As an experienced marketer and business development leader with a successful track record of brand building for startups and Fortune 100 companies, Jim Baudino entered into the cannabis space through media and hasn’t looked back.
Coming into the industry, not as a grower, but more as a storyteller has its limitations, Baudino said, but helping to move the industry forward in a positive direction is what excites him most about being in cannabis.
“If I can help tell the story about why cannabis should be legal — about the atrocities of being jailed or people who can’t get medicine — that’s really my ‘why’ and what motivates me daily,” Baudino told ForceBrands in his exclusive interview for Cannabis Matters.
Watch his interview with ForceBrands’ Client Strategist and series host Eric Rosen and read the transcription of the conversation below:
Eric Rosen: Jim thanks for carving out the time today.
Jim Baudino: Of course. Thanks for having me. Good to see you again.
ER: Yeah you, too. It’s been too long. How did you get into the space? Talk to me about what was your transition period and how you came to the eureka moment that this was for you.
JB: So I had a traditional MBA background. I got it undergrad engineering, did some consulting, did a startup during the Internet boom then got my MBA in California, so that got me out to the West Coast and spent 10 years at Toyota Corporate after that and so I was doing a variety of marketing, business development roles and oversaw sponsorships and strategic partnerships for the Toyota brand. But then I had an opportunity about seven years ago to jump in and help lead a media company MERRY JANE Media, which was founded by Snoop Dogg and his business partner at the time and Guy Oseary and others. Seth Rogen, Wiz Khalifa, Miley Cyrus were all involved so of course I said yes, I would love the startup world and being affiliated with those players in the space.
It just made a ton of sense and with a focus on the cannabis industry. I did a deep dive because it’s kind of like driving a car and racing cars. Yes, you can use cannabis, but to actually get in the industry and become like that race car driver, you really got to know your stuff. Know your background and the history, and know your ‘why.’ I think that’s the biggest thing, especially with ForceBrands. I’m sure you have that conversation a lot and it’s so important to really understand why you want to do this to yourself.
After seven years in, and all the ups and downs and mine was really to educate those, whether it’s agencies or brands because I came from the brand world and I was part of an organization in LA with a lot of the major players from the advertising and marketing world and so I was on the board of ThinkLA and I come to board meetings, they let me stay when I would transition from Toyota to MERRY JANE. I’d bring all the products out and show everyone and they were blown away. They had no idea about the breadth and depth of the industry and how vast it was and that with a huge eye-opener for me and that I could actually do something to help benefit the industry because I’m not a grower. I know where my limitations are but if I can help them that way and then through a media company be able to get the story out about the atrocities of being jailed or people who can’t get medicine, you realize what an atrocity this is to be illegal. And so anything I could do to help would be huge and that’s really my ‘why’ and what motivates me daily.
ER: We’ll talk about trends in the marketplace in a minute, however, I’m curious on the venture front, what do you look for? Tell me about what you look for in new ventures and what star factors are you on the lookout for that are really indicative of what are the leading indicators of the cannabis brands of tomorrow that are going to be winners.
JB: Sure. Definitely the team behind them and in the story they’re telling. No brand right now is nationally recognized, just from a mainstream perspective. You’ll see there’s some that are definitely putting some advertising dollars in and so there are still huge opportunities to tell stories and to get that recognition. So there’s that definitely and then the leadership. For us, we’re looking at like-minded individuals, diverse individuals that are on the same page as far as values and they’re not in it for the short-term win. I think that’s where, after seven years in the industry, you can see those folks are being weeded out. People that are in this for the long-term and really doing it to educate and to cause action — they’re action-forward and trying to do the right things.
ER: Can we talk about beverages for a minute? And this is particularly interesting for me because of our deep track record of success and really bench strength in the wine, spirits, beer, and even non-alc beverage space. I’d love to hear from your perspective what the Cannabis Beverage Association is all about, how you find out about them, the value they provide in the marketplace, and sort of the trajectory of that organization as it sits in the marketplace today.
JB: Sure. So the Cannabis Beverage Association is a non-profit trade organization established to represent and support the rapidly growing beverage industry and we do a lot of lobbying efforts and industry standards really to help with consolidating everything or everyone around the beverage industry. Right now beverage is not broken out as a separate category from edibles and so that’s one thing we’re working on right now is getting that language at least in California to separate that out. If we went federally legal right now, beverages would not be able to be produced based on current laws so you can’t infuse, to get cannabis into beverages and so that’s a huge hurdle that we need to really start focusing on now and that’s why the Cannabis Beverage Association exists is to really help with those initiatives on a local level, state level so we can avoid those hurdles down the road.
ER: When it comes to looking at the industry from the balcony… if we were to step out onto the balcony and I ask you Jim, what have you seen to date? This could be beverages, could be flower, infused products. It could be anything under the sun. What have you seen that’s been the most interesting or the largest inflection point to date within your tenure in cannabis?
JB: One of them would definitely be Constellation’s investment into Canopy Growth with the 5 billion or 4 billion dollar investment. It really was a catalyst for a lot of the Canadian companies to really try to establish themselves as global leaders and with Tilray and HEXO and while a lot has changed since then, I was just talking with a friend who worked at the Canopy this morning, it was a huge wake-up call for and I think the U.S market as well to how do we compete with the Canadian market and the type of investment dollars that major mainstream brands we’re putting in.
ER: Looking to the future, what do you think the next major inflection point is going to be whether federal legalization, maybe inter-state distribution, I’m seeing some talk about that, and some chatter about that in the news right now from a legislation standpoint. What are you saying in terms of what’s coming next from a major change standpoint?
JB: I’m seeing three to five years is when hopefully we can get some sort of bill in with the banking definitely and then hopefully it’s decriminalization and taken off the schedule. I think banking will be one of the first things that happen because of New York, and I know there were a couple of missteps in the New York market and still working on getting that going in a positive direction. There are too many people that are invested in the industry for this not to happen and so I think banking is one of those huge hurdles that has to happen in order for all these other dominoes to fall.
And then from there, you’re going to see a lot more political clout happening to full legalization. I think decriminalization has to happen, so whether it continues to happen on a state level but getting federally decriminalized, I think that it’s so important to us as a country, for everything that’s been happening over the last several years, I think it’s something that I strongly believe in and as a company and we’re working toward it.
ER: Going back a couple of years, you and I had a very interesting conversation and I’m sure you remember it just as well as I do because we both were scratching our heads and we didn’t have a clear answer and I’m just curious if any research has come up on your side around terpenes as related to the entourage effect or the symphonic effect, which for anyone that’s watching that hasn’t heard that term before, it refers to the Gestalt experience of ingesting cannabis that is not just about THC. THC is one component of the items that make up the experience, there are also flavor aspects of flavonoids, there are terpenes, which are what you smell. There are a number of other cannabinoids in the hundreds that all kind of combine to create a singular unified experience. That’s what makes strains, cultivars different from one another and why you have such different experiences that vary between cultivar to cultivar and I asked you, I said does that happen when you eat something or drink a cannabis-infused beverage, because you’re ingesting it and it’s being metabolized in a totally different way so I’m curious, have you come across any research on that front that leans one way or the other.
JB: So yes, there’s been a lot more studies and you’re seeing it definitely in the beverage space with a lot of tinctures and whether it’s functional beverages and it doesn’t even necessarily have to have cannabinoids but terpenes are playing a significant role in overall effects and so terpenes are being used but then combined with cannabinoids they even enhance further that experience and so you’re seeing a lot of mixologists, so one of our our brands Klaus created by master mixologist Warren Bobrow, he’s got a cocktail that’s ginger syrup, it’s three ingredients ginger, lime, and rice vinegar with THC infusion but it’s not just even the cannabis terpenes. There are other terpenes that they’re incorporated in and provide these effects that, in combination with the cannabinoids, it really enhances your experience. You can think about it in anything that you’re either drinking or eating that aroma, how important terpenes are to that overall experience. It’s the same with beverages and you’re seeing a lot of also single strains coming into affecting beverages. Malus is our infused cider we use a live resin Sour Diesel and so we want to have some of that flavor profile of the plant. You want to give a nod to cannabis. I know there are brands that are looking at removing the taste of the cannabis plant so I think that’s where having that diversified portfolio is important but even companies like Heavy Hitters, they come out with their Heavy tincture. It is in the Acapulco Gold and so they really get down to one strain-focused tincture to have that experience similar to a gin or tequila. You want to really embrace the notes of the plant and the origins, and so you’re getting that similar thing with cannabis. I think that’s going to definitely continue to expand in a lot of innovation there.
ER: I love it. It’s not just a single malt it’s like a single barrel that you see a lot with bourbon. Jim, any final thoughts before we hop?
JB: I think just from like everything you’re doing and building awareness, getting people, new people into the industry, I think it’s critical and how you can bring in all these diverse sets of skills and people who have these other experiences because I think the more diverse of a base coming into cannabis, it will only help us and so I love what you are doing and you as a leader in the cannabis space and all of your knowledge, so everything that ForceBrands is doing from the beverage side and bringing that in, it’s something that’s needed and keep doing these types of educational sessions and keep building awareness within the space. Education is key.
ER: Well thank you for the kind words and my general philosophy is that any successful cannabis company today is by definition going to be in that new territory because the industry is so new and so you know being able to leverage the experience and track record of success in proven and established industries to leverage over best practices as well as access to talents is just something that every successful cannabis company is going to need more and more as the months and years go on. Jim thanks so much for the time. It’s been a pleasure as always.
JB: Well thank you so much for having me. Appreciate the time and thank you for doing what you’re doing.
ER: My pleasure.
Catch up on more episodes from Cannabis Matters here.
Interested in learning more about the cannabis industry and how ForceBrands’ cannabis practice can help grow your business or career? Reach out to Eric Rosen to start the conversation.