JUUL’s Corporate Overhaul Is Starting to Get Ugly

Like the origin story of many technology upstarts, JUUL’s is set to be enshrined in myth. It was sort of like creating a social network in a Harvard dorm room, except here it was two Stanford graduate students, James Monsees and Adam Bowen, who said they thought of it while they took cigarette breaks on…

JUUL’s Corporate Overhaul Is Starting to Get Ugly

Like the origin story of many technology upstarts, JUUL’s is set to be enshrined in myth. It was sort of like creating a social network in a Harvard dorm room, except here it was two Stanford graduate students, James Monsees and Adam Bowen, who said they thought of it while they took cigarette breaks on campus. (The pair first developed a vaporizer, under the auspices of Pax Labs, that is now catered toward weed.) “Look, [cigarette] smoking hasn’t evolved in 100 years,” Bowen told Fast Company last winter. “It’s killing millions of people. We’re at the risk of suffering the same fate, and we want to work on this: How do you create a new ritual to replace the old one?” Since their signature nicotine product went to market in 2015, just like so many other players at the intersection of tech and big business, JUUL has come to face the inevitable need to “pivot.” As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, the company has been planning to cut some 500 jobs by the end of 2019 as it braces for a federal flavor ban on vaping products—and as it prepares an application for official recognition by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That coveted stamp of official approval is what’s known as a premarket tobacco product application, or PMTA. It’s the type of regulatory OK traditional businesses might be certain to get before going to market, but that 21st-century tech companies like Uber and JUUL often don’t bother with. The same day the layoff news broke, BuzzFeed News reported that a former JUUL executive, Siddharth Breja, alleged in a lawsuit that the company’s previous leadership shipped out contaminated and year-old pods, and that he was let go in retaliation for raising objections after the fact. JUUL has called these claims “baseless.” What, exactly, Breja alleges those rogue pods were contaminated with, and whether they had anything to do with vaping-linked illnesses that broke out across the country in recent months and have mostly been tied to THC carts, was not clear. Conversations with industry insiders suggested staff turnover and recrimina
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