Tripp Keber: The Future of Cannabis

Tripp Keber: Dixie Elixirs & Edibles

He was a little irritated with us for limiting him to a one-word answer for a particular question on our list and that’s completely understandable because this entrepreneur has more than enough to say. He has novels of knowledge reeling from his lips every time he speaks. He’s one of those people you sit in front of and watch his mind race behind his eyes. Tripp Keber is the CEO of Dixie Elixirs and is on his way to make a very major impact and if you take the time to read his interview…. a very major impact on you.

What was the deciding factor for you to join this particular industry?

First and foremost, it’s important to note that I have a VERY high risk tolerance. That’s a critical personality trait if you plan to get into this industry. And it was particularly necessary when I decided to get into the space back in 2009… prior to where we stand today with the majority of Americans favoring legalization with 4 states fully legalized, 23 states legalized for medical use, and an ever-growing list of states putting it on the ba lot.

But what really pushed me forward into cannabis was actually simple human observation. I owned several night clubs (and perhaps frequented others at times) before getting into cannabis. I vividly recall standing outside a bar, watching people smoke marijuana with an off-duty police officer standing right next to them, and it was like a light bulb went off—marijuana is already here! It might not have recognizable brands or regulatory oversight (at that time), but it was already in the vernacular of my night club customers. So, it wasn’t hard to see the opportunity there and it was at that point that I decided to begin to explore, and ultimately fully dive into, cannabis.

I find that the best and brightest entrepreneurs are those who can predict the future. And while I have had other successes as an entrepreneur, this is the first time that I felt like someone had given me access to the proverbial crystal ball. And thus far, I think it was a pretty accurate insight.

I vividly recall standing outside a bar, watching people smoke marijuana with an off-duty police officer standing right next to them, and it was like a light bulb went off—marijuana is already here!

What were you doing before the green rush?

Prior to joining the cannabis industry, I had spent most of my professional life as a serial entrepreneur across technology, telecommunications, and primarily real estate development. From those successes, I was also able to branch out and invest in things like the aforementioned night clubs, other entrepreneurs’ start-ups, etc. Though, just prior to diving into Dixie Elixir full time, my current business partner and I were involved with a real estate interest that focused on development of high-end motor coach resorts along the Gulf Shore, primarily in Alabama.

What are you doing to impact the industry?

At the very highest level—delivering the future of cannabis. Now, that’s a lofty statement… and it’s actually reflective of Dixie as a company; it’s mantra that exists within each Dixie employee, not just me. But, on a personal level I focus my day-to-day on trying to bring marijuana mainstream. Some might assume I like being in the media all the time to serve my ego… and while that may be partly true, the real purpose of working so closely with the media is to send a strong message to that soccer mom in Ohio that there are men and women committed to compliance and legitimizing and demystifying this industry that didn’t even exist 3-4 years ago. It puts a face and a name to what we’re doing; When people talk about the success and more importantly, the potential pitfalls of legalization, something like that is very important. We don’t want to be a nameless/faceless “industry” to people because that approach won’t gain their support and trust in the fact that this is a real and vital social movement. It’s not just about getting high or making money. We are not trying to “push drugs.” But we are, in fact, looking around the bend to find the next puzzle piece… the future of cannabis!

Secondarily, I also spend quite a bit of time trying to inspire would-be cannabis entrepreneurs to get into the market to make it better. No matter how hectic my week may be, I religiously take three LinkedIn invites a week to do 15 minute calls (as an example). I know that while I/Dixie have some great ideas, there are also some young guns out there who have something even better that can potentially radically change our industry. And I want to, at the very least, be educated about it and potentially take part in that change.

Secondarily, I also spend quite a bit of time trying to inspire would-be cannabis entrepreneurs to get into the market to make it better.

Finally, I am also very actively involved in multiple local and national industry organizations, either currently serving on boards or having served them in the past. Organizations like the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), Council for Responsible Cannabis Regulation (CRCR) — They are all vital to moving my business and the national legalization movement forward in a responsible and credible manner.

The “Willy Wonka” of Weed

Describe your work ethic to me in one word.

I don’t often like to be confined to one word, but if forced—Frenetic!

Tell me about a time in your career that didn’t go as planned and what you did about that? How did you handle it?

Well, as a serial entrepreneur there are plenty of times when things haven’t gone as planned. In fact, if they went as planned with no mistakes, my guess is that I wouldn’t be much of an entrepreneur. However, a great “lemons into lemonade” story that sometimes haunts me, occurred early in my career. It’s particularly relevant, given the organizations I was working for and what I do now. The gist of it is that I was working for a congresswoman in Maryland as a poly-sci major at Villanova. I was very full of myself, having successfully earned an internship for this important congresswoman. But let’s get to lesson one- Hubris should always be short-lived and recognized for what it is. On my second day of work I was dismissed by the legislative director of the office for having too conservative an ideology—and an apparent inability to be flexible about it. So, while I had the underlying sense to know that fighting for my beliefs was the right thing to do, it felt pretty crappy to be fired on day two.

However, it quickly became lemonade as ultimately I secured a new position for an ultra-conservative think tank in President Ronald Regan’s grass roots lobbying arm, The Heritage Foundation, which is where I was taught the art of the sale. That’s ultimately how I became a sales person and it is certainly that skill set that has defined and driven my greatest successes. So, the moral of the story— Stand up for what you believe in, find an organization where those beliefs are valued, but always be open to change. I’m not sure that the Heritage Foundation would welcome me back with open arms at this point. Although, given the fact that legalization seems to have support across party lines, I guess you never know. We just wouldn’t tell Nancy….

So, the moral of the story— Stand up for what you believe in, find an organization where those beliefs are valued, but always be open to change.

What book have you read that you’ve been inspired by? Any particular read we should put on our list?

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal. I have a borderline obsession with the parallels between the end of alcohol prohibition and that of cannabis. I also believe that there is much to be learned by studying history because we all know how often history repeats itself. It’s part of my set of tea leaves. I ultimately believe my daughter’s children will be reading about this social experiment that has taken place in Colorado and I can only hope their Grandpa’s name gets a little mention…

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

Stealing from one is plagiarism, borrowing from many is research. Sufficed to say, I do a TON of research!

How would you advise someone who wants to join the industry?

The first thing I would make sure of is that they are clear on a few critical facts. Namely that this industry is not for the faint of heart. This is not a lazy man’s business, nor a fool’s business, and certainly not a poor man’s business. You have to have incredible intellectual horsepower given that currently, your personal liberties are still very much at risk. You also have to have delusional confidence—road blocks are constantly in front of you and you have to be able to remove them. If you are easily defeated or don’t know how to remove those road blocks, you are bound to fail—and that can be a costly failure.

Now, all of that being said, I would also advise them that there is not a more dynamic, exciting, or important place to be right now. We are making history every single day, and will be for quite some time to come. If I was 20 years younger, just starting my career, I would be doing everything within my power right now to take part in this amazing social and economic transition.

We are making history every single day, and will be for quite some time to come.

What is a skill or trait that you think is necessary to make an impact in this industry?

I think the most important trait (beyond some I have already mentioned) is to be beyond reproach. The name of the game right now is that you must be fully committed and passionate about compliance and transparency. There are no shortcuts! There is so much scrutiny that is placed on what we do and how we do it, and of course there is no shortage of people vying for our industry’s demise. So the more you can be transparent, welcome the naysayers in, and show them what we do and how we do it, the better opportunity we will have to realize our full potential as businesses in a respected industry. And oh yeah… perhaps a dash of tenacity would help!

What is the most important thing for us to know now about the legal marijuana industry?

A few things… first, from our vantage point, infused products are the future of cannabis. We all knew consumers would show up to take part in adult-use cannabis, but the appetite for infused products (and extensions like vape pens, concentrates, etc.) were beyond our estimates. We are all still playing catch up, all while trying to keep up with rapidly evolving regulation.

But, it’s also important to note that despite all the media hype and imagery of cannabis business owners swimming in pools of cash—we are still in the early, nascent stages of growth as companies and as an industry. Even though Dixie has been around for five years, it still feels like it’s the top of the first inning. There’s still massive opportunity, but also massive risk. Feels good on most days, but some other days can be a little bit hairy still.

If we are sitting across from each other a year from now, how will our conversation about the ‘green rush’ be going?

We will still be talking about it exactly as we are today. There is no slow down. As we approach 2016, new markets, the demand, etc. will continue to increase exponentially. New states will come on. New regulations will occur. Some problems will be resolved, hopefully like banking, but new ones will pop up. Again, it’s the top of the first inning; There is still so much to learn and do and much of that has to do simply with our knowledge of this amazing plant and all it has to offer. Innovation will be constant and rapid, so, my hope is that in a year we can know exponentially more than we know now of how to tap into the benefits of cannabis.

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