[This article was originally written in August 2006 and updated in March 2015.]
What do you get when you combine two California heads with engineering degrees, a tight product development budget, and a toking inventor’s desire to build a better mousetrap? In the case of Vapolution, a small company out of Chico, California, this recipe produced a $99 vaporizer that extracts and delivers herbal resin as effectively as the coveted $550 Volcano or $200 herbalAire.
“We’ve always been pretty motivated heads,” said Scott Goodwin, the 27-year-old co-founder of Vapolution during a phone interview from his office. “We were both mechatronic engineering students together at Chico State. We studied together and typically had some sort of vaporization device with herbs in it next to us. It wasn’t something we had built, but instead an off-the-shelf device. We thought we could do better,” said Goodwin.
Although Vapolution the company is currently only three full-time employees, Goodwin and partner Patrick Leopold have sold more than 5,000 of their economical vaporizers throughout North America and Europe. Despite its initial success, the company has no plans for splashy ad campaigns. “We really want to be a word of mouth company,” said Goodwin. “We’d definitely like to be larger, but we don’t want to force it with some marketing scheme. We just want people to tell their friends, ‘Hey, my vaporizer works great; maybe you should look into this.’”
Both Goodwin and Leopold have put their money where their mouth is, quitting lucrative industry jobs and making financial sacrifices to promote their homegrown product and pursue the dream of offering a cost-effective, safe, and satisfying vaporization solution for the masses. “I cashed in my 401K so I can go out to festivals and take a grass roots approach to spreading the word about a product and a concept I believe in,” said Goodwin. “I think vaporizing really is a better way.”
Goodwin, who proudly states that his own herbal consumption is completely vaporized, says he works with Leopold to continually improve upon the design of the Vapolution. “We both want to evolve the product. That’s why we named the company Vapolution. It’s the evolution of the vaporizer and our commitment to it,” he said.
Mobility & Safety
A distinct advantage of the Vapolution is it’s mobility. Afforded by it’s small, light design and rugged form factor, the unit allows one to take it out and about with confidence. The bundled car adapter features a generous six foot cable, further encouraging owners to transport their vaporization capabilities to locations other than the cloistered confines of their homes.
“You can purchase a power inverter for a lot of the vapes out there, but those suck down your car battery pretty fast. The Vapolution can be left in the car overnight and it’s still not going to kill the battery,” said Goodwin.
The unit’s mobility became even greater when the company released a two-hour battery pack in 2007, allowing untethered use that, if metered out conservatively, could produce an entire weekend of fun on a single charge (perfect for hikers, rock climbers, cyclists, and nature lovers—or simply tucked away in a backpack in the remote stacks of the library).
Unlike many vaporizers, especially hotplate type units, the Vapolution features no exposed hot surfaces, significantly decreasing the chances of burning oneself or starting a fire after too much couch-lock indica and pizza. The unit’s meager power consumption does more than allow it to be used in a car without killing the battery. “We were absolutely stuck on making the device work with 12 volts,” said Goodwin. “If the output is shorted, it won’t shock the user to where they could be seriously hurt.”
The Vapolution is especially capable in two areas in which many other vaporizers, including the Volcano, fall short: stealth and mobility. Because it has no fan, the Vapolution operates silently, a nice feature for nearly all users and a necessary characteristic for millions of tokers living in dorm rooms, shared apartments, or who simply can’t divulge their underground lifestyle to their house mates. The unit’s tough and compact design makes it easy to store and conceal in small spaces. It’s practical to use when camping, in a hotel room, at a music festival, or anywhere that a 12V car outlet is within a six foot reach.
Most fans of the culture are familiar with or have used the top-shelf Volcano vaporizer. Sleek, German, and very effective at vaporizing herbs—specifically cannabis—the Volcano is on everyone’s Christmas list. But at $550, most peeps just don’t have the coin.
To assume that the Vapolution does a poorer job of extracting resin than other, more expensive vaporizers, is a logical conclusion. We live in a “get what you pay for” world, after all. The Vapolution, however, is a pleasing exception to this rule. At only $100, the unit matches the resin extraction rates of the coveted Volcano and offers a few advantages not found in its expensive German cousin.
Goodwin explained how the Vapolution is an affordable artifact born of the reality of an engineering student’s frugal resources. “When we were designing the product, we were engineering students. And we were working with an engineering student’s budget, which wasn’t that much,” said Goodwin. “Our ability to purchase more expensive items was limited.” Goodwin emphasized that, although the team had their own design goals, they also engineered around empirical evidence. “We wanted the Vapolution, above and beyond all things, to be functional,” he said.
Due to the Volcano’s popularity, people at trade shows and festivals frequently ask Goodwin and Leopold the difference between the Volcano and the Vapolution. “We tell them $420 and a fan,” laughed Goodwin. But, as he readily admits, an apples-to-apples comparison between the Vapolution and the Volcano is both unfair and illogical.
“I’m sure the Volcano would win if you were looking to attract people to your camp site because you can see it and everyone knows it’s got great vapor. But if you want to just keep your herbs to yourself, I think our device is the way to go,” said Goodwin.
One of this team’s primary goals was to develop a vaporizer that would be affordable for the masses. “We like to think that we’re the Honda Accord of vaporizers, where the Volcano is a top of the line Mercedes or BMW. It’s a great device. But a Honda is reliable and affordable,” said Goodwin.
Vapolution has a sincere appreciation and concern for its customers. Both Goodwin and Leopold work hard to get the word out about their product. Frequently traveling to festivals and shows, the company offers a healthy bulk discount, selling the Vapolution for $80 each in quantities of five or more. “Some people tell us that they have their heart set on a Volcano. We tell them maybe they should have their hearts set on charity: You can buy five Vapolutions for less than the Volcano and you’d still have a great vaporizer…and the ability to give four to your friends,” said Goodwin, an earnest evangelist for both the Vapolution and the science of vaporization.
Gooey Rabinski: “We’re surrounded by amazing technology. Humans walked on the moon more than 35 years ago. High-def satellite TV, sophisticated smartphones, and ubiquitous messaging have permeated nearly every segment of society. Yet humans have been smoking herbs and tobacco for thousands of years. Is society finally beyond smoking?”
Scott Goodwin: “I think we at least have a choice now. And it’s a good choice to make, to be beyond smoking. I think more and more people are going to make this choice in the future. I think we’ll see more reputable evidence of the efficacy and economy of different types of vaporizers and a quantified health improvement over smoking.”
GR: “Is it ironic that people with severe illnesses—such as AIDS, cancer, MS, and epilepsy—are smoking cannabis medicine to gain relief? Are they doing themselves harm in the process of consuming their medication?”
SG: “If I was a sick patient, the last thing in the world that I’d want to give up is my energy that helps me get through the day. I’ve found that smoking—because your lungs would have to work through all the tars and the heavy particulate matter—wears you out. It takes a lot for your lungs to work through the bad stuff that you’re putting inside your body when you’re smoking. Vaporizing, if you’re a patient, really is the only alternative.”
GR: “How does the Vapolution, a convection-type model, compare to conduction-based (hotplate) vaporizers?”
SG: “It’s a confusing topic. But once again, empirical evidence is supreme. Our device produces a great amount of vapor. It fully extracts the resin from the plant. Many people who have the domes [hotplate models] call us and say ‘This thing’s not a vaporizer.’ We have to agree with them. For what a vaporizer is supposed to do, it really isn’t.
“Hotplate vaporizers are counting on the principle of conduction, where the heat from the flat plate touching the herbs releases the oils to be ingested. But, as you can imagine, this is like grilling steak on only one side. Whereas, with the Vapolution, you’re using the principle of convection and moving a heated air mass through the plant material that extracts the oils that are then ingested. Convection, as far as vaporizers go—as far as we’re concerned—is the only way to go. It more evenly and more efficiently exacts greater amounts of vapor from the plant.”
GR: “What are your future plans?”
SG: “We definitely want to offer more accessories for the product that we currently have. We have glasswork that sits in the Vapolution that makes the device an entirely glass vaporizing experience, eliminating the [plastic] whip. We want to take the glass-on-glass concept to the next level. We want to provide more mobility with the battery pack. We’ve discussed perhaps putting together a bag attachment or a gravity toke. There are slick gravity toke devices out there that we could hook up to the Vapolution so users could pull the vapor through water. There’s all sorts of directions that we want to take the current unit.”
Gooey Rabinski is a counterculture writer who has contributed dozens of feature articles to magazines such as High Times, Skunk, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana (2015 Edition), available on Amazon Kindle.