Hookah Delivery Service ‘GoPuff’ Has Plans For Boston Launch
The best way to describe “GoPuff” is like an Uber service for hookah and tobacco products, and in the next few months its creators have their eyes set on launching the concept here in Boston.
GoPuff, a website and accompanying smartphone app that lets users order hookah hoses, bowls, papers, flavored tobaccos, and signature snacks—all with the push of a button—has plans to expand their business from Philadelphia to Boston, marketing themselves heavily toward the college students in the area.
“The city has a lot more college students, and the whole area has a great atmosphere,” said GoPuff cofounder Rafael Ilishayev, who stressed that the app and business are strictly based on tobacco products, not drug paraphernalia. “We have some close acquaintances in the area, and when we asked them they said Boston would be a good next move.”
Ilishayev and his college friend Yakir Gola, both 21, first created the business as a solution to walking all the way to a hookah lounge every time they wanted to smoke with friends.
Ilishayev likened the idea of the service to things like Uber and Drizly, the alcohol delivery app that launched in Boston last year, but said the aim is to bring tobacco products to peoples’ doorsteps via a courier service instead. Besides hookahs, papers, and late-night snacks, GoPuff also advertises e-cigarettes and accessories on its website.
Here’s how it works: After downloading the app for a phone or tablet, customers plug in their address. Customers must be within a certain “zone” in order to get the service. The zones for Boston have not been indicated yet, said Ilishayev.
Once the area for delivery is selected, however, people will be able to pick their products, hit the option for delivery, and within 30-minutes the hookah or other items will be hand-delivered in vehicles wrapped with the GoPuff name and label.
In order to ensure that people are of age, GoPuff users will have to both sign a waiver indicating that the use of the product is specifically for tobacco, and also have their identification card scanned by the driver. “Our delivered products aren’t labeled as paraphernalia, we describe them as tobacco use only,” said Ilishayev. “But whatever people do from there is out of my control.”
Ilishayev said the company is not going to be selling glass bowls or any other pipes that are often used to smoke marijuana. “That’s where we draw the line. I don’t want to take on that kind of liability,” he said.
In Philly, where Boston’s sister site, Philadelphia magazine, first reported the news about GoPuff’s plans for expansion, Ilishayev said they have 25,000 users and 25 drivers delivering goods. He said he expects Boston to start off with five drivers come April or May, and thinks the users buying products through the app will surpass their current customer base. “It’s going to be much bigger,” he said.
They are looking at three possible spaces for their headquarters, including the Back Bay, a space near Harvard and MIT, or a spot by Fenway Park. At their home base, GoPuff would keep all of their delivery inventory. If they do open in Boston as planned, the hours of delivery would hopefully be between noon and 4:20 a.m., said Ilishayev.
GoPuff’s lawyers are still working on the fine print in terms of securing the proper licensing to roll out such a business in the city. Permitting has to be done through the Boston Public Health Commission’s office of tobacco control, and includes a rigorous, multi-step process such as the submission of letters of intent and business plan. Only after approval can GoPuff receive a “Location and Sales of Tobacco and/or Nicotine Delivery Products” license. Officials from BPHC said currently there is no precedent for this type of service, but that they were looking into the legalities surrounding the business concept. Boston will update the story when more information about GoPuff’s business plan becomes available.
In the meantime, Ilishayev is looking forward to dipping into a college-centric market. “People try the service for the first time, and all of the sudden it’s at their house. It’s instant gratification,” he said.