Another aspect of my work I relish is the chance to educate consumers. There’s a lot of stigma and bad actors in the cannabis space (to be expected in a semi-regulated market), so to be able to cut through the noise with honest information and good products that do what they say they will is extremely rewarding.
As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy Goldstein.
Jeremy Goldstein is COO & co-founder of Caliper Foods and Stillwater Brands. Prior to starting these two companies, Jeremy’s career spanned marketing, sales, operations and finance at well-known U.S. companies such as AIG and Deloitte, as well as at successful hedge funds and internet start-ups. As COO & Co-founder, Jeremy brings a holistic approach to company management that integrates functional disciplines for growth. Jeremy is a graduate of Wesleyan University and has an MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
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?
Before starting Caliper Foods and Stillwater Brands, I worked in a variety of finance, operations, and marketing roles at large organizations such as AIG and Deloitte, as well as at successful hedge funds and tech startups. Although I enjoyed my professional career before Caliper/Stillwater, I was ready to do something markedly different when I met my co-founder, Justin Singer, in New York City in 2014. Justin had just attended a cannabis industry conference in Boston. This was before the plethora of large-scale cannabis conferences you see today — this one was at a Holiday Inn near Logan Airport with only 50 attendees. We were both looking into new opportunities at the time, and although I wasn’t thinking about cannabis, it was clearly on his mind — and rightfully so. The more we looked at the space, the more we realized that the regulatory unlocking of cannabinoids provided for a once in-a-generation business opportunity.
After spending months conducting market research and visiting companies throughout the supply chain in Colorado, we became excited about the edibles space. We realized that what most people needed were safe, standardized, low-dose edible products that could fit easily into their lives. Not everyone wanted to get “high,” but everyone wanted to feel better.
From the start, we viewed cannabinoids as functional food ingredients more akin to probiotics than to drugs. Unfortunately, we realized that for many people, especially those raised on “Reefer Madness,” there was a self-identity issue with consuming THC. Legally, THC is and has been long thought of as an illicit drug, in contrast with licit drugs like alcohol, ibuprofen, and caffeine. With that in mind, we conceived of our first product line, Stillwater Teas, a suite of micro-dosed THC teas specifically designed to feel licit, even commonplace. No one looks at a cup of tea and thinks “drugs,” which helped convince skeptical consumers to open their minds to the concept. That, combined with a micro-dose chosen to deliver functional benefits without tipping into a “high,” made for a truly innovative product offering, especially at the time.
On a more personal level, after years of working in financial services and technology, I was excited to bring physical goods to market. There was (and still is) an immense amount of satisfaction in seeing a product you helped create in a kitchen cupboard or on a store shelf.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When developing a new product, you can be taken in directions you never anticipated. With Stillwater Tea, we knew we had to create a sensory experience on-par with standard tea products — any “weedy” flavors or oil slicks would ruin the experience. But THC is a fatty oil, and oil and water don’t mix. To make a high-grade tea, we first had to convert THC oil into a water-soluble format. Thankfully, with the help of some great scientists, we were able to create an initial water-soluble powder that could be filled alongside organic tea leaves into a single-serve container.
Ultimately, we launched exactly the product we set out to create. With 2.5mg of THC, Stillwater Teas imparted a sense of calm equivalent to the feeling of taking three deep breaths. It was novel, it was innovative, and it developed a small but loyal following. But then something interesting happened. It became apparent that the powder we had developed as an ingredient for our teas was a fascinating product in its own right. We decided to package our dissolvable powder in stick packs and sell it on its own under the brand name Ripple, which has gone on to become the top-selling THC-based beverage product in the country. So something that we intended to be an ingredient in a finished good, became the tentpole product for Stillwater and the technology platform for Caliper.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think one of the mistakes I made early on was overreacting to manufacturing challenges. I didn’t come from a CPG background and it took me awhile to understand the continuous process improvement that food manufacturing entails. The first piece of equipment we bought was a stick-pack machine designed to fill tea sticks. I remember the first day we fired it up … I called Justin with the fatalistic message that this machine would never fill a single unit. Five years later, we have a number of stick-pack machines and we’ve produced more than 7 million servings on them. So, let’s just say I learned my lesson.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Absolutely! From our customer surveys we found that a substantial percentage of Ripple users were pouring the product directly onto their tongues instead of mixing it into a food or beverage. For this reason, we developed and recently launched Ripple QuickSticks — flavored Ripple that is meant to be poured directly onto the tongue. We’re also working on introducing a similar product on the Caliper Foods side that will be available in the fall.
All of our products are built on the same technology and offer high bioavailability, consistency and rapid onset. Ripple QuickSticks and their upcoming Caliper sister product line add another convenient way for customers to get these benefits.
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?
My older brother, David, has had an outsized influence on who I am as a person. In many ways I have sought to emulate him professionally and personally. My wife and I even asked him to officiate our wedding (which he did an amazing job at)!
The first time I was able to view David as a professional, not just as my brother, was when I did an internship in his department at Montgomery Securities, an Investment Bank that was based in San Francisco. I got to see firsthand how the hundreds of people he managed felt about him as a boss — they respected him but they also genuinely liked working for him. They saw David as someone who cared not just about their work product but about them as people. This wasn’t the norm in the financial services sector, where institutional hierarchies were entrenched and rule-by-fear was common, but I saw how David got the best out of his team because he gave them his best. His management style, as well as his warmth in the workplace stuck with me.
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?
We continuously improve and adjust our sales and marketing strategies, but it’s a mistake to think that the cannabis industry is so different from all the other industries that came before it. We do have specific roadblocks pertaining to local, state, and federal regulations, and many (if not most) marketing platforms are not yet available to us (e.g., Google, Instagram, Facebook). However, the truth is we have many of the same challenges that any CPG brand faces: acquiring new customers, reducing churn, increasing velocities, etc.
In some cases, the market structure does dictate our initiatives. For example, THC products can only be sold in licensed dispensaries and most new product sales in those dispensaries are driven by budtender recommendations. As a result, we have to balance consumer marketing efforts with budtender marketing efforts. It’s a nuance, but an important one.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
Working in the cannabis industry is a once-in-a-generation opportunity! It’s not every day that a functional ingredient category comes along with an established consumer base and clear signs of efficacy. The fact that I get to leverage these ingredients to help people have better days through our products is thrilling. Another aspect of my work I relish is the chance to educate consumers. There’s a lot of stigma and bad actors in the cannabis space (to be expected in a semi-regulated market), so to be able to cut through the noise with honest information and good products that do what they say they will is extremely rewarding. Lastly, I get to work with some incredibly passionate and talented people from some of the largest food and CPG companies in the world. There are many things that get me excited about coming to work each day and I’m thankful for that.
My concerns are really focused around one issue: lack of regulation, especially at the federal level. Without regulatory oversight, voids tend to get filled with misinformation and subpar or fraudulent products. This leads to customer confusion and ultimately disillusionment. The lack of regulatory clarity leads even well-intentioned businesses to operate inefficiently and without the certainty necessary to invest in the equipment and people required for growth. For the CBD industry to achieve its potential, we need the FDA to regulate its use in foods and supplements, same as they do for caffeine, omega-3s, or any vitamin. On the THC side, we need federal legalization to start, and then the same food safety oversight currently lacking in CBD.
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.
A few things I can share from my experience:
1. Quality is everything. It only takes one recall to destroy a brand. Don’t sacrifice long term success for a perceived shortcut.
2. Always be looking towards what the market will become versus what it is today. This lesson applies to all businesses but is especially true for nascent industries like cannabis that are particularly dynamic.
3. Don’t be just a “cannabis company” — that doesn’t mean anything. Instead be a company that meets a customer need through cannabinoids.
4. Whether at the local, county, or state level, every market is unique. I encourage you to have good legal counsel to help navigate the rules and good market research to understand your potential customers.
5. Surround yourself with people who have the highest integrity to ensure you’re always doing things the right way.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I encourage companies to draft a culture document that highlights their organization’s values and guiding principles. Our clearly articulated culture is a major recruiting tool for our businesses and our culture document is a compendium that our employees can always refer to. For context, here are a few of our core values:
- We don’t believe in silver bullets — As far as we’re concerned, they’re as real as werewolves. Instead, we believe in success over time through continual small improvements.
- We care more about the process than outcome — As a company, we judge ourselves and each other based on how well we prepared, whether we gathered the information we needed, whether we involved the people we needed, whether we did the work we could, and whether we made the best decision we could given the information available at the time.
- We talk to each other — Clear and timely communication is the hallmark of good teamwork.
- We are a company, not a cult — We do not expect our employees to sacrifice their physical or mental health to our organization.
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. 🙂
During this unprecedented time, I am reminded once again of the large gap that exists in this nation between the haves and have nots. As individuals and as companies, we should use the challenges we face today to implement change that makes for a world that’s safer, happier, and stronger, rather than just fall back into the same loops we were in before. Easier said than done but that’s no excuse not to try.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can follow us on our social media channels. For Caliper Foods, we have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. For Stillwater Brands, you can connect with us at Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!