There appear to be two common methods of building a celebrity brand: 1. Pair an inexpensive, generic product with a brandable celebrity to differentiate from competitors, spending resources on marketing rather than on research and product development. 2. Bring a celebrity onboard after the brand has established itself.
The approach my business partner, Paul Pierce, and I took is different from both of these approaches, and, arguably, could prove to be more successful. We decided to partner and build Airmyth Supply Company from the ground up, focusing on research and development of a solid, premium consumer product, Vesper—the most luxurious vaporizer device available in the CBD market. The results of this approach have seen a deeper celebrity connection to the brand, as well as a quality product coupled with a quality endorser.
Contrary to most other celebrity-endorsed products and businesses, Paul has been deeply involved with the business since its inception, leading meetings, hosting fundraising events, and partaking in overall creative direction. Most celebrity endorsers have little to no control over the creative direction of opportunities that come their way. When their attention is split between so many opportunities, having an outlet that provides them with the chance to give input allows them to directly see the impact from their involvement. Consequently, Paul has an innate attachment to our brand and truly cares about its success. This is an important differentiator. Also important is delivering a product that aligns with the celebrity’s reputation. By having a product that supports the celebrity’s image, the customer views the endorsement as genuine rather than as a financial transaction. While Paul’s presence converts customers, the quality of our product retains them.
But how did a guy from Rhode Island who first moved to California to start growing edible insects and a future NBA Hall of Famer enter into business together?
A Serendipitous Encounter
One Sunday a few years back, I was at a bar on Sunset Boulevard pondering my newest start-up. After completing my baccalaureate studies at Colby College, I withdrew my enrollment in medical school to study bioentrepreneurship at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Shortly after completing my master’s program, an interest in the future of food security inspired a move to California to establish the state’s first edible insect farm, Coalo Valley Farms. We grew crickets and mealworms in a completely closed-loop system, offering a sustainable source of animal protein for human consumption. But the cannabis industry soon caught my attention. I began passionately studying the ins and outs of commercial cannabis cultivation and founded Titan Biologics, pivoting away from food production and instead focusing on marketing organic soil amendments to the cannabis space. While at Coalo I’d made various connections at insect farms with low production costs and realized the value of a terrestrial-based chitin source that could organically boost a plant’s immune response to detrimental insects, increase root growth and nutrient uptake while avoiding the drawbacks of marine-based chitin sources. At Titan Biologics, I launched OptiVeg, an organic chitin-based soil amendment isolated from various insect exoskeletons and used as biofertilizer to assist vegetative plant growth. But none of this would seem relevant until this particular Sunday afternoon at a Hollywood bar.
A patron walked up to the bouncer. I looked closer and thought, “Damn, that guy looks a lot like Paul Pierce.” When he took a seat at the table next to me, I realized this was in fact Paul Pierce himself. He was just finishing his final NBA season as an L.A. Clipper and was sitting next to me. A Lakers fan from Rhode Island, I felt compelled to congratulate him.
“Hey Mr. Pierce, just wanted to congratulate you on an illustrious career,” I said. “I was probably the only Rhode Islander who didn’t root for you, but nonetheless I appreciate all the iconic moments you brought to New England and basketball fans alike.”
That kicked off some light banter, which led to a deeper discussion about what he had planned for retirement. “More family time, rest, relaxation, and pursuing more diverse business ventures,” he said. The conversation progressed, and as I was preparing to leave, I asked if I could have his email address. In addition to building Titan Biologics, I told him, I was also working on a side project developing CBD topicals.
“Mr. Pierce, I know a lot of retired athletes struggle with pain management and arthritis, so I’m wondering if I could give you some of my CBD lotion. Your input would be invaluable for me as I work to improve and perfect my recipe,” I said. I could tell this question piqued his interest.
“You’re in the cannabis space?” he quickly replied.
Becoming Business Partners
Paul Pierce and I could not have lived more different lives. But that didn’t stop us from finding commonalities. We shared a free-flowing imagination, penchant for creative tangents, and competitive nature fueled by a refusal to quit. Our mutual love for hip-hop and chess would foster a friendship that naturally progressed into a business partnership. During our daily chess matches, we would discuss diverse marketplaces, namely, the cannabis space, where we saw shortcomings and where we saw opportunity.
From an entrepreneurial standpoint, I’ve always been a firm believer in not dealing with a commodity directly. Instead, I focus on developing the intellectual property and ancillary products that every cultivator, manufacturer, retailer, and consumer of the commodity will touch. From this mindset came Airmyth Supply Company, an IP holdings company focused on the research and development of novel products ancillary to the cannabis space. Paul and I wanted to start a company that would build and accumulate an IP portfolio surrounding ancillary niches of the cannabis market, such as vaporizers, lighting, irrigation, packaging, and fertilizers.
However, early on we decided that a B2B product such as fertilizer was not nearly as marketable as a B2C product. It is a lot easier to sell a Paul Pierce vaporizer, an accessory, than a Paul Pierce lightbulb or bag of fertilizer. Given the momentum that vapes then had, and our mutual belief that the market was evolving beyond combustion-based consumption, a vaporizer brand seemed like a great place to start. So, we founded Vesper, a luxury vape company, and The Truth, a comprehensive CBD brand.
Vesper is the first brand Paul and I started under the Airmyth Supply Company. Paul was the seed financier and serves as president, while I take care of all operational and managerial duties. I’ve assumed the responsibilities of both CEO and COO. That said, we would like to find an outside COO so I can shift away from the monotonous operational aspects of the business and focus more on the creative aspects.
Recently, we fulfilled a large distribution deal through the Eaze Wellness platform and secured our fifth patent. Vesper One units retail for $89 and Vesper Pods range from $30–$50. Currently, we are adding the finishing touches to a Vesper Mini and Vesper Disposable, two cost-effective alternatives, while working on our PlayOn CBD line of oral sprays and topicals designed for athletes and active individuals. As we continue developing the international markets of both Vesper and The Truth, Airmyth Supply will be expanding into other promising business opportunities such as eco-friendly packaging solutions, cultivation hardware, and software applications.