Interview by Arend Richard, Co-Founder of TheWeedTube.com
Arend Richard: As one of the first to discover Smojo, I get it and love it, but please bring everyone else up to speed—what is Smojo?
Smojo is a new, unique form of smoking screen that is permanent and non-clogging. Smojo helps prevent waste and keeps your pipe cleaner longer.
It is a bit hard to [picture], but it is a stainless steel device with a head section and tail section. The head is a plate that sits right over the hole in the bottom of the bowl and blocks most of the embers and ash from passing through it, while the tail section is a set of tiny legs which are inserted into the bowl hole to hold the plate in place and to keep it from falling out when you empty your ashes.
But please note, I do not claim Smojo blocks all ash and embers. I cannot due its fundamental design and the variation in pipes.
AR: Are you really claiming to have invented a permanent screen that doesn’t clog? That sounds unbelievable!
I know, and I love the “aha” moment when people grasp how Smojo works.
It’s permanent because it’s made of stainless steel and has enough mass that a standard lighter cannot damage it. Its serviceable temperature range is up around 1100 CO and it never gets near that range in this application.
Non-clogging because it has no holes to clog. It relies on the gaps formed between the head and the glass smoking bowl to pass air and smoke. If those gaps begin to get clogged, they can be cleaned without removing Smojo by using alcohol and a swab or by using your lighter to burn away any build-up.
AR: OK, you say it doesn’t drop out. Does Smojo ever come out once it’s in?
Smojo’s legs are very skinny, strong, and flexible. They can be spread to fit different sized pipe holes, flatten during insertion or removal, and spring back open when free. Once inserted in the hole, the legs spread back open to keep it from coming out when the bowl is emptied. This flexible leg design also allows Smojo to be easily removed with tweezers for cleaning.
AR: What was your motivation for development?
I have always found using mesh type screens a hassle. Since I liked to try to burn my screens clean with my lighter, I opted to avoid brass due to its low melting temperature. But, stainless steel screens are hard to get to stay put when your bowl is clean, so I had to constantly smoke a “seasoned” bowl for any hope of stability. Finally, there is only a useful small area at the center of a screen, and this gets clogged quickly.
I started using the glass daisies and jacks, but they moved around, got broken, and got lost in my ashtray. Better, but not great.
But still, not using a screen was much worse for me. The water in my pipe got dirty quickly and I hated seeing un-burnt pieces of smoking material floating there, as it meant I just wasted good money. Or even worse, when I smoked my dry pipe, I would catch an ember on the lip.
So for years I suffered with screens, thinking about how I might improve them.
AR: What changed, what was the inspiration for Smojo?
I like to think outside of the box and experiment with wild ideas. One day, instead of putting a mesh screen in flat as I normally would, I rolled it into a little tube and inserted it into the hole at the bottom of my bowl, extending vertically. Lo and behold it stayed in and worked…for a short time. Then it got clogged like any screen. But, just that little act of trying something “out of the box” made me realize I could use the hole as an anchor point, and that’s when it hit me: putting a square peg in a round hole would give me exactly what I needed, small air gaps! Eureka!
AR: How long did it take to develop?
About 18 months, beginning with the development of dozens of prototype designs, extensive beta testing, tooling, pilot run, production run, and packaging. Early in the beta test phase, about midway through the project, I contacted an attorney and began the patent process. If Smojo had not been patentable, I would not have taken it forward into the expensive tooling phase.
AR: Would you have really killed the project?
Oh yes, of course. It takes a lot of money to produce and launch a new consumer product. If you get copied in the first year, it’s hard to make back your investment. Smojo can easily be reverse engineered, so why bother? We are currently in review at the patent office and I expect to have the final patent soon.
AR: What was most challenging in development?
Besides trying to optimize the design to best fit the vast variety of pipes out there, for me personally, it was teaching myself CAD in order to move the design from development to manufacturing. Also coming up with the name took forever!
AR: Why not glass instead of stainless steel?
I needed the legs to be flexible and that is hard to do with glass. In researching stainless steel on Wikipedia, I discovered that when you try to burn it, instead of releasing any molecules, it grabs the oxygen ions, bonding to forming a protective shell that is immune to fire, similar to glass. When people tell me that they can taste metal when using metal screens, I believe them, but, I bet they have been sold something other than pure stainless steel. There’s no way to tell unless you know the source.
AR: What have user reactions been to Smojo?
I can’t recall [ever] seeing such a universally positive reaction [before]. One of my beta testers put it best when she said “I didn’t know I needed it, but now I won’t smoke without it.” Smoking screens are not the most pressing issues on anyone list, but when something makes life easier, people generally like it.
AR: How has Smojo changed your life?
It’s funny you use those words. One of the earliest reviewers on Amazon said it changed her life, and it has indeed totally change my life. First, I enjoy smoking much more, and get pleasure from helping many others enjoy life a little better. Second, I find myself back in a start-up, now my fourth one. It keeps life interesting, and I get to meet new, interesting people. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming because things are going so well.
AR: What do you hope to get out of Smojo?
Serenity. To me not having to hassle with things, to be free of worry, and at peace would be nirvana. If Smojo is successful, it will take away some of my other worries as it has already freed me from the hassles of traditional smoking screens.
Interviewer’s note: The Smojo Inventor graduated MIT and Harvard Business School, and has over 40 years in business management.