AJ Gentile: Speed Weed
It all started with his life’s savings going down the drain and a handful of buds that looked like someone “scooped them out of a cat’s litter box.” If this mind-blowing interview between Cashinbis and AJ Gentile doesn’t make you believe that things happen for a reason and the name of the game is to make the best out of it… we don’t know what will. AJ now runs and operates Speed Weed, the largest medical marijuana delivery company in the country, and is on its way to revamping the entire society surrounding the plant.
His mind is running a million miles a minute, so keep up, read up, and learn how one man is ahead of the game and what he and his team did to get there…
What was the deciding factor for you to join this particular industry?
It all started from my brother, Gene. We’re from New York and were running a software company. I was working for MTV Radio on XM and came to Los Angeles to help launch Playboy Radio on Sirius while Gene remained back in New York. Our software business was going okay but yet I was constantly stressing. So he decided to move out to Los Angeles to get a fresh start.
The first thing Gene did when he got here was get a marijuana recommendation and he took me with him. At this time, I thought medical marijuana had to come from a general practitioner. I told him I didn’t want to ask my doctor for this but Gene said, “Dude, you have no idea.”
So we went to a medical marijuana doctor up in the valley and got our marijuana cards (aka MMJ recommendation certificates). Gene took me straight to a dispensary and I couldn’t believe it. My mind was blown away! It was like Whole Foods for weed. But the shops were managed hastily, staffed poorly, and all-around inefficient. Our software company specialized in streamlining business workflow so that’s what my brain was pondering at that moment. I immediately saw this as an opportunity with a lot of room for improvement, branding, and elevating the overall image of the industry.
We went to a medical marijuana doctor up in the valley and got our marijuana cards.
What were you doing before?
My brother and I owned a software company that developed constituent management software for large clients in the public sector. We had clients in the US Congress and in most major legislative houses around the country. Gene handled client relations while I wrote codes. We also had a third business partner who did sales.
Tell me about the point in the time you realized the coming of the ‘green rush’?
About three years ago, when The ArcView Group was just “a couple of guys”, I was talking to them about investing in our business. They loved the concept but wouldn’t work with any companies that “touched the plant.” The infamous ‘green line’. I stayed in touch with The ArcView Group over the years. During a conversation in late 2013, they told me that they were now able to work with companies like ours and that was it. The toothpaste was out of the tube. The green rush was on.
Right now, what are you guiding your passion and energy towards?
I have an incredible team that handles operations, human resources, and legal. My day-to-day job involves improvements in our software platform, building our brands, and establishing relationships with other industry leaders in the cannabis space. We only work with the best public and private companies in the industry. Companies like ebbu LLC, Tauriga, Agritek, and TerraTech are paving the way and creating new opportunities on a daily basis. We have active deals and discussions with these companies and many others. I was part of the dot-com explosion in the late 90s and cannabis is moving even faster. It’s not enough to keep pace. I am obsessed with technology, improving business practices, logistics, marketing, and branding.
Describe your work ethic to me in one word.
Tell me about a time in your career that didn’t go as planned and what did you do about that? How did you handle it?
In the beginning, Gene convinced me to invest in a small grow. We sunk all of our savings into it which turned into a disaster. Everything that could go wrong happened. The product was useless and worthless. The buds looked like someone scooped them out of a cat’s litter box. We were stuck with garbage but yet it was very, very potent garbage. That’s when we decided that if we couldn’t supply dispensaries with flowers, we could create edibles.
At the time, most edibles were homemade brownies wrapped in cellophane with homemade labels stuck on them. The “stoner” community didn’t seem to mind this; however, me being new to the business would never eat something that looked like it was made in someone’s apartment. We wanted something that tasted great and elegantly packaged.
So I spent the next three months doing R&D on THC/CBD extraction. I knew we didn’t want to use “MJ butter” which was the industry standard at the time. I wanted to create an extract that was essentially colorless and tasted good. During this phase, my kitchen looked like the RV from the first season of Breaking Bad. I had Soxhlet extractors, portable distillers, a small rotovap machine, bunsen burners, dry ice, ice and all of that. I have a background in science and read every literature I could on THC/CBD molecules, decarboxylation methods via heat and/or solvents and organic experiential potentiators. Hour after hour and day after day was spent running test extraction and purification techniques. We would then send our samples off to a lab for reports.
Eventually, I developed a process that allowed us to create a potent, tasty extract with no butter. Our flagship product was medicated gummy bears. Lots of folks do gummy candy now but at the time we were the only company who could do it. We test marketed our samples in a few trusted dispensaries and they loved them. We rented a commercial kitchen, went to work, and within 30 days we were in 35 dispensaries. Eventually, patients started reaching out to us directly for gummy candy. We established a new collective and launched a delivery service. We wouldn’t be the biggest delivery service in the country if it wasn’t for that first failed grow.
What book have you read that you’ve been inspired by? Any particular read we should put on our list?
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho was given to me by a friend who is a New York hedge fund manager who has a Type A personality like me. He insisted I needed the book and he was right. It refreshed my mindset to have patience, focus on a dream, and make the most of life’s inevitable detours. For business builders and people focused on efficiency, I highly recommend Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution. For small companies growing fast, study The One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard immediately. When nobody is looking, I’m tearing through the latest Jack Reacher novel and mourning the loss of Michael Crichton.
Tell me about an esteemed achievement of yours.
Everyone measures achievements differently and one might expect me to boast about something business-related since I know I’m a serial entrepreneur. I am most proud of being able to provide exciting, rewarding lives for my brother, my wife, and our employees, all of whom have become as close to me as family. I work this hard for them… and always will.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
“Don’t sweat the small stuff. Because it’s all small stuff.”
What is the most important thing for us to know now about the legal marijuana industry?
This isn’t going away. If you’re an elected official, rest assured: this isn’t going away. Help us eliminate regulations that don’t make sense and help us add regulations that do. If you’re a mainstream investor waiting to participate, what you need to know is: this isn’t going away. Remember how dumb Google sounded pre-IPO?
If you’re a mainstream investor waiting to participate, what you need to know is: this isn’t going away. Remember how dumb Google sounded pre-IPO?
If we are sitting across from each other a year from now, how will our conversation about the green rush be going?
In about a year, I hope we’ll be talking about how the industry is dominated by experienced business people whose focus is on building companies that provide products and services that the public clearly wants and needs. I’d like to see the poorly-run, quasi-legal cannabis businesses replaced by companies operated by ethically-uncompromised, community-conscious, and socially responsible leaders.
The cannabis industry can provide tens of thousands of good jobs and generate a tremendous amount of money for the communities where they operate. So for all of you who are thinking of getting involved in the green rush, what are you waiting for?