Neeraj Bhardwaj is President of Loto Labs, creator of the Loto Lux, the world’s first magnetic induction-based vaporizer.
Neeraj recently came on the Ganjapreneur.com podcast to talk with our host TG Branfalt about the magnetic induction technology used inside of the Loto Lux, how the experiences of his family and his own desire for a healthier lifestyle set him down the path to establishing a new and improved vaporizer technology, the company’s successful crowdfunding campaign, staying the course through fallout from unforeseen difficulties, and much more!
Listen to the interview below, or scroll down to read a full transcript of this week’s Ganjapreneur.com podcast episode.
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TG Branfalt: Hey there, I’m your host TG Branfalt and you’re listening to the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast where we try to bring you actionable information and normalize cannabis through the stories of ganjapreneurs, activists, and industry stakeholders. Today I’m joined by Neeraj Bhardwaj. He’s the President of Loto Labs. How you doing today?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: I’m good. How are you doing?
TG Branfalt: I’m doing all right. Doing all right. Really stoked to talk to you. Your story’s really interesting. How you brought the Loto Lux to market is really interesting. Before we get into that, what’s your background? How did you get into the cannabis space?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Ah, yes, that’s an interesting question actually, because I’m from tech. My background is mainly semiconductors and non-destructive testing and the way that I got into cannabis is kind of a personal story. My mother was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and when she was going through chemotherapy they were giving her all kinds of medicines to eat, and to sleep, and, you know, chemotherapy is itself a poison. She couldn’t eat and it was sad to see her become so thin, so someone suggested I take her cannabis.
Now, this is an Indian woman who’s never smoked or drank in her life, and myself I had only done it a couple times before that. It wasn’t something I did or practiced. I had to learn how to smoke it and that meant grinding it and rolling it, with tobacco in this case, as the person who showed me to do it. We were rolling spliffs and honestly, Mom felt fantastic and she could eat french fries immediately. It was absolutely unbelievable. I was shocked at what cannabis could do when I felt great.
After she passed I started smoking a lot of cannabis and I really gave up drinking and really, really enjoyed different strains and kind of got into it that way. Besides that, I really, really want to stop smoking cigarettes and that’s part of the way I got into the vaporization space. I wanted to stop smoking everything.
TG Branfalt: Originally, you had applied for a patent to apply this technology for the glycerin propylene glycol nicotine. Let’s start with this. How’d you originally get the idea for the Loto Lux? Explain to me what sets it apart from other vaporizers?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: All right, so the idea for the Loto Lux, it came from necessity. After my mom passed away, my son was born a few months later, and I wanted to stop smoking everything, because obviously there are tiny particles that are caught on your clothing, and it’s in your breath. You exhale carbon monoxide for, I believe it’s months, or maybe not months, but it’s a long time after inhalation of, say, cigarettes. Carbon monoxide’s exposed. You don’t want to have that around a small infant. I started trying vaporizer after vaporizer, and unfortunately, I found that all the vaporizers that I tried had issues related to their heating technology. That’s indicative with all resistive heating.
Basically, I was frustrating with burning, breaking. What I mean by breaking is there was a replaceable part, always. Like a coil or the cartridge, which happens to be the entire vaporizer. All these consumable piece are annoying because they break. They also burn. The material which it intends to vape as well, is something called a wick. It’s inside of a vaporizer as well. Now, this is different for dry herb and liquids. I’m kind of going to go back and forth between the two, but I’ll try to be distinct when I do that.
We started teaching my son baby sign language, and in baby sign language, I met one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever come across. Dr. Andrew Bleloch. He is a Cambridge physicist, has taught there, as well as other universities. He started a couple other startups in different spaces, like genome sequencing and electron microscopy, and most recently a vape company with me. We have another founder named Gabe. He was a friend through ice hockey, and we frequently used the ice hockey rink for our first meetings. This idea for the induction vaporizer, and for the Loto Lux, which at that time, we called the Evoke, came from a combination of wanting to make a different vaporizer with a different technology.
We found magnetic induction, because Andrew said nobody’s doing it, so we patented it. A couple days later, we filed for our provisional. A couple weeks later, we shot a crowdfunding campaign, and the rest is history.
TG Branfalt: Why did you specifically decide to use that tech for cannabis? As a layperson, I’m not really clear on what magnetic induction heating is, so why don’t you give us an overview of what that does and why you chose to run with that when you were designing the product?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Yes, excellent question. Magnetic induction is one of the four ways to heat up something organic. We know that that’s combustion, you light something on fire. There’s irradiation, with something like plutonium, which is very dangerous. There is resistive heating, which is how every single vaporizer today works. They all use a resistant wire, which is shorted over some power source. In most cases, a battery. We just discussed the burning, breaking, leaking. Then there’s magnetic induction.
If you’re familiar with magnetic induction stove tops, I can explain it in a moment, but this is exactly the same technology that we’re using. In a magnetic induction stove top, you turn on the stove to 100%, you put your hand on it, it’s ice cold, or room temperature I should say, you then put a ceramic pot on it, the ceramic pot will do nothing, there’ll be no interaction. You put a magnetic, metal pot on top of that surface, and it will heat evenly itself, meaning that the magnetic pot is the heater. Field waves create magnetic hysteresis, as well as any currents which flow up and down the surface of that magnetic metal. This then causes something like molecular friction, which causes the heat to arise inside of the material. This happens very efficiently and very rapidly depending on a couple different factors. We miniaturized and patented that for personal vaporization.
TG Branfalt: How long did that take you, man? I mean, just you explaining it, it sounds sort of futuristic almost. From the time that you sat in that ice hockey rink, and you guys said, “All right, this is what we’re going to do.” Until you drew up the patent. How long did that take for you to design this?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Oh my gosh. That’s a complicated question, because it took a very long time to make this device. Well, that’s the story of the last couple years, then, isn’t it? The concept didn’t take long, but the implementation of a concept to an actual physical product took a brilliant mind, here in Silicon Valley, a gentleman named Darius …. He came up with the original circuit designed for magnetic induction vaporizer. We came up with something called a magnetic induction susceptor, which happens to be the heater and the wick, which is one piece. That piece, when placed inside of our magnetic induction field, will heat up evenly, without contact. It’s pretty amazing.
TG Branfalt: You crowdfunded this thing, which I find is really one of the most fascinating aspects of this whole project to me, because of the number of these crowdfunding projects that succeed is very small compared to the number that fall apart or never get funded. Can you tell me about the crowdfunding experience, or about your experience in the crowdfunding space?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Yeah. Let me tell you what’s going on with the crowdfunding space. It was amazing. It helped launch this company. It built a core group of fans. It showed us market validation, which is very useful for investors, and it was all around an amazing learning experience. There was a guy named Gregory Fox who came to our Garage Mahal and he was amazing. He got to try the unit. Yeah, he’s one of the original backers. We have a couple of these folks who have come, and that we’ve met over the years that we’ve traveled to LA a couple times. It’s been pretty remarkable, the crowdfunding people that we met.
The crowdfunding campaign doesn’t get you to product, not to people. I can say that with confidence. Unless you’re knitting your own hats, if it’s something that’s a complicated electronic device, you still have to have more money to get to product. We had to raise more funds, like everyone else, and in doing that, we had to build prototypes to prove that this technology was viable, to ourselves, and obviously, to investors, and the community. It took a long time to do that, and we had some pitfalls along the way.
We worked with a very ambitious company in Silicon Valley that was our first design firm, and they did maybe some unscrupulous things, but generally, they lost key personnel. The gentleman named Darius. He had left the company for a variety of reasons, and because of that, we also left that company. That set up a variety of different things that happened to us. We found a new design firm. We had to change the design. This took a long time. Then, there were respins of the boards. We had to tool. There were a number of different things that happened.
TG Branfalt: You had mentioned that you had a couple of setbacks. What kept you going when you hit a snag, and what did you do to maintain support?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Oh, that’s a good question. The way that I was able to maintain this company during this time. It was pretty difficult, because I had new kids … A new kid, sorry, and then another new kid later. Having children is very, very complicated with the startup at the same time, because of sleep deprivation. What kept me going through this, maybe it was some kind of mania, because I can’t really tell you how all of this came to fruition. Really, what kind of kept me on this path was the patent. The fact that I knew we had something. This is a real technology. This is something that’s impressive and amazing, and I think that because I’m a user of this technology, I’m maybe the only user out of a couple of us, I knew this was something really important and really significant. We also had a lot of interest from some massive companies worldwide. Private equity firms to other corporations that were in the space. Because of that, it was obvious that they were eyeing us to see if we would live or die, so I chose to live.
TG Branfalt: What amongst the crowdfunders, the general public, not just the investors, but the individual that helped with the crowdfunding, how did you maintain their support?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Oh, so let’s talk about that. This has been a tricky situation for us. We, as I mentioned before, had several setbacks. We try to always convey the most up to date information we had, and while that seems the most ethical and smartest thing to do, it is now proven to be wrong to me. I would say that what we should’ve done is, we should’ve waited to communicate longer at the beginning, but instead, we got whatever information we had and we passed it along to our crowdfunders, and it was extremely overzealous. That being the case, we missed our deadlines, and missing deadlines is a terrible thing in crowdfunding.
However, we have extremely supportive crowdfunders. Unbelievably. There are very many vocal crowdfunders that you’ll find from our campaign that are very upset that they haven’t received their units yet, but I think all will be forgiven as soon as they receive those units. However, the majority of the people, the vast majority of the people, have been supportive, and it’s been remarkable.
TG Branfalt: I mean, it takes a lot for any individual, or entrepreneur, or someone in a startup to be able to come out and admit that mistakes were made and not make excuses, so I applaud your candor in those regards. I know that they’re starting to ship here pretty soon, so congratulations, you’ve made it. Right?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: We’ve made it. We’ve got here. We did it. We made the units. We put the money in. We have made it. They just have to ship. Next year is going to be an interesting year for us. This year, we just need to focus on getting Loto Luxes out to our crowdfunders and to the market.
TG Branfalt: Well, I want to talk to you a bit more about your experience in the space. Before we do that, we’ve got to take a break. This is Ganjapreneur.com podcast. I’m TG Branfalt.
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TG Branfalt: Hey. Welcome back to the Ganjapreneur.com podcast. I’m your host TG Branfalt here with Loto Labs president Neeraj Bhardwaj. Before the break we were talking about the fact that you’ve gotten these units, they’re off the line, you’re entering the market with a product. Tell me about your experience thus far in a crowded and competitive market such as cannabis vaporizers.
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Yeah, good question. I worked in semiconductors and non-destructive testing for about 15 years. Both of which are very, very competitive and crowded. I was in sales and marketing, and I can tell you what I learned. I learned that companies with the most protectable IP and more products in their IP pipeline had the best shot at long term value creation. Without IP, and that stands for intellectual property, without such a thing, you will always have “me too” competitors, and it will basically come down to who has a better marketing budget. Cannabis is a lot like semiconductors. At the beginning, it grew at an absurd rate. I mean, obviously, cannabis is growing at an absurd rate. There’s room for lots of competition here, because the market is growing so incredibly fast, and a high tide lifts all boats.
Another thing I gleamed from corporate life was that in a competitive market, the customer wields much more power, and companies really have to account for that. That’s something that we’re really focusing on. You may have noticed some of our rebranding efforts. This is a very difficult task. The voice that we’ve been speaking with now, we have some new personnel and couldn’t be more grateful to them for coming on board.
TG Branfalt: When you were entering the space, you mentioned intellectual property, that’s not something that’s really afforded to a company that touches the plant, we’ll say. Was the ancillary industry, is it a little more appealing to you because you have those IP protections?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Well, yes. Obviously, we’re an ancillary company to the cannabis market. We’re an ancillary company to the tobacco market. We are the don’t smoke market.
TG Branfalt: As a new entrant to the cannabis accessory industry, what has struck you the most about the space thus far?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: So far I would say it’s the support and enthusiasm people have for this industry, within the cannabis community as well. You don’t really find that in semiconductors. I also think a common misconception you hear is about the green rush and all these cannabis companies make lots of monies, but the reality is that this fluctuating, uncertain, and changing market is making it very complex to do things like banking and to use credit cards. We get lumped into these categories all the time, and it makes it quite challenging for us as well, especially because we are not pro-cancer, let’s put it that way. Very anti-cancer here. It makes us really upset when people are comparing us to … Whatever reason. Whatever they want to stop us for, it’s very upsetting.
TG Branfalt: You’re talking about because your product is used for … It’s not a smoking device, so why are you lumped into this sort of market?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Well, vaporizers were ancillary to nicotine. Fortunately, we straddled tech, cannabis and nicotine as well other herbs and medicines. Vaporizers are viewed as paraphernalia.
TG Branfalt: What has the response been from people within the cannabis industry, people who touch the plant? What has been their sort of response to the Loto Lux?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: People within the industry have given us some interesting feedback. The biggest feedback we get is that the flavor of their cannabis is unbelievably better with our device. If you look at, say, concentrates, for instance, every device that I can think of actually ends up burning some of the concentrate. Our device does not, and it creates an unbelievable flavor.
TG Branfalt: So it maintains the terpene profiles?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: There’s a lot of things you can do. Our device is extremely customizable. There’s an app that allows you to change settings. You can change, obviously, the way a terpene profile is inhaled by adjusting different heat settings. Unlike a normal resistive heating device, where you have a bell curve of heating that goes up and then goes down, ours has an attack, sustain, and decay, much like an electronic keyboard. There’s an attack at the beginning when you start heating, and then there’s a sustain, and there’s the decay. Very digital in comparison, because the temperatures are able to change so rapidly.
TG Branfalt: This is done through a phone app?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: That’s right.
TG Branfalt: How did you figure this out? How did you figure out that you could maintain some terpene profiles with differences in heating?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Well, it’s just been a lot of testing, actually. It’s been quite a lot of testing over here. Yeah, it’s a complicated process. I can’t quite say the exact terpene profiles, or exactly what’s happening, but obviously something’s happening, and it’s going to take some PhDs some time to research this and come up with a set of values for what’s happening here.
TG Branfalt: I mean, that’s a super, super cool function. As a guy who really enjoys my vaporizers, and especially my live resins, and things that maintain terpene profiles, that’s a really exciting feature for us terpene snobs.
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Oh, man. You’re going to love it. You should see what happens with dry herb. There’s different settings for that as well, so you can go from a very smooth flavor, a very nice experience, all the way to something like incinerated. People like to do that, [inaudible 00:21:31]. Incinerate that popcorny flavor out and just take it in. I don’t know any other vaporizer that can really do that.
TG Branfalt: I haven’t heard of one yet, my man. I want to talk to you a bit about your Cannabis Cup experience, but before we do that, we’ve got to take our last break. This is the Ganjapreneur.com podcast. I’m TG Branfalt.
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TG Branfalt: Hey, there. Welcome back. I’m your host, TG Branfalt. You’re listening to the Ganjapreneur.com podcast. I’m here with Neeraj Bhardwaj, president of Loto Labs. You guys went to Cannabis Cup. I’ve been to one, so whenever I find someone who’s been to one, I really like to talk to them about it. Describe your Cannabis Cup experience, and how did you leverage that opportunity?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: All right. Yeah, let me tell you about that. We’ve actually been to several Cannabis Cups. We’ve done a lot of research before we went to the one where we presented at the 2014 Denver Cannabis Cup. I would say my experience with the Cannabis Cups are a lot like my first experience with Oktoberfest. Going to Denver, the mecca of cannabis at the time … I say at the time, because I think it’s going to shift to California, but anyways. It was exciting, and we saw a lot of different things. A lot of interesting people were at these events. With met a lot of the general public that would use our device. It was a really, really interesting thing to have thousands of people try our device in such a short period of time. The feedback and support we got was amazing, and basically, everyone loved the taste. That was the thing.
We heard three things, mainly. The flavor’s unbelievable. Oh, you can switch capsules so easily? That’s pretty amazing, because unlike other vaporizers, you fill these capsules in advance, and you just pop them in our device, because there’s no mechanical or electric connection. Of course, then there was the fact that we had an app that would control these different things, in real time, I should say.
TG Branfalt: When you unveiled at this event, what was going through your head as someone who’s worked on this and saw it from an ice hockey rink to being tested by thousands of people?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: I felt like I was on pins and needles. It was so unnerving, because we had gotten our first prototypes ever, the very first ones, three days before the Cannabis Cup. We had to rework them in our hotel room, we had to buy soldering irons and rework them, in between day one and day two. We lost three units in between those two days as well. It was incredibly difficult, very stressful time, but the team made it a little bit more enjoyable. That Cannabis Cup was very intense. Very, very intense. Everything we’ve done has some interesting story attached to it.
TG Branfalt: Your first time there as a vendor, you’ve been to Cannabis Cups prior. What did you learn from other vendors that were there?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Well, the main thing I learned was that everybody’s burning the materials. I mean, literally burning them. That’s kind of the way people do this. Especially with concentrates. I wanted to mention very briefly that our device works with everything. It works with dry herb, it works with dry tobacco, other herbs and medicines. It works with eLiquids, eJuices, all these things work with the heating discipline, which is induction technology.
TG Branfalt: You’re really candid in describing sort of the setbacks that you experienced, which not a lot of guys are open about that. Not a lot of CEOs or presidents of companies are open about that. What’s your advice for other entrepreneurs who are probably facing a lot of the same problems that you faced early on?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: The advice that I would have for entrepreneurs, first of all, you’re insane, know that. I’m an ice hockey goalie. Everyone thinks I’m crazy anyway. Besides that, I would say, and this advice is crazy, but I got it from my dad who started his own company, an old science farm in my grandparents’ garage. They’re a 30-some-year-old company now, or maybe almost 40 years old. Sorry, my bad. It’s almost 40 years old, because it started the year I was born, which is very interesting. Same thing started with my son. We started the same thing. Sorry, I digress. My advice is from my father, he said, “You can’t fail if you don’t give up.” Think about that. It’s really crazy. In every way that you think about that, on every level. That’s an insane way of thinking, but it’s true. If you don’t give up, you don’t fail. That’s what I thought. That’s what got me through the tough time.
You know, I learned a couple other things I think are good advice as well. The biggest deterrent to being great is just being good. I really love what my friend Christian Sanz at Skycatch says, and he says to his team, “Humble, nimble, reliable.” I think that really is an interesting mantra, and it really fits our company really well. We’re able to do a lot of things. We’re really nimble, but at the same time, we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere.
TG Branfalt: Have you ever heard the phrase, “Better done than perfect”?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Yeah. Oh yeah.
TG Branfalt: Not like anyone should ever listen to my advice for entrepreneurs, but that would be my advice, is better done than perfect.
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Absolutely. That’s very apropos, because you know, it’s Silicon Valley here. We like to say that if you’re happy with your first shipment, then you shipped too late.
TG Branfalt: That’s a really interesting one. I’ve never heard that one before.
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Yeah. Well, no. I mean, at B school they taught us that for startups and NTIs, new technology introductions, you really have to be shipping your MVP almost, and MVP stands for minimum viable product. If you look at software, if you look at a lot of different companies who have learned from different … and all these things put together, there’s definitely the idea that you need to ship and iterate as fast as possible. Fast fail, that’s a really important thing. Yeah, I was just trying to give one piece of advice, but basically, I could give a lot.
TG Branfalt: I’m sure the listeners appreciate, again, your sort of honesty and your straightforwardness. So where can people find out more about the Loto Lux and how to obtain one?
Neeraj Bhardwaj: The Loto Lux is sold online at LotoLabs.com. We have limited supplies, so I would rush to get as many as I could. Honestly, because these are not going to be made in this kind of device again. We are going to be iterating, obviously, as fast as possible, but this device is … Honestly, I’m floored by the performance and by this device. I think you’ll see when you get one in your hands, how incredible this guy is.
TG Branfalt: Well, I want to thank you for coming on the show, man. Again, it’s not often that I get somebody who is as excited about what they do and your openness. I really appreciate it and can’t wait to see the Loto Lux and the response, and what you guys come out with next.
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Yeah, absolutely. My candor comes from the fact that I don’t have time for anything. I don’t have time to BS or gloss over stuff. I’ll just be straight, right at it,
this is what happened, this is what happens. There’s nothing to hide. Yeah, there’s absolutely nothing to hide.
TG Branfalt: Well, I appreciate it, my man, and thanks again for being on the show.
Neeraj Bhardwaj: Yeah, man. It was awesome. Good talking with you.
TG Branfalt: You can find more episodes of the Ganjapreneur.com podcast in the podcast section of Ganjapreneur.com and in the Apple iTunes store. On the Ganjapreneur website, you will find the latest cannabis news and cannabis jobs updated daily along with transcripts of this podcast. You can also download the Ganjapreneur.com app in iTunes and Google Play. This episode was engineered by Jeremy Sebastiano. I’ve been your host, TG Branfalt.