The mindset of a man with a thousand patents
I like to keep my inventions and ideas close by, which is why you’ll find a “3D flavour” prototype sitting on my desk.
Despite my many innovations - over 1,000 patents filed - this one is especially close to my heart, as it was part of what helped sell Nerudia - mine and my business partner’s life sciences company - for over £100m.
We were on a mission to get the world’s 1 billion smokers onto something better, and were the first producer of vaping e-liquid in the world. To get smokers to swap harmful cigarettes for something the NHS told us was safer, vaping, flavour was a crucial factor in their decision to switch.
So in 2017 I asked 450 senior industry insiders; do you know how many e-liquid flavours there are? Suggestions from this informed group of important decision makers typically were “thousands”. In reality, I explained, “the actual and precise number is zero. There aren’t any flavoured e-liquids out there at all, not anywhere. There are many e-liquids with smells but none with flavours.” One collective sharp intake of breath later, I noticed the audience sitting in shocked and stunned silence.
The scents in the e-liquid were derived from food flavourings, so were approved for human consumption, though their effects on the lungs hadn’t been studied and were therefore unknown, which I found disturbing. To be inhaled, like the nicotine they were coupled with, they were in sub micro particle size and carried by an inhalation ‘plume’ into the lungs. This made them scents, not flavours, because they were so small they bypassed the taste buds in the mouth entirely, and were only noticeable by the nose after exhalation (if we’re being picky, scent plays a role in detecting flavour). So a passerby was more likely to notice the scent (up until now marketed as ‘flavour’) than the person vaping.
So my innovation, for safety’s and flavour’s sake, was to create a ground-breaking prototype capable of delivering two distinct particle sizes in the inhalation ‘plume’. We could make the nicotine particles sub-micro sized for absorption in the lung, and make flavour particles far larger, so they would be stopped in the mouth, where flavour can be truly tasted. They wouldn’t make it to the lungs, instead the particles would be passed into the stomach where we know they’re safely processed due to long term tests.
I dubbed this invention “3D flavour”, successfully patented it, and had the prototype made up, which now sits on my desk.
Exiting the company after my business partner and I sold it, I left the future of 3D flavour in someone else’s hands. This idea can and may yet change the face of vaping. On my desk, however, it serves to remind me of how the best ideas come from questioning everything.
The innovator in me interrogates our basic assumptions and relentlessly asks if we can make something better. Meanwhile, the engineer in me strives to solve extremely tough problems; even if they seem unsolvable, my business partner David always says, “You’ll figure it out, Chris, you always do.” The entrepreneur in me sees the potential in a product and knows exactly how to market and sell it. That’s why I keep the 3D prototype on my desk, it reminds me of the three dimensions of my professional life that I enjoy the most: questioning basic assumptions to find new ideas, and inventing solutions that work for those ideas.