Photo: Jeremy Meehan
WB: Please tell me about yourself? Where are you from? Why wine? Why cannabis? Outdoor or indoor?
Josh Lizotte=JL: I’m a born and raised California guy. I grew up in Santa Barbara County and moved to Northern California in 1999. I have bounced up and down the California coast my entire life and decided to sit still for a while in LA when we launched the cannabis beverage Rebel Coast in 2018.
Why cannabis? Cannabis has been in my life since 2009 when a few of my friends started growing medically. I was instantly captivated by the industry; not just for the potential market size as everyone I knew at the time had used cannabis at least a few times, but also because I saw major gaps in the market left open by a lack of proven operators with real track records. There were no processes, no procedures, and certainly no corporate strategies for winning market share. I started speaking with dispensary owners to find out what issues they were facing and discovered that their biggest problem was in the supply chain; dispensaries lacked access to consistently high-quality product. I jumped at the opportunity and started cultivating for dispensaries – focusing on creating SOP’s to ensure I was always delivering consistency in both quality and on-time deliveries. In addition to the cultivation, I addressed the lack of strategic planning in the market by starting a small consulting practice where I focused on regulatory compliance and finance projects for cultivators and dispensaries.
After a few years, I began to see the emergence not only interesting brands, but also a surge in new delivery methods, such as edibles, mints, and topicals. While this was an exciting progression of the industry, I felt that many of the new products coming out were simply derivatives of all of the other competitors in the space. Queue Rebel Coast and beverages. Rebel Coast started as a virtual winery in 2012. Essentially the company would buy bulk wine, blend the wine with other varietals to achieve its unique taste, and then the brand would be the marketing and sales engine behind it. The key labels, Reckless Love and Sunday Funday, that were ultimately sold to start the cannabis brand are still sold in most of the major chains in California and 30 other states around the country.
The decision to start a THC infused wine was simple – people in California love cannabis and they love wine – why not combine them? It was only when we began product development that we discovered the other exciting part of the business – high barrier to entry – making infused non-alcoholic wine is not an easy job. When we saw prohibition coming to an end, we took the plunge and started formulating the wines and launched the first product about a year later.
Indoor vs. Outdoor? High-quality outdoor is where my roots (pun intended) are deepest so I would have to go with that. Don’t get me wrong, I do love indoor but it has gotten so strong that I find myself locked on a couch and I like to be more active when I consume cannabis.
WB: Do you have a mentor? Business school? Who taught you your business acumen? What is your six and twelve month goals?
JL: Yes, I have my business degree. I studied accounting and received my B.S. from California State University, Chico. A lot of my business acumen came from school but most of my experience stems from rolling up my sleeves and having to figure things out. College was an invaluable time for me to learn the basics of business concepts, but being out in the field (again, pun intended) is where I really learned how to build and operate a business. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been very interested in businesses and knew that I wanted to run my own company. From a young age, I would always turn to my grandfather, Jim Elie, with my ideas for a business or questions about finance. He’s been my lifelong mentor – without a doubt, he’s one of the most intelligent business operators I know. He helped me in the early stages of my consulting career and is a very big part of what I’m doing today at Rebel Coast.
I have a few primary six-month goals: the first is to launch two additional cannabis brands under Rebel Coast to support 15 cannabis-infused beverage products in the market, and the second is to increase our California market penetration. My twelve-month goal is a bit loftier: launch all our cannabis beverages in a number of key states.
WB: What obstacles do you face mixing cannabis and dealcoholized wine? How do you anticipate removing these obstacles?
JL: We faced every problem imaginable mixing cannabis and dealcoholized wine. First major hurdle is making a dealcoholized wine taste good – many come out tasting like sour or old grape juice. Second obstacle is a stable and consistent water-soluble cannabis solution. Cannabinoids, the molecules in the flower that induce the different effects such as THC, CBD, or CBN are not naturally water soluble so we needed a technology to make cannabis water-soluble. Luckily, we overcame these obstacles in early 2018 through a series of exclusive partnerships. Above these few that I have mentioned, there are a number of other obstacles to navigate around – finding the correct vineyards to work with, the logistics of removing alcohol from wine, distributing large boxes with a nominal amount of SKUs in them (compared to the same size box that could contain 200 vape carts), consumer and budtender education – the list goes on and on. There will always be obstacles to overcome but that is what I was referring to before – having spent considerable time doing this is in itself a barrier to our competition and now we have created a foundation of knowledge on which to build upon with new products and technology. The big issue now is marketing. Cannabis marketing in California is very restrictive. For example, we can’t even label our product as wine, or even dealcoholized wine and that puts a huge burden on our marketing efforts. We are constantly refining our approach to customer education and instore retail merchandising, two elements of marketing we believe are crucial for success in this market.
WB: Do you have a favorite restaurant? Where? What kind of food? Do you cook?
JL: I love food but definitely don’t consider myself a foodie. I like all types of food but if I had to pick a favorite restaurant, I’d have to say The Strand House in Manhattan Beach. I am a big meat eater and they have an incredible revolving menu featuring new cuts of beef over new accompanying side dishes and preparations. In short, the food is great and the vibe is even better – overlooking the beach with a great atmosphere, amazing drinks and plenty of lounging space to bring friends and spend hours hanging out. I absolutely love cooking and find myself in front of my barbeque two or three times a week. Part of the reason I do not have a long list of favorite restaurants is I find that I am often disappointed in a restaurant’s preparation of a rib-eye over my own.
WB: What is your passion?
JL: Not to be cliché but cannabis is my absolute passion. When I first started in this industry, I would sit with patients at dispensaries and just ask questions. We know people love to get high, but listening to patient stories, seeing what this plant does for them and the dramatic impact it has on people’s lives really stuck with me. This is where my passion began to grow and it continues today with Rebel Coast. I love innovating in this industry, predominantly what the cannabis experience is. Sure, getting high is fun, but what are you experiencing? At Rebel Coast we’re not just trying to get people high. We aim to curate an experience. We’re innovating and using specific botanical terpene blends to improve the efficacy and effect of THC and enhance the consumer experience. I’m also an adventure enthusiast and adrenaline junkie. I’m always looking for my next excursion; it’s not uncommon to find me hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains or scuba diving in the Pacific.
My notes: Thank you Josh for allowing me the honor of interviewing you. Cannot wait to put face to name over a glass of your refreshing liquid.