“Anywhere You Find a Pint Glass, I Would Like to See Pipes”
Ben Hartman | January 25, 2023
The inspiration for many a brilliant idea has come at the business end of a gravity bong. For Dave Daily though, the gravity bong itself was the inspired idea.
“I set out to design an all-glass gravity bong. I was like, this is a category that nobody sells in head shops. And there are a lot of head shops, so I’m going to make one that can be commercially viable.”
Daily said he “was always that guy in college who was rolling the joints or making a bong out of whatever. I was already the MacGyver anyways so I was like, "I'm going to figure this out.”
Nearly two decades later, the company that Daily founded, “GRAV labs,” is one of the biggest names in cannabis paraphernalia and sells hundreds of glass pipes, bongs, one-hitters, dab tools, and yes, gravity bongs, that are sold in countries across the world.
But it wasn’t easy.
Speaking to Rootwurks from the 30,000 square foot GRAV labs studio and production facility in southeast Austin, Daily described moving back to Houston after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, where he started working with his dad at a local mortgage brokerage company.
Not entirely inspired by the mortgage business, Daily began tinkering with his glass gravity bong, which would eventually become the company’s first, flagship product: the Gravitron.
Mom to the rescue
But Daily couldn’t figure out how to get a universal bottle size for the gravity bong until advice came from an unexpected source: his mom.
On Mother’s Day 2004, Dave’s mom suggested he use a wine bottle, considering that wine bottles tend to all be the same universal size. He then stopped into a glass cutting studio to ask them to cut off the bottom of the bottle “to make a flower vase for my mom,” while he used his flip phone to record the glass cutter’s process.
Daily moved back to Austin in the summer of 2004 and started making gravity bongs on the balcony of an apartment he rented with a friend, and selling his handiwork to local head shops. In 2005, he said he got the courage to take the Gravitron to the CHAMPS trade show (“the Contemporary Handcrafted American-Made Products Show"), which bills itself as “the Premier Counterculture B2B since 1999”.
With only 12 bongs and a banner, he set up on a table “off in the back corner where the lights didn’t work” and quickly filled an order for two dozen gravity bongs only to realize he had no invoices and did not know what a COD is.
Buoyed by his first experience showcasing his glass work, in 2005 Daily rented a studio off Lamar and Oltorf in South Austin, where he was part of a community of artists making a living in pre-tech boom Austin.
“I was in my 20s making bongs, life was fantastic.”
But by 2008, Daily was more than $80,000 in debt, playing one credit card off against another, when he figured he had one more trick up his sleeve.
He started to hand out glass one-hitters with the GRAV logo on them outside the city’s Austin City Limits festival, when a client at the festival saw the one-hitters and expressed interest. Daily then sold a batch to a local Austin head shop for a healthy markup.
He realized he could make one-hitters full time and six months later, he had four glass blowers working alongside him, and he had completely cleared his debt. Now, 15 years later, he employs dozens of employees in Austin and hundreds overseas in China.
While it was the gravity bong that launched GRAV, it was the one-hitter that saved the company, and provided inspiration for an idea that Daily thinks could change cannabis paraphernalia forever.
“The Beer Bottle of Weed”
If rolling papers are like the aluminum cans of weed, could one-hitters be like the beer bottles of cannabis? This is the question Daily poses, as he describes his idea for a single-use, disposable one-hitter that comes prepacked with a bowl of premium cannabis flower.
Daily said that people who hear the idea often seemed surprised at the concept of throwing away a one-hitter after one use, even if they would never flinch at tossing a beer bottle in the trash.
“They say oh that’s different but have you seen a beer bottle? They’re beautiful and we just take it for granted.”
As Daily explains “that little one-hitter is far less trash than the beer bottles that we consume and throw away in the trash.”
The team at GRAV is still tinkering with the idea, but as Daily sees it, the concept could change the paraphernalia industry forever.
“2021 was a really good year for us”
One of the bigger things to impact the legal cannabis industry in recent years was the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not only for plant-touching companies.
“It was across the board in cannabis, including for accessories. People were at home and they had stimulus checks and they’re like “I’m just going to buy that bong that I’ve been looking for.”
Daily added “2021 was a really good year for us, and 2022 was a down year but from an operational perspective, in 2022, we put together a more long-term plan for what we want out of the company.”
As Daily puts it, the goal is to not only sell high-quality glassware but also, as the company states on its website, to be “advocates for the cannabis community, culture and causes.”
“I think we have a unique opportunity to run this company and make an impact. We’ve got a highly engaged customer base, a passion for cannabis justice, and if there’s one big thing that I would fight for the rest of my life, it's to get people out of prison [for cannabis].”
“Eight Crazy Nights”
While it will take years for the cause of social justice to correct the harm caused by the racially-motivated policies of the Drug War in America, GRAV can already claim an impact on a perhaps surprising place - Chanukkah.
The GRAV Clear Menorah is a water pipe with eight 10mm bowls fed into a single bubbler chamber. It can be used to hit up to 8 bowls in one session, or just to have a truly unique Hanukkah conversation starter.
And many of the jokes write themselves.
As the GRAV website states “Hanukkah’s about the miracle of oil lasting for 8 nights, but will you last for all 8 bowls? There’s only one way to find out!”
Daily, who is Jewish, described coming up with the idea for the menorah in 2012. It was crafted by one of his glassblowers and on the fourth night of Chanukkah, four of his cousins were visiting and they decided to spark four bowls before returning the menorah to the closet.
In 2015, the menorah starred in a viral video and GRAV decided to put it into production. The company makes around 100 menorahs every year, which Daily said sell out almost immediately.
What are people looking for in a bong?
Many people may have an image in their head for the typical gravity bong customer, or even the target audience for a menorah-shaped bong. But as Daily puts it, there isn’t a single type of GRAV customer.
“We have a whole lot of different personas. We’ve got hikers looking for a piece that can be capped and doesn’t break, we have people who want something that makes a lot of bubbles, some people who just want a piece that will make big hits and knock their friends out.”
Daily stated that while they may envy companies that make a single product and know exactly who their customer is, “we have people who are heavy users, and we have soccer moms and kids sneaking a bong from their parents and kids in dorms smoking bong hits together.”
Daily said they can answer this broad spectrum of customers because “we have dedicated quality control people at every point in the value chain.”
Zooming out, Daily hopes to see the world of paraphernalia expand as cannabis becomes more mainstream and accepted. In this scenario, Daily said he pictures bongs and pipes as acceptable in boutique retail and hotels.
Five years from now, Daily said he hopes “that cannabis consumption devices find their way into more mainstream channels.”
“Anywhere that you would find a pint glass, I would like to see pipes there.”