Warren Bobrow=WB: Why Cannabis? What was your path to the plant? Who were you with when you first got high? Do you remember what you were listening to?
Eric Spitz=ES: I grew up in a house with five boys, so there was a good amount of mischief, and one of my cousins was the center of the local pot scene. I hung out with the guys who were buying and selling weed at school but decided to wait until I got accepted into college to begin my relationship with cannabis. I remember hearing that I might not get high on my first experience, but that doesn’t explain why I have a perpetual and vague memory of the movie Lucas. I remember the hoopla around my first bong hit, and then not much of the movie. Once in college, I realized that I liked cannabis culture and smoking pot to enhance and supplement my enjoyment of partying with alcohol. But heavy drinking often wreaks havoc during the evening and a leaves a hangover the next day. Weed has fewer side effects, and it’s far more versatile. I like inhaling weed (smoking and vaping, not so much eating) before I work out or have a great meal, and it frequently stimulates creative sessions of writing and business strategy. Weed is fun for me and usually puts a smile on my face.
WB: Please tell me about your company? What do you do which is different, therefore better than your competition? What is your six and twelve-month goals?
ES: I launched C4 Distro several companies into my entrepreneurial career. Just prior, I co-led a private equity transaction to acquire a bunch of newspaper and digital media assets including the Orange County Register, and this introduced me to some incredible people. I had phone conversations with Warren Buffett, meetings with Bob Iger and Rupert Murdoch, and I got to host salons attended by the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Peter Ueberroth, former SEC Chairman Chris Cox, and Pastor Rick Warren.
Pastor Rick teaches that each of us has a purpose, and it sure felt purposeful that I found myself in Southern California in April 2016 looking for my next opportunity. After spending four years in Boston helping to resurrect the Narragansett beer brand and then four more immersed in the California policy scene, I felt obliged to “bring my talents to the cannabis industry”.
I founded C4 Distro with California’s former Attorney General Bill Lockyer and set out to build a distribution company that would be ready to launch in January 2018, when [hopefully] the regulated cannabis marketplace would open for business. But first, we had to roll up our policy sleeves and join the coalition advocating for an alcohol-like supply chain. The cannabis industry associations tried unsuccessfully to reduce/eliminate the power of distribution licenses in the system, as they had done in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.
C4’s core belief is that consumers drive the cannabis industry. Only over time, and usually with significant investment in consumer marketing, brands can develop permanent relationships with their customers. We help our brand partners leverage at-scale resources in sales, logistics, debt collection, pricing, merchandising, in-store promotion, and electronic measurement systems to track data as it flows through the system.
Since the cannabis industry never had standalone distributors before, we need to help define the category as well as our company. We arm our team with a manta, Know More. Do More. Care More as well as core values like: Show Up. Be Proud. Know More. Serve Humbly. Stay Open. Celebrate Success. We use these to help our team define its role and enable focus on both of our customers— partner brands and retail operators. We run our business through a portfolio map that has four categories: flower, concentrates, edibles, and wellness—and each category breaks into value, premium, and ultra. We think the distributor’s job is to provide its retail partners with innovative and winning products in each segment, one per segment. C4 Distro is like a record label, and we aim to get the best acts in each genre.
I think start-ups, particularly those in new industries, should be projecting about 100 days out and running their businesses on a weekly and monthly basis. After two years of concentrating only on Southern California we finally our launched service in NorCal in April 2020. We expect northern sales to eclipse the south by the end of the summer. I think most market observers expect the California distribution market to have a handful of winners by the end of 2021, and I’d like to think C4 Distro will be one of the leaders.
WB: Do you have a mentor? What about stigmas? What about the tower?
ES: As a lifelong entrepreneur, most of my mentors have been investors in my companies. I try to mix advice from their experiences with my own vision that comes from reading and learning from business theorists. I’ve been a student of Robert Greenleaf’s writings on Servant Leadership, and Clayton Christensen’s “Jobs to be Done” frameworks help me decipher what I’m looking at.
Greenleaf wrote: “Not much happens without a dream. And for something great to happen, there must be a great dream. Behind every great achievement is a dreamer of great dreams. Much more than a dreamer is required to bring it to reality; but the dream must be there first.”
While today feels like a new era for cannabis in the US, we cannot take the progress for granted. I believe legalization and regulation in California in 2018 set us on a 20-year de-stigmatization path that progresses from state decriminalization to legal medical cannabis to adult-use retail to Federal legalization to interstate transport to the free sale of cannabis just like we buy alcohol—in supermarkets, bars, and restaurants.
When Howard Schultz first opened Starbucks cafes he envisioned a third place for consumers to gather to experience coffee, apart from home and work. When we created the cannabis brand MP Glassworthy we tried to design the total experience, from hearing about the brand for the first time- to finding it in a store- to deciding to buy it- to taking it home- to smoking it- to telling your friends about it- to disposing of it- to buying it again.
The centerpiece of both the brand story and the consumer experience is the ritual of smoking Glassworthy flower. During MP Glassworthy’s reign as his family’s Ninth Earl, he hosted annual festivals called cannabacchanals that featured music and dancing on a large field in front of Glassworthy Tower on Glassworthy Manor by the seacoast of South Wales.
Legend tells us that Lord Glassworthy would select the nine most worthy guests at each year’s canna-bacchanal to experience a tower ritual that included donning special slippers and smoking the finest flowers of the current crop. If the guests got high enough, they would ascend to the top of the tower, where they could see “in-focus visions of anywhere.” It is said that Vasco da Gama saw the path to the Pacific from that point. Michelangelo saw his first visage of the Sistine Chapel ceiling from there. And, Copernicus saw that the sun, not the earth, was the center of our universe as he was gazing out from the top of Glassworthy Tower.
Due to the negative stigma surrounding cannabis most people use code phrases when it’s time for a smoke break. Let’s get high, or stoned, or baked, or low, or faded, or blazed, etc. Growing up, my friends and I referred to going for a safety break and surreptitiously asked each other, “are you safe?”
The tower represents the idea of using cannabis to put yourself in another place- to gain perspective, provide an insightful spark, make you laugh, and sometimes to see “all the way to anywhere.” During the Renaissance, Glassworthy Tower was known as the ultimate place to enjoy the best cannabis with the finest people on earth. Today, we harken the spirits of the enlightenment when we gather together to enjoy cannabis and say, “let’s go to the tower”.
WB: Do you cook ? Who taught you? Do you have a food memory you’d like to share? Favorite (pre-covid19) restaurant, where?
ES: I’ve spent enough time in the back of a restaurant to be handy, but I’m a spoiled foodie who prefers to arrive at an amazing meal just in time for the cocktail course.
When we lived in Boston, my wife and I visited our favorite fishmonger every week for slabs of bright red Atlantic tuna and other fruits of the sea. We made the best sushi dinners of my life at home every Friday night for seventeen years, often for our delighted friends. After these, my favorite food experiences came over a two-year period when my friend, Chef Efrem Cutler (currently the corporate executive chef at Outback) averaged a meal per week cooking in our kitchen. I can still taste the butter steaks he would barely cook on our stovetop pan. Lots of black pepper and tabasco.
My favorite restaurants are either operated by my favorite people, or they have world class food. These days, I’ve been admiring the way my friends at the Newport Rib Company have handled the COVID situation. They immediately set up neighborhood delivery schedules, and since they have a history of supporting the community, they cashed in a few chips and were able to thrive during these challenging times. My friends at Tommy Pastrami get my lunch vote at least once per week. Tommy home-makes his corned beef and pastrami, and Fridays I need to get there early to make sure there’s some creamy clam chowder left.
WB: What is your passion?
ES: I’m passionate about leading teams of people to accomplish amazing things that move the world forward a millionth of an inch…and having fun and laughing through as much of it as possible.