This year, the company behind the G Pen is celebrating its 10th anniversary since its founding in 2012.
Not only is Grenco Science celebrating a decade, but company founder and CEO Chris Folkerts recently celebrated his 40th birthday earlier this month. As he reached new heights both professionally and personally, Volkert sat down with him Cannabis Business Times To reflect on his company’s history, his cannabis career, the California market, and more.
Zack Mintz: How did you get started in this industry and how did you end up here as founder and CEO of Grenco Science?
Chris Folkerts: My company was only 10 years old [in February]But I am 40 years old [in March]so it’s an interesting moment…I think it’s a beautiful cross between where I expected to be in life and where I thought Greenco Science would be.
There was this “it” moment at a dispensary called LA Confidential in Los Angeles that was very well known as the epicenter of much of the culture and lifestyle that took place. They had a retail bar, they did jazz nights, comedy nights, things like that, and so that became a bit too much for me and a lot of people. The (California) market was still medical, the shops were plentiful, it was very easy to get into a space, and it was very easy to set yourself up. This was the landscape of the industry. You had farmers and you had shops and you had middlemen between them.
When I was just hanging out and being there, I saw the first product where someone figured out how to use the e-cig technology that is currently available. I saw someone figure it out, a guy out of the Bay Area with a product called “Vape Pen”, literally. It came with a little cotton cartomizer pre-filled with some kind of dye that had some kind of ethanol or glycerin blend in it and could be steamed. So I unpacked that, hit the device, the steam came out, and there was always a faint taste of cannabis. And I thought that was a lamp shining over my head.
I was like, “This is the moment, I want to sell this stuff.” This is digitizing cannabis, as I’ve always liked to call it, and I knew this was something I could sell to people. I’ve always been involved in the (cannabis) industry in one way or another, whether it’s regulated or not. And so that was the moment where I would say, “Well, I think I can sell this to people, and all my stores I do business with are going to love it.”
This was where my mind was initially. When I started the journey of trying to find these products through my attorney [and] Everything else, I eventually realized that the product does not exist. Even that Vape Pen set that did, was already available in small quantities. I can buy four or eight of them at a time. Nothing was widespread. I’ve been buying small amounts of these vape pens that were probably quite expensive at the time, then took them and then refilled them, so that was kind of the way I started.
When I found out the products didn’t exist, I went through the process of identifying the combinations that could help with that [and] She went through a lot of trials and tribulations with that group. After about a year or a year and a half of selling other people’s products… I finally came to the conclusion that my skill set, which was relationships with both dispensaries and producers, put me in a unique position… my Rolodex was and still is bigger What I own. So I looked at the business side of this and said, “Hey, I can do this. If I do it myself, I can do it better.” So G Pen was born.
ZM: What inspired the company name Grenco Science?
CF: So Grenco Science is a company name that came from a brand agency that gave us options and logos and things like that. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s not a real word, I looked it up 10 ways until Tuesday. It didn’t come up with anything for SEO, so I thought, “Hey, if I could get people to say that, I wouldn’t have to fight anyone for SEO.”
And that’s when things get better. The first product was to be called GO. Our brand and packaging [was] Inspired by Apple and the cleanliness of the logo in that the logo was supposed to be on the product, the logo on the box and nothing else.
The first 15,000 units we manufactured, 100% of them were defective and [we] Sell them all. It shows how insistent we are, and then also the demand for the product. Once people tried it [and] used it, [they were] Like, “I don’t care if it breaks, give me another one.” This just shows that we were on to something; If you sell 15,000 broken pieces and people want more of them, you know you’re on the right track.
Perhaps one in five out of the box has never succeeded. Some of them will work out of the box, but after that, they probably didn’t connect to the charger, so you have to use it for the duration of the first full charge, and then that’s it. And then your vaporizer can go out until you lose a piece of it. Then if someone loses something, we only have whole sets, we didn’t order the extra items.
Some call it the hard hitting school. I call it a trial by fire.
ZM: Your company, Grenco Science, is best known for its G Pen. Where did the product and brand name come from?
CF: One funny and important story at first was that the first 15,000 units we made, not only weren’t defective, they didn’t have an instruction manual. So most people would call and say, “Hey, this isn’t working.” You could “press the button five times,” and they’d be like, “Okay,” so it didn’t even tell you that you needed to press it five times, and unless someone told you, you wouldn’t even be able to tell. Not only was the manual there, but it didn’t say anywhere on the product or box that it was called GO. It had a G (logo) on the pen, and it had a G on the box because Grenco Science G was going to be our brand, but each product would have its own SKU name.
Then people started calling it G Pen. I was like, ‘Okay, that’s it. We have a message, that’s cool, people have spoken.’ The way it came about was quite a coincidence. It kind of came into being. We were like, “Listen, everyone calls it a G Pen, so we call it a G Pen. I’ve got a G on it and it’s Grenco Science.” And we mean the brand is all about the G, we didn’t think to call it the G Pen. It was going to be called GO. What we did from there was the first one that was called the G Pen, and then after that it was the G Pen Micro, and everything was a G Pen after that. Grenco Science is the company, G Pen is the producer.
Zimbabwe: When was that moment when you felt prosperous, did that work start?
CF: I had connections on the distribution side of things from the smoke store industry, which is a well-established distribution method fortunately. Pipes, bongs, quilling sheets, things like that – it’s one of the most prevalent materials for bricks and mortar. Not that you can’t buy any of these things digitally, but when someone goes and buys a bag and wants to stop for a bong or needs some paperwork, they don’t wait [until] The next day to get it.
So we had fast growth. We were, by the end of our first year, in maybe a few thousand stores due to distribution.
We are in each [legal] condition. I think we’re in about 60 countries at this point as well. Much of what we do comes from distributors that are already established in those regions. And look, that’s cool. If distributors are doing their job, then they are an essential part of the company because they have years of relationships, time, logistics – all of it.
ZM: What is the current state of the California market from your point of view? And how do you think it can be improved?
CF: I’ll probably get to the first answer others say, which is taxes. When you have people who are struggling as hard as they are now, financially, it’s tough. And for an industry that is actually evidence of stagnation, which is cannabis, I see people struggling. You can’t levy that kind of tax on this product, as opposed to a 10% tax on alcohol so people can go to a store, buy a handle on alcohol, and This is the thing that makes them pass, versus something like cannabis is medicine. No doctor would ever prescribe you to get this vodka, but there are doctors all over California who have done it [prescribing cannabis] Since 1996. So why am I being taxed differently because of that?
This still baffles me and a lot of other people, and I think we can all agree that it all starts with taxes. …what is wrong with the California market that (the state) is allowing the people who laid the foundations of this industry to steal their intellectual property, and they are forcing those people to tax at such a ridiculous rate?
ZM: What is your advice to new or existing operators in the cannabis industry?
CF: If anyone wants to take any of this out… partnerships are one of the most important decisions you will ever 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 companies fail, and a lot of things fail for a lot of different reasons. Not having proper operating agreements, not regulating your business, not understanding the contract, what you do, what you sign without good people around to advise you can be very costly in a world where the lessons I learned 10 years ago would kill a dead company in course today. You will never be able to survive the things that we have managed to survive because they were different times.
I can’t stress enough that the partnership fills the void, right? You fill in the blanks for each other. You can have duality, but if you create all of this duality and you’re the same person trying to do the same thing, or you have bad actors, or you have people who haven’t been properly screened and you start working with your heart and you act emotionally, both at work and as an individual , be cerfull. Speaking strictly of experience, these are situations where you have uncomfortable conversations and you deal with really complicated lawsuits if you’re not ready for it – financially, mentally, etc. – that’s something I don’t do. I t wish people would pass.
When you make decisions about partnering with people, you should always think about it as if you were saying, “Hey, are you going to marry me?” for someone, and in many cases, [it’s] Way worse than asking someone to marry you. because if [a business partner] He says yes, you are now at work. … It’s very important for people to think of it that way. And I don’t think people do that. Everyone is excited, let’s start a business, we will be partners, we are boys now, we are best friends forever. This is not the way life works.