On The Front Line With Navy Veteran Eric Buss – Squid Industries
It was the summer of 2017 in La Jolla, San Diego when I first met Eric Buss, the Founder & Director of Marketing at Squid Industries LLC.
I was attending the quarterly VSE (Vape Shop Events) for what would be one of my first expos on American soil. Both Eric and I found ourselves waiting patiently in the lobby of the Hilton for our rooms to be made up before taking a rest, as the meet and greet dinner and drinks were only a couple of hours away.
The wait to check into our rooms had taken longer than expected. As we continued to wait we noticed each others “hand check” and an understanding that we were both to be apart of the same event struck. Without hesitation, Eric politely put out his hand and introduced himself to me.
Within a matter of minutes a friendship was born.
For those who haven’t attended any private vape pitching events it can be really daunting to be surrounded by big people in the industry. Not only have they known each other for many years, they’ve also never heard about you or your brand.
These feelings of nerves and anticipation were immediately put at ease by this friendly gentle giant, taking the time after hours of travel to make conversation with a foreign bloke he had never met, genuinely taking great interest in me and my travels to date.
I got to know Eric a lot better throughout the duration of the event, both during our very busy few days and also at the social gatherings. By sheer coincidence our meeting rooms were side-by-side and during breaks we would pop into each others rooms to check in and see how the other was doing.
It was really great to shoot the shit and just see a friendly face each day.
It was through these conversations that I learned so much about the man, his passions, where he’d been, and where he’s going. But there was something bubbling under the surface; a sort of calm intensity, a real story waiting to be told.
It’s now that we get to see the real side of one of the most fascinating figures in the industry.
After leaving high school with no sense of purpose or direction, Eric decided to follow in the foot steps of his father, his uncle, and both of his grandfathers by joining the Navy at age 18. Serving in the USN from 2000-2003, Eric was stationed aboard the USS Ashland (LSD48) and deployed to the Persian Gulf in 2002 for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Bootcamp was a culture shock, but I got through it fairly easily. I entered as an “Undesignated Fireman” but once I got to my ship, I sought out the Damage Control Division and convinced them to take me under their wing. I was really into the idea of being a shipboard firefighter.”
Once arriving on the ship he was set to travel along the coast of South America, hitting liberty ports throughout. Truly a young sailor’s dream order.
But then in 2001 an act of terror changed the world forever. 9/11.
“I was on the ship in port when the event occurred. We watched on the TV as the towers fell and knew everything was going to change. But we were ready. This was what we signed up for. We got our orders to transport Marines and weaponry to the Persian gulf where they would deploy to land and kick ass. The next 6 months or so we did circles in the gulf. Our days were filled with watch stations, flight ops, and drills. Not the most exciting thing, but we weren’t dodging bullets like our brothers with boots on ground. I’ll be the first to say that I have nothing but the utmost respect for the brave soldiers who fought our enemies face to face”
Like many ex-service men and women, Eric began to struggle with substance abuse and depression. Though a master at his job, everything in his life was falling apart. Numerous arrests while in port due to excessive drinking and fighting made it impossible to make rank, ultimately leading to discharge with no option for reenlistment in 2003.
When returning home to California, not much changed. A handle on life was still out of reach. Many career attempts in construction and even car sales couldn’t be held down due to the struggles of binge drinking, fighting and hard drugs.
Eric’s potential was quickly fading away.
“I knew it was hurting me, but it was the only way I knew how to cope with an emptiness I felt inside me. Depression had its grips and the way I medicated was killing me. In ’06 my father died of a heart attack and my first child was born a month later. I was completely overwhelmed by grief for my dad, and fear that I’d never fill his shoes as a father. I tried to keep my nose clean for awhile but things continued to spiral. My relationship ended with my daughter’s mom when I was in jail for the last time. During that stint I lost my job and home as well. I had burnt every bridge I ever had. Everyone was done with me. I seriously considered suicide at that time. The only thing that kept me here was the thought that my daughter would grow up knowing her father had taken his own life. I was convinced I was bad, but I couldn’t hurt my daughter like that.
With suicide off the table, the only choice I had was to figure out how to live. I borrowed $100 from a friend and headed to the Log Beach Veterans Administration (VA) to seek help. For 2 weeks I slept at the mission or in the grass at the VA while I tried to get into a treatment program. Finally I was transferred to the West LA VA where I stayed for a year while I learned how to live.”
After all this hardship and personal struggle, Eric reclaimed the lost part of himself by selflessly giving back to people he felt needed it more than he did. 2011 saw him become a counselor to Vets as well as creating a drive to donate and help those struggling the way he once did.
“In a sense, an amends for my haphazard behaviour while in the military and the years following. After I graduated my treatment program I was offered a job as a Tech on the graveyard shift. At night I would sit with the guys who couldn’t sleep and just talk with them. It gave me a sense of peace to be there for someone when they’re going through it. Especially since I had been in their shoes.”
This overwhelming sense of truth and honesty led to recovery and a fresh outlook on life. Not in Eric’s wildest dreams did he think that one day he would attain a BA in psychology.
But the icing on the cake? When he met the perfect woman, whom he now calls his wife.
“I was sure this was my path. In 2014 my wife became pregnant and reality struck. As a Case Manager with a degree, I made about $14 an hour. Hardly enough to support a family of 5. Fortunately my wife had a great job so we decided that I would stay home with the kids while she brought home the bacon.
During their nap time and evenings I would tinker with building mods. It was just a fun thing to do during the day, but I ended up getting pretty good at it. As my skills refined and people started to notice, I thought maybe this is something I could do to provide a good life for my new family. I didn’t want to let go of my foundation, so I wrote my desire to support veterans causes right into the business mission statement. And that’s how Squid was born.”
“Lets get down to business, Eric. Talk to me about your hardware and juices.”
“I started with making Hammond box mods. Unregulated, OKR, OKL, PWM etc. During that time I teamed up with Jon Sanders of Dripset Distribution, and later James So of Provape Wholesale to create the Double Barrel. Its been a slow grow as we have spent the last two years refining this mod, and late last year, with the 3rd version (2.1) I can confidently say this is the coolest mod ever.
Jon Sanders (creator of FRYD oreo and twinkie) helped me to create an amazingly balanced cocktail juice line, SHOTS. Keeping with our mission, 100% of wholesale proceeds for this line are donated to Veteran Charity. The juice is amazing and the cause is even better.
Near future: In less than a month we will be releasing the TAC-21. With a design loosely based on that of the Double Barrel, this mod will accommodate 21700, 20700, and 18650 batteries and run up to 200w true wattage.
In 2018 we have solid plans for at least one other mod, and designs for a few other products we’d like to release. This will be a very big year for Squid.”
“What was the reasoning behind your limited ‘one off’ range? It sold out in no time!”
“For fun mostly. We designed the DB with the intention of customizability. With a solid metal body, cool one offs just made sense. We also released vinyl skins and silicone covers so customization is a breeze with no technical skill necessary.
I release the customs in the Squid Vapor Group only. It’s an awesome community for Squid fans and we’ve been able to raise thousands of dollars for charity with custom raffles. SVG has been my number one support though this endeavor, aside from my family of course.”
“What sets you apart from other brands out there?”
“Besides having the sleekest dual 18650 on the market?! I think our mission really sets us apart. A lot of companies donate, and I commend them for that. For us, donating is as much a part of our business as the intention for profit. Last year we were really invested in building our foundation. With that in mind, there was no room to pay ourselves paychecks. We still managed to donate about 10k to various causes. That’s what sets us apart”
Thank you for your service Eric, both on and off the field. Your passion and tenacity to not only save but reshape the lives of those around you through vaping is a true testament to your story.
As the great man says, “SHOTS FIRED!”