Struggles and Triumphs in the CBD Industry, with Nathan Vasquez

It truly is the the wild west. Something changes every day.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the CEO and Founder of Caribee CBD, Nathan Vasquez. Nathan is a passionate leader in the CBD industry who launched the Southern California-based Caribee CBD, as an effort to create CBD-infused products that empower individuals to lead the happy, productive life they deserve. The result is flavorful drinkable mixes and on-the-go capsules and beyond.

Thank you for joining us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I got my start in the industry by working at a cannabis packaging company that sold pop top bottles and such to cannabis dispensaries. I was a salesman, traveling around securing accounts. The role was extremely beneficial to my career because I was able to immerse myself in sales and the industry as a whole — which provided me with key knowledge.

Doing that for four years, I learned a lot about the infrastructure and policies of the cannabis world and how the “game” is played. A quick example of this, is the ‘industry time’ reference. Meaning, that industry time is always one hour behind and everything is always on industry time.

Starting off in sales was a great way to build a footprint in the industry and gain first-hand insight on what works and what doesn’t. Since the cannabis industry has complex policies and is fairly new, it was always a grind and I witnessed a lot of successes and failures, which I was thankfully able to learn from.

Throughout my four-year stint in sales, I was always saving. I later used those funds and took the entrepreneurial step to launch Caribee CBD, and now we’re here today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When we first launched Caribee CBD, our team of five was trapped working inside my 300 square-foot bedroom. Yes, you read that right. Even the sound of our breathing could be heard by everyone in the room.

For obvious reasons, we needed to expand and move out. We scouted around Orange County: Irvine, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and we found many spots. We had our documents in order and began the application process. Within a week of each application, we had landlords telling us they wanted nothing to do with “weed.” It was disheartening, hearing the same confusion over and over again: “we want nothing to do with weed.” We could try to explain all day and night that it was CBD which is not the marijuana plant and does not contain THC, but it did not matter, we kept hearing the same answer.

It got to a point where it was not worth the debate, so we moved along. After a month of applying and getting rejected, we got desperate and decided to change our stance. We were going to position ourselves as a drink mix company — simply that.

With our new proposal in hand we hit the real estate market again. Unit by unit we looked around and knew we needed a new place as soon as possible. Our production was increasing at lightning speed and we were busting at the seams with inventory. At some point, we had to borrow a friend’s garage in Newport Beach for additional storage. That meant that with every order that came in, we had to drive to Newport from Anaheim just to get a shipment out. Again, we needed a space ASAP.

We eventually found the perfect spot in Irvine. It was impressive, floor-to-ceiling glass, freshly painted walls, it was perfect. We paid a deposit, got insurance for the building and were prematurely excited to move out of the apartment and into our new office.

The day before we get the keys, I get a call. It’s from the landlord and he’s not happy.

“So you sell CBD?” he said. I knew we were in trouble. I told him we did, and he proceeded to say that Irvine is not that type of city and he was going to terminate our lease. I was crushed.

Thankfully, after multiple struggles, we were finally able to secure a place with full transparency in Costa Mesa. In hindsight, I would have been upfront since the beginning, but my business was growing and I was desperate for an office.

Not many people know how tough it is to build a business in the Cannabis industry when you are automatically pegged as a “weed shop.”

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 the time, it was not funny, but I’m glad I can look back and laugh now. I would say the funniest mistake has to be when we first started out and chose the wrong packaging for our drink-infuser packets. It ended up ruining our product and we had to trash over 15,000 packets. That was serious back then. It was a lesson we learned the hard way, but we also learned that you have to get over things like that. It was my mistake and looking back I should have asked the right questions. I know that now.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

We have some new products in R&D and are very excited about it. Keep an eye out on our social media for some cool announcements throughout the year!

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?

My dad. He has a business of his own down the street from us and it’s nice to have the father/son business locations so close in proximity. Since Caribee’s inception, he has helped me with many new business protocols, including acquiring a business license and everything that it takes to get a business up and running. He has always been there to provide me with advice and answer any questions I have on operating and handling a business.

And most importantly, he’s been my hero ever since I was a kid. I mean I wouldn’t exist without him — so I’m grateful to have him guide me.

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 are big on connecting with people, we are always at events and prioritize meeting people in-person to educate them on CBD. Also, being small is a huge advantage for us, because we have the flexibility and nimbleness to go with the tide of the industry and adapt to any new trend or policy.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?

Three things that excite me:

One, that it’s constantly changing in terms of trends and market share. That opens the door to new opportunities and creativity.

Two, the new wave of products coming out and seeing how people are getting extremely creative with what can be infused with CBD.

Three, the continuation of a positive narrative around cannabis. Marijuana and CBD have been demonized for a long time, but now with the legalities of it and new products booming every day, it really is fascinating to see people in awe of what it is and how it can be applied to their lives.

Three things that concern me:

One, new laws. Our industry is at the law’s mercy, so it’s a bit nerve racking.

Two, states banning cannabis products.

Three, MLM companies popping up selling CBD.

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.

- If you’re expecting fun, go get a job.

- Always get everything in writing, and have a paper trail. If not, it becomes a game of he said, she said.

- It truly is the the wild west. Something changes every day.

- There is no guide, you write the rules and pave the way for yourself.

- Loyalty is everything, resumes don’t exactly apply in this industry.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

I’m still trying to figure that out every day. If I had to say something, it would be from Jim Collins Good to Great.

“You are a bus driver. The bus, your company, is at a standstill, and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going with you.

Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: business leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they’re going — by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision. In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline — first the people, then the direction — no matter how dire the circumstances.”

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Anything to protect the First Amendment.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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