Introduction to Juul
Juul has taken the e-cigarette market by storm over the last couple of years. It is by and far the most dominant e-cigarette manufacturer and has been one of the fastest growing startups throughout the history of Silicon Valley. Juul has helped create a vaping device of which many sources expect to be 95% healthier than traditional combustible cigarettes.1 In a Georgetown oncology professor report, the study concluded that 6.6 million lives would be saved if 10% of smokers switched to e-cigarettes each year in the next ten years.2 Many experts describe “combustible cigarettes as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, where vaping is a sheep in wolf’s clothing” based on current public perception.
Current Shortcomings and Challenges
It is critical for Juul to employ Open Innovation to utilize their proprietary vaping technology for healthier use cases and to curb underage use. According to a CDC annual National Youth Tobacco Survey, e-cigarette use has surged 75% over the last year, representing ~3 million or 20% of high school kids who have tried e-cigarettes.3 This is completely unacceptable, and unless Juul is able to better leverage their technology and devices for healthier alternatives, the company will not survive regulation moving forward. The FDA has already started to ban the selling of flavored Juul pods, and countries outside the US have prevented certain nicotine strengths, and some countries have banned the device altogether.4 Given Juul has a patented delivery mechanism through vapor intake technology; it should consult with other industry experts and crowd source innovative ideas for safe and alternative products to nicotine-based ones. Open Innovation can help shape the direction of Juul to better understand the questions and concerns that both users and non-users have about the product and what new types of products Juul can create.
Juul’s Current Strategy
Juul’s management has been in contact with many healthcare companies to better understand the pros and cons of vapor delivery. This type of intake involves no combustion which also means it doesn’t contain any burning or combustion that produces tar and chemicals that are associated with combustible cigarettes. Vapor delivery is the quickest form of uptake by the body as opposed to digestion or absorption. There are incredible opportunities to leverage this technology to ultimately deliver vitamins, energy, and medicine in the future. Given vapor delivery technology like Juul is relatively recent to other forms, Juul’s management is also working and conducting tests to better understand any side-effects of intaking substances through vapor delivery as opposed to the most common forms of digestion, absorption, or intravenously. In the medium term, Juul is planning to roll out their devices to hospitals and other labs to conduct controlled studies with people to test the short-term and long-term benefits and harms of vapor intake of medicine and other drugs.
One thing I would encourage Juul to do is to better use open innovation with its current users. Given Juul’s distribution model is largely through convenience stores and small retail shops, Juul has very little data on how their current customers are behaving with the product. Juul should spend more time and resources to conduct focus groups with current customers to see what they would like to see how the product could improve in its current state. Then, I would also conduct research with people that are vehemently against Juul and better understand why they would never use a product like Juul in its current form of delivering nicotine. I would also ask if the same people would have reservations about using the product if it instead delivered medicine, vitamins, or energy to understand the pain points from a user perspective and how Juul could go about solving these issues. By being holistic and garnering feedback from both your users and non-users, Juul can then better innovate on the products that consumers want and need.
Regarding Juul, there are a few questions that I have pondered. Juul is obviously an extremely controversial company given their nicotine-based product is used by teenagers that are underage. I wonder if Juul will ever be able to overcome the public perception that is currently perpetuated by the media that only teenagers use the product and that the company is fundamentally evil. Will it be able to overcome negative public scrutiny even if Juul is able to innovate and create healthier products?
- Brose, L., McNeill, A., Calder, R. and Hitchman, S. (2018). Public Health England. [online] Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/733022/Ecigarettes_an_evidence_update_A_report_commissioned_by_Public_Health_England_FINAL.pdf [Accessed 6 Nov. 2018].
- (2018). Bitter news for Juul fans: The FDA is banning flavored e-cigarettes. [online] Available at: https://qz.com/1458730/the-fda-plans-to-ban-flavored-juuls-and-other-flavored-e-cigarettes/ [Accessed 12 Nov. 2018].
- Smoking and Tobacco Use. (2018). CDC – National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) – Smoking & Tobacco Use. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/surveys/nyts/index.htm [Accessed 12 Nov. 2018].
- Tolentino, J. (2018). The Promise of Vaping and the Rise of Juul. [online] The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/05/14/the-promise-of-vaping-and-the-rise-of-juul [Accessed 9 Nov. 2018].