Using The Power of Ritual To Create Product-Market Fit – Justin Singer

justin singer of Stillwater Cannabis Foods

Justin Singer is the co-founder of Still Water Brands. Stillwater is focused on cannabis consumers that really don’t see themselves as cannabis consumers because they feel uncomfortable with the existing methods of consumption. For example, it is very confusing for a first-time cannabis consumer to understand why they don’t want to eat a 100mg infused chocolate bar, but instead, need to break it up into 10 or 20 pieces. First-time consumers ask, “wait, why do I need to break this bar up, isn’t a bar one dose?”

Justin and his team at Stillwater initially focused on rituals consumers are already comfortable with such as making a cup of tea. Stillwater’s water-soluble beverage additives including their best seller Ripple have resonated with a traditionally unrecognized and underserved market category.

Now Stillwater is going to offer their infused additives to other businesses.

This is a riveting interview you won’t want to miss.

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Here on CannaInsider we often talk about why having a me-too product won't work in the long run. It's imperative to have a unique selling proposition to keep competitors at bay and protect your profit margins. Today I'm pleased to have on the show an entrepreneur who identified a market that is not being properly served and who has created product-market fit. I'm pleased to have Justin Singer of Stillwater Brands on the show today. Justin, welcome to CannaInsider.

Justin: Thanks for having me.

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

Justin: I'm sitting at home right now in Boulder, Colorado.

Matthew: Oh great. And I am an Edinburgh, Scotland, sunny Edinburgh. Well...

Justin: Lovely.

Matthew: Tell us what is Stillwater Brands at a high level?

Justin: Oh, I mean, at a higher level, the brands, we're actually now Stillwater Foods.

Matthew: Stillwater Foods, okay.

Justin: Yeah. So we make soluble cannabinoids for scalable production. That's our nutshell description. But that sort of encompasses two business lines. One, brands which is consumer branded products. Today that means THC-infused products in Colorado and then Stillwater ingredients, which is scalable commercial ingredients, primarily hemp derived for B2B sale.

Matthew: Ah, that's a helpful thing so you don't have to work on the solubility yourself. If someone else's cracked that code, they can just buy it from you.

Justin: Exactly. We believe for this industry to really scale, you need to have a platform for growth so that people can focus on brands and on marketing as opposed to on all of the intricacies of getting cannabinoids to work in food forms. So to function more like the food markets already do today.

Matthew: Yeah, you got to specialize, right?

Justin: Indeed.

Matthew: But what if you have an unmarketable specialization like me? Like I'm a puppeteer and I can't really seem to do anything with that.

Justin: Well, you seem to be doing pretty well with this podcast.

Matthew: Okay. Good. Good answer. Good answer. Okay. So share a little bit about your background and journey and give a sense of how you got to this point.

Justin: Sure. So, let's see, my background, I was in The Manufacturing Institute at Michigan and their undergrad business school and then did a JD MBA in Columbia in telecom law and finance. Then had the foresight to graduate in 2009 into the worst recession in generations with no work experience and a couple graduate degrees. Was great strategic thinking there. But no, luckily, I ended up landing as an intern at a small venture capital fund in New York called IA Ventures which at that point was just three guys sharing space with the startup for 17 million friends and family. And I managed to latch on there and become full timer and stay until we had raised, you know, 153 million across two funds from institutional LPs to 30 investments the whole nine yards.

Matthew: Okay. And can you tell us a little bit about the companies you invested in?

Justin: Sure. So IA was started by a guy named Roger Ehrenberg who before launching the fund had been a prolific angel in New York and also had run DB Advisors which is Deutsche's quant hedge fund platform. So he had made deep contacts into the big data space in doing that, and that's who's seeded the fund. So we were focused on tools and technologies that were leveraging big data. This was circa 2010 before big data was quite the buzzword that it's become today. But that's what we were focused on, was companies that were working with massive datasets or building tools to help analyze those datasets. A great example of a company that we invested it was actually the first investment we made when I joined was a company called Trade Desk, which went public last year. It's a DSP on the tax base.

Matthew: Cool. And you also taught entrepreneurship in New York City. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Justin: Yeah. So that was a great class. I taught that with Jerry Newman who is fantastic angel investor in New York City. I met him while co-investing at IA. The class was in the Engineering School of Columbia, and it was called Managing Technological Innovation. But we looked at it as sort of demythologization. I screwed up that one. We looked at it as...

Matthew: Let's try to get through this, demythologize. Okay, there we go.

Justin: We looked at as demythologizing entrepreneurship.

Matthew: Okay.

Justin: So we taught it to undergrads who hadn't already been through the Steve Blank school. They didn't have exposure to all the blogs and all of the startup corpus that's available today. And we were focused on showing them that, you know, the biggest impediment to being entrepreneur is believing you can be an entrepreneur. And then beyond that is actually finding a market and identifying products that people want to purchase and that you can deliver profitably.

Matthew: Right, okay. And what have you taken away from your VC experience that you've brought to obviously, you know, raising capital for your own business? That's an extremely important skill set that you are able to shift over. But when you look at what other entrepreneurs are doing, you know, how do you kind of see that with your VC head on and kind of your entrepreneur teacher hat on, what do you see?

Justin: You know, in its ideal form, VC is sort of an outside-in strategy prospecting for outside in, inside out execution. As a VC, I developed some ideas that have really guided the strategy as we've developed this company. You know, I saw from above that a lot of the most interesting new markets were often created more by regulatory change than necessarily by technological innovation. But I did see that where new industries were created by technological innovation, it often presented itself as a product innovation, but it was really a process innovation. I guess one way to tie that together as you say, as a VC, I look first at the market then deeper at the problem and then you try and build personnel around that because personnel is policy. So when it came to this company, I came at it from a perspective of first marijuana and the regulatory changes around it. We launched this company in, you know, January of 2014 right after Colorado went legal. And it was clear that this was an industry with established demand. People have been using marijuana and cannabis derivatives for generations. It's been enormously popular.

The question was could you apply existing technologies to a new industry with established demand in an efficient way? And could that open up the customer base if you were able to succeed there? So we started with marijuana, then we dug deeper in and decided that the biggest problem was that the industry was basically just a black market turned legal. It was overserving people who were already its best customers and was underserving people who had the potential to become good customers. And that was through the pushing of super high dose products. So not to jump ahead too much, the other point that I just wanna make in terms of strategy in being a VC is I think I learned really early on that it's very important to define who you are as a company from the get go. In our case, we defined ourselves as a food company from the start. Not a marijuana company, not a cannabis company, not a hemp company. We were a food company that was using cannabinoids. That has guided our strategy from day one and it's guided who we hire, what tasks we put them on, what projects we choose to pursue, and which projects we choose to ignore.

Matthew: Okay. Was there any ideas that you examined, but then threw away because you didn't feel like they pass muster?

Justin: Yeah. I mean, in the early days before we hit on food, we were looking at ancillary businesses. My background was in technology and my cofounder's background was in technology. We were looking at things like the ad business and, you know, we were also looking at different and digital players, and we just didn't feel like it was enough in the stream of value creation. You know, the one joke that we always had in VC was who was going to be the Yelp of X? The answer was Yelp. Like the general purpose tool tends to win out over time because they have the broader base. So when we were looking at the digital side, we just weren't seeing the opportunities for scale that you generally associate with tech. I mean, the idea behind the tech technology valuations is that it has access to a global market with very low supply chain costs. You have distribution that is just available through publicly supported internet. That's not the case with consumer packaged goods. These were markets that were extremely nascent and had no infrastructure available, that you couldn't just do the typical thing of like picking a super narrow and specialized niche and hoping that everybody was gonna catch up and trying to extract your value out of it, because there wasn't a niche to steal. Like this whole space was emerging out of whole cloth.

Matthew: Yeah. You know, you talk about the need for specialization, and that's a focus of yours. How do you really refine what it is that you're specialized at? You said you're a food company, is a specifically beverages? And then is it specifically how to do light touch-infused medicine and drinks? I mean, is that [inaudible [00:10:16]?

Justin: I don't think that's the right level of precision today. I think it might be, you know, five years from now. So can make this with an example. We, when we started on the food angle, we looked at traditional food startups. If you're gonna launch a food company, you go out, you find a co-manufacturer, you got out and you find a flavor house, and then you find a distributor, match those three things together with a concept and hopefully you come up with a product that actually gets play. That wasn't possible in the cannabis space. There were no flavor houses that were licensed. Vertical integration was a requirement by law and you couldn't get the economies of scale or that you would get out of a distribution network. And there were no distributors anyways in Colorado.

So we had to start from the very basics. And to operate in that whole ecosystem, I mean, it requires an ecosystem. You need to have flavor houses, distributors. If those don't exist, you sort of have to create them yourself. So specialization is great and important, but you got to set it at a level that makes sense in the context of your market and where it exists in its maturity level. For us, we set that as we don't do extraction, we don't do cultivation, we don't do retail. We do everything between extraction and the consumer. So we take oils that are tightly specified from vendors who we trust at very small subset who can beat our spec. We convert it into food ready forms. We package it into a food product and then we sell that to dispensaries and market it to consumers. That's our niche right now.

Matthew: You have kind of two things going here. You have your products, and then the B2B side of things. Why did you feel the need to do the B2B right away? Or did you feel like, "Hey, this is an opportunity I didn't wanna let someone else fill?"

Justin: Well, I would say we didn't do it right away by any stretch. So there's a saying that got drilled into me that, "Platforms are easy, ladders are hard." Everybody wants to be a platform. Platforms are scalable. They have fantastic economics. You can act as a gatekeeper. Creating the platform is the hard part. We looked at consumer branded goods as a ladder. That allowed us to refine what we were doing, learn how to actually produce at scale, learn what people who are producing at scale care about, have a direct line to consumers about what they care about. Understand just that whole setup to make sure that we were making a product that both the consumers wanted and that manufacturers valued. And we were our own manufacturer in that instance in that we were dog fooding it. We also, because of the uncertain regulatory environment, wanted to launch in a place where that environment was more certain and I could have comfort that the state would stand between me and the federal government. That's why we chose Colorado because we felt like it had the most robust regulatory regime and offered the most certainty to invest against.

So we spent two years building up our IP, building up our expertise, talking to consumers, developing products, developing manufacturing processes. And then once that business was established and clearly had proven successful, and we had gotten this great product rippled that had broken out within it and we saw this as a plastic ingredient that can be useful to others, that's when we felt comfortable to move into the industrial hemp space, which we always viewed as a market with less regulatory certainty. Certainly in 2014, less so today than it was four years ago. We have now reached the point where given our existing base of operations, plus today's regulatory environment, we feel comfortable moving into ingredients second.

Matthew: And what do you think that liquids are the ideal medium for delivery for cannabis and hemp?

Justin: You know, I don't know if it's liquids per se that are ideal, but water solubility is certainly key. Water solubility seems to promote a more rapid absorption of cannabinoids into the bloodstream. I say "seems," we have done blood tests. We have actually sat there and put IVs in people's arms and drawn blood every 15 minutes and then put them through a high resolution drug screen to figure out what the actual absorption of THC is. And we do know that ripple absorbs according to a different curve than you would expect with other edibles. Other edibles you see nothing, nothing, nothing and then you see the hepatic absorption through the liver two hours in and boom, people are way too stoned. With ripple, you see immediate onset within 15 minutes. Peak onset, 45 to 60 or peak absorption, 45 to 60 minutes. And then they like tail off over the course of the next two hours. And we validate that through empirical data. I don't know that that is entirely attributable to it being any liquid but it is attributable to it being formulated as water soluble.

Matthew: Okay. That's interesting. Yeah, that is a big problem with edibles on that delayed onset. And then people keep on eating more saying it's not working, it's not working. And then they have a rocket ship ride to a different galaxy. And...

Justin: Well, we realized early on that like the two things you had to give people in order for them to get comfortable in edibles again, especially after, you know, the Maureen Dowd experience, all of the bad stories people have about pot brownies, you have to give them two things. One, you have to give them a self-regulating product. That means that the feedback loop has to be tight enough for them to know and control what they're doing. So you drink a cup of our tea or a cup or liquid with ripple in it, you know where you're going before you're done with that cup within 15 minutes. You can decide whether to have another cup already knowing where you're going to be with that first one. And the second thing is you have to put it in a format that doesn't require them to self-identify as a drug user.

So we chose tea as our initial product because it shared all these great characteristics with marijuana. It was functional. It was organic. It was natural. It was ritualistic. But most importantly, people could consume it for functional reasons and not think of themselves as a drug user. And that's a huge hurdle that people have to overcome to get to the mass market. I think a lot of the products out there today, if you're overly medicinal, if you're smokable, if you're inhalable, these people, they have an audience for sure. But if you're trying to reach seniors, if you're trying to reach folks who never smoked pot in their life but are interested in the medicinal benefits, you've got to give it to them in a form that allows them to maintain who they are.

Matthew: Yeah. That's a good point. And, you know, with beverages, we all kind of think, "No. Like, hey, if I have a glass of beer, this is what happens. If I have a tea, this is what happens." So it's a nice unit of account in a way that where you can start to make it your benchmark.

Justin: Yeah. And this goes back to the origin story of our company is that in the early days of the industry, the industry broke the one serving one dose paradigm. So, like you said, you know what one glass of wine is, you know what one shot is, you know what one shot of whiskey is, you know what one beer is. Those are all essentially the same. But you take a brownie with 100 milligrams, and that's a one serving confection with 10 to 25 servings of THC. And it scares the hell out of people because it doesn't conform to their expectations. So like in the early days my grandmother, 92, she has diabetes, her husbands had Parkinson's. She was just interested in finding a pot brownie so that she could feel better. The only thing I could find her had 100 milligrams. I had to cut it in 20 pieces and individually bag each morsel and tell her to eat half of that and then wait two hours. Like none of that was working for her. She was never going to become a part of this industry with that type of product as a popular option.

Matthew: Yeah, that's a good point. And which of your products is most popular now? Did you say ripple?

Justin: Yeah, ripple is by far. So within ripple, our 10-milligram pure 10 THC SKU is the most popular. But we also have a balanced five, that's five milligrams THC, five milligrams CBD. And then our 20 to 1 CBD, that's 10 milligrams CBD and half a milligram of THC. And those two are equally popular and together as popular as the 10 milligram. One thing we've noticed, the CBD products are gaining rapidly in the market. It's great. The more dispensary owners promote it, the better it seems to do. You know, like I said, the dispensary sales channel is tough. It's geared towards heavy users just by virtue of path dependence. But the wellness demographic, I think is and always has been a larger market than recreational intoxication. So providing lower dose products to people who don't want to get stoned, who just want to feel better, is the larger opportunity even if it's hard to push in a dispensary channel.

Matthew: Now this type of product requires some very specific knowledge in terms of beverages, creating a shelf-stable product and more. How did you go out and find somebody that could help you with that? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Justin: Yeah. I mean, again, it starts with owning, being a food company. Like when you think of yourself as a food company, you look for people who understand food. We started out by looking for a food scientist. In the early days, I did a bunch of diligence. We realized that people were...that manufacturers working with high calorie, high fat food forms because THC and other cannabinoids are fat soluble. And in order to put it into a healthy water-based form with low calorie counts, you needed to render it water soluble. Well, first threshold question there is, is that possible? So I started out talking to a bunch of food scientists just to sanity check is it possible. They all said, "Yeah. It's a solved problem in food science. It just hasn't been applied to this before." And to do it for a natural component like a cannabinoid is hard. It requires effort and especially to get it to a high level of consistency.

So we were fortunate enough in the early days to meet someone who came on board as an advisor and ultimately became our lead scientist and/or head of Product Development Manufacturing. And, you know, he came from Mars where he had spent 25 years there as a senior food scientist, focused in the new product development groups and had launched, you know, 80 brands over the course of his time there. So he was absolutely perfect, he understood pilot scale up, he understood high end scale up for national branding, and he also understood functional foods and product development. So from there, it really became a matter of probing his mind to understand what made him tick and understand what the structure was within Mars for developing these things and then building outwards from there.

Matthew: Yeah, that's a key hire for sure. Someone that has that kind of knowledge set, that's great.

Justin: Yeah, I mean, it helps us see around corners that other people don't even see. Understand. Like, we don't just look at this as like, what can we shove pot into? We look at this as what are forms that naturally fit with cannabinoids? How can you deliver them safely to consumers? And I mean both in terms of consistency of dosing and in terms of food safety, when you don't have a reliable supply chain. It's not like delivering to a Walgreens where like you know they're going to refrigerate it immediately, it's gonna be delivered and refrigerated trucks and it's going to be checked every day to make sure that it hasn't expired. Like, you have to account for the fact that dispensaries are small businesses, for generally, they don't have the most robust infrastructure in place. There isn't a distributor channel that regularly does channel checks. So you've got to find products that fit into that channel that you are targeting.

Matthew: Okay. And tell us more about the supply chain with your business. How has that been? What kind of discoveries have you made? What kind of challenges have there been and how did you surmount those?

Justin: I mean, it's a tough supply chain. One of the problems is that it is vertical. It started off vertically integrated so you a lot of people doing a lot of things not very well. But they were making money, so they're hesitant to give it up. You also have a lot of people who, when they make money, this space has not attracted the most ethical people. There are plenty of ethical folks, let's be absolutely clear about that. There's some great entrepreneurs in the space. But there's also, like any space, more so than other spaces a share of charlatans. There's a lot of things that you can just promote and market versus actually produce. It's a lot easier to describe a thing than make a thing. And in our supply chain, we found a lot of people who were very good at describing what they did and very bad at actually doing that thing. It was terribly risky.

So for instance, we source our oils from extractors. We run a big recall risk in terms of pesticides. Then that is part of the supply chain that we don't have a direct touch point to. And we found some suppliers, who were willing to go back to the cultivators for us, actually get all of the documentation around pesticide usage and testing and deliver that to us as a precondition for sale on the oils. That was a requirement on our part, we didn't understand why anybody would do otherwise and yet we lost some vendors because they just said, "We don't wanna take responsibility for that." Like, ensuring quality in the supply chain has been hard. And we've had to reach into places that we initially did not want to or didn't think we would have to. And we've done it because ensuring quality and consistency is the most important thing to our brand and to our growth as a company.

Matthew: And you mentioned that Stillwater products are available in Colorado, what are the expansion plans beyond Colorado?

Justin: Yeah, so Stillwater brands products are in 20, 25 dispensaries in Colorado right now. We also have brand...there are products out there that are powered by our ingredients in another 250 stores across the country outside of the state. We are not focused on state by state THC expansion. I think, I said that we see ourselves as a food company. Above that we actually see ourselves as a cannabinoid company, whether that comes from cannabis and THC or hemp and non-psychoactives, I am somewhat indifferent to in terms of which area we pursue most aggressively at any given point. The state by state THC expansion is an iffy strategy to me. The nature of being a product manufacturer is that you wanna get economies of scale. You can't get that with state by state supply chains.

You also can't ensure quality across 50 states when you don't have a single supplier to work from. If you have to work from 50 different suppliers, it becomes really, really difficult. So we're more focused on opportunities that offer a national footprint. So that's hemp, that's Canada, and Europe. We recently signed a deal with the Green Organic Dutchman to provide a ripple ingredient platform to them for their efforts in producing non-psychoactive infused foods and beverages in Canada and the EU, as well as Jamaica. So we see that as a much more interesting opportunity in the long term than simply going to another state. That said, California is kind of, you know, its country all of its own, so I think you'll see us there sometime next year.

Matthew: Was it difficult at all to get into your first dispensaries in terms of, you know, getting purchasing manager, dispensary owner, bud tenders excited about it? How did that process work?

Justin: You know, it was hard. We launched with a 2.5 milligram micro dose tea, again into an environment where the traditional product was 100 milligram brownie or chocolate bar. A lot of people looked at us and said, "Why the hell would I recommend it to a 2.5 milligram product? I take 300 milligrams for breakfast." And we had to explain to them, "That's great. This product isn't for you. And not everybody who walks into your store is like you. In fact there are many more people who are not like you than who are like you." And we found a couple of dispensaries early on, The Farm in Boulder was great partner for us who were really intrigued with the idea of offering a product that was for people who weren't already in the dispensaries and can broaden their consumer base. So it was a differentiated product, we had a unique form factor in the tea stick format, we had great flavor. We were one of the very first products that just didn't have a hash-y taste with it.

So we were offering a lot of interesting value propositions and nobody else was and for dispensaries that could get over the idea that not all products had to be 100 milligrams and max out the regulatory limits, I think we had a pretty clear path. Ripple also was just a really well executed product that was differentiated. You know, people had tried sugars or whatnot but not everybody wants to add sugar to their food. Ripple was just odorless, flavorless, water soluble THC that could be added to anything. That was unique and it was a really well executed form of that idea. I think time and time again, it really comes down to execution. Anybody can claim to do a lot of things. To actually put it on the shelf exactly as you described, that's what gets word of mouth going. And that's what gets organic growth going which is just super important in industry where there's not the ability to do traditional marketing. You need word of mouth so, and the only way to get word of mouth is to deliver on your brand promise.

Matthew: And how has Boulder been for you in terms of networking in the cannabis community, especially compared to New York City, which is like...I don't know, I can't even gather how many multiples sizes it would be, you know. Boulder's probably 200,000 or 300,000 and New York City is like 10 million.

Justin: I mean, Boulder is fantastic. I've been coming out to Colorado my whole life. My wife and I love it here. Our dog loves it here. We just had a kid here. It's got a fantastic food scene, especially on the startup side that dovetails really well with what we're doing. Like I said, we see ourselves as part of the food scene even as much, if not more so than the cannabis scene. I think there's good stuff going on in the cannabis community, I'm really proud to be a part of it. It's just a good state. The regulatory bodies are trying very hard and they're doing a good job. On the whole, I've been impressed with the improvement over time. I think altogether I wouldn't have wanted to start somewhere else.

Matthew: Okay. One more question about the, you know, working with entrepreneurs and the VCs experience. Did you notice any trends in entrepreneurs that were successful in raising capital and then also the ones that took that capital and then went on to success versus the ones that weren't able to raise capital or did raise it and weren't able to get traction?

Justin: I mean, the number one predictor of being able to raise capital is being a sociopath.

Matthew: Tell us more.

Justin: No, I mean, raising capital is a completely different thing from actually running a business. Raising capital is often highly correlated with extreme overconfidence, bold claims, and telling a great story. There's a quote somewhere that like, "Raising capital is investor story time." And that's true from the bulk of investors. So, I always want to be careful to distinguish between success as measured by raising capital and success as measured by creating a cash flow, positive, growing business with solid fundamentals. The former, I don't really know any like, business way to predict that. Raising capital is almost an independent variable compared to business execution. It's unfortunate in these days, but I do think it's pretty true.

That said, I think the quality that is most common amongst successful entrepreneurs or people who...and you can define that in any way, raising capital, having successful business, whatever it may be, is just being in the right market. Choosing the right market can heal almost all wounds. I think Mike Mobbison said, "If you're good poker player, your time is better spent finding bad poker players than becoming a great poker player." It's the same for markets. If you pick a rising tide, your boat's gonna rise. If you pick the best team, won't be able to succeed in a terrible market.

Matthew: Right. Good points. And now speaking of capital raising, where are you in the capital raising process and are you looking for accredited investors?

Justin: So we're doing a round right now, small round where we look at capital raising as, you know, a series of checkpoints with a defined goal and reason for raising the capital. Right now, we're raising enough money so that we can continue our growth plans and set ourselves up for the time when cannabis or hemp is legalized at the federal level. With McConnell's farm bill, we're hoping that if that comes across, then that will open up institutional capital. So we're not raising a huge amount of money, we're raising enough because we can't deploy a huge amount of capital. I think you can have to match the amount of capital you have to the environment you're operating in.

So we're doing that right now. I'm looking for sort of pseudo institutions or well-structured private equity firms that can help provide an on ramp to institutional investors in the next phase. And we are also talking to value added accredited investors, although we have a pretty high minimum at this point. We've got a pretty short cap table, it's a bunch of very smart guys who are like...oh, and women who I like a lot. And I like keeping it that way because good, close knit investors are the most important thing in the world, especially when you keep them well informed of what's going on.

Matthew: Okay. And any accredited investors that meet those filters, is there a way that they should reach out to you or just through the website or what's the best way?

Justin: I mean, they can email me at and I'd be happy to chat further.

Matthew: Okay. I'd like to ask a couple 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?

Justin: All right, so I'm gonna cheat a little here and give you three.

Matthew: All right, yeah. Let's do it.

Justin: So the first one, "Administrative Behavior" by Herbert Simon. So Herbert Simon, father of decision theory, organizational theory, cognitive science and also artificial intelligence. So a hell of a resume there. This book came out originally in the '40s. It's an examination of how organizational decision processes work. And it really helped me to learn to think of and frame my business as a series of decisions. And helps you to judge progress by the quality of information and the quality of the decision making progress as a process, as opposed to just big fluffy goals. Second one is, "Out of The Crisis" by Deming. So that was the book that really got me in on systems thinking, focusing on consistency as a platform for growth and just really essential-ness of coherence. And then a similar to that, "Good Strategy, Bad Strategy" by Richard Rumelt which in my view, was the best strategy book I've ever read. And that is just a real focus on coherence and direction. So you start out within the right direction, and you just keep learning and keep evolving, defining the problem set that you're facing with specificity. And ultimately, the better you understand the problem, and the better you understand how the problem applies, converts into money, the better chance you have for success as a business.

Matthew: Great recommendations. Your second book recommendation there of Deming, that was the gentleman, American gentleman that went over to Japan after World War II and kinda helped them get things going. And they kind of took his vision and applied it to their auto and manufacturing businesses. Is that right?

Justin: Yep. The Toyota production system is actually Deming. He was the first guy to think about quality as a form of consistency. And we take that, we have very much internalized his view of quality. We think of consistency. When like, all of our packets, our doses of ripple, each dose is plus or minus 2%. We don't go for 15% variance. Everything we do is with that tight level of precision, and that's how we define quality. It's setting a target and then hitting it exactly every time.

Matthew: Is there a tool web-based or otherwise that you consider vital to your business or team productivity you'd like to share?

Justin: Yeah, we're big fans of Google Apps Script. It's a platform that Google has, sort of a JavaScript platform for back-end scripting of all of their services. So you think of like, what VBA is to Excel, Google Apps Script is to all Google services. So we use it to hit the APIs of our various inventory management systems of the state database tracking, put all that data together into formats that are into spreadsheets and places that are easy for our staff to access and work with. It also does some workflow help for us, automates a bunch of things. We found it to really be the glue that holds the organization together.

Matthew: Wow, so just a reference, the VBA you're talking about is Visual Basic which is like, you're using a coding language to supplement Excel if some people do that, and you're doing the similar thing with Google Apps. And so are you pulling in data from third parties to make like, key performance indicator type dashboards and things like that or?

Justin: Exactly. We track everything very tightly. And we finally have enough data for that information to be meaningful. But we pull that all in from, you know, we've got our CRM, we've got the state metric database, which we were the first company to request access to their API, and it confused the hell out of them to be honest. Honestly, when I was a VC it was easier to get access to Twitter's fire hose than it was to get access to the metric API as a licensee. Then we have a couple other supplemental tools that are manufacturing tools and then an additional tracking tools for...because we track information about our cannabinoids over and above what the state requires. And the state database doesn't really handle that well so, we have a sidecar database. And we use Google Apps Script to bring all these things together and present them in a unified way. So we have a good sense of what's going on with our business on any given day.

Matthew: Okay that makes sense. Justin as we close, tell listeners how they can learn more about Stillwater and find you online.

Justin: Sure. So our address is That's

Matthew: Well, Justin, this has been a great interview. Thanks so much for coming on the show and telling us everything you're doing with Stillwater. Good luck with the brand...

Justin: Thank you.

Matthew: ...and keep us updated.

Justin: I will. Thanks so much.