You have to run 6 business models simultaneously, as every state is regulated differently and they all change their laws and regulations every few months. You have to pivot every single one of your state-specific operations on a whim. It’s not for everybody, but it grows on you. It keeps you alive.
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 Aaron Morris, the Founder/CEO of Wyld and Wyld CBD. Launched in 2016, Wyld was Aaron’s second entrepreneurial venture after co-founding Portland-based Wild Roots Spirits in 2013. At just 26 years old, Aaron had limited financial resources and was operating out of his business partner’s garage, yet he had planted the seeds for two successful enterprises. Growing up in Oregon with two public school teachers as parents, Aaron was raised with a unique perception of the world. Not only did he develop a natural admiration for global sustainability, but he knew he could maximize his potential in school by exercising the skills he was taught by both parents. All of this came to fruition when Aaron graduated from the University of Oregon in 2011 with three bachelor’s degrees. He chose to travel the world to expand his horizons — volunteering with different rural tribes around the world, hiking demanding mountain ranges from the Andes to the Himalayas, and generally expanding his mind through various experiences — before returning to Oregon with a heightened focus to strive for what he believed in. With hard work, determination, and a set of moral standards that most major corporations would struggle to follow — he grew Wild Roots Spirits into one of Oregon’s top 5 distilleries and transformed Wyld from a small garage operation with two employees into one of the country’s top cannabis edibles producers. Even more, following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, Wyld expanded its portfolio to include a line of CBD products.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Aaron! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Myfirst business was Wild Roots Spirits, a real fruit-infused spirits company. We wanted to embody the flavors and spirit of the Northwest to share with the nation. The opportunity to get into the cannabis sector was too large to ignore, so I decided to aggressively pursue it. I was 25 at the time I made the decision, and there was no way I could miss this opportunity of a lifetime.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since yo u began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the early stages of Wyld, I spent my entire days producing Wyld gummies in a broken-down farm building, and my nights sleeping on a Therm-a-Rest in a garage. I cooked during the mornings, packaged during the afternoons, and did admin work in the evenings. I didn’t know any better — I just thought, this was how you build a company! We were doing it gummy by gummy.
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?
Most people don’t believe me, but I started Wyld using Reddit. I knew nothing — and I mean nothing — about food, yet alone the commercialization and development of a product line! Let’s just say it was a long 90 days of failing everything Reddit recommended. Although I did have to isolate several variables and piece it all together…. it wouldn’t be wrong to say that, without Reddit, I would have never been able to create the nation’s largest edible brand!
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Of course I am! We have 3 more states going live for THC in the next year, and I’m lining up 6 more as we speak. We have 1 new THC edible brand going live in the next 12 months, we have a new Wyld THC product line coming out within 6 months…. we are also finally rolling out our CBD products (gummies and sparkling waters) at a national level. This is just the beginning for myself, and for my enterprise! For me, the most exciting part of this is we do it all with organic funding and have not taken any outside funding since the small seed round. We have a saying around here — “3x the expectations, and ⅓ the budget.”
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?
I’ll always be grateful for my father. For my entire life, he taught me to question authority. He forced me to integrate into school and society and to focus on beating them at their own games. He always encouraged me to go down the path that everyone else believed would be impossible. The best lesson he taught me was, “you have to beat them at their game before you can change the game.” As nerdy as it sounds, I also draw a ton of inspiration from ancient conquerors; in particular, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Alexander the Great. A strong strategy and vision will always beat greater resources. Being an underdog allows you to leverage in ways most don’t believe is possible. I think it’s a lost art on entrepreneurs and our culture, as we are so busy celebrating rounds of financing and IPOs, instead of actual market penetration and success.
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 have 1 person in our entire marketing department. 99% of our marketing spend is funneled into guerilla tactics. Too much attention is focused on clever marketing slogans and gimmicks instead of focusing on the product line and brand. They can both be leveraged as the most powerful marketing strategies in the world. If you have a strong product line and a strong brand, and if you surround yourself with the right team and interact directly with customers — you will find success. These are the boxes that must be checked! Often times, I see legacy and new companies across all industries try to skip a box…. and you simply can’t.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
Here’s what excites me:
- It’s the Wild Wild West! There are no case studies, there is no path to follow. You define your own reality.
- You have to run 6 business models simultaneously, as every state is regulated differently and they all change their laws and regulations every few months. You have to pivot every single one of your state-specific operations on a whim. It’s not for everybody, but it grows on you. It keeps you alive.
- The medicinal potential. Wyld is largely a recreational experience focused brand, but the potential of this plant is endless and can make a huge impact on society. We need to seriously dive into the research for medicinal purposes.
This is what concerns me:
- Because we are not federally accepted and we can’t ship THC across state lines, the anxiety of having to operate a production facility in every state we want to sell in poses a ton of security, logistical, and legal concerns.
- We do not have access to federally-governed laboratories. Not being federally legal creates an entirely different set of risks that most forget about. Ultimately, we don’t have access to the testing facilities we need to have. The consumer loses on this over and over again and the federal government continues their war on drugs.
- The fact that there are states with legalized recreational cannabis, yet still have incarcerated individuals serving long-term sentences for nonviolent cannabis offenses. We should not be able to profit in a legal manner from those who paved this industry while their entire lives are being ruined. This one shouldn’t be up for debate.
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.
I wish no one told me anything before I started leading a cannabis business! This industry is full of opinions, and the reality is no one truly knows how to lead a cannabis industry. We achieved the title as the #1 cannabis edibles brand in the country because we did it our way — we didn’t take on investors, we self-distribute, we don’t work with strategic partners. Basically, we don’t follow anyone else’s path to success — we pave our own. After a few months, at the age of 26, I completely stopped listening to everyone and this allowed me to be nimble and pivot through the craziest industry our generation will get to experience. Chaos breeds character.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
A real leader and CEO builds an environment that allows employees to break their own personal barriers and understand their own perceptional biases. It should be about personal growth and helping you r team grow professionally, not about dividends
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. 🙂
Corporate accountability and environmental sustainability. Believe it or not, I hope to one day turn Wyld into a non-profit that focuses on changing consumers’ beliefs on corporate sustainability and accountability. Right now, you have to generate an insane amount of waste in order to meet regulations in the cannabis industry — but I’m currently working on a project to help change that. As my father once told me, “beat them at their game before you can change the game.”
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Follow us on Instagram! @wyld_canna and @wyld_cbd
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!