Other industries don’t always translate to cannabis: Back in 2016, we hired an executive who leads a division at a Fortune 500 company. We were fully confident in his ability to guide our brand to the next level, so we invested in his vision. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to deliver anything significant in the five months he was with us. We actually had to hire additional support staff to cover responsibilities that he could not fulfill. In spite of his experience and his talent, cannabis wasn’t the right fit for him. He couldn’t fully grasp the mechanics of the industry, so he wasn’t able to execute. There are plenty of people in cannabis who have impressive backgrounds and lengthy resumes. In order to be successful in cannabis, it’s important to find people who have the capacity to learn and adapt.
Ihad the pleasure to interview Casey Casey Ly.
Casey helped to co-found The Bloom Brand in 2014. He currently serves as the Chief Revenue Officer and runs Business Development, Sales and Branding for Bloom. He was a key player in launching the brand in California, Washington, New Mexico, and Nevada. Casey has a demonstrated track record of leading sales teams and pushing new businesses through rapid growth stages. He has a decade of experience scaling start-up companies and aggressively increasing market share through product sales and business development. Prior to his CRO position at Capna Intellectual, Casey served as the Enterprise Account Director at MaxCDN, where he developed an outbound sales strategy that landed the company’s largest Enterprise customer while also managing a significant share of the revenue. He made an exit with MaxCDN in 2016 after it was purchased by the enterprise network Stackpath. Casey has a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It was pretty organic. I was working at a job in tech when I was introduced to my current partners, sometime in 2013. We started off as friends; going out on the weekend, meeting for dinner, that sort of thing. They already had experience in cannabis and saw a huge opportunity within concentrates. They knew I was pretty good at sales and business development, so they asked for advice launching this new product called Bloom. I did a lot of research to put together a strategy and saw a huge opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. So I kept my day job and started by selling Bloom after work. A lot of our first retail accounts were stops along my way home from work. In 2016, the tech startup was sold to a bigger company. Although I was interviewing with other tech companies like Amazon, my heart was already in cannabis, so I decided to go full time into Bloom to build the brand.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I visited Barcelona in 2016 and I brought my Bloomvape with me. I posted it on our Instagram at the time (since deleted) and noticed that a local Barcelona weed club liked the photo. I dug into it and found the club. They had a membership that you had to apply for on Facebook. I ended up finagling an address and stopped by that night. The club was very cool; you bought your weed and then they gave you an area inside to smoke it. It was a lively place with a DJ playing. I showed them my pen and asked who had liked my photo on Instagram. The front desk introduced me to the owners of the club who, to my surprise, were German. They asked me a lot of questions about the product and pitched me 10–15 different ways to produce the product in Europe. At one point they told me to start a honey company and ship them oil in honey bears. I had no interest in smuggling drugs internationally, however, it really made me realize the potential of cannabis extracts and vapes. The demand for our product was already so great in a place like Barcelona. It inspired me to focus on expanding the brand. The following year, we launched in our first State outside California, Washington, and quickly pushed into New Mexico and Nevada afterward. It’s my goal to one day launch Bloom in Barcelona.
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?
One of the funnier mistakes was how we handled the 2016 Southern California Chalice Cup Awards. We never believed in cannabis awards, and we rarely competed in any of them. We decided to do Chalice last minute and submitted our distillate (which was a new thing at the time) for their best distillate category. We were so excited to finally do a big event that we went all out. We invited the whole team, bought a bunch of swag, made a ridiculous amount of product, and bought three huge $1,000 balloons that read “BLOOM” to attach to our booth. When we got to the show, the weather was extreme. The first $1,000 balloon got ripped while we were walking into the venue. The second $1,000 balloon was blown so hard by the wind that it smashed into the top of another tent and deflated. We had to use six people to jerry-rig the last balloon to the booth so it wouldn’t fly away. The wind and cold became so bitter that we decided to turn in early the first day, and then pack up halfway through the second day. We didn’t think there was any way we were going to win anything at the awards show on the third day so we figured it was better to go home. Turns out not only did we win an award, we got the gold! When they announced our win on stage, no one was there to accept the award. Moral of the story? Don’t give up hope when you make good cannabis!
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m always excited to bring Bloom to new places. Each market presents such a different and dynamic challenge. Next year (2020), we’re bringing Bloom to Oklahoma, Massachusetts, and Canada (going international!). The problem in newer markets, especially those that aren’t recreational, is that the product selection and formulations are incredibly inconsistent. Buying two of the same strain cartridges by the same brand may still produce two different effects. That’s pretty tricky when you are using cannabis as a medicine. Can you imagine an Advil not being consistent? Bloom solves that problem. Whether it’s Los Angeles or Oklahoma City, our trademark strains will deliver the same effects every time.
We’re also developing a couple of new product lines for the recreational market in California. These products focus on highlighting the best of California’s cultivators. It follows our mission of delivering authentic strains to our customers. I can’t give away too many details, but I’m excited because we’re taking a brand new approach to the market!
None of us are able to 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?
There’s no particular person, but I’m incredibly grateful for my partners. There were five of us that launched the brand in 2014, and none of us had any experience putting together a large cannabis CPG brand. They didn’t have too much knowledge in sales and marketing so they asked me to do it. I didn’t know what I was doing, but they were always supportive of the ideas I had. They provided constructive feedback and helped me remove any roadblocks along the way. They trusted me and that trust became my motivation. I didn’t want to let them down. We all relied on each other. Because there weren’t many resources at the time, we had to do everything ourselves. My partner Gene actually invented cold ethanol extraction while we were figuring out the best ways to extract oil for Bloom. We put together our own distribution network. We packaged all of the orders together. My personal success grew as the company grew, but it was really their faith in me that allowed me to unlock my potential.
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?
Large companies often become too wrapped up in their own processes that ignore customer feedback. The industry is young and shifts rapidly. It’s not easy to keep up with the changes, and it can be nearly impossible to predict shifts in consumer behavior. Experience from other industries often doesn’t translate well into cannabis either. Therefore, crowdsourcing product development and listening to the feedback from brand advocates are the best and most underrated ways to develop your products.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
The three things that excite me the most about the cannabis industry are:
1.) The market maturing: As consumers become more experienced with cannabis, the level of product education increases. Customers are now asking about terpenes and learning about extraction. That’s great for brands like us because it forces us to make sure our products are well made and well explained. It forces us to collectively step up our game.
2.) More markets opening up in the United States: Coming from a small lab in Southern California, I never could imagine that I’d be launching Bloom in places such as New Mexico and Oklahoma. At least, not so quickly. Cannabis really is blooming (pardon the pun) in the states! It’s exciting to be at the forefront of this movement. We can only hope that federal legalization is around the corner.
3.) Global acceptance: Canada going federally legal was a huge win for cannabis and a sign to the world that this industry is not a trend. I can’t wait to see what other countries follow their lead. I know governments in Latin America, Asia, and Africa are warming up to cannabis. It’ll be exciting to see what countries make the next move and even more exciting to bring Bloom to consumers on other continents.
The three things that concern me the most are:
1.) Restrictive regulations: The success of the industry depends on the regulators. Regulations can make it impossible to grow a business. High cannabis tax rates are the best example of this issue. The higher the taxes, the more that comes out of the brand’s pocket. We have less money to spend on R&D and advertising, especially since we are bootstrapped. It inflates retail pricing, which drives customers away from recreational stores and into the black market. Regulators should focus on fostering competition to grow the industry rather than slow us down.
2.) The black market: One of the largest challenges we’ve faced as an industry has come from the black market: the current vape ‘crisis.’ These bad actors in the black market cut vapes with untested diluents. These vapes were distributed throughout the U.S. and people started dying. As a result, states started banning regulated cannabis vapes. They also banned non-cannabis vape products. That’s the power of the black market and I’m concerned because regulators don’t seem to be taking the right approach to dealing with it. It’s not going away anytime soon.
3.) Banking & 280E in the US: The fact that you cannot use the banking system and that you cannot deduct expenses on your taxes makes scaling a cannabis business nearly impossible. Dealing with large amounts of cash, particularly for multi-state operators, is very dangerous and difficult. Furthermore, the federal tax code has a chokehold on cannabis businesses. If these issues are not dealt with, I fear that the industry’s growth will be curtailed.
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.) Don’t compromise your products: You should never cut corners when developing a cannabis product. Early on, we tried to save a few dollars with cheaper vape cartridge hardware than what we have now. The cartridges performed very well in testing, and we thought it was comparable to CCELL. However, the volume of exchanges and returns grew exponentially once we hit the market. Changing hardware providers was not a quick or easy process, so we stuck with that hardware for far too long. It really left a bad taste with our customers and was a lesson we’ve taken to heart.
2.) Other industries don’t always translate to cannabis: Back in 2016, we hired an executive who leads a division at a Fortune 500 company. We were fully confident in his ability to guide our brand to the next level, so we invested in his vision. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to deliver anything significant in the five months he was with us. We actually had to hire additional support staff to cover responsibilities that he could not fulfill. In spite of his experience and his talent, cannabis wasn’t the right fit for him. He couldn’t fully grasp the mechanics of the industry, so he wasn’t able to execute. There are plenty of people in cannabis who have impressive backgrounds and lengthy resumes. In order to be successful in cannabis, it’s important to find people who have the capacity to learn and adapt.
3.) Cannabis culture is important: While the recreational market is in its infancy, cannabis culture has been around for decades. We always saw Bloom as a mainstream brand and tried to move away from the stigma of cannabis culture. We didn’t want to participate in cannabis events because we didn’t want to be associated with a ‘stoner’ stereotype. However, we gained a lot of traction after participating in Chalice in 2016. We realized how important it was to be part of the conversation. As we started to get more involved, our following grew and our sales increased. I started seeing Bloom hats and sunglasses all over LA. It has become a vital part of our company, and we make sure not to ignore the culture that drove cannabis for years.
4.) Traditional marketing doesn’t work: Cannabis is pretty restricted when it comes to marketing. There aren’t a lot of traditional channels available. We’ve learned the best way to get in front of your customers is to physically get in front of them. We have brand ambassadors who educate our customers at our retail partners. We also have them attend events, both cannabis, and non-cannabis, to raise awareness. Their goal is to get everyone to try the brand at least once. We’ve found that’s one of the most effective marketing tools since we can’t advertise.
5.) It takes the right resources to build a brand: Due to the restrictive laws and high level of competition, cannabis is very capital intensive. It’s hard to run a mom-and-pop operation in the cannabis industry. We were bootstrapped for the first five years and there were many times where could have solved issues if we had the capital. For example, we could have pivoted our hardware faster if we had the capital to do so. We’ve also found that capital tends to be there when you don’t need it and hard to find when you do, so you have to always think ahead about your capital needs.
* What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Quickly admit it when you don’t know what you’re doing — know when to ask for help. It’s a new industry and everyone is learning. I haven’t met a single executive who knows everything. You have to ask for help and you have to be conscious of your weaknesses. If you are the first to admit it, then your employees will also feel comfortable sharing their weaknesses. That will allow everyone to learn and grow quickly!
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’ve always been very passionate about the environment. I know there’s no single solution. The only way to make a change on a global level is to start with small habits that compound over time. Things like recycling, reducing plastic usage, reducing water usage, being mindful about your food, etc. They’re not big changes but they make a huge impact collectively. I’d like to find ways to reward these small changes but on a very macro level. I’m not sure what the solution is yet, but rest assured I will let everyone know loud and clear when I find it!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Please follow us @thebloom_brand on Instagram and check out our blog on www.thebloombrand.com ! We provide a lot of cool content that I help direct so it’s a great way to stay engaged with us.