Gamucci founders Taz & Umer Sheikh were featured in the Easter weekend edition of the Finanical Times discussing the rise of electronic cigarettes in the UK, and their role in the advent of the technology - read our chosen excerpt here, or follow the link at the bottom of the page to the full story.
From the Finanical Times:
Entering his thirties, Umer Sheikh decided he’d had enough: it was time to give up cigarettes. As he resolved to quit his 20-a-day habit, he spotted an advertisement for an electronic cigarette, available from a Chinese company called Ruyan. It was 2006 and these strange contraptions – they looked more like assembly-kit plastic cigars than cigarettes – were an oddity. But, desperate for anything to ease his dependency on tobacco, he bought one for $200. It arrived and he took his first drag. “It was amazing,” he says. “It was guilt-free smoking.” A few hours later it broke. Sheikh sent off for another. That lasted a day. Nonetheless he was hooked.
Soon after this epiphany, in November 2006, the British government passed a law to ban smoking in virtually all enclosed public places in England from July 2007 (following Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales). For Umer, it was a light-bulb moment: he convinced his brother, Taz, of the business opportunity presented by e-cigarettes.
The brothers already had an IT consultancy and software-development company based in Britain and Bangalore, and they shared an appetite for entrepreneurial risk – their parents ran their own retail company and took them to trade fairs and wholesalers at the weekend. If it had not been e-cigarettes, it would have been something else, reflects Taz: “We took a punt.”
Keen to improve on the e-cigarette experience, the brothers hired two Chinese engineers to experiment with the technology. Instead of Ruyan’s three-piece version (made up of battery, vaporiser and liquid-filled cartridge) they came up with a device that used just two. That overcame the overheating problem which had made Umer’s original purchase break down.
At first, it was difficult to get retailers to stock their Gamucci e-cigarettes. “They hadn’t heard of electronic cigarettes and didn’t know where to position them – alongside traditional tobacco products or in the health section,” says Umer, blunter than his brother Taz, who speaks with the patter of a salesman. In 2008, at Gamucci’s first trade show – the NEC Birmingham spring fair, a business-to-business show for retail products – the brothers were sandwiched between a stall selling swords and another that was punting hemp-seed chocolate.
The breakthrough came when Genting Casinos, a UK gambling chain that had been hit by the smoking ban, agreed to stock their product. E-cigarettes allowed gamblers to “vape” (as inhaling the vapour from an e-cigarette is known) while remaining at the roulette wheels.
The way e-cigarettes work is that, as a user puffs on one end, a tiny electronic device heats up a nicotine cartridge, turning it into a vapour that is then inhaled, supposedly exposing only the smoker to nicotine. The remaining vapour evaporates without any smoke exposure to others. The products do not use tobacco.
Today, operating out of an office on the edge of the City of London packed with higgledy-piggledy piles of boxes, Gamucci is finalising a fundraising round of £20m. Last year its revenues were £5m. The company has signed a distribution deal with WH Smith and opened a “vaping lounge” at Heathrow airport. “We didn’t envisage it would be such a large industry,” says Taz. To bolster growth it has also hired former tobacco executives. Its chief executive, Tony Scanlan, spent nearly two decades at Rothmans International in a number of senior roles, including strategic new brands director.
Read the full story at: The Financial Times