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Ten Years of Excellence at Grenco Science – Part 1: SKUNK’s Julie Chiariello interviews Chris Folkerts

Ten Years of Excellence at Grenco Science – Part 1: SKUNK’s Julie Chiariello interviews Chris Folkerts

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Snoop. Wiz. Berner. B-Real. In addition to being global icons and leaders of industry at the pinnacle of their careers in entertainment, arts, and technology, these four magnates have proven to be bonafide visionaries, harnessing their star power to illuminate and usher in a new standard in cannabis consumption. Each of these gentlemen has become a household name and has built award-winning brands with the core belief in the power of the plant and the healing and empowerment of humanity with the end of cannabis prohibition. Additionally, each of these megastars has partnered with one company in their quest to advance the industry – Grenco Science Holistic.

A decade ago, Snoop took a chance on an emerging brand. He partnered with a new company called Grenco Science, and together they produced the “Snoop Dogg” G Pen Herbal. Since then, Wiz, Dr. Greenthumb, and Cookies have followed suit, and G Pen has become synonymous with entertainment and technology. This issue is dedicated to celebrating the 10th anniversary of Grenco Science and everything it has built for our industry and also excellence and success in entrepreneurship. As we all know, it is not easy in this still-evolving industry. I was very happy to sit down with Chris Folkerts, the owner, and founder, to go deep into the origin, the history, the journey, and the future of what’s coming for GS holistics. We were also blessed to have B Real answering from the heart about his journey with GS. Thank you both, gentleman. Here’s to many more decades of success to come!!

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Snoop Dog and Chris Folkerts, Photo Credit: Grenco Science

Julie Chiariello: When did you first fall in love with cannabis?

Chris Folkerts: I was born and raised in Belleville, IL, which is a town of about 40,000 people on the other side of the Mississippi from St Louis. I was introduced to cannabis in high school. At that time in the Midwest, there was still a stigma around cannabis, so it wasn’t until I reached California that I was introduced to the industry and the business opportunities. I immediately gravitated towards bringing this into the mainstream and applying skills I had learned in other industries to something I was extremely passionate about. What was once a pastime has become my purpose and career.

JC: How did you first find yourself in the cannabis industry?

CF: I didn’t follow a traditional academic trajectory, and after high school, I started working. I worked in a variety of positions across a number of different industries. My route to becoming a tech company CEO was a bit unconventional, but I believe that there are many roads that lead to the same destination; the important part is skill building, applying that learning, and enjoying the journey.

As a kid, I had an entrepreneurial spirit: setting up lemonade stands, raking leaves, cutting grass, and even reselling candy at school for profit. While I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be, I did know I wanted to work for myself. Prior to Grenco Science, I worked in the music industry as an independent concert promoter and moved to LA to pursue a career at a company owned by a good friend of mine. I was looking for something different when I saw vaporization first emerge. I was in a position to be able to launch my brand at a very specific moment in time. This was a pipe dream, so to speak, that started out of the trunk of our cars and turned into the global brand it is today.

JC: When did the idea first come to you to enter the vaporizer segment of the marketplace?

CF: There was this ‘it’ moment in a dispensary called LA Confidential in Los Angeles that was known as an epicenter for culture and influence of our industry. They had a hash bar, and they hosted jazz and comedy nights, and the energy was infectious. It was comfortable, and you felt welcome. The (California) market was medicinal; shops were plentiful. It was pretty easy to get yourself into a space and to get yourself set up. That was the landscape for the industry. You had growers, and you had shops, and you had middlemen in between.

It was there that I saw the very first product based on rudimentary e-cig technology. A guy out of the Bay Area had developed a product called the “Vape Pen.” It came with a little prefilled cotton cartomizer that had been filled with some sort of a tincture that could be vaporized. So, I screwed that in, I hit the device, vapor came out, and there was an ever-so-faint taste of cannabis. That was my lightbulb moment.

I thought, “This is the moment. I want to sell these things.” This is the digitization of cannabis, and I knew this was something that I could sell to people.

As I began down the journey of trying to source these products through my attorney, I ultimately realized the product I envisioned did not exist. Even that “Vape Pen” was only available in minimal quantities. I could buy four or eight of them at a time. There was nothing at scale. I was buying small quantities of these vape pens that were pretty expensive at the time, then taking them and then refilling them. This was not the dream.

So, I started out on my mission, and after a year and a half and many trials and tribulations, G Pen was born. My knowledge and network made this a reality, and I had the confidence to build it better.

JC: You come from the music industry, so you’ve had quite a bit of collaboration with many musical celebrities. First, beginning with Action Bronson, then Snoop, then Wiz, Berner, and B-Real. You have done some of the most successful celebrity collaborations in the cannabis industry of all time, and it’s one of the things that sets your company apart. Can you take us back into the history of how it all began first with Action Bronson and the evolution every step of the way? What are some of your fondest memories? What is one of the most surreal moments that you have experienced?

CF: I met Action back in 2012 at Alchemist studio. Coming from the music industry, I saw his immense talent and the opportunity to collaborate with him as an emerging artist. It was a natural progression as he actually used the product. It wasn’t him simply painting his name on a product for cash – we worked together and co-branded microG as a merch item to sell on his tour with Cypress Hill. This was indeed the very first artist/vape collaboration of its kind and led to our very extensive catalog of partnerships following.

It’s hard to narrow down the surreal moments to just one over the last decade. It’s been a plethora of dreamlike experiences. On top of our amazing collaborations, producers like Mike Dean, who have spun tracks specifically for our videos and introduced me to hip hop royalty like Jay-Z, who knew about our brand. The conversation went something like this:

Mike Dean: Hey J, this is Chris; he owns G Pen.

Jay Z: No way. That’s you?

My heart swelled up at that moment. He knew our work. Something was working.

Further to this, seeing the light go off when people hit their first G Pen. That will never get old. Ultimately that is what continues to inspire our innovation. Creating products that people desire. This was the genesis of our flagship product, the Elite—designing and engineering our first flower vaporizer based on the feedback of our community. It is our bestselling product to date.

Another collaboration that we are so proud of is our work with Cookies. Berner has built an empire and chose Grenco as their technology partner. Berner is renowned in the cannabis industry, mainly due to the fact that he developed one of the most popular strains – “Girl Scout Cookies.” For this collaboration with Grenco Science, Berner engineered exclusive concentrates for our closed loop system as well as tweaking some of our most popular products and giving them his blessing with that famous Cookies blue.

Another member of the Taylor Gang Family has shown us mad love in the last two years with the release of Stundenglass. Seth Rogan brought it to the mainstream’s attention initially, but Wiz Khalifa was instrumental in helping us get in front of the eyes of over a billion people. His honest love of the product came straight from the heart, and his natural use of the platform helped catapult the brand to global success – it was our second viral product. The first being the G Pen Herbal with Snoop.

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Photo Credit: Grenco Science

JC: You have been quoted as saying, “This was a pipe dream that started out of the trunk of our cars and turned into the global brand it is today.” What are the top 3 things you feel helped you become the successful company you are today?

CF: The music and cannabis industries have plenty of parallels. Much like putting on a concert or event, “There’s an army of people that make things happen.

“It’s passion, people’s livelihoods, [and it’s about the] work ethic. Our team — most of which have been with me since inception — are all “willing to roll up their sleeves and do anything that’s needed of them. There’s no ‘that’s not my job attitude.'”

With success also comes challenges. Some of those hiccups include issues scaling to size, ordering, misprints, and failed partnerships, Folkerts described — but he and the Grenco Science team see those as learning opportunities.

“Having a company that’s growing too fast and a team that’s not experienced in scaling, you can find yourself behind a lightning bolt,” he explained. What matters is adaptability and the willingness to learn, he added. “We are fortunate to surround ourselves with a team that took us from being a label to becoming a brand.”

We remain focused and committed to developing cutting-edge technology and will be introducing new products this quarter and into next year.

JC: You have been able to keep the company relatively small with several of the original founders and members still present at the company. Can you tell us about your guiding ethos and what keeps the culture of the company thriving? How have you protected the company as you have grown in size? What advice can you offer to other business owners as they grow?

CF: The difference between our company and the competition is that our company is a real brand. I describe it as if it has a heartbeat. Everyone has a true passion for what we are doing, and I believe that carries over into everything we create. The attention to detail and ability to be flexible has created a solutions-based company.

We take that mentality and work together to bring the most innovative vaporization products to market. Over the next six and twelve months, you will see both an entirely new portfolio of products ushered in as well as new brand partnerships coming to market that Grenco Science has taken a strategic investment in. We pride ourselves on our collaborative efforts that are essential in this industry. We recognize that to build something great you have to be open-minded and willing to work with others. This is something unique to our industry, as almost anywhere else, trade secrets are guarded closely, and competition is kept at much more than arm’s length. In the cannabis industry, however, you can build unconventional strategic partnerships that blossom into all kinds of other joint ventures. That being said, we also value our IP and continue to focus on the growth of that portfolio.

JC: Having a device that’s portable, discreet, and an all-in-one system has been very instrumental in building more acceptance and destigmatizing cannabis use in general. It has given so many people around the planet the freedom to use cannabis without being detected. Many people cite the G pen as their first vapor pen experience, and many more people have now been able to adopt healthier methods of cannabis consumption as the vaporizer industry has evolved. Why are vaporizer tech and the lifestyle it affords important to you, and why do you think that it is important for our world?

CF: We were fortunate to be one of the first vaporizers on the market and therefore being many people’s only choice in some markets. We love hearing the stories from our community of customers who are still part of it now ten years later.

Being able to consume or medicate without combusting was a literal lifesaver for people who need it most. We don’t just make products to use cannabis out of; we create products carefully designed to elevate the entire experience, to bring it out of the fray and into the light. We look forward to continuing our work in destigmatizing what we believe is a profoundly powerful plant.

G Pen has become a near de facto way of calling a device a vape, likening it to Kleenex or Q Tips for our world.

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JC: Can you tell us a couple of your proudest moments on this journey?

CF: The milestones on this journey have exceeded my own expectations. Snoop’s partnership and support catapulted Grenco into the mainstream. Signing that deal was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Couple that with watching Snoop gift Conan O’Brian his pen on live TV. I mean, my grandmother saw this.

From there, it is wild to see G Pen featured in countless hip hop tracks and music videos with folks who were true fans—no contracts, no deals, just artists who actually used G Pens and were inspired to write tracks. Contributing to a person’s body of work and having that memorialized in history is the ultimate compliment—the partners I share this journey with, both my board and the musical icons in our lineup.

Finally, being able to scale with my team and have the opportunity to buy/merge with other like-minded individuals who understand that it’s our opportunity to cement the foundation of this industry. This is why I wake up every morning and continue the hustle.

JC: Tell us about your full product line right now. Are there any new exciting things on the horizon that you would like to share with us?

CF: With my CTO and team, I believe we are designing the future. Michael has been engineering products for the last decade, and together, we are refining vaporization.

When we look to develop a new groundbreaking technology product, we always keep the end consumer in mind. What is needed? How do we make things better?

We’re proud to finally be at the point where we have something for dry herb and concentrates for everyone from a beginner buying their first entry-level vaporizer to the experienced concentrate connoisseur.

I am really proud to be at the helm of a company that has such a diverse product portfolio. From the novice to the connoisseur, from dry herb to the finest concentrates, we have created something for everyone and will continue to innovate in all categories.

Most notably, we are thrilled to announce the release of the G Pen Hyer. This marks our first product as a result of the acquisition of Vapium and Hyer. The G Pen Hyer pays homage to Hyer’s cutting-edge performance with the introduction of the most advanced e-nail hybrid on the market.

JC: Tell us more about the incredible story of your merger with Stundenglass and the wonderful history of their company.

CF: With the launch of the G Pen Connect, we expanded our reach into the glass market – being able to integrate our technology into the wild world of glass connected us with Tracey Huston and the first iteration of Stündenglass. We test-drove it in LA and fell in love with the concept. We recognized Tracey Huston’s ingenuity and the accomplishment of bringing that vision to life – when we met, he had been working full-time for Apple and running Stündenglass out of his garage. We saw the opportunity to help him bring this amazing product to the masses and brought him on board to help run the brand. Together with the team, we reengineered the coveted device with a new design and medically manufactured materials, a streamlined user experience, and a sophisticated aesthetic. With that redesign, the product has a modularity that will allow for years of add-ons that we are very excited about.

JC: I like how you have described yourself and your team as being scrappy with a good Rolodex. What’s the best advice that you can offer the global cannabis community? And what is your hope for our movement over the next 10 to 20 years?

CF: If anybody wants to take anything from this, partnerships are one of the most important decisions you’re ever going to have to make in your life. It is very difficult to predict the future. But what you can do is understand that a lot of businesses fail, and a lot of things fail for a lot of different reasons. Not having sound operating agreements, not having your business in order, and not understanding the contract, what you’re doing, and what you’re signing without having really good people around you to advise you can be extremely costly in a world where the lessons that I got to learn ten years ago would kill a company dead in its tracks today. You’d never be able to survive the stuff that we were able to survive because it was a different time.

I cannot emphasize enough that a partnership is filling a void, right? You’re filling voids for each other. You can have duplicities, but if you create all these duplicities and you’re the same person trying to do the same thing, or you have bad actors, or you have people that you haven’t properly vetted, and you go into a business with your heart, and you act emotionally, either in the business or as an individual, be careful. Speaking strictly from experience, these are the types of situations where you’re dealing with uncomfortable conversations, and you’re dealing with extremely complex litigation that, if you’re not prepared for–financially, mentally, et cetera–is something I just don’t wish people to go through.

When you’re making decisions about entering into partnerships with people, you should always think of it as saying, ‘Hey, will you marry me?’ to somebody and, in a lot of cases, [it’s] way worse than asking somebody to marry you because, if [a business partner] says yes, now you’re in business. It’s so important for people to think about it like that. And I don’t think people do. It’s all gung-ho, let’s start a business, we’re going to be partners, we’re boys now, we’re best buddies forever. That is not how life works.

Cover Photo Credit: Grenco Science

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