Editor’s Note: This timeline is part of our feature, “How Juul, founded on a life-saving mission, became the most embattled startup of 2018.”
As Stanford grad students, Bowen and Monsees begin building an e-cigarette prototype out of foam, observing how smokers respond to different shapes. They hack together a final product by borrowing parts from butane lighters and other devices.
After working out of a friend’s office for about a year, the pair develop a business plan and secure money from angel investors including billionaire Nicholas Pritzker. They incorporate as Ploom, and in 2010 launch the Ploom ModelOne.
Ploom introduces Pax, a premium vaporizer designed for loose-leaf tobacco (but compatible with marijuana) that sells for $250. Bloggers gush: “I believe it could do for alternative smoking methods what the iPod did for MP3s,” writes one reviewer.
Japan Tobacco International acquires Ploom’s ModelTwo, including the intellectual property associated with the device and its pods. As part of the transaction, Bowen and Monsees buy back JTI’s stake in their company, and rename it Pax Labs.
Pax Labs, which has sold more than 500,000 Pax devices, announces $46.7 million in Series C funding from investors including Fidelity Management. On June 1, the company unveils Juul.
After a slow start, Juul’s market share climbs from around 10% to nearly 50%, surpassing British American Tobacco’s Vuse to become the leading e-cigarette in the U.S. Pax Labs quietly spins out Juul, creating two separate companies.
The FDA begins investigating Juul’s 2015 launch campaign, which featured youthful models, after critics suggest the company has been targeting minors. In July, Juul Labs raises $1.25 billion at a $16 billion valuation.