5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started: “You never know what’s going to happen at the federal level.” with Bryce Berryessa and Fotis Georgiadis
You never know what’s going to happen at the federal level. It still is a schedule one federal drug, and there are a lot of potential issues around that. It provides a landscape where no matter how fast things are moving or how stable your state is there’s always going to be instability until we figure this thing out at the federal level.
As a part of my series about “the 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business,” I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Bryce Berryessa, President of La Vida Verde. Bryce Berryessa has made a name for himself in the cannabis community. As the founder of Santa Cruz County’s premier dispensary TreeHouse (formerly known as The Cookie Co 831) and co-founder of award-winning brands Hashman Infused and Waxman Concentrates, Berryessa has succeeded in adapting to this ever-evolving industry. After graduating from the University of Utah in 2005 with a dual degree in Communications and English, Bryce honed his craft in indoor cultivation and extraction methods after studying organic pest control management and sustainable agriculture practices near Santa Cruz. He spent up to five years learning how indoor cultivation allows for complete control of the environment and produces a higher quality plant with intense aromas and flavors. These skills allotted Bryce to begin utilizing organic ingredients in all future products. Bryce was the co-founder and operations manager for California’s first-ever Enviroganic-certified farm. Enviroganic approval means that all standards from state and local environmental compliance and organic management practices are met. In 2010, he began consulting on facility design and indoor cultivation throughout Canada and the United States. Two years later, Berryessa co-founded Hashman Infused and Waxman Concentrates. Hashman Infused makes edibles such as chocolate bars, CBD tinctures, and CBD capsules. Waxman Concentrate products are always solvent-free, contaminate-free, and mold-free. Waxman Concentrate creates a THC-heavy crumbled wax that can be dabbed, vaped or melted into your favorite cup of coffee. In 2015, Berryessa and partner Chef Eric Hara established La Vida Verde with the mission to produce organic edibles and tinctures with gluten-free, non-GMO, organic and vegan ingredients into a market traditionally known for mixing cannabis with sugar. That is not the case with La Vida Verde. The delicious guilt-free supercookies are blended with cashews and sweetened with unrefined coconut sugars, and the stimulating organic tinctures are crafted with botanical extracts, which enhance the effects of the cannabis. La Vida Verde is committed to preserving the environment, consumer safety and high-quality ingredients in all products. Berryessa currently Santa Cruz with his wife and two young sons and sits on numerous statewide committees: Board of Directors of the Association for Standardized Cannabis (ASC); Board of Directors of California Growers Association (CGA); Manufacturing Committee Member for the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA); and Founding Board Member of California Cannabis Manufacturers Association (CCMA), an industry group that currently pushes companies to challenge lab-testing results. Bryce, a cannabis veteran can be seen in many high-profile publications such as Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post.For the past 13 years, Bryce has dedicated his life’s work to various sectors of the cannabis industry ranging from indoor cultivation and government relations to dispensary operations and patient advocacy. He continues to focus his career path on La Vida Verde and consults with partner companies to make a positive change through best industry practices.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with the ‘backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis space?
In 2005, I was offered a random job offer to go to work on an organic farm. I had graduated from college and drove out to California to show up to what I thought was a vegetable farm, and unbeknownst to me, I drove onto a property in the Sierra. I was immediately shocked by the location, then realized it was not illegal in California. I quickly fell in love with the plant and the rest is history.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
So many things have happened in the last 14 years, but I think my perspective on the most exciting situation is just the transition from a completely unregulated market into a regulated one. The evolution and pace at which the cannabis industry has evolved are astonishing.
Also, being part of something that is under a substantial transformative process that business is running, it’s funding and the perception of the general public around cannabis has been extraordinarily interesting. My life is infinitely different now. My daily tasks, objectives and stress levels are higher than it was several years ago. The industry that is taking off like a rocket ship and even though it has significantly changed in the last ten years, it still has such a long way to go. We are at the beginning of what is going to be a global cannabis movement and a cannabis industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think one of the most amusing mistakes I learned when I was first starting was not rely enough on time. People that are smarter than me have more experience and an excellent example of that means. In 2012, when we were doing our manufacturing, we were creating products and trying to learn as we went along. We were fortunate enough to meet my current partner who had a background in manufacturing. The first time that he came in he just laughed at us, and within a few months he had taken over our manufacturing processes and had increased our profitability by almost twice of what it was and decreased the amount of time for us to make products by a third.
So we were making better margins far more productive and taking less time to do it. The best lesson is any business is that you can be innovative and not lose your way, but also be open to learning from other people that have maybe been down the same pathway. It is significantly valuable!
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Yes, lots of exciting projects! It’s exciting times. My dispensary, TreeHouse, in Santa Cruz is continuing to grow, and our goal has always been to create an interactive space that fosters community rather than just a place where you can buy cannabis. Since the grand opening on January 1st, 2018, the first day of legalization, we spent all last year adapting to the new rules and regulations and growing a business that was expanding month-to-month. This year we have been able to start stabilizing and focus on other tasks that are important to us rather than just the operations of the business.
We host lots of events that support local artists and up-and-coming companies within the Santa Cruz community to showcase their art and products. We are collaborating with other organizations especially those that share our viewpoint and passion for local awareness and sustainable business practices. Also, we are getting ready to expand our reach into the Bay Area by trying supporting Santa Cruz and setting an example to other local businesses. We are also working on some exciting partnerships to help foster change and new products, and I think that’s the most exciting thing on the dispensary and for manufacturing.
My partner and I are always looking to innovate and create new products or to do things a little bit better. We launched a source cartridge under Skunk Feather three additional SKUs of Blank Brand gummies with adult-friendly flavors. We make the gummies in-house, and cure them, so they have a chewy texture. We have some large products that are launching under our brands in about thirty days, including new Blank Brand chocolates like Caramel, Cookie Butter, and Peanut Butter Cups.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
It’s a group of people, rather than one person. One of the best parts about my job is sitting on the board of directors of the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA) and the California Cannabis Manufacturers Association (CCMA) and these boards, particularly with CCMA, are a lot of our biggest competitors. In the case of CCMA, all of my fellow board members are competitors and I think that it is a testament to the mindset, the passion and the type of people that are attracted to the California Cannabis industry. Competitors can come together, collaborate and help each other out.
Moreover, it enabled us to learn more at a rapid rate and I now have a vast support system that I can lean on. There are people throughout these organizations who can work together to answer questions and tackle statewide issues.
There’s a talented community of competitors that work and collaborate cooperatively. So I know it’s not always going to be that way, but I’m sure thankful that I found those groups that are willing to share, support and provide help to tackle the significant hurdles that we face every day.
This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
I think part of the reason why we have to be young dynamic and creative is we’re not allowed to participate in a lot of traditional marketing platforms. Various publishing and digital advertising firms will not work with cannabis companies so, and that forces us to think outside of the box.
Can you share three things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share three things that most concern you?
The three things that most excite me about the cannabis industry right now is that 1) it’s new, 2) the sky’s the limit, and 3) we are going to see so much change in innovation over the next decade that it is a fascinating time to be part of the growth.
Another exciting thing is that public perception is changing from state-to-state and countries worldwide are accepting cannabis as a viable form of relief for symptoms and that the stigma of cannabis that has been around since Prohibition is eroding quickly.
1. My number one concern right now is just that the rate of change and how fast things are growing and big business and significant influences coming into it and so it’s providing a landscape that’s making it infinitely more difficult for Young entrepreneurs to start cannabis companies. And you know regulations are forcing companies to be extremely well capitalized, which is bringing in a lot of outside money and influence that wasn’t part of the industry beforehand. In some instances that’s for the better, but not all cases.
2. My second concern is that you never know what’s going to happen at the federal level. It still is a schedule one federal drug, and there are a lot of potential issues around that. It provides a landscape where no matter how fast things are moving or how stable your state is there’s always going to be instability until we figure this thing out at the federal level.
3. My last concern is banking. You know it’s hard to run a business where you have payroll and bills and expenses and people that depend on you and can for any reason at any time have your bank account shut down and have a tough time finding another one. And the amount of work and effort and stress that goes into trying to find good banking relations is enormous. And you know that is always a vulnerability that is at the back of any cannabis operators’ minds because they could lose their bank account in any day and it causes massive disruption to the business.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. I wish someone had told me that that running a cannabis business or startup has the same pitfalls, perils, and challenges as any other business; but then a whole bunch of different challenges and problems top on top of it.
2. I wish someone had told me to raise three times the amount of money I think I need for any given project and to understand that best case scenario it’s going to take twice as long to build anything or get a product to market as I anticipate.
3. I wish someone had told me to get involved with trade associations in my industry a lot sooner than I did. That has been one of the most helpful tools that we have had as a company in the last five years.
4. I wish someone had told me to find a solid mentor that had started a business and ran a business and advice life lessons and tools and resources from other people sooner than I was able to get them on my own.
5. I wish someone had told me that a strong support system would keep the company in line.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
My advice would be to ensure that your vision, your passion and mission statement is communicated to every member of your organization at all times. Everybody must understand where and why you are setting goals as a company. Remember that no matter what the title or position, every member is a crucial part of that of your team.
Try to build a company culture where people are held accountable, but also support and uplift each other and is motivated to go the extra mile to help accomplish the goal that they’re all working together as a team to reach you are a person of significant influence.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am a huge fan of community and keeping it local. Start a realistic movement allows communication with people to invest their time, money, resources, and energy into the communities in which they operate. Local change leads to global change; so it is essential to build and keep communities healthy and vibrant.What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for joining us!
5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started: “You never know what’s going to happen at the federal… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.