Life With ‘Big Tobacco’
Here we are – just three months into the ultimate experiment of electronic cigarettes and Big Tobacco joining forces. When we first announced on April 25th this year that blu had been purchased by Lorillard, there were a lot of questions about what this would mean for blu, and for the e-cig industry in general. To that end, I wanted to give everyone a look into life as we know it now, what has happened in the past few months, and what we expect for the future.
Let’s rewind to when I first started talking to Lorillard. Believe it or not, I had many of the same concerns consumers had, and in fact, many more. For my business partners at the time, the decision was more financial, but I was far more concerned about what this would mean for my team, and my vision for the company. Would everyone keep their jobs? Would we be able to retain our passion and culture? Would we be able to continue under the premise of making history? Would Big Tobacco be the right partner for us? Happily, many of these questions were answered before the sale, and the staff is still intact.
Some of these answers came immediately, others over time, and still many others are continuing to develop, but I can say one thing for certain. The outcome of the acquisition has exceeded expectations. When it came to the company culture, I wanted to make sure we continued down the path of changing the tobacco industry, not conforming to it. I also wanted to continue developing the product in a way that was consistent with consumer expectations and that stayed true to the potential of the product itself. I believe, and Lorillard also holds this belief, that electronic cigarettes offer the greatest opportunity to fulfill the ‘Harm Reduction’ charter. In this respect, I think Lorillard was, and still is, the best partner for blu and ecigs in general. Their decision showed great foresight and a true commitment to responsibility that we don’t typically associate with Big Tobacco. I know some of you are saying “it can’t all be roses and ice cream.” It isn’t and, as always, I want to be honest and forthcoming.
This process has brought on many changes and emotions – some of which have been negative, although most are due to the nature of the situation and not because of the acquisition by Lorillard. For example, being a part of a public company, and for that matter, a tobacco company, has introduced blu to operating in a more highly regulated environment – both from a financial perspective and right down to day-to-day aspects such as general administration demands and protocols. This has been a challenge, as these changes require significant bandwidth and can often feel paralyzing when we look at how we used to operate. When I look at all that could go wrong and what has been difficult up until this point, it is comforting that many of these negatives can be attributed more to growing pains – and are far less long-term. I would have many more concerns if there were major issues like overbearing management or marked differences in philosophy for blu and the category, which does not exist in the current culture.
So the next question I hear in my head, as I write this from the consumer point of view, is “What does the future hold?” I think the future is very bright in terms of what the consumer and blu customer can expect. blu is still committed to leading this industry and doing so in a way that exceeds expectations, while embracing our responsibly to adult smokers in a way that the tobacco industry never envisioned. That will forever be important to me, as a founder and a smoker. From a product perspective, the future is extremely promising, as this acquisition has enabled us to expedite our development plans into the express lane. We are working now to finish the product improvements consumers are asking for and to increase the development of new and exciting blu products through innovation and technology – in a way that only blu can.
My hope in writing this article was to give everyone some insight into the process we are undertaking and to spark thought and questions regarding what has happened and what the future will hold. I enjoy reading and responding to readers’ comments and questions so keep them coming.