Juul is going after top tech talent from Amazon and Google

When you think of Juul, you likely think of vape pens and vape pods.

But Juul Labs, the company behind the Juul smokeless device, wants to be seen as a hot tech company, and a top destination for tech talent.

The company has been quietly targeting engineers from companies like Amazon and Google over the past few months, trying to recruit them to give its e-commerce business a makeover, Yahoo Finance has learned.

“We are looking for senior engineers to help us build the next generation of our e-commerce platform,” wrote a Juul recruiter in an email to an Amazon engineer, shared with Yahoo Finance. “We’re an exceptional team with backgrounds in consumer technology, healthcare, and biotech who believe that design, technology, and out-of-the-box thinking are the keys to delivering on our mission.” Juul has sent similar recruitment emails to engineers at Google.

A spokesperson for Juul Labs confirms that the company is reaching out to engineers from big tech names, and says Juul Labs defines itself as “a rapidly growing San Francisco-based technology company.”

“We have successfully brought in leaders from top tech companies,” the spokesperson adds. Just this month, Juul poached Adrian Punderson, formerly an investigations manager at Apple, to be its VP of brand protection.

Of course, when a company conducts unsolicited outreach, it runs the risk of recipients sharing the outreach publicly. Last month, Katie Jacobs Stanton, CMO of a genetics-testing startup called Color, formerly with Twitter and Google, tweeted out an email she got from a Juul recruiter with harsh criticism of the company. She said: “Why in the world would I try to build a business essentially driving up cancer rates ultimately making more people sick?”

A person smokes a Juul Labs Inc. e-cigarette in this arranged photograph taken in the Brooklyn Borough of New York, U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. Altria Group's plan to take a $12.8 billion stake in Juul Labs could be destroying value, Citigroup analysts write in a note downgrading the stock to a sell from neutral. Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A person smokes a Juul Labs Inc. e-cigarette in New York on Dec. 20, 2018. (Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Juul has cornered more than 75% of the e-cig market. It has an eye-popping $38 billion valuation after tobacco giant Altria Group (maker of Marlboro) took a 35% stake in December.

But Juul is also squarely in the FDA’s crosshairs.

In December, the company pulled its flavored pods from stores where teens can easily get them, in anticipation of FDA action. Juul had said in October that 90% of its sales come from retail brick-and-mortar locations. That balance will have to change, since pulling the pods from stores shifts focus to Juul’s online sales.

Juul’s critics say the pods are still too easy for young people to obtain. And indeed, a recent study found that teenagers are 16 times more likely to use Juul products than older smokers.

The company might feel that it can escape much of the negative attention if it can style itself more as a Silicon Valley tech hub.

Daniel Roberts covers tech at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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