"I am really energized by the cultural shift that’s allowing cannabis to take up some of the space that’s been exclusively held by the alcohol industry. In my own social circle, I have noticed that people are drinking less and are opting for marijuana instead. This shift away from stigmatizing cannabis users is long overdue and deserved."
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Pasternack, the executive vice president of Binske. Alex was born and raised in Miami, FL. After graduating Gulliver High School, Alex attended The University of Colorado in Boulder. He studied civil and environmental engineering, with an emphasis on project management. While there, Alex created Wear The Party, an interactive clothing line in the wearable tech space. After graduating, Alex worked in medical sales in Miami for several years. Alex joined Binske as Head of Sales in March of 2017. Since then, Alex has been promoted to EVP, where he focuses on sourcing licensing deals, coordinating and managing strategic partnerships, while also staying busy with general marketing, packaging, and keeping his the finger on the Instagram trigger!
Thank you for joining us! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Hmmm….One of my favorite stories about Binske is the story regarding our partnership with the cacao farm which is the backbone of our edible line. In the early days of Binske, one of our employees watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations,’ featuring a cacao farm in a hidden Peruvian mountain valley and it sparked the idea to reach out to them for a partnership for our chocolates. This specific type of cacao was thought to be extinct for over 100 years, and the New York Times wrote a story on it calling it one of the rarest cacaos in the world. With no playbook or rules to conform to, we reached out to them and pretty soon we had signed an exclusive sourcing agreement with the farm, which today makes Binske’s chocolate products so distinctive in the edibles marketplace. This story truly illuminates the impact of unique and trailblazing partnerships and collaborations in a brand new industry. While most of our competitors were using their edibles as a vehicle to deliver the ‘high’ to the customer, we were pioneers who started sourcing some of the finest raw ingredients in the world. They also happened to be infused with high-quality cannabis oil.
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?
At Binske, we don’t believe in mistakes, we believe in learning lessons. We are trailblazers in a very nascent industry so everything we do, we do with intention and thought. If it doesn’t succeed, we take the learnings and move on. I say to the team all the time, let’s just make ‘good mistakes’. We have always taken the road less traveled. For example, instead of looking to generate the most amount of money off the bat, we invested in an organic grow; building out our SKUs and IP and focusing on the experience of the entire product. There are a ton of shortcuts we chose not to take. We don’t define quality by THC levels, focusing instead on the scent, flavor, terpene profiles, and the overall experience. While this required a huge upfront commitment and was very challenging, the biggest lesson we learned from that was in building a distinctive brand with distinctive products that consumers stay loyal to over time and across geography.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
As a fast-growth company in a fast-growth sector, we are always working on exciting projects. Currently, I am working on several licensing deals and collaborative projects with artists, brands, retail stores, and beverage companies that we will announce during the course of this year. In July this year, we announced another deal with a multi-state operator and we are now in 11 territories. I am actively looking at a few projects in Europe and South America as well. By this time next year, Binske will be in multiple continents and will continue to have one of the largest footprints of any cannabis brand in the world.
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?
Two people come to mind — my dad and my brother. My dad Marshall, has done the bulk of our legal work to date and is an investor in the business as well. He is the number one fan of Binske and has motivated and supported us throughout the journey. He always said to us: “A shot not taken, is a goal not scored.” This value was instilled in us and it has shaped me from an early age. I live my life by it and feel so alive and energized doing so. I rarely miss opportunities that I want to take part in, and this is my guiding light at Binske.
I am also exceptionally grateful for my brother Jake who founded Binske five years ago. Long before the masses entered the industry, he had a dream and a vision for this company and I feel lucky that he brought me on as a partner to help him execute the dream. Today, we make a dynamic team as we play to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I wouldn’t be where I am today if Jake wasn’t who Jake is. Our relationship has never been stronger, and considering we both have been passionate about the plant for 15+ years, it’s pretty amazing to be running one of the top cannabis brands in the world with him.
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?
Our most clever and innovative marketing strategy today didn’t start out as a marketing strategy per se. From day one, we have been a brand that cares about the details, so when we were working on packaging ideas early on, we did not want to settle for anything less than inspiring. When we found a really talented and well-known UK-based artist to collaborate with, we knew we had hit the jackpot of packaging ideas! Over the years, our packaging and branding has become a true differentiator for us and is just one of the indicators of the exceptional quality of our products. No other marketing strategy can replace this kind of attention to detail and it’s something that legacy CPG companies should certainly consider adopting.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
I am most excited about the following:
1. The ability for patients to get access to worldwide. And with more and more states legalizing it, we can also expect to see more money funneled into research which will improve the lives of so many people.
2. I am really energized by the cultural shift that’s allowing cannabis to take up some of the space that’s been exclusively held by the alcohol industry. In my own social circle, I have noticed that people are drinking less and are opting for marijuana instead. This shift away from stigmatizing cannabis users is long overdue and deserved.
3. I am so excited for the access to high-quality products in the market today and look forward to the day when people in all 50 states have access to legal, tested, verified and safe cannabis products.
4. I’m an engineer by degree, so I’m really excited about the continual development of hardware/products in the space. The rapid innovation of products in the infant industry is fascinating.
The big challenges I see are:
1. National rollout and expansion are a huge hurdle for companies. The state-by-state legal restrictions are not only frustrating but they also impede the growth this industry can spur in so many parts of the country that haven’t seen this level of opportunity in decades.
2. Capital and talent acquisition is a hurdle for many companies. Even the most experienced people in this industry don’t really have a ton of cannabis experience. Because of the limitations to public markets in the U.S., access to big capital remains one of the biggest impediments for companies looking to grow and scale — that money is going into Canada when it could be within the United States. On a financial level, Canada is light-years ahead of the US in terms of what they are able to do currently.
3. Marketing and advertising regulations tie our hands and stop us from creating the kind of brand awareness that brands in other industries take for granted. I can’t wait for social media platforms like Instagram to allow cannabis advertising, of course to those 21+.
Can you share the 5 questions you should ask in order to successfully invest in the cannabis industry”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Are they plant-touching or non-plant touching? This is the biggest differentiator in terms of what a company can and can’t do. If they are plant touching, they are bound in many ways by regulations, 280-E, etc. On the other hand, if they are non-plant touching, it’s easier to scale and grow and gain access to big capital. This would be the first question I would ask.
2. Quality of operators? Who are the people behind these companies? What is their background and qualifications? These businesses need leadership with business acumen, especially since the industry is so dynamic. Do they have any cannabis experience?
3. What is the brand ethos? Do you align and believe in the brand? Do you know the methods they use to grow, their extraction practices, and how the products are created? Also, you don’t want to invest in companies that don’t have the right safety and quality standards in place.
4. Who is the brand playing to? The cannabis market is flooded with new players and more are entering the market on a daily basis, so it’s important to understand what lane a company is playing in so you understand their value proposition. Stay in your lane!
5. How much more meat is left on the bone? What is the valuation and longevity of this product? At what stage of the company are you investing in? Seed? Series A? Series D? Does the company have a solid marketing and branding strategy in place? Have they been able to hit their forecasts previously? If not, how are they going to be able to with your investment?
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Having been in sales for many years myself, I know that being able to stand behind the product and the company are the biggest game-changers. So my advice to CEOs and founders would be to set the highest expectations and codes of conduct so employees can do their best work and thrive. This is a heavily regulated industry and there are no loopholes or shortcuts to success. I have seen companies take shortcuts and get caught and shut down by government agencies. When CEOs and founders are committed to quality work and products, it sets the same bar for employees and helps them thrive. CEOs should also communicate to employees that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and if you do something for the right reasons, success will follow.
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. :-)
I would inspire a movement of being bold and confident and having a ‘why not? attitude.’ In every area of our lives, whether it’s personal or professional, you may not always succeed in your endeavors, but if you don’t try it, your chances of success will always be zero. Be bold. Be passionate. It’s not enough to HAVE a dream, pursue your dream with grit, conviction and dedication.
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