When KushyPunch first hit dispensary shelves in 2014, founder Ruben Cross didn’t have a lot of insight into how the market would mature. Back then, dosing within the edibles market was largely inconsistent, and much of what was available was high-calorie, high-sugar and not friendly to medical patients with dietary requirements.
With KushyPunch, Cross set out to change all of that and become the leading edible brand in California. As his line of THC gummies—and eventually vapes—attracted an extraordinarily passionate following, Cross began to establish a foundation for becoming a blockbuster national brand.
“Scale was always the goal,” says Cross, who is 39. “Once we understood how well our product worked for our patients and patrons, we felt a sense of obligation to bring it to anyone and everyone as quickly as we could.”
Cross’ long-term strategy is about more than just building market share, diversifying revenue streams, and increasing profitability–it’s about consistently delivering a product to consumers that meets their needs and price points, and instills in them a sense of the KushyPunch’s ethos, he says.
Here, Cross shares the three biggest lessons he’s learned while building KushyPunch for the years and opportunities ahead:
1. Build your own distribution network.
In 2014 and 2015, the cannabis industry in California was largely about local networks—much of it driven by long-standing relationships forged with growers that were just starting manufacturing. Cross recognized early on that KushyPunch was selling a product through a dispensary, and that in order to get to the customer, he had to collaborate with the dispensaries.
“We made a considerable investment in terms of commission and marketing support to become a partner to these small and mostly independent businesses,”
Cross says. “These partnerships were developed and managed by our team of impassioned sales reps and brand ambassadors who doubled as delivery drivers. By the end of 2016 KushyPunch was in 80 percent of the dispensaries in California.”
2. Invest early in product testing and lab tech.
Even from its earliest days, KushyPunch has aimed to exceed expectations in regard to product testing and consistency, even when there were no standardized requirements.
“Having a consistent product was our unique selling proposition,” Cross says. “The only way that we could do that was by investing in building an ISO-standard laboratory to test everything that we produce internally. This gave new products greater speed to market, instilled a discipline for testing throughout the manufacturing process, and made KushyPunch agile in the face of frequent regulatory hurdles.”
3. Be ready and able to withstand regulatory changes—anywhere.
The cannabis business is dictated by ever-changing state legislation. If you don’t have a strategy for navigating the changes, and capitalizing on the opportunities, then you might not survive the tumultuous environment. Cross set out to build a foundation for KushyPunch to withstand changes as the company expands.
“We brought several key personnel from adjacent industries to help us navigate the labyrinth of compliance, and to clearly communicate those requirements and expectations to all of the relevant departments internally,” Cross says. “This process instilled company-wide knowledge of the regulations, and grit and resolve within our DNA which I’m extremely proud of.”