Becoming An Old Pal: 5 Questions With Brett Fink, Building Cannabis Brands

Warren Bobrow, Forbes Contributor

Originally found on Forbes

I’m a massive fan of the throwback, retro-styled cannabis brand named Old Pal. Maybe what initially attracted me was their classically restored vintage school bus. This prop for their line is designed in a fashion that reminds me of the journeys on the Further Bus. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters administered their Acid tests in the 1960’s on the Further Bus. Or maybe it was the hip cannabis kids who got on the bus and seemed to never get off. I wanted to be one of them. Or maybe it was the way of California cannabis itself, always reinventing and revitalizing essential history in a new way. The Old Pal party bus brings history into the present tense, and much more. This “cool” bus is the very personification of another way of life in another time, something oblique, yet vividly apparent and tangible in the present tense. I dig it. And their ethos.

But what about the cannabis? I love it, especially their really crafty packaging. Someone really gets it on design. The first sack I bought looked like a old-timey tobacco pouch for someone who rolls their own cigarettes, or even pipe tobacco, yet this is for their own cannabis. In this example, Old Pal added enough rolling papers to suffice for a lid, aka: four fingers worth. Their lovely cannabis comes perfectly pre-ground, so it’s easy to maneuver when rolling a joint with your one hand while holding a beverage in your other hand, and driving with your knee. There are also a pack of helpful ‘crutches’ for rolling a decent tip on your hand-rolled cannabis joint. And much to my surprise, I found a couple really nice ‘nugs’ tucked into the pre-ground herbs. Nice touch. And the quality of the product itself? I’m very happy with their flower, if not in a hand rolled joint but in my Summerland Bong or maybe even my mid-century modern styled Heir Bong. They all seem to work, given the style and passion that Old Pal offers. You could say that I didn’t want to get off the bus!

Warren Bobrow=WB

Brett Fink=BF

WB: Where are you from? Why Cannabis? When did you first get high? With whom? Do you remember what you were listening to? 

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BF: I grew up outside of New York City, where we had a lot of influence from cannabis through the music we consumed, to the rebellious nature of being a teen. Always fascinated by drugs I enrolled in the behavioral neuroscience program at university. Why was Cannabis a schedule one drug? Why was it deemed to have “no medical value” when many of my peers have used it for years to combat many issues. 

The first time I ever smoked was with some of my closest friends, it was the first drug of any type that turned my mind on in a different way. It was hard to explain at the time but it was a tool to think differently and creatively. I look at brands like our friends at Frank White. The brand is led by the son of Biggie Smalls, CJ Wallace. They’re creating the next wave of products inspired by Biggie’s legacy, all focused on creativity. This is a message that absolutely resonates with me and was one of the first ways I really started using cannabis, with a purpose. 

Talk about New York rap, obviously Biggie was a massive influence on us, as were other NYC artists, they thought differently and had a perspective that resonated. Cannabis gave me and so many others a chance to take a step outside of our own perspectives. Be a part of the change you want to see, this is why I got into cannabis. 

WB: Please tell me about scalability? What about stigmas? What are your six and twelve-month goals? Tell me about Old Pal? (I loved the bus and creativity!)

BF: Old Pal was my first official jump into the cannabis space. Rusty, CEO and founder, and I went to school together and always wanted to work on bigger projects, this was the one that stuck. 

He brought together the first team and with the collective group we launched a product that took the market by storm. Weed for the people, affordable and attainable. You shouldn’t have to spend $90 to be able to have a great experience with cannabis. If you haven’t seen it yet, at the next Hall of Flowers i’m sure you’ll get a peek at our Cosmic Collider, the big old retro bus that travels state to state with some cool merch through Old Pal Provisions.

As we grew out the Old Pal brand I realized I had grown a platform to help bring other brands to market, this is where Greater Holdings was born out of. I partnered with friend and multi-state cultivator Michael (Mikey) Towey, to start advising brands on growing their high value intellectual property into the industry. Mikey had worked in multiple states standing up brands for Indus Holdings, NW Cannabis Solutions, and Grupo Flor. 

Starting with a brand like Frank White, built upon the legacy of Biggie, all the way to High Times, a newly donned vertical operator in the space. We zeroed in on brands with amazing intellectual property to help them think through creating the right products for the cannabis markets. From supply chain to licensing we use a portfolio approach to help grow in the massively regulated market. 

We run on 12 month planning cycles. The question we always ask is, “how do we bring our brands from 0 to 1 and then from 1 to 100”. The industry changes fast, our goal is to help our brands stay ahead of the curve. 

WB: What obstacles do you face? How do you anticipate removing those obstacles? Do you have a mentor? Whom? 

BF: Stigma is a huge obstacle, the way we take away the stigma is by helping people tell their stories. Making the fight for cannabis descheduling one that is a no-brainer. I want to keep pushing for legitimate people and brands to get into the space. The more we have legitimate operators and influencers in the space the better understood the movement is. Part of this is making commitments to helping uplift communities who should be represented in the space. We’re working on ways to continue to be involved and make cannabis more inclusive, especially to those who have been jailed from bad legislation. The name Greater (our holding company), came from the want to create and launch brands for the greater good. How can we make a larger impact and continue to help craft and destigmatize an industry.

I look at many of my mentors who over the years have challenged me to think bigger than just making money. A notable mentor to mention is Sheel Mohnot, Partner at Better Tomorrow Ventures. In 2016 we managed the accelerator at 500 Startups. He helped me understand businesses more holistically. Breaking them down from the addressable market to the team, thinking holistically rather than in a vacuum. The takeaway: impact matters, market matters, and team matters. How do you put the pieces together in a way to build something that is sustainable for years to come. 

WB: What is your favorite food memory from your teen years? Have eaten your way around your town? Favorite food style?

BF: Funny that food and cannabis are lumped together quite a bit. This has definitely opened my eyes to a lot more of the edible and drink side of our industry. While i’ve had some amazing meals around town, especially infused meals, I think i’ve naturally gravitated towards drinks. 

A big eye opener for me was honestly the first time I read your cannabis cocktails book. I saw the opportunity to create something unique by reimagining how to do them. Take an ingredient, like condensed milk, infuse it, and add it. The first I made was the vietnamese iced coffee, I took a step outside of what I would normally make and had a great experience (and amazing drink!). 

Take it low and slow am I right? 

WB: What is your passion?

BF: Since I was younger I always asked why we do what we do, I had a genuine curiosity. This led me to cannabis, and to look at the larger issues beyond why it amongst others are schedule one drugs. 

Cannabis, LSD, MDMA, all can help people live better qualities of life (under the right supervision of course). How do we start growing a responsible awareness through the right communities? How do we de-stigmatize? These are larger questions that drive me to keep pushing for larger drug reform.

Be a part of the change you want to see.

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