Like many people in San Francisco, Sasha Robinson is working on a startup out of his home. His living room is a riot of wires, battery packs, pliers, and metal casings. If I didn't know better, I'd think he was a bomb maker. But these are just the raw materials for a new gadget he's creating. It's something revolutionary, he thinks, and he should know. In the 2000s, Robinson ran software development at industrial design firm Moto, where he oversaw new product development for the Flip HD camcorder. Before that he was at Juniper Systems and Silicon Graphics, two of the Valley's foundational tech firms. His cofounder, Mark Williams, has also bounced around Valley software firms, but his main experience was at Apple, where he managed a Mac OS design team. These guys have tech cred.
They also met at a Burning Man party. "We would hang out socially and always ended up talking about ideas and inventions," says Williams, explaining how they came up with their new product in his living room. "We were sitting on my couch in my apartment, smoking. I was over 40 then, we could really feel it in our bodies. We were social smokers, but we both felt it …"
"Wait. Are you talking about tobacco here," I interjected.
"Yes … ," Williams says, looking sideways and grinning. "I am?" Pregnant pause. Robinson chuckles. "That's what the line has to be from any manufacturer importing into the US," he says. Openly acknowledging that your product—in this case a high tech vaporizer called the Firefly–is intended for marijuana use exposes you to classification as a distributor of drug paraphernalia, opening you up to the risk of the federal government seizing your assets and bank accounts. And that makes it difficult to pay a lawyer.