As a MIT-educated software developer, computer animation innovator and entrepreneur, Michael O’Malley knows the world of tech start-ups. But the retail sales launch of his easy-to-roll papers comes with a different twist: It’s the first time O’Malley has blended cannabis into his business efforts in such a big way.
“Everybody loves them,” says O’Malley, the owner of New York-based Curved Papers, which come with one side with rounded corners. “They are genuinely easy to roll.”
After nearly three years of acquiring patents and trademarks, creating a package design and logos and setting up production and distribution, O’Malley is planning a major rollout of his Curved Papers in the U.S. this year. With production in the Dominican Republic, a retail distribution network lined up from San Diego to the Pacific Northwest and across Canada, and legal sales of cannabis on the rise across the U.S. and around the world, Curved Papers expects to ramp up sales quickly.
“Distributors are always looking for something new,” O’Malley explains. “We’ll be in 10 or 12 cities to start. We’ll focus on the U.S. and Canada in 2017, and Europe in 2018.”
A category dominated by a handful of giants (Zig-Zag, EZ-Wider, RAW), the rolling paper business—fueled by cannabis and tobacco consumers—tips the scales at nearly $5 billion annually worldwide. “When we get a percentage of that, it will be huge,” O’Malley predicts. “There’s a lot of money to be made.”
O’Malley traces his roots in the rolling paper business to the 1970s, when he studied architecture at MIT. He recalls the introduction of papers with the corners cut off that came with joint rolling machines; but inserting the paper into the device was tricky. Instead, O’Malley started using scissors to trim rectangular papers into a curved shape, which allows the edges of the joint to tuck more easily into the ends.
“The classic roll-your-own problem is that you have to keep the top and bottom edge parallel, otherwise the front corner doesn’t tuck—that’s what makes rolling a joint so hard,” he explains. “Curved Papers solve a very basic problem that’s been common around the world for centuries.”
Prior to launching Curved Papers in 2014, O’Malley founded Kinetic Designs Inc., a startup that created animation and rendering technology for architectural firms. He developed expertise as a communications and production specialist, combining his technical, creative and business abilities. As a designer and project manager, O’Malley has provided technology, media and business solutions for more than 100 websites, and animation for the Rolling Stones and IBM.
During his time in the tech and design sectors, O’Malley continued to make small batches of his own curved papers, which he called Mike O’Malley Designer Rolling Papers. As the cannabis revolution took hold, and his two children went off to college, O’Malley founded Curved Papers, and he attracted financial backers on trips to Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver and Europe.
The business may be competitive, but it’s not too big to accommodate a new player, O’Malley insists, because the industry craves innovation. Curved Papers will compete at the typical $2 per pack price point (they’re currently available at curvedpapers.com). Hemp papers, rice papers and unbleached papers, and Curved Blunt and Canna Blunt wraps, are coming next.
“Legend has it that the first cigarette papers were made out of pages from French soldiers’ Bibles,” O’Malley says. “It’s a 400-year-old business, a real old thing. People are looking for something, anything new. All the papers are the same; it’s all just about branding. Curved Papers are truly different.”
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