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With extracted cannabis-derived products making up about 50 percent of all cannabis products sold, extraction equipment is in high demand. Here to tell us more is Nick Tennant of Precision Extraction.
Learn more at https://precisionextraction.com
[00:52] An inside look at Precision Extraction, the industry leader in cannabis extraction equipment, C1D1 lab planning, and extraction training
[1:40] Nick’s background in cannabis and what led him to start Precision Extraction
[4:28] Biomass and why it’s a critical component of cannabis extraction
[9:04] How Precision Extraction’s diverse line of equipment is designed to accommodate different production needs
[13:14] Shifting consumer trends in cannabis-derived products and how Precision Extraction’s clients are able to adapt more quickly
[22:34] Why Precision Extraction freezes biomass before the extraction process
[25:09] The most common mistakes Nick sees new business owners make when trying to develop cannabis-derived products
[27:32] How Precision Extraction’s premade C1D1 lab containers known as “Extraction Pods” are saving businesses time and money
[29:35] How Nick sees the cannabis extraction market evolving over the next 3-5 years
Matthew Kind: Hi, I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday, look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com. That's C-A-N-N-A-insider dot com. Now, here's your program. With extracted cannabis derive products making up about 50% of cannabis products sold, cannabis extraction equipment is in high demand. Here to tell us more about the state of cannabis extraction is Nick Tennant, CTO of Precision Extraction. Nick, welcome to CannaInsider.
Nick Tennant: Thanks for having me. Pleasure to be here.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Nick: Our headquarters is outside of Detroit Michigan, in a suburb called Troy and that's where I'm at.
Matthew: What is Precision Extraction on a high level?
Nick: Precision Extraction is the end-to-end solutions provider for anybody that's going to create any sort of extracted product. When we say end-to-end, we mean you can bring basically a piece of dirt to us, and we can outfit you with not only all of the engineering, all of the design, but we have partnered construction firms. Obviously, all of the equipment, the equipment setting, and integration of that equipment, the design of the lab in terms of workflow and efficiencies. Then ultimately, training the staff, getting the SOPs implemented, and assisting the client with bringing online a production facility that does exactly what they want.
Matthew: Nick, can you share a bit about your background and journey, and how you got into the cannabis space and started Precision Extraction?
Nick: Yes, absolutely. I've been in cannabis now for about 17 years. I was in it since 2006. I had some family that was in California and Colorado. I began traveling and meeting with them, and looking at the space. I've always been an entrepreneur. In 2008, Michigan passed their law for medical use. I was the 40th person to get licensed here in Michigan under medical use. We did a lot of different niches for the following five years after Michigan passed their law.
We've operated dispensaries, we've done a commercial grow, we've done analytical laboratory. Pretty much everything under the sun, you name it, I've operated in the space. About seven or eight years ago really started to saw the trend go towards extraction. Looked at the technology at the time, it was very primitive. Really tried to engineer a better mousetrap, so I taught myself how to engineer pressure vessels, and manufacture, and develop a global supply chain, so did all that. Went to market. First 90 days, did about a million dollars in sales, and the rest is history.
Now, Precision is the largest extraction equipment solutions provider in the world. We operate in-- Over 20 different countries, we've got installation, so we're a global company. Really have a footprint in terms of the best clients in the world meaning if you've heard about of a publicly-traded company, or a blue-chip cannabis MSO, they're likely our client.
Matthew: I'm not playing around with pressure vessels and the side here. You obviously have a background in like-- What is this metal fabrication? What do we even call this? I don't know.
Nick: Yes, so pressure vessel fabrication would be the proper terminology. It's regulated by something called the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, ASME. Similar to basically nuclear submarines, and pressure vessels for boilers, and things like that because you are using pressurized components to do what we're doing here in many instances. Yes, it's a combination of technology and manufacturing.
We always say that we're ultimately in the end. We're a cannabis technology company because the form of the equipment always follows the methodology and the process. What are we trying to do from a technological standpoint? How are we trying to isolate these high-value molecules from the cannabis plant? How can we do that in the most efficient, effective manner?
Matthew: One thing I want to talk about is biomass because it's a key variable that you hear tossed around a lot when you're discussing extraction. Can you just talk about why biomass is one of the critical variables when you're talking about extraction and what it means to you?
Nick: Yes. To be more politically correct, I'll say it's poop in, poop out. The term in the industry. The biomass is very important. When you think about what you're trying to do. The biomass is creating these molecules THC, CBD, the other cannabinoids, the terpenoids, and flavonoids, and things that you're trying to extract. Ultimately, you're trying to get the native essence of that plant.
Anything that's going to disturb that native essence is going to effect your ability to create a very good extraction or a very good extracted product. Some of these things can be environmental issues. Ultimately, all of these molecules, the cannabinoids and terpenes, and so forth, they can all oxidize. The more oxidation, the more degradation they have, the biomass has been sitting if it's been overdried if it's been exposed in too much heat. These are all things that degrade the natural essence of a plant.
Therefore, we need to be super conscious about how we're handling biomass. Also, super conscious about our practices for harvesting and preparing the biomass in order to prepare for the extraction.
Matthew: Now, some people consider different things part of biomass like the stems and so forth. What do you consider part of biomass and not part of biomass? At least in the cannabis industry.
Nick: Technically, biomass is a blanket term. It can be used interchangeably through many industries. It really depends. Typically, what we try to isolate our biomass to is the cannabinoid-rich areas of the plant. The cannabinoid-rich areas of the plant are the flowers, of course, and what we call the sugar leaves. The leaves that are directly adjacent or part of the flowers have a pretty high concentration of cannabinoids.
The rest of the plant really doesn't have a high concentration of cannabinoids. When we talk about the roots [unintelligible [00:06:45] the stems, what we call the fan leaves, those are kind of like the solar panels of the plant for it to photosynthesize. Generally, most of that is discarded. Now, in instances when there's high volume, for example, if there's acreage of cannabis or acreage of hemp, some of that stuff becomes combined harvested. The combine actually just mills everything together, and that leads to a much lower quality of biomass.
It leads to a much lower concentration of cannabinoids in the actual material. Ultimately, it leads to more work in extraction and generally a less pure-- Less artisanal product. To the prior point, the preparation in harvest, in how it's grown, how it's stored, how it's prepared in order to go into the extraction device is very important.
Matthew: There's really either cost on the front end or the back end, whether if you're using a combine to cut down on cost. On the back end, you don't have that surgical precision to pick out the parts of the plant that you want to gather.
Nick: Yes, that's exactly right. There's a lot of different ways to skin that cat whether you're using mechanical. Large scale people use just a large workforce. It's very laborious. We've got a technology that we've implemented which is a-- It's called a CryoCan system. That system actually uses liquid nitrogen in order to flash freeze and sublimate the water out of a freshly harvested plant. It also uses an agitation system to separate those cannabinoids and purify those cannabinoids into what we call a sift.
A sift is just really a purified pile of cannabinoids. It looks like sand almost. Where the trichome heads, they look like little mushroom heads coming off of the buds and sugar leaves of the plant. Plus trichome heads are snapped off due to low temperature and separated, which is a very, very efficient way to harvest, so that technology. Again, when I say that ultimately Precision is a technology company, these are the types of examples that can be had. The way that we think about how to isolate these molecules really drives the future of the innovation of the company.
Matthew: Can you give us a sense of how much cannabis biomass your extraction equipment can process in an hour? It seems like that's one of the first questions that comes up like, "If we're trying to fit into one of Precision Extraction's machines extraction equipment, then we need to know how much product you have going in and how much oil you want out." Give us an idea of your line up on a small end and then in a high end.
Nick: Yes, absolutely. Our smallest equipment starts about five pounds a run. A run typically taking 30 to 40 minutes. We like to say conservatively, it's around 40 pounds a day. We're not catering to home users. That's our lowest size of our commercial equipment. Just to give you an idea of scope on that. If somebody's using a hydrocarbon piece of equipment to make artisanal products, and they're processing 40 pounds a shift in an eight hour period, that could be something that's potentially $7 to $12 million a year revenue business.
Now, our equipment goes all the way up to 10,000 pounds+ a day in our industrial line of extractors which is our KPD series. That KPD series is, again, that's more think about combine, think about high volume, lower quality oil that needs to be refined and distilled, and so forth. Any range in between there, we can accommodate. Typically, at every processing throughput, Precision has a solution. Depending on what product you're going to make, our team and our specialists can absolutely consult and advise you on what combination of equipment's going to be most effective for your potential production and business plan.
Matthew: I noticed that there's this lingo in the industry. It makes sense just how we use horsepower for cars. We still use some legacy ideology with eight-hour shifts because that's how humans work. Are some of the machines you have now going to transcend this idea of working in eight-hour shifts where you can put all the biomass in one area and it gets processed for you over a greater or shorter period than eight hours?
Nick: Yes, absolutely. All of the machines are capable of running 24 hours. Let's start by putting context around that. It really depends on when you cross the inflection point. Really, at around 2,000 pounds a day, you start crossing an inflection point where it doesn't make sense to do batch processing anymore because of the overly burdensome labor costs.
What that translates to is more of an automated feed and automated discharge system like you see with our KPD series of extractors. These are typical to either large THC players that are consolidated and have a massive amount of greenhouse space or to the CBD players because the CBD players are really extracting a large amount of acreage.
With that in mind, you really can process 24 hours a day absolutely. With anything in a batch form, you have to have the human power really robust in order to meet those high throughput-processing demands in that short period of time with minimal downtime and with the automated system. Obviously, the machines do a lot more work for you. Extraction really is an art. It really is artisanal. You can think of it almost like cooking or making any artisanal product. Cannabis very much is an artisanal product itself. You can think of that like microbrews, you can think of that like artisanal wines.
A lot of this stuff, even as the industry grows, there's going to be a lot of small-batch production, and we see that obviously in our business. 2,000 pounds a day is a lot of biomass. Then, you can still do that on batch production. We call that high-volume batch production. It just gives an overview of the trend of the industry and throughputs and automation versus batch equipment and time frames for processing.
Matthew: You get the inside scoop from all these companies that are doing extraction for their business. They really tell you the truth because they need your solutions. They want to tell you exactly what they're doing. Without naming names, can you just give us an idea of what the trends are in terms of what manufacturers are making, the most popular products that they're using the extraction equipment for?
Nick: Yes, absolutely. A good way to really look at this too is what are the consumer trends? I think we talked about this a little bit before. Every state has its own micro-demographic, micro-economy, and micro-consumer trends. The patterns of production are a little bit different from state to state. One state may be more dominant on vape pens. One state may be more dominant on edibles that might be a particular sub-segment like gummies. We really see it all over the place. It's really a result of the level of maturity in the market. As consumers become more educated, they realize that there's a multitude of different ways to ingest cannabinoids.
As they understand that, they'll explore more products and gravitate towards perhaps newer, more innovative products. Most of those products, of course, come from extraction. What we see is we see a shift generally from flower consumption to extract consumption, the more mature a market gets. In terms of our clients, they have a different strategy on a state-by-state basis. Typically, what we're building is a very diversified lab where that lab has the capability to do pretty much every product whether that's distillate, whether that's isolate, vape pens, live resin, shatter, butter, wax, sauce, whether that's high-volume crude for resale and separate processing or Rick Simpson Oil.
Typically, what we see is these labs being extremely diverse and the ability to produce these products because the consumer trends do shift. What's hot today is not necessarily hot tomorrow. The market is extremely dynamic in that regard.
Matthew: I'm sure you get a lot of questions about whether hydrocarbon extraction, for example, using butane or propane is dangerous. When people ask that, how do you respond?
Nick: It's funny because a lot of competitors, they tend to mark it off of fear and things like that, especially the CO2 guys. I always ask myself a question, "If somebody's negative-selling, what does that say about their company, or what does that say about their technology?" When we think about hydrocarbon, hydrocarbon really is a technology that's been around for a very long time. On a day-to-day basis, you can't go a day without eating something that was extracted with hydrocarbon whether that's canola oil or soy-product derivative, or natural flavoring. Those are all extracted with hydrocarbon.
Hydrocarbon is flammable, of course, as is ethanol. The key thing to remember is we're working in a controlled environment. We're working with a piece of, no pun intended, Precision-engineered equipment. These are the same types of codes and regulation that you would operate in any controlled laboratory environment. You'd operate in any environment like an oil rig or refinery where you're dealing with things that are potentially flammable.
The same type of controls that you potentially put into anything where fuel is stored in terms of even your vehicle or a gas station. A gas station has controls in it for anti-static. It's a Class I, Division 2 area. Ultimately, these technologies are extremely safe. In our almost decade of operating history, we've never had a single client have any instance of accident. That just puts the context around, "It's a lot of fear-mongering."
The reality is hydrocarbon as a molecule, we think about it as this lock-and-key analogy. There's always going to be a perfect solvent for an individual molecule that we're trying to extract or we're trying to dissolve. These solvents vary in terms of, what we call, polarity, and they vary in terms of their chemical structure. What's important to understand is that hydrocarbon is almost the perfect chemical structure to extract cannabinoids and terpenes. It gives the most efficient, the most effective-- It picks up all the stuff that we want while leaving behind the cellular structure, the chlorophyll, the cellulose, the phospholipids, all the things that we don't want, that the hydrocarbon leaves behind. All the things that we do want, it brings to us.
Ultimately, that leaves us with a very, very, very high-quality extract in almost all circumstances relative to the other technologies in the market. Now, the other technologies are applicable. We sell ethanol equipment as well. Ethanol is less artisanal. It has more of a broad range of extraction. It does pick up quite a bit of chlorophyll. It does pick up waxes and fats. You have to run it very, very, very cold in order to be effective at any artisanal product. It's really good for high volume.
As we previously drove this conversation, it's an artisanal market. Ultimately, that translates into the majority of people using hydrocarbon equipment. It's ultimately why our flagship models have been so successful over the last seven years.
Matthew: It sounds like there's a lot of nuance there. It's not as simple as like, "Hey, CO2 or ethanol is better than butane or propane." There's trade-offs and nuance that you really have to dig deeper to uncover.
Nick: At the end of the day, it all goes back to your product strategy and your product plan, and your throughput. What are you trying to make, how much you're trying to make of a particular product, that's really what we do here at Precision. It's very much a consultative process when somebody buys equipment for us because there is nuances. It is a very technical sale. There is a lot that goes to standing up a production line to making these particular products.
Ultimately, it's what has given us a tremendous amount of success because it's not only myself that has been in the industry for the amount of time that I've been in it, but we've got a very experienced staff. I've personally handpicked most of our technical team over the last five years. They've grown with us and a lot of these guys have been in the industry for a decade-plus and running extractions.
We've got thousands of installations of our equipment. We've seen it all. We're consultants and advisors, as much as we are a company that's going to sell you something. We're always the company that's going to stand there, and make sure that you're meeting your production goals.
Matthew: Some of these multi-state operators or MSOs are raising a lot of money, they have a lot of capital, I'm sure they deploy a lot of it into high-end equipment with you. Do you have a recent install with an MSO that you can think of, and what kind of solution they put in?
Nick: Yes, I have many. Unfortunately, discussing the details of individual clients' MSOs, in particular, their production plan is just probably not the best thing for me to do. I think they'd get a little upset with me. If somebody is curious is listening to the podcast, we have a public disclosure memorandum or whatever you want to call it with this particular client. If you want to look at a Free As Diamond facility, they've put on a new facility, it was several 100 million dollar bills. They put a really diverse line of extraction equipment in there. While I don't think that anybody will be able to see the details in the public domain, they can see the facility. It gives you the type of idea and scope of infrastructure that's being built by these large companies.
If you think about the amount of revenue, just think about their amount of revenue, half of that revenue is coming from extracted products. If these companies are growing to multi-100 million dollar companies, and in some cases, I do believe that these companies will get well over a billion dollars in revenue as the market continues to grow. Just remember, half of that is coming from extracted products. Those extracted products all require a robust infrastructure in order to be created. That infrastructure is created by companies like Precision.
Matthew: Just a question about back to biomass here. I noticed on one of your extraction machines, there's an area that cools down the biomass before it goes into solvent. Can you talk about why that is and what happens if it doesn't get cooled down?
Nick: Yes, absolutely. It's a pretty common practice to freeze biomass and in some instances, deep freeze biomass prior to extracting. What we're really trying to do there, depending on what type of organic solvent we're using, the idea is to really freeze out the water especially with polar solvents like ethanol, you're going to pick up water out of the biomass. In many cases, the biomass that's fresh frozen, it's actually harvested while it's still alive. It's never dried.
If you think about a growing plant, this is how you make live resin. You actually harvest the plant while it's alive. It goes immediately into a vacuum-sealed deep freezer, and that could be anywhere between -10 to -40. In some cases, people are even freeze-drying. What that does is it doesn't allow any of that oxidation to take place with these cannabinoids. It's going to preserve all those terpenes, all those cannabinoids. There's going to be zero degradation.
If you think about it, almost like a banana. The longer you let a banana sit on the counter, the more that oxidative degradation process takes place and the more that the compounds are turned into glucose, the more it degrades, et cetera. The same principle happening with cannabis. Now when it's fresh frozen, you're preserving that. It's just like frozen fruit. You're putting it into the machine and ultimately extracting it in the same manner that would be if it was completely fresh.
It could be ostensibly sitting for 50, 60 to 100 days in the freezer vacuum-sealed, but it's going to give and yield the same result as if it was completely fresh. The other side of that is freezing it in order to bypass any sort of water. Any sort of polar solvent, ethanol, methanol, things like these, they're going to pick up water really, really easy. It's just the nature of the molecule. It likes to grab onto the water while hydrocarbon is more hydrophobic. Ethanol, methanol, and things like that are not. They tend to pick up water. If we keep it very, very cold, the water stays frozen and we can bypass that.
Matthew: Can you tell us some of the most common mistakes you see from business owners just getting into the space in terms of lack of understanding and what's needed and what they could do to get on the right track more firmly earlier on?
Nick: Absolutely. I think that probably the comments in the discussion and just the narrative that we've had thus far, I think it's starting to paint a picture that there is a lot of nuances. There is a lot that goes into this business in terms of extraction. I think that the number one mistake that people make is that they don't have somebody on their side that really knows what they're doing. Now, they hire somebody, and maybe that person knows what they're doing, maybe they don't. It's hard to find people that are really, really good in this industry.
The people that are really, really good, all have jobs at MSOs or the top tier talent always goes to the best places. Somebody that's starting out, their best bet is to find as good as talent as they can, but to really find somebody that knows what they're doing, somebody like at Precision, or hire a consultant that really has a strong history and reputation in the industry because there are so many pitfalls.
The second thing I would say is it's kind of common sense, but budget, making sure that the budget is accurate and planning accordingly. Then the third thing I would say is understanding your market. We talked about each state and each individual market being its own micro-economy and having individual consumer niches within each of these individual marketplaces. That's extremely, extremely important to understand because from day one, you're planning your production and sizing your equipment according to what you think you can sell, obviously. What product is your business going to make?
With that being said, it requires a substantial amount of due diligence. We see that a lot of people, they don't really understand their market as well as they should. We give them advice, of course, on what products to make, how to make them, and bring the production online in the proper manner, but really doing the due diligence around the consumer trends in your state, that's huge. Absolutely.
Matthew: What are your extraction pods? Can you talk about those a little bit? Who buys them and what are they for?
Nick: The extraction pod is a-- Think of it as a pre-made lab in a box. Ultimately, what it is, it's an ocean container that's been outfitted with all the appropriate controls, meaning ventilation, electrical, Class 1, Division 1 equipment placement, et cetera, that's pre-listed. What that translates to is no build-out in your facility. It's something that can be dropped on site and be used pending the approval of the municipality because it is a temporary structure.
It saves our clients from doing a very labor-intensive, robust build-out. Alternatively, if they are doing a build-out, this gives them the option to bring their facility online faster, so long as the municipality that they're operating in is okay with these types of structures being placed on the property.
Matthew: Is it also used as a supplement when they're between different sized extraction equipment, they say, "Okay, let's supplement with a pod until I get to a higher level, or is that not really the case?
Nick: Yes, it can be. A lot of people, they get into a facility, they're in there for two years, they need their production ramped up, their new facilities coming online, but they need excess capacity. Yes, they can bring that online. It's extremely universal. It's meant to be not necessarily an ad hoc solution because I don't really think that's the proper terminology, but it's supposed to be a quick response type of solution where it's saving the client 90, 120, 180 days, on going through permitting, going through build-out, going through plan comments, and all the stuff that it takes in order to build out one of these facilities and bring it online.
Matthew: Where do you see the extraction business changing and evolving in the next three to five years?
Nick: I think the big thing that's going to happen is we're going to get CGMP standards. CGMP means Current Good Manufacturing Practices. When we look at any nutraceutical or supplement or anything like that, all of the manufacturing of supplements in the United States is subject to FDA regulation. It's subject to CGMP standards. We're starting to see that inch into the edibles market in certain municipalities and we're starting to see that inch into the production of CBD-based products.
Ultimately what you're going to see is you're going to see blanket CGMP compliance across the entire cannabis space. We're obviously advising our clients that they need to prepare for that and build for that and plan for that. Our equipment is already CGMP certified. Certified is really not the right nomenclature. It's CGMP compliant or CGMP ready because the equipment is only one part of the GMP process.
You have quality management systems and personnel training and quarantine processes and facility cleanliness standards and all these sort of things that go into CGMP. In terms of where the industry's going, 100% that's where it's going on a compliance standpoint. On a standpoint of product, the industry is going to trend towards all these other minor cannabinoids. We really just know about a few of these cannabinoids, or I would say that the public domain knows about a handful of them, maybe they heard a CBD or CBG or CBN. Obviously, they've heard of THC. Maybe they've heard of Delta-8 THC, which is an isomer of Delta-9 THC or isomer of the acidic version of THC.
What most people don't know is there's over 100 of these cannabinoids in the plant and each of these cannabinoids has a unique molecular structure. Based upon the molecular structure of each of these cannabinoids, it binds to what's called your endocannabinoid system within your body. Your endocannabinoid system is an endogenous system that actually regulates many things within your body. For example, your sleep, your mood, your fight or flight response, your nervous system moving you out of parasympathetic into sympathetic nervous system activity in certain scenarios.
The bottom line, without going into all the robust medical details, is that these cannabinoids, the way that they interact with your body, they have tremendous, tremendous promise. We've seen that with CBN, with CBG, with CBC. We've seen it with CBD obviously. We've seen it with THC, but all of these have a little bit of a different effect. In some cases, they have a profoundly different effect. CBD doesn't get you high. THC gets you high. They all are going to have a very distinct and very robust therapeutic benefit. In a lot of cases, these will be made into products that are multi multi-billion dollar products. We've got 152 clinical trials going on right now with different cannabinoids.
We're really just beginning to scratch the surface of what we know is available and where this technology of isolating these molecules and using them to improve quality of life. We're just beginning to understand what we can do right now.
Matthew: Nick, I'd like to transition to some personal development questions to help listeners get a better sense of who you are. With that, is there a book that's had a big impact on your life or your way of thinking that you'd like to share?
Nick: Oh, many books. I'd read probably, I would say 50 books a year, usually about one a week. I think there's a few whether it's from an investment standpoint or a health standpoint but some of the ones that I really, really liked, I like Benjamin Graham's work. I think that it teaches you how to think about the fundamentals of business. From a business standpoint, I think it's a really good book from investing also, but thinking about the fundamentals of what creates a successful business. These guys have invested in businesses and created businesses and helped to advise the management of businesses for a very, very long time.
From a standpoint of business, I really like most of Benjamin Graham's work. From a health standpoint, I like Dr. Ben Lynch's work. He does a lot of work on the human genome. It's interesting because I had my genome mapped and a lot of other people have their genome mapped. You understand that you're a very unique individual. People push a certain diet or certain lifestyle or any number of these different things but ultimately the research shows that it's all genetically specific.
Some people can tolerate things while others can't. The more that you understand about your personal genome and the more that you understand about how to provide your body nutrition, I think that that gives you a tremendous leg up in whatever you want to do in life because everything on a molecular and cellular level in your body is operating in an optimal scenario. From a health standpoint, I really, really like that.
Matthew: Okay. I haven't heard of that one. What's the most interesting thing going on in your field besides what you're doing?
Nick: Again, I think the most interesting thing goes back to the cannabinoid research because we're a fraction of 1% into that. Ultimately, it's just an endless black hole of unknowns, but the little that we do know is so overwhelmingly positive for humanity, that it just becomes so exciting to be able to continue on that research. To be able to make money from that also it's amazing.
I'm super excited to see where the rest of the industry goes in terms of being able to, again, use these mystical compounds, if you will, within the cannabis plant to treat, cure and prevent human disease.
Matthew: Here's a Peter Thiel question for you. What's one thought that you have that most people would disagree with you on?
Nick: Oh, boy. I think I have a lot. In terms of a contrarian, I think that when you look at a particular situation or a particular person or a problem, you have to look at it holistically. I've always tried to do that. Well, not always, but in my more recent years, I try to look at it holistically. What are all the variables top to bottom end to end? To analyze anything like that gives you I think a greater benefit of your desired outcome. Whether that's hiring somebody within your organization, whether that's making a particular investment into a particular asset.
These are all kind of on the same theme, whether it's your personal health, looking at it holistically, and understanding the truth of whether it's the root cause or in some cases, it could be characterized as the fundamentals. It takes a deep level of analysis to do that. It's on the line of the thinking of a researcher or a technologist. Some people think that that's completely crazy but whenever I make big decisions, that's how I think about them anyways.
Matthew: Final question about Michigan. Obviously Detroit kind of got its lunch eaten when foreign auto manufacturers came in and displaced a lot of American jobs, but is there a Renaissance at all? Obviously, you're a specific example of using manufacturing skills and engineering skills and creating jobs there in Michigan. Apart from what you're doing, are you seeing a broader trend of retooling going on in Michigan?
Nick: Yes, particularly as it pertains to cannabis, I'd say Michigan's economy is generally in an uptrend. The way that people have perceived Detroit for a very long time is probably not what you would anticipate when you come here. When you come here, it's actually really nice. Everything's new, everything's clean. It's not the typical perception, I guess, is what I would say.
Now, cannabis in Michigan is actually booming. Some of the numbers out of BDS and these other publications are anticipating that the Michigan cannabis market is going to be upwards of a 3 billion dollar industry within the next few years here. It's ultimately translated into a lot of jobs being created and a lot of dollars being materialized into the economy here. I think that Michigan has a lot of resources, obviously in terms of engineering and so forth.
I don't know if that directly translates into cannabis specifically. I know that a lot of people from automotive have come into cannabis. The majority of our staff, our engineers, our project managers, and so forth and so on. A lot of them have come out of automotive. Automotive is still, obviously one of the dominant industry sectors here, but Michigan as a whole has diversified economically away from being pigeonholed into one industry also. I think, all in all, it's a positive trend for the state.
Matthew: Well, that's a great note to end on, Nick. As we close can you tell listeners how they can find out more about Precision Extraction and how to reach you or connect with you or salesperson or someone to learn more about your solutions?
Nick: Sure. Absolutely. They can find me on LinkedIn. Just type in my name Nick Tennant, Precision Extraction you'll find me. If you want to talk to anybody about our products or strategy regarding your extraction, we're happy to help. We're in Monday through Friday [9:00] to [5:00] and we've got a robust staff of extremely intelligent and experienced people that can help you out. Our website is precisionextraction.com. You can give us a ring at 855-420-0020.
Matthew: I love the 420 in there.
Nick: We always had to sneak that in. We got to remember our roots, right?
Matthew: Great. Well, Nick, best of luck to you. It sounds like you don't need any luck. Things are just blooming. Well done in creating your business and good luck in the rest of 2021.
Nick: Thank so much. It's been a pleasure speaking with you and I look forward to doing it again.
Matthew: If you enjoy the show today please consider leaving us review on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guest to you. Learn more at cannainsider.com forward/iTunes. What are the five disrupted trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at cannainsider.com forward/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on CannaInsider? Simply send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear from you.
Please do not take any information for CannaInsider or discuss as medical advice. Contact your licensed physician before taking cannabis or using it for medical treatments. Promotional consideration may be provided by select guests, advertised [unintelligible [00:42:10] companies featured the cannabis [unintelligible [00:42:12].
Lastly, the host or guest on CannaInsider may or may not invest in the companies or entrepreneurs profiled on the show. Please consult your licensed financial adviser before making any investment decisions. Final disclosure to see if you're still paying attention. This little whistle jingle you're listening to will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Thanks for listening and look for another CannaInsider episode soon. Take care. Bye-bye.
[00:42:47] [END OF AUDIO]
The Congo Club is one of the only places that carry the Red Congolese, an heirloom strain of cannabis that provides an electrifying, thought-provoking, and optimistic high. Here to tell us more about it is Amber Senter, founder of The Congo Club, Breeze Distro, and EquityWorks! Incubator.
Learn more at https://www.breezedistro.com
[1:11] An inside look at The Congo Club and Breeze Distro, a distributor of high-quality cannabis products in California
[2:31] Amber’s background and how she got into the cannabis space
[5:18] Unique characteristics of the Red Congolese strain and why it’s gained so much popularity
[11:04] Why California’s regulated market is struggling to compete with the unregulated market and what it will take to change that
[15:04] Amber’s latest venture EquityWorks! Incubator, one of Oakland’s first publicly-funded social equity manufacturing facilities
[19:23] The many different cannabis licenses required in California and the challenges they pose to everyone from cultivators to distributors
[25:40] How Amber sees the California cannabis landscape evolving over the next 3-5 years
Matthew Kind: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday, look for a fresh new episode where I take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly-evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com. That’s C-A-N-N-A insider dot com. Now, here’s your program.
Today, we’re going to hear from Amber Senter, founder of the Congo Club. The Congo Club is one of the few places that carry the Red Congolese. An heirloom strain of cannabis which provides an electrifying thought-provoking and optimistic high. We’re going to hear more about that and also what Amber is doing with Breeze Distro, a distributor of high-quality cannabis products. Amber, welcome to CannaInsider.
Amber Senter: Thanks for having me today, really excited about our conversation.
Matthew: Me too. Give us a sense of geography, where are you sitting today?
Amber: I am in Oakland, California right now. A bit chilly than it usually is, it’s 48 degrees.
Matthew: That is pretty chilly.
Amber: Yes. It’s 35 this morning when I woke up, like, “Oh my gosh, this is not what I moved to California for.”
Matthew: Tell us what is the Congo Club and Breeze Distro.
Amber: The Congo Club is a cannabis brand, a brand of African land raised sativa genetics. We’re dedicated to really bring in some of the highest-quality African cultivars that we find as well as crosses that we make. Really bringing those, as you mentioned the electrifying type of sativas to the market which there’s a gap because people don’t really want to dedicate that all that time that goes into growing sativas. That’s what we do with the Congo Club and Breeze Distro.
Breeze is about creating an inclusive supply chain for black and brown cannabis brands. We source the highest quality, really black and brown cannabis brands and products throughout the state and make sure that they have visibility on retail shelves.
Matthew: Can you share a little bit about your background and journey and how you got into the cannabis space and started the Congo Club and Breeze Distro?
Amber: Yes, sure. I moved to California from Chicago in February of 2014. Moved out here and got a job working for an edibles company. I moved here because I was suffering from lupus. Those winters in California are extremely harsh. [crosstalk]
Matthew: You mean the winters in Chicago are harsh.
Amber: Yes, in Chicago, that’ what I meant. We were experiencing one of those polar vortex winters where it was like-- [laughs] [crosstalk]
Matthew: Oh my God. That sounds like something that’s made up in a comic book movie or something.
Amber: Right, The Day After Tomorrow type of stuff. That winter, we had wind chills of 40, 50 below zero and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I moved to California, I got a job working as a sales and marketing director for an edibles company. Really, worked very hard. At the time, when I was brought on, we had four accounts and by the time I left, we had over 50 accounts. Really hustled throughout the state to expand our business, but at the same time, I was also really building up my network. That’s how I got to meet so many people in cannabis.
Really since then, I’ve just been hustling, working. I had a job working for a consulting company, writing, winning applications for different groups really throughout the United States. Also, worked for a little while at a West Oakland Dispensary as a COO for a couple of years and got my experience and running multi-million dollar retail operation.
From there, my experience really at the dispensary taught me a lot about customers and customer trends, products and really what products do well in the dispensaries and what people are looking for. After I left the dispensary, I started Breeze, manufacturing products, making products and distributing them.
Matthew: What do you think it is about this particular strain with the Congo Club? We talked about it being electrifying, thought-provoking, optimistic high, but what is it that’s really captured people’s imagination?
Amber: It’s a unique strain, it’s spicy, it’s cheesy, it’s very clear-headed kind of high, but at the same time, there’s no paranoia. People really like that. Some folks love Jack Herer’s and Trainwreck’s and those type of cultivars, but those tend to really get your heart rate going, maybe give you heart palpitations. I know it does that for me. I’m very sensitive to cultivars and things like that, any kind of stimulant whatsoever. I can’t even drink coffee. I would really love to enjoy the buzz and the kick that you get from those kinds of things.
That’s really what’s very unique about the Red Congo is that you get that energetic feeling without the jitteriness and the heart palpitations. That’s really due to the myrcene content.
Matthew: Talk about the myrcene a little bit. Could you just mention what myrcene is first?
Amber: Yes, sure. It’s a terpene that’s found in cannabis, a number of different cannabis strains, primarily found in indica-dominant strains or strains that are really relaxing. It’s more of a sedative type of property that’s found in cannabis. It’s found in a number of different plants, thyme, mangoes, lemongrass, but also, found in a number of cannabis strains, Granddaddy Purp, Blue Dream, OG Kush also has a pretty high myrcene content, not very common that it’s found in sativa type of strains.
Matthew: It’s really calming, it really tempers that paranoia and heart palpitations, which who doesn’t want that on a Saturday night, extreme paranoia and heart palpitations.
Just heavy myrcene and that tempers that and offsets it so you get a more pleasant high without those things?
Matthew: I’m always curious how people get their product into dispensaries the first time and then how do they grow the network of dispensaries that will create demand for your brand?
Amber: That wasn’t the easiest thing. It’s also a very big challenge for really black and brown brands to get shelf space. We just don’t really have the networks a lot of time, the connections, and can’t make that connection to get on the shelves. We got out first big break with the Congo Club through Harborside. Harborside has carried the Red Congolese for a very long time. They actually worked with our cultivator.
Once our cultivator got licensed, he was really trying to figure out his way and just wanted to focus on growing. We partnered up. He’d known me before, I had helped him with a previous brand that he was associated with. We were really looking to continue to build a relationship together.
I had an idea of creating a brand that centered African genetics and African cultivars and he loved the idea. We partnered up together and we approached Harborside, had a meeting, let them know what we were up to and what this new brand, what’s focus and represented and they loved it. They brought it on and they’ve really been in our corner ever since then.
The market share and visibility that we got from Harborside, just really reverberated across the California cannabis scene to other places. Now we’re in a serious demand really across the state. Harborside was really where we got our first big jump off.
Matthew: It’s the sales and marketing background that you had when you first came to California. It sounds like you leverage that skillset to get meetings and things like that.
Amber: Absolutely, definitely.
Matthew: I think people underestimate the midwestern hustle. I’ve got the midwestern hustle too, where we’re like, silently just going at it and it’s underestimated, I think.
Amber: You’re absolutely right. We have a very, very strong work ethic in the midwest. Very blue collar, just get it done. I definitely applied that out here.
Matthew: [laughs] That’s great. With a large unregulated market side by side, with the regulated and tax market, I know different communities are being served here, but how does that when you have that lens on, you’re looking at the landscape of California’s cannabis market, and you’re saying, “Hey, there’s an unregulated market,” and they don’t get taxed. They don’t have the same regulations. They don’t have all these lab tests. They have to pass all these things. Then I’m involved in the regulated taxed market.
Do you just accept it or are you looking for ways to get the Sacramento to be more adaptive and how they deal with the regulated market? What are your general thoughts here?
Amber: It would be great if we had less taxes, obviously, taxes are killing regulated operators. It’s quite extremely burdensome, really hard to navigate, really hard to deal with. Especially here in Oakland, we have some of the highest cannabis tax rates in the state, if not the highest, I believe we are actually the highest at 10%, which is unbelievable for a city tax on top of all the other taxes.
We’ve been working really hard to advocate for lower taxes at both the city level and at the state level. We were successful at the city level here. The tax rate has been lowered and will continue to go lower over the next couple of years from 10% down to-- It’s all dependent on revenue and also your status if you’re an equity operator or not. Equity operators pay as little as 0.12% city tax. If they generate that. [crosstalk]
Matthew: What’s that? Because I don’t know what an equity operator is.
Amber: Oh, yes. Social equity programs were designed to lower barriers of entry for communities that have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. There’s parameters that you have to qualify for in order to qualify for this program.
When you do there’s a number of different incentives and different types of breaks and programs that you’re able to be involved in. One is a special tax program for social equity operators here in Oakland, where if they generate 1.5 million in revenue or less, they’re put in a special tax bracket of 0.12%, which is quite different from 10%. It’s there to help people create a sustainable business, give them some runway to allow them to get on their feet and generate some revenue.
These types of programs or actually what would be quite helpful in helping folks transition from the unregulated market to the regulated market. A lot of the unregulated operators and traditional market operators don’t want to cross over because of the taxes. I can’t say that I blame them because taxes make it really hard to run a sustainable business. I think the state looking at programs like that, which Oakland has implemented would be the way to go about it versus enforcement. We can’t do enforcement, we’ve got to figure out pathways in which to get folks licensed.
Matthew: Amber, can you talk a little bit about what you’re doing with EquityWorks! Incubator? What that is and what you have going on there?
Amber: Yes, sure. EquityWorks! Incubator is a publicly funded, shared social equity of manufacturing facility located here in Oakland. It is a first of its kind in the country. What we do is we help social equity operators. We currently have six in the incubator, we help them create products really that makes sense for the market, for the cannabis market.
We’re doing things like analyzing data, we’re helping folks come up with formulations, helping them do R&D, we’re helping them look at branding, helping them create and build their brand and create a brand story. Then, me, as a distributor, we’re distributing it to retailers throughout the state here. It’s really very much a mentorship program helping people from concept to the shelf.
Matthew: That is super helpful. You said there’s six startups in there right now?
Matthew: I can imagine, just getting some words of wisdom like, “This doesn’t work and this does work.” [laughs] You just don’t know when you’re getting started and it’s like, “Yes, I’ll tell you why.” It was like, “Wow, that just saved me months of banging my head against the wall.”
Amber: Especially as a manufacturer, getting into these products and making a product that might be off compliance wise or the dosing is not right, the formulations not right, that’s costly. Not only is it costing you money by going and getting these things tested, but it’s costing you time. I’m really happy that we’re able to assist operators like this really, just bringing in our knowledge, our backgrounds, our experience, and helping folks mitigate some of these pitfalls.
Matthew: You make introductions then for distribution and imagine these alumni, once they’re alumni will probably help each other too.
Amber: That is the goal. Once you make it, you reach back and you help others that were in the position that you were in. We definitely not just make introductions, we’re actually distributing these products, and we’re doing it to some of the largest retailers in the state, MedMen, East, Harborside really the big guys.
Matthew: Wow, that’s great. Of the six startups, how does it break down and what they’re interested in making specifically product wise? Are they still working that out?
Amber: Yes, they’re still working it out, but a lot of them have their concepts created and it’s been really exciting to be a part and watch and give feedback. We’ve got folks, making gummies and really also bringing in their cultural backgrounds, influencing the flavor profiles of products, and really also even the choices of the products.
We’ve got some folks making gummies, we’ve got some folks making tinctures, some interesting topicals too. One of our manufacturers is making a hair oil, but very specific to course hair. Black hair certain Afro-Latina hair, so really, really interesting stuff coming out of there. I’m really excited to see what else folks come up with, someone’s got hibiscus type of lemonade. Really exciting things coming out.
Matthew: There’s a lot of different kinds of licenses in California. People in California are familiar with it, but can you just go through a few of the licenses of the big kinds, because it’s quite a few compared to other States anyway?
Amber: Yes. Let’s see, you’ve got a number of different cultivation licenses. There’s indoor cultivation, there’s outdoor cultivation. There’s even mixed-like cultivation, greenhouse cultivation. All the different types of cultivation licenses.
Then you’ve got your distributor licenses, which there’s even different kinds there. There’s a transport only license where you just literally logistics and moving things around the supply chain by transport.
There’s the overall arching distribution license where you can distribute your own products, and other people’s products and actually take them to the retailer. You also serve as quality assurance by being the one that’s in charge of collecting the taxes and testing. I feel a lot of liability falls on distributors.
Then there is the self-distribution license. Then there’s a few different types of processing or we call it here manufacturing licenses, there is a type six license, which is nonvolatile. There is a type seven which is volatile. Then there are a few others that are very specific, there is a packaging license, there is an infusion license. Really, really interesting there. Then, of course, you’ve got your testing license, and then your retail licenses, which there is a few categories there. You have storefront and your non-store front which would be delivery licenses.
Matthew: What do you think, here, some of these be consolidated or do you think it’s helpful having it fragmented like this?
Amber: Tricky question. I was operational prior to legalization. I was a manufacturer that self-distributed my own products. Since legalization I’ve had to-- obviously, I’m a manufacturer, but then now I’ve taken it a step further and had to get my distribution license. I did like the way it was before, where manufacturers and cultivators could go straight to retailers to sell products, and really just do business however they wanted.
Now with the framework, it does make it a lot more costly, because now not only do we have the taxes and everything to deal with, we’ve got all these licensing fees, and different licenses that we have to have. Then, of course, the cost of compliance around each of these licenses. It’s made it quite burdensome with all these different license types, and the hoops that we have to jump through to stay compliant.
Matthew: In California right now, there’s roll-up of the industry. There is a lot of mergers and acquisitions going on, what do you think about that? Can social equity companies participate in that?
Amber: M&A activity is high right now, all over the industry, especially here in California. The cost of compliance has been a lot and people are seeing this looming hopefully the scheduling that’s going to be happening in the next few years. Folks are starting to prepare for that, and kind of coming together like Voltron. [laughs] It is one of the ways in which to really get a leg up on the flood of capital that’s going to happen when some descheduling happens.
I think the mergers and acquisitions are great. They make a lot of sense. I’m really glad to see people coming together because they’re realizing that they can’t get as big as they want to on their own, and they’ve got to consolidate in order to really have a presence, and make an impact, and gain market share.
There is a group that’s being left out, and that is social equity operators. It’s a huge problem because we’re seeing all these companies around us being able to come together and form much bigger entities, whereas, the social equity operators are forced to stay small. Really, how can they compete against companies that are merging when they don’t have that option? That’s something really that the regulators are going to have to fix as quickly as possible.
Matthew: Are they getting feedback on that or they’re not in touch with it?
Amber: Yes, we’ve been giving them quite a bit of feedback, but really, we’ve been giving them feedback since they came out with the rules and regulations around which ownership is defined in social equity businesses. This has been a looming problem, and now that the M&A activity is really up it’s becoming amplified.
A lot of these smaller operators-- that’s what you do, you come together so you can be bigger. The fact that that’s being blocked because the definition of a social equity business is compromised at that point, it’s just not okay. It’s really limiting the ability of these businesses to grow.
Matthew: Nos, how do you see the California cannabis landscape changing in the next three to five years?
Amber: It’s a great question. I see the M&A activity continuing. I see a flood of capital coming in hopefully from descheduling.
I see if interstate commerce becomes a thing which hopefully it will. I see California cannabis being king as it has been, and will continue to be. California being, which it already is this jewel in the United States, but that just being amplified with interstate commerce.
I’m really excited to see what’s in store for California. We continue to be trendsetters here with products and infusion techniques, and all these things. I see us continuing to be that leader, and not just in the United States but in the world, and very excited to see what’s to come here in the cannabis scene in the next five years.
Matthew: Me too. Amber, I want to move to some personal development questions, to help our listeners get a better sense of who you are personally. Is there a book that’s had a big impact on your life or your way of thinking that you would like to share?
Amber: Definitely, I don’t get a whole lot of time to read for pleasure I should say. A lot of my reading is professional development, personal development. I went to school to be a meteorologist. I went to school for physics. Now, I’m business role and [laughs] I really needed to step my game up there.
I read a book called The Personal MBA. It’s lengthy but so worth it. I read it several years ago, five, six years ago. This book helped me out tremendously on the business side of things, and really helped me with my crash course in business school, navigating running a business in cannabis.
Matthew: What do you think the most interesting thing going on the cannabis field apart from what you’re doing?
Amber: Social equity programs have been really fascinating. I’m so glad that it’s a topic of conversation because it deserves to be. We have to give opportunities to those that came before us and really paved the way for this to be an industry as it is today. I really appreciate what has happened around that. Also, I’m really fascinated about beverages, in the beverage category. I was always very skeptical being an operator that operated since 2015, 2014. I’ve always really been like, “Oh, drinks, no, I don’t know about that.”
Really the technology around it, the bioavailability that they have been able to really create with an absorption rates with beverages and edibles even has been so interesting, where we can really now create these fast onsets, instead of waiting an hour for an edible to kick in, it kicks-in, in 15 minutes. The [unintelligible [00:29:55] is short-lived but strong.
This has been fascinating to me. I’m really, really excited to see how far the envelope gets pushed there. How much they can tweak it? Very exciting to me.
Matthew: In fact, it was the drink manufacturer that introduced us, Luke, from Cann. [crosstalk] Those are very popular, Luke. Well done if you’re listening.
Amber: I love Luke. Luke is an incredible human being and a really awesome person and he’s made an amazing beverage and its awesome branding. I just love it. Everything about it.
Matthew: Luke, you can just record that and put it on loop, whenever you’re feeling down.
Amber, what one song immediately comes to mind that makes you sing along as soon as you hear it?
Amber: This was a funny question. Most of the music I listen to is rap. Lots of rap and hip-hop, so very much not safe for work. [laughs] That’s my answer. A lot of the music that I love, not safe for work, but one of my favorite artists did win a Grammy on Sunday night, Megan Thee Stallion. [laughs]
Matthew: Amber, as we close, can you tell listeners how they can follow you and connect online and learn about all the different businesses and projects you’re a part of?
Amber: Yes, definitely. You can actually go to my website, amberesenter.com. You can find Breeze Distro on the web as well at breezedistro.com. You can find us on Instagram as well or look me up on LinkedIn.
Matthew: Amber, best of luck to you. You got a lot of exciting things going on and I hope we can check in again soon.
Amber: Yes. Thank you so much, Matt. Thanks for having me on today. I really enjoyed this conversation.
Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five-star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at cannainsider.com/iTunes.
What are the five disruptive trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on CannaInsider. Simply send us an email at feedback at cannainsider.com.
We’d love to hear from you. Please do not take any information from CannaInsider or its guests as medical advice. Contact your licensed physician before taking cannabis for using it for medical treatments. Promotional consideration may be provided by selected guests, advertisers, or companies featured in CannaInsider.
Lastly, the host or guests on CannaInsider may or may not invest in the companies, entrepreneurs profiled on the show. Please consult your licensed financial advisor before making any investment decisions.
Final disclosure to see if you’re still paying attention. This little whistle jingle you’re listening to will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Thanks for listening and look for another CannaInsider episode soon. Take care, bye-bye.
[00:33:35] [END OF AUDIO]
If you have a business serving cannabis growers, it can be hard to get funding. Here to walk us through her nontraditional path to funding is Liz Wald of Good Earth Organics.
Learn more at goodearthorganics.com
[00:46] An inside look at Good Earth Organics, one of the nation’s leading organic soil brands
[1:05] Liz’s background and how she got into the cannabis space
[2:33] What today’s cannabis cultivators are looking for when purchasing soil
[7:59] Difficulties in shipping soil across the country and how Good Earth Organics is working to minimize these challenges
[12:15] Good Earth Organics’ history serving cannabis growers and why the company is the go-to choice for so many cultivators
[15:22] Lessons Liz learned during her time working for IndieGoGo and her advice to those interested in crowd-funding
[24:21] How Good Earth Organics is raising capital through crowd-funding for both product development and national expansion
[25:49] How inflation is affecting cannabis and why Liz believes “the upside opportunity is 10x the expected increase in cost”
Matthew Kind: Hi, I'm Matt Kind. Every Monday, look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com, that's C-A-N-N-A insider dot com. Now, here's your program. If your business is serving customers that are cannabis growers, it can be hard to get funding. Today's guest, Liz Wald of Good Earth Organics is going to walk us through her non-traditional path towards funding. Liz, welcome to CannaInsider.
Liz Wald: Thank you so much. Great to be here.
Matt: Give us a sense of geography, where in the world today?
Liz: I'm in beautiful Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Matt: Okay, what a lovely place. What is Good Earth Organics on a high level?
Liz: Good Earth Organics is a manufacturer and distributor of premium certified organic soil and soil amendments, which are nutrients that you can add to the soil, that are optimized for cannabis growth.
Matt: Okay. Liz, can you share a bit about your background journey and how you got into the cannabis space into Good Earth Organics?
Liz: Yes, sure. My career really has been in the e-commerce and internet space for about 25 years. I was really fortunate in my timing. I got out of business school in 1995, and this whole idea of e-commerce and the internet was just starting to come to life. I decided to join this little company called AOL at the time, actually a consulting firm working for AOL but they were so small, it was, we might as well have been employees back. I just loved being part of an emerging industry.
I went on to be at places like Etsy, and then Indiegogo, and after about 25 years of participating in this, in this world, I thought, "What is-- What can I do next that's also emerging and growing and exciting and new, and really disrupting things?" Cannabis obviously popped right up, especially as someone who generally lives in New York where the East Coast is just starting to see cannabis come to life now. I saw, "Wow, this is emerging just like the internet and e-commerce world was emerging in the '90s."
Matt: Yes. What's the process when people are buying soils? I mean, your target customer, what are they thinking about? What's going through their head when they're evaluating, "Hey, should I get this soil or that soil?" Can you walk us through that?
Liz: Sure. We sell two major types of customers. One are the very large cultivators, the big growers, and then we also sell to the home growers. The big growers, they're really thinking about two things. One is the quality of their crop, is it a high-yielding crop? What they're trying to achieve at a THC level or CBD level or combination or whatever it is. Are they going to get what they need from the inputs that they're using? That's one thing they think about.
The other thing they think about is, "Are we going to pass all the state and local tests that we're going to have to pass in order to sell this crop?" If you grow this amazing crop and then you take it to be tested, and you fail because of contaminants, that's a disaster. Those two factors, is it going to be a great product, is it going to pass all the tests, are major considerations for a serious cultivator. They really think about plants are a little bit like people, you are what you eat. Whatever you put into the ground is going into the plant, and so that's a big consideration for them.
For the home grower, I think they're thinking about, depending on how sophisticated they are, its like, "I want a really good quality soil, and I want to see this thing grow but I probably don't want to have to do a huge amount of work. I want to water it, I want to check on it, but can I buy something that's going to create this great product, but also be pretty simple to use?"
Matt: There's a more sophisticated buyer, now they're thinking a lot a lot about the benefits of the soil and all these other considerations. Where do you see that going? Where are we going to be in three to five years from now in terms of soils and what they can do and what people will be thinking about when before purchasing?
Liz: Well, I think like many crises, lots of innovation comes out of it. I think with this pandemic that we've all been living through for the last year, people have thought a lot about the products that they buy and the things that they eat and the recreation that they do, and things like organic gardening have not seen a boom like this since World War II. We've got lots of people just really paying attention now, now that they have time to do so, of what's going into their food.
Likewise, in the cannabis industry, we've got people becoming much more sophisticated in what they're able to produce and regulators becoming much more sophisticated in testing what's in that product. Everybody's concerned about having consistency and safety. I think we're going to just see increases in all of these trends, more natural and organic products, much more of back to this earth feeling that individual consumers have been doing over the last year. The organic, certified organic products that have pesticides that are made from natural ingredients as opposed to chemicals are the kinds of things that are only going to increase in both supply as well as demand.
Matt: Yes. What's the breakdown of bagged soil purchases versus let's say a truck delivery or some other way?
Liz: Sure. Good Earth Organics is based in this beautiful part of Southern Oregon, pretty close to the California border. This area is really thought of as the emerald triangle or as I like to say the Napa Valley of weed because people get that analogy. We've been there for about 12 years selling to cultivators who are growing large-- Have large businesses growing outdoor. Those customers come to us and buy big truckloads of soil or have us delivered these huge totes that weigh 600 pounds or 1,000 pounds of soil because they have just large volumes. We also bag our soil and sell that to people who just need a couple of bags of soil or maybe a pallet of soil.
Traditionally, the bulk of our business has been in this larger format trucks, totes bulk soil. As we build our company and look to expand to markets throughout the entire US, we are doing a lot more business in our bagged soil and creating a brand around it, just really building that Good Earth Organics brand. We're also selling online and so we, from either our own website or Amazon, people come on and buy bagged soil from a consumer standpoint. I think we'll see a much bigger or a much more of a balance between the bulk and the bag as we grow and more consumers are interested in filling their back gardens as well as these home growers.
Matt: Okay. It's a difficult thing to move around and ship and do that sort of thing. How do you think about that? Like, "Hey, I want to reach customers with bags, I want to deliver with trucks," you mentioned pallets. It's a heavy thing to ship so how does that all work?
Liz: Yes, it is a little bit heavy to ship. It's not hard to ship because it's soil. It doesn't break or anything like that, but it is heavy and that's one of the main reasons we're looking at geographic expansion. One of the first markets that we've been to and that we've been selling in for the last about year is Oklahoma. I know you've had guests on your show talking about what's happening in these states that are really burgeoning, and Oklahoma has something like 6,000 licensed growers and they are all really new to growing cannabis. They've only been doing it for a year or two. They really appreciate the education that comes from a company that's been doing this for a long time.
With that market, we've been bagging up our soil, putting it on pallets, and trucking it to Oklahoma. Our goal is to really have a soil yard in Oklahoma, be able to serve that market directly, not have to ship you know truckloads of soil halfway across the country, and then be able to reach the southeastern part of the US from that location as well. Ultimately, we would like to truck less and build more locally. In a perfect world, we'd have maybe five or six regional areas where we're producing soil from, and then be able to build from there.
Matt: They probably get a lot of people from Texas coming up to Oklahoma, I imagine.
Liz: They sure do. Texas, I was looking at the map the other day. I think there's now 38 states that have some form of legalization passed and every single bordering state around Texas has a legal market, every single one. I think the pressure is on the Lone Star State to come over to the green side as it were.
Matt: I didn't ask but when I was younger, I read a book called The Good Earth by Pearl Buck.
Liz: Oh, that was an excellent book.
Matt: Yes, it really was an excellent book. There's a few that I read that long ago that leave a lasting impact like that, but is that where the name of the company comes from, Good Earth?
Liz: I'd love to say yes but I don't know that that is true. The company was started by a former chemist, someone who was in his '60s at the time. He was retiring from being a chemist and was living in Cave Junction in this area where our soil yard is today. He just believed so much in using natural and organic things to grow.
Because he was a chemist, he really understood both the needs of the plants from a nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus standpoint as well as how you could create the balance in the soil you need from ingredients like seabird guano, or bat guano, or earthworms, or coco coir , or all the things that go into our soil. There's actually no dirt in any of this soil. It's not like someone's going into the backyard, digging it up and putting it in a bag. It's all made from natural, organic ingredients, that are blended together to get this right chemical balance.
For him, the idea of 'good earth' was super important. This earth should be good, you could literally eat it. It wouldn't taste great but it's not going to hurt you. Then of course organics, our whole focus is on being certified organic products so that you know everything in there that's going to go into your plant is okay to go into you as well. It's not going to be synthetic, pesticides and chemicals and contaminants and all that stuff. To me, I think that's probably where it came from, but the next time I talked to Roy, I'll have to ask him for the specific story.
Matt: There's a handful of soil companies I can think of. How do you stand out? Because you know that your customers are evaluating much. They go to Good Earth, they go to this other one. It's like you want to be top of mind and you also want to fill their exact needs. How do you make sure you have this unique selling proposition for your prospect?
Liz: It's a good question. I think the way I think about it is you have to have a very consistent and a product that they can trust over and over, but you can't just tell people, "Trust us." The fact that we have 12 years of growing experience with cannabis growers, who come to us year after year, give us input, ask for different types of, "Hey, I'm looking for this kind of result. What would you recommend? Could we try and blending these two or three things together?"
We've had so much time working directly with folks like that that when we go into a new market, we can say, "Hey, you know what? We make this great soil but your market here, you guys really are going to need to grow indoors because there's too much humidity or your soil, the groundwater isn't going to work for you," whatever it might be. Then, we can say to them, "Hey, we've got this range of products. We have these soils. We also have all these amendments and we can really help you dial in what you actually need."
I think that capability is something that's really hard for another company just snap their fingers and replicate. To me, it's about education, it's about quality inputs, but it's also about really having a relationship with the customer and knowing that they can give us a feedback and that we'll be able to respond to that in some positive way.
Matt: I'm sure repeat buyers is a good indicator in terms of how loyal they are to your brand. Is that something you look at?
Liz: Totally. The people who've been purchasing from us for a long time in Southern Oregon, they've been great. They've done some videos for us and they get really excited talking about the soil. We don't really have to write a script or anything. We're just like, "Tell us about this," or like, "It's amazing. I just put it in the ground and we get these awesome plants." It's really fun to hear this because you know that they mean it and that they were using it year after year after year.
Many of them, these large cannabis cultivators, they also have gardens and orchards and other things, and they're using the soil for all of that as well. They truly appreciate it. We've got this one video up on our website of a woman named Joy who's holding this radish that looks like an apple. It's huge. She's like, "I grew this in Gaia's Gift and it tastes amazing. It's crunchy, it's sweet. It's incredible." Those are the kinds of stories that keep us working hard every day.
Matt: You worked at one of the crowdfunding platforms, Indiegogo. What were your key learnings or takeaways from how to successfully do a crowdfunding when you were there?
Liz: At the end of the day, what I really learned is that crowdfunding is really, it's marketing more than it is finance. It's all about, "How do you tell your story in a compelling way so people want to support you?" People want to support the companies. People want to support the vision. It's not about trying to necessarily just say, "Hey, give us your money and we're going to make this great product, and you're going to be happy." It's, "Support the vision of this company. Support the bigger idea of what does organic mean? What does great soil mean?"
Yes, you've got to raise some money and we're going to hopefully give you a tremendous return, but it has to be more than that for people to really buy in. It's really about how do you market it and how do you tell your story. I think that was probably the biggest takeaway from my time there, is to focus on that, and the fundraising part of it will come. If you focus on the relationship with the person who's going to fund you, they will actually give you the money but if you just focus on the money, it's much harder.
Matt: Correct me if I'm wrong here, it's like most of the ways that people get eyeballs on their Indiegogo campaign is if you're on the Indiegogo email list and you see it that way, but then everybody else, the only way they find out about it is that it's shared via someone that's on that list or it was shared from someone else. The sharing component, you want to embed something that makes you want to share it?
Liz: Absolutely. Email, social media, all of these places of-- Please tell people why you wanted to support this and get your friends to do it. I always use this analogy of a restaurant. You can hear about an amazing new restaurant that's opening in your neighborhood. This top chef is going to be there. She's been written up in 15 articles, and it's awesome. If you go down to go to that restaurant and there's no one in that restaurant, you won't go in despite how amazing it is supposed to be. You want to see other people there. If you go down there and there's a line and you're like, "I got to go to this restaurant."
That's exactly the same thing in crowdfunding. If you show up at a page and they've raised $1, that's not so great. If they've raised $ 1 million dollars but it's only from one person, that's also not so great. You want to see they've raised a million dollars and there's hundreds of people that are supporting this. Like, "Oh, this is something that I need to learn more about. There's other people who believe in this thing." That's really the key.
I always talk about that crowded restaurant analogy. If you can run a campaign successfully, you're going to have lots of people who are also going to want to tell their friends about it and you'll have hundreds if not thousands of supporters. I'd rather get 10,000 people to give me $100 than the reverse because you want to have lots and lots and lots of people spreading the word.
Matt: I'm not ashamed to admit that in many cities that I've walked around in, I get in a line if I smell something good and I see people in a long line, sometimes I'll just get in line.
Matt: I don't even know what the food is or anything, but I'm just like, "I'm going to see what's happening here because it's something special." I'm not disappointed when I find out.
Liz: Exactly. Crowdfunding is also-- There's a couple of kinds like we're raising capital for Good Earth organics using equity crowdfunding which is where you actually gets shares in the company. Other kinds of crowdfunding is you're purchasing an item in advance or you're getting rights to go to a film before other people see it, that kind of thing. With equity crowdfunding, you're actually get a little bit of ownership in the company.
I think one of the things that's really cool about the way we're doing it is we're opening that to everyone. You don't have to be an accredited investor. It's a pretty small initial investment. I think the minimum is $1000. We're trying to make this really open to lots and lots and lots of people, not just a certain group of people that can do these private investment type opportunities.
Matt: Formerly, this all used to be done to only accredited investors, essentially people that I think have over $ 1 million dollars net worth outside of real estate or make over a hundred or $350,000 two years in a row. I think it's something like that. Can you explain what the change was in the law that allows the ability to buy shares in the company?
Liz: Sure. Well, there were some-- changes in crowdfunding came along in with Obama, he brought in this idea of being able to open this crowdfunding to regular everyday investors. It took a while for all the laws to kick in. There's a few different laws out there. There's Regulation A there's Regulation C, there's Regulation CF, but essentially, it was a way for the SEC to say, "We're going to create a structure that allows a company, like the size of Good Earth Organics, that has been around for a while and has audited numbers," but to say, "Hey, you know what, we're going to do this public offering without using a big investment bank without spending all this money on a road show, without limiting it to only a certain type of investor. We're going to make that available to lots and lots and lots of people."
With the government, the SEC said is you can raise up to $10 million or up to $20 million or up to $50 million depending on what regulation you choose. We're doing Regulation A and we're looking to raise up to $10 million. We could go as high as 20 under the law, but it's essentially a way for regular people to say, "Hey, the SEC has looked at this company enough to say they can go ahead and make an offering. They've got financials that I can read and look at. It's not like they can just make up what they want and just put it out there. There's been some checks and balances, but we can open it to the regular everyday person."
Matt: Some of your insights from working in Indiegogo, how did you apply them to your crowdfunding campaign?
Liz: Well, the first thing I did was redo our video. I was like we need to make an emotional attachment to soil. We need people to understand why soil is important and why it's particularly important in cannabis. Having a bunch of executives talking about the financial returns, isn't going to do that. We really rethought our video and the video is a really important thing for investors or anybody of any kind of crowdfunding campaign because it gets to the heart very quickly of what the company is about and what the product is about. We show our soil yard, we show actual cultivations. We show people with their hands in the soil. It's a great reflection of the culture and the values of the company.
Then we can go from there to talk about, "Hey, this industry is growing 20% a year, year after year. Organic soil is going to be a $3 billion market doubling from today, all those things but the first and most important thing was grab that initial emotional attachment. That was the first thing I did then everything else was pretty easy because we have a great product. That's easy to explain to people it's not complicated. It's, "This is really good soil, put your plants in it and they're going to grow and be great." It's not a complicated technology product or something.
Then connect with the people. If you can talk about the fact that, "Hey, the people that run this company day to day, they know how to grow cannabis. They've been doing this for years. They are part of the local community. You can trust that they know what they're doing. I think that's the other big piece, is like, "Are the people behind the company ones that you can believe in?" If you can make that emotional attachment, connect to the people and then have an actually great product in a booming market, those three things should come together to be successful.
Matt: What will the capital go into that you raise? What do you use it for?
Liz: We're going to have a couple of different things. One of the things I've mentioned earlier was we want to do geographic expansion. We want to be able to either go and build our own soil yard in a location or find a small company like Good Earth Organics that's been around for 5 or 10 years serving a local market. We could come in and use the capital that we've raised to acquire that company and build from what they've started to develop more products and the like.
We are also potentially interested in purchasing other amendments or soils, brands that we think would fit in with the Good Earth brand as well as do a lot of our own product development. A big piece of our approach is after we raise this capital, we're going to do a direct listing on an OTC market which means those shares are going to be public quickly and there's going to be liquidity for the investors, but it's also going to give us, we hope a chance to use our stock price to be able to do some of these acquisitions and expand quite rapidly. Rather than trying to do it one or two sites every couple of years, we want to be able to knock out a few every year. That kind of thing.
Matt: One of the things I like to ask about business owners and executives that deal in physical goods and have staff as opposed to something like software, do you see inflation at all in your cost of goods or in taxes going up or healthcare, or just any of your inputs because we see like, they say it's around 2% CPI but there's-- that's not evenly distributed. Do you see input costs going up? I imagine that would be going up for a year, a lot of people, not just Good Earth Organics, but other companies in the space?
Liz: Certainly these costs are ones that we are trying to manage the best that we can at all times. I think one of the reasons people say, "Well, hey, can you use your soil for other products like tomatoes?" I'm like, "Absolutely, you sure can." The good thing about cannabis is that the wholesale price for a pound of cannabis is anywhere from $800 to $4,000. The good news for us is we might be at a business that has to deal with that 2% inflation, but our industry is growing 20% to 25% year over year, for the foreseeable five years, at least if not 10 at that rate.The upside opportunity in our market is 10 times the expected increase in costs.
I think we're in a very much a beginning of an exploding market with loads of share to be captured. I think from that perspective, all we're really thinking about is growth, growth, growth, growth, growth because we know we'll be able to do that profitably with the right strategy and the right capital behind us to be able to execute on these things right now and make ourselves in a good position for the future.
Matt: It's so much more fun being in a category that's growing so much this green wave, isn't it, Liz?
Liz: It's absolutely the case. No doubt about it.
Matt: I'd like to turn to some personal development questions to help the audience get a better understanding of who you are personally. With that, is there a book that's had a big impact on your life or your way of thinking that you'd like to share?
Liz: I was thinking about this question about these kinds of impacts. Came to the cannabis industry out of the blue as it were. For me, when I think about what really impacted me from this perspective, I read a couple of books that really helped me understand the cannabis industry and the soil industry. Even more so than the business books that I've read, these have really had an impact now. I think anyone who's looking at the cannabis industry, one book I'd really recommend anybody reads whether they're a consumer or on the business side is Steve DeAngelo's book, The Cannabis Manifesto.
I'm sure you know the book well, but it's such a great background, not just on the benefits of the plant of which he really details amazingly well, but he also takes the reader through the social justice issues and how we got to where we are today and why the market is the way it is. He's a great writer. It's just I thought great foundational book for anyone who's looking to understand the space a little bit better. That was one.
Then the other book I read, when I joined Good Earth Organics, I really wanted to understand this idea of living soil. Like what does that mean? I read this book called Teaming with Microbes and it's the organic gardeners guide to the soil food web, and this idea that soil is a food web is incredible to me. The first half of the book, you feel like you're back in high school biology or college biology class, it is detailed. The back half of the book is like once you get through the reminding yourself of the fundamental biology, the back half is all about how you use that in practice and that we can grow amazing plants or even a beautiful green lawn with all-natural products.
I remember at one point in the book, they talk about an old-growth forest. They're like, "Hey, you know what? An old-growth forest doesn't have any external pesticides or chemicals or anything. Mother nature has found the perfect balance of everything that you need. I felt like that book really helped me really understand the industry and what this means to have this living soil and how important it is for our planet that we get back to this kind of growing and away from so many of the more chemical things that are out there.
Matt: What's the most interesting thing going on in your field besides what you're doing there at Good Earth?
Liz: Well, as someone who's living on the East Coast a lot of the time, I think the most interesting thing is watching the pace of legalization potential happening. It's also at the federal level if we could get the safe banking through and whatnot. I think we're going to see dominos fall so quickly, so it's really interesting to be there and watch a state like New Jersey legalize and then across the river have New York scrambling like, "Okay, we got to get this done, and we've got to get it done now." That's been really fun to see.
Matt: What's one thought you have that most people would disagree with you on?
Liz: I want to stick with New York on this one. I think a lot of people think the pandemic is just going to wipe out New York for the next several years. I have a little more faith in New Yorkers than that. I think that the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of people in New York are going to find ways to bring this city back quickly, and I actually think cannabis has a big role to play in that. I think the tax base is going to help us get the legalization happen quickly, but there's such an array of different industries from creative to pharmaceutical to restaurant to beverage. I think we're going to see some amazing companies come out of this, and they're going to come out of it in New York.
Matt: Interesting. Well, Liz, as we close, can you tell growers how they can find out more about your soil and also about your SeedInvest crowdfunding campaign?
Liz: Sure thing. The best way to find out about our soil is to go to goodearthorganics.com and you can see products there. Also, you can find out how to contact us if you're a wholesale buyer and you're interested in placing some larger orders, so goodearthorganics.com for that. For those who might be interested in learning more about investing, I encourage you to go to seedinvest.com/goodearthorganics. Of course, you can also link there from our own website, but you'll see that it's $1.65 a share, and open to everyone, and just a $1,000 minimum investment.
Matt: Great. Thanks so much for coming on, Liz. We really appreciate it. You're in a great business. I think this is going to help heal the planet and best of luck to you.
Liz: Thank you so much, Matt. I really enjoyed it.
Matt: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five-star review helps us to bring the best guest to you. Learn more at cannainsider.com/iTunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on CannaInsider? Simply send us an email at email@example.com. We'd love to hear from you.
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[00:35:19] [END OF AUDIO]
How do you take the fragmented cannabis retail supply business and consolidate it to provide both commercial and home-growers with everything they want under one roof?
Here to help us answer that is Michael Salaman, president and co-founder of GrowGeneration.
Learn more at https://growgeneration.com
[00:50] An inside look at GrowGeneration, the nation’s largest chain of specialty hydroponic and organic garden centers
[1:33] Michael’s background and how he got into the cannabis space
[6:48] How GrowGeneration decides which states and cities to place their grow stores
[15:10] The difference in purchasing patterns between average customers and MSOs (multi-state operators)
[20:13] How GrowGeneration has created a resilient supply chain that can withstand market disruptions
[26:26] The fastest-evolving product categories at GrowGeneration and why Michael believes they’re gaining traction
[32:24] How former Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli has helped GrowGeneration as a strategic advisor
[34:48] What cannabis banking could mean for the industry over the next few years
Matthew Kind: Hi, I'm Matt Kind. Every Monday, I look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com. That's C-A-N-N-A insider dot com. Now, here's your program. How do you take the fragmented cannabis retail supply business and consolidate it to provide both commercial and home growers with everything they want under one roof?
Michael Salaman, co-founder of GrowGeneration is going to help us answer that question today. Michael, welcome to CannaInsider.
Michael Salaman: Thank you, Matt. Glad to be here.
Matt: Give us a sense of geography, where are you sitting today?
Michael: Actually in my home office in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania.
Matt: What is GrowGeneration on a high level?
Michael: GrowGeneration at a high level is the largest chain of hydroponic garden centers in the United States. Founded in 2014 with a vision to really professionalize and aggregate the existing fragmentation of the hydroponic retail operations that have existed for many, many years. Professionalize and create a national chain, a national brand, a national supply chain to take advantage of what is occurring today, which is the cannabis legalization and the GreenWave that we're seeing here state by state.
Matt: Michael, can you share a little bit about your background and journey and how you got into the cannabis space and co-founded GrowGeneration?
Michael: I'm a serial entrepreneur. I've been in multiple startups with a brand marketing background and a retail background, product development, venture capital, and really saw back in 2014 the fragmentation of the hydroponic space. Everything was hydro this, hydro that. There was no national chain, no national supply chain that we saw, and no national brand. We believed back, my partner Darren Lampert, and I felt that we could professionalize, organize, and design and develop a national chain that didn't exist.
There was several local and regional change that were out there, but nothing on a national scale. We believe very early on in legalization, we saw what was happening in Colorado. We started the business in Colorado with a four-store chain that we acquired the summer of 2014. They were doing a million dollars of business that year, and we've been growing ever since.
We learned the business, really immersing ourselves in the stores, meeting customers, meeting the product owners, and really getting to a deep understanding of how this marketplace was structured, and where we can bring value, and where we could start to nationalize it. That's what we've done. You fast forward today, we have 50 locations in 11 states, well over $200 million of business trailing in 2020 with tremendous trajectory in 2021, and more states coming on, more acquisitions that the company is executing on. We're just really excited about where we're going.
Matt: Do you remember the exact moment of ignition? You mentioned your co-founder Darren, where you said, "Okay, we've been talking about it, now, we're actually doing it." Do you remember that exact catalyst, what you were doing, where you were?
Michael: Great question. [chuckles] First, we said, "You know what, cannabis is going to legalize, how do we participate?" Darren's an NCC attorney, I've been involved in multiple public companies. We always wanted to do it in a public format, and we realized very early on that we couldn't touch the plant. That led us down the path of the picks and the shovels.
Doing some research, we landed on some articles and some information online about the hydroponic retail space. What we really figured out very early on back in 2013, 2014, is that it's completely fragmented, but there's thousands of these stores in every state that are servicing different types of growers. We felt at that moment in time that we could raise some capital, and really prove out the concept. The concept was, from day one to build the largest chain of hydroponic garden centers in the country. We stayed true to that mission from the minute that we made our first acquisition, which we found in Pueblo, Colorado was a four-store chain that we bought in that summer of 2014.
From there, we said, "How do we get into a multichain environment?" We had to go to another state, so we did our next transactions some more in Colorado, but then we went to California, and we extended into Washington and Nevada, and the rest of the states that we're in today. We're very focused on the ancillary side of the marketplace related to what we saw as the emerging cannabis marketplace. That's how we set our mind, we came up with the name GrowGeneration from the old Pepsi generation commercials, where we believed that a society that we're in today, we're going to be a bunch of growers.
Whether you're growing cannabis at home or you're growing tomatoes, or you're growing, commercially hydroponically vertical farming, environmental control, growing indoors.
We realized very early on in the development of GrowGeneration that there was a paradigm shift. There was this green wave at a very core cultural level within the United States. We felt that we could take advantage of that, and we named the company GrowGeneration because we saw this generation of growers that have been really weaned on whole foods and eating organic.
Certainly now, being part of the cannabis paradigm legalization process, that we felt that we could build a great company and leverage the emerging growth across all these different types of vertical markets that were all geared around growing. That's what we did.
Matt: I'm really fascinated in the process of where to locate the stores. I remember years back, someone educated me on how McDonald's picks its locations of where to put their restaurants and then Burger King doesn't do any of the research and just says, "We're locating near McDonald's." Then Whole Foods does research, and then Trader Joe's just says, "We're going to locate in your Whole Foods."
I was like, "I don't know which strategy is more genius, those both are pretty clever." You know that there's a lot of research, there's data you try to absorb, but at the end of the day, where you pick, there's some luck to it, how do you go about that process? Because arguably after you decided you want to be in this business, that might be what, the second or third biggest decision you make.
Michael: Yes, there's a couple of things that we look at and you got to remember, GrowGeneration is growing through an M&A strategy and a greenfield strategy. A big part of the growth is coming from existing stores, the best of breed. These are locations that have been servicing cultivators for many, many years in great locations, where the growers are with longstanding relationships, and we're buying and aggregating and rolling those companies up.
You see, we just made an acquisition of the longest standing four-store chain in Southern California, San Diego Hydroponics, which we acquired a couple of weeks ago. We're looking at those types of opportunities where there's an established base of business and a customer base. In addition, we do greenfield and we did that in the emerging markets like Michigan and Oklahoma.
We're certainly looking at other States that have just legalized, New Jersey, in particular, Mississippi, and Montana, ultimately, New York, Pennsylvania, where we are waiting to see how the license process is being deployed and where those licenses are going to be position on a County by County basis. Our strategy is really to invest in the local communities to be where the growers are, and whether it's a large MSO or in a lot of cases, we're seeing these new laws, which are going to be focused on social equality and craft licensing and micro-businesses, which is great for GrowGenerations business, we want to be where they are.
We want to be just in time and we want to invest locally, not just from a staffing perspective, but in terms of knowledge and education and demonstration and new products and technologies, and all the things that we do as a corporation, as a company, we want to bring that to the local community. We just got involved with Whole Foods. We want to give back. Whole Foods has a wonderful charity called Whole Cities which is a foundation just about opening up urban gardens in local markets. We just helped to finance something in Newark New Jersey, we're doing that on a nationwide basis.
We're always looking at ways where we're not just coming in and we're not just a selling organization. We want to be a knowledge base, a creative local, immersed where the communities of growers are and really provide value to them where they can come in and can learn from our cultivators that have many many years of experience. Growing plants is not that easy, particularly at a commercial level when you start talking about thousands of plants, vertical gardens, indoor environments, return on investment. A lot of these, certainly, these are commercial operations.
There's a lot at stake and GrowGen is the company to turn to provide end-to-end solutions, cost-efficient models, LED lighting, a big part of the movement in the marketplace today. Everyone is looking for ways to create automation, energy-efficient ways to grow and GrowGen certainly is studying and bringing those kinds of products and investing in those products to bring to our customer base.
Matt: Give us a sense of what the stores are like and how big they are, can you just take one in your mind and say, "Hey, if you walked in, this is what you'd see and this is how big it would feel."
Michael: Yes. The ideal store right now, they've gotten bigger. We've found that the best footprint for us is between 20,000 to 30,000 square feet. High ceilings because we triple palate stack our products. We have a front counter which is our will call cash counter for customers that are transacting coming into the stores and then we have a warehouse for pick pack and shipping and fulfillment and delivery. That acts more of a pro service, a business to business operation. We're able to really leverage a 30,000 square foot facility, open it up to the public whether you're a hobbyist or a commercial grower, you're coming in. You're able to shop and buy from multiple millions of dollars of product.
All departmentalized. Your lighting, your nutrients, your environmental controls, your additives, your medium, your soils, all of that is stocked within the four walls. Also, a lot of commercial customers want us to dropship. We have an online business that's very robust. We have a commercial division that's more of a white-glove customer service division that allows us to drop ship and manage the multistate operators, the single state operators at a little bit more of a higher level, more customer service, credit. We offer financing for those types of customers and that's a pick pack and ship.
We're able to build a [unintelligible 00:13:04] logistics and fulfillment model where we can take a location, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Grand Rapids, we're building out Miami right now, we're building out LA, we're building out in Phoenix where you're going to see these sturdy 50,000 in some cases size super hydroponic garden centers that act in these multifunctional manners that creates tremendous efficiencies for the company. That's the new model, it's a buy online pick up model. It's a pick pack and ship model, it's a direct to the cultivator enterprise model.
It's also a model that opens up the four walls so that there's education and training and products that anyone who wants to come in can see and talk to a Growpro, a professional. GrowGeneration is now made up of over 500 employees of which 450 of the 500 are really agronomous and professional growers that have tremendous knowledge and expertise. We see that as the specialization. What separates us from everybody else is the fact that we understand how the plant grows. You have an integrated pest management issue, you have a canopy issue, you have a lighting issue.
You're not getting the yields that you want, you can come to a GrowGeneration location and we will have answers and solutions for you. We will give you the right formulation to fix any problem that you have and to give you a solution whether you're growing 100 plants or 1,000 plants or 10,000 plants, we can service any size and give you exactly the type of product for that particular environment. We're very customizable and we personalize these solutions for these growers and that's why customers are coming to us and coming back to us time over time.
Matt: MSOs or multistate operators are customers viewers and you also have your typical customer, actually I say typical but kind of like a hobbyist or a home grower. How do their purchasing behaviors differ? I imagine just the cart size is very different but apart from that, how do they consume differently?
Michael: The sizes are much different, it's much more of a sophisticated sale. It's two-fold, you have their buildouts. We're helping the large MSOs build out their facilities as they get license, they're building out CapEx, benching, lighting, irrigation, [unintelligible [00:15:53]. We help provide environmental control systems designed. GrowGen is providing all of those products and services in addition to the consumable side which is what the client is consuming on a recurring basis, which is about 60%, 65% of the overall business comes from the consumables.
It's really a combination of size, scale, and also the kinds of automation, environmental control products that are really geared more towards the commercial grower. They're not buying quartz in gallons, they're buying 55 gallons. It's a different type of sale, they're also looking for a business-to-business relationship. They want credit, we'll do some financing, particularly for the large MSOs, we'll finance their CapEx. It's a different kind of relationship than a typical hobbyist or a smaller crop grower that's coming in and buying product for a smaller grow.
We've created and we really have a lot of pride in the way that we handled the MSOs. We realized very early on that the MSOs have to be treated differently, they're not a retailer, they're not a small operation. They need to be treated with a dedicated team approach. Dedicated account managers, dedicated customer service reps, dedicated quotas, where we're quoting our product, consolidated financial statements. These multistate operators have multiple locations.
They want to know at the end of the month, how much did I buy from Grow 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. We can do that from an accounting department, we consolidate that bill, we drop ship. We provide, we think we're a very integral part to their overall supply chain that becomes very important to them. We provide all of those value add services. We're constantly looking at product, ways to improve their grows at a commercial level. How do we further their return on investment? How do we create efficiencies? Everyone is moving now to LED lights so there's a big transformation because they're just more efficient.
That means the design of the facilities are going to go more vertical versus horizontal, more vertical farming versus horizontal farming which is creating tremendous demand for benching and airflow and environmental control systems, data. We're looking at a company right now that's one of the foremost experts in the collection of data. We're getting much more intelligent. Artificial intelligence, we're learning through this technology platform and we're looking at it from a potential acquisition where when this gets installed into a grow, there's sensors at every level.
Humidity, the nutrient uptakes, the pH levels, the lights, how everything is being operated and that system is getting intelligence every minute. That intelligence is going into a central repository that has an AI and an advanced learning capability. That's the kind of technology, that's the kind of creativeness that GrowGen wants to provide to these large commercial growers. You're seeing much more standardization and also cost controls, inefficiencies. We believe we have solutions that are unique and proprietary to what we have designed.
One of the unique parts of GrowGen, we're in 11 states, we see it all. We see what's happening in California, in Michigan and in Nevada and Colorado, and Washington. We see what's happening across thousands of commercial growth. We have tremendous insight to what's working, what's not working. We certainly, see it from the product side and we pass that knowledge on to our customers.
Matt: Most listeners have heard of the supply chains, they know what that means vaguely, but with COVID-19, a lot of supply chains were disrupted. I know I tried to purchase a car at three different times during COVID-19, the order got canceled. Eventually, it got through, but I just never experienced anything like that before. When you think about creating a resilient supply chain, one that can handle shocks, how do you think about that?
Michael: Well, the way you have to think about it's control. What GrowGen has built is 50 locations that are fulfillment centers. They're open to the public, we get 30,000 people a week, but they're fulfillment centers. I can drop inventory into any one of those locations. Those locations are where the growers are. In addition, we're building out these super hydroponic hubs that are, 30, 50, 60,000 square feet, that allows us to land our private label containers.
We have the resources and the capital to get ahead of, and we did that in 2020 with COVID. We got ahead of the curve, we saw the issues that were coming. We see it with the ports and the lock jam, we get ahead of it. We're predictable. We understand our inventory, we understand our customers, what they're buying. We're able to get ahead of that, because of the fact that we're well-capitalized, we have close to $160, $170 million of cash in the bank with no debt.
We can really manage a national supply chain, a just-in-time supply chain, that allows us the control to never be out of stock. [coughs] That's really the secret. The secret is, getting ahead, having the right inventory, having enough of the right inventory. Look, we're not perfect, we certainly are working through some supply chain issues, but really, we've been really good at getting ahead of soil and lighting and things that are coming from overseas and being fully stocked and having the ability to control the customer.
One of the things, we're not a wholesaler. When you really dissect GrowGen, we're an acquire of customers and a curator of the relationship with those customers that allows us to really have a deep-rooted relationship with that customer. We know exactly what they are buying, we know exactly what they're rebuying, the recurring nutrients and additive side of their business. We get involved as I mentioned in their expansion plans. We have the ability to really stock what our customers need and be just in time with the 50 locations. Ultimately, we'll have seven distribution hubs, the super hydroponic operations across the country, geographically that really creates a national supply chain. In our opinion, is the best, because of the way that we build it. Where the growers are in the local markets that are tied to our spokes, which is our sales and marketing. Building that out on a national level, then tying together our marketing and our bio line and our pickup and our Instagram to constantly drive more traffic into the store, onto our online business, and through our commercial division. I think that's why you're seeing such growth and such success coming to GrowGen.
Matt: What about white label brands? You mentioned you're an acquire of customers. Do you see that as a way to acquire more customers? Can you talk about white label there?
Michael: Brands, brands, brands, very, very important. Brands, but not brands for brand's sake, brands that are disruptive, brands that are what the growers are looking for. We just picked up a company called PowerSi. It's a mono-silicic acid product that the growers want. One of the great parts about GrowGen, we see what is being bought at the cultivation level. We have a little bit of a competitive advantage to everyone else's, we see what the growers are buying.
We see the trends, we see the products that are being bought, and those are products that we want to bring under the umbrella of GrowGen. We're looking at disruptive, proven technology and products that we can acquire and put them under a private label or GrowGeneration, owned and operated portfolio brands, as well as developing product internally. We just recently brought in ION light to be competitive in the LED lighting business. That's a light that's very cost-efficient.
We're seeing just tremendous uptake to that particular brand. We're able to source product from really everywhere around the world and because we have all these brands. Actually, in 2019, we bought a portfolio of trademarks from a company called BWGS, and we're now populating those trademarks with product, bulbs and soils and nutrients and water pumps and all kinds of different, fans. All those kinds of really accessory type products that there's really no brand allegiance that we can pick up margin.
More importantly, control the supply chain, control the inventory and make sure that we're always in stock, make sure that our customers, when they come to a GrowGen location, they have all the products that they need complete and all the time.
Matt: Now, I'm sure there's a lot of different product categories you keep abreast of, but is there any in particular that you're just shocked by how much it's changing or evolving on a monthly or quarterly basis?
Michael: From a product perspective?
Michael: It's interesting, the LEDs I tell you, you think about LED lighting from a couple of years ago, it was a very nascent small market. We did some real business in the first two months and we're bringing in plenty more and we saw all the leading brands, Gavita, and Fluence. All the leading LED products that are out there, we saw them all. We're seeing tremendous uptake. What it's telling me is that you have a regulatory environment that is really defining on a state-by-state basis, and you also have a return on investment.
If you can save, 20%, 30% in your energy costs, think about that over time, what does that really mean to a cultivator? The cost of the LED lights have come down dramatically. Think of it like the big-screen TVs, you were paying $5,000 for a big-screen TV several years ago. Today you can buy a big screen TV for $500. Same thing is happening in the LED lights, two years ago, you're paying 1500, today, we're in the market right now with our LED lights, in the $700, $800 range. The pricing has come down, making it much more assessable, the return on investment, the energy savings.
All the utility companies are giving rebates to incentify the cultivators that to go into LED lights because it's just energy efficient. I would say that's probably one of the really big categories that have emerged in 2021. You're seeing, a movement to vertical farming. I think that's probably the other big one, where you're seeing more cubic square feet versus square feet in terms of the way the growth. I think that's the way that all future grows. Then lastly, the environmental controls, having the intelligence, having the data is where all these MSOs are going.
They want to control all the inputs that control all the outputs so that they have a predictable yield and that's getting very sophisticated. GrowGen is absolutely participating in all these areas, whether it's through partnerships or through acquisitions that we're looking at, we have solutions for all those different categories that I just mentioned.
Matt: Michael, you have no debt on your balance sheet, do you think a little bit of debt might be a good thing to see if interest rates are so low like they are right now? They’re rising a little bit, but they're still pretty low historically.
Michael: My partner and I, and I think the board of directors, we like the fact that we have no debt. We raised capital at $30 a share recently, stocks trading much higher. We've institutionalized the business with some of the largest institutional investors that now have bought, I think we have 50- 60% institutional ownership, which is tremendous. A year ago, we had 5%. We have a tremendous following at the institutional level. Again, for us, debt is certainly available to us. I wouldn't say that we would never do a debt deal but we've been very creative relative to these private placement deals that we've been able to do with our banking relationships and doing them at tremendous appreciation from the previous round.
We've kind of been moving the ball. As we continue to execute and take the capital, we raised over $200 million last year, that capital is being deployed. The one thing I can tell you about GrowGen, we don't sit on capital. We're a transactional company, we're very focused on utilization and return on capital and putting that capital to use. Our investors gave us the capital to put it to use, and we're buying the best of breed hydroponic operators. We're buying the best-of-breed product companies that are out there and we're growing. We see just tremendous growth as we've demonstrated year over year, we're fiscally very disciplined, quarter over quarter year over year, head down, we have a mission.
That mission we're still in the early innings, we're only in 11, states. There's plenty more states to go. We're only in 500 locations. There's plenty of locations that this company will open, and acquire. We feel that we're so early in this development of this new market. Our development even though we've been at it this is going to be really our seventh full year, it's still very early in what's happening in this economy, that's going to be bigger than beer, wine. Certainly, we feel that we're going to be the leader on the supply side chain.
Matt: I see that Bob Nardelli, former Home Depot CEO is a strategic advisor to GrowGeneration. Can you tell us a bit about how his retail experience has helped you?
Michael: Bob is such a wonderful addition to the board of advisors. We met Bob a couple of years ago and we spoke to Bob. Darren and I had a lunch. We were telling him about things that we're doing earpiece systems, opening stores, and how do we work together omnichannel, and all the things that Bob did, when he grew Home Depot. Certainly his career at GE and Chrysler, and now one of the top CEO voices, regular on CNBC and Fox Business. He's been a tremendous sounding board, a guy with his experience, it's hard to replicate and our access to him and the ability to just bounce ideas.
Darren and I talked to him on a regular basis, just to get his thoughts, just to get his advisement has been just a tremendous help. I think what he got attracted to, is that he saw some similarities with Home Depot. When he was running it, and growing it at a rate similar to what GrowGen. We're growing 100%, 150% year over year. He was a little faster in terms of he was opening up a store every day at Home Depot. We're opening up probably 20 or so 25 a year, but we're on a similar trajectory and a similar path, in the way that we're operating the business with a retail business, a specialty, a pro service part of the business with their pro servicing, and certainly combining it with the online.
I think Bob saw a lot of synergies, and he felt that with his experience, the years that he spent at Home Depot, that he could bring value to GrowGen. He jumped all in and it's been just a great sounding board for us to really have access to him, and he's just a wonderful human being as well.
Matt: Well, since you're in the picks and shovels, business, as you mentioned, you can have a bank account and accept credit cards and so forth but there's a lot of your customers that can't still. Do you think when we get some federal legislation passed that will allow for banking of cannabis cultivators, for them to accept credit cards and that type of thing? How much do you think that will pick up just the velocity of transactions in the cannabis ecosystem?
Michael: Oh, I just think it's going to be tremendous the access when the banks figure it out, and the government figures it out, you have say Banking Act, and you have federal legalization at some point. The amount of capital that's going to come into this industry is going to be unprecedented. That's just going to get the MSOs, and the single state operators, the cultivators, the vertically integrated companies just access the capital. It's going to make it easier for them to transact getting rid of [unintelligible 00:35:47] makes no sense can't operate a business that way.
All these things are really upon us. It's going to make it easier for GrowGen to interface with these guys. It's going to be more business-to-business. I think it's really coming within the next year, maybe even sooner under the Biden administration, who certainly has vocally been very pro-Cannabis, and moving forward, these initiatives to just make business easier, paying taxes. The governments of the states where are they going to pay for the COVID bill? They have to legalize. That's the only area that I can see where they can generate revenue.
That's why you're going to see more and more of these states come on board. That has to be interrelated with a federal policy that allows for tax dollars to be banked at a basic level. Banks need to be uncapped so that they can start getting deposits, and operate without the overhang of the federal roles so that this business can continue to grow. Look, they've done a pretty good job working on a state-by-state basis, dealing with credit unions, but it's certainly not efficient. I think that is going to change in the very near future.
Matt: Michael, I'd like to move to a few personal development questions now. Is there a book that's had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you'd like to share?
Michael: I read a lot of the industry publications. A lot of times I read any real books, but I read a tremendous amount of industry-related magazines and newsletters. My consumption of content really is coming primarily from our industry and studying where the industry is going. I read some of the books related to Salesforce came out. He came out with an interesting book never compromise in the middle. There's some interesting business-to-business folks that have been out there. Things that are motivational books that we share with the staff, particularly my commercial division they're pretty active in self-improvement.
Certainly, we cultivate a culture of self-improvement. We cultivate a culture of self-empowerment. You're running your store, you're running your gardens, you are the president, you are an owner of GrowGeneration and that's a respect. You need to bring your own personal work ethic. I think our team works harder than anybody else in this industry. The dedication, that they have had during COVID is second to none. We reward our staff with very competitive salaries and 401k plans and stock options, and ownership in a publicly held company,.
That's the culture that we want to pontificate that we want to encourage as we continue to build. I believe the largest moat against competition is the staff. We have 500 people. We'll have 1000 over the next several years, of which the majority of them come from the cannabis space. They've been growers. They've been in a homegrown market. They've been migrated and they have moved up the chain to a license market. They're in a professional environment with GrowGen. Those are the kind of people that you can't find on LinkedIn.
They have a passion for the cannabis plant and growing in general. We've been able to bring together not only the best to breed companies, but the best to breed people that have had years of experience in the hydroponic space. Bringing them together with one voice, one vision, one team, that's why GrowGen is winning. We're going to keep doing it. We're going to continue building through this best-of-breed strategy. You're going to see a thousand growers under the umbrella of GrowGen that's very hard to duplicate.
Matt: Here's a Peter Thiel question for you. What's one thought you have that most people would disagree with you on?
Michael: [laughs] That's a good question. That is an interesting question. What would they-
Matt: Let's look at it this way? You're at a dinner table with 10 of your friends and you're like, "I really believe in what I'm going to say, but I know six or seven of the people are going to disagree with me fervently.
Michael: They don't believe in growth. I can tell you guys are shocked. Sitting at the dinner table or sitting at dinner, no one ever anticipated and I pitched myself too. We have a multi-billion dollar company, our sales are growing over 100% year over year. We did almost 200 million this year, last year. No one would have ever have guessed that this company could be of that size and it's just starting. I think what I see is that the market has underestimated GrowGen's ability to integrate, GrowGen's ability to acquire from a transactional perspective, and also the size.
When we look at what's happening whether it was driven by COVID or just the fact that there's more dispensaries, more consumption, I think these markets are maturing and opening up. I think the markets are growing at a much greater rate than people ever anticipated. That's a wonderful utter and facilitator of the picks and shovels side of the business, which is fueling GrowGeneration of business. I think no one would have guessed or believed that this company could be on a path to a billion dollars. If I talked to them a year ago, "What are you crazy?" We're on a path and we're going to be there in the next couple of years. No one really would have anticipated that.
Matt: Michael, as we close, can you tell listeners how they can find GrowGeneration's stock ticker, or actually what the stock ticker is and how to find GrowGeneration online to find out where the stores are, et cetera.
Michael: The stores firstname.lastname@example.org. We list all of the addresses, phone numbers, store hours. We also have e-commerce sites so you can actually transact and see the products on that site. We also have all of our investor relations information located in all of our press releases, stock quotes. The stock symbol is G-R-W-G. We trade on the NASDAQ stock exchange, which was a wonderful experience back in December of 2019. We were up-listed to that stock exchange and one of the few ancillary companies to actually achieve that goal of being a NASDAQ listed company.
That was a milestone because it fueled the institutions to come in, the capital to come in and that certainly gave the company the ability to continue to execute its plan. Being listed on NASDAQ was a milestone event for the company. Those are the two areas growgeneration.com, the stock is traded under the symbol GRWG.
Matt: Well Michael, thanks so much for coming on the show, we really appreciate it. Congratulations on the success so far, I am really anxious to see how far you can hit this ball out of the park. How big you can grow this thing.
Michael: Well Matt, I think we're unstoppable. It's all about focus, staying in your lane, doing what we do, and continue to execute. I think you're going to see just tremendous results quarter over quarter, year over year. I thank you for the kind words, and I appreciate the time you spent with us today.
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