Vape Radio 59: Austin Hopper of Revol Vapors Part I: Launching a New Company

By August 12, 2015Podcasts
Vape Radio 59: Austin Hopper of Revol Vapors Part I: Launching a New Company

Show Summary:

He helped Space Jam, Cosmic Fog, and Cuttwood. Learn how he did it.

Vape Radio 59: Austin Hopper of Revol Vapors Part I: Launching a New Company Click To Tweet

What you’ll hear today:

  • He helped Space Jam, Cosmic Fog, and Cuttwood. Learn how he did it.
  • How to become an “800-pound gorilla” in the vape space- and should you?
  • Develop flavors that are not in the market: easier said than done!
  • Avoid candy and breakfast cereal flavoring names: it’s a magnet for controversy
  • Can a name make or break a company? Austin and I agree on that question

Paul:

Welcome to Vape Radio, your source for everything you want to know about the business of vaping. Whether you are brick and mortar, developer of E-liquids, online marketer or anything else in the vape space, learn from the very best, the first and the largest educational providers in the country, with your host, the founder of that organization, VapeMentors, the Vape Mentor himself, Norm Bour. Hey Norm.

Norm:

Welcome back everyone. This is episode number 59 of Vape Radio and that means that there is 58 other episodes that you can go back and listen to. Just go to Vapementors.com. This one is actually probably one of the most popular, most favorite episodes I’ve done. A good friend of mine … I’m not going to let anything out of the bag, you just got to listen to it, but a good friend of mine who has been in the vaping industry for a little bit longer than me, he and I have actually known each other for much, much longer than that. He has truly become a master of vape. So, I want to share a little bit more about his story.

We also want to welcome the Council of Vapor to our radio show. You might not have heard of Council of Vapor, but guaranteed, you will. If you have a concept for a mod or a pen of any style, these are the pros to speak with. They create sleek, high-quality vaping hardware and will help with your design, prototype and your manufacturing. They already produce some of the top sellers out there, including the Royal Hunter, which you know about, and the Kindred lines, and create only high quality products, but that’s just the beginning. They just opened one of the largest e-liquid production centers in the whole country, with over 50,000 square feet under one roof. I was there and they already manufacture for some of the top names in the industry and they want to work with you. They are going to help you with your hardware and e-liquid needs, no matter what size company you have.

You can go to thecouncilofvapor, that’s singular, thecouncilofvapor.com for more information and they are rolling out a brand new line called Ozmos, with eight new flavors, ranging from sweet desserts to cocktail juices. What’s so special and different about them? Well, you know what? They are willing to show you and if you contact them and mention Vape Radio, they are going to send you an exclusive sample pack of all eight flavors. Once again, that website is thecouncilofvapor.com.

So, I’m not going to take any more of your time. Paul, go ahead and load that puppy in the machine.

If you’ve been to any live vaping events, you have probably seen this very boisterous man on stage, by the name of Austin Hopper. He is almost at every event that I’ve been to and that’s a lot, over the last year. He has created a significant space, in the fact that is truly a master of vape. It just so happens that I’ve known Austin for several years prior to us both getting into the vaping industry, and so, today I wanted to share his story, which is going to be just a little hint of a longer story we are going to be doing as part of a series. But, also, we’re actually launching a brand new line of e-liquids that he is the mastermind behind it. So, Austin, welcome to Vape Radio.

Austin Hopper:

Thank you Norm. Good to be here, as always. Thank you for asking me to be on and thank you for that overwhelming introduction.

Norm:

Of course. Well, listen, most people who I know in this industry, as I’ve said to you before, are very humble and very modest and they don’t like to sing their praises, so I’ll be happy to sing your praises. So, let’s talk about how you got into the vaping industry, because I know for a fact that you absolutely were a smoker.

Austin Hopper:

No question about that. You know, it actually, a buddy of mine, Ben, wanted to go get an electronic cigarette, and this was just before Local Vape opened. We actually bought Provaris from Skye and Erica before Local Vape even opened, out of their living room, when they got all the inventory in. My first juice that I ever liked was Cell Block 4, by the Standard.

Norm:

Nice. So, how did you make that transition of being a casual user to saying, “Hey, you know what, there might be a business here.”

Austin Hopper:

Truthfully, that was completely by accident, how I got into vaping, as far as a career. I was working for a financial institution, we merged with another one and a buddy of mine said, “Hey, can you come to work for me with this company called Space Jam Juice?” And, I chuckled, Norm. I’m like, “You want me to come to work for a company called ‘Space Jam Juice?’ Are you serious right now?”

So, I went over and I met with Mike and Aaron at the time and they needed help getting nationwide distribution and this was just after their big implode at ECC. They had more stuff going on in that little bitty office than they could imagine. So, the implode in the office was that because we didn’t know what to do with all the little space we had and all the stuff we had, because their juice line had just exploded. We just started contacting stores and stores were so excited to hear that Space Jam was on the phone. It was just an amazing journey.

Norm:

That was awesome. So what exactly did you do to help them make that transition from maybe a little bit of chaos and confusion, to become the major player that they became?

Austin Hopper:

Well, I think that setting up a call center, I think was unique at the time. I don’t think it is anymore. Having outbound sales people reaching out to a store was something that most people weren’t doing back then.

Norm:

So, that was your first entry into the vape space. Well, since then you have jumped into a couple of pretty major pools. Can you share with us a little bit about some of the companies that you went to after that, including the most recent?

Austin Hopper:

Well, you know, while at Space Jam, we launched Cosmic Fog for Rob and Brant in Hirsch, Texas, and that line took off unbelievably. I think they were in 300 stores overnight because of their brand. Their flavors were just amazing and the marketing was done really, really well. Like, we talked earlier, before getting on recording, is you know, just good people surrounding themselves with good people. I think that’s what Brant and Rob did. They got such a following right away, because of the way their bottles look, the way it’s marketed and their flavors are just amazing. They just came out with, as you see, a new line called Lost Fog and they just have a lot of things going on and they have stayed true to the vape community.

My time at Cuttwood was amazing. It’s an amazing brand. Every store should have it.

Norm:

Excellent.

Austin Hopper:

It’s nice to still have the relationships, you know, my new office isn’t far from the Cuttwood office and it’s just nice being able to be at the events and be on stage and be able to do those things with the Cuttwood brand, and still see how well they’re doing.

Norm:

So, after you disengaged from Cuttwood, you were a little bit of a man without a country there for a while and I’ve often thought for a while that you need to start your own company. So, tell us about what happened since Cuttwood to where you are now. Because, one of the things I’m proud to reveal and share here on Vape Radio, is obviously a little bit more of the background of what I call a significant master of vape, but also the launch of a brand new company. Let me tell you why that’s important. There is thousands, five to eight thousand, we don’t know the exact number of e-liquid companies out there. Most of them are not sustainable, most of them will fail and that’s just the hard facts of the industry. But, when I take someone like Austin, who has an amazing pedigree and an amazing heritage, an amazing resource center and say, “All right, so here’s a guy who’s launching an e-liquid company, I need to put this guy on my radar to see how far it goes,” so, we’re going to be following your story out of my own curiosity and also because …

Austin Hopper:

Uh oh.

Norm:

I’m a curious fellow, man, I’m a curious fellow. But, also, like I said, I’m really wanting to see where you take it, so you landed on where? Hold Fast.

Austin Hopper:

I’m the COO of Hold Fast. Kyle is a great guy. Tru and I owned a mortgage company together years ago. Most people don’t know that and I was in Tru’s wedding, he’s like family. He was like, “Hey, come over here, let’s help dot the i’s and cross the t’s.” So, in doing that I had a lot of people coming to me saying, “Hey, let’s do a line together, let’s do a line together, let’s do a line together.” It’s just very tough when you think about doing those kind of things, because how do you go out and compete against Space Jam’s and the Cosmic Fog’s and the Cuttwood’s and all of those brands that have such a tremendous footprint in the industry?

Norm:

So, I’m going to delve into that, because that is a question that everyone asks. So, there is a lot of people out there who are listening right now. You either are in the e-liquid market or thinking about getting in the e-liquid market, and you’re thinking, “How do I overcome, or how do I fight those multitudes of 800-pound gorillas. So, I guess the question is, is can you and should you?

Austin Hopper:

Well, I think definitely you can. I think that it’s a tough, uphill battle. No question. Because when you look at the landscape of a store, they already have customers that are coming in specifically for those brands.

Norm:

But that doesn’t happen from day one. How do you go from being unknown to being extremely well-known and asked for? Can you maybe share a little bit, without anything proprietary that you’ll have to kill me for? But, how do you really become significant on the radar of the vaping industry? It’s got to be incredibly overcoming.

Austin Hopper:

Well, I think that, as far as that goes, social media is such a big push in this industry, there’s no question. So, it’s about getting out in front of people and letting them know and making them aware. One of the things that I’m looking at doing, is I’m coming out with flavors that aren’t currently on the market.

Norm:

How do you even do that?

Austin Hopper:

It’s tough.

Norm:

It is tough.

Austin Hopper:

It’s real tough.

Norm:

Do you think, been there, done that, we’ve already seen it all.

Austin Hopper:

Well, when you see, you look at over here, I’m evaluating like six flavors today, trying to figure out, “Okay, which one?” I know for me, the key number is three flavors. It’s easier for a store to pick up three flavors and I know that. So, I have to evaluate what’s not on the market, and it’s been tough. When you go look at the top 100 desserts of the world, and you look, “Yep, that’s out there, that’s out there,” so, it leaves you very little that’s not already out. Honestly, who is going to compete with the Milk and Honey from Cosmic Fog? Probably not. Who is going to compete with Unicorn Milk from Cuttwood? Probably not going to happen. Who’s going to compete with an Andromeda by Space Jam? So, there’s just certain flavors you know that you just can’t do.

You have to look at what’s not currently on the market and then reach out to the shops that you know and say, “What are people asking for?” The benefit for me is that I had those shops. I can call out to a Cindy Kent at Vapor Shack, who has 8 stores in North Carolina and say, “What are your people asking for that they don’t currently have in the shop?” And they will tell you. It’s all about relationships. This business isn’t any different than any other. The key is, is just reaching out to those key relationships that you have and say, “Hey, this is what I’m considering, what do you think?” And they’ll say, “I wouldn’t do that, I’d do this.” It’s just listening to the people that have the pulse on the market and that’s the people in the stores. You want to know how to be successful? Ask the guy behind the counter at your local shop. They are going to tell you. They know, they know what people are asking for in that community. Because what’s selling in Orange County may not be what is necessarily selling in Jersey, where I just came from.

Norm:

Absolutely true and as a matter of fact, for those of you who are familiar with our Vape U series, Austin was actually one of our instructors when it came to customer service, customer attention, customer acquisition and one of the things he really brought up is, you listen to what your customers say, so this is exactly proof of that. So, let me ask you, it’s a very fickle industry, and it doesn’t seem that very many flavors stay in favor for very long, and so, what I usually tell most of my shops, that they should be rotating their inventory, probably 25% of their inventory, about every quarter. So, how do you create something that you think has sustainability and how long can you be sustainable for? Can you actually be the flavor of the month for a year or two?

Austin Hopper:

Well, Unicorn Milk is living proof of that.

Norm:

I guess it is.

Austin Hopper:

Not having a crystal ball, Norm, I don’t know the answer to that question. It’s probably something better asked for Jared, because he’s certainly been able to do it with Unicorn Milk, no question about that. I think that it’s just about branding and it’s about respect for the industry. I think it’s about how you treat people at events and those type of things, and how you give back to the vape community. I think that’s a huge role in that. I think if you go to events and you see guys, and I toss out a lot of t-shirts.

Norm:

You do, indeed.

Austin Hopper:

Phil and I were joking about that when we were at the Jersey show, because we were up on stage together and he said, “Austin, how many t-shirts have you given out?” And I think we landed somewhere around 13 Million One Hundred and Twenty-Six and Thirteen, we made a joke out of it. Demetri says that he won’t invite me over to his house because he’s afraid I’m going to go in his closet and start giving shirts away. It’s just those kind of things and it’s just fun and I think that you have a responsibility as a manufacturer to get involved, as far as not just with the stores or the end user, which is the customer that goes into those stores, but advocacy. We joined up in the New Jersey [inaudible 00:12:17] up there. I’m parting of the Vaping Militia, I’m part of SFATA. I’m involved in a lot of other things. There’s a lot more areas than just trying to do a transaction.

So, Norm, as you and I have talked about before, if I come to you and I say, “Okay, here’s the juice, I want you to buy it and you give me a check,” and you give me the check, that’s what we have called a transaction, but it’s about the relationship and following up, “Hey, how’s everything going? What do you need me to do? Oh, you got a grand opening, can I come to your grand opening? What do you want me to bring?” I think those are the things that separate who you see, as what you referred to earlier as the 800-pound gorilla.

Norm:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Austin Hopper:

Because those are the things that I have done when I have been with those companies. Is that we go and we support those shows, whether it’s a grand opening. When we went up to Sky Vapor Lounge with Matt Bradley’s shop, then you walk in there and there is Phil and there is Demitri and there is all these people that are in the industry, Ed Bullen from E-Cig Gallery went up. So, you got all these people that are involved in the vape community that is going and supporting these shops.

I think it’s about, just like any other business, surrounding yourself with good people. That’s the key. Finding out, how can you help support a local market, whether it’s going up to Sacramento, you’re in California fighting SB-140, thank goodness that one’s dead, it looks like it’s going to try and get some resuscitation, according to something I saw online the other day, but that’s okay, we’ll figure that out. I think it’s about getting involved and knowing what’s involved and what each community is going through and being sensitive to that and finding out how can I help. So, it’s not just about picking up the phone and selling a product to someone. How do you help those vape stores in every community that we have? Because we’re responsible. Just because our office is in Irvine, California, doesn’t mean we only worry about what happens in Irvine, California. It’s about getting involved, and flying out, you know I hit up J.T. from Vape Stars, because there is a bill going through that’s going to try and classify vaping as marijuana in Florida, on August 19th.

Norm:

Oh my goodness.

Austin Hopper:

I’m like, “J.T. are you going?” And he’s like, “I think it’s ECC,” and I’m like “No. ECC ends on the 17th,” so I’m going to be on a plane going to Florida.

So, it’s just those things. Staying involved, staying out front. I think that when people see that because I get a lot of thank you’s and things like that. You know, “Thanks for what you’re doing for the industry, thanks for standing up for advocacy,” you know, I think people recognize that I’m not, I’m giving as much as I take. I think that’s the key to life.

Norm:

I think you’re actually getting more than you take and I think that’s part of the secret of life that a lot of people don’t realize, is ‘givers get’ is a cliché, but the truth is that if you really help the community, you will get your like kind in return.

We at Vape Mentors, just celebrated our 2-year anniversary and (clapping) yay, bravo, and the crowd goes wild. I look back over the last 2 years of what I knew back then, which was virtually nothing and how much I know right now, which is marginally better, but the truth of it is, it’s such a dynamic industry, it’s such a changing industry and we all would love to have that crystal ball and say, “Where will we be 2 years from now?”

So, I guess I’m going to ask you to grab your crystal balls and tell us where you think the vaping industry will be in 2 years, because by that time the FDA, presumably, will come down with anything that we call final regs, so share, and this is just your opinion, this is one man’s opinion, but, again, let’s look at who this man is, who’s sharing his opinion and take it for what it’s worth, because a lot of people are paranoid and there’s some justification for it, but also there’s some over-paranoia, which I’m not even sure if that is justified.

Speaker 1:       I think we need to be aware. I don’t know if we need to be paranoid, but we certainly need to be aware. I think there are going to be some [inaudible 00:15:54] regulations, there is going to be some changes that are going to be made. I think that e-liquids should be tested, I think we need to know what’s in them. So, I don’t have any issue with that part of it. I do think that we’re going to see less of, how do I say this, brands that look more like comic books. I think we’re going to see many less of those. I think we’re going to find things that look more like alcoholic beverage labels, I think is going to be important, because I think we need to get things away from what we see if we were going to serve our child breakfast. I think that we need to not see those type of labels and logos. When you and I go into the grocery stores, what we see is all these candy racks, and we need things that don’t look like that.

Norm:

So, make a note of this, guys. This is absolutely true. And, a lot of this is the image. When the public and the regulators and the legislators accuse us of pandering to children, we know it’s not true. Now, for those of you …

Austin Hopper:

Absolutely not true.

Norm:

Yeah, for those of you who are out there, who are selling to kids under 18 and you know who you are. Stop doing that. But, also for you manufacturers who are calling your products names that might insinuate that they are a child’s candy or a child’s cereal, it’s just not a good idea. I totally agree with you.

We’re definitely seeing the maturation of the flavoring. I know one of the things that are definitely changed is the complexity of the formulas. Maybe you can share a little bit about that. Because, I’ve said many, many times on the show before that we have become a nation of connoisseurs and the very bland, very simple formulas that might have passed muster two or three years ago, does not cut it today.

Austin Hopper:

I think that that goes back to when you had brands like a Cosmic Fog and a Cuttwood that have such complex flavors. Milk and Honey have got to be one of the most amazing flavors that I’ve ever tried.

Norm:

Wow.

Austin Hopper:

With that being said, you can just tell the layering in the flavors. So, it’s no longer we are just putting grape and PG, VG and nicotine in a bottle. Now people want things, because, like you said, we have become connoisseurs, or aficionados, right? It’s no longer if you compare it to the cigar industry. You have low-end cigars and a super high-end cigar. You compare it to wine, you have a lower end wine and a super high-end wine. It’s all about the processes and the way that things are done and they are steeped and they are mixed and you have all these different layerings of flavors, so you have an inhale and an exhale and trying to capture that market.

Because it’s not just coming out with a good flavor anymore. There are so many great flavors out there, every time I go to the convention I am wowed by something. It’s just amazing to me this line called Hive that just happened to be down in New Jersey. They won Best in Show and Best New Flavor. I understand why if you try it. So, it’s just those kinds of things. I think Ethos won best fruit flavor while they were there and then Aisle 7 won the best cereal. So, congratulations to all those folks. So, it’s just all those things that happen, it’s not what’s going to be new, it’s what’s next. I think that’s the thing, is trying to harness that. Especially with the new Revol line that is coming out at ECC. Shameless plug for me, thank you. The big key is, is finding out how to get that next wow. Because I have worked with a lot of companies that have wows.

Norm:

Well, that mistakenly got cut off a little bit too short, but you know what, that’s going to give you all the incentive you need to come back for the following episode, which is number 6-0, Vape Radio number 6-0. I’m very proud to have Austin as one of our instructors for our Vape U program, and the archives for Vape U, which is called Six Pillars to Vape Space Success. They are going to be available soon through Vapementors.com. You can get the entire 6-week program, including video presentations from some of the top thought leaders in the vaping industry. If you are new or want to get into the vape space or grow your brick and mortar online, or e-liquid business, this is the place to start. Any questions, just give us a call here at vapementors.com.

Do not go away, we are going to be back in just a moment with Part 2 of the interview with Austin Hopper, as he reveals the name of his new company, which is called Revol. What does that mean?

Paul:

Don’t go anywhere. Still more to come on Vape Radio, your source for everything you want to know about the business of vaping. Brought to you by Vape Mentors.

Author: Norm Bour

Norm Bour is the founder of VapeMentors and the host of the award-winning podcast Vape Radio. He’s a vape industry coach, speaker, author and can be seen rubbing shoulders with the top influencers in the vape industry.