the vision. It keeps the flow of thought on one long, scrollable page, whereas comparing to pitch decks the thoughts are cut between each slide, breaking the flow. — Alexander Gadas
7. Can you share some things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share anything that most concerns you?
1. The many different markets and products within cannabis and the great effect it’s having on the economy should excite anyone. Producing billions of dollars in revenue, providing more jobs, and more opportunities for new companies to join in on the Green Rush.
2. The community. The cannabis industry brings about communities and groups like none other, and it’s all for a singular focus where everyone and everything comes together. It’s really a strong presence and it’s ever-growing.
3. The acceptance and utilization of the plant both medically and recreationally. Where the cannabis industry gets really exciting is that we’ve found capabilities for this plant to benefit people who want to use it recreationally, but also alternative uses where the plant can be used as medicine. The forms of cannabis that have come about between flowers with different levels of THC & CBD, edibles, lotions & topical creams, oils, gum, mouthwash, drinks, you name it; the list just keeps on growing.
1. The regulatory environment of cannabis. There are still a lot of hoops to jump through to make sure your product is compliant; and depending on the product, where you can go about marketing and selling it is also sometimes a hurdle to overcome. However, as an ancillary product, you don’t touch the plant, so alternatively this is why ancillary products have greater chances of thriving on the market.
Can you share your top “5 Things You Need To Know In Order To Run a Successful Cannabis Ancillary Company”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew unless you’ve first done your research. It can be exciting when that million dollar idea comes to mind and you want to get started and put your life savings and everything you have into it right away, but do some research first. Be aware of what the costs realistically will be to produce your product or bring to market whatever it may be.
With our product being that we were so young when we first started out with this venture, we went all in. We didn’t consider the budget at hand, the cost of getting to where we would need to be, and so forth. Knowing this sort of information before dumping any money into it is critical — and I don’t mean that it’s critical in a sense that it will determine if you should go forth with your product idea or not, but more so that it will serve as a means of figuring out, what’s the best initial route to take to have your product developed, where to get your capital, who to hire, etc.
2. Going along with your research in my first example, know your competitive landscape. By this I mean to do some due diligence as to what products are already out on the market and evaluate what your true competitive advantage will be over other market offerings. Will consumers be more inclined, or inclined at all to purchase your products instead or in addition to others?
3. Use the internet, social media, and blogs related to your vertical as a soundboard. Don’t go on developing a product that doesn’t resonate with the people that are going to ultimately be using it. There are tons of forums and blogs that you can engage in where you can really get some solid feedback. A few sites to name a few are fuckcombustion.com, grasscity.com, and even reddit.com. Beyond this, go network, talk to others in the industry, get feedback from your friends, or do whatever you have to, to get an idea of how the market is going react to your concept/product.
In our early product development days with Zepto, we’d be posting up progression images & videos of our prototypes, getting feedback on different features, and what people wanted to see. Honestly looking back, along the way, it really helped in guiding our design and allowed us to start asking ourselves questions that we didn’t really think of before. We began to think not only from an engineering standpoint but also from a consumer standpoint. So using online forums can really be a great tool for testing the concept of your product, but don’t listen to every single comment of advice or suggestion, or else you’ll just drive yourself crazy. Listen to the general consensus, evaluate what makes sense, brainstorm with your team, and tackle it from there.
4. Build a team! This is super, super important, and Alex and I cannot stress this enough. Starting a company as a founder, or even as two co-founders, as fun of a pursuit it may be, is very tough; especially if you’re in the ancillary space. You’re forced to wear many hats, explore areas where you may not have previously had experience in or be comfortable with, and that’s just a part of the game. Now not to undermine the abilities and competencies of other founders out there, but when you start a company, it’s important that you lead. As founders, we always want to do this and do that, and take things into our own hands because, in the end, we feel that we know what’s best for the company, and we really just want to portray our own vision and take care of it. However, when you’re able to build a team or have at least one or two extra members on board that can assist with the smaller operations, it better allows you, as a founder, to lead the company, move faster, make deadlines, and really hit the ground running.
5. This may actually be one of the most important ones, but file a provisional patent if there’s something unique to your product! It’s only a few hundred bucks depending on the type of provisional file and the complexity of it, but it’s so worth it for a few reasons. First, it actually protects your product idea for a minimum of two years; so don’t worry about other companies swooping and stealing your idea, you can work in peace knowing you’re protected. Second, you can actually mention that your product is patent pending online, providing much more legitimacy to your followers, customer, and investors. And third, you’re immediately increasing value in your company if that patent gets approved. Even if for some chance you don’t make it to market with your product, you have a unique patent in your company’s portfolio that you can use to approach other companies that, in a worst-case scenario, could purchase your IP, and make you very grateful for filing in the first place. This shouldn’t even be a question or advice for anyone, it should be a given.
Aside from your particular vertical, which other cannabis ancillary industries do you think have very strong potential in the next few years? Can you explain why?
Ian Lyubinsky & Alexander Gadas:
1. Media and advertising companies. Cannabis is a booming industry, and with a lot of skepticism still, present nationwide. It’s important for new brands and startups to be able to have a fighting chance at getting their brand out there and recognized.
It’s hard for some companies to make a splash on the market, but there’s never a shortage of creative marketing and advertising opportunities within the cannabis industry.
2. Banking is a huge one. Cannabis banking has proven itself to be among the leading ancillary industries to the cannabis sector. Currently, there are only several dozen financial institutions providing legitimate, compliant, transparent bank accounts, and with the growing amount of companies entering the cannabis space, they need safe, reliable banks to work with that are going to specialize within this space. Currently, there are just not enough effective solutions.
3. Childproof cannabis packaging is also a great market to tap into. With the large variety of cannabis products being sold and marketed in such a way to attract the consumer’s attention, it’s unfortunately become a hot target for kids; whether we’re talking about a cannabis-infused Lollipop, Jolly Rancher, a Brownie, or even the buds and oils themselves. It’s important that these extremely potent products are kept safe & away from children in innovative child-proof packaging that actually works. While this space is already saturated with some prominent players, there is still plenty of room for innovation in this space.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
This is the greatest piece of advice I can give to any founder or CEO — Build a strong relationship with the people you work with. Make them your friends. This way you all bond into a unit; a unit that cares about each other’s success, instead of just having employees that work for the paycheck. Additionally, I found that willpower is finite, so create an incentive for people; this will motivate them to push themselves further, and to achieve greater goals. — Alexander Gadas
Be transparent — in your goals, your vision, and the opportunity. Founders and company owners in the cannabis industry need to understand the landscape of the market they’re in and need to consider that when seeking talent. They need to understand the risk associated with individuals who choose to enter this industry and work for a cannabis-related company. They’re taking a leap of faith in both you and the company, and that sort of dedication needs to be admired and praised. Be able to show the true potential of where they can grow within the company and the industry. Let them understand the community and the benefits of indulging in this industry’s network. Most importantly, show each and every employee that they matter, and that they are really making a huge difference and mean a lot to your organization. As I mentioned before, not many people are open and willing to work in this space, but the ones that do should know that they’re part of a greater cause. — Ian Lyubinsky
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
More mentorship opportunities for startup founders in the cannabis industry. They exist, but there needs to be a larger community of mentors and other seasoned startup founders that just want to share their experience and actually mentor others without taking money or equity from them. Just genuine mentorship, even if it was only just a few sessions. As founders, we really appreciate any advice that we can be given, and especially in this vertical, it’s crucial to get a helping hand from those who’ve been through the process before. — Ian Lyubinsky
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
www.zeptovape.com — Subscribe & Follow our progress, and receive a discount when our product is ready to order!
Product Page: @Zeptovape
Alexander Gadas (Founder & CEO): @alexgadas
Ian Lyubinsky (Founder & COO): @ianlyubinsky
https://www.linkedin.com/in/ian-lyubinsky-1b9a9034/Alexander Gadas – CEO & Founder – Intev Technologies, LLC | LinkedIn
Join LinkedIn Successfully creating something useful, that does not exist is the ultimate form of achievement. If you…www.linkedin.com
Jilea Hemmings is the CEO & Co-Founder of Leaf Tyme. She is running a series on Leaders In The Cannabis Industry.