We talk with Matt Stang, Chief Revenue Officer for High Times
Matt Stang, Chief Revenue Officer for High Times, is no stranger to the marijuana retail industry. A veteran Market Maker, he rose from the bottom to be one of the main players in the worlds largest brand names when it comes to cannabis. Matt sat down for Marijuana Retail Report for an in depth look at what makes the industry live and breathe.
Marijuana Retail Report: Can you tell us a little bit about what you do and how you came into working for High Times?
Matt Stang: Sure. I’ve been here for 15 years. I started as an intern right out of college and just worked my way up. When I originally started, it was in the advertising department selling classified ads when it was a tiny, little industry. It’s kind of grown, and I’ve grown up with it. There’s been just an amazing explosion in the last couple years. It’s gone to a multi-billion dollar industry and I’ve seen a bunch of my friends become large business owners with hundreds of employees. It’s been a great progression.
Marijuana Retail Report: In your opinion, what is the biggest progress in the industry in the last four decades and what drove that?
Matt Stang: I would say the science and technology of cannabis has become incredibly advanced, especially in the last seven to eight years. It’s something that’s just growing exponentially. Just the understanding of the plant and the terpenes and the cannabinoids. I remember 13 years going to a lab in Amsterdam and they had isolated cannabinoids that cost them over a $1000 for a milligram. Just trying that in an old volcano and being blown away by what THCA or Cannabidiol or any of these individual pieces, what they felt like. Man, I just smoked $3000 worth of extract in five minutes. That was the only place doing it. Now it’s all over the world and the prices have plummeted while the availability has sky rocketed. It’s major league, high-quality institutions with tons of PhDs, and they’re throwing actual money and time and effort into understanding the plant, understanding delivery mechanisms, and understanding how it all works. It’s really been amazing.
Marijuana Retail Report: Originally the High Times Cannabis Cup was exclusive to the Netherlands. Since they have become more strict you’ve moved your operations mainly to the United States. Do you see that as being the trend going forward or will you return to other international markets?
Matt Stang: This year we’re planning on doing Barcelona, Jamaica, working on some other partnerships in Canada and Uruguay. I think the United States is the largest market in the world and California is the largest market in the United States. I think what’s happening here is really spectacular. Amsterdam has had a new federal government that is kind of regressive towards cannabis, specifically the growing side, because they’ve now criminalized it to such an extent that it’s almost impossible to grow good quality plants. You’re always looking over your shoulder and you always have to pull it down quickly to make sure you don’t get raided by the Dutch feds. It’s really crazy. The quality is gone downhill exponentially. What you’ll see is that most of the innovators and leaders of Amsterdam have now moved to Barcelona. That’s become the center for European cannabis retail. That’s why we’re gonna do an event over there.
Marijuana Retail Report: How do you manage to drive sponsorships to High Times festivals in an uncertain market?
Matt Stang: The only certainty is that this market is gonna grow. I think people are looking at this as an investment in the future. No matter how it changes there’s an incredible opportunity right now to be in on one of the foundational new business opportunities in America and in the rest of the world. Make no mistake this is a multi-billion dollar opportunity. I think it’s just this is that moment that people can get in on it before the barriers to entry get so high that only high level, ultra high net worth individuals and corporations can get into it.
Marijuana Retail Report: Do you see marketing mediums like social media and digital avenues eventually opening up to cannabis entrepreneurs?
Matt Stang: That’s a great question. I think we’ll see a gradual loosening. It will be dependent on the place and where the company is based. You have Snapchat being willing to host certain things from certain companies but not from other companies. You have Instagram allowing little bits but not all of it. You have Facebook denying just everything, Google denying everything but vaporizers. It’s really a question of their internal legal review and how they see it. As that changes, as the equation changes, and I think in the future you’ll see more places allowing it.
Marijuana Retail Report: For emerging products that you are seeing now, especially considering it’s a restricted market, what would you say has been the most innovative in terms of products and product innovation?
Matt Stang: There’s a new product that’s on my desk on the other side that is literally an asthma inhaler, but you inhale either Indica or Sativa. There are the packaged cannabis products that are gorgeous with world-renowned artists creating the product packaging, and the product itself being super high-quality strain-specific stuff. There’s HMBLT, the pen that has specific effect products. It’s so many different things happening all at once because we finally unleashed the market and its flowering at an unbelievable rate. You’re just seeing all of these new things coming out all at once. I can’t say this “one thing” is the thing since there’s just so many different brands in so many different verticals that are happening right now. People are finally unleashing their full creativity and their pocketbooks to create these incredible innovations.
Marijuana Retail Report: What would you say is the fastest growing market to invest in for an entrepreneur looking to get into the industry?
Matt Stang: That’s a great question because there are so many opportunities. It is a full green rush right now. It depends on what kind of money you can bring to bear on it because there’s a huge opportunity in growing high-quality product but it’s gonna cost a lot of money to set up and get licensed. There’s a huge opportunity in branded products, in creating a whole new brand and marketing it, but while that costs a little less it requires a lot more creative capital. I think there’s a lot of people who are looking at rolling up on the retail side, creating actual nationwide chains. That’s happening stealthily right now, but you’ll see it more so in the next year, year and a half. People will come out and have 30, 40, 50 shops across the country and have the basis for the world’s first cannabis Starbucks. I think it’s opportunity-wise, goods and services, there’s still tons of room to carve out your niche in this space, I think. It’s not done yet at all. There are three to five years before it becomes something that you’re gonna need $50 million to get into the industry. You’re still in the half a million to $5 million range to get into a really good business.
Marijuana Retail Report: Do you see multinational corporations as being the future for the industry?
Matt Stang: I think it will take a while because of the intricate set of legalities in intrastate commerce and how that is regulated by the feds. Not only that, each state has its own special rules and regulations. I think it precludes the kind of conglomeration that an international conglomerate requires. You’ll see some small pieces of ownership, especially Canadian as you’ve seen already in Florida. There has been a huge run on the market in Canada so these companies are really strong so they’re trying to figure out what to do. You’ll see a lot of purchases into other unaffiliated businesses across the rest of the United States from the Canadian companies because they need to use their stock wisely while it’s so heavily valued. I do think that the conglomerate model will not take effect until there’s some more standardization across the states in legalities and federal legalization.
Marijuana Retail Report: High Times, recently was acquired by a conglomerate. What has been the most challenging part of moving an operation that size across the country? Do you see this as a long-term strategy for High Times moving to California considering that you said that California’s the largest market in the world? What was the ideology behind that move?
Matt Stang: I think it’s been a wonderful move. We’ve had a really spectacular time out here and it’s creating an area of cannabis businesses. We have a building with multiple cannabis businesses in it. Just creating this kind of free flowing idea structure around business by bouncing ideas off of each other to create a bigger, stronger industry out here in California, I think it’s been really spectacular. I do believe that the future of cannabis is out here in California. It’s the intersection of celebrity, of consumer culture, of media culture of all that cannabis is all out there in the industry is available here. I think the other part of it is that it’s been 21 years since medical marijuana was made legal in California. You have an entire generation of people who have grown up with marijuana as a normal substance. It doesn’t feel like a transgression and that creates an entirely new culture throughout the entire state. People here truly know there’s nothing wrong with cannabis. There’s nothing bad. There’s nothing evil about it. You’ll see that same thing happen across the rest of the country but it will take a much longer period of time. The further you remove yourself from the prohibition mentality, the more you have the freedom to create collaborative and quality high-end products and services.
Marijuana Retail Report: What’s the biggest mistake that a retailer should avoid, and what’s the one thing that a retailer should absolutely go for?
Matt Stang: I would say the biggest mistake that a retailer should avoid is creating an environment that makes people feel uncomfortable when they come in. I think as we move out of the prohibition era, I think it comes down to creating an environment that feels comfortable and safe for consumers to go in and get their medicine. I think a lot of people have gotten that but there are still some holdouts where it feels uncomfortable and unsafe. That’s the biggest mistake that I’ve seen out here. As far as the most important thing? I think carrying the best brands in the space is the most important thing. I think brands are becoming dominant, as they are in every other facet of consumer culture. I think if you’re gonna have a great shop you have to have the great brands. If you don’t carry the best brands people are gonna come in and they’re gonna leave if they don’t feel like you have the thing they’re looking for.
Marijuana Retail Report: What’s next for High Times?
Matt Stang: There’s gonna be a lot of things that unfortunately I can’t talk about quite yet. Amazing and awesome new stuff on the content side. New platforms as well as new ways for people to reach cannabis aficionados across the world. It’s gonna be pretty spectacular but you’ll have to stay tuned for that.
Marijuana Retail Report: Matt Stang, Chief Revenue Officer for High Times thank you so much for your time.
Matt Stang: Of course thanks for having me.