Sam Ong is the Co-Founder & CEO at AIRSCREAM GROUP, a.k.a the Captain of the Ship.
The imagery has created an atmosphere in the company where everyone is treated as a ‘crew member’ and whose input is critical for the ship’s survival in the open sea. This has encouraged out of the box thinking amongst ‘crew members’ who readily come forth with solutions to help navigate the ship’s course. So far, the success of the AIRSCREAM could be attributed to Sam’s ability to identify, attract talented and committed team members. Apart from these, the screening process also includes picking out candidates who have fire in their belly and a defined personal aspiration that they could further develop by taking the journey with the company. Because of this, they are often perceived to be supported by a much bigger team than they have. Sam is exceptionally focused and disciplined in executing the strategic roadmap to achieve the organization’s goals. He has been able to filter out the noises or distractions while ensuring the young organization’s survival and has played an important role in ensuring the company’s commercial needs are balanced in the pursuit of creating products with great design. However, this focus and discipline do not prevent him from making quick and decisive decisions to adapt to the changing market conditions and keep AIRSCREAM agile. Sam’s mantra of not giving up and believing that there is a solution for every problem is deeply ingrained in him. He walks the talk and, on several occasions, led his crew by example and proving why giving up should not be an option. This perseverance is a key pillar behind the resilience culture that could be seen in the organization today.
AIRSCREAM Group started when both Co-founders Shen and Sam came together with a vision of creating a UK-based international lifestyle brand that delivers satisfaction and creates “wow” experiences for customers. Shen and Sam are big fans of the late Mr. Tony Hsieh, who was the founder of Zappos. They admire his approach in cultivating company culture and has been a source of inspiration for them. A casual discussion one day on the topic turned into an instinctive business decision leading the way to start AIRSCREAM—a company focusing on the Vape business as both co-founders have many years of experience in the industry. Prior to AIRSCREAM, the market was filled with products that were complicated to use and designs that did not address unmet consumer needs. “There was a gap for simple to use vape products that offer good design at great value and flavors to our potential customers, and we fulfilled it,” says Sam.
AIRSCREAM’s reusable AirsPops, comes in versatile style and flavors, and also recognized as a healthier alternative to cigarettes and other conventional forms of nicotine intake. “Cigarettes cause harm due to the combustion process when smoking tobacco. It wears down the cell lining of your lungs, making them more susceptible to the cancer-causing chemicals found in cigarettes as concluded by Health Experts,” highlighted by Sam. “Vapes do not combust; they vaporize. As they do not burn, tar or carbon monoxide are not produced.” However, they contain nicotine, which is addictive but relatively harmless, as concluded by experts from several key bodies, including Cancer Research UK, Public Health England, and the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Both the NHS and Public Health England (PHE) support the use of vaping over smoking. In 2015, a report from PHE estimated vaping was 95 per cent less harmful than smoking. “To ensure that our customers can eliminate the dependence on nicotine while using our products, we have made a deliberate decision to include zero-nicotine products in our AirsPops prefilled range,” adds Sam.
To ensure that they can continue to offer practical, timeless, and affordable products to customers, AIRSCREAM needs to make sure that products developed and introduced meet the expectation of smokers searching for less harmful alternatives to quit combustible tobaccos. “We need to consistently ensure that the products we introduced are simple to use and are of good design,” says Sam. “To ensure the products are affordable, we need to ensure that additional features or functions are offered on an absolute need basis or when required by law in jurisdictions where they are sold.”
According to the pioneering leader, 2021 will be an important year for AIRSCREAM. It will be a year where AIRSCREAM will experience rapid growth as they have spent the last year preparing and transforming the organization to capitalize on the new norm’s opportunities. One of AIRSCREAM’s key focus will be to expand its footprint into China, as it is the no.1 global market for tobacco. Another important growth factor will be Europe. AIRSCREAM has finalized plans to work with strategic partners in key European markets. These plans would be rolled out as soon as the continent recovers from current restrictions caused by COVID-19. To ensure that they can scale up rapidly, AIRSCREAM will be seeking institutional investment. This is first time the profit-making start-up has opened up to the option since they started trading slightly over two years.
The success of AIRSCREAM is not the result of a single person but collaborative efforts of dynamic, committed, agile and talented team members. “We are not a conglomerate with ten different departments taking care of all aspects of the business. We are a team of 21 professionals spread across seven countries and one of the smallest team to run a Vape start-up of this scale,” explains Sam. “Our direct competitors are tobacco companies with deep pockets and well-funded vape start-ups. So, securing store shelves, FMCG channels, and marketing spaces is always a challenge.” However, AIRSCREAM is not easily deterred, and the company stands firm to compete and overcome challenges. “Each of us wears multiple hats. It works because we are passionate and proud of our product and true to the goal that we have set for ourselves and, also the group,” he says. “It is the commitment and ingenuity of our AIRSCREAM team that has enabled us to overcome our shortcomings to be successful in our markets.