Michael Christopher – Founder of Loft Tea
Years ago, Michael Christopher took up yoga as a way to deal with his old athletic injuries. In doing so, he ignited an inner passion for health and wellness that directly laid the foundation for Loft Tea; a company that offers infusions aimed to enhance daily wellness routines through the application of proprietary blends that are optimized for active mornings, energizing afternoons and restful evenings. For Michael, success means more that simply building a website and throwing up product. Success means education, wellness and the promotion of an overall health based lifestyle. Loft Tea is accomplishing this idea by focusing on the non-combustible cannabis delivery systems. According to Michael, it’s time to ‘give our lungs a break’. Recently he gave us a break and came down from his ‘loft’ to ‘tea’ch us a thing or two about how he became who he is today.
What was the deciding factor for you to join the cannabis industry?
I’ve been familiar with cannabis as a plant since I was a young man. When I was 18, I traveled through Europe and was able to go to Amsterdam. Like many people who visit, I really took notice as to how legalized private and public consumption worked, and how it could establish a quality marketplace. It was then that I had a vision of what a legal market could really provide as far as cannabis experience and lifestyle.
Fast forward ten years and the global cannabis industry is seeing an uptick in legalization, legislation, proposals and it is directly leading to a burgeoning cannabis market. Because of these developments, I really started to pay attention and study the industry. I was able to jump into the job market a couple of years ago and that is really what brought me to where I am today.
Loft Tea was born out of a desire to find more healthful, non-combustible means of consumption.
What skills from your previous career/experiences helped you in what you are doing now?
My professional background comes from the technology industry. One of my first post college jobs, based out of Manhattan, was with a very young startup company that was innovating POS (point of sale) software for mobile devices. I spent days, nights, and weeks in the hospitality and technology industries trying to really improve service and reduce cost pertaining to software infrastructure for hospitality clients (restaurants, bars, cafés, nightclubs, hotels). Eventually, the startup was acquired by Groupon, Inc.. Throughout the entire process, I got to really experience what it was like to build and launch something completely new into the digital world with real world implications. More importantly, it was something that actually improved on the service and customer experience, which was rewarding. Today there are anywhere from 3,000-4,000 restaurants, bars and nightclubs using that software product.
Today I use a lot of my brand management and product development experience that I gleaned from my Groupon acquisition. We went from a very small team of three to an organization of 11,000, there is a ton that you learn from and experience like that. We had to scale quickly and Groupon was very good at giving us an amazing assortment of tools and technology to make this a seamless transition for our customers.
My first exposure to the business of cannabis came through a referral from a Groupon colleague who invited me to attend a panel group for a cannabis packaging design startup based in New York in 2012. I was always trying to find a path to work within the cannabis industry and I decided to leave Groupon after 2 years, and dove into the industry. The packaging design firm was specialized for the cannabis industry and during my time there, I was able to interact with businesses, customers and industry professionals in legal states as an ancillary business. I found out what problems the customers were having and the difficulties businesses were dealing with when it came to design and labeling restriction. It really gave me a great first hand account of what the industry was doing out west, where cannabis was becoming more prevalent.
Tell me about the point in time you realized the ‘green rush’ was coming?
My first trip out to Denver was two and a half years ago. It was a huge eye-opener. They were so far ahead of New York (and every other state for that matter), and they still are. I saw that there is a top tier of companies out there that are truly doing an incredible job leveraging existing technologies from agriculture in their businesses. Additionally, I saw software companies, POS companies and other tech companies also finding success in the industry. They were putting a system in place that was really going to legitimize the industry and undoubtedly lead to legalization on a wider, hopefully national, scale.
Personally speaking, the green rush became apparent to me when I started to get phone calls from my friend’s parents, who wanted to ask me about cannabis stock advice. These weren’t people that you would expect to be interested in the cannabis industry, but people are seeing the financial opportunity and I think that is a microcosm of the bigger picture. Cannabis was becoming a more widely accepted industry.
I don’t think cannabis should be thought of any different within the mix of natural remedies, because it is a plant that has been used for centuries.
The onus falls on us to keep pushing the safety and efficacy of the products, using technology. The industry needs to show users, both new and old, that we can actually implement safety, regulation and access to these products with the proper supervision and management. If we can do that we can provide real growth and opportunity for everyone involved.
What in particular are you doing to impact the cannabis industry?
While we have a handful of important missions, our primary goal is to discover new and more healthful delivery methods for consuming cannabis. Right now, there are roughly 7-10 different ways to actually consume cannabis. Loft Tea was born out of a desire to find more healthful, non-combustible means of consumption. We’re not focused on the combustion of raw flowers through traditional joints or water pipes with actual lighters. We’re actually focused on a more health-focused consumer that I believe has been overlooked up until this point and are under-served.
The exciting part of the vaporizer space is the amazing technology. There’s some amazing companies doing great work, and the price and the cost of vaporization has come down enough to where we can start to actually rely on it as a primary method of consumption. We started with that in mind. We said ‘we know we don’t want to be burning it, we want a more healthful means, give our lungs a little bit of a break’. We wanted to create an experience behind these products that had more to do with consuming cannabis than just medicating or just getting high.
Our tea business is at the forefront of our company.
You have an entire active wellness movement going on in the U.S. with running & yoga lifestyles, where mindfulness can be connected through an overall natural wellness approach to life. I don’t think cannabis should be thought of any different within the mix of natural remedies, because it is a plant that has been used for centuries. Along the same line, teas and also other natural herbs have been used for centuries for various sources of wellness as well. I’m really trying to educate new or less frequent cannabis users that there are actual wellness benefits more than just feeling the psychoactive effects of THC.
Who is a person that you consider your role model or someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
Peter Thiel. He has been a technological leader in building amazing products. Peter is also really focused on the biotech space, so there’s a lot of interesting and risky things he’s doing to change how the world works. I find that amazing and inspirational.
Personally speaking, I don’t really have to look too far beyond my parents. My mother, for example, works for a mutual fund company out west. She’s an amazing inspiration. She went from personal banking to very large accounts and product management on the financial product side. She tells amazing stories and has experience working with people in all walks of life, so I look to her to as my source of motivation and inspiration. If I’m half the person she is, I think I’ll be all right at the end of my life.
I encourage people to attend meetup groups, find internships or simply reach out to companies that inspire you.
Tell me about an esteemed achievement of yours.
Last year, I was asked to work for an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) based out of Japan. I was selected as a music, art, and technology expert. They brought me to South America to integrate and interact with indigenous and local institutions on the ground. Our goal was to help protect the Patagonian region of South America and propose protection to UNESCO.
I took a month out of my life to focus completely on the environment and the native people. We toured all the way from the north of Chile to the south of Argentina. We were trying to import some of the technology and infrastructure, while at the same time raising awareness back in New York and with our social media. That experience was a first for me. It was hugely rewarding and I still draw upon that experience every day.
How would you advise someone who wants to get his or her start in the industry?
I think that, if you’re a person that would like to get into the industry, you should start by identifying your strong suit. Find out what your best pre-existing talents are and figure out how to most efficiently apply them to this industry. Research who might want those talents and who might need them. Then start reaching out.
Find out what your best pre-existing talents are and figure out how to most efficiently apply them to this industry.
Advocacy groups are probably the first place to look. I think Drug Policy Alliance and NORML events attract a lot of key industry players and policy makers that actually have to interact with both sides of this issue. Currently I would say most of the help actually is needed on the policy side. If you’re a writer, if you’re a social media influencer, if you’re a great networker, that’s really all you need to start making a difference.
I encourage people to attend meetup groups, find internships or simply reach out to companies that inspire you. Start by offering some sort of service, just to get your foot in the door. That’s really how I started and I think the rest lines up if you have the right intention.
What inspires you? Where do your great ideas come from?
At the end of the day I’m not normal unless I practice my yoga. I’ve been doing it for a while now. I’m a former athlete, so I keep it up to help me deal with old injuries, but it really helps my mind calm down and remove distraction. That is actually how Loft Tea was born; through a small group of yoga practitioners that are software coders, designers and herbalists. We started by making teas and products for just ourselves. Once we noticed the amazing health benefits in each other, we started giving them out. For me, yoga is a place where I’m always able to go, think about whichever problems I’m facing and find the solution that suits me best.
The entire Loft Tea experience was born from our desire to enhance the quality and effectiveness of yoga practice, mindfulness and spirituality. We wanted to do that by promoting the physical wellness benefits that cannabis research already supports. Much of it is privately funded or not truly accepted by the FDA, but I think there is a whole other mindfulness aspect to the cannabis plant in addition to the medical implications. I hope that our brand helps tell that story, while also showing new and less frequent users that there is much more to cannabis than getting high.
For us, it is about the entire experience, lifestyle and education behind everything we do.
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader in this space?
We have worked to build a meaningful, trustworthy bond with our initial customers right out of the gate. Our first round of products is providing enticing and valuable information on how to use cannabis products. Generally speaking, we think this will be a lasting strength of ours as we use our marketing and user outreach to create the storyline that aligns our products with what we are truly focused on doing. Building that trust, especially when you do it genuinely, is the foundation for customer retention and successful business development. It goes far beyond building a website and throwing a bunch of products up for sale. For us, it is about the entire experience, lifestyle and education behind everything we do.
If we are sitting across from each other a year from now, how do you think our conversation about the ‘green rush’ will be going?
First off, we’ll be a couple months out from the presidential election. My hope is that, whichever candidate makes it into the White House; they support the ongoing path of cannabis legislation. There are too many people working tirelessly for legalization to move backwards. While all that remains to be seen, hopefully we’ll be hopefully talking about four or five states voting on full adult-use legislation. If that passes next November, we can actually look to other state markets without federal incursion and start building the businesses that so many other entrepreneurs are dreaming of doing within the correct regulatory stature and tax framework.
What is your favorite cannabis delivery system? How about the best advice you have ever received? Join the conversation and comment below!