Firefly’ers

By Gabriel Montoya and Gary Randall | SocialUnderground.com

As the Green Rush hurdles forward at a greater rate of speed of each day, the search for new ideas, new technologies, the next step in vape evolution accelerates. A quicker light. A purer taste and scent. Vape-technologists endlessly search for that perfect draw. With the exception of The Volcano, a table top convection-heated vaporizer shaped liked a volcano and requiring a large plastic bag to capture your material’s vapor, conduction has ruled the day in the vaporizer world. Despite issues with wattage, temperature, portability, comfort, and flat-out discretion, conduction vapes dominate the industry. Mark J. Williams and Sasha Robinson creation,The Firefly, is poised to tip the scales in a new direction.

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The world has gotten to where it is through endless innovation. Technological revolutions have pushed us forward to a point where information travels near instantaneously around the globe and back again. It is said that there is nothing new under the sun. But it was under the Nevada desert sun where Williams and Robinson first began to step out of society’s conventional box into a fresh world beyond what either of them had ever expected.

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Each year close to 70,000 people from all over the world gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to form the temporary Black Rock City. The seventh largest city in Nevada while it’s up and running, Black Rock is the site of a week-long social experiment in “community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance.” With an over-reaching theme of radical inclusiveness, the gates of BRC are wide open to the possibilities of creativity. It’s like hitting the cultural reset button only you get to keep your individual skill set.

What each “burner” brings to the party is the frame work and the tools of your time there. Nothing is bought or sold except ice and coffee. Its a culture of giving, surprising, laughter and remembering what it was like when you saw the world through the eyes of a child but with the experience and wisdom of an adult; joyful, non-judgemental and full of creativity and wonder. The experience is life-changing for many people, Williams and Robinson not excluded.

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“It is super inspiring in terms of creative passion,” said Robinson. “And also, with Burning Man, the output is not related to money. At the end of the day the value of what you get has nothing to do with money. I think for both of us, we want to create beautiful things. We want to create useful things. We want to create something that is different in the world. And the money kind of comes. We’re both fortunate enough to both have that where we can actually live our passions and grow that. Develop our skills and sort of put our ideas, our creativity into the world in a way that then returns. But its really just about putting that passion out there and just seeing that become a reality.” “Burning Man was influential on me in that it opened me up to the field of possibilities to what I would grant myself,” said Williams. “Because ultimately that is what it is about.”

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The two had met at a Burning Man “decompression” party “six or seven years ago. The event, which is like a post-Burn party, was DJ’d by Space Cowboys on what was apparently a particularly good night. They were introduced by mutual friends on the dance floor and got to talking, dancing, and sharing ideas.With both coming from a product design background, the tendency almost immediately was to throw ideas back and forth. “We got to having that conversation: “Isn’t that cool? Wouldn’t this be cool?,” Williams told SocialUnderground.com on a recent visit to Firefly’s lab. “And those conversations started to evolve over the course of a couple years” as the two saw each other at social gatherings. “As product design guys,” Williams began, “you can’t help but have that conversation. You can’t stop.” “You don’t want to stop,” added Robinson. “You won’t want to stop because it’s fun to imagine what could be and then find out how to do that,” agreed Williams. “But this grew naturally out of our friendship.” “We wanted to do our own thing,” said Robinson. “We both had grown tired of working for other people.”

Age Happens

Something happens to a man around age 39. Perhaps its the loom of 40 and middle age. Maybe its the first time he doesn’t heal as quick as before; staying sore a little bit longer after each workout. Perhaps desire begins to wane. A switch gets flipped and suddenly you find yourself looking towards the horizon, acutely aware of your own mortality. You realize you can’t go on in this manner any longer. A mark has to be made.

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For Robinson and Williams, that acknowledgment came in their shared joy of smoking and the need to end the cycle of working for someone else in the corporate world. The realization that while they loved being in shape and young for their years, smoking and not enjoying their work were taking their tolls.

The FireFly Lab

“We’d been in the corporate world, both of us for about twenty years and sometimes you have great dynamics there and sometimes you don’t. But it’s part of the job. When you decide to grant yourself the ability to choose who you want to be around, then things look really good,” said Williams. With that in mind, the two went in business together to create what would ultimately become The Firefly, a portable convection-heated vaporizer.

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The Firefly’s lab, such as it is, resides in the basement of Robinson’s lovely suburban San Francisco home. Stainless steel mixed in with dark hardwood floors and cabinets amid fur rugs and the occasional plant lead to a balcony overlooking a backyard garden Robinson tends that features a 3,000 pound stone table. There is a warmth to the sparse decor.

Downstairs, a heavy bag hangs in the garage for another kind of meditation (Robinson is a martial artist with experience in several disciplines,) just outside the lab. Overall, the work and living space is as practical, warm and inviting as it’s inhabitants. “We just want to find cool people and work with them and do beautiful things,” said Robinson with an unabashed smile.

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Our lab tour was essentially a trip down the evolutionary lane of the Firefly. On a table laid out for us was each version of the device, a visual chronicle of every design from butane conduction to convection. In the middle of the row, what would become the device was a model carved from hard foam. Further down the row, newer versions formed, finally giving way to the finished product. It was a tour of their dreams, frustrations and their ultimate triumph.

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Through it all, the two men remained steadfast. Robinson mentioned another virtue of Burning Man, that of the deep friendships it creates. Its one thing to meet someone in the city, at work, and have a few beers or hit the town for dinner with the wives. You might even go camping. That’s one kind of friendship. But its quite another to experience Burning Man, which takes place in an incredibly harsh land filled with unbelievably magic things, people and experiences you will see nowhere else. It’s like going camping with a buddy on a planet neither of you have heard of before. Once you’ve put down rebar on a dry lake bed or survived a whiteout out on the playa together, you’ve developed a friend you know will be there no matter what.

As Robinson put it, “You’re working with your friends in a way you never do in regular life.” That experience steeled both men as they went through a long process of learning new skills, testing prototypes; keeping what was essential, and disregarding the rest. All while trusting that the other would be there every step of the way.

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The Firefly has been tested and put together piece by piece by both men. They wanted to build something that they could make, take apart, repair and re-assemble themselves. In all ways, from design to use, great care and forward thinking, not just for the consumer, but for the planet, has been taken into account. The Firefly can be broken down and recycled piece by piece.

“Never be a afraid to scrap what you got and start over, cause you’re not scrapping your knowledge”  

Mark Williams | The Firefly

The Design

“Everything has electronics in it,” said Robinson. “Eventually, like a remote control, you’re done with it and you throw it away and its gone from your vision. But it doesn’t go away from the planet. So if we were going to make something that we’d sell to people, we want them to be able to use it for years. Its something you’re going to want in your life. Its not just going to be trash in a year.”

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From how its cleaned to how it vapes, I got the sense that the piece is very personal to them, that a piece of each of them went out with each Firefly. Robinson showed me a Firefly he uses that he refuses to let his company sell. The reason? It had a tiny curve near a vent where it shouldn’t. It was a functional flaw but it’s not the level of excellence each man is reaching for. “We use this product. This is a product for our lives,” said Robinson, vaping some Captain Black. “We don’t want to have to clean it in some convoluted way. We wanted to design it so it’s easy.”

The device itself looks like something Iron man would make. It has the heft of something substantial and the simplicity of something that will be around for long while; Reminiscent of a 50’s rocket age device. The top face is held on magnetically and comes right off to reveal the bowl. Cleaning the device appears to be a snap from it’s glass bowl to quartz crystal window through which you can see the reddish orange glow that gives the Firefly its name. A simple push of the button on the side and a strong lung pull gets the job done cleanly and as efficiently as any device I have explored. Right off the bat I could tell that the Firefly and I would be going on some fairly amazing journeys.

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The major appeal of the Firefly, beyond it’s outward appearance, is what’s under the hood. Through convection heating, the air around your material will heat to 400 degrees. Because of its instant, strong pull abilities, The Firefly is able to capture and deliver the essence and the flavor of the material’s various components as they heat and activate at various degrees.

The Effects

All bowls are not created equally. Each can be as different as the effects of a Sativa or Indica. A whiskey versus a wine. A well-designed device should recognize that and act accordingly. The goal of any vape designer is a clean, strong pull that not only maintains the flavors of the material but also it’s unique characteristics. If you are vaping Captain Black pipe tobacco, you want to maintain that heady mixture of dark cherry mixed with maple with a hint of chocolate and spice as you pull past your taste buds and into your lungs. You want more than one sense engaged. The Firefly successfully achieves that desire. It’s the best tasting vape I’ve yet experienced.

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“And it removes all the worst parts of smoking,” said Robinson. “Your clothes don’t smell. Your breathe doesn’t stink.” And you aren’t killing yourself with smoke in your lungs. All that remains is the sweet taste of the tobacco and the pleasant scent.

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A day spent hanging with two people chasing their dreams with wide smiles and open minds is a refreshing one. Between the two of them, Mark. J. Williams and Sasha Robinson have worked for companies like Microsoft, Apple, LG and Nike. What they’ve built together, The Firefly, has the potential to enter that pantheon of instantly recognizable brand names. How they have managed to do this, with passion and integrity, taking their destiny in hand and crafting it themselves, is a road map few have followed. Williams and Robinson’s approach is as refreshing as their product.

Please visit: Thefirefly.com to learn more and stay up to date on their future product releases.

This article written by Gabriel Montoya | SocialUnderground.com

You can follow Gabriel Montoya on Twitter: twitter.com/@Gabriel_Montoya

Firefly’ers