Vaping Product Managers Walk Away From A New Product

Sometimes good ideas just don't make it to market
Sometimes good ideas just don’t make it to market
Image Credit: Vaping360

As product managers, the one thing that we’d all like to do is to be in charge of a very popular product. However, something that we often don’t consider is that if a product is popular, it’s going to get a lot of scrutiny. This scrutiny can make the life a product manager much more difficult if not downright impossible. A good example of such a product are the e-cigarettes that are made by the company Juul. Their product has exploded in popularity; however, that has caused the U.S. government to take a close look at just exactly who is buying their product. The Juul product managers keep pushing forward with new innovations, but will the scrutiny that they are under cause them problems?

Walking Away From A Novel Product

Despite their struggles with the government in terms of regulation of their product, the Juul product managers have been continuing to try to innovate and extend their product development definition. However, now that they are facing budget cuts and regulatory scrutiny, they have shelved the development of a puff-counting feature that their product managers say had the potential to help users wean themselves off nicotine. The product managers at Juul last year began piloting a usage monitor in the U.K. and Canada. The new feature allowed consumers to track the number of puffs they took on a Juul vaporizer. The count data was transmitted through a Bluetooth connection to an Android-phone app. The new feature also gave users the option to create a daily alert when they reached a certain number of puffs. The pilot ended, and there are no current plans to bring the usage monitor back, according to a Juul official and other people familiar with the matter.

This project’s closure, as Juul this year undergoes a series of drastic staff cuts, illustrates how the once fast-growing company is trying to right-size itself and earn back the good graces of both regulators and the public. Juul product managers have been struggling while Government officials have blamed Juul for causing a surge in teen vaping in the U.S. To deal with all of these challenges Juul is planning to cut more than half its 2,200-person workforce and is considering closing its operations across Europe and Asia. That news follows a round of layoffs earlier this year, when the company tried to deal with its situation by cutting a third of its 3,000 staff. These cuts come amid regulatory crackdowns on flavored e-cigarettes and a sharp decline in Juul’s sales. Meanwhile, rival Reynolds American is gaining market share with its Vuse e-cigarette brand and some vaping customers are switching back to traditional cigarettes.

The Juul product managers believe that their top product-development priority now is technology aimed at restricting underage access. The Juul product managers have submitted to the Food and Drug Administration a new version of its vaporizer designed to unlock only for users at least 21 years old. The reason that the usage-monitor project was put on hold was because of budget constraints and because executives didn’t think regulators, already wary of the e-cigarette maker, would approve a device that gave the company access to users’ nicotine-consumption data. The company is still exploring the feature.

Next Steps For Juul

The product managers at Jull have for adult smokers a product road map years into the future, including potential features like the usage monitor. The product manager’s plan is for Juul to take a methodical approach and will work with regulators in order to earn trust around the intent and execution of any such products. It was believed that the puff-tracking feature could have provided support to users who wanted to quit by helping them gradually taper down their consumption. Things are not all bad for Juul – Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, recently invested almost $13 billion in the e-cigarette company Juul. An investment like this would look good on anyone’s product manager resume. Some experts are saying that in its early days Juul mirrored the tobacco industry’s promotional playbook in an effort to hook young people.

The Juul product managers are reviewing the data they collected during the pilot in the U.K. and Canada to determine whether there is any evidence that an e-cigarette usage monitor could encourage cigarette smokers to try vaping. The product managers believe that a cigarette has a beginning and an end. Sometimes traditional smokers aren’t sure how an e-cigarette works or how many puffs they should be taking. During the pilot about 1,500 people used the feature. To introduce a usage monitor in the U.S., Juul’s primary market, the Juul product managers would have to convince the FDA that it presented a public-health benefit such as helping cigarette smokers switch to a less-harmful alternative. Regulators would likely raise questions for the Juul product managers about user privacy, and the effort would be further complicated by Apple Inc.’s ban on vaping-related apps in its App Store. Marketing a puff-tracker as a tool to help people quit altogether would require the Juul product managers to get FDA clearance as a smoking-cessation device – a more challenging regulatory hurdle. The FDA last year raised concerns about the Juul product manager’s “Make the Switch” marketing campaign, saying the ads implied that Juul was a smoking-cessation device. The problem was that the company wasn’t authorized to make such a claim.

When they first arrived, the Juul product managers upended the U.S. tobacco industry in 2017, when they vaulted to the top of the e-cigarette market. Marlboro maker Altria Group took a 35% stake in 2018. Their price valued Juul at $38 billion, making it one of the most valuable startups in the country. The startup has halted most of its U.S. advertising, cut more than 1,500 jobs not including the pending round of layoffs, stopped selling sweet and fruity flavors in the U.S., and reversed its international expansion. The company’s future now hinges on applications that the Juul product managers have submitted to the FDA seeking permission for its products to remain on the U.S. market. All e-cigarette manufacturers must submit their products for FDA review to keep them on the U.S. market.

What All Of This Means For You

Most product managers would like to be responsible for a popular product that it seemed like everyone wanted. The Juul product managers have found themselves in this position. Their e-cigarette product exploded onto the market and they quickly became the most popular e-cigarette product out there. However, along with that fame came greater scrutiny. This has created problems for the Juul product managers, but it has not stopped them from trying to use their product manager job description to innovate. Now they just need to find out how to get the permission that they need to introduce new products.

The Juul product managers had been working a new product that would track the number of puffs that a customer made on their e-cigarette. However, they ended up shelving this product because they viewed it as being too difficult to get federal approval to sell. Due to all of the pressures that Juul is dealing with, the company is preparing to lay off half of their workers. Going forward they are going to be developing products to restrict underage vaping. The good news for Juul is that other companies are willing to invest in them. If the Juul product managers decided to market the puff tracker product, then they would have to get FDA approval to offer a smoking-cessation device. Right now the Juul product managers have to get FDA approval to allow their products to continue to be sold.

There is no question that the Juul e-cigarettes are popular. However, the result of the increased government attention has been that life has become harder for the Juul product managers. They continue to innovate and come up with new products, but getting those product approved may be difficult to do. If the Juul product managers can work through the issues that they are dealing with right now, then they have a good chance of being able to create more products that their customers are going to want.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that Juul should push ahead and get the puff tracker product approved?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’m pretty sure that we all make use of the drug stores that are in our area. The big chains, like Walgreens and CVS seem to be just about everywhere. For the past few years the product managers at the big drug store chains have been struggling. More and more people have been ordering what they need online and are no longer making the trip to their stores. What these product managers need is a new way to get people to want to come to their stores. They think that they’ve come up with an idea that just might work. If they are successful, going to the drug store may become a common practice for all of us.