John Nemanic, Chairman, COO, SaviAndina Cannabis Organics
John Nemanic is a serial entrepreneur and investor, leveraging his extensive experience in starting, growing, managing and exiting firms. As co-founder, Chairman and CEO, he exited three very successful Internet start ups, Internet Direct, Tucows and Hostopia. In 2006, Hostopia raised 29.2 million (TSX:H), sold to Deluxe Communications for $124 million USD. John’s current interest are medical cannabis, hemp and CBD start ups, with a focus on Colombia.
John lives in Panama and Colombia, manages Panamanian/Colombian based business, and invests in Real Estate. As former member of EO Panama, John has a list of extensive contacts within Panama.
He is also a former member of EO Toronto (joined 1995) and YPO Toronto (joined 1999).
[00:00:01] You're listening to Thinking Outside the Bud where we speak with entrepreneurs investors thought leaders researchers advocates and policymakers who are finding new and exciting ways for cannabis to positively impact business society and culture. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt.
[00:00:30] Welcome everyone. This is Thinking Outside The Bud, I’m Bruce Eckfeldt, I'm your host and our guest today is John nomadic. And John is President and Chief Operating Officer of SaviAndina Cannabis Organics. We're going to learn a little bit more about what he's doing particularly in Latin America and South America and the cannabis space. I'm excited for this.
[00:00:47] John welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. Yeah. Well I always like to start with getting to know people a little bit in terms of their background before they kind of got into the cannabis.
[00:00:56] I know you've had a history as not Nora and the early stage startup space and taxpayers. Let's hear a little bit about that and then we can kind of we can dig into the cannabis side what you're doing there.
[00:01:05] Sure. In my prior life I was chairman and CEO and president of three different Internet companies that were actually taken public. First one was Internet direct. It was a simple idea X and Toronto. Then we had a company called two cows that we created. I worked with some American partners and we created a company called Host dopey as well in 2000. We took it public on the Toronto Stock Exchange under set and boy age raised twenty nine point two plus the green shoe. So after that we can and then we would take it up by a company called deluxe communications for a 124 U.S.. And that's how I ended up in Panama joining my life sitting by the dock you know drinking lots of margaritas and so forth.
[00:01:47] About three years ago my wife was a medical doctor and she specializes in anti aging medicine stem cell technology. And we were talking about business opportunities and I just said you know there are two key ways that you could reduce extend lifespan right and you know improve health and reduce disease and she said well there's a number of things but two of the key ways is to increase the length of the telomere raises on your chromosomes. And I thought well that's interesting but also a great truth information right. And I said she goes too bad that we can't use cannabinoids because they're very effective at reducing inflammation and I thought wow that was kind of like when the light bulb went on right and I started exploring that those opportunities. I started investing in some early Canadian companies back in 2000 15 to 16. Course they did very well on that right. But know not enough to really move the needle for me financially but enough to make it very interesting and I was offered an opportunity to join the capacity as an executive at a senior level in a Canadian cannabis based company Oh on the agricultural side. But when I looked at a mix of it I thought to myself Well this is okay. This is really not a sustainable business model because the costs are just frankly too high for dollar to dollar fifty. That's not to say there is a space on the Kraft side but if you're talking just generics if you're just talking on a commodities base that's right. It's just too high. Yeah. Colombia legalization that we're gonna start permitting for medical purposes and that's where nice run by the Bucks me two years ago in Colombia in the licensing process and learning how to obtain licenses and learning how to start businesses there. It helps that my wife in addition to being a medical doctor is also a Colombian citizen. And she has extensive family in Colombia so I'm not going in there naked which by the way I would recommend to anybody if you don't have good partners in Colombia.
[00:03:35] It's a great place to start with 2 million and end up with one you know just a I guess what have you noticed about the Colombia market the South American market when it comes to cannabis. I mean I guess I guess level set up here.
[00:03:47] Where are some of these countries in terms of you know cannabis legalization cannabis history. I mean are they are they pro cannabis at this point where do things stand.
[00:03:55] Well Colombia is of course famous for being one of the world's largest producers of illicit cattle. And the quality was actually considered quite good back in the 70s and 80s but because of the drug wars and because of the other issues you know the government was you know sort of anti drugs cannabis was lumped in there for the longest period of time. But within the country itself there was extensive use and if you are religious purposes you could use as well. So maybe make a long story short the government decided about you know I guess maybe three years ago they said look you know we have this black market sector we've got all this money that is being produced and we have people that are saying look you don't make it legal and we're happy to go into the green market so to speak we're happy to pay our taxes and go home and sleep at night comfortably. And so they started doing the numbers and realize that there's an opportunity make billions and Columbia in particular is ideally suited for producing cannabis in particular sativa strains the proximity to the equator flowers or some stay twelve all ideal soils you're at high altitudes which really helps a lot in terms of getting full spectrum sunlight and also the costs of production.
[00:05:05] I mean in Toronto if you could break the buck and candidate is if you can produce under a dollar a gram you're considered golden. Yeah in Colombia you can produce for under 20 cents a gram. No prob we could do it with a car. And you know a lot of people ask me how is that possible. I said it's very simple. You know you can go to Toronto you can open a warehouse right. You can plant coconuts and you can have a coconut grove. Right now you can do it at Columbia cheaper. That's all there is to it. So that's when I realized that Columbia was ideally position from a cultivation standpoint but also companies Colombia's relationship with the United States in particular being part of NATO. I have strong relations with the U.S. government having free trade agreements and plus having a large population of 50 million people having a lot of skilled doctors and engineers and pharmacology and so forth. It made it compelling in Colombia is also known as one the world's largest exporter of cut flowers so if you go into an FTD flaws the United States what have flowers that you have there are from Colombia. And if you think if you think about the logistics of setting up the change to take you know fresh cut flowers from one place and bring it within 48 hours somewhere else and to do so in a way that preserves the flowers.
[00:06:15] I mean that's just amazing and I thought you know what this is kind of place I'd like to start to have looked at other South American countries. No question there are opportunities Uruguay of course was one of the leaders in terms of going legal about recreational business. The only thing I would say about erg way is that seven hours south of Bogota and that you're looking at a population of two point nine million and frankly you know they have there's just not going to be in my opinion a world class producer not because the people aren't good they just don't have the infrastructure they don't have what's required. So yeah Brazil I'm looking at opportunities there looked at Ecuador and so forth but and Chile. But I can sincerely say Colombia right now is still the best place in my opinion on an overall base. When I look at the costs involved and look at the infrastructure and look at the logistics. So those are the things I have to consider. But those are the good side. There is the bad side. There is the ugly and I'm happy to chat about that too.
[00:07:07] And by that you mean the dust storms of what it's like to do business in Colombia and how you have to do business in Colombia.
[00:07:13] Well I would say on the bad side is that you're still dealing with a culture where some people are still antique cannabis because of what's going on and then there's still some prejudice there but that is changing. But I you know I don't want anybody to ever get the impression that everybody in Colombia is thrilled about this because there's some issues there. Legalization will go through it will continue. People will be brought into the green market. This is an unstoppable play. But say there's no resistance.
[00:07:39] Well I mean that's somewhat similar to the US to that right. I mean we have we have a state by state system because we still we still have kind of legacy laws we have legacy opinions you know kind of mindset around this.
[00:07:53] You know I think I think we're still going through it. I mean you think it's kind of the same situation or is there something different about Colombia.
[00:07:58] No I think it parallels the U.S. in that sense right. But you know for me. But you know there's some people have this impression that everybody's thrilled. And the answer is absolutely not.
[00:08:06] Yeah yeah I think. Don't be don't. Don't be naive.
[00:08:09] You know in terms of where we are in the whole not only legalization but really cultural adoption or adoption of this stuff.
[00:08:17] So it sounds like I mean this kind of combination of sort of the agricultural situation the relationship with the US the infrastructure of transportation of these types of materials extract raw materials and your personal connections has made this kind of a nice trifecta for you in terms of setting up our operations there. What where do you see the market right now.
[00:08:35] I mean you know we have all these kind of this this drama in the U.S. about you know being able to transport not transport these kind of materials you know the international market is opening. I mean where are you hoping to be able to do business with the product that you're producing out of Colombia.
[00:08:49] Ok. First of all I'm going to use a baseball analogy Bruce and I would say that we're in the first half of the first inning literally that's where we are. So we have a long ways to go. And if you think of 1934 when you had the decriminalization is what I would call it of alcohol consumption right. Well that was now legal and you had the rush to start distillers and so forth. Right. Well multiply that by 10x the cannabis market is going to be in the hundreds of billions. And when you think of the ingredients that are produced how they're going to show up in anywhere from cosmetics to food products to materials science for example hemp. Is an extremely robust material for building materials in tropical environments. I mean you could take a hemp block compress it it'll weigh less than concrete. It'll be stronger than concrete in terms of tensile strength and you can go back 50 years not back I'll be totally intact. I mean we all probably remember the days when ships used to use you know like Titanic you would literally see those hemp ropes and they could resist. So gives you an idea just how big this is going to be this industry is going to be trillions literally billions. So from that perspective obviously we're very excited. I would say that there's still going to be a lot that has to be done on the regulatory side.
[00:10:06] I mean do we have an export market the states right now. No we don't. Yeah. Because by the time the market opens if you're not ready for it then I might be too late. Columbia will not allow the export of flowers. It's only going to be oils and derivatives so you have to be prepared. This oil allows us to process them and we're just juices flying and we're preparing for that. We're doing exactly that. So right now we could sell it domestically and make some you know make some coin to keep us going. But there's going to be huge opportunities in Europe. I can't tell you how many Europeans have already contacted us and said hey we're really interested in working with you and bringing product because in Europe frankly especially in the northern parts there's just not going to be cost competitive from the Agriculture perspective. They know that. Yes. And also there's the question of commoditization and now. But while that will be a factor I like to use the analogy of wine. OK. Over 90 percent of the wine sold in the United States sells for under ten dollars a bottle. But there are people that pay two thousand dollars for a good bottle of wine close Bush over.
[00:11:03] Exactly. And I mean in the same way there are certain cannabis strains like we've we've registered over 50 strains and there are certain strains that you know is that will give you that wonderful cerebral high without the anxiety or stress that some people feel when they consume something. That's what Columbia was always famous for particular cultivars. Right. You know thrive in Colombian sauce. You could take a Colombian cultivar planets in California and now or in another country and it will be totally different people don't know this about cannabis. They think oh it's the same seed gonna have the same product everywhere in the world and that's absolutely not true. Yes conditions climate conditions growers you know how they cultivated there's so many factors. This is an extremely complex plant right now and also a male female plant to sell the idea that hey it's like you know we have children.
[00:11:54] Right. And you know people were made to say birth and we have three kids we'll do the three kids all turn up the same here.
[00:12:00] Oh yeah.
[00:12:01] You know you know cannabis is a lot like that. So there is a real art to this and we believe that Colombia because of the altitude for example were our primary farmers located it's over 2000 meters above sea level. 7000 almost 7000 for the metric we challenge.
[00:12:18] We're looking at proximity to point two times that level of intensity of sun that you would get at sea level. Interesting because you have this really wide spectrum that can't be duplicated by grow lights alone. You start to have certain sea be these that were very rare CBD that might express themselves so. So there's this belief for example that you know CBD the generic timbers literally thousands are certain individual compounds like a V or something like that. I'm just using that as an example that are extremely rare and cost a lot of money to produce and could be done in Colombia cheaply she or I should say yeah.
[00:12:54] What do you think. Do you think your play is in these kind of niche products are harder to grow up products thank you. You have kind of geographic situational advantage around or is it kind of more mass production you know just you can drive the cost of production down because of the situation. I mean I guess where where do you see the bigger opportunity are you still kind of playing pick figuring out how things are going to play.
[00:13:18] Well the market is going to be segmented into many different areas. In Colombia in particular. First of all mass production is going to be huge. Now I've been told in Africa they could do it for 10 or 20 percent less. But if you're talking to say 10 cents a gram versus eight cents a gram I don't think the margins can make that much difference because you have to take into account all the other factors security laborer processing and transfer warrants and networks and so forth.
[00:13:41] But also I think there's going to be a room for Kraft producers that will come out with say you know Santa Marta gold you know grown at 18 hundred meters above sea level on the north side of the mount or I in the intel and they're right there it's parents that run around and collect that.
[00:14:03] And to be perfectly fair I mean I we've met with some of the indigenous peoples right and they do monoculture. They plant cannabis and along with coffee and other things and they just pick according to its natural cycles and what they produce is actually outstanding. So there's no question that this is going to be a segment for the conscious you are now talking you know flower we're flower eventually be exported from Colombia I don't know. Right. But the government sides that's OK that will be one thing. But even the extracts themselves will be super interesting. So either way you could produce like you know how hash for example or Keith even similar things I've got so you'll definitely be a market. So the answer is sky's the limit.
[00:14:42] Yeah well and I think that you know because there's so much dynamics in the market you know we don't know really what's gonna happen with the legislations and agreements that have been being multifaceted right now is probably not a bad strategy.
[00:14:55] And then as as things to play out that you can kind of double down on things that seem to be the best strategic tenant issues to focus on any other kind of learnings or insights that you've developed to date in terms of setting up these businesses getting involved I mean anything in terms of how you've been able to work with the government how you've been made Bill work with the communities know the people that are actually doing the growing and processing and stuff.
[00:15:18] Any any realizations.
[00:15:20] Well I would certainly say that if you choose to do business in Colombia you really how to do your due diligence OK and understand that the ethics that people have that some people have there is not what we may be accustomed to in North America. By that I mean you may have signed agreements you might have everything in place and then you know at the last minute 11th hour 59 minute they'll pull a fast one on you. I've had this happen to have a couple of times right. And I've explained to them that look you know this is our agreements. This is what we've said we're going to do. You don't want to do it. Now you want to change it because you think we have too much and you don't have enough.
[00:15:58] And this is a mentality you have to deal with. So you have to really select your partners closely. The other thing too at the government level as well. This is not a country where you just walk in and spark up a joint say hey that's a cool man have a pop right. As I say there's still a deep conservatism there. And even my wife you know who understands the medical applications extremely well like I mentioned the salvia D. You know I didn't I never want to tour here but I'll just be direct. We're working with five doctors and three D and we're creating medical compounds to deal with specific illnesses and I'm happy to drill down at some other time on that if you like.
[00:16:32] And so we have our nation mind but I'm going to say that you really need to figure out who you're working.
[00:16:40] I've already been burned twice and I thought I knew what I was doing. So you've got an inside scoop I've been there for a while. Yeah.
[00:16:48] Well but I mean the average Columbia the average person is decent but it's also the sector we're in too and it's just it's like See there's the wild west as well. People don't know how to handle it. And the other thing I found too is that when it comes to recruiting labor you have to have sort of a open mind about these things.
[00:17:05] I'll give you an example I was talking to a PJ D agronomist and I asked him what you experience this and that. And he said well I work the university and I said you know that's fine but you're an academic. And he said to me Well I spent nine years in Calcutta.
[00:17:23] So the government knows this but they're okay with this because they want to take these people out of the so-called black zone. You know the illegal market enter the Green into the money and so they're willing to allow that process to happen and I give them 100 percent support and they have a lot of courage to invest in Columbia.
[00:17:42] For better or for worse maybe because of the drugs wars was awarded 44 percent of the world's quota for exporting psychoactive psychoactive I emphasize that. Right. And so I mean this is a great place to be. That's a segment that you're particularly interested in.
[00:17:57] Yeah. Fascinating. Mark I mean I've spent a lot of time talking with folks in the U.S. and Canada. Right. But I think it gives me a better appreciation of some of the advantages or at least that admits of growing in these other markets I guess. How do you see these markets maturing. I mean you know Canada's blown up right now. You know everyone's talking about these mass you know mass grows you know large scale production everything. I mean do you think they. How do you think that's going to play out. Are we in a boom right now. Is this sustainable.
[00:18:24] Do you think there's gonna be a correction on some of these things that we've already seen some of this correction. What's your take up the Canadian market as being the pick. I guess that's the biggest market I know of right now that is in this heavy production.
[00:18:34] Well first of all the cannabis stocks make the old dot com stock look worrying. And so we have the Internet.
[00:18:42] And I think the Canadians will become world leaders in the sense that because they had an early start they have experience with distribution have this experience reduction. And my belief is that in three to four year two or three years whenever it becomes legal at the federal level the United States the mostly Canadian companies will be takeover target. So eventually I think primarily American companies that dominate the market.
[00:19:05] That's my belief. Three or five years hence in terms of the actual agricultural producers. I think that if you do identify Kraft strains and you have good genetics and you control it and if your cost is a DA gram but you could market as say for 20 or 30 does it really make that much difference.
[00:19:21] All right. Places like Colombia will be great from a commoditization standpoint. But for actual industrial hemp I think United States is going to be a world leader as well it has the potential I should say to the whole world.
[00:19:32] It's just your politicians I mean you had this guy called Jeff Sessions or you know glad that Trump decided to send the Senator back to where he's from right. People a little more progressive mindset. I mean come on you know.
[00:19:48] Yeah. You know it's been rolled into this whole category and you know unfortunately it's we haven't quite resolved what I kind of bifurcate the the different products and you know control everything together. No pun intended. But you know it's you know we're still sorting it out. I mean we'll see. I guess I don't know you know from from your view. You know we're kind of doing the state by state thing you know and it's solely kind of chugging along. What's your prediction. As an outsider kind of what you've seen and you know how things have rolled out. I mean where do you think how far along do you think we are before we get federal you know some kind of federal resolution on this that allows us to actually do interstate commerce help us for these products.
[00:20:26] Ok. So I finished attending the Ben Zynga conference in Miami. That's one the reasons why I'm here. And I oversee those three days of some really good conversations with some mama cells and with attorneys and so forth right. And from the inside inside baseball that I was able to gather and I'm not going to name any names but I spoke with an attorney that is deep into the Beltway. I mean I've checked out his connections.
[00:20:49] He basically says like 20 21 you know we're really looking at probably going legal that because his belief is that the people that are around the current administration will be in favor over this if for no other reason the money is just too great either.
[00:21:03] As for the regulations state by state I mean it's a dog's breakfast and being an MSO in my opinion is a complex. I don't pretend to understand it. I just look at it and think gosh the providers that can figure out how to market and distribute state by state are going to be the real winners even more so than the ones I know how to produce. I mean if I was in the United States I would probably develop a company that would do nothing more than figure out how to distribute legally in each state and meet the compliance. But it is complicated and you know the problem with this is that Bruce likes let's take California for example. I spoke with somebody and don't hold with these numbers please because I don't like it but they said that they're operating at a 32 to 37 percent disadvantage to the illegal market. And you know for somebody that was used to operating freely so to speak and then I suddenly have to take a 32 to 37 percent hit and have to deal with a sea of paperwork. I mean I don't know they have to have this standardize this to some extent. I mean if at the federal level that could be an agreement where hey let's just taxes like 10 percent excise tax and split the deal the lowly between the state and the federal government. That might be the answer you know because the compliance is just absurd. I just I'm in the industry and I have to say by the way Colombia to anybody who thinks that all we it's easy to get a license in Colombia. Good luck with that. It's actually very complicated. But unfortunately Canada is like that too. If anything I think a country like Panama and you know this would be a subject of a separate conversation I believe it might get it right that they're going to simplify it and just get smart about it. We'll see. We'll see what we see. Yeah I know. Who knows I mean one thing I know about government bureaucrats. They know how to hide it.
[00:22:48] What can I say. Ontario October 17. Pot is legalized in the two days the store sell off. I mean for decades we've had balance supply and demand. The government gets involved and they just screw that up.
[00:23:00] Yeah. Well yeah and I do think I mean the one interesting thing of the state by state thing is like each state has kind of taken a different approach. It's like a grand experiment. OK all right. Well that didn't work. Let's try something different next time. So I mean yes and ultimately when we get to the federal level there there's going to have to be some standardization.
[00:23:17] At a minimum if not simplification to stop any multi-state OPERATOR Right now it is a cluster because it's you know having to you know one set one state set of regulations and processes is so different from that acts that can't that you literally have to set up different organizations or different processes for each state because you want to step up that's not efficient. It's not going to work on a federal level now. So in terms of where you see opportunities right now I know you're kind of focusing in this kind of cultivation. Second right now where do you see you know in terms of the folks listening to this podcast that are interested in thinking about getting into the cannabis space in various forms. Where do you see any interesting opportunities what areas would you suggest. And if people look at her and investigate in terms of new product services where are the. Where are the unclaimed or on exploded areas of the sector right now.
[00:24:04] Well Americans are absolute geniuses at branding and marketing and that's the strength that should be leveraged and think global about this right. So if I was not interested in cultivation which I think would be only a small part of the value chain it just happens that I like farming. I actually get to get out of it. But if you put that if you put that aside.
[00:24:24] Right. The bulk of the money is going to be made in the distribution side. And it'll be kind of creating know proper brands that appeal to specific market segments and I think you gonna have to go deeper into those segments. Right. Like for example my wife is co CEO of Saudi and Dina. Right. And she's there she's working with other doctors to create products to address needs specific to women. Right. In terms of an avenue that will help them to deal with you know certain physiological conditions or in certain matters.
[00:24:50] I'm not just talking about you know monthly cycles to talk about other things as well. So I think for example cannabis was used in ancient times assist women through childbirth right. And that could be an example of an application.
[00:25:02] I mean it's just like you sit there you look at the medical side and you say wow what conditions are there what does count has been shown to be effective for and work with that. Right. You don't have to be a genius you don't have to have you double pierced D after your name to do any of this stuff. You just have to have the vision and the courage and the dedication. So what would I do. I mean maybe I would open up a bed and breakfast a button breakfast so to speak so trivial. But that's not hard to do right.
[00:25:26] You know just create a carve out a special place in your little hotel or whatever where people can congregate and smoke and have it contained. Right. So it doesn't bother anybody. You know maybe eventually have a little bar and offer like 20 different strains and say well you know here's our standard product but you know if you want to try this mid range we have this and oh my gosh we're going to have really high in your super quality Santo MRO side of the mountain you know picked it by the type of thing and people will buy it. Right. So is if I was in the United States and I was a young person that's what I would focus on. Frankly I wouldn't even necessarily do the Green Acres thing and I'm doing you're not trying to discourage anybody from it. I'm just saying that I think that that's going to be a fantastic opportunity. It just happens that I'm actually enjoying the cultivation side there's just something cool about walking through a bunch of plants and looking at them and smelling them and experiencing them realizing this was a seed you know maybe a few months ago and now here's this beautiful plant. Yeah but you know that's where I am in my life right now.
[00:26:24] You know exhale I'll say I think part of this is you know finding finding something that really energizes you and your passion around.
[00:26:31] I mean I think I I I like the idea that you're you know that that that has personal satisfaction or personal appeal to to get value and I think any anything you do in business I think this applies to any kind of business as you know it is hard. And so you better enjoy it. Oh and you know finding something that you're passionate about and trying to you know then find the opportunity to kind of face you don't you know not everyone needs to set up a grow or dispensary and figure out what are you good at. What do you like doing. What are you an expert in outside of the space to figure out how to bring in another space and space to make it cannabis specific so that's a theme that comes a lot on this program is just help figuring out what do you do really well right now and then how can you apply it to the cannabis space. Those are great businesses to start.
[00:27:12] Well you know Bruce further to a point very quickly for those that are in technology and I have to have a little experience there.
[00:27:18] All right Internet of Things applications will be absolutely fantastic in this space right.
[00:27:24] You're talking about agricultural. I think you're going to see the third Agricultural Revolution. I believe that in ten years hence from now you you as a person will be able to grow your own vegetables and fruits using some of the tech that has been developed from accountable space and create really healthy products at much lower cost than what you would pay in your grocery store. So if I was in the grocery business I'd be looking at how I could start producing instead of doing you know buying the salad that came 3000 miles from Mexico and that was irradiated the border right producing healthy foods.
[00:27:53] So the ramifications are just incredible. And on the technology side I can think of 100 different ways supply that could make the business better and more effective.
[00:28:03] That's the fun part of this business. It's not just it's not just about the plant. It's about how do we really create a new industry and a new supply chain know new economy around it. So this has been great great conversation I've enjoyed. I've learned a couple of interesting things. Maybe I'll try to get down to Columbia and we can check out some of the growers I would love that. But thank you very much for taking the time. I look forward to kind of keeping in touch and hearing how things play out for you. And it's it's been a pleasure.
[00:28:27] Let me know how it can be a further service do you look forward to chatting with anytime Bruce. This is fun. Thanks Jeff
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