Rodney Jerabek has had a long love affair with flavor. Having traveled extensively, Jerabek has a palate that has been refined by cuisines, wines and spirits experienced around the world. In 2012, he was approached by a businessman who was looking for someone to help him market a disposable electronic cigarette product. Before this meeting, Jerabek occasionally smoked a cigarette or cigar, but holding the product in his hands made him realize electronic cigarettes could bring about positive change in people’s lives.
Jerabek went on to launch Five Pawns, a globally recognized, award-winning premium e-liquid brand. Five Pawns’ handcrafted, small-batch, premium e-liquids play with the five tastes known to the human palate: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory. Tobacco Business spoke with Jerabek about Five Pawns and what inspired him to make the leap from branding and marketing to that of a premium e-liquid manufacturer.
Tobacco Business: Why did you decide to start your own business?
Rodney Jerabek: I’ve always been an entrepreneur, but truth be told it was just after my father was diagnosed with a rare form of terminal cancer that I started Five Pawns. His particular form of cancer was not smoking related, but founding Five Pawns became my outlet. It became a way to divert my feelings of grief and fear and repurpose that energy toward helping others. I wanted to make my father even more proud than he already was, and prevent others from feeling the way I did. He was Five Pawns’ biggest fan and got to see the success before we eventually lost a best friend, father and mentor.
When faced with obstacles and challenges, what motivated you to continue to push forward?
Again, I pushed forward to make my dad proud during his time with us. It also allowed us to involve him by listening to his guidance and working with one another. Since he’s left us, the focus has shifted toward harm reduction and it’s been extremely satisfying to see millions of people convert[ing] to this harm-reduction technology.
Yes, we have challenges and obstacles today due to regulation, but I’m still passionate about what this technology has the ability to do in a post-regulation era. I’m actually for reasonable regulation of our industry, and Five Pawns is confident about the pathway we’re laying out to the FDA for our PMTAs later next month. We’re all in with this process and remain cautiously optimistic that we’ll continue to deliver products to our consumers long into the future.
With so much competition in the vape industry, how do you manage to maintain market share among your competitors?
We just put the blinders on and do what we do best. We don’t get caught up with what the competition is doing, and [we] focus our efforts on producing the best product we can with the best possible customer service to back it up. We’ve created a lifestyle brand and we’re grateful that others appreciate our effort.
What’s your advice to those who have a great idea for a product or business but who have no idea how to launch it?
Do your research. I remember when I first had the idea of launching Five Pawns. I didn’t even tell my wife or family what I was working on for the first six months. I needed to believe enough in myself and my idea before I could properly sell it to others.
Branding 101 will also tell you that you need to have a story. Hopefully you don’t need to fabricate one and it’ll just fall into place. Your story will follow your journey and write itself as you go. I recognize [that] this isn’t normal, but it can happen. Call it luck, call it intuition, call it timing…it happens when you follow your passion.
What’s one mistake you see many businesses and entrepreneurs making and what advice would you give them on how to avoid this pitfall?
You need to know your strengths and weaknesses. Identify what good you can bring to the table and surround yourself with those that can bring what you can’t. Create balance within your organization and build a strong team that only makes you better. Remember, you’re only as good as those that you surround yourself with, and I’m grateful to [both] my immediate and extended Five Pawns family.
Many people have their keys to success. What are some of yours?
It started with my parents, and they’ve made me who I am. My wife and daughter have also supported me through what’s been a very fun—but wild—ride. It’s the people I’ve surrounded myself with who make my brand and me what and who we are today. They shape our future. I have incredible partners, employees and Five Pawns family members that make me a million times better than who I’d be on my own.
Knowing what you know now in business, what advice would you give to up and coming entrepreneurs?
Find something that you’re passionate about and don’t listen to others if they tell you that you’re crazy. Follow your heart. I guarantee [that] if you feel it, others will as well and that constitutes a potential market. No matter how big or small, that’s a market that you can help grow and develop.
– Interview by Ben Stimpson
This story first appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.