Episode #

Jamie Feaster shares how relentless customer focus and the right metrics will grow your business


Blaine: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Distru Podcast. I'm excited today to have Jamie Feaster, one of the co-founders of Eaze. He’s been in the cannabis industry for quite a while and has almost become an OG I would say. I'm really excited to have him talk about the industry, where we’re at and where he’s going with it.

Jamie: Thanks Blaine, I'm stoked to be here.

Blaine: Thanks for coming on. Just to start out, I would love to know where you’re at right now.

Jamie: I'm here in my apartment in San Francisco, overlooking Lafayette Park. Do you know the area? Nice sunny day, I got a little walking earlier so now I'm just happy to talk to you.

Blaine: Anything particularly affecting with the coronavirus or kind of just business as usual on your end?

Jamie: I would say things slowed down a little. We had to do some adapting, a lot more video calls things like that, I’ve been up walking around the neighborhood a lot. I’ve picked up guitar in January which was fun. I’ve been playing a lot of guitar which is fun, a little personal development there. Overall, things are really good, business feels like it’s picking back up a lot the past few weeks.

Blaine: Things are starting to settle down a little bit. You were talking about things are going well, could you kind of give us a little bit of background on your work history and what you’ve been up to lately?

Jamie: Sure, yes. My work history really started, I went to school in UC Davis and I'm from Northern California. From a cannabis point of view, I’ve been sort of around cannabis for a long time and I'm really intrigued by it ever since doing a report on it in college on its history but I studied communication and marketing. When I went to San Francisco for work, I worked in Tech Companies really in both the brand side as well as growth marketing. We called it marketing animation and paid advertising then.

On the growth side and it was five to six years into my career when I went and made that jump to cannabis and founding Eaze and running marketing there. I’ve left Eaze a couple of years ago and since then I’ve been advising and mentoring companies so entrepreneurs, Tech and Cannabis industries. Anything from really—I call it marketing and growth but anything from brand insight all the way through bringing the product to market.

Blaine: Quick question, what is one of your favorite companies you're helping to advice right now or projects that you helped working on?

Jamie: I'm really having a lot of fun with a company right now called ZBiotics which is a YC backed company. They basically created a genetically enhanced probiotic that breaks down Acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is the toxin in alcohol that causes hangovers. It’s a real cool product and it’s a fun challenge because it’s this really high-tech sort of science product and distilling it down to a simple consumer message and building that company has been fun helping them there.

A couple of other projects in cannabis that are fun, working with case and beverages, they have a new product coming out soon which will be really exciting and then there’re several other fun ones as well.

Blaine: Cool. I love it. ZBiotics, I actually know about them. I love what they're doing. I think like they're trying to do it—was it yeast they're trying to get through or were they the ones that through the cell deconstruction thing?

Jamie: It’s natto, the Japanese soy bean is the base.  

Blaine: Okay. Distilling down the Japanese soy bean?

Jamie: Yes. Essentially—I don’t know exactly how they do it. You’ve got to talk the PhD Microbiologist but it’s using it and its benefits and it is genetically modifying it so it works with your stomach.

Blaine: That’s interesting. Back to cannabis industry obviously Eaze is one of the biggest delivery groups in the industry. Marisa who is our marketer on our team used to actually work with Eaze and she let me know that you started your career of at Eaze on a trip you took to Disneyland.  Can you tell me more about that?

Jamie: Yes. It all began at the happiest place on earth. I was there with family. We used to do this annual trip on the day before Thanksgiving now known as green Wednesday and while they struck of conversation, my brother struck up conversation with Keith McCarthy, we rode space mountain and we talked about this idea to do on demand cannabis and the rest is history.

Blaine: Absolutely. On that journey with Eaze, what was one of the things that surprised you the most when you started there dealing with the cannabis industry?

Jamie: I would say, as an entrepreneur you hope your idea catches on and you have a vision that you're going to get big press and people are going to love it. I think what surprised us was pretty quickly we learned that we were on to something. We came out with a press release and really within a couple of days, we were picked up by Jimmy Kimmel and put on his TV show. There were just tons of excitement and energy around what we were doing.

Maybe it wasn’t a surprise but it was maybe that people were excited but to the degree that people were excited and I had passion for what we were doing was really amazing. We wanted to tap into that and I think that was really core to that we did was finding and empowering this evangelist. These people that believed in cannabis and its benefits and the convenience that we were providing. We really wanted to represent them well.

Blaine: You guys were one of the first true delivery services, right, in the entire industry?

Jamie: There were a few Mom & Pop delivery services here and there and certainly in the elicit market, right, there was. In terms of doing in a way—what we would call tech enabled, we really were the first to do that and certainly at the scale that we were doing it.

Blaine: In this industry being unique and really hard. When you guys are coming out as a cannabis delivery and I get that you guys were tech enabled at that time but it was probably a pretty obvious idea, deliver weed. How did you go through those first few rounds of bonding and position how Eaze would differentiate in the industry?

Jamie: Well, to go back in time Blaine, this is 2014 so we’re a few years before adult use legalization. It’s a medical market. There’re a very few companies that had raised any funding let alone institutional funding. We came out in a way that we had to steer clear of touching the plant. We were a technology platform first and foremost and until recently Eaze has been a technology platform that does not touch the plant. At the time, we therefore presented ourselves as pretty much the same as any other on demand tech company.

We just had better economics because the economics in cannabis was superior to other categories of on demand. We really leaned into, “Hey, we’re a technology company that happens to be servicing the cannabis industry.” In cannabis, we were unique right away for that reason. The only other tech company at the time was Leafly which provided strain recommendations. I could take you back in time to just give you an anecdote. I was going to those conferences, those weed conferences all over the area called the Bay area.

We were the ones there in the sprite blue, this bright teal glowing booth with our laptops in a crowd of Rasta colors, red, yellow, green and various companies. We stood out like a sore thumb. That was something that we sort of leaned into and I think it was important. We helped people to kind of see a future of cannabis that could be perhaps a little bit more professional and tech enabled, like I said.  

Blaine: Yes. I always perceived you guys as like the first real start-up, start-up in the cannabis industry. I guess it depends. There’s a lot of amazing companies out there but like tech software start-up and it was pretty cool.

Jamie: Thanks. We were definitely early.

Blaine: Yes, very, very early. On that journey, you guys launched, you guys are rolling out, then deliveries were coming in, you have the platform. What were some of the biggest factors that you think contributed to the growth of the first four years or so?

Jamie: That’s a great question. My opinion is our relentless customer focus. We really focused on providing convenience and professionalism and we wanted to blow people’s minds. We didn’t want to just say, “Hey, you can order cannabis through an app.” We wanted it to be an experience that made them want to come back, an experience that made them want to talk about us, create word of mouth and drive them to refer their friends. We knew that was key to our success so what we did different than our competition that came later was focus on the customer.

At the time some of our competitors came out and they would build call it dispensary phasing tools that enabled delivery but they didn’t really prioritize the customer experience and what we did was to really focus on that. There was a time for years where you could get your medical card and delivery all within a 20-30-minute window through our app. People would constantly tell us, “Dude, I can’t believe this is real. This blew my mind how fast this was, how smooth this was.”

I had a friend who come from New York and she was telling me how her experience in getting cannabis, which many of us can relate to years ago, would be call someone that comes and it’s a shady part of town or you go and you meet a doctor in an office that’s far from where you would normally go, then another dispensary that’s on the opposite side of town, hours later you’d finally get your cannabis. Eaze provided that experience that was just so new, different and valuable that was really key to our success.

Focusing on providing a great experience was key. There’s one other thing that I would throw in there which probably our focus on the KPIs, reaching our goals, saying your reach and goals and I think that that is really important to talk about because we knew that we wouldn’t to continue as a company if we couldn’t raise more money. We needed to feed the engine so to speak. We had to be very agile, we had to be very smart and we had scrappy.

 I think that people don’t know that or see that as much but anyone that was there on the early days of Eaze, we had our goals to hit and we were going to fight tooth and nail to get those customers in and to reach those goals because we weren’t going to survive unless we did. We were really scrappy and agile and I think that was also a key to the success.

Blaine: I completely agree that getting the medical card was a huge deal. That was the big barrier. Actually, I came to California and the first hour of being here I ordered a recreational card through Eaze. I remember it blew my mind that within an hour of getting to California that I could already order cannabis.

Jamie: Awesome. Yes, that’s what I'm talking about.

Blaine: Now that you’ve opened up recreational, after that. How do you stay differentiated? That’s the thing that defines in this industry, is adapting. The laws change, the rules change, you have this medical card Flow delivery process which is super compelling. How do you stay ahead after that’s not required because recreational opens up?

Jamie: Yes, it’s a great question. I think for Eaze, it really was always about choice and convenience as a market place. What do people want? They want the best products and they want them quickly and professionally. Eaze will continue differentiate in those areas. Generally speaking, that idea of evolving with the times is super important. Eaze is a good example of that as well. If you look at—recently they’re moved to be more vertically integrated and to own the depo operations I think was very smart as they can get a larger percentage of the overall transaction and continue to grow in that way.

I think change is important, it’s important to embrace change but what it comes down to is providing an amazing experience. If you can do that, your customers will continue to come back again and again.

Blaine: I'm really curious on your thoughts on looking forward. What do you think that edge is? I get the convenience with the time thing and price is obviously probably a factor. Now, Eaze is looking into verticalization and actually starting own the facility which is probably related to pricing. How do you feel about that decision? How do you feel about what that drives by verticalizing Eaze?  

Jamie: Like I said, it’s going to give Eaze more control over the experience and the ability to continue to provide a differentiated superior experience. Beyond that, Eaze sits on a wealth of data and I think the ability to provide an experience really rests on your ability to know what people want and how they want it. Eaze has this sort of really rich treasure throve of information that they can use to continue to build a better experience whether that’s adding products, knowing where consumer trends are going and being able to get ahead of those trends or adding new features or services.

Eaze is definitely positioned well for the future. As far as other companies, I really do believe in understanding your customer and providing them an experience that’s better than what they currently get. I do believe that that is the key, that’s where you start. What comes out of that could be very different depending on your company or your category.

Blaine: I like how [0:12:49 inaudible] calls them. They call them like full stack companies where you start to own more of the supply by chain, I mean it’s kind of just like what amazon is, you need the physical warehouse to provide the best experience. I think it’s an interesting move, honestly. So, you're like very entrepreneur, you’re very high energy, you're always doing things. I'm sure you’ve done a lot of other to kind of develop your past. What are some of the favorite products you’ve been involved in creating?

Jamie: There’s a bunch. One that comes to mind right away is Natural Wonder which is a brand that we created. Basically, a couple of years ago after adult use went into effect. We saw a change in the types of consumers entering the market. More and more, they were health conscious, looking for non-smoking, sugar free, gluten free, vegan would have your products that fit an active lifestyle so lower dose not as strong, not as potent, things that people could even use before work or physical activity.

At that time, there was no brand and products that sort of met that consumer need so we created this brand Natural Wonder which basically is the line of low dose healthy products geared towards active consumers. One of those products is an oral spray that’s a low dose oral spray, it’s minty and its fun. For me, that’s been a great product and one that I’ve been proud to launch.

Blaine: How do you like it like spraying it versus whatever way you consume it?

Jamie: I like it. I like it because it’s quick, it’s portable. For me, it’s kind of like a breath spray. I really like it, I'm sure that many others have moved from traditionally smoking cannabis to experimenting with lots of different types of edibles. For me, this one has been really nice because I don’t have to eat anything. It’s almost like this very light blow touch experience for me.

Blaine: Yes. The edibles are really interesting. I'm really curious, do you actually think that the low dose stuff would be as big as just a flower and baked card, like, how big do you think that will be in 20 years let’s say as a part of the market?

Jamie: I think it’s going to be big. It’ll be very big. Overtime, it would get to be as big. It’s probably, like you said 20 years but if you look at the data, I’ve lived and breathed in those B.S. Analytics and Eaze data, there’s a huge and consistent growth in mints and gummies. We know that those are the products form factors that are winning edible category if you look. There’s a lot of excitement around beverages and I think that’s really interesting and sort of remains to be seen how big beverages will get.

I do think that they would be big but how big is the question. Mints and gummies already are very big and are growing at a fast click. I do think so. I think that smoking will always be there and it’ll be a big chunk but what I do not think it will keep its position as the majority and we’ve already seen it come down significantly in adult use market.

Blaine: Yes. I wonder where it will all end up. What do you think the categories that are most underrated right now out of all the categories?

Jamie: Underrated categories, that’s a good question.

Blaine: I know.

Jamie: That’s a tough one. I think gummies probably, gummies and mints. If like I said, if data is there that supports them, consumer appeal is really high, potential is high with those products. They're very sharable, the sharable aspect was key to Eaze’s success, cannabis is inherently social that people want to share. Those products are going to do really well especially with things that we see with concerns over vaping. There’s still only a few major players in each of them with pretty large market share. Those are probably to me very exciting when we talk about brands or consumer products.

Blaine: Yes. I know of the medical stuff. The medical stuff, that can get crazy like THE, yeast and all that stuff. I agree, I think gummies and mints are underrated I think because they're just doing so well and they're already there that people are looking for this new product line that’s going to blow the market but I think that gummies and mints are just silently doing great.

Jamie: I agree. They’re sort of right under our noses but doing well.

Blaine: Within all the cannabis brands that you're evaluating and I'm sure that you had a pulse on brands across the whole nation. What do you think some of the brands are doing the best job right now?

Jamie: One example I constantly point to in terms of doing a really good job and being innovative, meeting consumer need and positioning well is Old Pal. It’s sort of an obvious one because they're revenues are so high. I remembered when they first came to us at Eaze and they had this amazing value proposition. It was, “Let’s go with affordable cannabis” when everyone else was going premium, they went affordable but they repositioned affordable and they called it sharable. That was really genius and that they made their product accessible to people but they also positioned it as sharable and made it fun, and cool, and community minded.

If you know anything about the cannabis consumer in California and nationally, they're very community minded. There’s a strong communal ethos around helping each other, sharing and giving back. They really tapped into that and then they did a nice job building around that. When I think about non-cannabis consumer brands, I do think Eaze is doing a very nice job just to give them another shout. Their current team has done a really good job prioritizing social equity programs, building and supporting their momentum program I really think was really smart.

I was proud to see that. They are investing in supporting founders that underrepresented in the cannabis industry. Any time a company or a brand is leading with call it community support or social impact, social good. I think that that is really important and it’s well received in the California cannabis market.

Blaine: I think the industry wants to receive it well. A bit curious like the tangible returns on that because I definitely seen quite a few organizations that want to help social equity that went under a little bit. I’d be curious how it actually is going at program but their program is very cool.

Jamie: I agree. What it comes down to is you also need to have a good business. You can’t launch that and think that, “There’s my marketing strategy, I'm helping other people” and that’s it. It has to be a combination of running a good business and having product market fit and also giving back and supporting others.

Blaine: Yes. The community stuff though, agreed overall is extremely well received. That’s what I love about this industry is that everyone wants to help each other and really believes in the cannabis plant like helping us all get there. The social equity stuff is really cool that we’re trying to do at least in the industry.

Jamie: I agree.

Blaine: Cool. Things are coming on. I’d love to just end on a light note. What’s your current favorite way to consume cannabis right now?

Jamie: Well, I would say, probably I’m traditional and that I would prefer to roll up a joint, take a few hits of a joint, maybe a bong rip but I guess I'm also a fan of those gummies so probably one of those options would probably be my preferred route.

Blaine: Awesome. Seriously, thanks for coming on. You have such an insight into brands in the cannabis industry and how it’s moving and evolving. It’s so nice getting your insight. Thank you for taking the time and sharing some information with our audience.

Jamie: You got it Blaine, dude. It’s a pleasure, anytime.