Kaloud. That name means a lot, to many different people in the hookah communities. It can mean different things to different people, but, even though different people have different opinions, hookah smokers can usually agree on one thing: Kaloud changed the way we smoke. It's hard to argue anything other than that, because the Kaloud Lotus was revolutionary. It's hard to measure the actual impact that Kaloud has had on the hookah world, but I think that it's safe to say that they've had a pretty significant one. Think about it - Kaloud literally changed the way that we think about hookah. Who else can we say did that? Who else, in the hookah industry, has reinvented the wheel, so to speak? I can't say for certain, but I think that it's safe to say that Kaloud has had one of the biggest impacts on hookah since the implementation of foil into the hookah world. Kaloud changed the way we smoked, but what has happened since? Kaloud has released several new products, such as the Kaloud Samsaris Vitria, the Aura Charcoals, and the Krysallis hookah. Kaloud has also just announced their Lotus I+, to much critical acclaim. This week, we had the chance to get to chat with Reza, the CEO of Kaloud, and the inventor of the Lotus, about the future of Kaloud, and some of the logic behind what Kaloud has done, as of late. So sit back, pack a bowl, and read on, as we delve into the mind of Reza.
Who is Reza?
To me, this is a very deep question and the answer is not something I have. It would be a great question to discuss over a meal and hookahs.
But to be fair to you, and the people taking the time to read all of this, I’ll give some insight. I’ve lived in Southern California for most of my life. I grew up skating and surfing (at least trying to) and fell in love with comic books, Sci-Fi Fantasy novels, and video games early on. I’ve been an Entrepreneur for as long as I can remember and started with my paper route when I was 12-years-old.
Of anything I’ve done in my life, Kaloud has been the most challenging and rewarding. I sacrificed a lot to build Kaloud and reached a point where I didn’t have money for food or gas for my car, and almost lost my home. But for some reason I wasn’t willing to quit and the the price I paid was ultimately very high—knowing all of this, I wouldn’t change anything because I’ve learned so much and I feel like Kaloud has made, and will make, a significant impact in the world.
What was your first experience smoking hookah like?
It was horrible. It was in the late 1990’s and my dad prepared a hookah for some guests that were visiting us. I took a couple of puffs of what I would later learn was something like dokha. It was way too strong and I felt light-headed and sick. Years later in 2001 I went to London and was convinced to try a proper hookah with grape shisha on Edgeware Road. It was the start of a lifelong passion/love affair.
What’s your favorite flavor, and go to setup?
I tend to gravitate more towards citrus, mint, and some berry. I’m not really a fan of melon flavors anymore. My favorite go to setup is the Krysalis. Aside from the Krysalis, I like straight pipe hookahs in all the different varieties on the market.
Were you the one that created the Lotus specifically? If so, what drove you to create it?
Yes, I am the inventor of the Kaloud Lotus. The driving force behind its creation is my belief that there are ways to enjoy the Hookah experience without doing excessive damage and, possibly, reducing that risk damage to the point that it is almost non-existent.
What do you think caused the Lotus to be the hit that it is today?
I think Hookah users around the world desire easier, more flavorful, less harmful experiences. The Kaloud Lotus delivers on those.
How did you feel about the success of the Lotus initially?
It was way beyond what I expected and I was and am grateful for the support of those people that purchase the products produced by Kaloud.
What is your main goal, as an industry leader at this point?
To participate in rehabilitating this industry and help save it from some of the issues that threaten its continued existence. Specifically, some of the people in the industry take a very short-sighted approach to our space—they just want to make a quick buck and get out. While this may be good for them, it leads to stifled innovation, lower quality, and threats from government regulation that are the direct result of our inability to unite.
Are there any other companies in the hookah industry that you have a lot of respect for?
Yes, many. From shisha producers, to hardware manufacturers, to distributors, I’ve been lucky to meet some amazing entrepreneurs and people with similar views and a desire to help grow the industry… the saying “the high tide lifts all boats” is a good way to sum up the ethos I believe we all share.
What do you think is the most important thing that the hookah industry needs right now?
To come together as a community and support each other as opposed to thinking about selfish goals and petty rivalries.
The Lotus changed the way many of us smoked, in a great way. What do you think will be the next big step like that in the future?
I think the next step will be products that will make it even easier, tastier, longer lasting, and less harmful. ;-)
Do you pay any attention to the online hookah communities, such as r/hookah on reddit, and Facebook groups like Hookah Enthusiasts? Have you ever?
We pay attention to constructive criticism and suggestions wherever it may come from. The key to dealing with Kaloud, and, I believe, life in general, is mutual respect. Respect doesn’t require agreement, it does require a willingness to hear each other though.
What is your general response to customer feedback? Is it taken into consideration, or mostly ignored?
We never ignore customer feedback… ever. We will take it into account and make changes where appropriate. But again, mutual respect is a prerequisite.
Let’s talk for a minute about the Samsaris bowl – what was your initial concept for the bowl? In other words, what were you looking to achieve with it?
The Kaloud Samsaris had a few objectives:
1) we wanted to create individual chambers for measuring the shisha;
2) we wanted each chamber to have its own heat profile;
3) we wanted a durable bowl that would pair perfectly with the Kaloud Lotus and reduce the amount of charcoal necessary for a great session.
I believe we delivered on all of this.
What was your reaction like when you heard that the original Samsaris’s were deteriorating?
It was heartbreaking.
I always put myself in the shoes of the person buying my products. To purchase a product and watch it deteriorate over time is not an experience I would want to have and to know that a product Kaloud produced had that effect was horrible.
It was a cycle that was repeated with deteriorating edges on the Samsaris Vitria I. As you can imagine that was even harder to deal with. We did our best to mitigate the hardship imposed on our consumers and I hope that had some impact on how they perceived their relationship with Kaloud.
We will stand by our products and make it right when things go wrong.
Do you think that the current Vitria II is the final version of the Samsaris? Or will we see another one come to market?
As long as we’re here we’ll never stop innovating and iterating.
How do you feel about the overall criticism of the Vitria II – i.e. that it holds too much tobacco, doesn’t provide an efficient cook?
I’m not sure that everyone feels the Kaloud Samsaris Vitria II holds too much tobacco. The Kaloud Samsaris Vitria II actually holds less shisha than the Kaloud Samsaris Vitria I. In the future, there may be versions that reduce the amount of shisha being used even more, but we can only do so much. There are quality issues with the experience that will come to the surface if there is too little shisha.
Let’s talk now about the Krysalis – what was your original concept design for the hookah? What kind of market was it going to be marketed towards?
One of my favorite subjects. The Krysalis is an homage to the Japanese Tea Ceremony. We wanted to bring ceremony back to the smoking experience and respect its origins in the New World (the Americas). There are many versions of the Krysalis and so far only one has been revealed… they are each produced for a specific part of the Kaloud Tribe.
Why did you choose to go with such a high end pipe instead of a pipe that caters to the general market? Do you have plans to cater to the general market at any point in time?
We launched with this version because we wanted to show the world what we’re capable of and what is possible in the world of smoking. The Krysalis is still misunderstood and that is directly attributable to us, but please understand it’s not that we’re playing at being coy, it’s limitations imposed on us by a desire to protect our intellectual property in advance of product launches. Counterfeiting and copying in all its different forms have not been good for us or for our industry.
As I alluded to above, we will be launching other versions in the future after this first version ships.
What did you think about the overall reaction toward the Krysalis?
There were two sets of reactions.
The first set is comprised of people who understood what it was, or took the time to ask about it and, in many cases, really like what the Kaloud Krysalis is. Some of these people took a leap of faith and purchased a preorder of the Kaloud Krysalis. I believe they will be happy with that decision and, if they are not, they can return it for a refund.
The other set of reactions were people that didn’t understand what it was that we have created. Many of these people didn’t really take time to actually learn about the Kaloud Krysalis, but instead launched into speculation and attacks on Kaloud. There’s not much room for us in that arena.
Why, at the time of the Krysalis’s announcement, was your social media team deleting comments towards the Krysalis off of your Facebook and Instagram posts? What was the goal in doing this?
We don’t delete comments often, but if something is deleted it is because the person posting that comment is under the mistaken belief that our social media accounts are platforms for their personal opinions or attacks on our products.
To further expand on this, imagine someone posted a profile picture or some other image and we went on their personal account attacking them or the object in the post. It’s not the right venue.
We are a company and, of course, that opens us to things most people don’t have to deal with, but there is also a very bright line of respect that should, in all situations, be adhered to.
Again, if someone has an issue and wants to engage in a meaningful conversation, we will always be open to that and many of the people whose comments were deleted were afforded that opportunity but rejected it.
If anyone feels they were slighted they are welcome to reach out to me directly for a further explanation and/or conversation on the issues they might have with Kaloud and our products.
How did you feel when you first saw the Oduman Ignis come to market? What was your reaction like?
I feel like a company in Oduman’s position should be above the unauthorized adoption of other companies’ intellectual property. I would have been happy to let them use our intellectual property if they would have contacted us and arranged some kind of licensing agreement. To this day this has never been done.
What was your reaction to the general hookah community’s reaction towards the Ignis? In other words, how did you feel about the Ignis being as positively received as it was?
To be honest, I don’t really know how positively it was received as I have heard mixed reviews from all sides. I will expand on this and say that we don’t see competition as a threat to our existence, in fact, we thrive on authentic competition.
In the end, I think that the community is free to do what it likes. We have an obligation under the law to protect our intellectual property and we will do that. Is this ideal? No. The ideal would have been what I wrote about above—that they contacted us in a spirit of cooperation and community building.
How long has the Lotus l+ been in the works for?
Since earlier this year.
What was the design process like behind making the new Lotus? i.e, what drove you to want to improve on the Lotus? Was it something that was always in the works, or was it something that was driven by consumer feedback?
The Kaloud Lotus I+ is something that should have been done a long time ago but wasn’t possible because of budgetary constraints and other factors. We did take some feedback into consideration while developing the Kaloud Lotus I+, but in general, our development cycle is an organic trial and error process with many different iterations of different concepts that we whittle down to the one we feel performs the best.
Do you think that Kaloud handled the Ignis situation correctly? Or do you think it could have been handled better? The communities as a whole were rather peeved that Kaloud was sending cease and desist orders to anyone selling the Ignis, as, for the most part, the Ignis is considered the superior of the two devices. And while from a business perspective, I can certainly understand why you would do that, from a hookah enthusiasts perspective, it seems only to promote the concept that Kaloud wants to be a monopoly in the heat management device industry.
This is a mistake in perception and I’m happy you raise it. We will never be 100% of the market, it’s simply not possible and even if it was, it is not what we want as we cannot be all things to all people.
Beyond that, please know that the Ignis is actually not a threat to the Kaloud Lotus—the greatest threat we face is counterfeits. The truth is that in markets where the Ignis is being freely sold the Kaloud Lotus is still doing quite well. The issue is, as I mentioned above, that the Ignis is using our intellectual property without our permission. The cease & desist letters are a requirement under US law for patent holders. If Oduman were to reach out to us for a license we would negotiate something fair and their products would enter the market without any issues.
What is interesting is that you’re asking me this question while there are some people that agreed to the terms of the Cease and Desist letter—in essence giving us their word they would comply—and still continue to sell the Ignis under the table through the forums. In fairness, shouldn’t you pose the question to them of why they feel it’s right to do that?
How do you feel about other HMD’s on the market, such as the Apple on Top Provost, or the Shishabucks Stratus?
I like seeing innovation in our market and any market for that matter. To the extent that someone’s innovation incorporates our intellectual property they need to comply with US Patent Law and the Patent Law of any other jurisdiction we have a patent in. Kaloud is always open to license agreements. We are not in the business of stopping the flow of products into the market, but, like any other industry, the people that invent something should be compensated for that invention within reason.
We have made offers to some companies in our industry to enter into license agreements, but those were flat out rejected without any discussion. This leaves us with few options.
What are the limitations under the patent law of the Lotus? Is it something that would cover every Heat Management Device that hits the market? Or just devices similar to the Lotus, such as the Ignis?
It has very much seemed as if Kaloud has ignored customer feedback, taken too long to make a new and improved device, and pretty much just ignored the hookah communities as a whole. Why should communities like r/hookah continue to support your company, and what you are doing? Faith and promises are all well and good, however I think the online communities have had enough of that from Kaloud at this point.
On the matter of why you should support us; I guess that comes down to what your expectations are. If you want us to do what you expect, we will probably let you down. If, on the other hand, you trust us to exceed your expectations, then you’ll be in for a bumpy ride, but it will be fun. We are doing things that have never been done before… by anyone. We are inventing things that are not easy to invent let alone produce for the global marketplace, but I believe we’re up to the challenge and many people will be delighted by what they experience from Kaloud.
I wish I could set up a live camera in our design studio and share every second with you and the rest of the community, but that’s just not possible. Anyone that has been following Kaloud for the last few years understands how rough counterfeiting has made it for us and other companies in this industry.
We don’t ignore any constructive feedback at all. Unfortunately, we cannot reveal a lot of what Kaloud is actually doing behind the scenes or what is actually happening on other fronts.
However, to give some insight, in the last few years we’ve had companies steal our trademarks, lie about inventing the Kaloud Lotus and other significant matters relating to our brand, import massive quantities of counterfeits, and poison consumers. We’ve had to fight each of these battles and expend time, energy, and money there while it would have been much better to invest all those things elsewhere. The truth is that there are massive issues in our industry and we are trying to deal with those issues as best we can.
I hope that the benefits of what we are doing reach each and every person—both the consumers and the legitimate manufacturers.
What do you think Kaloud can improve on?
Everything, but in the immediate future I’d like to improve on our social media presence on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and that is something we are working on.
Are all of Kaloud’s products made in the USA?
No, we manufacture in the USA, Europe, and Asia.
If so, what are some of the struggles that you’ve faced trying to manufacture and produce in the US?
For products produced in the USA our biggest struggle has been to get manufacturers to take us and our industry seriously. Aside from that government regulation is also an obstacle we face quite often.
If not, what made you move production elsewhere?
Some of our products cannot be made in the USA as the manufacturing techniques are either outsourced overseas or they will not consider our project for other reasons.
Is there anything that you’d like to say to the online communities as a whole?
To those that have supported us through the years I’d like to say that I am eternally grateful. You have afforded me the opportunity to create in a space I adore. I hope that what you see in the coming months will validate your faith in us.
For those of you that have, for whatever reason, felt like we have wronged you or the industry in some way, I hope you will take time to reach out to me directly. I would be happy to speak to you via email or telephone and offer clarification where I can.
Kaloud. Like I said, that name means a lot, to a lot of people. What does it mean to you? Did this change the meaning for you? Are you excited for the Lotus I+? I think it's safe to say that I'll be waiting with baited breath to see what Kaloud does next, because Kaloud certainly does mean something to me. I would like to give a big thanks to Reza and Kaloud for doing this interview with me, and I would like to thank you for reading, and continuing to support me - making content like this possible. I hope you enjoyed this insight into the mind of Mr. Kaloud himself, and as always, happy smokes, everyone.