Juul, the San Francisco-based e-cigarette company, is starting to look a lot like Google. Sure, its 68% of the US market share is inching towards Google’s 87%, but it’s attained that coveted pop-culture marker of becoming a verb. Just like people Google, people Juul (paywall).
But the company’s success until now has been limited the US and Israel, far from the world’s biggest markets for smokers. Juul is now seeking $1.2 billion in funding to tackle international markets, Bloomberg reports. The fundraising round would value the company at $15 billion, nearly four times its current $4 billion valuation.
Juul’s massive market share and influence with younger smokers has also attracted scrutiny from the federal government. The company’s marketing materials are currently under review by the FDA, after 11 senators accused the company of targeting teens—who reportedly love the age-restricted product— with ads for the cigarette alternative. Juul has pledged $30 million to help fight underage smoking.
That hasn’t stopped teens from buying and distributing the gadgets with the fervor of any other hot commodity. “Dealers will announce on Snapchat that they’ve bought a hundred of them, and they’ll write the price, the date, and the meeting place for kids to show up with cash,” one teen told the New Yorker.
Regulatory issues aside, the future looks bright for the e-cigarette company. An analysis by Wells Fargo expects the industry to grow by 25% in 2018 (pdf), with Juul leading the charge. And in the context of the global market, the US doesn’t even rank in the top 25 countries for most cigarettes smoked per year, according to the Washington Post (paywall).
The real challenge for the startup will be getting countries like China and Russia, who are among the top cigarette consumers, to start the fledgling verb of Juuling.