This week, we’re reporting from the floor of the MJ Unpacked Conference here in New York City. Over the course of three days, we had the opportunity to learn firsthand about the latest innovations in the industry and connect with a number of power players doing fascinating things.
First up is Elizabeth Becker. After working in film in LA, Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, Elizabeth launched HiBnb–a fully compliant marketplace that offers cannabis-friendly accommodations and activities to enthusiasts while giving producers and retailers access to amazing marketing opportunities.
In our interview with Elizabeth, you’ll learn why she never assumes that cannabis consumers are dirty or might burn the house down, how her startup fosters community, and the unique challenges she’s facing as an entrepreneur in this fast-moving, fast-growing space.
Next, we’re joined by Brandon Dorsky and Maggie Wilson, CEO and CMO of Fruit Slabs which is an award-winning and kosher-friendly edible brand. Brandon has over a dozen years of experience as an attorney working to build businesses and create intellectual property, and Maggie is an expert-level cannabis sommelier–and became the first Black female to hold that title in 2018.
We had the chance to talk with them about how their business has changed since launching in 2015, the ins and outs of getting federal patents for cannabis products, and where to market in a world that’s so quick to punish cannabis brands that aren’t doing anything wrong.
- How HiBnb uniquely provides support to cannabis tourists, brands, and products.
- Why so many “cannapreneurs” can outsource so few of their operations to other companies–and why they often struggle to find funding.
- What makes California such a difficult place to build and grow a cannabusiness right now.
- How Fruit Slabs is connecting with customers while offering a better product at a higher price point.
- Why Maggie recommends that any business that loses access to Instagram move their operations over to Pinterest.
- “Because I have a love of cannabis, that’s why I’m here. And I want everybody to know about all these cool, great products and support the legal industry because I’m so happy that it’s legal.” – Elizabeth Becker
- “Anybody that gets their Instagram shut down, you should just convert everything that you had on your Instagram to Pinterest and you’re going to get better analytics, period.” – Maggie Wilson
- MJ Unpacked
- HiBnb on Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn
- Fruit Slabs
- Fruit Slabs CBD
- Fruit Slabs on Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | YouTube
- Fruit Slabs on LeafLink
- State of Cannabis Newshour Podcast
- The Metaphysical Cannabis Oracle Deck
- Grassroots California
- G Pen
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Rick Kiley: Welcome to another episode of The Green Repeal. I’m Rick Kiley. I’m joined by Jeff Boedges. We are on the floor of the MJ Unpacked Conference.
Jeffrey Boedges: Literally, on the floor. We went out last night and I’m laying down.
Rick Kiley: Jeff is prone. We’re going to see how it works. I think…
Jeffrey Boedges: I’m recharging.
Rick Kiley: John Lennon recorded Revolution, one of the versions, the slow one, where he was laying down because he wanted his voice to sound a certain way. So, maybe that’s just what we’re getting through.
Jeffrey Boedges: I was going to go with I’m So Tired, also from the White Album, I think.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, I think so.
Jeffrey Boedges: All right.
Rick Kiley: We’ll probably get letters that we’re wrong.
Jeffrey Boedges: We’re dating ourselves here.
Rick Kiley: Anyway, we are joined today right now by Elizabeth Becker, who is the founder and CEO of HiBnb.
Jeffrey Boedges: This is the greatest idea ever.
Rick Kiley: It’s the greatest idea. It is a fully compliant marketplace, offering canna-friendly accommodations and activities to cannabis enthusiasts while providing producers and retailers with unique marketing opportunities. Got to get unique and creative.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I mean, this is like a sampler’s dream.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. So, prior to launching HiBnb, Elizabeth enjoyed a career as a writer and director on film and TV, all while advocating for the legalization of cannabis. After engaging in film production in L.A., Vancouver, and Toronto, you know Montreal, Elizabeth took a jump into the newly formed legalized cannabis sector.
[INTERVIEW PART 1]
Rick Kiley: Welcome to the Green Repeal, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Becker: Thank you for having me. What a great introduction.
Rick Kiley: Oh, thank you. Thank you.
Jeffrey Boedges: We need a little more volume on that mike.
Elizabeth Becker: I can lean in. How’s that? Is that better?
Jeffrey Boedges: There we go.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Get your like sexy.
Elizabeth Becker: I’m not used to being on the radio.
Jeffrey Boedges: Mike check.
Elizabeth Becker: You guys are having so much fun with this.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, we try. We try to make it fun. So, I have like a boring first question here where you tell your story but I think the first question we were talking about it last night when we were out is just like when you go and get Airbnb, all of them have a cleaning fee. And I’m just curious, is there a special cleaning situation for HiBnb rental?
Elizabeth Becker: No, it’s not necessarily special. You know, we don’t tell our hosts, “This is how you have to clean it.” The hosts want to keep it clean. So, they assign their own cleaning fees. It’s up to the host. Some hosts might not put a cleaning fee on but most of them I think would.
Jeffrey Boedges: I’d put like $100 Oreo crumb deposit on my agreement. I’m just saying.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Maybe there’s a tiered system.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, for sure.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Elizabeth Becker: But one thing that we did is we added an insurance product that comes automatically so that folks don’t have to worry about property damage.
Rick Kiley: Okay, cool. That’s a good idea.
Elizabeth Becker: Automatic coverage of $1.5 million, in case of accident.
Rick Kiley: Wow. Alright.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. You should talk to our…
Rick Kiley: We’re not inviting you. It’s not like when Jerry Seinfeld rented the car, and he said, “I’m getting the full insurance because I plan to beat the crap out of this car.” That happened in one of his episodes.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I don’t know that one. I thought you were going to go with the one where there were no villas for rent in Tuscany.
Elizabeth Becker: I just want to call one thing out, though, because I hate making the assumption that the cannabis consumer is going to be dirty.
Jeffrey Boedges: Oh yeah, for sure.
Elizabeth Becker: And I hate making the assumption that the cannabis consumer is going to burn the house down.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I wasn’t thinking about dirt, actually. You mentioned the Oreos. I was just thinking like when you go to a hotel and they like if you smoke in here, you’re going to get $500 out of your bill.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Rental cars are worse too.
Rick Kiley: So, I was more thinking about is there an air filtration product? Is there something like that?
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, we all know. There’s a lot more ways to consume cannabis than flower. So, I think that would be the next question.
Elizabeth Becker: Yes.
Jeffrey Boedges: What is your clientele looking for? Does it follow the standard sort of like breakout with the way the sales go? So, flower number one and then edibles number two, vaping number three, or is it all over the place?
Elizabeth Becker: Well, really what everybody wants is a place where they can actually consume cannabis inside, anywhere inside, and they want to have the product there when they arrive. Like, that’s the consumer promise that we are working to offer.
Rick Kiley: Great. So, walk us through the offering. So, I’m someone who’s interested. Explain to me what do I get out of an HiBnb, not Airbnb.
Elizabeth Becker: HiBnb. Yes, absolutely. It’s HiBnb, not Airbnb. Well, what you get out of your HiBnb and everyone is different because it depends on how the host presents it. Either it’s smoking inside or smoking outside. It’s taking us a little bit of time to actually build out our value proposition. But what that is, is when you check in, there’s going to be a welcome basket of local product and you may have to go into the local dispensary to pick up that welcome basket but that’s the value-added. When somebody checks in a HiBnb accommodation, you’re going to be able to sample and get to know the local products in that region. So, we support cannabis tourism and supporting the brands and products.
Rick Kiley: Got it. And is it like listed as an amenity when you book?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, they choose?
Rick Kiley: Can you state your preference? Can you search by what’s available like, “I want a house with a dishwasher?”
Elizabeth Becker: Yeah. Actually, you know what, it’s true. I built it that way. I came from the film industry, writing and directing. And so, I also, when I was younger, grew up in sales and marketing in my mother’s marketing company. So, I wanted to support the businesses and I built the advertising into the user experience. So, basically, the host recommends the products that we’re working with and sometimes HiBnb can assign that. So, the host recommends the product. You can see it right there in the listing. It pops up to that product page and the dispensary too. So, it’s all sort of in the listing.
Rick Kiley: All right. So, walk us through how you went from TV film industry and moved into…
Jeffrey Boedges: Because we all know that no one in TV and film imbibes.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Well, I’m sure there is an exposure there to this type of living but I’m just curious, what made you – walk us through how you made the leap and transition into this business.
Elizabeth Becker: Sure. Hopefully, it’s not too long of a story. I wasn’t happy in film and TV. I went into film and TV because I wanted to have a voice. I wanted to be a conduit for a message. That’s why I got into it. I wanted to be Steven Spielberg. I want to make movies about reincarnation, actually, is what my passion is but I’m also passionate about cannabis. And so, I ended up in film and TV, working in kids TV, which did not meet my inner need of having something profound to say. And so, I was unhappy.
Rick Kiley: Right. And kids TV and cannabis usually don’t go together.
Elizabeth Becker: No. It’s like I’m so tired of writing those burping and farting jokes.
Rick Kiley: We’re not. You can try a few out on us.
Jeffrey Boedges: I don’t write them per se. I just let them fly extemporaneously.
Elizabeth Becker: So, I knew I was looking for a way out and I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going to go. It just so happened I have a passion for cannabis and I was very excited in Canada when we were legalizing in 2018 and looking for an opportunity. So, anything that I was doing, I was trying to fold cannabis in to just get to know who the players are and to start seeing the industry however it was going to unfold. And lo and behold, I ended up here. I worked for in payment processing first and then for two different entrepreneurs in the cannabis space. The last one was in cannabis tourism and I saw the need that people had for integrating cannabis experiences into their lives. They’re so excited about it. It’s like cannabis became legal to purchase. What else are you supposed to do with it? You’re not supposed to consume it in public. You’re not supposed to consume it when you’re on holiday like you’re not supposed to consume it socially. Where are the laws and the rules around supporting that kind of lifestyle? So, I kind of got angry that if cannabis is going to be legal, this is what legal looks like. And I just had this brainfart of HiBnb and fell in love with it and started telling people about it. And everybody got so excited and it’s just snowballed and snowballed.
Rick Kiley: That’s really cool. Yeah, that’s really cool.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, what markets are you activating in right now? If I want to go on a HiBnb vacation, where do I get to go?
Elizabeth Becker: Well, go onto our website, HiBnb.us and then click on the Search By Map button. And then…
Rick Kiley: I think it’s important we spell HiBnb for everybody also.
Elizabeth Becker: Yeah. H-I-B-N-B.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, I thought it was going to be H-I-G-H. It’s not. It’s H-I-B-N-B.
Elizabeth Becker: And you know why? It’s a double entendre. It’s like hi friendly and it doubles up. If it’s H-I-G-H, it’s only saying one thing. Now, we’re saying two things. That’s how my crazy mind works.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s creativity. Yeah. We love a good double entendre. In marketing, if we can get triple entendre, then we really know we’re getting somewhere.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. And it might also help with regulation and compliance, too.
Elizabeth Becker: Yes, it does. Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I figured that there is some benefit there. Cool.
Elizabeth Becker: Yeah. So, right. You search by map and then you can see all of the different listings that we have in whatever states there are and whatever countries there are. We’re actually in eight different countries and I’m very excited about that.
Rick Kiley: That’s super cool.
Jeffrey Boedges: All right. Yeah. And so, give me the best country to go to right now for a HiBnb.
Elizabeth Becker: Oh, that would be USA.
Jeffrey Boedges: USA. Okay.
Elizabeth Becker: Yeah, California.
Jeffrey Boedges: California? All right.
Elizabeth Becker: Yeah. We’ve got a few in Chicago. They’re starting to come up in Michigan. We soon will be building out in Florida actually but we are here at MJ Unpacked, raising funds for our seed round. We’re raising $2.5 million. And with that, we’ll be marketing and advertising. And that’s when you’ll see that our inventory starts to grow.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right. Okay.
Rick Kiley: Nice.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. So, I can book on HiBnb just like I would on other travel sites. Is that correct?
Elizabeth Becker: That is correct.
Jeffrey Boedges: All right. Do you foresee a time when it’s going to be like maybe even just like kind of an overlay? So, “Hey, I’m coming into this town. Can you have a delivery kind of thing waiting for me so I can take my normal BNB and turn it into a HiBnb?
Elizabeth Becker: Yeah. Well, I’m not sure I follow exactly. If you have a normal BNB, it should be listed on HiBnb because there’s the delivery aspect is connected to it. That’s the partnership we have with the dispensaries.
Rick Kiley: I think the point is you know that the house that you’re renting is.
Jeffrey Boedges: Is cool.
Rick Kiley: Is cool, is okay with it.
Elizabeth Becker: There are also events like cannabis events and activities and community engagement that you find on our site. So, when you book your accommodation, it says, “Oh, here are some events that are happening near you or near the place that you’re going so you can see what’s there. Because some people are throwing like poker, poker night. Some people have a boat and they’re offering a serenaded dinner on the sailboat, all cannabis-friendly, right? There’s just a lot of creative ideas that people have when they’re listing the experiences.
Rick Kiley: Got it.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I’m thinking clambake. I want to go eat and sit on the beach and listen to like music. That’s me. I go to Maine for my vacation. I need a HiBnb location.
Rick Kiley: All right. HiBnb owners, listen, you’re going to have someone come and rent your house for a clambake if you got it.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right on.
Elizabeth Becker: Yeah. There’s a company in Yellowknife, which is far north in Canada. They get a ton of Japanese tourists coming in all the time to watch the aurora borealis, the northern lights.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. That would be solid.
Elizabeth Becker: And so, I want to connect with them and hook that up as a high experience to sit and watch the Northern Lights. And then, like in Vancouver, there’s great fishing. Somebody can take out a fishing cruise, a HiBnb fishing boat.
Rick Kiley: Nice.
Elizabeth Becker: I want to find the different activities that are specific to different regions. That would be great to have.
Rick Kiley: Got it.
Elizabeth Becker: Go ahead.
Rick Kiley: No. So, what I like about this in our business is we come from the event and experience world and it seems like what you’re offering is less just about a place of residence but more about crafting experience, a tourism experience for people.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Sounds 360. It’s not just about having a place to go sleep and enjoy. It’s about coming into a very cannabis-friendly vacation.
Elizabeth Becker: Yes. And so, when you go to our site, you can stay high. Those are the accommodations that you’re talking about but you can also play high. And the traction that we’ve had on our site so far has been mostly through the play high side, it’s ticketing. So, we are functioning like Eventbrite in the cannabis space, but Eventbrite is not cannabis-friendly, so we’re ticketing events.
Rick Kiley: Nice. Okay. And I like those little taglines.
Jeffrey Boedges: Eventbrite is not cannabis-friendly?
Rick Kiley: Well, it’s probably just dealing with regular federal legal issues.
Jeffrey Boedges: Federal thing, I guess.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. They don’t want to jump in there like banks and other upstarts.
Jeffrey Boedges: I get it. I get it. But yeah, no, I think it’s a wonderful idea. I just am trying to think all the different permutations because we’ve been talking about this idea, like you mentioned, cannabis tourism and we love that idea. But coming from the spirit side, what we do, we kind of relate it to, well, there’s the whiskey trail down in Kentucky and Tennessee and then there’s obviously in California. Everybody goes to northern California and has a wine vacation and they go and they hit all these wineries. Are you guys doing something like that in Humboldt where we go and we get to visit 20 grow facilities, things like that?
Elizabeth Becker: Yeah. Those experiences are already there in Humboldt and we are connecting with them. We want to build it out more so that there’s an accommodation close by to those. There are certain regions that are known for growing great, great weed and those are the regions that we’re working to build out as cannabis tourism destinations.
Jeffrey Boedges: Where is the equivalent in Canada? So, where do we go for that kind of experience?
Elizabeth Becker: It would be around Kelowna, the Okanagan Valley.
Rick Kiley: The Okanagan Valley.
Elizabeth Becker: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Okay.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, do you know where the Okanagan Valley?
Rick Kiley: No. I’m about to write it down.
Jeffrey Boedges: Man, I’m like it’s dope.
Elizabeth Becker: It’s where B.C. Weed comes from. Have you ever heard of B.C. Weed?
Rick Kiley: No, but I have now.
Elizabeth Becker: Yeah. Oh, that’s great weed. So, they’re known for growing a lot of legacy growers there, a lot of craft growers there. And in Canada, they have something called farm gates so that a small grow cultivator can sell their product.
Rick Kiley: Cool. That’s awesome. So, how are you developing the relationships with the brands that you’re integrating? Are you involved in that? Is your company bother the people who have they’re listing the homes that are rent or do they have the relationship? Who starts it?
Jeffrey Boedges: How are you choosing your brands?
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Elizabeth Becker: Well, sorry. There are so many things going through my mind. It’s hard for me to – it’s coming through me, through me and the dispensaries. That’s who’s working together. So, I’m talking to brands right now. We want to make sure, especially in those welcome baskets, that there’s only one product category of each that’s a unique product, that’s low in price point, that would be like a sample rather than like we’re not giving away big bags of weed. But it would be nice to sample all of the little different products. And look, there are a lot of hosts that don’t want fire in their home, right? So, they don’t want anybody lighting it up inside. So, with those homes, we are looking for infused products. So, every check-in, there’s a beverage, there’s a chocolate, there’s a gummy, there’s a topical.
Rick Kiley: Okay.
Jeffrey Boedges: All right. So, how often are people like having to get refilled? I mean, I guess if you come for the weekend, you’re probably good with the basket but if you come for a week, you got to go, you fill these up.
Elizabeth Becker: It’s only happening once per booking.
Jeffrey Boedges: Okay. All right. And is there a maximum amount per person? So, say I’m bringing a party of 20. I’d be a pretty big basket, right?
Elizabeth Becker: Well, it’s true. Well, and some of these things we’re just working it out because we’re still kind of young so we’re working and we have to work it out through the dispensary. The dispensary is the gate holder of the welcome basket. So, it depends on the participating dispensary.
Rick Kiley: Okay. So, you’re here at this conference. You mentioned you’re raising money. So, I’m sure that’s probably a primary driver behind your attendance. But are you looking to meet more growers?
Jeffrey Boedges: Interesting podcast people.
Rick Kiley: What are you looking to get out of your time here?
Elizabeth Becker: Well, yeah, we need to close on the funding so that I can hire people so that we can execute and engage in heavier marketing. That’s the biggest thing is closing the seed round but we are looking for relationships. That’s the most important thing. I mean, you can’t grow entirely on your own. So, I want to meet the brands, different brands who are in multiple states ideally, or not really, so that we can promote their product. Because I have a love of cannabis, that’s why I’m here. And I want everybody to know about all these cool, great products and support the legal industry because I’m so happy that it’s legal.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, that’s awesome. And so, how big is your team right now? I mean, it sounds like you’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting on your own. I can see you really want to be able to hire a bunch of people kind of looking around.
Elizabeth Becker: You know what, I got stuck at building the product because I thought there’s no point in putting a ton of money into marketing this if we have a site that breaks down or that nobody can trust or it isn’t customized. And so, that turned into a big job building the site and I’ve been doing that for about two years, making sure weeding out all of the bugs and making sure it’s a good user experience because we’re not a big corporation. People, when they see our HiBnb logo, it looks great. You think it’s a corporate company. Not. It’s just a small infrastructure. It’s kind of family-run actually. So, there’s a handful of people working, a lot of people putting in sweat and passion. And, yes, I am doing a lot of different jobs in above and beyond building the technology. I’m bringing together the brands and the dispensaries and putting together all the contracts and raising funds. And that’s like turn in my full-time job is raising funds but I really just want to be on the front lines talking to the hosts and talking to guests and getting people excited about it. That’s what I really want to do.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. We’ve heard that from a lot of cannapreneurs. I’m trying to come up with a new term here, cannapreneur?
Rick Kiley: I mean, I don’t think it’s specific to cannapreneurs. I think a lot of people have found companies find themselves raising money a lot more than they thought they would. Like, that seems to be very common.
Elizabeth Becker: Yeah, that’s the job of the CEO, right?
Rick Kiley: Unfortunately, yeah. Get paid to find money.
Elizabeth Becker: Yeah, it’s turned into that’s what I have to do. That’s the most important thing that I really want to do. The most important thing is to offer a great product.
Rick Kiley: Right.
Jeffrey Boedges: Can you give us an idea about the volume of business you’re doing? And I don’t even know how to quantify.
Elizabeth Becker: Well, I can tell you that at this current day, we have 300 hosts, 300 listings between accommodations and events, and about 2,500 subscribers. So, that’s the size of us right now. We are about to grow quickly because we do have an affiliate program and they work really hard to launch that. It’s just in the process of launching. So, we’ve got some great affiliates and we will be leveraging their networks to create more awareness.
Rick Kiley: Okay. Cool.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, that’s smart.
Rick Kiley: And how are people finding out about listing the homes like you mentioned, the inventory about 300 hosts? Is it hard to get more? Are people coming to you or are you having to actively recruit them?
Elizabeth Becker: Well, in the past, we have got the current hosts mostly through social media, going to Facebook groups in various cities, both Facebook groups that are cannabis-centric or Facebook groups that are Airbnb hosting centric, and finding great success in that approach. I’ve also built the site with an API integration too like if you know anything about the vacation rental industry, it’s all set by these aggregators of inventory. So, we have connected to two of those aggregators that could collectively give us 40,000 listings. So, I’m really excited about that type of growth and that type of scale. So, we have the integration in place and I’m just waiting to be able to hire the people to execute on those marketing channels so that we can hold the webinars and reach out to the property management systems and bring them on.
Rick Kiley: That’s super exciting. We love this idea. If somebody wants to invest in something, you know. So, all of you investors who are listening out there, how should they find you? How do they get in touch with you?
Elizabeth Becker: Okay. Well, just go to the website, HiBnb.us and there’s an email address there. It’s actually it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. That will come directly to me. My name’s Elizabeth.
Rick Kiley: Awesome.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s great.
Rick Kiley: Elizabeth, it has been great talking to you today and we wish you the best of luck raising the money. And I look forward to booking a place to stay in.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: I think that’s what we’ve got to do.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, we’re going to go do a California trip. That’s probably the reason I was kind of plugging.
Rick Kiley: We’re priming.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I’m getting ready for the Humboldt trip here, so we got to have a good place to go. So, we’ll call on you to help us find the right joint.
Elizabeth Becker: I gotcha.
Rick Kiley: Awesome. Cool. Thanks so much. We really enjoyed having you here. Good luck.
Elizabeth Becker: Thank you for having me.
Jeffrey Boedges: Thank you, Elizabeth.
[INTERVIEW WITH FRUIT SLABS]
Rick Kiley: Hello, everyone. We’re still here at MJ Unpack. Next up in the booth, we have Brandon Dorsky.
Jeffrey Boedges: Dude, that gong came in at the perfect time. I was just like, I don’t know if you can hear that, listeners.
Rick Kiley: Do you often walk around with your own personal gong guy? That would be awesome.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s like being like a master, like a kung fu master.
Rick Kiley: Can’t even get through the intro here.
Maggie Wilson: Shaolin.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Sorry. This is my job is to screw things up.
Rick Kiley: We often tell people I try to keep things on the rails, and Jeff tries to pull us off the rails. So, that’s our card. But we haven’t introduced our guests. We have Brandon Dorsky, CEO, and Maggie Wilson, the CMO of Fruit Slabs. Now, if you’re not familiar, Fruit Slabs is an award-winning edible brand, offering a healthy, sustainably sourced, and kosher-friendly alternative for cannabis consumers. On top of being the CEO of Fruit Slabs, Brandon is also a licensed attorney with dozen-plus years of experience advising and consulting clients on intellectual property, as well as business creation development. After helping propel Grassroots California and G-Pen to new heights, say we threw heights in there, in the cannabis counterculture, Dorsky joined the forces of Fruit Slabs in 2017 and took over their CEO in 2020. Impressive. He’s just nodding.
Brandon Dorsky: Thank you.
Rick Kiley: Humbly, humbly nodding. It’s solid. For Maggie, outside of being the CMO at Fruit Slabs, she has expert-level experience training as a cannabis sommelier. In fact, she became the first black female cannabis sommelier in 2018 and since led several cannabis pairing dinners. I love this idea of providing cannabis education as well as terpene and flavonoid profile pairing. I’ve also learned they both are on podcasts and host them of their own, so we’re going to have like some podcast voice-off.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Maggie actually is a voiceover artist, which is going to make us sound better for a change.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Will you coach me along the way if I’m saying anything wrong.
Rick Kiley: So, welcome.
Maggie Wilson: You got a great voice.
Jeffrey Boedges: Thank you.
Rick Kiley: All right.
Maggie Wilson: You’re already my favorite guest.
Rick Kiley: So, welcome. I guess just fill us in on anything that we’re missing there that you think we need to know and please tell us your spiel about Fruit Slabs and what…
Jeffrey Boedges: Spiel is an industry word.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Well, they had a kosher metaphor, so I thought I’d throw a little spiel.
Maggie Wilson: Yeah.
Brandon Dorsky: We’re familiar with the Yiddish here. Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Okay, cool. More like spiel like origin story. It sounds more superhero but spiel is fine.
Brandon Dorsky: Yeah. Keeping with the Yiddish. Some people might call me a mensch.
Rick Kiley: Nice. Everybody likes a good mensch.
Brandon Dorsky: I like to be a man of service in the cannabis industry. And that was a wonderful and beautiful introduction. Thank you.
Rick Kiley: You’re welcome.
Brandon Dorsky: I also like to serve up the education. And like you said, I do have a cannabis podcast I speak on every day. State of Cannabis Newshour every day, every weekday, 9 a.m. Pacific Time.
Rick Kiley: Man, we do this once every two weeks and it’s a ton of work. I can’t imagine doing it every day. How do you have time to be also the CEO of another company?
Maggie Wilson: That’s a great question.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s like marriage counseling all of a sudden. “That’s a good question. Why don’t you tell me? Who’s doing all the work when you’re out there screwing around on your podcast?”
Brandon Dorsky: I might sacrifice some sleep but there are a bunch of people that work on this podcast like 30 volunteers.
Rick Kiley: Got it. So, volunteers?
Brandon Dorsky: Yeah, volunteers. And there’s a 501(c)(3) behind it that is focused on cannabis education. So, a lot of people in the cannabis space just lending a little bit of time or a handful of us lending a bit more than a little bit of time to share updates on cannabis news, what’s going on in the law or culture.
Rick Kiley: That’s great.
Brandon Dorsky: And I admittedly like it’s a chunk of time but it keeps me super informed and I’m doing a bunch of stuff in cannabis so I learned things that I may otherwise not have been exposed to for quite some time. And professionally, it can sometimes help drive decision-making or just make me aware of what competitors are doing, or I’m often covering legal-related news. And so, there I’m learning about what’s going on in other markets where maybe we aren’t there yet. And that keeps me informed like what’s the best place to pivot? Or why should we be here in New York right now?
Rick Kiley: Yeah. All right, cool. And Maggie, why should he stop doing this podcast?
Jeffrey Boedges: Let’s talk about your feelings.
Maggie Wilson: No. I love the podcast. I was a correspondent for a while on the podcast and then I stepped away because it is a lot of work. It’s a lot to do the research and find the story and then read the story and be there. So, I was like, “This is a lot. I’ve got a lot going on.” I’m also a writer. I wrote a cannabis oracle deck called The Metaphysical Cannabis Oracle and I think it’s the first cannabis oracle deck that’s been made by two black women. I’m the writer and the other black woman is the illustrator. It’s actually in our brand showcase. And there’s a Fruit Slabs card. It’s the edibles card. Like there’s a consumption suit in the tarot deck to show you how to consume. It’s basically a way to educate you on cannabis in a new format. So, there is a cannabis suit within the suit.
Jeffrey Boedges: I thought I had heard almost every idea but this one is definitely new. Yeah.
Rick Kiley: I think you should meet the person we just interviewed who owns and runs HiBnb.
Maggie Wilson: HiBnb? Yeah. We met Elizabeth last year.
Rick Kiley: Oh, my God. Because you should be putting these decks in these homes. That sounds like a lot of fun.
Jeffrey Boedges: I need one. That’s a good idea.
Rick Kiley: I want to hang out with one of these decks right now. Let’s just do a reading. Can we just skip the podcast?
Maggie Wilson: Come by at the end of the day and I’ll definitely give you a reading.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, seriously?
Maggie Wilson: 100%. Absolutely.
Jeffrey Boedges: No, but I think we need to do that on the show as maybe a future thing.
Rick Kiley: But it’s very visual.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. But I mean she can narrate. She’s a voiceover artist.
Maggie Wilson: Yeah. I wrote the cards out and the illustrator drew what I wrote. So, it’s really like they look fantastical and whimsical. The illustrator was also an illustrator for Magic: The Gathering, those cards, like those beautiful cards. It’s really nice.
Rick Kiley: My son went through a Magic: The Gathering phase.
Maggie Wilson: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. All right. Cool. So, I don’t know if you know this but we first heard of Fruit Slabs when we interviewed a drag artist named Laganja Estranja.
Jeffrey Boedges: Oh, yeah.
Rick Kiley: And he threw some love to you guys. He loves your products. So, I want to know a little bit about the brand because I don’t know that much. I live in New York. We have medical dispensary stuff. They’re not selling Fruit Slabs where I go yet.
Brandon Dorsky: Not yet.
Rick Kiley: Good. That’s what I want to hear.
Brandon Dorsky: That’s the plan. Well, so Fruit Slabs, we’re like the adult fruit rollup, except we’re healthy. We’re made with all real fruit. No added sugar. As we like to say, were nature’s candy times devil’s lettuce.
Rick Kiley: All right. It rolls off the tongue.
Brandon Dorsky: We were born in 2015 in California and we’re in the market before all of the crazy changes there, have survived for seven years there. Everything we make is five ingredients or less. Everything is 100 calories or less per package, 10 calories or less per serving, a calorie or less per milligram. We really focused on delivering a healthy edible that’s safe for all diets or dietary restrictions where we have some food-sensitive people in our team. I myself suffered from allergies my entire life. So, edibles were always hard for me to approach in a less regulated market and even in a more regulated market right now. Got to do it cautiously.
Jeffrey Boedges: But were you rollup guys before cannabis? I mean, is this like something you would make for yourself?
Brandon Dorsky: I was not a rollup guy before cannabis. I love fruits.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right? Well, yeah, that’s what my son thinks. I’m like, “You have to have some fruit.” He’s like, “I just had some gummies.” That’s not the same thing.
Brandon Dorsky: Our founder and formulator, he was super into health food and also into fruit leathers and new people that made fruit leather products themselves and it was like, “You should put some cannabis in those.”
Jeffrey Boedges: Of course, they say that about everything. I had some new tires on my car. You should put some cannabis.
Brandon Dorsky: It might have just been a high idea at a music festival but then they put it in action and was able to really dial in the flavor. You know, starting with some knowledge on like where to get good fruit from and created Fruit Slabs and impressively managed to make an edible that tastes great without adding sugar to it, which was very different from what was out there in the market at the time.
Rick Kiley: That’s cool.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right. Okay. Yeah. We’ve tasted some of what I would call infused products and let’s be honest, some of them aren’t very good.
Maggie Wilson: Yeah. It’s hard to make a good-tasting edible. Like, it’s hard.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, I mean, I only tried making brownies one time. It was not successful. I hung up my apron.
Rick Kiley: You were done.
Jeffrey Boedges: I was done. I’m like, I’m not doing that again. That wasted like a bunch of really good weed. This was a long time ago, guys.
Rick Kiley: Fair enough.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Yeah.
Brandon Dorsky: Well, don’t have to waste it anymore.
Jeffrey Boedges: Exactly. I’m not going to try it.
Brandon Dorsky: You want to try something tasty? We got plenty of slabs. I carry them around right here.
Jeffrey Boedges: Oh, wow.
Rick Kiley: Oh wow. Alright.
Maggie Wilson: That’s what they look like.
Rick Kiley: Wow. Okay. So, for those of you envisioning a long fruit rollup thing like we got when we were in grammar school, it’s much smaller, much more compact.
Brandon Dorsky: Used to be just like the sheet but then the laws changed and they could only be – so it used to be a 100-milligram sheet. Then your serving size had to be 10 milligrams. Rather than like put perforation in the sheet so you rip and peel your slab, we just made smaller squares.
Rick Kiley: You sound frustrated with the having to put it into dose size. But I think a lot of people have had the edible experience where they’re like, “I didn’t realize how much was in that chocolate bar,” and then they end up falling off the toilet.
Jeffrey Boedges: Talk to their light switch covers.
Rick Kiley: So, it catches up with you but that’s cool. Now, do they come in different like dosages? Or are you in a like a standard 10-milligram dose like for every…
Brandon Dorsky: Ten milligrams is pretty consistent in the states that require a lower dosage as the categorical serving size. We advise having the perforation in the square. So, as you’re using twice as much fruit per package to deliver the same product.
Rick Kiley: You could cut those in half?
Brandon Dorsky: I mean, you could cut those in half, yes, but to have it be the square.
Rick Kiley: Right.
Jeffrey Boedges: And flavor-wise, how many different flavors we got now?
Brandon Dorsky: We have four flavors in market in California, mango, tropical haze.
Maggie Wilson: Which is mango with hemp seeds, shelled hemp seeds, mango with shaved coconut, and a grape.
Brandon Dorsky: Right. And a grape. And then we’re about to introduce one called Aqua Melon can be our first sour. It’s a sour watermelon. We have other flavors developed at least a dozen many sour flavors developed, including sour analogs of all of our main flavors. And we will introduce those shortly, possibly in states outside of California first.
Jeffrey Boedges: Okay.
Rick Kiley: And how’s business? How’s it going?
Brandon Dorsky: Business is both good and bad. I mean, the California market is very challenging from a growth standpoint and extremely competitive. And we have a higher-priced edible. You know, we use all real food ingredients. Nothing artificial. And so, we are priced competitively high there and that’s a challenge. In some of the other states, our product is more competitively priced with other edibles in the market. And so, we’re seeing some better growth in those states as well as project better growth in those states. California, the taxes are high, the cost of operations are high. We appreciate, I mean, the landscape for the buyers is the retailers still have to make a profit. And so, we have to find buyers that really want to carry healthy edibles.
Rick Kiley: Okay.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right.
Brandon Dorsky: And that isn’t…
Maggie Wilson: As easy as you think.
Brandon Dorsky: As easy as you think.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I mean, I would think California is a very health-conscious community, at least like Southern California, L.A. So, I’m just curious as to, and you’re the market or some I’m looking at you, are people thinking about being very health-conscious when they’re buying their cannabis products? Like, I would think maybe some are, some aren’t. How many people are really like thinking about that as in their decision tree?
Maggie Wilson: I would say it’s probably about half because there are the people that just want to get high and they just want to get high any way possible. Maybe they like edibles or they don’t want to smoke. But then there are people, a lot of our customers or people that have like diabetes and Lyme disease and they need cannabis in some form that’s not going to cause them more inflammation or cause their blood pressure to raise. So, they seek out our product and they ask for our product. And some dispensaries or some retailers that don’t have our product, they’ll have customers come in and they’re like, “I will buy 20 of this product if you just carry it.” And then they’re more inclined to make a purchase for our product. But it’s really hard in California to get, even though it is very health-conscious, it’s very hard to get that into the retailer because the retailer is like, “Well, I can buy this gummy for $2 or $3 and sell it for $15, $20 but I have to buy your product for more than $5. So, that cuts into my margin.” So, they don’t generally tend to like to do that because at the end of the day, it is still a business and they need to make a profit.
Brandon Dorsky: And if they price it at $25 versus $15, it’s not going to move on their shelves.
Maggie Wilson: Yeah. A lot of it’s education too like teaching the budtenders and teaching the consumer that this is a better product for them. Like, if you want a gummy, that’s great, but you’re going to have added sugar. There’s always going to be added sugar in your gummy and your chocolate bar, whatever. So, if you don’t like edibles or you’re not really familiar with edibles, the sugar can have an effect on you that you might attribute to the THC, and then you’re like, “I don’t like edibles.”
Jeffrey Boedges: Right.
Rick Kiley: Okay.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, can I ask just real quick, maybe, Brandon, for you being a lawyer and an innovator here in IP, how difficult is it to protect like your process?
Brandon Dorsky: That’s a great question. And we protect our process through contracting and trade secret. I mean, that’s a type of protection. No protection is perfect.
Jeffrey Boedges: Can you get patent protection in cannabis?
Brandon Dorsky: You can get patent protection in cannabis. There are a variety of patents you could go for. I mean, certainly utility patents. Plant patents is a category of patenting in cannabis that’s really emerging.
Jeffrey Boedges: Man, I had no idea. Sorry. I thought we’ve talked about everything.
Brandon Dorsky: There’s also design patents. And patents are available for you in cannabis because patents give you the ability to practice it or enforce against other people practicing it and prohibiting them from doing so.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, charging them up. They have to pay something.
Brandon Dorsky: So, under federal law, because you’re not necessarily doing something illegal, you might just be prohibiting people from doing something illegal. You can get utility patents in cannabis, whereas in trademarks at the federal level, there are still some limitations. But there are cannabis trademarks available in many of the states that have a cannabis law paradigm. And there’s trademark law protection for things that are unrelated to cannabis so you can protect your brand that way. Copyright, I strongly believe in copyrights for cannabis brands because you can get protection irrespective of whether or not you use your designs on cannabis. And if you get a registered copyright, you now have protection in over 150 countries around the world, whereas for trademarks and patents, you have to file for those rights in all the countries. It’s not automatically recognized.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right. So, I always think of copyright as being something that protects music or literature or things like that, but not like a process or a science.
Brandon Dorsky: So, a process or a science probably isn’t the space of copyright unless you’ve authored some writing about it and you’re copyrighting that material. The copyrights that I think of in cannabis are more highly artistic logos, brand packaging.
Jeffrey Boedges: Which I totally would concur. I never thought about that because then like if I’ve got a really successful brand in California, but if I’m not in New York, somebody can go in and launch my brand without me saying a damn thing about it.
Brandon Dorsky: Right. SOPs are copyrightable. You might be protecting those as a trade secret so you don’t want to publish them for anybody to go discover. But let’s say you’re not. You just have a unique way of describing how you do a cultivation or how you produce an edible but it’s your gummy process. Everybody else has their own but you’ve articulated it in a certain way. You can protect that. And now you’re licensing that to whoever is making it. So, we protect what we’re sharing with our licensees to the best of our ability.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right. Has it been an issue?
Brandon Dorsky: It has not been an issue. No.
Maggie Wilson: It’s a very big number that they have to pay if they take off.
Brandon Dorsky: I mean, is it an issue if someone were to violate our agreement? There is clear language as to what happens. We would have a pathway to getting paid. I actually wouldn’t have to really prove a lot about the infringement, just that they violated the agreement. And then we have a contract that will breach price. And so, whether we can afford to go chase it, we can also sell that to somebody else to go chase it.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right.
Brandon Dorsky: I certainly built it in. So, if a bad thing happens, we have some recourse. Even if a bad thing happens with like a party that is potentially insolvent or is doing it to do something nefarious.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: I want you guys to do all of our contracts.
Maggie Wilson: Well, Brandon’s your guy.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, but he’s busy making a podcast.
Jeffrey Boedges: Chris, if you’re listening, man, I’m joking, dude. You’re not leaving. Don’t have me killed.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Our lawyer just like…
Maggie Wilson: But he’s probably like, “I really like that guy.”
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. He might get an offer.
Rick Kiley: Maybe I should hire him.
Brandon Dorsky: That said, we hope our licensees are paying us through the royalty and license fee structure and not through the liquidated damages.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s the one thing about the industry, or not the one thing, but one of the things about the industry is that we really haven’t met a lot of d*cks. I suppose they’re out there. We just haven’t found them yet but, I mean.
Rick Kiley: We heard some stories about some people on the sort of.
Jeffrey Boedges: On the VC side.
Rick Kiley: On the funding VC side.
Brandon Dorsky: Yeah. The VC side, yeah. But those are people that come in. We’ve dealt with people from Wall Street over the years in wine and spirits. A lot of times they’ll come in and say, “Look, I’m going to start a new vodka brand. I got a lot of money and I want to be the number one vodka next year.” And like, “How much money you got? Like, that’s not really enough.” So, I said what we’d rather do is you just give us half. You keep half of yourself. We’re both going to come out way ahead. They’re generally like that.
Maggie Wilson: Absolutely.
Rick Kiley: So, I just want to turn back before we run out of time to sort of the conversation about how you’re connecting with consumers, how you’re getting the word out about the brand, how you’re growing your brand. You know, we’re marketing people, we’re event people and you talk about the need, especially for education. And I imagine you having to invest in trade advocacy and educating budtenders, consumers, both. What’s your approach to make sure people understand the why?
Jeffrey Boedges: Especially in the premium segment like you guys are in because you have to be not only there, you have to be better.
Maggie Wilson: Right. Well, we really try to make it really accessible for people. So, like on our website, we have a budtender training video that’s on YouTube. So, you don’t even have to be in the retailer in the space. If you want to learn about our product, you can just watch the budtender video by our founder on YouTube. And he talks about everything, what it is, how to use it, how to dose, etcetera. But because the marketing is so gray area and we’re not allowed to do so many things, we’ve found other innovative ways to really get our product out to the consumer, including like we’ll offer, Brandon has a really big background in entertainment and music, so we offer people to come to concerts with us. We offer free tickets to concerts. We utilize social media in the way that we utilize platforms that are not anti-cannabis like Pinterest and Twitch, which Pinterest is just a search engine. It’s literally a search engine. So, it’s better. It’s almost better than Google.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right? I’m a big Pinterest guy, which is like my only social media that I like to use. And people are always like, “You have a Pinterest board?” I’m like, yeah.
Maggie Wilson: Yeah. Anybody that gets their Instagram shut down, I’m like, “You should just convert everything that you had on your Instagram to Pinterest and you’re going to get better analytics, period.”
Jeffrey Boedges: Right?
Maggie Wilson: Like, absolutely. I tested it out in the past week and we raised our engagement over 1,000%.
Rick Kiley: Pinterest is coming for you, Meta. Watch out.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Watch out. I think Elon Musk is going to come looking for you, guys.
Maggie Wilson: Hey, Elon. What’s up? I’m a big Elon fan. You want to invest in Fruit Slabs?
Brandon Dorsky: We have something called the Coslaborator Network, where we invite artists and creatives to pitch us ideas. And then we will support them in various ways. We have a chef.
Maggie Wilson: From New York.
Brandon Dorsky: A guy, he goes by the name Trannabis and we provide Fruit Slabs for the Trannabis kitchen where he incorporates Fruit Slabs in his recipes and has other chefs on his show and kind of educates people on how you could use Fruit Slabs in a different way or incorporate it into your daily eating.
Maggie Wilson: They don’t melt so he bakes with them.
Jeffrey Boedges: I have no idea how to make a fruit rollup or slab.
Rick Kiley: Well, we’re going to have – he can teach you. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to do a whole separate episode.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. You guys definitely got to come back. This is the appetizer, pardon the pun, for the main course.
Rick Kiley: Unfortunately, we’re on a truncated time for these interviews at this conference. We are behind…
Jeffrey Boedges: Which clearly, I don’t respect.
Rick Kiley: …The MJ Unpack Conference. If somebody wants to try Fruit Slabs or, by the way, your new offshoot that I just invented, Flute Slabs.
Maggie Wilson: Lizzo would love a flute slab.
Rick Kiley: You eat them but you can play music with them first.
Jeffrey Boedges: I’m pretty sure there was a commercial in the 80s where somebody was playing a fruit rollup as a flute, just so you know.
Rick Kiley: How should people learn about you? Where should they go if they want them at their dispensary? Who do they call?
Brandon Dorsky: They should go FruitSlabs.com. You can find all our contact info there. You want CBD products, go to FruitSlabsCBD.com. You can find us on socials at Fruit Slabs everywhere.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, Pinterest. I hear they should check it out.
Maggie Wilson: Here in California, use LeafLink to find us and get our product through there.
Brandon Dorsky: We have an interactive map on our website that kind of heat seeks where we are located in the various states.
Rick Kiley: Right. And we do have a lot of Northeast people because we’re in New York. You mentioned New York.
Brandon Dorsky: New York, we are actively looking for a licensee. We are here speaking with multiple parties about possibly licensing the brand.
Rick Kiley: Awesome.
Brandon Dorsky: But you know, we’re people of the culture like we’re definitely going to find a licensee here, but we also want people to experience the product.
Jeffrey Boedges: You can’t swing at that cat without…
Brandon Dorsky: So, we’re showing up to events where if you can find these kind faces, we’re happy to share Fruit Slabs with you, whether it’s not infused, CBD infused, or THC infused and you know, allow you to experience Fruit Slabs so you can tell your friends that you want to find Fruit Slabs in New York.
Jeffrey Boedges: If you want to leave me a sample, I’d be…
Maggie Wilson: 100%.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, ecstatic.
Rick Kiley: I don’t think we’re allowed to say that. We’re not supposed to do that here.
Jeffrey Boedges: But but…
Rick Kiley: But there’s the CBD one. That’s…
Maggie Wilson: Well, we have non-infused samples at our booth that taste exactly like the THC and the CBD product.
Rick Kiley: Awesome.
Brandon Dorsky: So, come by and try those.
Jeffrey Boedges: I’ll try those. Yeah. Those.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Wink. Wink. Brandon, Maggie, a pleasure speaking with you.
Jeffrey Boedges: Can you hear winking on a podcast?
Rick Kiley: When you say wink, they can hear it.
Jeffrey Boedges: Oh, this is a quiet part.
Rick Kiley: Thanks, guys. I hope you have a great show. Get everything you wanted. The best of luck.
Brandon Dorsky: Thank you so much.
Rick Kiley: Cheers.