by Wade Hill
May 21, 2017
One of the most popular brands to hit the market over the last few years - Shishabucks. It's a brand that almost everyone has heard of, at least in some way or another. Shishabucks has practically set the standard for modern hookahs, and has showed the market what true innovation and love for the craft can do. Known best for their Cloud series hookahs, Shishabucks has changed the game with things like their Sky Bowl, their Stratus Heat Management Device, as well as making some absolutely stellar hookahs. They were kind enough to join me today for an interview, so pack a bowl and gather round as they answer some of the questions that you've been dying to read!
Wade: Thank you so much for joining me today! What do you think defines Shishabucks as a brand?
SB: Our goal is to produce modern, low-maintenance, and affordable hookahs. There are already a lot of great hookahs on the market, but we try to bring some uniqueness and to build a certain character for our products. I guess square base, elegant curves, anodizing finish and technical innovations (like invisible purge and heat manager lock) is what makes us special as of today.
W: I think that you've done a wonderful job of that so far. What do you think has been the cause for your success thus far?
SB: We're constantly innovating. We've been in business for less than 2 years, but already have 5 products on the market, and all of them are updated versions of the originals. We also have 3 new products in the pipe line. In this day and age, you cannot come up with one product and keep re-releasing it year after year. And our innovation is mainly driven by customer feedback. So, being on Reddit has been a great help in this regard.
W: Who made Shishabucks? Was it just you, or was there a team behind you?
SB: Actually, we started as a gadget company and were working on our unique phone holder for quite some time (you can lookup Keizus Quadrapod). During our team meetings we used to smoke from KM brought by one of our members. At some point we decided to switch fields and ended up in hookah business. But coming from fast pace gadget industry helps us to be fast paced and innovative in hookah manufacturing.
W: What inspired the design behind the Shishabucks iconic design?
SB: I think back in 2013 hookah manufacturers started experimented with cubic acrylic shapes. I believe PLX was the first company that came up with the square acrylic base instead of glass. Russian company Hoob Hookahs took that approach to the next level and designed a stainless steel tower-like structure on top but it cost a lot of money. We thought that we can design something even more elegant and cheaper, so came up with original Cloud|One hookah made from aluminum. Using aluminum over stainless steel gave us an option to have multiple anodized colors and black/gold tray version became our most recognized hookah.
W: Was this design, as some say, a blatant rip off of Hoob Hookahs futurist models?
SB: Indeed, appearance-wise there are a lot of similarities between our hookahs and Futuristics Series. To Hoob’s credit - they popularised modern cubic hookah trend and were one of the first on the market. Now there are at least 5 hookah companies that work with similar designs including Shishabucks, but we get compared to Hoob the most.
There a lot of other of things beside the appearance - so called “guts” of the hookah. In this regard we went our own way right from the beginning and implemented some unique features like invisible purge. I guess there should be a big difference how our hookahs perform (still waiting for unbiased head to head review). And don’t forget that we are in completely different price bracket - our top Cloud|One model has the same price tag as their cheapest Atom hookah.
W: In addition to that, there’ve been rumors that members of the Shishabucks team actually helped design the initial Hoob Futurist series. Is there any merit to these claims?
SB: No, this is not true. We have no connection to Hoob team, and have never met them in real life. But there are a few people who genuinely don’t like us for reasons unknown to me, so I guess this rumor might be coming from them.
W: Well, several of your products are in my list of favorites, but which product are you the most proud of?
SB: All our products are like children to me and each has its own story - initial design, prototypes, testing, disappointments, revisions, release, public acceptance, negative feedback, redesigns, version 2 release, etc. Sky Bowl is our top seller and most people praise it , but Stratus has a special place as it had the hardest “birth” as we wanted locking mechanism right from start and it was not obvious how to implement such feature in a simple way - we went at least through 4 or 5 iterations. But once Stratus was out - we got a lot of good feedback from customers with saved carpets due to the locking mechanism.
W: Yeah, it's saved my office floor more often than I'd care to admit. What is the most exciting thing about being a hookah manufacturer?
SB: There are two main perks that come with being a hookah manufacturer. The first perk is that after long tough day you can smoke your own hookah, and it's a kind of special experience as you did not just buy the hookah but you helped it come to life. The second perk is that because of hookah you get to travel to unusual places, (e.g. I’ve recently been to Vegas, Dubai, China and Germany), you get to meet a lot of interesting people from the hookah industry and you get to participate in interesting conversations because you are from the hookah industry.
W: Who have been some of the “hookah celebrities” that you’ve met that you were excited about? For example, when I met Shaunn (SmokeOrPass), I had a pure fangirl moment where I almost passed out.
SB: I guess Hookah John and SmokeOrPass (Shaunn is quite a tall guy in real life!). But unfortunately we don’t have too many Youtube celebrities in US hookah world. And I'm really looking forward to meet our conductor Mike in person. One day I will just jump in my car and drive right to Wall Street to smoke some new flavor on his famous balcony with gargoyles ;)
W: What's the biggest struggle that you face as a hookah manufacturer?
SB: Right now, we are struggling with the supply side. We try to innovate, and improve our products with every batch. However, the downside of this approach is that constant changes delay the production, as we spend a lot of time on prototyping. However, many people would say that struggling with supply is a good problem to have.
W: What can we be looking forward to in the future from Shishabucks?
SB: We are very excited about the Cloud|Storm hookah that should be released later this year. It has a lot of cool features, such as 360 degrees rotating hose connectors, or sliding fins.
W: Which of the Cloud models is your personal favorite?
SB: I mainly smoke from the Cloud|Micro on a daily basis, as it's very compact, and easy to handle during cleaning. When I have friends over - I usually use two Cloud|Ones. I have a custom purple Cloud|One with Gold tray - tribute to Lakers era, but will be switching to Red/Black due to the rise of Raptors (I am a big NBA fan).
W: What other hookah manufacturer do you have the most respect for in the industry? (can be anything, tobacco, coals, etc.)
SB: My personal inspiration is Wookah Hookah. They started a bit earlier than us - about 2.5 years ago. I made friends with one of Wookah owners (Mateusz) during TPE 2016 in Vegas, and we've been kind of growing in parallel. They have an amazing product, and they are very good at expanding their markets. You can see Wookah hookahs all over the world now - US, Europe, Brazil, Russia, Middle East. On top of that, Mateusz is very friendly guy and I always enjoy his updates on how Wookah conquers the world of hookah.
Pictured Above: Max from Shishabucks on the left, Mateusz from Wookah on the right.
W: Any chance that we’ll ever see a Wookah/Shishabucks collaboration piece? I know many people that would go absolutely nuts about that.
SB: This is not a question, this is an idea! But I doubt we will see it in real life.
W: Do you see the hookah industry massively suffering in the near future from the newly imposed FDA regulations? Or will we continue to thrive?
SB: FDA regulations are necessary, but a bit scary at the same time. Regulating hookah industry makes sense - as smokers we accept moderate health consequences due to our hobby, but we want government to protect us from really bad stuff that can cause serious illness. But the price tag that is attached to the compliance is ridiculous. For example, I have a friend who runs e-juice business in Canada. He had to leave the US market this year, as he had to pay about $40K per flavor to get FDA approval. So, he completely switched to European market. My point is that I am not sure what FDA’s real intentions are - to make the hookah market safer or completely shut it down. I worry it is the latter.
As a manufacturer, we try to diversify and find new markets in case the US hookah market becomes cost prohibitive due to high FDA approval costs. For example, in Brazil vaping is illegal, so everybody smokes hookah, and it became so popular that there is little chance of over regulation.. Also, the Middle East hookah market is behind in terms of innovation, but now they express a lot of interest in getting modern hookahs and tobaccos.
W: You recently returned from ShishaMesse, what kind of things did you get to experience there?
SB: I was very impressed with amount of hookah enthusiasts in Europe. On Saturday we had 4 rows of people in front of the booth waiting to try our products.
Tobacco is extremely expensive in Europe (like 13 Euros for 100g for the cheapest brand, and up to 20 Euros for 100g of Fumari). So because of this, they have special bowls that hold like 5 grams of tobacco. On the other side - coals are cheaper. At the show some brands were selling 1 kilo of cube coals for 3-4 euros.
It was also very impressive to find that USA tobacco brands are world leaders in that field. Starbuzz and Social Smoke had the biggest space in the center of the exhibition, people were crazy for Fumari and Trifecta, and there was a huge line to try Alchemist.
It was a lot of fun trying smoking from different pipes at the show as I mainly smoke Shishabucks hookahs for obvious reason. And surprisingly I greatly enjoyed smoking relatively cheap brazilian hookah with wide draw and completely disliked smoking super expensive hookahs with tight draws.
W: Now that you've seen the competition in Europe, where do you think Shishabucks stands on that kind of scope?
SB: We are different from traditional German hookahs that are mainly made from stainless steel. In addition, we are making new versions of the Cloud|Mini with 2 hose ports and the Cloud|One with 4 hose ports to appeal to European customer. So, we have our own fan base in Europe thanks to social media and we offer a new option for people who prefer to have various types of hookahs in their collection. We also found that Europeans like to travel and take hookahs with them. So, Cloud|Micro got a lot of interest for this reason.
W: Any new European products that we should be on the lookout for?
SB: European stainless steel hookahs are very impressive in real life (heavy though!). It looks like multiple US vendors are bringing them in now, and they are in a class of their own. Beside usual suspects like MIG and Brodator, there are new players on European hookah market like Steamulation hookah and Ocean hookah that look amazing. And it was cool to see a copy of Stratus by Amy in real life.
W: Was there any weird confrontation there? Anything where you were like “hey, I made this. Please stop.”
SB: Not really. I personally don’t mind copies - for me it is an acknowledgement that we are doing something right.
W: How do you think that the hookah industry will change in the coming years?
SB: Personally, I think that the hookah coal industry is going to be disrupted by battery powered heat managers. I also think hookah tobacco brands will become more natural and transparent in terms of ingredients and labeling - new FDA rules might be helpful in this regard. For example, I am surprised that nobody puts expiration date on the tobacco packaging, even though manufacturers admit that unopened shisha lifespan is about 1 year.
W: What is the most frustrating thing about being in the industry, that Shishabucks has experienced?
SB: The most frustrating thing is a stigma attached to hookah industry by people who never smoked hookah themselves. But it's also an advantage, as there are fewer players on the market for the same reason.
W: If the entire company could choose to smoke one flavor and one flavor only for the rest of their lives, which flavor would make the entire Shishabucks staff the happiest? Except Vlad, he doesn't count.
SB: It would be some Alchemist flavor - like Guminati or Russian Mule. It's usually what we smoke during brainstorming sessions. By the way, we still have some Lavoo left. So, we pack thin layer of Lavoo densely on the bottom of Sky Bowl and fluffy pack Fumari on top - works very well and preserves our Lavoo stock.
W: Which market impresses you more, the European Market, or the US market? You can split it, like if US has better tobacco and Euro has better pipes, for example.
SB: IMHO currently there are 4 major markets where hookah is booming - US, Europe (lead by Germany), Russia, and Brazil. The beauty of is that every country brings its own cultural flavor to hookah and as consumers we benefit from having access to the best stuff world has to offer.
W: If Shishabucks could go back and do one thing differently, what would that be?
SB: We’ve been lucky not to have made any big mistakes during our short history (that's why we are still alive as a brand), and all the small mistakes helped us to grow and get a valuable experience. There were some disappointments like exhibiting on a smoke show with no visitors, but nothing major that is worth getting a time machine :).
W: Well Max, I'd like to thank you so much for the interview, I think that it's been a wonderful insight into the world of Shishabucks. But I do have one final question: What do you say to those who say that Shishabucks is Chinese made crap? To those who don't know about the innovation, the hard work, and the dedication behind your brand? What do you say to them?
SB: Making our product in China was a conscious decision right from the start as our goal was to make affordable hookahs. We got price quotes from various suppliers in Canada and the total cost was about 2.5 higher comparing to China. We were pretty positive that most consumers would not pay double the price in exchange for "Made in Canada" label. But it is not only about the cost - it is easier to source various parts in China, it's easier and cheaper to ship from China, and the most important factor - the quality of China made products in our case is far superior comparing to local Canadian shops (e.g. our factory in China uses modern 4-axes CNC machines that require less human intervention that in turn makes the product quality more consistent). In the past, China has had a very bad reputation for counterfeit products which definitely hurt the overall branding of “Made in China”, but many things have changed since then. And the truth is, China-made products are everywhere (even in "Made in <non-China>" goods), but most of the time it doesn’t matter to consumers.
The reality of modern world is that everything is interconnected and you are not tied by the boundaries of the country where you live. We outsource manufacturing in China, we use a lot of software made by US companies, we employ local Canadian guys for support, we outsource logistics to US-based company, we hire graphic freelancers from Europe. But what defines our brand is our intellectual output - ideas, designs, drawings, engineering solutions, etc. For everything else, we turn to the guys who have more expertise and/or higher efficiency to turn these ideas into reality.
And at the end, I want to thank hookah subreddit for helping us to become a real brand. When we made first batch of Cloud|Ones - nobody knew about us. We tried various social media platforms for advertising - but nothing worked that well. So, we joined this subreddit and instead of being criticized or ridiculed on our first product that was not flawless, we got very constructive feedback and encouragement to continue (special thanks to /u/m2i5k6e6!). And it did not stop - we kept getting feedback, we had very successful meetups in Toronto (/u/MrLeb came up with Sky Bowl name during one of them), we got a lot of happy customers from reddit who spread the word about our products, we found our support hero /u/the8roundshock through reddit and we have great reviewers like /u/WadeOnHookah and /u/thelonesloth who give us additional exposure on YouTube. So, we are very grateful to this community and are proud to be part of it.
by Hookah Heroes
April 08, 2018
by Wade Hill
February 26, 2018
by Wade Hill
February 18, 2018
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