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Breakthrough: Hemp Oil Extracted Using Only Air

russell thomas vapor distilled

Extraction is considered the most profitable segment of the cannabis industry, but what if we’ve been thinking about extraction all wrong?

Is it really necessary to use large CO2 or butane extraction systems when there’s a way to extract oil from hemp and cannabis using just air?

In this episode, Vapor Distilled Founder and CEO Russell Thomas explains how this revolutionary, all-natural extraction method produces stronger, ultra-pure oil.

Learn more at http://www.vapordistilled.com

Key Takeaways:

  • Russell’s background in the cannabis industry and how he came to start Vapor Distilled
  • What constitutes “cleantech” or clean technology
  • A deep dive into traditional extraction methods, including CO2 and hydrocarbon systems
  • How the Vapor Distillation process uses heated air and a proprietary condensation method
  • The evolution of Vapor Distilled and what it took to turn it into a large-scale, commercial product
  • Consumer responses to the ultra-pure taste of Vapor Distilled oils
  • Vapor Distilled’s cost efficiency versus that of traditional methods
  • The future of Vapor Distilled and its all-natural extraction method

Read Full Transcript

Extraction is considered the most profitable segment of the cannabis industry that touches the planet. But what if the way we've been thinking about extraction is all wrong? Do we need to use large CO2 or butane extraction systems when there was a way to extract oil from hemp and cannabis using just air? Here to tell us about it is Russell Thomas, Founder and CEO of Vapor Distilled. Russell, welcome to CannaInsider.

Russell: Thank you, Matthew. Excited to be here.

Matthew: Give us a sense of geography, where are you in the world today?

Russell: I am in Boulder, Colorado.

Matthew: Great, and I am in Austin, Texas. Russell, what is Vapor Distilled at a high level?

Russell: So at a high level, we're a cannabis technology company. And we're the only company in the world to develop a process where we extract cannabis using only heated air. We also are the only company in the world to develop a process where we can activate cannabinoids to where they're usable by the body in less than two seconds. Usually, that process takes 45 minutes to several hours.

Matthew: Wow. Okay. And Russell, can you tell us more about your background and journey and how you came to start Vapor Distilled?

Russell: So I came from the cleantech industry originally. I went to MIT and I dropped out to develop a gasoline engine that had the fuel economy of a hybrid with the torque and power of a diesel. So this was a very small engine with very, very high horsepower and yet it was also fuel efficient. We had 40 patents in that company, some of the brightest minds in the industry. One of the founders of the Carlyle Group, we had an inventor of a Honda VTEC, former president of Chevron Russia, former governor on our board, CEO of a major automotive company, automotive supply company up in Michigan. So it was a very exciting business.

And after I exited that company, I was looking at the cannabis industry growing up around me here in Colorado, and just kind of saw pretty quickly that the pinch point of that whole industry was centered around extraction, you know, started to kind of look at what you take cannabis and extract that into an oil, it's something that can, you know, retail, at least at the time, for more than gold. And so, had to be something special about that, that type of a point.

And so looked at the other technologies being used to extract. They're very chemical intensive, use hydrocarbons, you know, propane, hexane, butane, or they used CO2, which was cleaner, you know, and healthier for people to consume, but just didn't really taste that good and very slow, very expensive processes. And so, you know, everybody already knew about vaporizing, you know, it's the cleanest, safest, healthiest way to consume cannabis. And, you know, started thinking, "What if you could take that vapor and condense that directly back into a concentrate and use that as a method to extract?" And so came up with a few ideas.

My wife and I, we're in this together, put everything we had, built a 1200-pound machine actually in our living room, but we never broke any laws. That was one of the things we did from the beginning, we wanted to do everything by the book. So built this machine in there over a period of about a year, you know, did the test work in the house using rosemary. So went down to Whole Foods and just emptied out their entire bulk isle of rosemary, you know, several times a week actually. So I'm sure they thought there was something bizarre going on with a...

Matthew: It probably smelled great.

Russell: Oh gosh, the house was...the neighbors knew something was up, especially when you turn this thing on and the lights would dim, literally, because it's 12,000 watts. We had our stove slid out in our kitchen with a giant marine power cable going, you know, out of the kitchen, over the counter, into this machine in the living room. But yeah, that's kind of where we started with this. And it's just been a journey ever since.

Matthew: What a conversation piece to have a 1200-pound machine in your living room.

Russell: Well, we tried to not have anybody see it while it was there for a while. Too many questions, you know, but rolled it out silently in the night and never brought it back in the house, and did all of our testing for actual cannabis outside of the house and around Denver in different, you know, legal facilities. So it was fun.

Matthew: So can you just give listeners a background of what cleantech means exactly?

Russell: Yeah. So, cleantech is, you know, kind of the industry of, you know, different kind of fuel-saving technologies, cleaner engines, cleaner cars, you know, solar is cleantech. So, you know, not necessarily automotive, but just kind of this industry of, you know, saving energy, I guess is the best way to say it.

Matthew: Yeah. And what do you think like in terms of alternative automobiles, vehicles? Do you think we should be doing more hydrogen or liquid natural gas? I mean, obviously electric has got a lot of upside and we're seeing that kind of built out right now too, but what about the other kinds of cleantech?

Russell: So, you know, not to dwell on electric but, you know, I think that the engine is dead, you know. And this is a person who invented an engine and put, you know, the earliest part of his life and everything into it, never thought I'd actually say that. But I think that battery technology is getting so much better so quickly, you know. The amount of power and acceleration you get out of these electric cars and, you know, more and more, we're gonna see more infrastructure, you know, available to charge. I really think that's where it's going.

The hydrogen fuel cell technologies are just so expensive. They haven't really gotten to the point that they could make it into the mass market, you know, hybrids you know, they definitely are great because you don't need to hunt down a plug. But again, batteries are just getting so much better. I think if you fast forward 10, 20 years, everything will be electric, and as I think we all know, we probably won't be driving cars anymore. They'll be picking us up when we hail them. May not even need to own them, you just buy a share.

Matthew: I'm looking forward to that.

Russell: Yeah, definitely, it'll be fun.

Matthew: Well, let's kind of paint a picture here of what traditional extraction methods look like so people can get a foundation for the way most extraction is being done. Can you kind of describe how traditional extraction occurs and what that looks like?

Russell: So traditional extraction, at least the commercially viable, you know, scalable versions of it, they all center around solvent extraction, and there's really two flavors of that. There's your hydrocarbon, you know, based solvents like butane, hexane, propane. There's CO2, which is, you know, actually a gas, but when you compress it, it becomes a solvent. It can dissolve cannabinoids. And then you have also, you know, ethanol extraction, which is another, you know, solvent. And so with hydrocarbons, you can get a great tasting oil. It's a very efficient process, you can get good yields with it, but you can't really call it organic.

You know, if you really, really do it right, you can get a good extract. But most companies cut some corners. They don't use pure hydrocarbons. And so you have kind of nasty chemicals that can get in the abstract and we still don't know entirely, you know, how bad health consequences could be from those. With CO2, you can definitely, you know, make a safe extract for consumption, and it's also safer to do the extraction because you don't have the same, you know, fire risk that you do with hydrocarbons, but they just don't taste very good. You know, they end up having a little bit of a sour kind of bitter taste, and the process is usually pretty slow, and the equipment is very expensive.

Ethanol extraction, you can do that organically. It still is a flammable liquid, but it's a lot safer than, you know, hydrocarbons, but you tend to get...you pick up chlorophyll and other things that come along. Ethanol doesn't just dissolve oils, it dissolves water-soluble compounds in the plant as well. It can make your extract taste very grassy, kind of bitter, kind of like you're eating a plant. So that's kind of the traditional methods that are out there, and all of them can be, you know, you always have a consumable. You have a solvent that you're using, that you have to replenish, you have to purchase.

Matthew: Okay. And now describe the way that you do it with just air, which seems futuristic to me, and I wanna understand this better?

Russell: So I mean, in its simplest form, you know, you're taking plant material and you're driving heated air through it. And that heated air is at a temperature that's just high enough to essentially distill the cannabinoids directly off of the plant material. You know, that in itself is not that new. You know, if you've ever bought a personal cannabis vaporizer, that's how it works, you know, you're driving air through plant material. But, you know, the hard part is taking that vapor after you've removed it from the plant material and recondensing that in a concentrate quickly and effectively where you're not damaging the oil, you're not losing the vapor. That's the hard part. And that's really what most of our technology centers around, is recapturing that vapor.

Matthew: Okay, so instead of a solvent, it's heated air. Is there any other part of the process that looks different at all or any other way you'd describe that?

Russell: Yeah, so I mean, I guess that's a simplest, you know, way it works. But these machines are actually, you know, really large, you know, scale commercial continuous feed machines. So, you know, you have on the side of the machine is you have a big giant hopper, you fill that hopper with ground cannabis. And inside the machine, you have this hot, fast-moving air stream. And so that hopper, it starts to...it has an arder [SP] at the bottom, it feeds, you know, essentially, powdered cannabis material. We actually grind down a powder into a fast, hot, moving air stream. And pretty much the second that that plant material hits that air stream, it starts to distill the cannabinoids out.

So you have this air stream with, you know, cannabis vapor with plant material, and there, you know, moving through this machine, we separate that plant material out of that air stream and there's just this big giant receptacle area where the spot [SP] plant material goes, and then that air with the vapor in it continues on to the back of our machine and it gets condensed directly back into a concentrate. And this is continuous, it just keeps on going. So one of the things that's very special about this is even though it's continuous, if you look at the actual period of time that it takes for us to extract, it's less than two seconds. So from the time that cannabis material hits that air stream to the time that it's condensed in a concentrate is less than a two second period in time.

And during that time, we've also developed techniques to ensure that it gets fully activated so we call it flash extraction and it actually...so for those of us that are in the cannabis industry, we're very familiar with that but, you know, the need to activate the cannabis before you consume it. For those of us that aren't, you know, the THC and the CBD that have the therapeutic effects in cannabis, they come in an acid form in the plant, so you have THCA in the plant you have cannabidiolic acid in the plant. They don't really do much for you.

To make them usable by the body, you have to heat them for a period of time. That process normally takes with conventional extraction 45 minutes to several hours. You're either taking plant material, you're putting in an oven at a controlled temperature for quite a long period of time to heat activate it, or you're taking oil that's been extracted with another method and your heating that oil for a long period of time. And the unfortunate thing about that oil, when you activate it, is the temperatures required to activate it also are hot enough to actually break down some of the cannabinoids, it breaks down the turpenes, the flavonoids, other beneficial compounds in the oil.

And not only do you lose some of the efficacy of the product when you do that, you also get a rather offensive taste. It starts to taste very bitter, very nasty, for lack of a better description. Because we're doing this in literally less than a two-second period, extraction, activation, condensation, you end up with an oil that is not only, you know, more effective, it tastes much better than other products.

Matthew: Yeah, definitely the taste is there. You were kind enough to send me some samples and it does taste very clean and totally different than a lot of oils I've tasted. So, now how much tinkering and planning and iteration does it take to get to this point where you have this working process?

Russell: Gosh, it was a lot of work, you know. So really, I kind of skipped over, before the machine in the living room, there was one in the kitchen that was smaller. And from the initial proof of concept, which, you know, worked surprisingly well, I thought it was gonna be easy, you know. We did the first test and it was just a perfect oil that came out of it. Taking that from a small scale experiment to a large scale commercial machine was just a gulf of work, and I don't know how to say it any better. I'm really, really glad I didn't know how hard it would be before I started.

Matthew: Common thing I hear from entrepreneurs, including myself, is like, "Wow, I'm glad to know what this would take." But you got [crosstalk 00:15:10]...

Russell: Yeah, and aren't we glad?

Matthew: Yeah. A little bit naive and optimistic, you need that as the fuel.

Russell: Yeah, you know, you gotta love what you're doing on the journey though, because, you know, it's always gonna be a marathon. And if you're not enjoying the journey, itself you're just not gonna have, you know, the staying power to stay in it. But yeah, it was several years, thousands and thousands of hours of experimenting and, you know, different generations of machines to get it right. It really for economies of scale, for cost of production to go down, to have everything come together, we really needed that continuous feed system and that's when the technology really, really took off for us. And we've done, you know, tens of thousands of pounds of hemp, is what we've done most of our RND and testing on. So yeah, it's a process, always is.

Matthew: And we talked a little bit about the oil and how it tastes, right? And I mentioned my personal experience, but what are most people saying when you hand it to them for the first time and they're using it as a tincture and they taste it, what's kind of their reaction?

Russell: I mean, at risk of sounding like I'm trying to, you know, promote our own products, usually the first impression people give is, "Wow," you know, their eyebrows go up and they're like, "Wow, that actually tastes good." And the reason I guess that's unique is most full spectrum oils, because they all have to have that activation step, that decarboxylization step to make them available to the body, they just don't taste good. They almost all taste planty, they taste sour, they taste bitter. And this oil, it's like a hazelnut kind of sweet, nutty kind of molasses flavored oil. So it actually tastes good, and that is not normal of full spectrum oil.

Matthew: That's true, that is true. You kind of learn to tolerate the kind of grass clippings taste, but I definitely enjoyed not having to experience that. And this is kind of a strange question, but how come nobody's thought of this process before? I mean, does this type of...is there something similar from another industry that you drew on here? You know, how come no one else is thinking about? Is there like a herd mentality? Or is this just, you know, a thought from outer space that entered your mind? I mean, how did this...I mean, I'm just trying to think how, how did this happen?

Russell: So I think a lot of people were really approaching this more as a chemistry question. I came from the cleantech industry, you know, I've done a lot of work on efficient engine technologies, making engines run cleaner. So I really was looking more at, you know, how do you capture something out of air, you know? And so I think I just came at it from a different angle, more of a mechanical angle than a chemistry angle. But, you know, like I said, I mean, vaporizing something, you know, driving air through a material to volatize out, you know, the essential oils and compounds, that's not new. Being able to capture that out of a moving air stream, that is very new.

Matthew: Yeah, yeah.

Russell: And we actually have right now, we just went past 39 patents, or just got to 39 patients. We actually have an in-house patent attorney now because we're so IP-centric with what we do. And so, we have several patents around the core technology to actually...you know, this flash extraction, vapor extraction technique itself, we have that from the machines that do it to several different versions of that, the methods to do it, many patents on the chemistry. We also have a very, very exciting water-soluble compound that we're creating that is super stable forever. It's been a real challenge for the industry as well. So we do have a PhD chemist in-house as well who's also our patent attorney. So we're very aggressive in that IP space. You know, really, again, at our core, we are a technology company. Our first technology just happens to be this extraction technology.

Matthew: And how much is the cost per gram to extract with your method versus a traditional method?

Russell: So I have to be careful giving exact numbers, because I'm sure competitors would love that. But what I can say is we have...you know, every solvent system, it always has a consumable, always has something you have to replenish, something you have to purchase. We use air. That costs a whole lot less, you know. So, I mean, it is literally an order of magnitude less to extract using our system than any other method. You know. And when you combine that with, you know, the automation, you know, we're taking several steps in the extraction process, we're combining them. You know, we also have developed this much, much more efficient faster, you know, decarboxylization or activation step as well. And, you know, getting that right was another key part of this process, you know. And so, we have a fractional cost to extract, that's the best I can say.

Matthew: Sure. And so what's the business model here? People are wondering, like I've been to your website and you can't, as an individual, purchase the oil, so how does that work?

Russell: So, you know, the model we've chosen to adapt is really, you know, if you think about Qualcomm as a company, nearly every cell phone in the world has a Qualcomm chip in it, you know, it's kind of in the background, it makes the best phones work. Same with, you know, Intel, they're the microchip...they're the chip inside of the computers and whether the brand is an Apple or a Hewlett Packard or, you know, a Dell, a lot of consumers, you know, they want that product because of that Intel chip. So that's kind of the core model we're adapting.

So we take, we source, you know, really, really good industrial hemp from good farms, we test it, we make sure it has no trace of pesticide-heavy metal. Make sure that it was grown legally. It's also very important in this industry, this is really a compliance industry, it's not just the cannabis industry. You gotta do it all right. And so we take this well-grown hemp from farms, we extract it using our technology, and we wholesale kilograms of CBD, cannabidiol. And so, we essentially...you know, the companies, we support the best brands in the industry by giving them what we believe is the best oil in the industry. And that's our business model.

Matthew: And just for North American listeners, that's 2.2 pounds is a kilogram. So what about terpenes here. Now, this is something, you mentioned flavonoids and terpenes a little bit, but the preservation of terpenes, creating a terpene profile is something that's becoming increasingly important, and the ability to affect experience is really driven a lot by terpene. So, you know, the vaporization is happening, the heat element is there, how do you look at when the terpene gets affected? Like is there some critical threshold where the terpenes are affected from heat or other processes in traditional extraction?

Russell: They most certainly are, you know. A lot of people when they first talk about, you know, they ask us, "Well, wait, this is a heat process, you know, how hot is it? Is it gonna damage the terpenes?" And what the other side of that is, you know, any edible oil or any oil that's even going in a vapor cartridge, because, you know, like a little vapor cartridge, they don't get hot enough to fully activate the oil, so you need to activate it before you put it in the vapor cartridge. And again, that activation step takes 45 minutes to several hours and traditional methods of decarbing oil, they annihilate the terpenes. The best way to say it is they annihilate. They break them down, they volatize them out of the oil, because you're talking about, you know, well over, you know, 200 to 250 degrees is a typical decarb temperature for a long time. The terpenes just boil out of it.

Our process is like pasteurization of milk when it comes to activating. It's so fast that it doesn't...there's not enough time to damage the terpenes, there's not enough time to drive them out of the oil. So if you have actually measure our oil compared to other activated oils, you're going to have many, many, many more times terpenes by weight in our oil than you do in other activated oils. And that's on the first pass without adding them back in. So we get the original terpene profile that's in the plant, and that makes it all the way through our extraction and through our decarb process and into the final product. Whereas other activated oils usually what they'll do is they'll actually add terpenes back in to boost them back up. So we don't have to do that.

Matthew: Right. Now, there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it's just exogenous, it's not something native to the oil that was extracted, so...

Russell: Yeah, nothing wrong with it. It just costs...you know, you're not gonna get the original strain profile the same way you would as if you just keep all that intact from the beginning. But it also costs money, you know, so from a business standpoint, you know, the more things you have to do to kind of reconstruct that oil after you go through this, you know, traditionally brutal, you know, decarbing process, it makes the oils more expensive. You know, again, that's one of the reasons that we can do this at such a lower cost is we don't have to do all these extra steps.

Matthew: Yeah, this is fascinating subject. So let's rewind just a little bit again. So the chlorophyll, can you just describe what happens to that again? And for people listening, chlorophyll is the green planty material that's a color in the oil. Just go over one more time how the heat element is just never there to begin with. That's why you don't have to remove it.

Russell: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. So, you know, traditionally, if use ethanol, for example, that's one of the extraction processes that really picks up a lot of chlorophyll. Solvents touch the plant, you know, and it really it happens even with hydrocarbons, even with CO2 to a lesser extent than ethanol, but it happens with any kind of solvent. You're touching the plant material. Therefore, you're not only going to extract cannabinoids, but you're also gonna get things that you may not want in the oil that affect the flavor. Chlorophyll typically imparts a grassy kind of plant taste in the oil. And some people really don't like that. They find, you know, it really affects the flavor. We don't extract chlorophyll at all because we don't touch the plant with a solvent. We only touch the plant with air. And so our oil has zero chlorophyll in it. And so you get zero grassiness in it.

Matthew: Okay, would you compare this to sterilization or pasteurization of milk?

Russell: I think that that's really just the perfect analogy for our flash activation. You know, when you're pasteurizing milk, you're trying to sterilize it, you're not trying to cook it. So what you're doing is you're taking milk, you're running it through these thin tubes that heat the temperature up above the boiling point of the milk really quickly, and then they immediately cool it back down. And it just kills any bacteria in it, but it doesn't cook the milk, it doesn't alter the flavor. And it's a very, very fast process. That's the same thing we've applied to activation.

It literally happens in seconds. We have over 99% activation in less than 2 seconds. And so it's so fast that you don't damage your turpenes, you don't break down cannabinoids and, you know, it's hot enough. It's done just the right way for just long enough and with enough, you know, other things going on in our machine. I can't say everything we do because we had to nail that too, you know, that wasn't just something that came along with, you know, just the way we extract. We had to actually tweak things to get that activation right. But it results in the same thing as, you know, uncooked milk, sterilized but not cooked.

Matthew: Okay.

Russell: Not that cannabis and milk are quite the same thing, but yeah. You know, one other thing that I wanted to touch on that, you know, with terpenes though, and solvents, so, if you think about a plant, you know, you think about hops, think about mint, you know, think about rosemary, think about other herbs, the terpenes, the essential, you know, flavors and terpenes in those oils, they're locked down in the plant material. They're not just on the surface of the leaf, the surface of the plant. You know, cannabinoids, on the other hand, they tend to be on these long trichome glands that make marijuana and hemp, you know, look kind of crystally and shiny when you look at it.

So with a solvent, it's very easy to just kind of melt those cannabinoids off the outside, but if you really want to boost your terpene content in your oil, you have to dive down into the plant. If you dive down into the plant, there's other things in there like chlorophyll, you know, other things that impart flavors in the oil, to make the oil darker, lower the quality of the oil. So you kind of have this dilemma, if I want a higher terpene level my oil, I gotta dive in the plant, but I'm gonna pick up chlorophyll, I'm gonna pick up things I don't want.

So one of the things that we really do differently is, we grind to the powder, you know, before we extract. If you do that with a solvent extraction, you're gonna get a terrible tasting oil. So we're opening up the plant, exposing more of the terpenes to the extraction process. And we also...you know, when you take, you know, even at the cellular level, you take this plant material over the boiling point of the terpenes, it literally ruptures out of the cells. We get all of them, and we don't get any chlorophyll. So we don't have this trade-off. So we end up extracting more terpenes, and then we take better care of them when we activate them, when we activate the cannabinoids. So it's two things going on.

Matthew: This is great. So, will you be licensing this technology to other companies at all? Or is it gonna all stay in-house and be the kind of Intel inside model or where do you see this going long term? So, I mean, how do you wanna extend your brand?

Russell: So really, a lot of people wanna buy our equipment. We get calls literally from all over the world, even Australia and New Zealand. You'd be surprised at all the people who want our equipment. We don't sell our equipment. We don't rent it. But what we do do is we source material and we sell kilograms of oils. So we are keeping it in-house right now and, you know, there's a lot of reasons for that. We know we have something very special. And, you know, we wanna be the only source of this oil in the world. And we also wanna make sure that, you know, it's the thing about CO2 extraction, about butane extraction. There's companies that do that well, there's companies that do that very poorly.

With our process in a way, you know, it is a brand. You know, we're the only company in the world that extracts with heated air. And so, by us controlling our equipment, we make sure that it's done right every time, you know, that nobody's cutting corners on quality, consistency, you know. And so, when people say, "Wow, that was a, you know, vapor extracted or vapor distilled oil, that was a flash extracted oil, flash activated oil," we don't want them to associate that with somebody who just didn't run the equipment right. And so, we're taking better control of our quality, for lack of a better way of saying it.

Matthew: Okay. Very fascinating. And where are you in the capital raising process?

Russell: So we just closed around a few months ago. As a company, we're very well funded. We have very big customers, we get more customers every day. It's been a very exciting, you know, fun process. This is one of those right kind of the launch point when the company is starting to really, really come into its own. So, we're not really raising capital at the moment. However, you know, as we look at how fast this industry grows, you know, how big it's getting so quickly, you know, we are contemplating, you know, potentially a large raise in the near future to build even larger capacity equipment out, you know, in particular, to serve the hemp and CBD side of the industry.

Now, the difference with, you know, the marijuana side of things versus the CBD, you know, industrial hemp side is, you know, just the amount of pounds that people extract in the CBD space, you'll literally be harvesting, you know, hundreds of thousands of pounds that need to be extracted in a short period of time. And so we do want to, you know, continue to expand our abilities in that and be able to grow faster than we could organically. So potentially, we may be looking at that over the next year.

Matthew: I love what you've done here because it reminds me of the blue ocean strategy where there's an existing marketplace in a segment seems totally defined and there's leaders. But you've kind of splintered off and created your own segment which you can lead, and with your intellectual property, it's almost impossible to follow unless there's a significant change. So what an exciting way to do things to maintain profit margin, do things your way, and innovate the marketplace, so well done.

Russell: It's been fun, you know, and it's...But yeah, fundamentally, we believe we have by far the lowest possible cost way to extract cannabinoids. And if you just think about it, fundamentally, heated air just doesn't cost the same as solvents. You just don't have those costs. And by the way, just because we haven't touched on it, we're definitely going into, you know, the marijuana space as well. Right now, we're focusing most of our efforts on hemp and CBD because it's such an amazing market. It's been so much fun to just watch this, you know, come into its own over the last few years, but we also are in both sides of the spectrum, you know, marijuana and hemp.

Matthew: Okay. And we'll get the details from you on how accredited investors can reach out to you at the end. But first, I want to go to some personal development questions, Russell. Is there a book that's had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you'd like to share with listeners?

Russell: So I guess, you know, I read a whole lot. I typically just when I need to know something about a subject, I dive into it until I figure out what I need to and then I go onto the next thing because I'm just so busy. So I guess, you know, I do read a lot of "Harvard Business Review" articles, you know. Right now, I'm going through, you know, their 10 best reads where they just condensed their best articles on everything from sales to change management, things like that. And it's these nice little condensed, you know, nuggets of information. I guess I still love, you know, it's an old classic, you know, "Good to Great."

Matthew: Yes.

Russell: It's an old book but, you know, those principles of just, you know, hiring truly passionate people who just love, you know, what they do for the sake of doing it, you know, everything from our extractors to our engineers, to our chemists that we hire, truly just love the journey of what they're doing, you know, that's influenced me from the beginning. It's still a good book, even though it's old book.

Matthew: Gotta get the right person on the boss, right? That's the motto there.

Russell: Yeah. And, you know, that's kind of what I've really focused, you know, it's like recognizing somebody's spirit, you know, that entrepreneurial spirit, you know, it's like every day when you're in this new industry, in this new company, like you have to be in the space to know like, hey, I don't actually know all the answers of how to do this. I'm gonna throw my hat over the fence, and I know I can get there. I don't have the answer today, but I know that I can figure it out, I know I'm gonna get there. If you look for that when you hire people, my gosh, you know, it's like a feedback loop where you have all these people who are excited about what they're doing, they know that they can get it done, they're okay with existing in the space of hey, yeah, new industry, new company, new technology, new market, but I know I can figure it out.

And even when you come to work and you're having a bad day because, you know, it's a marathon, not every day is good, you know, if you surround yourself with that kind of a team, man, they lift you up even when you're having a bad day. And so, I guess, you know, it's not just coming from that "Good to Great" book. There's just you have to learn to recognize that in people, and that's when your company takes off.

Matthew: Is there a tool you consider helpful to your team's work or productivity that you'd like to share?

Russell: You know, this is gonna sound kind of nerdy, but man, I gotta say, I believe in the almighty power of spreadsheets, you know, Microsoft Excel to answer every question in business, you know. So we actually...you know, everything from purchasing hemp and what potency and what price, you know, to, you know, all of our pro formas, to even, you know, improving the processes of our machinery and engineering, you know, calculators, we do very intense spreadsheet work, and it really helps us answer the questions. So, you know, nothing exciting there.

Matthew: No, yeah, I agree with you.

Russell: I don't know how people used to do business without spreadsheets. It's just, you know, you can think that you have the answer, sometimes intuitively, but until you actually let the numbers answer it for you...you know, let the numbers be your guide.

Matthew: I think the web-based, shareable spreadsheet is one of the biggest advances for me, because I remember before they were shareable and you'd always be, "What version do you have?" I don't see that. It's like, everybody's using a different version of the spreadsheet. Just making that web-based has been huge.

Russell: That we definitely use a lot of, you know, cloud-based sharing, version control. Definitely a lot of that. You know, I guess in terms of other tools too, you know, our machines are...we program our own equipment, we had our own user interface. Everyone who's in our extraction department carries around a tablet that it actually shows all the parameters of our machine running on it. We monitor over 60 different data points, literally some constantly, some every few seconds. And so every part of that process we have our eyes on it at all times. So we use a lot of, you know, kind of web-based or, you know, web-based, cloud-based controls. Have to make sure you keep all those very secure, though, because you don't want somebody hacking your machines.

Matthew: Sure. Sure.

Russell: So yeah, those two things really help us a lot.

Matthew: Now, I'm gonna ask you a Peter Thiel question. If people don't know who that is, he's the founder, one of the founders of PayPal, first investor in Facebook, and just a really well-known VC and deep thinker. And one of the questions he asks people is, what important truth do very few people agree with you on?

Russell: So I am a big believer in social enterprise. I think a business needs to be a business for the business sake but I think that you can do it the right way. You know, a lot of people say that, you know, you can't have a business that is profitable, that makes us money, you know, and also make quality product at a good price. You know, also take care of your employees, respect your employees, give them good benefits. You know, create a work environment where people actually look forward to coming to work. In fact, you know, we sometimes have to almost lock the doors on the weekends. I am not kidding, people love to work in our company. You can have both. And I think that, you know, as a company gets bigger and, you know, becomes really profitable, I think it's important to set an example that you can do things right while you're making money. You don't need to cut corners with quality to make money. You can solve a lot through better technology, better automation.

Actually, I don't know if people would disagree on that part, but I really have a lot of respect for companies like Ben & Jerry's. You know, they tried from the beginning to do things right. Still had a great exit, still made a ton of money. You know, Patagonia, great company, makes great products, very profitable, but they also are very...you know, they also try to do good in the world as they grow. And, you know, I think as we create businesses in the space, as we create, you know, great businesses in general, why not set an example? You can take care of employees with benefits, you can pay people better than minimum wage and, you know, the kind of performance you get out of people when they know that you appreciate them, you acknowledge what they do, people just, they take a bullet for the company, and it's not that hard. I don't know if I'm putting that in the right words, but...

Matthew: No, no, that's very helpful. Maybe you could talk a little bit more about how you create a culture like that. Like what are the specific steps you do to create a culture like that? Because a lot of business owners realize there's a huge advantage to that, apart from just good karma, it helps the business, everybody's excited to be there, it's a place that just feels, you know, like your work home.

Russell: Yeah, I mean, I think that one of the things we found is most important is when somebody, you know, goes beyond, puts effort in, make sure you really authentically acknowledge them for that. Don't just say it's great, you know, say why it's great. Give them a few examples of what they did and the difference it made, you know. Then they really know that you saw what they did. That you appreciated what they did, you know. And, you know, we really try our best here to make a very collaborative work environment. You know, we encourage everyone in the company from every department, "Hey, if you see us doing something dumb, if you see management do something, please speak up, you know, and don't be afraid to speak up. And, you know, if we disagree with you we'll still disagree with you."

You can't take everybody's advice all the time. But giving people that ability to know that, you know, they have a safe space to walk into my office and say, "Hey, I think we could do this better," is really important. We believe in employee ownership here. Everyone in our company has a...they get a small, you know, bit of equity that vests over time and, you know, they really view it more as their company. You know, as we get big, eventually we will have to stop giving out equity, but we always wanna do some kind of profit sharing so everybody feels like they have some ownership. This isn't just a job, it's not just a company they work at, it's their company.

Matthew: That's great. Thanks for that. Well, Russell, as we close, can you tell listeners how to find out more about Vapor Distilled, and connect with you? And for, you know, potential investors or people that are interested in buying oil from you, how can they reach out to you and find out more?

Russell: So I would really love customers to reach out to us more than anything. But yeah, so our website is vapordistilled.com. And you can also email us at info@vapordistilled.com. So both of those are good ways to get to us.

Matthew: Great. Well, Russell, thanks so much for coming on the show. This is really educational and it's really fascinating what you're doing here. I'll be curious to see how fast this grows and how much it's adopted. But I've definitely enjoyed the samples you sent me. So thank you for that, and I wish you well in 2019.

Russell: Well, thank you, Matthew. And I know it's getting a little late, but Happy New Year.

Matthew: Happy New Year.

Russell: Let's all make it a good one.

Matthew: That's right. If you enjoyed the show today. please consider leaving us review on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five-star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at cannainsider.com/itunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on CannaInsider? Simply send us an email at feedback@cannainsider.com. We'd love to hear from you.

Please do not take any information from CannaInsider or its guests as medical advice. Contact your licensed physician before taking cannabis or using it for medical treatments. Promotional consideration may be provided by select guests, advertisers, or companies featured in CannaInsider. Lastly, the host or guests on CannaInsider may or may not invest in the companies entrepreneurs profiled on the show. Please consult your licensed financial advisor before making any investment decisions. Final disclosure to see if you're still paying attention, this little whistle jingle you're listening to will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Thanks for listening and look for another CannaInsider episode soon. Take care. Bye-bye.

WAYV Founder Keith McCarty and CEO is Creating the Amazon of Cannabis

keith mccarty wayv

WAYV is an automated, on-demand supply chain logistics platform serving California’s exploding Cannabis industry. The technology streamlines the traditional B2B process, including transport, sales, and payment through a one-stop website that integrates regulatory and compliance checks. WAYV serves as a transparent, efficient tracking and compliance platform that surpasses the fulfillment experience of non-cannabis markets in today’s on-demand world.

In this episode, WAYV founder and CEO Keith McCarty shares how WAYV is revolutionizing e-commerce in the industry to become the “Amazon of Cannabis.”

Learn more at https://www.wayv.com 

Key Takeaways:

  • Keith’s background as an entrepreneur in cannabis and how he came to start WAYV
  • How WAYV streamlines the traditional B2B process and removes friction points for retailers and brands in the cannabis industry
  • The most common difficulties retailers experience in cannabis and how WAYV works to remove those difficulties
  • How Keith builds trust with both retailers and brands using the platform
  • Conflict resolution methods WAYV applies within its FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) model
  • A breakdown of the WAYV user experience for both retailers and brands
  • Ways in which WAYV brings in revenue
  • Keith’s plans to reduce other friction points within cannabis and expand WAYV beyond California

Read Full Transcript

Matthew: Hi, I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday, look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview, the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com. Now, here's your program. Our next guest is Keith McCarty. Keith was on the show a few years ago talking about his then startup Eaze, a cannabis delivery app that is exploded in popularity. Keith is back today to tell us about his new startup called WAYV. Keith, welcome back Cannainsider.

Keith: Thanks for having me, Matt.

Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?

Keith: Well, I'm personally in Venice Beach, California where WAYV has headquartered. WAYV is available throughout the entire state of California though.

Keith: Cool. And I'm in Austin, Texas. So I hear that Venice is becoming quite startup scene, Snapchat, other things going on there. What can you tell us about Venice Beach?

Keith: Yeah. I mean, look up, you know, my backgrounds in tech. I spent the past 10 years up in Silicon Valley, San Francisco proper. But there's this burgeoning area down in LA called Silicon Beach, which is kind of like Venice, Santa Monica area that has a lot of, you know, just a high growth companies, a lot of exciting ones. And it's also the Mecca for cannabis. So it always seemed appropriate to be in LA given that we're in the cannabis tech space, especially given those two factors

Matthew: Good points. Now, Keith, what is WAYV at a high-level?

Keith: WAYV is an on-demand supply chain logistics technology that's built to connect retailers with brands through optimized distribution.

Matthew: Yeah. And so retailers, dispensaries, we kinda use these terms interchangeably for people not familiar. And Keith, when you were on the show a few years back, you told listeners about your background with Yammer, which was then acquired by Microsoft, I believe, but could you just give a quick snapshot of your background and journey up to this point?

Keith: Sure. So my backgrounds in tech, as you know, right out of college, co-founded a company called Yammer. It's kinda like Facebook for inside of your company. And we started that. We launched it in September 2008. We ended up selling that to Microsoft. It's about three and a half years later, in June 2012 for $1.2 billion. From there, I started looking at the next evolution of technology trends. On-demand consumer services were really becoming popular at that time, Uber and Lyft, which may be familiar with in the rain-sharing [SP] category. But marijuana seemed like a very natural fit for multiple reasons.

So ended up building the first on-demand cannabis company that essentially with a couple of clicks of a button delivered cannabis in about 15 minutes. We launched that in July, 2014. And I ran that company until late 2016-ish. And through that period, really started to better understand some of the other friction points that are in the cannabis industry. But one of which is deeper in supply chain, especially as the regulations continue to evolve and become more structured around testing and things like that, we'll get into that.

And so there was a huge opportunity and a huge need really to satisfy, you know, kind of that B2B side from a technology perspective. And, you know, that's the sort of WAYV. So we started working on it. We launched it in August. And I have a massive amount of traction already. And can't wait to talk more about it.

Matthew: Yeah. So the Amazon fulfillment model, the Amazon FBA as it's known, has been a huge success. I've had some experience with it because you can offload the logistics, you can offload the warehousing, and, you know, some of the communication with the end customer. And it's a lot of things that normally would have to be an infrastructure build out. Can you tell us how that relates to what you're doing with WAYV?

Keith: Yeah. I mean, I think you're right. The Fulfillment by Amazon model works because, one, is optimized through technology, and because of a centralized aspect of it, you get massive economies of scale much more so than what you can get as like an individual, in this case, brand or retailer, even. So, you know, I just think that, you know, we're not necessarily reinventing the wheel per se, but we're doing it in a very unique way, given that we're in the cannabis industry.

And there's a lot of other aspects that I'm sure that we'll get into. But you're right. Fulfillment by Amazon is continues to be a growth factor for Amazon, and businesses continue to utilize it for those two core reasons. Like I said, it's about technology enablement, and also decentralized aspect and getting economies of scale.

Matthew: So what should these burdens do you think, and when you're talking with retailers they wanna get off their chest the fastest, is this at the shipping, the logistics, the warehousing, the e-commerce? I mean, I know we're talking in generalities here, but where do they seem the weakest if you were to pick one or two?

Keith: Well, I think retailers really want a consistent experience, they want a professional experience. They don't wanna have, you know, a different experience and with every brand that they order from. Let's say, a retailer has 20 to 50 brands, at least that they're carrying on their shelf. You know, without an e-commerce platform like WAYV, you know, they would essentially be contacting the brand sales reps individually, there may be different delivery dates for each of those brands. So they'd be having a huge accounts receivable team or a staff at least to manage that. The payments going outwards would be different, and kind of siloed through these channels. So everything is, you know, it's not really consistent. And it's not really optimized around the most ideal experience.

What they really want is to order through a single e-commerce platform to pay a single entity or maybe even a few. And from a brand perspective, you know, I think that they kinda want the same thing. They don't want necessarily to be managing the logistics side of it, nor do they wanna get into the technology optimization side of it, either, they wanna really focus on building a great brand. And I think, you know, they've been kinda forced into having to manage the logistics side and the fulfillment side because there really wasn't a great option out there until WAYV came along.

Matthew: Okay. And how important is trust here in terms of both the brands and the retailers feel like they have a fair platform? In a sense, it's like the platform becomes this huge network of fact in this hive of activity. And this is a real position of power that WAYV can be in in helping both sides, but there's a responsibility and a tradeoffs going on there. So what can you say about trust? How you cultivate it? And how you make sure that it's balanced between the brand and the retailer?

Keith: Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, it's huge. You know, the industry is obviously growing, but it's also very connected. So if you didn't have trust, or you lost that trust with, let's say, one entity that starts to snowball pretty quickly. And sooner or later, you essentially don't have a business. So, you know, I think it's number one, when you say you're gonna do something it has to happen.

And I think one of the best ways to do that is through technology. Technology is highly scalable, it's highly replicable, you can ensure a certain behaviors, and also provide the transparency along the way. So trust and transparency kind of go hand in hand just to how we look at it. One, we need to do and deliver on what we say that we're gonna be doing, and then we need to provide them transparency and update them along the way. That's both on the retailer and the brand side.

Matthew: And how about conflict resolution? Because, you know, having dealt with Amazon in the past and FBA, and we're kinda going back to that as an example, this is similar to like an FBA maybe model for the cannabis space, how do you handle conflict resolution where, you know, it's kinda he said, she said, situation, and there's maybe pointing fingers, and, you know, both sides wanna get to a resolution, but there's some problem that's preventing a resolution? How does WAYV step in and help there if it all, or do you leave it to the two parties to figure out?

Keith: Well, I think, you know, the best way to do that is to build great technology that thinks through all these different scenarios. So one example, maybe, you know, a delivery is made to a retailer, the driver ends up getting there, maybe they don't want 20 cases, they only want 18. So having the ability to, you know, reduce the cases within the driver mobile app, and then ultimately getting double confirmation. So sign off on both sides.

And I think every action that's taken where there's a change of custody, there needs to be that double confirmation on both sides, so that you don't lose that trust. That's one example. You know, there's plenty [inaudible 00:09:33] other ones as well. And we help them plan to build out technology and a lot, if not all of these areas, until that's all built out on. By the way, we have a massive amount of these flows already built out into the technology today. But until then, we have full support.

And, you know, the customer is always right. You know, I think that we're looking at this as a long term strategic play. And I think that, you know, we need to entrust, you know, that the customer, you know, has the right intention and give them the benefit of the doubt. We built out, you know, pretty extensive services team that they can contact us through the website, through chat, through phone. We have people out in the fields. So we have a heavy presence there. And we're very responsive in those areas in the event that there is a conflict.

Keith: So if I'm a cannabis retailer, listening to you now, and I was looking over your shoulder as you walk me through WAYV, what would the experience be like? And what could they expect?

Matthew: Yeah. They would expect a very seamless and easy to use flow to sign up. So it's essentially a two-step process. First, they sign up as an individual users. So name, email address, phone number, password, just like you would sign up with most websites today. And then the second step, which is pretty elegant, we've actually integrated into the state database, multiple state databases. And we pulled those records into our system.

So essentially, the next step is just within a type of head to select your retailer. So let's say it was Madman, or ShowGrow, or Spark, or, you know, any retailer that's compliant and has an active license in the state database will show up in our system. So they select that. And it takes about a few minutes to get verified just for the first person that signs up. After that, they can invite others, so we don't need to go through that approval process again.

But essentially, what we're doing is we're associating that person with that entity and making sure that they belong within that entity. After that, it's just like shopping on Amazon. So they go through, they select the products or the skews that they want. They add them to their cart, they go through the remaining of the checkout process, and select when they want it delivered. We do standard next day delivery throughout pretty much all major cities in California, and even some that aren't major cities as well. And then they can track their package along the way just like, you know, you're used to doing with Amazon or a lot of other popular e-commerce sites outside of Cannabis.

Matthew: Okay. Anything different that you can dovetail for the brand side of it, what's like for them?

Keith: For the brand side, so it's the same signup process. So we integrated the signup flow to make it just as easy for the brands. When they get verified, their first step would be to register their products. So go through and register their skews, upload an image description, the pricing, and then to schedule their first pick up. So they would go through and select what products they wanna have picked up. They would schedule their pick up without a dispatcher driver to go and pick it up, bring it back to the distribution warehouse. If it needs to be tested, we could, of course, handle that with the state-sanctioned testing labs. If not, it goes right into active inventory and then gets load balance across the multiple distribution centers in California. And it's active on the marketplace. It's as simple as that.

Matthew: Okay. So is load balancing kind of like an algorithm to see a modeling of consumption, like San Francisco might be one-third of LA just based on projected demand, that type of thing?

Keith: Correct. Yeah. And it could just be, you know, the brand in itself. So maybe a brand is better suited for big cities, and not so much for more inland or vice versa. So the more data that we're capturing, we're, of course, learning and then optimizing where that product should be, so that it's always coming out of the closest distribution warehouse.

Matthew: Okay. So what's the business model here for WAYV in terms of how do you make money and keep the lights on?

Keith: So it's free for retailers to use. And then brands pay a fee for the services that are provided?

Matthew: Okay. Okay. So you're saying starting out in California, which is a good move, because it's a huge market when a big population. Are you gonna stay and focus on California for a while? What about beyond California and other geographies? And how would that affect the one-day shipping that you offer now?

Keith: So one of the things that really attracted me also on the B2B side was, unlike on the business to consumer side, this model really fits into pretty much all of the territories in the United States and even beyond. And so we could essentially move into these other geographies from a regulatory perspective like yesterday, right?

The second thing is that technology tends to be highly scalable. And so we obviously built the architecture in a way to where it took into consideration, different regulations, and different geographies, and became a very agile type of model for us to modify those two changes that need to happen in these other states or countries.

So to answer your question, we are built to scale extremely fast. Right now, we are focused on continuing to learn and optimize the experience for both the retailers and the brands. And we plan to expand, you know, after we feel comfortable in terms of that blueprint, I would say, you know, sometime in 2019.

Matthew: Okay. And tell us a little bit about your distribution partner Indus, if I'm pronouncing that correctly.

Keith: I think that's the correct, yeah, pronunciation. So Indus is, you know, when I was initially thinking about starting this company, there was a few different paths that we could go. One, you know, we could have fully verticalized, which means that we would manage not only the technology infrastructure, but also the physical infrastructure as well. That wasn't the path that I wanted to go down because I'm a big believer in best of breed. I know how hard it is to build an amazing technology. And I also know how hard it is to manage the physical infrastructure at these Amazon-like warehouses.

And so doing both, I felt like would either slow us down or wouldn't be the most optimized. But we needed to find distribution partner that can manage the physical infrastructure. And we weren't gonna settle with anybody that didn't one, share the same values, believe in kind of the growth model of what we're trying to achieve from a mission perspective, and be able to scale with demand that we're able to generate through this technology. And, you know, I really went around and talked to pretty much every distributor that was out there, and decided that and this was the best one. And we ended up partnering here in California and launching in August.

Matthew: Okay. So WAYV is managing a lot of details here in terms of, you know, the location of deliveries, volume, custody payment, arrival time, what can you tell us about the UI? Is that managed through an app, get email notifications? What's the UI, like in the experience like in, you know, consuming this information as it becomes available for both the brand and the retailer?

Keith: Yeah. For a brand and a retailer today, it's web. We may be rolling out some mobile applications for both the brand and the retailer here shortly. For the distribution partner, they have both web and they have mobile applications that are available both on iOS and Android. And that, you know, is both for the drivers, but also the logistics where the warehouse workers. So we've moved Indus to 100% paperless.

And before, before we had partnered with them, I mean, this is pretty much every distributor out there today that's not technology enabled. I mean, there's just paper everywhere, right? And so they utilize our mobile application for picking, packing, scanning products in, putting them into bands, driver routing, and then they utilize the web-based platform as well for some other things.

So for the distributor, to answer your question, it's both web-based and mobile app optimized. For the retailer and the brand, it's web today. And we'll probably be rolling out some mobile applications for some key functions, just to provide a little more rich experience when they're mobile.

Matthew: Yeah. Whenever I hear paper, I just cringe a little bit because it feels like we're choosing to be slow. I had a business ask me to send them a fax the other day and I almost felt offended. Like, why are we doing this? Like, would you prefer carrier pigeon? Like, can I just take a picture with my phone and send it to you somehow? But it's like, no, I'm sending a fax. Like, I don't even know where to get a fax machine anymore.

I don't know if they're made or what's going on, like why...Now, paper is still necessary that's good to be able to print out things. But it's like we're moving in a direction where it's like a geometric growth and communications, and the machines being able to, to communicate on our behalf and check things. So I definitely appeals to my sensibility. Now, we had LeafLink on, gosh, a few months back, maybe 6 to 12 months back. And they are a B2B cannabis platform. Can you tell us a little bit how you're different or similar to LeafLinks so we get some color and contacts there?

Keith: Sure. So LeafLink is B2B platform that connects retailers and brands. It's more or less, for my opinion, a lead generation platform. So they're not really as deep as what WAYV is on the logistic side. So in order to comes in from the retailer, gets pushed over to the individual brands. But it's not really solving the core issue that brands have, which is how do I get my branded product to that retailer? And how do I collect payments the most efficiently? And also, how do I just remove this from even having to think about it, so I can just focus on manufacturing more of this brand?

So, you know, LeafLink, like I said is, you know, definitely proven out the fact that retailers want to order through a centralized platform. And I think it will continue to move in that direction. But that's really just a portion of the WAYV platform. A lot of the value and the value that we're hearing both brands and retailers derive, you know, from the logistics WAYV platform is that it's not available within LeafLink.

Matthew: Okay. And you've obviously spent a lot of time here, both with ease and now WAYV, thinking about how technology can help people but also removing kind of big friction points. As you look around the cannabis landscape in the marketplace, are there any other big friction points you would love to address if you could clone yourself?

Keith: Yeah. So, you know, obviously, we plan to do a lot of these areas, so I don't wanna share it too much. But, you know, what I would say is after you kind of solve how to get product from point A to point B, you know, how do you get payment from point B to point A. And essentially, that's the machine. On the B2B side, that would be, you know, getting branded products for brands through distribution, to retailers, just in time, send their next day delivery, consistent experience, you know, trustworthy, transparency, all these things. But then how do you get that payment from the retailer back down to the brands.

So, you're constantly balancing, you know, giving out better terms to the retailers to help with their cash flow. But brands also need, you know, that cash flow to make more products. So I think that those are some of the friction points that we're really focused on today. And I would say are, you know, the most critical in the industry at this point. And like I said, with the finance side, it could be anything from, you know, banking or just digital payments in general, I think those are all extremely important or even safety, you know, as a concern.

Matthew: Keith, you probably been keeping up with the cryptocurrency space. And now, there's the introduction of stable coins, which are coins that track the U.S. dollar and value. Do you think there's room like something for a WAYV coin where you can keep the money in the ecosystem, but move seamlessly and then not have to think about ACH, or bank, or waiting for the lag time between banks?

Keith: Well, I guess I should say, first, I'm a big believer in cryptocurrency. I do think that there's a purpose at some point. What I would say is that when we work with the regulators, you know, it seems to be a little bit too much for them to grasp. There's a lot of moving pieces right now. And they certainly associated cryptocurrency today with, you know, Silk Road or avoiding transparency.

So like I said, I mean, I do think that there is a place at some point, but it's probably the...if we're gonna choose our battles and to move things forward at this point, I would say that that's probably not, you know, the best area to focus on from a regulatory perspective.

Matthew: Okay. Keith, I like to ask a few personal development questions to help listeners get a sense of who you are personally. With that, is there a book that's had a big impact on your life, or a way of thinking that you'd like to share?

Keith: I'm more of a discussion guy. I like to be, you know, kind of dynamic, kind of the conversation that we're having right now. So, I like to listen to podcasts, especially once where they bring on experts and kinda have that type of dialogue. So Joe Rogan, you know, as soon as his latest episodes come out, I listen to him right away. I am so huge fan of Joe Rogan.

And I think that it's really important also for me to not get so focused just on the cannabis sector, and to kind of be multifaceted, and have a more diverse or, you know, more breath in terms of what I'm learning, what I'm thinking about, how I'm challenging myself, how I look at the world. It's very easy as an entrepreneur to get kind of pulled into, like, just one area. But, yeah. So I'd say, you know, not so much books, more so podcasts, and huge fan of Joe Rogan.

Matthew: Yeah. He's got a great podcast. Gee's hilarious and also a great standup comedian, if anybody gets an opportunity to see him. And also, you know, occasionally, he'll focus on subjects that might not be your cup of tea, maybe you're into UFC, maybe you're not, but he has a lot of interesting guests on there. I think Elon Musk was probably the most downloaded one on there who really...that was an incredible interview for people that haven't listened to that just to hear a little bit about how Elon Musk's mind work, which is kind of crazy, which actually kind of brings me to another question here, Keith, is that I find people that create multiple successful startups are not the most balanced person.

And I mean that, like, in a very, you know, a nice way. I mean, you've gotta have some kind of crazy ass drive in you to keep on creating these big businesses. I mean, does your stomach churn? And do you have, like, a desire just that can't be extinguished to create these companies after you start one and move on, or how does this work here? I mean, what's your mind like?

Keith: Yeah, it's kinda funny. I asked myself the same question after each one I do. But, really, I think it's just when you see a need for something and you see how you could actually help, it becomes very difficult for an entrepreneur not to step in, and try and help when you know that you could do it much better than what's out there, or it's an absolute need that needs to be solved, and you're probably best suited to be able to do it.

So, you know, I think naturally, an entrepreneur is not a stand on the sidelines type of person. And, you know, so it's not just about like ideas, it's about, like, which ones are the most important to you, and are you the best-suited person to do it? And if so, then you're likely gonna try and start that company because it's the right thing to do.

Matthew: Okay. Is there a tool apart from WAYV or Eaze that you consider vital to your productivity that you'd like to share?

Keith: Well, you know, I think it's really important when you're growing these companies, and especially in ever evolving and quickly evolving industry to maintain sort of transparency and also consistency, and with, you know, your team and also your partners. And so I hate to be cliché, but enterprise social networking is probably the biggest and most useful tool internally at WAYV. And we use Yammer. We started with slot, but we ended up going back to Yammer.

And I think, you know, that's really also how we build our culture, right? So we build our culture around breaking down silos, flattening the hierarchy, having information move seamlessly, and transparently throughout the organization. And that tends to really accelerate productivity. And I think, you know, when you build a culture around those key aspects, that translates into, one, the type of people that you hire thereafter, but also what you ultimately plan to deliver, and what you do deliver to your customers.

So once again, even going back to trust, and transparency, and professionalism, and responsibility, and, you know, in terms of what WAYV delivers to retailers and brands, you know, we're building that culture internally, so it becomes very natural for us to expect and deliver that to our customers as well.

Matthew: Keith, as we close, how can listeners, cannabis brands, and retailers learn more about WAYV?

Keith: Well, the best way is to go to the website. So it's a wayv.com, W-A-Y-V.com and sign up there. Like I said, it's super easy to sign up. If you have questions, we have chat, we have phone, we have email, FAQs. So visit the website. We look forward to hearing from you. And just keep moving forward here.

Matthew: Keith, thanks so much for coming on the show today. We really appreciate it. Good luck to you in 2019 and keeps updated.

Keith: Thanks, Matt, I appreciate it. You, too.

 

Blue Moon Creator Keith Villa Invents First Cannabis-Infused Beer

keith villa ceria brewing

Only a few months after leaving MillerCoors where he invented the company’s wildly popular Blue Moon brand, Keith Villa launched Ceria Brewing Company to embark on new territory: cannabis-infused non-alcoholic craft beer.

A spin on Blue Moon’s Belgian-style white ale, Keith’s new beer, “Grainwave,” is a medium-bodied ale with blood orange peel and 5mg of THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis.

In this episode, Keith shares the goings on at Ceria Brewing Company, the variety of “sensations” his new line of craft beers have to offer, and his insights on the booming edibles industry.

Learn more at https://www.ceriabrewing.com

Key Takeaways:

  • Keith’s background in craft beer, his experience at MillerCoors, and how he came to launch Ceria Brewing Company
  • The process behind earning a PhD in Brewing
  • Why Keith decided to launch Ceria Beverages and create THC-infused beer
  • The ins and outs of infusing non-alcoholic craft beer with cannabis to ensure the THC is evenly emulsified and each bottle contains the proper dosage
  • Where Ceria is aiming to make its beers available in 2019
  • Keith’s goals to overcome the stigma surrounding cannabis
  • The THC doses within Ceria’s two beers and the different sensations they offer
  • Keith’s insights on the future of Ceria and the cannabis industry at large

 

Read Full Transcript

Matthew: Hi. I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh, new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly-evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at CannaInsider.com. That's C-A-N-N-AInsider.com. Now here's your program.

Matthew: With the stigma around cannabis falling away, one entrepreneur is seizing the opportunity to create a cannabis beer. I'm pleased to welcome Master Brewer Keith Villa to the show today. Keith, welcome to CannaInsider.

Keith: Well, thank you so much for having me on today. It's just my pleasure to be here and talk about what we're doing.

Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you sitting today?

Keith: Well, I'm in our offices, which are on our property, and sitting right here in Arvada, Colorado, which is a suburb of Denver. Not many people come out to Arvada, but it's just a really nice place to think about beer, brewing, and cannabis. The crazy part is that there was actually a moratorium on cannabis in my home town of Arvada, so we can't really sell any cannabis in this city. But our headquarters is here, and it's just a great little place to live and raise kids.

Matthew: That's right by Golden, right? Most people have heard of Golden.

Keith: Yes. I would say, if in your mind, if you could think of a triangle where you've got Denver, Boulder and Golden, that's the triangle, and Arvada would be almost in the middle.

Matthew: Okay. I am in Austin, Texas, today.

Keith: Then you're up a lot, especially for south by southwest, great place, great city.

Matthew: Yeah. A lot of California refugees here. Every day I'm meeting people that have decided to relocate from California to here for a lot of reasons, but interesting migration patterns going on.

Keith: Yeah, that is kind of interesting. But I don't blame them. Austin's a great town. California's a great state, awesome state, but, yeah, every time I go, it seems like the price of gas keeps going up and a lot of people moving in.

Matthew: Yeah. The price of gas here is under $2.00 today, so that's pretty impressive. For me, when I see that, that's pretty impressive.

Keith: Wow.

Matthew: But enough about Texas here. Tell us about your beer. What's the name of the beer?

Keith: Our first beer is called Ceria Grainwave Belgium-Style White Ale.

Matthew: Okay. What does Ceria mean? Is there any significance to that name?

Keith: Ceria is the name of our company.

Matthew: Ceria.

Keith: Ceria, it rhymes with area.

Matthew: Aria, okay.

Keith: Yeah, so if you would think of Area 51, then this is ... Ceria rhymes with area.

Matthew: Okay.

Keith: Ceria comes from the name of the Roman Goddess Ceres who was the goddess of the harvest, fertility, agriculture. The Romans looked up to her as this goddess who was responsible for great harvests of grain especially. Additionally, CERIA was the name of the ... It was an acronym and the name of the campus where I studied brewing in Belgium. That's where I got my PhD in brewing. Over there it stood for the Center for Teaching and Research in the Food Industries. On that campus they had the brewing school, the chocolate-making school, the culinary school, the hotel and restaurant management school, and all of those industries that are essential for the food world to exist.

Matthew: Okay. I want to dig in a little bit to your background here. It's not often I speak to a brewer, much less someone that has a PhD in brewing. Can you talk a little bit about what that was like in Belgium, and what the process is to get a PhD in brewing?

Keith: Oh, of course. Yeah. The process is pretty difficult. When you go to get a PhD in brewing, the first thing you realize is not a lot of schools offer a PhD in brewing. In fact, in the US you can go to the University of California Davis. But back when I got mine, which was ... Gosh, I was there from 1988 until 1992 ... really before the true onset of the craft beer revolution in the '90s. It was also before Belgium became well known for beer. But it was very difficult to find a school that had a brewing educational program. What I found quickly was that the most well respected programs were in Europe. There were two schools in Germany, one in the United Kingdom, one in Scandinavia, and four of them in Belgium.

Keith: What I did was chose the University of Brussels, the Flemish-speaking one, because they offered me the choice back then to do everything, actually, not everything but to defend my dissertation in English. Because at that time, they were really pushing English as the international scientific language, and so they were pushing all their own students to learn English and to do as much in English as possible. It worked out very, very, very well.

Keith: I was there. I wrote a dissertation, and I did all the research on specific enzymes and proteins in brewing yeast that were responsible for an off taste of butter. Butter and as beer is aging, it's freshly fermented and what you smell in fresh, green beer is a buttery aroma. The reason you age beer is to get rid of this buttery aroma. Through my research I found that you can do things to the yeast to minimize your aging time. But once I passed, we had a party. I had Trappist beers. I had all kinds of Belgium beers, and it was a great celebration and that.

Keith: Yeah, but it was very difficult. Then from my perspective having lived there and experienced that beer culture, I knew that someday that culture of beer and pairing beer with food and having small breweries in every town, I knew that someday that would come to the States. That really provided a lot of inspiration for me to get back to the States and start brewing.

Matthew: Wow. That's a fascinating background. We have some Belgium friends, and they are always pulling out interesting snacks from their bags and stuff like glazed waffles that they made themselves and these cookies that I've never had before. It's interesting. They have their own little unique culture for a lot of different things. Obviously, the chocolate, they're really well known for, too. But, yeah, it is. I think they have to explore with their culture because it's such a small area, a small place. But can you tell us a little bit about why you decided to create a cannabis beer, and what your day job was prior to starting Ceria?

Keith: Well, prior to started Ceria, I worked for MillerCoors, Molson Coors, Coors ... just the organization ... for 32 years. I started there, worked there for 32 years, and I retired. I actually had the opportunity to retire, really, with a great situation mainly because I had created Blue Moon Brewing Company as part of Coors, and it grew to become a very successful craft brewing company. To this day, it's the number one selling craft beer brand in the United States. Because of the success, I was able to retire last year. I was literally able to walk out the door with a full pension, health insurance for myself and my family. I was able to cashout all my stock. Literally, I could have walked out and just retired and relaxed and had fun the rest of life.

Keith: But the one thing that I had been researching the last four years on my own time is cannabis. Because I think I grew up in the same, I guess, state of affairs that everybody else did that as you're growing up in the United States, cannabis was something illegal. That notion of, I guess, it's a Reefer Madness was pounded into the heads of school children at least in Denver, but I'm imaging throughout the United States. Children grew up viewing cannabis as this terrible drug in the same league as heroin and all these other terrible drugs.

Keith: When you're a child and you're exposed to that, you believe it. What I found was that when cannabis started to become legal in the State of Colorado, I started hearing stories and reading stories of people using it and people actually benefiting from it. I'd read stories of returning veterans from the military who had PTSD, and they were using cannabis with a very successful rate of being cured or treating their PTSD. Then I was reading articles of people with cancer who were using cannabis to cut the pain that was caused by the cancer or to decrease the nausea that was due to the drugs that they were taking. I read about people with epilepsy who were going from several hundred seizures a day to zero or one or two seizures a day with cannabis.

Keith: I read enough to know that there was something going on there, something very significant. Then as I read more, I saw that, well, the reason that's happening with these stories but not in the scientific press was because this was an illegal drug at the federal level. Because of that, universities were not allowed to study this in depth. There was just a whole complete lack of information on cannabis. I kept digging down deeper and deeper and finding so many articles, most non-scientific but, nonetheless, articles that were showing that cannabis does something. I thought, "I am gonna start looking at this thing," because in 2014, that's when it became legal for recreational cannabis in the State of Colorado. I would start getting extracts and cannabis. I used them. I was trying them out, and I would talk to people. Really, there was something there, and I thought, "You know, this is not the plant that everybody was blaming for society's ills. This plant is actually useful."

Keith: There's a whole history of this plant being used by native cultures going back a long, long time. What I read was that the first people to really use it were in Asia. Over there, they were the ones who first started identifying that this plant could be helpful and used in many different ways, and it just spread throughout the world. I started experimenting, and I thought, "You know, this could be a really great replacement for alcohol in beer, because beer is one of the beverages that's been with Western civilization for thousands of years." I think any textbook of brewing will tell you that the first written history for beer was with the Sumerian culture, which was something like, I believe, 5,000 years ago, something like that. So beer has been with us for a long time.

Keith: The issue with beer and other alcoholic beverages is that alcohol, it's a high calorie food, if you will. It does cause problems when you drink it in excess, so liver issues. There are people who get addicted to it. A lot of different things happen with alcohol. In moderation the science says that it is healthy although lately, there have been some scientific articles saying that even one drink of alcohol is bad for you. There's still a lot of stuff coming in, a lot of science coming in saying that alcohol could be negative for your health even in moderation.

Keith: Whereas with cannabis, I wasn't able to find any conclusive scientific proof that cannabis has led to deaths of humans through ingesting it or through smoking it. Certainly a lot of cases of people who would feel sick because they took too much, but they recovered fully and got back to great health. Also, I read about cannabis being used to wean people off of drugs like opioids, people completely addicted to opioids, which doctors legally had prescribed and which cause a lot of deaths in the United States even up to this year. I found that cannabis could be used successfully to treat people who were addicted, and so I thought, "This can be a great, great way to introduce people to cannabis through beer."

Keith: I was able to retire this year, as I said, and my wife and I started Ceria. The first thing we did was lay down the brand architecture and the groundwork for Ceria. Part of that was the fact that we saw cannabis as something that should be for the people. That is, it should not be illegal. It should be available for everybody who needs to use it or who wants to use it. For us, cannabis became a like movement. On our labels you see in Latin it has the phrase, "Cannabis pro Omnibus," which means cannabis for the people. That's become our rallying cry, and beer is the vehicle that we've chosen to provide cannabis for all those people 21 and older who want to be exposed to cannabis and experiment with it safely and see that it really isn't something to be afraid of. It's something to add another level of enjoyment to your life. Well, this year, 2018 is when we started, and we did so much that it seems like that year of 2018 was, for us, it was about five to six years' worth of time crammed into one year.

Matthew: Oh, yeah. I can imagine lots in getting a company off the ground. For people that are listening and wondering like, "Hey, wait. Is cannabis like the active ingredient here? Or is it cannabis oil and alcohol together?" What's the answer there?

Keith: Well, the first thing we found was that cannabis and alcohol cannot coexist in a liquid legally in the United States. To clarify that statement, what I mean to say is that alcohol in the United States is overseen by the Tax and Trade Bureau or the TTB. The TTB is the governmental organization that really regulates alcohol, and they will not allow anything federally illegal to be put into an alcoholic beverage. At the state level, so in Colorado, we have the organization that oversees cannabis, and this is called the Colorado MED. That is the Marijuana Enforcement Division, and the MED does not allow alcohol to be put into any cannabis beverage.

Keith: To satisfy the feds and the state authorities, we have to remove the alcohol, so Ceria does not have any alcohol in it. It has only cannabis. The cannabis we use is an extract. We don't use varietals. Some people might say, "Well, is it Indica? Is it Sativa? Is it a hybrid?" We don't use any varietals of cannabis. What we do is we extract the THC and use only THC in our beer. This is mainly to get people experienced with THC and also to really just to start with that. In the future, of course, we can put any number of cannabinoids in there, whether it's CBD or CBG, anything. But right now THC, I think, is the one cannabinoid that a lot of people look at when they want to have, I guess, just a nice experience similar to drinking alcohol.

Matthew: Okay. How does the emulsification work so the THC is evenly distributed within the drink, and you're not getting it all in the first or last sip?

Keith: Yeah, that's very critical. There are two ways you can do that. One is to make a water-soluble extract. The other way is to make an extract with the right emulsifier to get it in solution, in suspension, so it stays there and doesn't come out. Those two ways work perfectly for the different beers we make. For our Grainwave, which is on the shelves right now in Colorado, it's an unfiltered, Belgium-styled wheat beer, so when you pour it into a glass it has a really nice haze in it, and everything looks good. It smells like a beer. But what we do is, for that one, we use an emulsified THC oil. We can't say exactly the emulsifiers we use because that's proprietary, but we do use emulsifiers to get it in suspension, in solution, and it does not come out. It does provide a little bit of haziness, and so that works perfectly in our unfiltered beer because it is a hazy beer.

Keith: The other thing is that the extraction process pulls away the smell and the taste of cannabis, so what we do is focus on the smell and taste of the beer with the effects of THC inside the beer.

Matthew: Okay. All right. You mentioned that the beer is available in Colorado. That's the starting geography and then there's gonna be other states? Or, how is that gonna work?

Keith: Correct. It's in Colorado. We started, we were on-shelf, I think it was the third week in December. We sold-out the very first day. It was the Friday before Christmas. We went into 16 stores. We had a launch partner, a dispensary chain here in Colorado who agreed to be our launch partner for our brand. I'm not sure if we could name them on the air.

Matthew: Yeah, please.

Keith: Oh, The Green Solution, yeah. They've been fantastic to work with. Of course, there are other chains and other independent dispensaries throughout Colorado that are also really, really great. But we decided to focus the launch with The Green Solution, and we sold out the first day. We were very happy. It's just great to go see our products in the dispensaries and then just wait 24 hours and see them gone. We know that we've got a product that people like. We've heard numerous accounts from people saying they love the taste. They think it tastes like a beer, a great beer. They said they could not smell cannabis or taste cannabis, but they felt the effects. For us, that's exactly what we were looking for.

Matthew: Now, how do you arrive at the proper dosage per bottles, and what does the bottle look like?

Keith: Well, at this point in time, we're using an aluminum bottle, so it's in aluminum. That's mainly because the state has had a rule in place that you should not be able to see the liquid inside the package. What we decided to do was use an aluminum bottle to make sure that it was completely obscured from the customer's sight to satisfy that rule. It is a 10-ounce serving, and it has five milligrams. The way we got at five milligrams was in Colorado the standard serving size is 10 milligrams per serving, 10 milligrams of THC. The state really doesn't have a lot of regulations on the other cannabinoids. They have only regulations on THC since that is the main psychoactive in cannabis, so the regulations really revolve around THC. The standard serving is 10 milligrams per serving of whatever you have, chocolate or liquids.

Keith: We decided to start with five so that people could enjoy two if they want a standard serving. They could enjoy three or four if they want a little more than a standard serving and still be able to function without being completely stoned. Because from our perspective, we want to introduce this product to people who maybe have never had cannabis before or people who had a bad experience. Because the thing we saw over the course of the last four years is that a lot of budtenders in dispensaries, I think, their goal is to help the customers who come in. But what we've seen is that a lot of budtenders try to sell as much THC per dollar as possible to people who walk in. From our perspective we're thinking, "Yes, that is the case for a lot of experienced users, because they want as much THC per dollar spent as possible, because they want to experience the THC. But we started thinking that that's not what the soccer moms and the average Joe down the street who hasn't had cannabis, they don't want as much THC per dollar spent. They want to ease into it.

Keith: Yeah. We thought that the best way to do that is to offer beers that have low dose, micro-doses of THC to allow people to ease into it. Then as they become more experienced, then they can buy high THC strains and experiment with edibles, smokeables. Then who knows? If they really want to get into it, they can buy a dab rig and then start dabbing if they want. It's totally legal, nothing wrong with it. But that's for those heavy, experienced users. But from our perspective, the heavy, experienced users really aren't our audience. Our audience is that person who has never used it and who might be afraid of it but doesn't know where to start.

Matthew: Yeah. It's a great on-ramp for new cannabis users, because a lot of the stigma is around when they smell or have to light something. Those two things are just big stigmas still despite over 30 states having some sort of cannabis legalization. Lighting and scent or odor is a big thing, so that's great. Also, people that just love beer, this is a great on-ramp for them, so I see that as a big win.

Matthew: But one of the difficulties I see is most people listening that are of drinking age would know what one can of Budweiser will do to them. But it's hard to have that kind of universal kind of measurement where you could say to a friend like, "Oh, if you drink this cannabis drink, you're gonna feel pretty much like x." It's hard to pass that along because seem to experience it differently, onsets differently, liver metabolization is different. But, I guess that's true for alcohol in general, but I think we're kind of missing ... 10 milligrams, like you mentioned, is a good kind of good international standard or maybe five. Some people say a rookie cookie, five milligrams is good. But I think we're missing kind of that universal benchmark that could help people know where they'll be at after they consume something. It's a hard thing to do because it's very subjective, but we need something.

Keith: Right. You're absolutely right, because everybody is different. At least with alcohol there's been so much research that people kind of know what a standard drink is. They know that if they have a light beer, they can have a couple and feel practically nothing, whereas if they have an Imperial IPA craft beer, they know they're probably gonna get buzzed. If they have a couple of shots of whiskey, they know they're gonna definitely get buzzed. People have these guide rails with alcohol.

Keith: With cannabis, you're absolutely right. It's a different story for those people who have not used it before, and everybody's different. The fact that the THC has there are binding sites in the body, and those binding sites that accept THC to give you that nice high feeling, they are affected by different things. That is the terpenes, that is those nice aromatic compounds that are in cannabis or in beer or in lemon juice, fruit juices. Those nice aromas that you smell are terpenes, and those actually have an effect on the cannabinoids that you take into your body, so there's a compounding effect.

Keith: Since everybody's different, somebody may take five milligrams, and they may feel really, really woozy. Whereas somebody else may take five and say, "I don't feel anything," and so you're right. That's the way we are as human beings. But in general, what we can say is that with five milligrams the first thing is that our extracts, whether it's our water-soluble extracts or other extracts, those take effect within 10 to 20 minutes, so you'll feel it after you take it.

Matthew: Did you feel a little bit like Santa Claus on that day of the launch? Where you're thinking like, "There's all these people that are enjoying this beer that I created."

Keith: A little bit. Yeah. Because it was so much fun because it's low-dose. To me, getting people to try it, that's a huge hurdle. But to try it in a way that's socially acceptable, that was one of our big goals, to make sure that this is socially acceptable. If you wanted to smoke it, I see you could do that, but smoking is being frowned upon more and more in our society whereas beer drinking or drinking of alcohol, that's something that's very socially acceptable. To put cannabis into a socially acceptable format, for us, that was great. It just was a great feeling to see it sold out and to just imagine people using it as stocking stuffers and whatnot, because it's just a great feeling because people are getting their first tastes of cannabis.

Keith: The other thing is that by having a beer format, we're driving a lot of new traffic, foot traffic, into dispensaries. For people to buy our beer, they can't go to a liquor store. They've got to get into a dispensary. What we're very proud of is that our beer is actually bringing people who have never been into a dispensary right through the front door for the first time, and they're seeing that dispensaries are not these dark, scary places that many people imagine. Dispensaries now are, the majority of them, are well lit, well stocked. It's almost like going into a nice ...

Matthew: I say it's like going into Pottery Barn.

Keith: Exactly. Yes. To get people who have never been in to a dispensary to actually walk in to buy our beer, it's a great feeling because then they see that these places, that they're not scary. You go, you purchase the beer and do the transaction. You show your ID, of course, but it's no different than going into Walgreens and buying a six-pack of Bud or Coors. But in this case, people see that there are other products, and so if they buy our beer. Our hope is that they'll come back for more. But at the same time, something should trigger in their mind to say, "You know, I think I might want to try those chocolates or those jelly gummy bears. Or, I might want to pickup a pre-rolled joint or a vape pen." Have people just come in and see that it's not talking to an illegal drug dealer in a dark alley. It's legitimate, and our beer is helping to legitimize that and helping to remove that stigma.

Keith: To me, that was the best feeling ever is that here we are at the forefront of actually getting people to try cannabis, getting them into dispensaries, and helping to remove the stigma that still surrounds cannabis.

Matthew: Sure. Okay. The Belgium White Beer has five milligrams per serving. The IPA's 10 milligrams. Moving on to, now there's a company in Canada called Province Brands. We've had Dooma Wendschuh, the founder or co-founder, on the show. He is making a cannabis brewed beer. Can you talk about the difference between what you're doing and what they're doing just so it's clear in people's minds?

Keith: Oh, of course, yeah. Yeah, and we've met Dooma a couple of times. He's a very nice guy, very smart. He's got Province Brands up in Canada. His goal is to make a beer entirely from the cannabis plant with no malt, no hops, but something entirely from the plant. Our goal at Ceria is to make beers using malts, hops, water, and spices if we want and then remove the alcohol and replace it with cannabis extracts. Ours really is the beer in the traditional sense, whereas Dooma's is beer in a new sense that is made entirely from the cannabis plant.

Keith: I remember talking to him years ago when he first brought up that idea. I was one of the doubters. I still doubt it, but until I taste his product ... as a brewer who's classically trained and I have a PhD ... I don't see how you could make a beer taste like a beer in the consumer's sense with just cannabis. It might be possible, but I would not know how to do it. He claims to have done it. He says he will launch it when edibles and drinkables become legal in Canada this October. Until then, he's partnering with one or two other breweries to make beers with cannabis extracts.

Keith: Yeah, so our beer is different than his in the fact that ours is a traditional beer with the alcohol removed and replaced with cannabis. His is made entirely from the cannabis plant. I remember saying to him that I would think it would taste more like a tea or something like that versus a traditional beer. But he claims to have made a beer that tastes like a traditional beer, and it'll be out in October. But next time I go to Canada, I'm gonna have to get up there and taste it and see what he's done.

Matthew: Yeah, yeah. Let us know. What has been the reaction from customers that have tried your beer then? What do they say about Ceria?

Keith: I think the first thing is that people are expecting a taste of cannabis. When they taste it, the one thing we always hear is, "Wow, that tastes like beer." Then people say, "That tastes really good." I think those people who know my history of being the founder of Blue Moon Brewing Company and that taste that Blue Moon has, I decided to launch a Belgium White for a cannabis beer because I know that style and I love that style. But our Belgium White at Ceria is different than the Blue Moon Belgium White because ours is a little more organge-y and a little more citrus-y, but still a beer. I think people taste that and they say, "Wow, that tastes like beer and that tastes good." People drink it. I think just that, to me, I call it the wow factor. When I hear that and people say, "Wow, that's really good," that, to me, is just music to my ears, because that means we've accomplished our goal. We've made a beer that tastes like beer but has the effects of cannabis, and that's exactly what we wanted to do.

Matthew: I know it's still a small, initial launch, but have you noticed any kind of trends in terms of who's experimenting with it first out of the gate? Women, men, young, old? That's all subjective but ... what old is. Anything you can tell us there?

Keith: Yes, it's too soon, because we still have to get out to the dispensaries and do some tastings and talk to the salespeople, the budtenders, the management of the dispensaries, and actually ask those questions. Because, yeah, they're the ones who are on the front lines with customers every day. They're the ones who will be able to tell us firsthand who is buying our beer.

Keith: Yes, there are some great data companies like Headset and BDS Analytics that can kind of tell us numbers, removal numbers, but in general they cannot tell us who is buying it. Is it a 21-year-old's first purchase? Is it a mom and dad who came in here? Is it a soccer mom? That's what I want to hear is who actually came in and purchased this? Because to me, that will tell me who is interested in these products. As we develop more products, it'll help guide us to make even better products. Because if it is the craft beer drinker who's purchasing our beer, then that tells me right away, "Hey, our next product could be our double IPA." Or, if it's a lot of soccer moms drinking it, that's like, "Okay. Maybe we want a beer that's a lighter beer that doesn't have too much flavor but that's very refreshing." Yeah, it'll help guide us.

Matthew: Could you give us a sense of price for a bottle of beer? Or, are they sold in four-packs? Or, how does that work?

Keith: We have individual bottles and four-packs. A bottle is retailing for $7.95. The price point is always difficult, because you offer a new product out there that is really something completely new. You just don't know where to price it to be a decent value to people but also something that tells people, "This is a nice thing to enjoy. It's not a real cheap thing." Yeah, the price point is always something very difficult to establish.

Keith: Ours is $7.95 a bottle. We felt that's a really nice price point for our first off beer. Because if you look at the world of craft beers and you go to a bar and buy a glass of craft beer, it's gonna be about $6.00 or $7.00 or $8.00 depending on what type it is. We thought, "Well, $7.95 is right in that range. It's a good price point." We think people should be able to have enough money in their pocket to buy one and try it. If they like it, they can come back and buy a four-pack.

Matthew: Okay. That makes sense. Keith, where are you in the investing process with Ceria?

Keith: For us, we are closing our first seed round of investing, so we're very happy. We've got people who actually believed in us and put money up to help us get this company off the country and get started. Yeah, so we're exactly where we want to be right now. We may open up another round next year. Or sorry, this year, 2019. But we'll wait and see because our goal is, again, to really to offer great tasting beers with the effects of cannabis and to remove that stigma that's around cannabis right now.

Keith: Our goal isn't to be this massive producer of stuff. We have very modest goals right now, and we're all about beer. We love beer. It's just beer for us. We're a pure beer player. We don't have vape pens. We don't have other edibles, other drinkables. At this point it's just beer because we know beer, we love beer, and that's where we are. From an investment standpoint, we raised the money we wanted. We have our plans in place for this year and next. We're doing everything that we've said we would do. In 2018, we said we would form our company. We would produce a product with the right logo and have it one the shelf by the end of the year, and so we certainly did that. Yeah, we'll just keep working really hard to get our products out there and to change people's images of what cannabis can be.

Matthew: For accredited investors that might be listening that are interested if you do another round of capital raising, is there a list or something they can get on or anything like that?

Keith: Yeah. If they go to our website ... I think it's CeriaBrewing.com ... or just Google Ceria, and they'll see our home website. Down at the bottom they'll see the little buttons to push if they want to learn more about investing in Ceria. Of course, yeah, well, hopefully we'll never turn away money. But it's a small company. You need money to grow and to keep going and to make high quality products. But, again, one thing we have in our advantage is that we have a lot of years of experience. Myself as brewmaster with 32 years of brewing experience, having created the biggest craft beer brand in the world, having a PhD in brewing.

Keith: Then our branding company is out of California. They're the ones who helped us to build the architecture of our brand. That company, it's called Trinity Branding Group. They're one of the most respected branding companies around. If you've seen all the work for Corona, Corona Light, Modelo, all those beers, Trinity had a hand in that. They're very skilled at what they do in building brands. We think they've done a fantastic job with our brand, the whole brand architecture. Of course, we have Chief Marketing Officer, Doug Christoph, who really has done a fantastic job working with Trinity to deliver the look and feel of our brand.

Keith: Then we've got just a lot of expertise on our team that comes together to make Ceria what it is today. We're very happy with where we are, with the amount of funding we have, and we really look forward to getting out there and changing people's perceptions of what cannabis can be.

Matthew: If anybody's curious about the spelling, it's C-E-R-I-ABrewing.com. C-E-R-I-ABrewing.com. Keith, I want to turn to some personal development questions. Is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking or career that you'd like to share?

Keith: Gosh, well, I'm an avid reader. I love to read as many books as possible, especially success stories from people who started with nothing or people who were not well regarded and ended up changing the world. People like Steve Jobs. I love reading about those stories. But the book that, I guess, use on a daily basis that really helps is A Textbook of Brewing by Jean De Clerck. He was a famous brewer in Belgium, and he wrote an early textbook that really talks to the art of brewing and the science but in a way that is different than today's textbooks of brewing.

Keith: Today's textbooks are very scientific and very focused on the facts. Jean De Clerck talked a lot about the art of brewing and the science. To me, that really is what we're all about is combining art and science. Because when it comes to cannabis and beer, obviously, Jean De Clerck did not think back then of putting cannabis in beer. But he went so far as to talk about putting fruit in beer or spices in beer. He talked about it in a way that made sense. It's like as a scientist you look and you say, "If I were to put fruit in beer, that's fantastic, but where do I start?" He gave these clues on how to start with things you don't know could go in beer. It's just a really great book that I've found helpful over the years. It's been out of publication for a long time, but it's just a very valuable book, at least in my perspective.

Matthew: Is there a tool that you use day-to-day that you find valuable to your productivity that you'd like to share with listeners?

Keith: Oh, gosh. I use a lot of different tools, whether real tools or apps or what have you, and I use them every day. But the one that I always go back to is one that I call it my brewing calculation spreadsheet. Over the last 32 years of being a brewer, I've collected and put together a lot of different calculations for use in the beer world, so things like calculating the alcohol content, the color or the beer, the IBUs, the bitterness of the beer, the body of the beer, the calories, everything like that. That's the one tool that I use on a daily basis. It's not written in stone because what I do is if I see a new calculation or a better calculation other than I've been using, I add it to my spreadsheet. It's a living tool, a living document that I keep with me on a daily basis. That's the thing I use every day.

Matthew: Wow. I could see where that would be very helpful. I'd like to ask a Peter Thiel question as the final personal development question. What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

Keith: I think, to me, the one truth that not a lot of people agree with me on is that in the world of craft beer, there's a common perception that small equals high quality. It is something that I think is just ingrained in craft beer drinkers. So many of them think that the smaller the brewery, the higher the quality. Over the years, I've come to see that that is the case sometimes, but it's not a truth. There are a lot of small craft brewers out there who maybe last year they were a banker and this year they're a brewer, and they don't make very good beer. It's hard to convince people because they'll go and they'll have beers and they'll say, "Oh, man, that is an awesome IPA that that brewery's making." You taste it, and then you want to explain to them why this beer has faults and what can be done to make it better.

Keith: But it's a truth that so many people just believe steadfastly in and, really, to me, it's also applicable to the cannabis world. Because there are some small cannabis producers out there who are fantastic. There are others who make product that is kind of mediocre. But to me, it's all about quality, and it's all about the way that a company, whether it's cannabis or a brewery, the way that they approach making beers or cannabis products. It has to be infused with quality all the way from obtaining the raw materials to packaging the final product. Once you've got this mentality that's focused on quality, then you know the product is gonna be really good.

Keith: Again, whether it's beer, whether it's cannabis, and small does not necessarily equal high quality. That's that truth that I see it just everywhere. Most people think, "Oh, this is a little mom-and-pop shop, then it's got to be really good." In the case of Ceria, it is good. But, yeah, but in the case of a lot of little breweries, it's really, you have to train yourself to say, "Well, let me taste it first. Let me see it. Let me smell it." Then you walk away with your perception of this is a high quality, great product.

Matthew: Your beer is good not because it's a small batch, but because you made it the right way?

Keith: Exactly. The way that we go about making beer and the extracts we put in, everything about our beer, it's the highest quality. Whether it's selecting the malts and the hops and the spices, whether it's removing the alcohol using the latest technologies, whether it's preparing the cannabis extracts and putting those in, everything has to be done with the highest quality mindset that you can possibly have. The end result is a product that's gonna be great. When you put every aspect of quality into it, there's very little risk that it's not gonna be great.

Matthew: Okay. Well, Keith, this was a really compelling interview. I feel like I learned a lot, not just about cannabis beer, but beer in general. It's just a fascinating art form. Really, there's a lot of history and tradition into it that make up our culture, so thanks for that. As we close, can you let listeners and also accredited investors know how to reach out and find more about Ceria Brewing and where they find you and where to find you in dispensaries and so forth?

Keith: Oh, yeah. Just look up our website, CeriaBrewing.com. On there you'll see how to contact us. You'll see a locator on where our products are available. Right now they're only available in Colorado. But this year, 2019, we will expand to California and Nevada and then after that to every state where it's legal. You'll see investor information. You'll see the latest news stories about Ceria. Yeah, that's how to contact us if you want to learn more about our beers. We're beer-only right now, but we're very focused on removing that stigma that surrounds cannabis and on bringing new people into the world of cannabis and into their friendly dispensaries that are in their towns.

Matthew: Well, Keith, well done making this beer. Congratulations and good luck for the rest of 2019 and also a great job making Blue Moon Beer. I enjoyed many of the beers that you created and your blends and so forth. That was a real grand slam. I hope Ceria is big as Blue Moon. Good luck to you, and let us know how it goes.

Keith: Well, thank you, Matthew. Yeah. I hope to come back on your show in a year's time and report back that we're doing fantastic and that we're all over the US. Who knows? We may even be up in Canada by this time next year.

Matthew: Yes. All right. Good luck. Happy New Year.

Keith: Happy New Year to you, too. Thank you very much.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five-star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at CannaInsider.com/iTunes.

Matthew: What are the five disruptive trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at CannaInsider.com/trends.

Matthew: Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on CannaInsider? Simply send us an email at Feedback@CannaInsider.com. We'd love to hear from you.

Matthew: Please do not take any information from CannaInsider or its guests as medical advice. Contact your licensed physician before taking cannabis or using it for medical treatments.

Matthew: Promotional consideration may be provided by select guests, advertisers, or companies featured in CannaInsider.

Matthew: Lastly, the host or guests on CannaInsider may or may not invest in the companies or entrepreneurs profiled on the show. Please consult your licensed financial advisor before making any investment decisions.

Matthew: Final disclosure to see if you're still paying attention. This little whistle jingle you're listening to will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Thanks for listening and look for another CannaInsider episode soon. Take care. Bye-bye.

The Best Opportunities for Cannabis Investors and Entrepreneurs Right Now

cody shirk cannabis investing

A firefighter out of college, Cody Shirk’s expertise in finance is self-taught.

Today he’s a full-time investor and the founder of Explorer Equity Group (EEG), a global alternative asset manager that works to capitalize on investment opportunities off-the-beaten-path.

With investments in industry household names including Kush Bottles and Regulated Solutions, Cody’s latest non-mainstream investments lie in – you guessed it – cannabis.

In this episode, Cody shares his insights on the future of cannabis and advice for both entrepreneurs and investors looking to break into the industry.

Follow Cody at https://www.explorerequity.com/canna

Key Takeaways:

– Cody’s background in investing and how he came to start Explorer Equity Group and Explorer Partnership

– Ongoing propaganda against cannabis and how the industry is working to improve public perception

– The cannabis businesses Cody has invested in thus far, including Kush Bottles and Regulated Solutions

– What Cody looks for when investing in cannabis businesses and his advice to startups seeking funding 

– Cody’s outlook on startup investment and the price of cannabis over the next 1-2 years

– Asia and South America’s developing economies and the exciting investment opportunities within

– Cody’s tips on how entrepreneurs should go about approaching investors as well as ways investors can determine the best entrepreneurs to get behind

To learn more, visit: https://www.explorerequity.com/canna

Read Full Transcript

Matthew: Hi, I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com. Now, here's your program.

Today we're going to talk with a cannabis investor who has a global perspective and has some tips for investors on how to find diamonds in the rough and for startups looking to raise capital. I am pleased to welcome Cody Shirk to the program today. Cody, welcome to "CannaInsider."

Cody: Hey, Matt. Thanks for having me. Really happy to be here.

Matthew: Give us a sense of geography, where are you sitting today?

Cody: Today, right now I am in Palm Beach, Florida, which is actually it's freezing cold today. And you know, you think it's sunny and warm here always but it's cold this morning. But there's big wave so today is gonna be a good day.

Matthew: It seems like a lot of the capital from the northeast and from California is moving to Palm Beach County. I know I just read about like Tony Robbins moving there or he's moved there. And also, a lot of hedge funds moving there. You've seen a lot of that?

Cody: Yeah. It's funny you mentioned that, I'm actually from LA. I just moved to Florida, earlier in the year, early in 2018. So I'm an LA native, and that's where my heart is. But man, it is much more attractive to be doing business in Florida. And when I went to get my new driver's license in the Florida DMV, the lady who was processing all my paperwork, she laughed and said, "Huh, you know, you're one of, I don't know, 100 today that has come from either California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, so you're completely right, there are a lot of people moving down here.

Matthew: It's amazing how these migrations happen. I read a book a few years back called "The Fate of the States" by a former Wall Street analyst name Meredith Whitney, and she described how this phenomenon was gonna happen. People would flood out of these high tax, over-regulated states, and seek shelter elsewhere. Do you think that some of the high tax and high regulation policies are gonna migrate with the people? Or are they the very people that don't want it to come?

Cody: I think it's both. Human nature is for people to be capitalists. They want what's best in their life, and they wanna get rewarded for the work that they do. That's regardless of any political affiliation. That's how people operate. And you can see that with the way people migrate from one country to another, or from one state to another. So people will go where they're treated best, and hopefully, states and countries will try to accommodate people to attract them there. And when countries don't treat their people right, you know, everyone will leave and we can see that happening in many places throughout the world. Like Venezuela is a perfect sample. Everyone's leaving because their country is in crisis. You have other places like Singapore, Hong Kong, you know, Florida where they are treating their residents fairly, with low taxes and a healthy business environment. And that's why people are moving to those places.

Matthew: Good point. And I also know that, you know, more about Puerto Rico being one of those destinations. And we'll get into that in a minute. But first, give us a high-level overview about yourself and what you do?

Cody: Sure. So I am a co-founder of Explore Equity Group. And we are a private equity and venture capital firm investing in a variety of different markets. And I'm also the co-founder of a social, a private social and investing group called The Explorer Partnership. And basically, that's a group of people from around the world that come together. And we have events really almost all over the world every couple months to check out new investing opportunities and experience the culture, see some weird things and have fun together.

Matthew: Oh, that sounds like a lot of fun. I think I'd really be into that. I like to travel the world and see weird things. So that sounds like my cup of tea. Perfect. So, Cody, tell us a little bit about your background and journey and how you got to this point, as an investor, world traveler, and also someone interested in cannabis.

Cody: Yeah, so my track record or my history is totally not traditional, in terms of the finance world. I was actually a firefighter out of college, didn't really know what I was doing after college like a lot of people, I think, and became a firefighter, it was a great job. I learned that if I worked really hard, I could become an accredited investor, which basically means I worked as much overtime as I possibly could. And then on my days off, I would travel. I would try to get on any cheap airline flight that I could find and travel the world. While I was traveling, I was doing this mostly to surf because I'm a surfer, and I always wanted to check out everywhere in the world. Everywhere I could go, I love exploring. And while I was traveling, I started finding all these great opportunities with real estate and companies and these are all things outside of the U.S. and my mind was just blown, I went wow, there's so many cool things going on outside of the US and in areas of the world you never would have thought of.

And so I started to invest here and there, little things, you know. Buy a small piece of land here, check out a company. I'm always doing all this. I was writing about it on a blog, and I was doing this because somebody recommended, they said, "Hey, Cody, you should be writing everything that you're doing, not so much to tell everyone about everything you're doing but more to keep track for yourself, to make notes and to keep track so you can look back a year or two from now and see where you've gotten and also to remember where you've been."

And through this process of writing everything down, people started to look at what I was doing and then going, "Hey, Cody, I wanna join you." And I was like, "Well, I don't really want you to join me. I don't want to be traveling with weird people." But this started happening more and more and I started meeting a lot of great people, and I said, "You know what? This is probably a great opportunity to increase my investment odds to pool capital together from like-minded people. And that's what we started to do. We started to create SPVs and an investing syndicate, which is Explorer Partnership and we started investing all around the world and had different opportunities.

So from there, cannabis obviously came up. As a firefighter, I saw a lot of pretty...a lot of things that you wouldn't wanna see. I was on an ALS rig, which is Advanced Life Support. So I was, you know, running a lot of calls from everything from full arrest[SP], to murders, to everything you can think of. And you see a lot of alcohol and drugs. And I'm talking hard drugs, and you realize, whoa, alcohol and all these other things, especially pharmaceuticals are so dangerous, and they're just so...you can't believe that all those things are legal. And then you see cannabis, which is really one of the most harmless things ever. And that's illegal. I was just...it was such a weird thing to me.

So through traveling, I started seeing a lot of cannabis involved in cultures outside of the U.S. How it was this nonchalant thing that was just part of everyone day's life, and, you know, whether they're old, young, students, whatever they were, people would use it all over the world. And it was just like, what is going on here? So as legislation started to change in the U.S, I said, "You know what, this is insane to not get involved. And this is such a good opportunity. It's only a matter of time until this is a part of everyone's life and I need to get involved in this." So that's kind of my background, my journey, how I started to get involved with cannabis.

Matthew: Yeah, that is interesting. And, you know, it seems so inevitable to me too. But if you haven't tried it, that propaganda was just so effective. I mean, I cannot even believe how effective it was, like generations were convinced that it was the devil and I just think like, "Wow, if that propaganda was that strong and that effective, like what...is there anything else out there that as a society we believe in double-digit percentage, that's totally not true." So I wonder about it. It's hard enough.

Cody: Yeah, I forget the quote. I think it's made by Einstein. It's the ability to hold conflicting points of view at the same time and try to basically argue against any opinion that you have. And for any investor or anybody who likes to think to themselves or read, that's a very difficult skill, is to question what you believe in. And it's very important for investing because you can get stuck on some idea. And you could be totally wrong if you're not asking those questions that conflict with your point of view. And cannabis is a perfect example. Especially in the U.S. and most of the world because there's been this drug war that's a massive failure. We've been taught that drugs are evil, you know, people die, all these horrible things. And, we've never taken the time to take a step back and actually question that and say, "Is cannabis really deadly? How much...like what are the problems that are being caused by it? Is this real or is this some type of story that's made up?" And I think people are starting to question that narrative that they've been taught, and it's clear with public opinion, especially in the U.S that it's flipping so fast and it's not because people all of a sudden discovered something new. It's that, you know, the tidal wave of sentiment is changing and a lot of their herd, I might say, like the sheeple are trying to...are now changing their mind just because they're realizing, "Oh, I wasn't taught, I wasn't taught this narrative. So I guess I'll just change my mind now," even though they never really dug into it.

Matthew: Right, right, right. Well, Cody, tell us what cannabis businesses or startups you invested in, to date?

Cody: Yeah so we've invested in five different companies so far. A couple of them are I guess quasi-household names, Kush Bottles, Prohbtd, Regulated Solutions, Heally, Kellock's Peak[SP], what else have we done? Those are our main positions where we are writing a check of usually half a million or larger, and those have been done so far through our investing syndicate. We'll be launching a fund in a couple months, which we can talk about a little later, but we believe that we are very involved in the cannabis spaces. I personally have been investing since about 2012. And I've been traveling the world looking at almost any company and any grow that you could possibly think of, in countries that you didn't even know existed, let alone with growing cannabis. So yes, we believe we're very connected within the cannabis industry.

Matthew: So when you look at these investments, you wrote checks for, what impressed you about these companies in retrospect?

Cody: Yeah, so one of the things that I noticed when I first started looking at cannabis companies is that they...a lot of them, and this is a couple years ago, were run by cannabis industry insiders and that may sound like a good thing but I discovered that it was actually a bad thing in a lot of scenarios, because you have a lot of people that were creating companies that were previously operating in the black market, which means that they were doing illegal things previously and with their new companies they were also not really doing everything up to par. So one of the most important things that we've been looking for is operators that are either doing everything by the book, 100% legal, crossing all the T's, dotting all their Is, or we're looking for entrepreneurs that have come from other industries, whether it be a regular entrepreneur from a non-finance background or someone from a real financial banking background. We look for those types of people who are leading companies to be successful.

Matthew: Okay. And what's your thoughts about investing in companies that grow cannabis?

Cody: We're totally agnostic to that. We don't mind investing in companies that touch cannabis. Clearly, there's more risk there, but the risk can be mitigated with understanding what the product is, who the team is, what their forward path is. Again, there is risk in the sense that you're subject to government laws. But as we all know, there's an unstoppable shift in the way legislation is moving, and we firmly believe that it's just a matter of time. So for now, it's just a matter of really getting aligned with the right teams that are not going to do anything crazy in the midterm and just hold their path and be ready for one last change.

Matthew: Now, do you have any ideas on where the price of cannabis is headed in the next year or two?

Cody: It's a great question. We don't mind investing in companies that touch cannabis. But we try to avoid any companies that profit directly from growing cannabis. So what that means is that if a company is just growing cannabis, and they're just selling the flower, we believe that cannabis prices will be crashing down. It'll become a commodity just like corn, wheat or hops for beer. And if you think of any beer company, if you wanna invest in it, you would probably invest in a brand or a company, you wouldn't invest in a farm that grows hops. Now, that's a generalized opinion. There's clearly high-end growers that provide great products that are, you know, for the higher end market and there's niche opportunities, but in general, believe the price is going down. One of the epiphanies I had, I think this was in 2012 or 2013, I was in Colombia. I spent a lot of time down there and we were touring some flower growers. I'm not talking about cannabis flowers, I'm talking about actual flowers that go in a vase. And Columbia's one of the world's top exporters for fresh cut flowers. And what they're doing is they're changing over these huge, huge farms over to cannabis. And they already have the infrastructure to grow everything. They have all these carts, they have workers, they have facilities, they have everything built out. All they have to do is literally change over the seeds of what they're growing. And they're currently doing this.

So when I saw this, I said, "Oh my God, these farms are massive." They have free water, because it rains every day. They have free sun, because they're close to the Equator, so their seasons are much more calculated. And they don't have the massive power bills that all these greenhouses have in North America and anywhere else that's cold. So I started seeing these farms and I said, "Oh, my God, this is only just a matter of time until this becomes a commodity, with the prices going down." You cannot compete with a producer that has, you know, free sunlight and free water. You just can't do that unless you're at a super high-end market. So we believe in general that the cannabis price will be going down.

Matthew: Well, the only place where that might be an exception is where states require it grown in their jurisdiction. But I think for every place else you're right, I mean, why wouldn't you want super high-quality low price, you know. That's why I look at a state like Massachusetts or Illinois and I think, wow, this is gonna kind of become like an oligopoly or something like that because it's so highly regulated that the price is gonna stay up." And I could be wrong about that, but that's what when I look at a highly regulated market that's what I see. And then the states or countries that open up to imports do exactly like you're saying and the price will drop precipitously.

Cody: You're absolutely right. And to be fair, we acknowledge that as well. The states, especially in the U.S. still continue to be regulated. And even if or when it becomes federally legal, that will still probably be the case where states have a tight grip on who gets licenses, who's allowed to grow, who's allowed to sell, you know. Vertically integrated companies will be, you know, we'll have a moat around the licenses that they have. And that will for sure, be the mid-term trend and how long that lasts, we're not sure. But like you said, for the major growers and the companies that are importing cannabis from other countries, it'll be a race to the bottom on the pricing. But for the midterm, absolutely right. It's a licensing play right now. And how long those states and countries will keep a grip on how they regulate everything is anyone's guess. But I guess like we started the interview off, it's a matter of who is gonna treat consumers and businesses the best and that's where people are gonna flock to.

Matthew: Yeah. As we look out of the year ahead, how do you see the landscape of investing and startups changing?

Cody: Well, this is a...I don't wanna be negative here, but I think I'm gonna try to take a realistic approach. You know, we're in the 10th or 11th year of one of the longest bull market runs in modern financial history. If you look at anything that's cyclical, which is basically everything in life, whether it's the seasons, or the tides, or the weather, or the way birds migrate, everything's cyclical, and we can say the same thing about the markets. We are going to have a market correction. When it will happen, nobody knows. Are we in there right now? Maybe. So that's going to affect the broader market as well as the cannabis market. So what's gonna happen for the, you know, the startup world and for entrepreneurs is gonna be really tough coming up, but that's a good thing too, because that shakes out the industry, it really shakes out who's not really serious, it cleans out the companies that aren't providing any value, and it is good in the long run because it makes the industry much stronger.

Matthew: Now, when you put your investor hat on and you're looking at startups or entrepreneurs, how do you look at the marketplace? Like when 10,000-foot view, you're looking down all these cannabis entrepreneurs, how do you kind of sort them or categorize them or get an idea of how you wanna invest in them?

Cody: It's a great question. I think that anybody investing in the cannabis space right now will have a similar answer because the truth is that we just don't know. This industry is so young, we don't have a lot of data to say this is right or this is wrong, and we see people coming from all walks of life into the cannabis industry right now. We invested in a company called 1906, the CEO is Peter Barsoom. He was a COO of Ice, which runs with the NASDAQ. He is, you know, he's a graduate of Princeton. He is, you know, the iconic guy that, you know, is from the finance world, and to see him come to the cannabis space, there is his big question mark thinking, "What the heck is he doing here?" But it ends up, he's a great CEO. He's the perfect guy to lead a company.

At the same time, you have people that are 22-years-old, fresh out of college and starting companies in the, you know, high-end cannabis, luxury space. And you go, "What do these guys know about business?" Well, turns out, they know a lot, because they don't have that jaded mindset about cannabis and they're very creative. So, to pinpoint who's a perfect person is pretty tough. But I think just like any investing world, you just look for the entrepreneur that kind of has that X factor that has this, you know, really positive attitude, a can-do effort and they just work their butts off.

Matthew: Now, outside of North America, do you think there's a thirst to invest in cannabis?

Cody: Absolutely. You know, we travel a lot, I travel probably too much. And it's a topic that comes up all the time and people are looking at Canada and the U.S. and a lot of investors still have a question mark over their head. They don't really know what to think of the industry just because they don't know enough about it. But a lot of other investors it's so clear to them, they know what is going on and they want to invest. And they are, you know, licking their chops to try and get some in into the U.S. market. That said I'm a huge fan of the U.S., however, the U.S. is unattractive for foreign investors because of a lot of tax laws and a lot of reporting issues. So in the midterm, I think investors are looking very excitedly from outside but they are also being very patient.

Matthew: Now, you travel around the world a lot, just like me, and you're seeing a lot of different things. How do you see the world changing, and what are maybe some misperceptions listeners might have about what's going on in Asia and how the economy there is developing and the tech sector is developing, versus maybe thoughts we had about Asia in decades past?

Cody: Yeah, that's a great question. And it's a hot topic right now because of the conflict with the U.S. and China and Russia. It's hard to generalize something because of all the misinformation and accurate information that we get. But the truth is that Asia will become the largest economy in China, specifically. What we get fed from the news and what we see a lot is just not true, what's going on the ground. Are there internal financial issues there? For sure. There's a lot of problems that will get shaken out over the years. And just like any company or country that's growing, there's gonna be a lot of hiccups along the way. But for people who have traveled to Asia, specifically to China and cities like Shenzhen, or Beijing, or Shanghai, when people actually go there and use the public transportation, when they walk into restaurants when they walk down the street, they're blown away. It is unbelievable. Shenzhen is a great example, their public transportation it blows you away. It's brand new, it works perfectly. It's on time, it's clean. You can walk down the sidewalks, everyone's nice, and you think, "What? I'm in a communist country, what's going on here?"

When it comes to cannabis, you know, Asia is kind of two extremes. There are some Asian countries you can't have any drugs and there's a severe penalty for having it. On the other hand, cannabis is a part of a lot of Asian culture and countries like Thailand and now South Korea are looking to legalize cannabis. So there's a lot of opportunity there. And, you know, Asia specifically is very interesting for all markets.

Matthew: And you also enjoy South America and feel like Colombia is overlooked. I've been to Medellin and really enjoyed it, but haven't traveled outside there. Can you talk a little bit about what you think is going on there?

Cody: Yeah, Latin American, in general, is just an incredible culture. It's very family-oriented. And when you travel there, you just feel comfortable and you feel like you're having fun. Columbia specifically, it's got a bad rap because of the drug war and everyone knows about that. I'm sure if anybody is listening and you're interested in cannabis you've probably watched Narcos on Netflix. And the truth is, is that I actually have a lot of friends that live in Medellin and Cali, and actually have an apartment in Cali. And one of my best friends who lives in Cali, his wife who grew up there said it was actually worse in Cali than the show depicts. So that's terrifying to think about. But here's the thing, is that that's over. Yes, they still have a lot of problems there, but the drug war is over in that sense. Specifically cannabis, it's a non-issue in Colombia right now in terms of people using it. The, you know, police officers don't even worry about it, they just walk by it.

Columbia is extremely inexpensive for anybody who's holding U.S. dollars. So going there it's a great way to have a European style vacation on a, you know, very inexpensive budget, and the lifestyle is great. And from a cannabis perspective, there is a lot of really exciting things going on there. It's like I mentioned before, they have great weather and the perfect agriculture environment. So I think we'll see a lot of stuff coming out of Columbia.

Matthew: Yeah, agreed. And they also speak an extremely clear form of Spanish, which is great if you only speak a little bit, or you wanna learn. So I like to get into the details a little bit, too. We've kind of went general, if you were to pick one or two investment opportunities, maybe in Asia or South America right now, that excites you the most, what would you say those are?

Cody: I think from a personal standpoint, real estate is very interesting in Latin America, specifically, Colombia. People, in general, are very hesitant to invest in real estate outside of their home country, because they assume that a foreign government will steal your land or take your property. And the truth is that that's just false. Yes, there are instances where that happens. But in general, property rights of other countries are just as, if not stronger than, you know, Canada or the U.S. or European countries. So the is a great opportunity now to invest in real estate in Latin America, extremely low prices still, and you can rent them out for a relatively high yield. We have a place in Colombia that gets in mid-teens yield and there's capital appreciation and we get to go use it anytime we want. So it's a great excuse to invest there. Asia, I'm not a big fan investing in real estate, they have different land hold laws. But in Asia, there are unbelievable companies coming out of there every day in the VR, you know, tech space that I mean, the honest truth is that they are surpassing the U.S. and the Western world when it comes to tech. And a lot of it is just not really looked at right now.

Matthew: Now, they have capital control, so how do you invest in some place like China? Does it have to be done through Hong Kong or how does that work?

Cody: Yeah, great question. Yes, the short answer is, yes. We invest in companies that are domiciled in a jurisdiction such as Hong Kong. Even though they may be doing a lot of work in China, there's a lot of issues. Obviously, there's currency issues, there's translation issues, there's cultural issues, and there's a lot of times it's difficult to translate that into a clean business transaction. So we look for companies that are domiciled in a jurisdiction that we feel comfortable in.

Matthew: Another upside with Hong Kong, their dollars pegged to the U.S. dollar fixed rate. So you don't have to worry about the currency exchange risk, although there's always the risk of uncoupling. But it's been pretty steady to date.

Cody: Yeah, but there's an argument for a lot of people that if they uncouple it, the Hong Kong dollar will actually be more strong or stronger than the U.S. dollar. So yes, it's kind of, in my opinion, it's a great investment for almost zero downside risk with upside potential because like you said, it's pegged to the U.S. dollar for now. If they decide to unpeg it, Hong Kong is much better positioned than the U.S. from a financial standpoint. So the Hong Kong dollar conceivably would be a much more desirable currency to hold than the US dollar.

Matthew: That's interesting, and there's definitely free marketplace still Hong Kong. Hope it just stays that way.

Cody: Yeah, it's definitely, you know, gives people wide eyes when they go there and see the way everything's going on. There's more pressure coming from China, but still, it's a great place to do business.

Matthew: Okay, and what about Puerto Rico? I don't know how many listeners are aware or maybe they've heard about but there's some huge incentives for Americans to move there and enjoy better tax rates and different things. Could you talk about that a little bit?

Cody: Yeah, I'm not an expert here, even though I spent a lot of time down there and spend a lot of money on lawyers and figuring everything out. But there's a huge opportunity for somebody who wants to move there and has a business that's exporting services from Puerto Rico. Basically, how it works is if you move there and have a business that exports services, you pay a 4% tax rate for yourself. And then any capital gains that you have, you pay zero percent on. So, and obviously, there's a lot more details to that. But that's generally how it goes. And from a comparison to the federal, U.S. federal tax rate, it's not even close. So if you run a business where you're doing something online, where you're exporting services, you have to live in Puerto Rico for more than six months out of the year, but it could be six months and a day and you qualify because you'd be a resident of Puerto Rico. So there's a tremendous opportunity, especially for somebody who's maybe younger and doesn't have a family with no extra baggage, they could move there for a couple of years, make a lot of money and then go off and do their own thing wherever they want to go.

Matthew: Yeah, and if you're maybe like a cannabis royalty company or somebody that has a business that could qualify to live there for a part of the year and enjoy those tax rates that are codified by the U.S. then that would be a huge advantage, I would think. I mean...

Cody: Oh, yeah, it's massive. And remember, it's a tropical island in the middle of the Caribbean. So the actual cannabis environment there is, you know, there's a lot of potential there as well. And the other thing is that there's this thing called opportunity zones in the U.S., which basically means that you can take any investment money that you have, that you are subject to a capital gain on and you can invest in certain zones throughout the U.S., and your capital gain is basically you don't pay capital gains for many years. So it's deferred. The entire island of Puerto Rico is an opportunity zone. So you could literally go anywhere in Puerto Rico and buy real estate and your capital gains would be deferred. The other thing is it doesn't have to be real estate, you can have a company in an opportunity zone as well and any investment money that goes into that company also qualifies for the opportunities zone which means any capital gains would be deferred.

Matthew: That's incredible.

Cody: Yeah, there's a huge opportunity in Puerto Rico. But I mean, I don't wanna pretend that it's a perfect place because there's still a lot of problems going on down there. And it is technically part of the U.S., but it is certainly got...you know, there's other issues going on down there. So it's not a total paradise.

Matthew: Yeah. But is it evolving into like a mini-Singapore you think, over the next 10 years or 20 years?

Cody: I would like to think that. I would definitely like to think that. There's some areas in San Juan that are very nice and provide a great lifestyle. There's other areas in San Juan that you probably don't wanna go. So hopefully, they're able to develop into something that's similar to Singapore, you know, my fingers are crossed, but we'll see if they get there or not.

Matthew: And for entrepreneurs that are listening and thinking about the best way to talk with an investor, can you give some suggestions on how best to approach investors and how to talk with them in a way that, you know, is transparent, builds the right expectations, but also, you know, intrigues investment?

Cody: Yeah. I think this conversation or this question could go into a two-hour-long talk. But I think there are some general things to look for if you're an entrepreneur. The first thing is that as an entrepreneur, whatever you're presenting to an investor, you have to look through the investor's eyes. So the investor is looking to make money. At the end of the day, that's what they're looking to do. Yes, they're looking to create, you know, great businesses and help people change the world and create great products, but they're also looking to make money. That's what how, you know, the wheels turn and that's what allows investors who want to the next venture. So if you can position your opportunity or your company and through the eyes of the investor, you have a much better chance of appealing to that investor and having a second talk.

The other thing is that just be up front, you know, entrepreneurs, those that are very experienced know how to approach investors, they know what information to provide, and they know how to get a meeting or a phone call. Those who have not done it before, it's very tempting to want to lead investors on or have multiple phone calls. But really that's a turnoff for a lot of investors because you're just wasting their time. You wanna get the right information in front of the investor's face, right away, so the investor can say yes, no or let's talk more, instead of trying to lead them down some path that's, you know, frustrated the investor down the entire way.

Matthew: Any other turn-offs that you've experienced where you said wow, that just left a bad taste in my mouth to kind of sidestep that.

Cody: Yeah, actually, we just had an experience with a company, a cannabis company that would...which I won't mention, but a lot of, not a lot, but some entrepreneurs will create a sense of urgency for investors, they'll say, "Oh, our round's closing, we've already raised this amount of money or so and so has committed, if you don't commit by the end of this week, you know, you're out." And that's that sales tactic of trying to pressure investors into placing money. And any good investor, first of all, knows what's going on and they're not gonna fall into that trap, but second of all, it's a huge turnoff. If you are looking at a company to invest in and then you realize the CEO or whoever's raising money is pressuring you with sales tactics, it's a huge turnoff. And you realize that hey, why are these people, you know, doing this. Their companies should be able to stand on their own two legs and attract investors on their own, they shouldn't have to make this weird sales tactic. So I've noticed that a lot lately and it's a huge turnoff.

Matthew: Yeah, and how about for investors because one question I get a lot is especially via email is that I want to invest but I'm not sure which founders to believe in and what they're telling me and I'm not, you know, it's just that it all sounds good but I don't know if it is good and what should they look to avoid so they can, you know, make a good decision?

Cody: Yeah, you know, it's funny you...that question is interesting because when I started investing in my early 20s, when I was doing it all my own, I was out in the world making a lot of mistakes. And I lost a lot of money. I can't even tell you how many mistakes I made. But a lot of people wanna put professional investors up on a pedestal. You graduated from Ivy League school or you did this or you did that. So you must know something more than me about investing. But investing is really simple. It's really, really simple. You find a company that, if it makes sense or sounds like they have a good product, then you go forward and you go, "Okay, what are the entrepreneurs about, oh, who's leading this company?" And then you get a gut feeling about who this person is. But those two steps of finding the company and then introducing yourself to whoever's leading the company, is exactly like any other scenario in life. Like if you were at a barbecue with your friends or with your family and you met one of the neighbors and the neighbor is just a total jerk or they give you a bad feeling. It's the same exact thing in an investing world and it totally applies. We all, regardless of our background, have something in our DNA that tells us this person's good, this person's bad, they're lying to me, they're truthful. And you can use those same gut feelings to really vet which companies are the best and what people are doing the right things.

And the same thing goes with companies. You can look at a company go, "Wow, that product works or I don't understand that product." And if you don't understand something, or you think there's too many steps along the process or just something you're not interested in, do not be afraid to pass, just say no. If you don't understand it, and you're, hopefully, the target and your customer don't invest in it. So I would say overall for investors is just keep it simple. It's really not that tough of a process. It just requires a lot of digging, a lot of asking questions and just really spending time with entrepreneurs really get to know who they are.

Matthew: What about for a startup founder that's like, "Hey, you know, maybe Cody or someone else passed on investing in me," but they circle back around and say, "Hey, would you give me feedback around it as advice about how I did, you know, what your concerns were, now that the pressure is off and the round's closed or I know you're not interested." Do you welcome that type of thing and try to contribute that way or how does that work?

Cody: 100%, 100%. Any entrepreneur that's successful, typically, goes on to have other successful ventures. So, you know, most great entrepreneurs are not one-hit wonders, they have multiple successes. So let's say there's a young entrepreneur that contacts me or somebody else and I or somebody else passes on that opportunity. Well, maybe it was a mistake for me to pass it but I wanna know what's going on with the company later on down the road. I wanna see what their success is. And even if it was a failure, I enjoy seeing the journey of people developing companies because they learn every step of the way. And maybe they have two or three failures and then the third or fourth one is a success because of all the things they learned previously. So for any entrepreneurs staying in contact with investors is so important and even if they pass on you don't take that personal or anything like that. Just think okay well they're not ready now, I'll make sure to keep them in a list, I'll reconnect with them in a couple months, update them with what we're doing and you never know what will happen. And that's just like friendships, I guess like going back to keeping it simple.

We have that scenario all the time. You may see somebody, you know, every couple weeks at some restaurant you pass by, and then you see them more and more and you kind of warm up to them, get to know them and you feel more comfortable with them, it's the same thing in the investing world.

Matthew: Yeah, well, Cody, I'd like to ask a few personal development questions to help listeners get a better sense of who you are personally. With that is there a book that's had a big impact on your life or your way of thinking that you'd like to share?

Cody: Oh, I hate this question because I read a lot. I love a lot of books so I don't like to pinpoint one, but I'm gonna do a couple. So just bear with me. Pretty much any book by Napoleon Hill, and the kind of self-help books, like for example, "Think and Grow Rich," and they're cheesy if you think about it, just "Oh, Think and Grow Rich," but for somebody who maybe didn't grow up in a very successful family or environment you typically have an assumption that other people are better than you or you're not allowed to go work in certain industries. But that's just not the case, it's always your mindset. So a lot of being successful whether you're an entrepreneur or investor or whatever, it just is your mindset. You think I can do this, go do it. Just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and doing it. So I like any of the Napoleon Hill books because they really simplify things and make you think, "Yeah, I am that guy, why don't I just go do that and be successful." And then I'll mention one other book, it's "The Creature from Jekyll Island," and it's a...

Matthew: The gateway drug to all monetary theories. It's really interesting, yes.

Cody: I think that's such a must-read for anybody who is investing or even likes or cares about money. It is man, talk about questioning what you've been taught in your past and putting some perspective on the financial world.

Matthew: Yeah, that's a real one. And back to Napoleon Hill there and that book "Think and Grow Rich," there are some edits made to that book where they didn't include, the editor didn't wanna include everything that he wrote because it was a little controversial, but you can find some of the edited pages on the internet. And he talks about kind of like the metaphysical aspect of positive thinking and goal setting and these things, and he comes at it from, I wouldn't say a new age point of view, because that theme really didn't exist back then. But it almost has that flavor to it, which is kind of interesting, interesting also that they edited it out, because it was too, you know, I don't know, metaphysical.

Cody: Yeah, I've actually read that version and you're totally right, and it's kind of applicable to the cannabis world just because I think a lot of cannabis enthusiasts are able to have interesting introspects about their life and perspectives about what's going on, and that book really hits, you know, hits a lot of points that deep down inside you identify with, but you're like, "Wow, why haven't I ever read this before? How did nobody ever articulate this to me?" And that's why I like the book. A lot of its, you know, a lot of people like to skim over, but there are some really good points in his books I like.

Matthew: Me too. So Cody, what is one thought that you have that most people would disagree with you on? Doesn't have to be specific to the cannabis industry.

Cody: Well, I always get critiqued about investing outside of the U.S. or investing outside of Western countries. So anytime I say, "Oh, I'm traveling, you know, wherever, Colombia or Chile or you know, Hong Kong or Indonesia, people will say, "Oh, you're crazy. Why would, you know, invest anything there, you're gonna lose all your money. And there is a, you know, people are jaded to think that wherever they're from, is the best and everywhere else is dangerous and you're in, there's no opportunity there. So a lot of people disagree with me about this stuff. And I think it's just because they haven't looked, they haven't gone out there. So there are opportunities around every corner. And that applies to every industry including cannabis. You just have to look, you just have to go and hear it for yourself. And like I said before, it's very difficult to hold an opinion with two conflicting viewpoints. How do you balance that? And I don't know the perfect way, but you just got to go out there and do it. So I would encourage anybody to just, you know, not be afraid to step outside your box, look at other opportunities even if you disagree with them and just take a hard look at them.

Matthew: Great answer. Cody as we close, how can listeners learn more about you, your travels, your investor groups and so on?

Cody: Well, the best way is just to contact me. You can go to explorerequity.com/canna and we're having something there so people can reach out. But we do meetups, really almost every month throughout the world. We've done them in London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Italy, Vegas, New York, San Francisco, I mean, literally everywhere. And it's a great opportunity to meet myself and our team face-to-face. We don't like to do business with anybody, unless we've met them face-to-face, shook hands with them. Not only does it create trust for our investors and for our partners, but for us. We don't wanna do business with anybody that we don't trust. And I think that's something that's been lost in the digital age, is having that face-to-face interaction. So we place a huge importance on that. So we really encourage anybody to reach out to us and we'll make time to meet people.

Matthew: Great. Well, Cody, thanks so much for coming on the show and educating us and good luck to you on all your travels for the rest of 2019.

Cody: Thanks, Matt. Hope to see you somewhere in the world.

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