HONG KONG: One of the top scientists behind electronic cigarette leader Juul Labs Inc is striking out on her own to launch a new e-cigarette brand in China.
Chenyue Xing’s company, Myst Labs, has developed a slick silver device called the Myst P Series that made its debut at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Guangzhou on Saturday.
Resembling a USB flash drive, the 399 yuan (US$58) e-cigarette was designed to solve some of the challenges facing Juul, which is under fire in the US for high-nicotine products critics say encouraged addiction among millions of non-smokers, many of them minors.
“Juul’s technology is now three years old. I don’t think it’s made any other innovation on the liquid formulation since they launched,” says Xing, who co-invented the nicotine salt technology behind Juul’s e-cigarettes before leaving the startup in 2016.
“There’s much more to be done, especially in China where there’s hundreds of millions of smokers who we could help to eventually quit smoking.”
Xing, Myst’s chief scientist and co-founder, says the P Series has lower nicotine levels than Juul products and was formulated to appeal to current smokers – avoiding the fruity flavours that might lure in teenage newbies.
Myst plans to avoid social media advertising and will deploy facial recognition software in retail stores and online sellers to help ensure minors don’t buy its products. Juul didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Just like kids who drink beer are turned off by the taste, we’re looking to create a nicotine formulation that kids won’t like and only veteran smokers will enjoy,” Xing said.
Xing, 37, grew up in Shanghai and moved to the US to study. She got a PhD in chemical engineering at the University of California, Davis, and worked at US biotech and pharmaceutical companies, specialising in orally-inhaled drugs for diseases like asthma.
She said she went to work for Juul to help people stop smoking but left when the parent company expanded its focus to offer marijuana vaporisers. Now, she wants to build an e-cig leader like Juul for her home country.
She started Myst this year with co-founder Thomas Yao, who is also a founding partner at IMO Ventures, a venture firm focused on early stage investments in Asian startups that want to bring their technology to the US or Europe, or vice versa.
In addition to scooter startup Lime, his firm was also an early investor in Indian digital wallet Paytm, which is now backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and SoftBank Group Corp.
Myst’s two dozen employees are split between Silicon Valley, where scientists work on research, and Shenzhen, where the manufacturing and marketing staffs make and sell the devices. The company declined to disclose how much money it has raised so far, but Yao said it has “more than enough funding to get us to profitability.”
Myst faces intense competition in China, where dozens of e-cigarette startups have collectively raised tens of millions of dollars in an attempt to profit from the world’s largest tobacco market.
The e-cigarette craze has hit as overall funding for tech startups has slowed in China, with venture deals dropping 77% in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to market research firm Preqin. — Bloomberg