As a part of my series about “5 Things, I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Swider, CEO of Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs (InfiniteCAL), analytical cannabis and hemp testing lab.
Josh began his career in chemistry at Eastern Washington University, where he earned his Bachelor of Science and Chemistry degrees in physics and biology in 2012. His quest for a deeper understanding of the science led him to be accepted into the joint doctoral program at the University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University, where he earned his master’s degree in analytical chemistry in 2015 and his Ph.D. in 2017. Throughout his college career, Josh became interested in the medicinal benefits of cannabis and the lack of analytical research and public understanding associated with it. He wanted to change this, and with his knowledge and passion for the industry, Josh founded the lab with fellow chemist Dave Marelius in 2016. Together they’ve made it InfiniteCAL’s mission to ensure only safe, quality products are allowed to hit dispensary shelves.
Thank you for joining us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
While Dave, my business partner, and I were in grad school for chemistry, I started reading news articles about cannabis testing labs with very inaccurate, varying results and noticed the extreme lack of consistency within the industry. As an analytical chemist, this concerned me, so Dave and I wanted to be able to fix those issues by providing the industry accurate and precise analytics to help produce the cleanest, highest quality products on the market. We started InfiniteCAL from the ground up about four years ago, and we have never faltered from that mission.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think the most interesting stories in the lab revolve around all the new products we see coming through our doors. Trans-dermal patches, moisturizing gloves, enemas, entire pizzas- people are infusing anything and everything with THC or CBD. Luckily we do in-house method development, so when we see new products, we can develop and validate prep methods on the fly. There are hundreds of different sample matrices now. With cannabis and hemp industries as new as they are, we learned that we can never predict what’s going to come through our doors next.
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?
One funny mistake we made within our four years operating was severely underestimating how much InfiniteCAL was going to grow in such a short amount of time. We originally started this company with two chemists; just Dave and me. We wanted to get the lab going but had very limited cash, so we leased 1,400-square-foot office space and built it out. Soon after that, we started hiring more chemists. We were operating out of that lab for less than a year when we realized we were way too cramped to work efficiently. So, Dave and I moved everything into a 4,000-square-foot facility, thinking that would be more than enough room to keep things running smoothly. After hiring on more account managers, a scheduling director, and doubling our staff in the lab to keep up with the exponential growth of samples coming in, it only took us two months to see, yet again, we were going to need more space! We’re currently building out a new 16,000-square-foot facility that we’re hoping will be our last big move.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have two lab buildouts in the process right now; we’re moving our lab in California to a much larger location and opening another branch in Michigan. Within the next five years, we’re planning on opening more InfiniteCAL labs across the country to provide the same quality analytics we’re currently offering to new, emerging cannabis markets.
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?
I wouldn’t say, one person, it’s definitely “persons”. It might sound cliche, but honestly, the lab wouldn’t be where it is today without all the dedicated employees here at InfiniteCAL. When we first started, we had no idea the company was going to grow at the rate it did. There was a time when we were running as many samples as we are today with only 12 employees. We just didn’t sleep; we worked through the night to get results out on time. I’m grateful for being able to build such an incredibly devoted, talented team of scientists who were willing to roll through the punches when times were tough and helped build InfiniteCAL into the successful lab it is today.
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?
The industry may be young and dynamic, but cannabis is still federally illegal. We’re pretty limited to what we can do in terms of marketing and advertising. We’re seeing a lot of success with just organic PR right now. As an independent, third-party lab, it’s our responsibility to educate the public on what we’re seeing in the industry. It not only helps our reputability but hopefully eases some of the concerns consumers may have when purchasing products from this brand new market.
We also have representatives in most industry trade shows and mixers. Some might consider that old school, but building connections in-person is crucial in this industry. It wasn’t too long ago that every cannabis transaction was done face-to-face, so it’s important to establish partnerships with those who are trusting you with their business.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
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.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I would advise CEOs or founders to take the time to really interact and listen to your employees- don’t hide behind your desk. I always make sure I’m available to my employees if they ever need to come to me with anything. If they need help with their work, I drop what I’m doing and help them out. If we’re slammed, I’m there prepping samples and running the instruments right alongside them. And if they want to take advantage of an opportunity to improve their position and/or their work performance, I’ll try my best to give them the tools and the knowledge they need to succeed. They’re investing their time and energy into our company, and I want to make sure I can do the same for them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would push for standardization across the cannabis testing industry. If you were to test one product at 20 different labs, you’d be getting 20 different results right now. Some would be similar, others 10–30% higher than the average, guaranteed. It’s not a secret that there are pay-to-play labs out there inflating potency results or passing products that have no business being on dispensary shelves. It’s not fair to the consumers who believe they’re purchasing clean, transparent products, and it’s incredibly unfair for the cultivators and manufacturers fighting for shelf space based on lab results. If labs were all held to the same standards, it would definitely help even the playing field across the entire industry.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Follow us on Instagram @infiniteCALabs
Thank you for all of these great insights!