See How and Where The Firefly Vaporizer is Made
Unless you’ve been hiding in a cloud of actual smoke for the last few years, you may have noticed there’s been a huge surge of innovation in the alternative smoking device market. These days, cigarette smokers have dozens of new electronic ways to get that nicotine fix in vapor form, while fans of the more herbaceous cigs have also been treated to an ever-expanding selection of machines without the lung-blackening side effects.
One of the most well-received vaporizers of the bunch is The Firefly, which not only fared well in our own vape ranking, but has earned accolades from celebs, tech blogs, and tastemakers alike. To see all that goes into producing a game-changing, obviously-for-tobacco-use-only gizmo, Supercompressor recently caught up with the two Silicon Valley vets responsible for the product at their San Francisco design lab.
Before diving headfirst into the vape scene, founders Sasha Robinson (above) and Mark Williams were working in high-profile tech positions. Williams was most recently developing software for Mac OS X at Apple, while Robinson applied his expertise in industrial design to companies like Nike, Cisco, Panasonic, Microsoft, and LG.
But their similar industry backgrounds are not what brought them together at first; they bonded over a passion to improve the state of vape tech at a Burning Man party. Natch.
In the beginning, they used off-the-shelf materials to fashion early prototypes, which they’d build in a makeshift workshop which sits off the garage of Robinson’s San Francisco home.
To this day, that’s where most of the dirty work and further design tweaks continue to be done.
It sounds like the sort of environment that has been especially conducive to the product’s development—as Robinson explains to us, “I do a lot of the clean work—taking apart units, working on the firmware, measuring things, lots of testing and designing—from the table in my kitchen.”
“[It] looks directly into my garden, which gives me a very grounded sense of peace and contentment while I'm doing my work,” he says. “Taking a short break and working in the garden can be a great mental break when I'm stuck on something.”
Unlike other popular vapes these days, the Firefly employs a lithium ion-powered convective heating element surrounded by a chamber of air to heat the loose, uh, tobacco, rather than a more common conduction version. This keeps the device from becoming hot to the touch. And it was designed inside-out right here.
This is what it looks like to swap out a heating coil in one of the units. They’re often tweaking small details, using different “geometries,” and trying out new housings by hand: all an effort to take the user experience to the next level.
These days, manufacturing is done by an overseas team, but they continue to test and re-test each production run to ensure quality. “We're constantly tinkering and trying to find better ways to do things,” says Robinson.
The finished pieces—which come in red, grey, and black—run $269 each, which may seem steep, but if you’re looking for a top-notch vaping experience in a clean, high-level package that doesn’t look sketchy to whip out in public, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option.
Joe McGauley is a senior editor at Supercompressor. He would never dream of packing one of these with anything other than tobacco.