What’s the inspiration behind Union Electric?
Union Electric was founded in California in 2020, aimed at an underserved market: the working class cannabis customer. The name Union Electric was inspired by the punching-in and punching-out aspect of working a union job—more specifically, the average cannabis user’s job. The name also represents our union of stakeholders: customers, cultivators, and retailers alike, working together to provide affordable, quality products.
This is not your first time founding a company--what do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
Founders need to have an exceptional amount of self awareness and humility—particularly around their strengths, their weaknesses, and what skillsets they need to surround themselves with in order to be successful. The founders I admire most are amazing communicators who are able to set a clear vision for their company, inspire talented people to come along the journey, and ultimately trust those people to make their own contributions to the vision.
How did you meet your co-founder? How do you work together?
Union Electric is fortunate to have been incubated within OpenNest Labs, a cannabis venture studio in Los Angeles. Tyler Wakstein and I met a number of years ago, and it became apparent early on in our friendship that we had complementary skill sets. Tyler is one of the best-networked community builders I’ve ever met. Our other partners, Michael Kamins and Kris Bjornerud, bring professional experiences from the early growth of Musical.ly (now TikTok) and from being a partner at LA’s leading start-up accelerator, Amplify.LA.
The keys to our partnership’s success are open communication, understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses, having shared vision for the future, and thoroughly enjoying the journey along the way.
How do you handle risk and competition?
Generally, we really try to focus on executing our own unique strategy as opposed to what other companies or competitors are doing in the market. Cannabis is a massively expanding industry with plenty of opportunities to build successful companies over the next decade. We believe that consistency and providing customers with our brand promise over the long-term will inevitably lead to sustained growth.
In terms of risk, we leverage an asset-light model—so we do not have the capital expenditures related to agricultural, manufacturing or retailing cannabis. This allows us to run leaner with less capital risk, while ultimately getting exposure to the incredible consumer demand we are seeing around legal cannabis.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenge(s) you’ve faced while launching your company?
Our first sale was on March 15th, 2020, right around the first Covid-19 lockdown in California—and that was certainly a challenge. At the time, there wasn’t clarity on whether or not cannabis companies would be allowed to operate, and there was a non-zero chance that Union Electric was going to get shut down before we had a chance to launch. Fortunately, cannabis became “essential” in California and many other states during this time, and our affordable price point was in high demand during the lockdown.
Since then, our efforts have shifted toward growing our supply chain in a cost effective way in order to meet demand. California is the fifth largest economy in the world, and as we’ve continued to gain popularity statewide, we’re continually looking for more high quality suppliers that meet our quality standards.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
Learning about agriculture and what plants can do has been a fascinating part of building Union Electric. It has changed my perspective on the world. Not only has it given me a renewed appreciation for food and where it comes from, but it has made me a huge believer in the long term impact plant-based medicines will have on our cultural and medical practices. We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface on how to properly integrate natural products in our day to day lives.
You’ve participated within OpenNest Labs, what was that experience like? What did you gain or learn?
We are big believers in integrating with established start-up programs to help accelerate growth. In addition to providing capital and domain expertise, OpenNest Labs has allowed us to utilize shared services and opportunities to stay very efficient in the earliest stages of our development.
I often say, the value you can create in a start-up environment is often dictated by what you can get done in one email. Being part of a venture studio allows us to be part of a large network and community of supporters eager to help us hit our business goals across the board.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd via Republic?
We believe in creating a union of stakeholders, and giving the everyday cannabis consumer a voice in our emerging industry. Conducting a Reg CF raise on Republic was a natural manifestation of our brand mission: collective power. We’re fortunate as a team to have consistent access to capital more broadly, but the ability to onboard hundreds of retail investors with a vested interest in our brand and mission is something worth significantly more than the dollar amount raised.
What’s your team culture like?
Union Electric is a small but mighty team, and we all have passion for cannabis and the values necessary for building an equitable industry. The cannabis industry can be incredibly challenging, so we foster flexibility and a focus on progress. There is never time for finger pointing. It’s certainly fun and an honor to sell products that are so important to people’s lives, and we’re all excited for Union Electric to become a household name brand nationally.
What is your superpower?
I’m able to cover many different roles and functions within a startup, while grooming our incredible employees to rise to the occasion—ultimately taking over said jobs with confidence and success. I have an ability to bring people together and serve as a uniting force within a team. My goal is to inspire thoughtful innovation, leadership, and collaboration within an organization, and I get a thrill out of seeing this come to fruition time and time again.
What’s your kryptonite?
It’s really exciting to be working in a startup environment, and even moreso, working within a startup industry. Admittedly, I can be impatient when our momentum as an emerging brand is held up by dated rules, regulations, and federal standstills. With this said, while these frustrations can certainly cause agitation, they are also what keep me motivated and reminded of why Union Electric has set out to do what we’re doing.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Some might consider consuming cannabis every day an unusual habit, but that won’t be the case soon. Cannabis helps me sleep, relax, and to consider challenges and opportunities with a different perspective.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
A few fun facts about me:
I won a Lithuanian Hot Air Balloon Race
I’ve shaken hands with Pope Francis
I’ve produced two rap songs in a recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria
Are there any apps or gadgets that you can’t live without?
I’ve recently started using an Oura ring to track my sleep patterns and vitals on a daily basis. It’s been helpful to see how decisions—particularly around diet and alcohol consumption—can really disrupt my sleep quality and physical and mental preparedness.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Move to California and start selling weed.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
Do you have a(ny) mentor(s)? If so, what have they taught you?
I played college baseball, and eventually worked for two professional teams after graduating. I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the legendary Sandy Alomar Sr. while working for the Mets, and he was an amazing teacher of the game—and of life.
Sandy never gave young players specific instructions during a game. Instead, he would just point to the scoreboard and insist the player should read the situation and make a decision himself. Sandy understood the importance of teaching people how to think and assess the dynamics of a given situation, as opposed to giving them instructions for tasks.
Greatness isn’t replicated and repeated. It flows through talented people who execute the right play in the right situation.