I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Bercow the co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Utopia! They are a California-based, premium, clean cannabis brand.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? How did you first get into this business or get interested in the business?
Ihad recently moved to California from New York for AmeriCorps and was understandably excited to be able to access cannabis! However, when I went to dispensaries I couldn’t find quality products that I trusted. There was no transparency, testing or reliable chain of custody. With a long-time passion for health and wellness, I expect certifications and simple ingredients when shopping for my food and thought that cannabis should be no different. I wanted to solve the problem of walking into a dispensary and having to choose between high-end or clean cannabis.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company
Every month, our entire team spends the day with a local non-profit to give back to the community. After our first time volunteering at the local food bank, the shift manager pulled me to the side. With a hushed and serious voice he says “Knowing who you guys are, I assumed you wouldn’t get much done and be a team of stoners. I can say that hands down you are the most productive group that has ever volunteered with us!” While this ended up being a positive story, I think it highlights the stigma that still plagues the industry.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Utopia has always put product quality above all else. We have curated a team of experts from a variety of industries to be able to produce the most refined products across every vertical. To produce quality flowers, edibles and extracts, you need a very talented team with a diverse array of knowledge, infrastructure and operating processes since they are all created through such differing methods. Whether it is our 34% THC flowers or our 17x award winning macaroons, they’re made by our team. This allows us to guarantee a consistent product and experience every time and with control over the entire pipeline, we are able to ensure truly clean, pesticide-free cannabis.
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?
Definitely my two partners! It’s very true that we all need a little help from our friends. The three of us started as friends first and realized that if we put our varied skill-sets together, we could build something great that we are all passionate about. Our differing skills has allowed us to play off each other to constantly move the brand, our expectations and the team forward.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
You will all have to stay tuned — there are a few big surprises coming. The only one I can share now is our upcoming collaboration with Pax. We’ll be partnering Pax’s best-in-class hardware with Utopia’s renowned extracts to offer California’s only Live Resin Pax vaporizer. Launching in the very near future.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
It has been an amazing process creating something from the ground up! This industry has evolved more rapidly over the last 4 years than I could have imagined.
1) The rise of the brand! When we launched Utopia, the industry didn’t understand the value of a brand. With the transparency afforded by a switch towards branded products, consumers will be able to support products that they not only love but also believe in the way in which that company runs production and interacts with the community.
2) Normalization — The stigma associated with cannabis is still strong, even in California. However, in the last 18 months we’ve witnessed a massive societal switch in which the majority of states have some form of progressive cannabis laws and people are becoming less afraid to talk about their personal use. Look no further than members of Congress joining cannabis Advisory Boards!
With growth and change in the industry, we’re unfortunately seeing a lot of large scale problems arise.
1) One of the biggest concerns I have is the lack of clean products in the market. With 85%+ of dispensary shelves failing for pesticides last year, and this year being only slightly better, it is at a point where I won’t even try other products! We’d hoped the new regulations would fix this but the 6-month transition period accomplished little. We’ll see what happens with the July 1st testing standards!
2) Big Business — I think everyone agrees that big Pharma, Alcohol, Tobacco, Ag and Food companies will be consolidating the industry drastically in the near future. California attempted to prevent this through the licensing structure but its proven so costly to operate that it’s going to be hard for small, family run companies to survive.
Can you share your top “5 things you need to know in order to succeed in the Cannabis industry”? Please share a story or example for each.
A strong message, philosophy and set of ethics to build a brand around.
Flexibility — the industry is constantly changing; adapt or die.
Great and unified team — This is a difficult space to operate in, you’ll need a good team that believes in the same vision
Quality products — ultimately, it is about the experience of consuming the cannabis. It is imperative to have a good product if you want to survive.
In our experience when people are passionate about what they do they are more successful. Where does you cannabis passion come from?
Cannabis is a clean, natural product that has the ability to help people deal with ailments no matter how big or small. I believe it can revolutionize health in America!
Where do you see your business going in the next 5 years? Where do you see the cannabis industry going in the next 5 years?
Utopia: we’d like to become synonymous with quality, clean cannabis to consumers around the world
Industry: as I mentioned, I think big business will make it very difficult for independent companies to compete. Through lobbying, scale and capital they’re going to have the ability to consolidate the industry quickly!
Are you able to identify any rising stars at your company or in your industry that people need to keep an eye on?
Am I allowed to say my husband (Kaiya Bercow) — who is our CEO and one of the other co-founders?
What growth sectors should most people be paying attention to that they might not be currently?
Organic & clean label edibles. Similar to how we’re seeing organic food, vegetarian diets etc become normalized in society — I believe the cannabis space will follow the same trend. Right now, people mostly have access to gummies, chocolate and candies; not the most wholesome of products!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I’ve admired Nicole Bernard Dawe of Late July Snacks for a while. Besides for a commitment to great products, her story as a female co-founder of a family-focused company resonates with me.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!