This issue, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tripp Keber, the CEO and Co-Founder of Dixie Brands. He says he and his business partner, Chuck Smith, got into this business by happenstance, in 2009, which he calls “The Dark Days.” They were real estate developers right at the turn of the economy. Being from the South, they decided to name their company Dixie, paying homage to South of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Prior to launching Dixie, Tripp says he was Denver’s oldest teenager; a true party boy. His successful real estate business and sale of his voice and data tech company in 2001 afforded him some spare time and a temporary retirement, even though he was far too young to actually retire.
“We did not get into it to help people. We got into this to make money, initially. Boy, were we wrong, the money didn’t show up or materialize for a while. But more importantly we started hearing from patients that the products were really helping them on a level that alcohol and opioids couldn’t,” Tripp said.
That positive reaction to their initial product launches inspired them to look into deeper opportunities in the industry. The elixir was their first product, when cannabis infused beverages was relatively untouched by the infused products markets. At the time, no one was sure how to market to the range of demographics medicinal cannabis appeals to. But they believed that it was possible to create a brand and establish a moral high ground
based on making quality products.
There was a lot of theory that legalization was going to happen, but no one realized how long it was going to take and how complicated the matter would be. They certainly could not have predicted that 50% of the industry would be infused products, growing every year.
In 2010, Tripp had half a million dollars invested in the business, being far too frugal to walk away, and no return in the near future, he doubled down repeatedly.
He makes it no secret that he is just not one of those people who has had a lifelong love affair with cannabis, aside from the occasional social toke. He explained that he just never knew how great the plant is for you.
Tripp says that cannabis has helped him personally with alcohol, “I just chose the wrong solution to many years.”
He shared with me details of a story he talked about at the November 2015 Marijuana Business Daily Conference. In 2002, around February-March, he had an extremely dark moment that involves holding a 9mm pistol on the kitchen floor of his home, and considering suicide. He had just sold his tech company September 1st, 2001, and 10 days later 9 of his friends (3 of whom he lived with) died in the World Trade Center attacks. He was heading to New York on the train when the tragedies occurred. He softly recollected, “Candidly, I should have been there with them. I chickened out. I didn’t want to live in New York. I didn’t want to be a Wall Street finance guy. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and work for myself.”
“The world as I knew it was over. I thought my life was going to be carefree. Now there were 7 women without husbands, and 11 children without fathers,” Tripp said.
Fast forward a few months later, “My wife was in love with another man. That just shook me to my core. I was already dealing with more emotion than any person should have to. I had no escape, living in a state where I knew no one, other than his soon to be ex-wife and children.”
Tripp acknowledges that with how he was feeling at the time, a gun should never have been in the mix. He was ashamed about that moment for years. Even though he describes himself as a coward in that moment, he takes suicide seriously and says of others going through depression, “You don’t know what that person is going through.”
He picked himself up and moved on, while supressing his feelings with drugs and alcohol. He says that it was risky for him to admit that to a crowd of 6,000, at the conference where he first told the cautionary tale. There’s a perception of Tripp being a “Willy Wonka of Weed” type character, where he is perceived as invincible and infallible, while he says that is just not the case.
Tripp’s younger brother, a cannabis enthusiast introduced him to cannabis. Since his brother managed to stay out of trouble, and it was then Tripp figured that maybe his little brother was smarter than he was.
“Alcohol is a depressant. I had a pretty healthy relationship with alcohol, I get angry, those emotions are generally deep seeded or from your childhood or whatever pisses you off. It’s easier to control when under the influence of cannabis as opposed to alcohol or God forbid some stronger drug. I use marijuana today to control my emotions. If anyone is ever on that floor, [they can look at me and say] if that turkey can do it, so can I!,” Tripp said.
The experience that he shared is one that many can relate to, and it certainly humanizes the persona the public knows him as. Last year, Tripp and Dixie were featured as part of the cast of Pot Barons, a cable television show about the legal emerging cannabis industry in Colorado. Not only was it a risky proposition to air their operation on national television, Tripp was terrified they were going to name the series “Marijuana Morons” and cast him as the lead.
Tripp acknowledges what an honor it was to be involved in the series, and says that it was incredibly rewarding to reach a demographic that was probably not acutely aware of what is going on in cannabis.
However, Tripp confided to me that his dad said, “What are you some kind of asshole? Every Time they show you, you’re drinking Tequila and smoking cigars!”
While some acting and editing may have been involved, Tripp says, “Doesn’t mean we weren’t silly on occasion! Nevertheless responsible journalist that took true interest, Jerry Cohen, was passionate about this plant, wanting to present it in the most positive light.”
Pot Barons portrayed some of the aftermath of 2014’s Colorado regulation changes. Edible companies had to change their packaging numerous times and extraction companies had new explosion-proof hood regulations. These changes put many producers out of production for months on end, until in compliance and approved by the respective regulatory agencies.
California, among other states, are facing regulation changes as the “kinks” get ironed out with the legislatures. Dixie has weathered the storm. When asked what it took to get through those trials and tribulations, Tripp said, “It starts at the top, at the leadership level. And then it takes delusional confidence, which can work for or against you. We have almost 100 team members in Colorado alone, day in and day out. It takes a strong management team, dedicated employees, and a tremendous amount of intellectual horsepower. ‘Stick-to-it-ive-ness’ is the key. 2016 is going to be the breakout year in the cannabis industry especially for infused product vendors.”
With California being the world’s 8th largest economy on the planet, Tripp optimistically thinks that California will learn from Colorado and potentially do a better job. “Stealing from one is plagiarism, borrowing from many is research. Hopefully they use only the best aspects from each state. When you’re first you don’t have that luxury. It’s scary to be a pioneer,“ Tripp said.
When asked how special interest may play a role in California’s regulations, Tripp said, “Cannabis has become big business. There are a lot of people pulling in multiple directions. I’m proud of Colorado. But it will not be like the first time. People will probably unfairly profit initially. Regardless, we are making progress, with a plant that’s been marred by black market stigma.”
“Day in and day out working hand in hand with regulators. The regulators seek first to understand then be understood. They’ll reach across and say, ‘Teach me. Educate me. Show me the reasons behind this.’ We’re happy to build a facility to proudly show off to state regulators and federal law enforcement. I’m not a marijuana activist. I’m a reformist. I have to be able to reach across the aisle, even if i’m in a business suit and they’re in a Bob Marley T-shirt and say, ‘Brother, how are we going work together?’ It’s a collaborative effort, we have to work together. All aspects of society and the industry must come together to make this plant mainstream and socially accepted in as many circles as possible,” Tripp said.
Tripp believes (and so do we) that Medical and Recreational regulations should indeed be separate, and have different taxation rates. “We don’t tax pharma? So why do we tax medical marijuana?,” he said.
He also agreed with my comments on how despite the rigorous child proofing regulations, those are all meaningless if the user is not responsible. He even shared hate mail stories of people sending in pictures with a gun to the Dixie bottle because they couldn’t get the bottle open. He thinks by 2018-2020 cannabis will be rescheduled Federally, or some kind of executive order will go through by then.
Dixie is now in 6 states and 2 countries, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, California, Nevada, Washington, and Australia. In addition to their THC infused drinks, chocolates, mints and tinctures, they have recently launched a pet hemp CBD line called Therabis.
Keep on the lookout for more products and exciting endeavors from Dixie Brands. They are another example of how Colorado companies are leading the way in the Green Rush. For those of us in other states, we continue to have reform to look forward to.
B. LE GRAND