Incorporated in 1997, Boveda started out as a company called Humidipak. Sean Knutsen had just resigned from a job in sales to focus on the company full-time, while Tim Swail moonlighted between his primary job and the new venture with Knutsen. However, the challenge of building a customer base for their new product was complicated by the fact that many within their target audience simply didn’t believe the concept was viable. Boveda’s two-way humidity control product promised to either add or remove moisture within a container or package to achieve optimal humidity. Both Knutsen and Swail knew the process worked, but they had yet to convince customers.
Fast forward to the present day, and you will find Boveda’s products not only in many tobacconists but also packaged within tobacco manufacturers’ products and sought out by tobacco consumers as well as those in several industries outside of tobacco—including music, cannabis and food. The company, which once operated out of Knutsen’s home, now has its own offices and a team of employees. Tobacco Business recently sat down with Knutsen and Swail to get the story behind their company’s evolution, how they’ve defined Boveda’s company culture and why, after 20 years in business, they feel they’re back to day one.
Tobacco Business: For those who aren’t familiar with Boveda, tell us about the company and what it does.
Tim Swail: Boveda invented the world’s first two-way, humidity control product. Through a basic scientific principle that certain salt mixed with water naturally regulates humidity, Boveda patented a unique packaging application to harness this powerful piece of science. This application involves a semipermeable membrane that allows for the cleanest, most-purified water vapor to either be emitted or absorbed. The Boveda product will recognize the environment in which it’s placed, and either add or remove moisture in order to reach equilibrium. The RH [relative humidity] is printed on the packet. Boveda produces a diverse line of products that can achieve a variety of RH levels from 10 percent to 95 percent, according to the user’s preferences for cigar storage.
Your product takes on the issue of humidity control, which isn’t a subject that gets a lot of attention, though it should. What about humidity interested you all, and at what point did you know you could form a business around this one topic?
Swail: It was an “aha” moment. I think I remember vividly that day, Sean, when we were over at your place working with one of the prototypes, and we were like, “Holy cow, this thing works!”
Sean Knutsen: How in the world did we know we could make a profitable business from this? Tim and I were in unison when we came across this product over 20 years ago. We knew it right away when we saw it work—it was a no-brainer. We saw a hygrometer inside of a container that went exactly to the point where it was supposed to and then stopped there. It didn’t take long for us to recognize that we had something pretty special with Boveda.
You’re constantly marketing to industries outside of just cigars. Does humidity play just as big of a role in those industries as it does with cigars?
Knutsen: Yes, humidity is one of the biggest factors in the three industries we serve: premium cigars, music and cannabis. For a cigar, we want to enjoy it to the fullest because Tim and I are cigar fans, and, as a matter of fact, most of the people in our company are also cigar smokers. That’s one reason why they love being part of our company and what we do.
We want everything to be experienced greatly when we partake in a cigar: We want to taste the subtle nuance, to taste the subtle flavors and to experience that pleasure. I would say that of all the things that we can as consumers control, humidity is probably that one thing we can truly control in terms of quality. Everything else is out of our control: We don’t roll the cigar, we don’t grow it or ferment it, we don’t process it—but we can control the amount of moisture that’s in there.
You both sound very excited about what you’re doing, which isn’t always the case for people after spending two decades with the same company. It’s as if this is the start of your business rather than the culmination of 20 years of challenges and obstacles that brought you here.
Knutsen: You nailed it with that statement, and Tim and I have both talked about that—it feels like this is day one with all that we have before us. It’s fun to get up in the morning and come to work when you have that opportunity.
Swail: The stuff that we have in our innovation department is exciting and game-changing. The next 20 years is going to be a lot of fun. I think the satisfaction part is that we’re actually building teams within the company in all the functional areas like financing, marketing, sales and R&D. We’re starting to change other people’s lives by being able to employ them and give them opportunities and create a culture here in this office that makes people enjoy coming to work here. People are contacting us because their friends work, and they’re saying, “What you guys have going on is awesome, and I want to be a part of it.” Those are the fun and satisfactory parts of what we’ve been able to do over the past 20 years.
– Story by Antoine Reid. Photos by Colin Michael Simmons
This story first appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.