The legal cannabis industry is becoming an increasingly competitive space for entrepreneurs these days.
Valued by experts at $66.3 billion by 2025, it can be daunting for someone looking to make their name in the cannabis industry and distinguish themselves from the competition.
As the founder of three successful cannabis companies, Cody Alt knows what it takes to build a successful brand from the bottom up. We spoke to the industry innovator to see what he thinks it takes to stand out in such a crowded space.
Cody Alt: An Innovator and Visionary in the Cannabis Space
Growing up in the tiny town of Maxville, Montana, a town of thirty people, ten houses and a single bar, Cody Alt has overcome the odds to reach his dreams at every turn.
Alt always had an aptitude for business. Alongside his father Paul, he started his very first company Mon-Dak Oilfield Services, a company that specializes in reclamation work for oil rigs and hauled crude oil from the rigs to the refineries.
That work helped establish and form his uncompromising work ethic, one that took him to eleven different cities in four years of “following where the oil was.”
In 2015, he switched gears away from Mon-Dak and onto his newest venture, BodyFuel.
Alt poured his blood, sweat and tears into the business, handing out flyers from his car and barely being able to afford rent. Just like his role model Mark Cuban, Alt kept his work ethic up and went on to found five companies so far who’s revenue combined exceeds $60 million.
One of those companies is Kushly. Originally thought of as a cannabis delivery platform, Kushly eventually evolved into what it is today — a one-stop-shop for consumers to pick up a massive range of cannabis-based products from CBD gummies to CBD oils to a CBD skincare line.
Alt founded Kushly after seeing the benefits of cannabis products for himself. Always dealing with insomnia and sleep issues, he exhausted his options when it came to over-the-counter sleep aids. A friend then gave him some THC syrup that opened his eyes to the potential of cannabis products.
“I slept like a baby and woke up feeling amazing,” said Alt. “So that was pretty much all she wrote for me.”
From there, he used his experience as a marketer and passion for cannabis-based products to build Kushly into something special — a company that would provide the same help to others as it did for him.
Alt took his experience from the oil business and applied it to the cannabis space, focusing on becoming the one-size-fits-all destination for anyone interested in cannabis-based products.
“If you can make yourself a one-stop-shop, you have the edge over the other guy,” he said.
Advice for a New Generation of Cannabis Entrepreneurs
It’s clear that Alt has what it takes to make it in the ultra-competitive legal cannabis space. And you might be wondering if you have that ‘X Factor’ as well.
Well, thankfully, he has shared some advice for all you up-and-coming cannabis entrepreneurs.
Authenticity is a driving force for Alt and his businesses. He believes the key to success in the cannabis industry lies in the decisions you make. If you’d use the product yourself, then there are potential customers out there who feel the same way.
“Be authentic,” said Alt. “There are too many fake people who are trying to jump into the marketplace. You have to be different from other people. You have to know branding, you have to hire the right marketing team that is aligned with what your vision is, with the company you want to build.”
At the end of the day, Alt says that while there are countless important factors to building a booming business, the key difference needs to be your passion for serving customers the best quality product.
“(Focus on) actually wanting to help customers instead of worrying all about the money,” said Alt. “I created these products to try and help people solve issues like me. That was my goal from the beginning.”
When asked for one piece of advice he’d give to anyone looking to create a successful business, Alt stressed the importance of focus, drive and dedication to one’s customers.
“Keep your eye on the prize, keep striving to try and help people day in and day out. That’s what it’s all about.”
Jason Washington: Creating a Global Cannabis Kulture
Jason Washington is a successful entrepreneur both in and out of the cannabis industry. He is also the second person in U.S. history to face a jury trial proceeding on a state-licensed medical marijuana case. His story is a powerful reminder that the most dangerous thing about the cannabis plant is the grey area that surrounds its legal status.
In 2011, Washington’s Big Sky Health dispensary was the largest legal operation in Montana. And despite medical marijuana being legal in the state since 2004, the Feds raided him. At trial, he was found guilty of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cannabis and possession with intent to distribute. His judge deviated from the mandatory minimum sentence guidelines of 10 years, instead sentencing the former University of Montana Grizzly quarterback to two years in federal prison. In October 2014, his original sentence was reduced from 24 to 21 months, with the judge ordering Washington’s immediate release.
Washington returned to his home state of California where his natural aptitude for business saw him start several successful companies, including Ignite with Matthew Morgan and Dan Bilzerian.
Fueled by his desire to help those who had been wrongly incarcerated like himself, Washington went on to found Kulture, a full-service cannabis agency with a twist — you have to have a proven legacy with the plant to make the cut. The company has cultivation, extraction and manufacturing operations in five different states: Arizona, California, Oklahoma, Michigan and Missouri.
Cannabis Aficionado spoke to Washington about his loyalty to legacy operators, his advice to newcomers to the industry, and his plans for a global cannabis network.
CA: What sets Kulture apart from other cannabis agencies?
Jason Washington: One of the mandatory stipulations for being accepted or invited into the Kulture family is that you have to be a legacy operator. And a legacy operator suggests basically that you have a proven track record of 10 plus years in the cannabis space. You’re someone that was in this when it wasn’t just the latest “cool” business venture for Ivy League grads.
My directors of indoor cultivation are Bill and Jeff Levers aka the Beard Brothers, who are legacy operators. We’ve been running together for over two years — longer than Kulture has been established. Our philosophies and ideologies align. In fact, their commitment to helping veterans inspired the backpacks in our new clothing line; these are based on tactical gear as a salute to our veterans.
Why is this so important to you?
The pioneers of this industry have not been able to participate in the new legal market. A lot of people have made a lot of money off the backs of those who are now deemed criminals. Guys like me — those with weed felonies or federal felonies — aren’t looking for handouts. To be honest, I don’t know how to solve the problem. I just know that the problem exists.
Tell me more about your new clothing line and how it’s helping to change the stigma around cannabis?
Some very successful brands started with clothing in emerging markets just for brand awareness. For me, it’s about establishing normalcy like any other brand. In California, Prop 64 means we have been able to normalize the use of cannabis as a recreational drug. And as a very beneficial medical alternative to pharmaceuticals and other forms of pain management. Cannabis is becoming more and more acceptable, and it’s one more facet of people’s lives.
I’ve been in the cannabis game for a long time, so for me, the clothing line is new and exciting. Normalizing cannabis is the main reason I’ve launched it. The style is influenced by what my cultivators wear when they’re in the facilities. It ties into the Kulture lifestyle and appeals to a lot of different demographics.
What are your expansion plans for Kulture?
Here’s the thing, cannabis doesn’t only help people in America. There’s a whole world of people that need this plant and our help and expertise. We have to focus on more than just America and more than our little micro-environments. I see Kulture as a 300-person global agency with offices in America, South America and somewhere in Europe or Africa. I see it as a combination that brings together the best cannabis talent in the world. Where the brightest minds come together under one roof to provide the best cannabis for everybody to enjoy.
What’s the most important thing that needs to be addressed when people are talking about cannabis legalization?
The conversation around inclusion needs to be further expanded upon. There’s still a lot of people that are in jail for this plant.
Another problem is people riding social equity but did not serve a day in jail or have never been prosecuted or raided. People get pushed to the front because they say, “I grew up in this neighborhood or I grew up in that neighborhood.” But those who were affected or who served time are not able to obtain a license. For example, I live in California, but my charge is federal, is in the state of Montana. So I can’t get an equity license in California because my charges did not originate in California. I’d have to go back to the state of Montana to participate or to be a license holder.
Look, I understand why states have said that in order for you to be an equity applicant the crime or the charge has to have been committed in that state or jurisdiction. I totally get that. But it’s keeping guys that went to federal prison for cannabis-related crimes shut out. They’re kept from participating from a licensing standpoint because their charge originated in a different jurisdiction than where they reside. Most federal indictments are brought in different jurisdictions than your home state.
How do you think the cannabis industry can be better?
The biggest thing is if all these new executives and people coming into the space entered with more knowledge. They can’t get the experience, I get it. But at least the knowledge and understanding of what so many people have sacrificed for so long and went through. Understand the culture. Don’t completely strip cannabis of everything it’s been for so long and turn it into spreadsheets and mass production. Because that’s not what it is.
I get bringing a more professional business environment to the space; more legitimacy, more scientific data and more research-based products to market. But at the same time, don’t forget those who have given you this opportunity. Don’t forget how you got here and the sacrifice that was made to allow you to participate in this industry.
What do you wish you knew when you first started out in cannabis?
The power of the federal government and what substitute asset forfeiture meant. Haha.
What are the three qualities you need to be a successful cannabis entrepreneur?
I think perseverance is one of the biggest. I’ve been in it for 12 years and I’ve seen people come and go who don’t have the character and the stamina to fight through all that you have to fight through — whether it’s local municipalities, competition, or failed crops. You’ve got to be an innovator. You’ve got to be someone who is a survivor and a fighter.
Do you have a career highlight?
There’s one thing that really sticks out to me to this day and it was when we opened the first Montana dispensary. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t 100% sold on the medical benefits of cannabis at first until one particular firsthand account from a mother. I was her son’s caregiver; her son was 13 or 14 years old and was epileptic. She came in one day and broke down crying because she didn’t have to go to the streets for cannabis anymore. She said, “You have no idea how much I admire and respect your courage and how much you helped my son. You guys being here and taking care of us has been like God answering my prayers.” It was very heavy and very emotional.
Hearing those kinds of stories and testimonials gave me the strength to stand up for what I was doing and believed in at the time. It still does to this day.
Believe it or not, I don’t look at federal prison as the worst thing that ever happened to me. It gave me the opportunity to sit back, reflect and learn from the choices and decisions that I’ve made. Maybe mistakes, maybe not mistakes.
Any advice for anyone that’s thinking of getting into cannabis?
If you’re thinking about getting into it now, you need to position yourself and prepare yourself for the long haul. You’re only warming up after five years in the space. This is a daily education. Cannabis is unique in a sense, it’s not like any other businesses. You can apply past experiences from other businesses ventures. But the hands-on education that you get on a day to day basis is like no other.
Brett Stevens: Lighting the Way for Indoor Cultivators
Brett Stevens of Fohse is on a mission to make his company’s name synonymous with hi-tech LED grow lights for the cannabis industry.
At Fohse, meeting the challenges faced by indoor cannabis cultivators with superior lighting solutions is the prime directive. It’s a niche that co-founder and CEO Brett Stevens says is rife with opportunity for those with the talent to innovate. A serial entrepreneur with several successful exits in new and emerging markets under his belt, Stevens is now firmly focused on the cannabis industry.
“I originally got into the farming side of it, and I could definitely see where at that time, five or six years ago, there were so many holes that needed to be filled. It was kind of like, pick a side and go with it,” Stevens told Cannabis Aficionado.
The sector he believed had the most potential to impact the cannabis industry was engineering, and Stevens had kept his ear to the ground for tech opportunities, specifically for cannabis. So, when an engineer friend shared his design for advanced LED lighting, he saw a chance to bring value to a nascent industry.
For Las Vegas-based Fohse, the vision is to continually expand the tech in the cannabis industry, and Stevens is proud and unapologetic about the company’s focus.
“We’ve pigeonholed ourselves into the cannabis industry. We didn’t create the light for any other plant,” he explained. “We are sold on the plant. We’re sold on the medical purposes of the plant, and we really want to be there as the plant is more readily explored.”
In order to be true innovators, Fohse doesn’t settle for the services of outside engineers. Instead, the company has its own in-house engineering team creating cannabis lighting solutions from the ground up. Stevens touched on SolidWorks, a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) program, that Fohse’s engineering team uses for their technical drawings.
“We do all our material science, and we do all of our material engineering to make sure that the materials we’re using to dissipate heat or to project that photon where it needs to go [are sound]. We’re doing all that in-house.” he explained.
A Company Driven by the Question, “What If?”
Stevens noted that he’s not one to micromanage his executive team though. Instead, he said that his leadership style is to assemble a solid corps of professionals and let them go to work. And as inspiration, he encourages his engineers to continuously ask, “What if?”
“What if we could do ten pounds a light?” he wondered aloud. “What if we could do four micromoles per joule? How would we do that?”
“We’re consistently thinking, ‘How can we be more efficient, and more powerful?’ And I think that’s what drives me,” he added.
According to Stevens, the combined talent and drive at Fohse are producing the most advanced LED lights available to cannabis cultivators. And that’s not just an assertion. It’s a claim that is backed by the company’s research.
“We are literally the most powerful and the most efficient light in the world right now,” Stevens said, adding that Fohse has done grow ops where they have bought and tested every single competitor’s light.
“There’s no question,” Stevens states confidently. “We will outgrow anything on the market.”
Creating an Industry Standard for Indoor Cannabis Cultivators
When his company entered the business, Stevens says the light manufacturing industry was racing to the bottom, with everyone trying to produce the cheapest lamps that would still grow cannabis. But Fohse took a different approach altogether.
“We looked at it more like, ‘What if we put massive power supplies and 5,000 diodes in a light?’ and ‘What if we could replicate indoor sunlight?’” he explained, adding that they focused closely on grams per square foot.
“Because in the end, that’s what it comes down to, right?” he asked. “If you have a finite amount of space, the more you can grow in that area, the more productive and the more successful you’ll be.”
Constantly striving to increase productivity and efficiency for indoor cannabis cultivators is what the team at Fohse is all about. And that drive, Stevens says, will become increasingly evident when the company’s products are known as the industry standard.
“I think that we’re hungry, that we’re always advancing. We will not stop until we will reach the absolute pinnacle,” he pledged.
Michael Trzecieski: The ‘World’s Coolest Bong’ Design Director
Every now and then, a game-changing product comes along that tempts us to throw all other gadgets and glass out the window. The Stüdenglass gravity bong is one such product. Chances are you know of the bong through the viral video showing contemporary stoner icon Seth Rogen gripped by a coughing fit after one hit — cementing the bong’s place in counterculture legend.
The original product was conceived by ex-Apple alumni Tracey Huston, who filed the patent back in 2016. Recently, Stüdenglass was acquired by one of the most innovative — and coolest — cannabis companies, Grenco Science. Shortly after, Michael Trzecieski, founder of Vapium and tech-designer extraordinaire, took up the challenge of refining the state-of-the-art mounted gravity bong for top-shelf aficionados.
Cannabis Aficionado caught up with Trzecieski to talk about the synergies between weed and tech, how the Stüdenglass has improved, and, of course, that Seth Rogen video.
Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you found your way to cannabis.
Michael Trzecieski: Growing up in Canada has afforded me many opportunities but there are two that have been the most formative — the first was becoming a Roboticist and the second was to witness and experience a country who showed true compassion toward cannabis as medicine. I was allowed to see the power of the plant without shame or indignity.
My journey as a Roboticist started in fibre optics, engineering micro-robotic toys. At the same time, Canada was making enormous strides towards full legalization. The timing, coupled with my desire to support the medical cannabis consumer, allowed me to shift my focus and passion — making a different kind of robot to support the people who needed it most. With this goal in mind, I took my years of experience in safety and controls (from toys being so heavily regulated) and applied this to making our first haptic vaporizer back in 2012.
Can you share your thoughts around the synergy between tech and cannabis?
Tech allows users to titrate their cannabis experience so they can choose to consume at various levels. Traditional methods of consumption are not always effective for all patients, and innovation is paramount for harm reduction and efficiencies. It is essential to have clean air intake, temperature stabilization. Temperature stabilization allows the vaporizing device to toast the leaf material instead of combusint it using a closed-loop temperature stabilization feedback system. At lower temperatures consumers can experience improved terpene profiles while at higher temperatures they may enjoy stronger effects.
What were the things you set out to achieve when designing the Stündenglass gravity bong?
The new Stündenglass glass gravity bong was designed for aesthetics, precision machining and cleaner vapor. We also wanted to provide a more comfortable user experience. Through the kinetic motion activation, vapours are sucked into an upper chamber and as water rushes from the upper chamber to lower chamber, the vapor percolates through the flowing water stream and offers vapour filtration as well as vapor cooling.
Tell us about the materials and why you chose them.
The materials chosen for the Stündenglass were predominantly glass and metal.
Glass offers a supreme taste, it is easy to clean, and it does not attract vapor and oil particles.
Stainless steel was also chosen as one of the core elements in the device because of its cleanliness as well as its ability to be precision-machined and for its high wearability in the valve portion of the device.
Anodized aluminium was also utilized for its durability and longevity.
What’s your favorite thing about the Stündenglass gravity bong?
It’s magical. The kinetic motion activation allows the device to both suck vapour as well as expel vapor at the same time, and provides percolation and water vapor filtration. There are also many magnetic components because magnets are also kind of magical.
Stündenglass was recently acquired by Grenco Science. Can you tell us details of how this exciting acquisition came about?
We first got to know Tracey Huston, and it was immediately apparent that there was a synergy between the brands, with a shared goal of innovation and improving upon the user experience. We recognized the ingenuity behind Stündenglass and understood how we could help by bringing this product into Grenco Science’s global expansion plan. From there it was a natural next step to bring Stündenglass into the Grenco Science umbrella.
How has the device evolved since its initial prototype?
The initial prototype was a very functional and utilitarian type unit. The design was since improved for its aesthetics, robustness, as well as the modularity. Furthermore, the percolation was an added feature and an improvement over the first model.
Subsequent models have allowed for modularity. The modules may be removed and taken apart, cleaned and accessorized, as well as replaced with other future potential attachments and improvements. A wall mount was also provided.
The viral video of Seth Rogen with his Stündenglass put the gravity bong on the wish-list of every aficionado, cementing its place in cannabis culture legend. How did it come about?
It was very organic. An early prototype was given to someone in Seth Rogen’s family, who then gave it to him. It was his own idea to create the video and share the experience online.
What tech trends do you predict for the cannabis industry over the next five years?
The bigger tech trends in the cannabis industry include dosing and data. Many customers want to be able to monitor their dosages as well as have data associated with their consumption, like what a Fitbit tracker does for fitness. This will allow producers to develop more meaningful formulations for their consumers as the data and dosing science evolves.
How do your products help shift the stigma about cannabis?
Our products help the ship the stigma on cannabis by bringing technology to the industry. This tech comes in the form of improved heating technologies, industrial design, safer material choices and temperature stabilized heating control loops.
In your opinion, what’s the most important thing that needs to be addressed when talking about cannabis?
That cannabis is a medicine. We are only beginning to uncover its real potential as legalization around the world grows.
How do you think the cannabis industry as a whole can be better?
Accountability. One of the major issues in the industry at the moment is a lack of accountability and a lack of safety and testing standards. There are still some operators that are looking to make a quick buck from unassuming consumers, and last year’s vape crisis was a direct result of that.
The cannabis industry is just in its beginning stages and needs to evolve. With this evolution there will be added accountability and more rules and regulations to ensure it’s safer for all.
What do you wish you knew when you started out in cannabis entrepreneurship?
I wish I knew that it was not going to be easy, and this holds true for any entrepreneurship. Finding the right people and putting together the right team is really important. It took us years to finally find the right partners and the right people to work with. This allowed us to evolve from a smaller operation to a larger entity.
Finally, what are three things it takes to be a cannabis entrepreneur?
I would say the first thing is creativity. You have to be full of ideas; you have to understand how to change the game; and how to make a difference, not just fit in. As the industry quickly evolves with ever changing rules and regulations, you need to keep your head in the game. It’s an industry for sharp minded entrepreneurs who know they can make a difference.
You’ve got to be tenacious, never take no for an answer, and keep on pushing for what you want to achieve going forward. No one’s going to do it for you. You need to drive your creativity home to others and have them believe in you.
You need to show up and be present in order to know what the industry is about. You need to be present at trade shows, events and gatherings where you can meet the right people in order to develop the right relationships.
Follow Michael Trzecieski on Linkedin.