Jonah Barber is the co-founder of MRX Xtractors. Learn how profitable cannabis oil extraction can be and the different business models available to those in the business or entering this business.
– From lab testing flower to extraction company
– A lot of oil on the market is not good, here’s why
– The profit margin on a gram of extracted cannabis oil
– Throughput from different extraction machines
– The different business models in extraction
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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 cannainsider.com. Now, here's your program. As the cannabis market continues to grow around the world, there's an increased focus on extraction, and for good reason. Extracted cannabis oil is arguably the most profitable and integral ingredient for cannabis companies. Here to tell us more about the extraction industry and his extraction solutions is Jonah Barber from MRX Xtractors. Jonah, welcome to CannaInsider.
Jonah: Thanks, Matt. It's great to be here. Really excited to speak with you today.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Jonah: In the beautiful green state of Oregon. Specifically, Canby, Oregon, which is located about 20 miles south of Downtown Portland.
Matthew: Okay. And I'm in Krakow, Poland today. So thanks for getting up so early to do this interview. I should tell everybody, it's about 7:00 your time. So thank you.
Jonah: Absolutely. Glad to do it.
Matthew: So what is MRX at a high level?
Jonah: So MRX is an OEM that makes super-critical CO2 and ethanol extraction systems, and we bring kinda complete turnkey solutions for our customers all the way through the whole entire extraction process.
Matthew: Okay. And give us a little bit of a sense about your background and journey, and how you got to this point, and why you started MRX?
Jonah: You know, the cannabis and hemp industry is something I've always been incredibly passionate about. You know, they always say, "Do what you love," which I always thought was cliché until I actually got to work in this industry. And, you know, how we actually got started was, you know, we looked...You know, Oregon's always been a leading state, as far as a medical cannabis program, you know, having a strong medical program for over 20 years. And when we saw that Colorado went legal, you know, Oregon had almost passed a couple times going legal, and we knew it'd be a matter of time. And we wanted to get in the industry, but we wanted to get into it in a way we thought would utilize our skill sets. We weren't, you know, master growers like a lot of your listeners are and we didn't have any retail experience, and so our background is very technology. And so we wanted to fit in on the technology side on cannabis, and we saw that there was gonna be the need for standardization and quality control when it came to analytical testing laboratories. And when we looked at the landscape about 4 years, we didn't see a lot of that.
And so we felt like we had the opportunity to kinda set the standard for what an analytical testing laboratory should be with quality controls, transparency, new state-of-the-art equipment, qualified staff with degrees. It was really kind of the Wild West there for a while, with a lot of people just pumping out high-potency numbers and kinda everything getting a pass for pesticides. And then we really wanted to help set the standard, so we opened up...MRX Labs is actually how we started in the industry.
Matthew: Okay. Yeah. It's almost, it can be a huge advantage sometimes to just come in as an outsider because you don't have any concept of the way things should be done. And if you come to the market with skills, you can just start fresh. Whereas people in the industry already can only make kind of iterative changes, where you can start where you wanna start and not have to worry about any kinda legacy. Is that how you felt when you were getting into it?
Jonah: We did. We really felt like we had the opportunity to really, I mean, develop a lot of the new methods and technologies, and stuff that just hadn't been developed before. And a lot of that wasn't because someone necessarily couldn't do it, you know, skill set-wise. But it was just because they really didn't have the access or ability to freely work with, you know, cannabis in a research and development capacity. And so we felt very fortunate to be kind of the forefront, to help develop a lot of those, you know, methodologies and things like that, when it came to standardizing testing.
Matthew: Okay. Okay. And how many customers have you helped so far?
Jonah: You know, from the...Well, there's two different answers. I guess, you know, when we started the lab in 2014, we grew to one of the largest cannabis/hemp testing labs in the U.S. And we ended up working with, you know, thousands of customers here in Oregon. And then on the MRX Xtractors side, where we're the OEM and build all the equipment, we've helped place about 80 different machines in about 10 different states and a couple different countries now. Yeah. So we have about 80 different customers on the extraction side.
Matthew: Okay. Okay. Now, the thing I kinda wanna help listeners understand is how you and your partner approach the extraction business. I guess, perhaps, maybe if you could just talk about, you know, frame how other extraction companies look at extraction and how to provide extraction solutions, and then how you and your partner approach it and perhaps how it's a little bit different or better?
Jonah: Yeah. So, you know, we do approach it quite differently, how we even came into the extraction industry. And with my partner's background, we've always looked at industries and found deficiencies or bottlenecks and came up with, you know, a better mousetrap, if you will. And so how we got really started on the extraction side was actually based off analytical test results. And so, you know, we started testing everything coming into our lab, and we started seeing all this oil about really flood into our lab. It was really almost overnight. You know, it went from like a lot of flower, then about 3 1/2 years ago, it just started flooding into our lab. And at the time, it was still all medical. And so when we looked at the quality of the oil, you know, it didn't look good, it didn't smell good from an analytical standpoint. When we did, like, a terpene test, it was nonexistent. When we did a solvents test, a lot of it still either had some hydrocarbons left in it or there was a lot of ethanol left in the oil. We actually saw a lot of products coming in in [sounds like] propylene glycol as well.
And, you know, it was really concerning from our standpoint. You know, being an analytical testing laboratory, our job is to keep the public safe. And a lot of the products and a lot of the stuff we saw in the products, what people were using for medical purposes, were concerning in the fact that they could potentially cause, you know, some additional damage to whatever ailments they were treating. And I even remember the very first time, you know, I tried CO2 oil. I so badly wanted to like it because I loved the concept, I loved the fact that CO2 was used as the solvent. And to be honest, I absolutely hated it when I first tried it. It tasted kinda like a burnt popcorn to me. And also, after the fact, when I looked at the test results, which it wasn't tested by us, it was like 35% cannabinoids, which meant 50% of it was propylene glycol as well.
Jonah: Yeah. And it just wasn't a pleasant experience. But at the same time, it was flying off the shelves. Like people could not make enough of it. You know, people really like the accessibility and discreteness of vape pens. But at the same time, it was like, "Okay, there's a market for this. But this isn't what we'd consider safe or a high-quality product."
Matthew: So Jonah, it sounds like being in kinda the testing part of the cannabis industry, you're in a unique vantage point. You're kind of like the hub where companies that are sending you extracted material or flower are coming to you and talking to you, and you're kinda getting the lay of the land of how this whole extraction business works. Can you talk a little bit about that and what you learned?
Jonah: Yeah. We really had a unique perspective because, coming from the testing side, we're kinda like Switzerland. We worked with everybody in the industry. And so we got a chance to talk to all of our customers that were using other extraction technologies and techniques, and kinda got together a list of what they didn't like, what could be improved. And really, kind of our three hallmarks that we came up with was that there was really no repeatability. And so a lot of people were relying upon an extraction artist or the one person that knew how to make the secret sauce or, you know, someone that knew how to stand in front of a machine and adjust 12 different knobs and try to keep it in a tight zone for temperature and pressure. And we just knew that wasn't commercially scalable from that side. You know, we knew that the industry, the way it was growing, had to have repeatability, no matter who ran the machine, that they could follow SLPs, and put the same product in there and get the same high-quality oil coming out. And we just weren't seeing that.
And just because they also didn't have control over their process, a lot of people were destroying terpenes. And that's actually where CO2 had gotten the knock on it about 4 or 5 years ago. That just kinda produced an inferior product because it stripped the product of the terpenes. And I'd say, rightfully so, at the time, it got that knock because, you know, people were destroying a lot of the terpenes.
Jonah: And then the third thing is the engineering, and a lot of the equipment we saw just wasn't safe and it would never be permitted and approved by fire marshals in a regulated market. And so that was kind of our three hallmarks was we wanted repeatability, we wanted control of your process to produce the highest quality product, and we wanted safe equipment that would be permitted by fire marshals. And that's how we set out to build Xtractors from that side.
Matthew: Okay. That makes sense. Yeah. I could see why being dependent on an extraction artist would be...you know, it's problem. Because then, you're at the whims of that person instead of having a process or, you know, some kind of standard mode with your equipment where you can just repeat it over and over again independent of different people or personalities. And actually, I've met a lot of people that are in that exact case, where they're dependent on a specific employee and they really don't know how the sausage is made. So I'm glad you brought that up. Okay. So let's get into a little bit about throughput and what people talk about with throughput. Actually, before we talk about throughput, can you mention why you didn't like the flavor of the CO2 oil when you first tried it? Did you prefer, like, butane extraction or something?
Jonah: You know, it wasn't so much that I preferred something over the other. It was really just, the primary reason was that the people, or the equipment that was making that extract, they didn't have control over their process and they destroyed a lot of the terpenes and overcooked the product in there. And so it almost had like, the best way I could describe it was like a burnt popcorn kinda taste. And it just wasn't even a really pleasant experience, just even like kinda agitating the throat and things like that too.
Matthew: Okay. Actually, before we talk about throughput, let's talk a little bit about what the different kind of outputs are from the MRX machines, what you can actually extract and make and do.
Jonah: Yeah. So, you know, about 90% of all of our customers wanna make as many full-spectrum vape oil pens as they can. They just cannot make enough to satisfy the market.
Jonah: And so that's what the majority of our customers wanna do. However, the more we've gotten into the industry here, the more diverse kinda the product lines are, and the more specialized and unique they are. And people have some really interesting ideas that they like to make. And so one of the things we always do is like talk to our customers about, "Okay, what's your goals? What's your throughput, and how much do you wanna do a day? What kind of products do you wanna make?" Then, we're able to actually bring kind of a complete turnkey solution.
Matthew: Jonah, tell us, just give us a sense of what kind of products can be created, what the most popular ones are, and what customers are asking for. So we can get a sense of the different things that your extraction equipment can do and just where the extraction market is at, in general.
Jonah: Yeah. Well, the majority of our customers are really going after one of the largest market segments, which really is the vape pens, the cartridges for the vape pens, and making some full-spectrum oil, which is a very high desirable product for that. And so that's about 90% of our customers just make as many vape pens as they can. But what's been interesting is there's been a lot more, you know, development, product development as well, too, with all of our customers coming with really unique products. And so, you know, what we usually always like to do is actually talk to our customers and identify, before they even start, you know, "What kind of products do you wanna make? What kind of throughput do you want to do per day?" And then put together a kind of complete and tailored package with all the equipment they need to achieve their goals.
And so what's unique about the CO2 side is that you can really stop it just about anywhere along the way. And so, you know, from going to a full-spectrum oil, or you can do further refinement or post-processing into like a distillate or then [inaudible 00:14:06] distillate, you can turn it into an isolate. And so you really have a lot of variety in [inaudible 00:14:15] different products you can make with it, is how we approach it and what a lot of our customers are making.
Matthew: Okay. So just to review, can you review, and can you just tell us what you mean when you say "full-spectrum oil," "isolate," and "distillate," so everybody's on the same page?
Jonah: Yeah. So full-spectrum oil is going to be an oil that preserves the majority of the original plant. Obviously, you're not pulling out, like, the plant material and the chlorophylls, and you're removing all the waxes and fats and lipids. So what you're left with is a cannabinoid oil that has, not just your THC or your CBD, but also minor cannabinoids as well. And then, also having good terpene preservation, and that's where all that kinda works together, is what a lot of people call or is known as like the "entourage effect." Which those cannabinoids and terpenes working together make for a much more pleasant high, or a lot more therapeutic or medicinal benefits, all that stuff working together in, like, a full-spectrum oil. And that's a very desirable product for a vape pen. And something like that, if you're doing a cannabinoid potency percentage, would test typically somewhere in like the 60% to 75% cannabinoids.
And then [what a lot of our customers will do] then too is, you know, distillate is a popular product as well too, for...It's very popular such as like the edible makers. Because with edibles, you typically don't want to taste the terpenes. And it's a more higher concentrated dosage, and so that is easier to control in your quality control for your recipes and things like that, hitting your certain dosing for your THC or your CBD.
Jonah: And so that's what they call "distillate." And that's what that is, is just further post-processing or refinement. And typically, people will use either like a short-path or wiped-film technology. And what that does is further concentrate your THC or CBD, and it pulls out and separates, like, a lot of your terpenes and some of your minor cannabinoids as well. And so that same full-spectrum oil, if you ran it through a short-path or wiped-film would probably end up testing closer to like that 80% to low 90% THC or CBD. And then from there, you can do further post-processing and take the product into isolate as well, which can be more like a powder or a crystal. And that's removing everything except the cannabinoid that you're looking to concentrate. And so one of the biggest and most popular things right now on the market [inaudible 00:17:03] like, CBD isolate. And so we've also developed some new technology to do CBD isolate at a high throughput as well.
Matthew: Okay. That's a good...Well, you know, let's just talk about vape cartridges for a minute there. They were wildly popular a couple years ago, and they still are. And they've just gotten better and better. Now, you know, you mentioned full-spectrum, is you can get a lot more out of a vape cartridge than you used to be able to. Is there any sense that the market's starting to stabilize and there's enough supply? Because it's something I've been hearing for years is just like the demand for vape cartridges is just insane. What's your thoughts [sounds like]?
Jonah: I'll say, it's still not there yet. You can't really make enough to support the market right now. Because if you actually look at, too, a lot of the...especially in the states that have now gone recreational, if you look at a lot of the economic data on the products that are really moving, you know, there's a lot of new social users coming on and trying things that maybe hadn't in the past. And a lot of these people just don't wanna feel that they're doing a drug, or they don't have the where for all, they don't have a dab rig, they don't have a bong, they don't know how to roll a joint. And they just want ease and discretion. And so that's where if you look at, you know, all the economic data, all the new social users or people that are kind of, you know, sitting back and not really partaking much, but now that it's legal, saying, "Oh, I wanna try that," they're really drawn to the vape pens, and also edibles from that side.
And, you know, what's I think also desirable about the vape pens is that you can really control your dosing, in a sense, too. Like, you know, if someone wanted to take a little puff here, [inaudible 00:18:49] pretty much know, you know, how that's gonna affect them. And they can control, you know, how high or how medicated that they would like to get.
Jonah: And so that's where I think a lot of people are more drawn. And then, now you just kinda see them everywhere now, too. You know, people don't typically know if it's a nicotine or a cannabis, or hemp cartridge that people have.
Matthew: Yeah. I'm sure there's gonna be some novel use of cannabis oil that might displace vape cartridges in the future. But it'll still be some form of extracted oil. And it's gonna, you know, come in some product form or drink. For me, I feel like kinda what's gonna happen is there's gonna be some company that come along that can consistently deliver the same mood over and over again, and they're available widely. And they're really gonna capture a lot of the market because right now it's just so fragmented, which is good. And I think there's always gonna be the equivalent of microbreweries, you know, doing really well. But, you know, it's nice to be able to be in California, then Oregon, then Illinois, then, you know, New York, and get maybe one vape cartridge that's the exact same everywhere I go, or one drink or one edible that is exact same.
Maybe that'll be done with like an intel-inside model, where it's gonna be like, "Hey, this extract, this contains, you know, this many milligrams of this kind of extracted oil with terpenes." But I feel like it's gotta move from that direction. Am I totally off base on that? Or where do you think it's going?
Jonah: I would say you're 100% correct. You know, when we first started too, there was really no repeatability. There was really no, even, specific product lines. And people would just run whatever trim or material they had that day and put a label on it, and sometimes it wasn't always even what it might have been labeled as, because people didn't know, you know, when they bought trim. And as the markets become more standard and more tracking, you're really dialing in specific strains. And now, with the amount of testing you can do and even the separation, with different equipment and stuff like we have too, you can separate different cannabinoids. And you can really dial in your dosing and have a repeatable product.
And that's absolutely where it's going. Especially, as you see, it's gonna become more of a nationwide product at some point. And that's what people are gonna expect is, you know, going into one state and buying a product, and then going into the other one and having the same thing. And so you're absolutely correct in that standpoint. We're already starting to see it go that direction. And it'll just continue to do so, I think, more so in the next 5 years.
Matthew: Now, we touched on throughput there. And maybe you can dive into that a little bit by telling us, you know, how we should think about throughput? Because you say you have clients coming to you and you ask them, you know, how much do they need. And aren't they just gonna say, "I wanna produce as much as I can?" Or where are kinda the limitation breakpoints with each of your extraction solutions? Or how should they be thinking about that, in terms of running 24/7 or how much throughput they need? What can you tell us about throughput?
Jonah: Yeah. It's really been amazing too, how far the industry has grown even in the last 3 years. You know, when we first started the extraction site about 3 years ago, we started building a 20-liter extractor, which was about the largest anybody was building that I'm aware of. You know, most people were building a 5 or 10-liter, so we said, "We're gonna build a 20-liter, you know, because that's gonna be a larger commercial system." And typically, on a 20-liter, a lot of your [inaudible 00:22:35] customers run about 6 to 10 pounds at a time. There's ways to kinda engineer the material to put 20 to 30 pounds in there. But, you know, most people are doing 6 to 10-pound strain-specific runs at a time, which is great. You know, it's great to be able to...And at the time, you know, a lot of people would sometimes only have, you know, 6 to 20 pounds of the same strain.
Jonah: But now, some of these grows are, you know, 100,000-square foot grows, and they have thousands of pounds of the same strain. And on top of it too just, you know, we do a lot of stuff on the hemp side as well. And, you know, Oregon has been kind of a leader in the U.S. here in hemp as well, having the ninth biggest hemp program over the last 4 years. And when we first started with the hemp farmers 4 years ago, if you had 5 acres, that was a lot. You know, that was...You know, 2,000 pounds an acre, that's 10,000 pounds, that's a lot of biomass.
Jonah: And then, 3 years ago, it was like, "Okay, 20 acres, wow." And then, 2 years ago, it was 50 acres. And then, last year, it was 100 acres. And now, we know some farms are a few hundred acres, and you're talking about millions of pounds of biomass. And so it's pretty amazing how fast everything has scaled. And so that's where we've also developed additional new technology to keep up with the market's demands for a higher throughput, bat the same time, not sacrificing quality. And that's where there might be a lot of manufacturers who will sacrifice quality with throughput by just saying, "Okay, you know, we're just gonna hit it at 5,000 psi and pull more plant material out." But, you know, you destroy a lot of the good cannabinoids and terpenes doing that. And we don't believe in sacrificing the quality with throughput. And so with some of our new equipment here, we have really game-changing CO2 equipment, [pumps] like 100C, which is 2 50-liter vessels that cycle back and forth between each vessel, designed to never stop. And so, as soon as one vessel is done, it switches, and then that person can load the next one.
And you know, people can get tricky sometimes when you talk about throughput, and sometimes people [sounds like] can give you the very best throughput on the very best day with the very best material. And, you know, we like to give real numbers, [inaudible 00:24:50] historical averages. And a lot of it too, depends on your starting cannabinoid percentage when it comes to CO2. If you have something that has, you know, like 6% CBD or THC versus 12%, it's gonna take longer to pull that 12% out versus that 6%. But a lot of our throughput now, in like the CO2, can be, you know, upwards from 100 to 300 pounds a day. And then we've also developed full ethanol processing centers that are desired to, not batch, but to be continuous extraction, that are looking at doing more in that 500 to 1,000-plus pounds a day as well.
Matthew: That's crazy.
Jonah: So we kinda have anything and everything in between, as far as if customers wanna do small batch stuff or if they wanna do full acres that weekend [inaudible 00:25:42].
Matthew: Okay. So you can pretty much do whatever the customer wants within reason, it sounds like. So with the two vessels, you can operate 24/7. So if you have one vessel full, or you have both vessels full, and the extraction machine is running, when it finishes with the first vessel, how long does it take to finish the second one, assuming it's full and your typical extraction machine? Like how many hours do they have before they have to fill it again?
Jonah: Yeah. Like on the 100C, we're looking at closer like to that 2 to 4 hours per kinda 15, 20 pounds per vessel.
Matthew: Okay. So I'm a businessowner. I'm thinking about buying an extraction machine. And the first question you would ask me is, "How many pounds do you want to do per run?" Is that kinda the first question?
Jonah: Yeah. Actually, the question I'd more probably ask is, "How much throughput do you wanna do per day or per week?" is typically what we would ask them. And then, "What kinda products do you wanna make?"
Matthew: Okay. Okay. I wanna kinda dive into some business models here and looking at return on investment and things, because extraction is really, as I said in the intro, becoming a bigger and bigger part of the business. And it's also gonna be an ingredient to all of this, amazing products that are being created. But the people that are gonna buy your machines are like, "Hey, what can I do with that? How much money can I make? What should my business model be?" When a customer or a potential customer, or a friend says, "Hey, what can I expect to make with an extraction machine?" I've heard a lot of great scenarios, but how do you kind of describe, like, the ROI on an extraction machine?
Jonah: So, you know, we always like to look at, you know, your gross margin. Or it doesn't necessarily even, you know, potentially matter what your gross is, you know, as far as your gross sales. But, you know, what kind of gross margin are you looking at? And also too, just how big of a company they want to have versus maybe a smaller company that can make similar margins, but not have as many people. And so, you know, some people want to be the biggest and best, you know, vape company in their state, or launched from state to state, and that's a big business. I mean, you have, you know, your material acquisition, your new supply chain. You have your compliance, your testing, your cartridges, your consumables, you know, your sales, marketing, packaging, distribution. That can quickly, you know, go from a small scale of, you know, 10 people up to hundreds of people from that side.
And, you know, the other side being is, or, "I wanna be, you know, an oil house or a toll processer," or you actually are just making bulk oil and/or doing contract processing to hire. That's a much simpler business model, and it's a very needed businesses model for a lot of either...You know, there's a lot of great farmers that wanna have their own product lines, but they don't want to be an extractor.
Jonah: And so they look to some of these third parties to use their award-winning flowers and strains to make oil that complements that. Or there are some companies that want to have end products, but don't want to make the oil, and they want someone to make oil to their specifications. That's a much simpler, smaller business model, but it's also still very profitable and you can still make a lot of the same margins that you'd be making, you know, versus going to a full-scale cartridge line as well, too. And so there's needs from both those sides. That's kinda where we wanna talk to people and see what their goals are, what they want to do. And some of it too, just comes down to what's gonna be the most profitable for them and the least amount of headache potentially too?
Matthew: Okay. And let's talk, what's the typical cost for a gram of oil right now?
Jonah: So I guess, I can answer that three ways, is, you know, if you look at the retail side, you know, with compliance and testing now and everything too, in Oregon...I'll use Oregon and California right now, as kinda the metrics for that. But typically, a gram of oil is gonna end up costing somewhere typically between probably $50 to $80 a gram, typically, is what that would sell at a dispensary to the end consumer.
Matthew: Okay. And if you were to say, "Hey, my average client, they're..." I mean, I'm sure it ranges wildly, but kinda the middle of the bell curve, it's being sold at $80 a gram at the dispensary. What does it cost to make that same gram on average?
Jonah: You know, so as it goes through the supply chain, you know, from your side as an extractor, a lot of it depends on how much you're getting your biomass for. And that's where it's incredibly important to be able to do your own quality control testing before you even buy products, buy biomass to extract, if you're buying it. Because, you know, you can't just have a blanket price like, "Okay, I'm gonna get everything at $100 a pound, or $200 a pound." There's a big difference between something that tests at, you know, 8% THC trim or kind of B-buds, versus something that's like 12% or 15%. And that's directly gonna affect your yield primarily. It won't so much affect the quality of the end product. You'll still have a great product. It's just, "How much yield are you gonna have come out of there?" is gonna be directly dependent upon your starting cannabinoid percentages. And so if you're buying product at $200 a pound, it typically costs about $5 to $6 to produce a gram of full-spectrum oil.
Matthew: [inaudible 00:32:27]
Jonah: Yeah. If you're closer at buying trim, you know, at the $100 a pound, you're closer to that kinda $3 to $4 a gram, is what it costs. And then what a lot of these companies do is they will actually then sell to other distributors or people that wanna make their products, and they'll typically sell that, you know, between $8 to $10 a gram. And so that gets sold to then someone that's gonna take that oil, and that's bulk oil. And that's where people are moving a lot of kilos or pounds doing that. And then other companies will then take that oil and put it in a cartridge, package it, brand it, market it. And then, you know, that will typically then go to a dispensary or a distributor, depending on, you know, what state you're in. And then that will typically then get sold, you know, in that $20 to $40 a gram. And then, so once it gets in the dispensary, then that's where then, it goes to, you know, that maybe $50 to $80 a gram, is typically how that works.
Michael: Okay. And how do you preserve terpenes as you go through this process? I mean, is it a matter of temperature and pressure? 'Cuz I'm kinda boomeranging all over the place here but, you know, you talked about how critical it is for the experience and for the end product. And also, end customers are getting much more savvy about this and they talk to each other, and you really wanna make sure you maintain terpenes. What's the art and the science of doing that just right?
Jonah: So the biggest thing is having control over your process. And you hit pretty much two of the most important parts when it comes from a CO2 site is terpene preservation is maintained primarily per your temperature control and control over your pressure. And so temperature is so critical to your extraction process. And I feel like sometimes that's an afterthought. Sometimes people will just use an off-the-market kinda chiller or hot water bath. And, you know, if you look at the specifications on some of those, you know, off-the-shelf kinda chillers, sometimes they're +/-5 degrees. And we have built for us, heater/chiller combinations that are exactly specified per machine specifications. So when we set our temperature, this stays typically about 1 degree. And so we have really tight control over our temperature.
And then from the pressure standpoint, see, a lot of times people will just want...they'll try to do more throughput. And they can achieve more throughput if they go through 3,000, 4,000, or 5,000 psi. But what happens is, at those higher levels, if you look at, you know, like a whitepaper, typically anything over 1,800 psi, you start to degrade some of the cannabinoids, the terpenes, you pull on additional plant material and chlorophylls. And so you really start to degrade a lot of the great therapeutic benefits of some of those things. And then you have to spend a lot of time in your post-processing and cleaning up. And so where we increase throughput without sacrificing the quality is with temperature and then also what we call "flow rate," which is, you know, essentially, how fast CO2 or a solvent moves through your product. And so that's how we're able to preserve, you know, the majority of our terpenes through the extraction process.
Jonah: I will say too, you also do have the ability, terpenes you can actually run very low, like almost like a subcritical, in the very beginning of your extraction run. But some customers like to try to pull those terpenes in like that first half-hour to hour, and then they'll just change the settings. You don't have the stop the machine to change the settings. And they'll take a pull and pull those...Especially, if their goal is to go to distillate later, they'll just pull those terpenes, and then set them aside and use them later, either reintroduce them or use them for a different product, because they're very valuable.
Matthew: Now, we touched on this briefly, but I just want to be really clear for listeners about the most common business paths for people buying extraction machines. So you get to create your own brand or line of products, there's a toll processer, which you mentioned, and then there's the bulk oil house. Are those kinda the big buckets you would say exist?
Jonah: Yes. Those are the three that our customers really focus on. There's incredible opportunities to be a toll processor or kind of a bulk oil house. And primarily that's because the extraction site, you know, there's a capital investment that comes with it, and also I think sometimes people are just like, "Well, I don't know anything about extraction." You know? Even amazing growers that are great growers that know cannabis better than [inaudible 00:37:16] anyone, they sometimes are just like, "Well, I just don't know about extraction or what to do."
Jonah: So I think some people are kind of, maybe [sounds like] a little nervous just thinking of, "Can I do that?" You know? And so a lot of times there's not enough processors, or toll processors to handle the amount of extraction that needs to take place. And so that's where there's been these industries that have stepped up to where, I had one customer here in Oregon, a company called "Tosmos" [sp], that was initially gonna do their own cartridge line. And then they got offered a pretty lucrative contract to do toll processing for one of the biggest cannabis companies out there that just wanted them to toll process. And so they did that and they started with a 20-liter. They added a second 20-liter, and then a third 20-liter, and then a 100-liter, and they just kept adding more equipment. And they've really found their niche in doing toll processing extractions.
Matthew: So toll processing, again, is just taking other people's trim or your own trim and extracting it, and then selling it to another business, not a...
Jonah: That's correct.
Matthew: ...retail operation? Okay.
Jonah: Yes. But now, on the toll processing, it's more you're specifically extracting it to that customer's needs and specifications and wants. And that's where you have to have good quality control and repeatability to satisfy the customer there. And so, yes, a lot of times, they'll provide their trim or product, and then you extract it and turn it into, you know, a full-spectrum oil or a distillate.
Jonah: And then, the bulk oil side...And a lot of our customers will do a combinate of one, two, or all three of these businesses too. Because when you're doing the toll processing, it's also just natural that you could be almost like a bulk oil, like a Cisco, that kind of thing, to where you're even sourcing your own trim or your own...And here in Oregon, too, I mean, now with the cost of flower, the overproduction, a lot of the extraction companies are now running flower because they can get outdoor really good A, B-buds, or $200, $300 a pound, which really change the...
Matthew: I've heard about the overproduction. It was overproduction. It was kind of a subjective term. But I've heard that there's a big supply in Oregon. So that's amazing, $200 or $300 a pound.
Jonah: Oh, it is. And it's really changed even the whole quality of your yields. You know, so now instead of maybe historically getting a 10% to 12% yield, you know, of full-spectrum oil, now some of our customers are getting closer to, you know, 13%, 15%, which really changes your financials modeling, when you're getting that kinda return in yields. And so a lot of the customers will also then just make bulk oil and just sell that to edible companies, you know, sell it in pounds or kilos at a time to edible companies or vape companies that don't wanna do their own processing, but wanna have oil made that meets their standards and quality.
Matthew: Okay. So the toll processor already has in mind exactly what they need, and they have specifications. And when a company comes to a toll processor, they say, "Make x, y, and z for me with these specifications." A bulk oil house has like a menu you can pick from of extracted oils and products. Is that right?
Jonah: That's a great analogy. Yes. You got it.
Matthew: Okay. And then, of course, before that we mentioned creating your own brand. So we just went through creating your own brand, the toll processor, and a bulk oil house. I think it's amazing how these niches are kind of evolving. They overlap, but its kind of fragmentation with industry is we're starting to see specialization. So that is really amazing. And just to review those numbers again Jonah said...And we won't quote you on that, Jonah, just because, you know, the market's always a moving target. But you said sometimes...
Jonah: It is. Yeah.
Matthew: ...the input costs were $1 a gram or $3 or $4 a gram, but oil was selling for $80 a gram at a dispensary. So you can get a sense of how profitable this can be for a mass that's very small. I mean, a gram is a tiny, tiny amount of a mass. So that's really just incredible. And one of the reasons I'm so excited about it, it's also exciting too because compared to cultivating, extraction is kind of an esoteric thing still. People really, they don't know how to get into it. It seems really opaque. It's just, you know, "What do I do?" There's all these insiders, and they don't wanna really talk about it because it's going so well from them. Not uncommon to hear from people to pay for their extraction machines in a week, and these are expensive machines. So it's really something that's just remarkable. We're in a remarkable spot in history here. And actually, it was 2 or 3 years ago, I was talking about this, but this opportunity still exists.
So I want to just move forward with some other topics here. So we've talked about the three different types of businesses most of your clients operate under. We talked about preserving terpenes. But I want to talk a little bit about your partner's background and what he's brought to the business. Because in talking to you earlier, he sounds like an interesting character and has brought a lot of cool things, just kinda cool skills to the extraction realm. So if you can talk about him a little bit?
Jonah: Yeah. I'm very blessed. I couldn't ask for a better partner. His name is Paul Tomaso. He's my partner and our CEO of our company here. And when we decided that we were gonna set up an analytical testing laboratory, he was back on the East Coast doing some of the largest solar rooftop and fuel cell installations in North America. And he was the very first call because we knew with his background that, once he got into the cannabis and hemp industry, not only would he help us set up the most professional lab with quality controls and standardization, and new methods, but we knew once he got in the industry, he would identify bottlenecks and deficiencies and come up with better solutions. And that's exactly what he did. And his background is really unique in the sense that, it's like his whole life culmination has come together to develop the best extraction equipment, which he never, ever would have expected. You know?
And so, you know, he came from actually a military background, joining the military when he was 17. And then he actually ended up working for John Fluke, doing Fluke multimeters up there in Seattle area. And then he did, like, the TERCOM [sounds like] section of the Tomahawk Missile, the layout for that. He did some stuff on the NASA space shuttle, some contract work. And then he developed some of the fastest laser technology in the world for laser marking and engraving. And then he even developed some robotic pick-and-place equipment that you could take any image, any photograph, any customer logo, and it would pixelate it into, you know, 1/2-inch by 1/2-inch or 1-inch by 1-inch tiles. And it would robotically go grab those tiles, place them, and then you'd have like a beautiful mural. Like he did the D-Day Map in the Eisenhower Building, back in Washington as well.
And so he's had all these...Everything he's ever done, he's developed new technology. And I don't know. When it comes to extraction, you know, and the fact that we do automation on everything which is unusual, a lot of equipment's just not automated, whether it be CO2 or ethanol, or butane, and we automate everything to have control over your process and also, you know, reduce the cost of labor. And so the fact that I don't know of any other person that has the electrical, the mechanical, the controls, the pressure to have all those knowledges over his life experience to bring them together to build extraction equipment. Yeah. So I've very, very fortunate to have someone like that as a partner, because he's really the driving force and the genius kinda behind all the technology that we build here.
Matthew: That's great. Now, he went from military applications to cannabis. That's a huge divergence.
Jonah: Oh. Yeah. But, you know, Paul, he's a big believer in the medicinal benefits. You know, he's even seen that himself in a sense, where he loves CBD, in particular. You know, his mind never stops, and also he always has to be very alert. And so he doesn't really partake so much on the THC side. But the CBD side, he's a big believer on. And, you know, he's taken some full-spectrum CBD capsules, just goes to bed, you know, let's the mind shut off for a little bit, and just wakes up refreshed. And that was one of the biggest changes for him is realizing, "Wow, this stuff really, really works."
Jonah: And so he's just incredibly passionate about helping people. You know, and him being a veteran too, you know, he really likes to help a lot of the veterans. And that's been one of the biggest things, we've enjoyed helping and seeing how many veterans that cannabis has really helped and saved their lives even. And we also like to hire a lot of veterans as well. And so anyways, that's been special to him as well, from that side.
Matthew: How do you see the extraction business changing and morphing, evolving, in the next 3 to 5 years as the industry just...I mean, there's more and more demand. There's gonna be more and more biomass coming in. Where do you see it going?
Jonah: Yeah. It's gonna be higher, faster, more efficient throughput with maintaining the best, highest quality, and repeatability is really where it's gonna go. And you'd hit on part of that, is it's gonna become even more standardized to where your product lines, even by a state-by-state basis, are gonna be repeatable. And so there's gonna be just more and more quality control. There's probably gonna end up being more requirements for good, you know, GNP kinda stuff too, for good practices for manufacturing. It's really gonna turn more, I think, into somewhat of a pharmaceutical environment with some of the production of stuff, whether it be edibles and oils. But just having that repeatability and quality control over your product.
Matthew: Yeah. It's funny because, you know, I've met some people from the pharmaceutical industry that have come over to the cannabis industry, and they're kinda bringing their best practices. But I don't think it'll be long before the cannabis industry is giving other industries their best practices. Because so much capital is moving into cannabis, and there's not any legacy architecture or systems. So it's all being built fresh. So we don't have to, you know, rely on kind of sclerotic processes. But with that, talk a little bit about your ISO-certified processing center. What is ISO? Why should we care about that? And what's important to know about it?
Jonah: Yeah. Well, you know, ISO is actually International Organization of Standards, who publishes quality standards or just good manufacturing processes.
Jonah: And it's really important because it helps, you know, answer the question, "You know, what is the best way to do this when it comes to manufacturing and to uphold certain standards as well?" And, you know, our background is in engineering, and you'll find that we created a lot of the standards to achieve, you know, high-quality extracts. And also, too, it's going into different jurisdictions, or even countries for that matter, or different states. You know, they all have different standards, but things like ISO or CE and things like that, those are all accepted. And so it's important for our customers in whatever jurisdictions or states, or cities, or countries we go into, that we have really high-quality engineering and documentation so that they can get through a permitting process as well, too. And so that's been incredibly important from our customer side.
Matthew: Okay. And so how long does it take? If someone's listening and they're like, "Hey, I want to reach out to MRX and find out if they have an extraction machine that works for me," how long does the whole process take from initial order to completion? And is there any sense on cost that you can give us, so we can kinda get an idea about this?
Jonah: Yes. So typically, you know, we build everything to order.
Jonah: And, you know, we require a 50% deposit, and we start building. And, you know, we have machines priced anywhere from the $150,000 up to $850,000, and then kinda anywhere and everywhere in between. And so typically, you know, on some of our smaller systems, a 6 to 8-week build time is fairly typical. Then, some of our bigger systems, like our 100C or our ethanol processing center, those are typically gonna be closer to the 12 to 16 weeks. But it usually works out really well timing-wise. Of course, every once in a while, we get the guys or existing customers that need another machine right away. And we're usually able to accommodate that in some way. But typically, that lead time is the right lead time in the sense that, once they put their deposit down, we start working with their team, helping with facility layout and design. And because what we see with a lot of our customers too, is not just their needs right now, like, "Okay, I need, you know, two 20-liters." "Okay. But what about your second phase or your third phase?"
And you can do a lot of infrastructure stuff up front with not a lot of additional capital but make it a lot easier to win. Because we've seen it over and over, where every 3 months, 6 months, our customers who start from a machine, and then they need more equipment. And then if they don't prepare for that on the front end, you know, they're moving things around, trying to bring more electrical in. And so we try to help in the beginning with a lot of their facility layout and design. That's not something we charge extra for. That's just part of kinda the value-added working with us. And we just kinda help them through their facility readiness, as well, making sure their facility is ready so when the equipment arrives. And a lot of times, too, we'll even have our customers come in and do training. We always go do training onsite, as well.
But a lot of times, we'll invite our customers to come in before their equipment even ships and come spend, you know, a few days here at our facility, learning about the equipment, you know, learning the extraction process. And that way, they have a good foundation, and it really shortens the learning curve when their equipment arrives.
Matthew: Well, that's good. Those are helpful services. I mean, just quickly, when's the most appropriate time to...When you're designing an extraction facility, maybe it's adjacent to a grow or part of some business planning, when is the ideal time to bring in you? Like when the architect and the general contractor have kinda been picked and blueprints are being drawn, be like, "Hey, we wanna bring in, you know, MRX to talk a little bit about this facility and just to make sure that we're implementing the best practices?" 'Cuz I've seen a lot of people and a lot of businesses doing that, like wondering when to pull in who in the planning process.
Jonah: That's exactly it, is we like to typically be involved in that at least at 4 to 6 out before you want to be processing. And we work more and more now with architects, designers, engineering firms, from the very beginning, just helping spec in the equipment, and then also with, like I said, the facility layout and stuff. And so, yeah. You know, that 4 to 6 months is usually when we get involved.
Matthew: Okay. Well, Jonah, I'd like to ask some 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 way of thinking that you'd like to share?
Jonah: You know, the one book that I really took a lot from was a book called "From Good to Great," I think the author is Jim Collins.
Jonah: And as an entrepreneur, you know, when you start a company, you know, it's usually you and two or three other crazy partners that start to build that company. And there's only, you know, so much you can do and keep taking it in yourself and pushing forward. And, you know, I can't stress the importance and need of getting good, quality people in building your team. And what I reference about that book is that it took a bunch of case studies from different companies that were good companies, and built to a certain part, and then took them to the next level. And one of the things I really took out of that was identifying the right people to kinda hire. And a lot of times though, too, you don't always sometimes just hire for a very specific position, which is common. It's what you usually do, like, "I need this position." And we still do that a lot of times. But a lot of times, you know, I'll just meet somebody or talk with them, or have some informational interviews, and you'll find someone with a really good work ethic, hungry, they want to learn, and they have unique skill sets, and you kinda almost find a position for them. And that's one of the things...
Matthew: Get them on the bus, right? Is that what they call that?
Jonah: Yeah. Yeah.
Matthew: Get them on the bus.
Jonah: Yep. Exactly. And so that's one of the things I really took from that book and I thought was really helpful to me, as far as a book like that.
Matthew: Okay. I should also ask, you know, you're a growing business, what's the type of skill set, like degree, are you looking for chemists, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers...I mean, what's the type of skill set for the employees of your company now? Like what does it look like? So I wanna, A, give young people listening or people looking to make a career transition, looking for what skills are, like, in demand. What would you say is in demand?
Jonah: Yep. You hit two of my top ones right there, is kinda that chemistry background and then that mechanical engineer side. You know, people with kinda [inaudible 00:56:46] HVAC kind of experience or refrigeration experience is very helpful to us from that side.
Jonah: But, you know, we're always just looking for just good, talented people that are hard workers, that are not afraid to get their hands dirty and work hard. And, you know, we do a lot of training in-house too. And so we don't necessarily have to have a degree, but those are two degrees that we do tend to hire a lot of.
Matthew: Yeah. And one more personal development question. Is there a tool, web-based or otherwise, that you consider vital to your business or productivity individually??
Jonah: Yeah. You know, one is something that everybody already knows, but it's amazing the amount of texting that now happens in this industry. And just being able to use, like, voice text, I use that. I never thought I would use something like that to that level, but the amount of texts you get in a day can be 50, 100 texts.
Jonah: And so that's something I use a lot of. But then, more on our side, specifically, we use a program called like, "Vtiger," which it's a little more than just a CRM, which is a, you know, customer relationship manager. And from our side, it's incredibly important to have to keep track of the data and your customers. I'm not just talking about sales leads, per se, but your existing customers. And we even have a whole customer portal built in for when our customers get equipment. You know, they have their own login, their own [inaudible 00:58:25]. So we can communicate with them through that...
Matthew: Well, that's cool.
Jonah: ...and track everything through the whole entire process.
Jonah: And so that's been a very valuable tool for us, Vtiger, because it kinda ties in the potential new sales opportunities, it ties in our existing customers, and it also kinda syncs and manages all the calendars and stuff too, with visits and things like that. So that's been a pretty good tool that we use a lot.
Matthew: And how do you spell that?
Jonah: V as in Victor, and then just tiger.
Matthew: Okay. Cool. I've never heard of that one. Well, Jonah, this has been very educational. Thanks so much for coming on the show and teaching us about everything you're doing. This sounds like just an incredible business opportunity, not just for you, but for also your clients. And so I wish you all the best, and I hope you come back on and tell us how the industry is evolving.
Jonah: Oh, I'd be happy to do that. I really appreciate you taking the time. And I sure enjoyed getting a chance to speak with you.