Michael Katz is the owner and founder of Evoxe Laboratories, a family business that offers innovative vaporizer technology combining cannabinoids with organically grown essential oils.
Michael joined Spark the Conversation podcast host Bianca Green for an interview at the Emerald Cup in December. In this episode, Michael and Bianca talk about the cannabis industry’s dwindling stigma, moving from the East to the West coast to start a family business in cannabis, making the change from a media-focused career in videography to owning and operating a company providing an actual, tangible product, and more!
Listen to the episode below or continue scrolling down to read a full transcript of the interview.
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Read the transcript:
Bianca Green: Welcome to the Spark the Conversation podcast in partnership with Ganjapreneur.com, it’s a part of the Emerald Cup Series. We are interviewing today Michael Katz, a.k.a. Mr. Hollywood. I love Michael, the minute I met him he’s just a connector, a go-getter, and an awesome human being. Also the owner of Evoxe vape pens, a partner in the Emerald Exchange Farmer’s Market that happens in Malibu that is one of the best events that I have attended in the cannabis industry, very intimate bringing Mendocino County to Malibu. Really great, awesome human being.
To give you a little bit of his background, he has fifteen years experience in the entertainment industry. He’s produced content for some of the biggest brands in the world including Apple, NFL, Hewlett Packard, Tylenol. For three and a half years he ran the design, motion graphics, and VFX departments at Ant Farm one of the largest and most awarded entertainment marketing agencies in Los Angeles, producing brand content for Activision titles including Call of Duty and theatrical trailer campaigns for all of the major motion picture studios. And then in 2014, he founded Raise the Bottom Line, a nonprofit organization advocating for federal job guarantee program. And Katz is a member of the Producer’s Guild of America and ASPCA. Oh wait, ASCAP, sorry. Michael, you should become a member of ASPCA, too, though. But he’s just awesome. Everything Michael says and does is build with joy and love and again, as an entrepreneur in this new cannabis industry, he’s got a lot of information and knowledge that he’s learned and acquired over the years of building his own brand Evoxe, and we talked to him a lot about that today. It’s a really interesting conversation.
What’s up? We are here with Michael Katz, live from the Emerald Cup. The owner and founder of Evoxe vape pens, choose the mood. What’s up, Michael?
Michael Katz: Hey, Bianca. Thanks for having me.
Bianca Green: Michael, a.k.a. Mr. Hollywood.
Michael Katz: I will appreciate if you don’t keep calling me that.
Bianca Green: I know, but coming from somebody who is super Hollywood, that’s a super compliment.
Michael Katz: Well, I appreciate if the compliment is the intention. That means a lot.
Bianca Green: You know, Hollywood is the place that people shake and get shit done. So from my perspective is it definitely is a compliment. You are a go-getter, from the first minute I talked to you on the phone I was like, “I just need to know this person.”
Michael Katz: Aw, well thanks.
Bianca Green: Obviously you have a great product, a kind heart, and you’re a networker. And I think that those are all great components to success in the cannabis industry.
Michael Katz: Well, I’ve been fortunate. I do come from a background of Hollywood work which …
Bianca Green: Oh, now the truth comes out, okay.
Michael Katz: Well, I’ve lived there for a long time. I was in advertising and entertainment but I left intentionally Hollywood because a lot of the way that business is done there and the approaches that are taken to communications and the kind of products that are handed to the population, I just never really agreed with. So I was fortunate enough to go through all that and learn a lot of the techniques that are used and so now I feel really fortunate in the cannabis space that I’m able to use that for good and to be able to help other members of the community that maybe don’t have as much experience in that arena be able to see certain steps they can take to make themselves more communications friendly as things progress.
Bianca Green: I agree, I used to say, coming from the fashion world, I would see people getting so upset about dresses not arriving in time for Oscar events, just the most strange things that you could actually get upset about. And I would say, “I’m in a field where people act as if they’re curing cancer.”
And now, ironically, I’m in a field where people are curing cancer.
Michael Katz: … When you spend a lot of time, like you said, there’s so much self importance given to a lot of these industries internally where they feel like they are this group that is super influential and they take all this self importance on but ultimately a lot of that is the inflation of the value of media and just this cultural situation where we’ve really taken a lot of substance and things that matter and activism out of the just traditional commercial process. That absence is something that when you get into a space like cannabis, you really see because it’s so present here. And to be able to not just create products that are actually bringing relief and positive change into people’s lives but be able to speak for an industry as a whole that can really take this plants and take it and use it in so many amazing ways. … I feel so fortunate and think so many of us feel so fortunate to be able to use what we’ve learned in the world and now take it to really advance the cannabis community in the cause that we all so strongly believe in.
Bianca Green: What got you into the plant?
Michael Katz: Well I started being a cannabis consumer when I was in college. I was actually very anti-cannabis as a high school student and not for any reason then, I just was told that drugs were bad and I still to this point, I do believe that age appropriateness is something that’s very important to talk about because while brains are developing it’s not necessarily a great idea to give those brains access to substances when they still haven’t figured out how to operate in the world yet and make their own intelligent, unbiased decisions. So in terms of keeping cannabis out of the hands of children, I still very strongly agree with that.
Bianca Green: Unless they have seizures and need it as a medicine.
Michael Katz: Of course, absolutely in terms of that. But as when kids run around and go drink when they’re fourteen or they go get drunk, granted I would way prefer that they’re gonna use cannabis to alcohol because we all know how terrible alcohol is for the body. But at the same time, educating kids, and I see kids in cannabis families, kids who come from the community, they don’t care about cannabis. Most of them don’t even ingest it, they see it as just part of their family’s livelihood in their culture and a lot of them had been taught, “This is medicine.” And they ask their friends like I know kids who say to their friends, “Well, why would you smoke pot, you’re not sick?”
And that’s the kind of education that I think that we need to provide for children in general in that when you say that there’s no medical value for cannabis as our potential US Attorney General has been known to say, that message is not gonna be effective in creating the kinds of change that we want to see on a societal level. We’ve seen for decades that that approach does not work and it sends people into the hands of worse substances and down dangerous roads. As an industry, we have the solution to all of that and we just want to be put in a position where we can really do what’s best for our community as we grow and the people who are gonna want to come into our community as it becomes more acceptable for them.
Bianca Green: So after college when you were a consumer then what led you to actually get into the industry?
Michael Katz: Well, interestingly enough, Evoxe started as a family business in the sense that my family, they all live in southern Florida. We all came from New Jersey, Staten Island, then made the migration.
Bianca Green: Jersey Shore.
Michael Katz: Yeah. That was me, I was on that show, you don’t recognize me because I lost some of the muscles. But that was me. No, that was not me. I was already living in California when that happened and I was glad-
Bianca Green: My mom’s from the Jersey Shore.
Michael Katz: It was a different thing when I was a kid. … It wasn’t quite Boardwalk Empire but it was like there was this idyllic like, “We’re going to the Shore.” I grew up in a very rural area. All the shit that people talked about New Jersey just never resonated with me. But when you go out in the world it makes you strong when people are just talking shit about your state all the time, just, “Oh, New Jersey? Oh you’re from New Jersey? I’m sorry to hear that.” It’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s great.”
Bianca Green: I have a grandfather named Guido, okay? So it’s not just a location that I get, it’s a slang for a type of person.
Michael Katz: I know. I grew up in Jersey in the eighties and the early nineties so I could identify all these sub-cultural groups that were very unique to the … You know, the huge hair and the big bangs and the stone-washed denim. We were a cultural mecca for a certain group of people.
Bianca Green: So you migrated down to Florida.
Michael Katz: They migrated to Florida as I migrated west to California and both of my cousins are in the home healthcare business down there and so after a family dinner a couple of years ago, my cousin’s husband, who’s a registered nurse, said, “I want to get into the medical cannabis business. I think we should get into the medical cannabis business as our thing that we do.” I guess they had a little chat about it as a family and then my mom called me and she said, “Your cousin Jesus thinks we should go into the medical marijuana business.” And I said, “He’s absolutely right. We totally should do that.” And she said, “Well, I think that might be something I might be interested in.” And I was shocked, obviously, because my mother’s never ingested can- even to this day with this company, she is not a cannabis user. And she obviously lives in Florida.
But I was like, “Well, are you sure that this is something that you think you’d want to pursue?” And she said, “Yeah. I think so.” I’m like, “Well, if you’re sure and I’ll ask you again. If you’re sure, then I don’t know what it’s gonna look like but I’m gonna hang up the phone. I’m gonna call the rest of the family and we are going to start a business with the focus of getting into cannabis.” And she said, “Okay.” I’m like, “All right. I’m gonna do it right now so last chance to change your mind.” And she’s like, “No, okay. Go for it.” So I hung up and I called both of my cousins and I called her sister and that weekend we had a conference call and we decided that we would start a company and do discovery into the space.
… And this was 2014 so there was the ballot was coming up in Florida that would’ve potentially made it medicinally legal beyond just the CBD that they had. And so the idea originally was we would set up a dispensary there because we already had the family in the home healthcare business working with all of the seniors in the community, working actively with Alzheimer’s groups and Parkinson’s groups. One of my cousins was given an award from an Alzheimer’s foundation, another of them does a walk and was on the local TV station. So, very active in the community. When it didn’t pass, we had gotten so excited about what the opportunities were that we said we wanted to keep going.
So I was living in California for a very long time obviously and so it became clear that that would be the best arena to focus the business on. At that time, doing our discovery, we met some people who were looking to sell a vaporizer company. In that process we saw the business model, we understood how the market was, we did some research and what we realized was that there was a ton of products in this space but none of them had really innovated in any real way that we could see. And in addition to that, many of them were not communicating with consumers in the way that people are used to being communicated with. So we saw this really big gap in a very crowded market and decided that that would be the kind of best way to focus our energies.
Bianca Green: So marketing and educating?
Michael Katz: Well, marketing and educating and communicating. … We now learned all of these things about what the plant can do and terpenes in combination with cannabinoids and all things that if you’re in the cannabis space you now take as this is the truth, we understand how this plant works anecdotally, in combination with studies that come out all the time more and more. And in that context we can really lead the charge to creating more purpose driven products which is what has been very lacking from the cannabis space. Both purpose driven products and both products and brands that go beyond cannabis and invite people from outside of the cannabis space into it. Because there’re so many people that still have all of these stigmas and these misconceptions and it’s really up to us to make those misconceptions go away. And the only way to do that is to come out of the current cultural visualization process and reach out to them in a way that’s gonna be comfortable for them and giving them a safe access point. Because without that safe access point, they’re gonna still be thinking of these dirty stoners and I think that’s a terrible-
Bianca Green: And scary drug dealers giving them their medicine.
Michael Katz: Exactly. And so that whole paradigm we can change and have been changing. The freedom to do that in a place like California and with all of these shifts that have been happening in the other states throughout the nation like every time it feels safer for somebody to come out and either become a patient or create a product or people who have been using this for years who have all of this knowledge built up. So in a space where you’re free to experiment with that knowledge and take it to market and provide value, that’s an incredible opportunity for all of us, for all of the future patients and consumers, and for society as a whole. All we can do is continue fighting tooth and nail every day because regardless of the gains that we’ve made, there are a lot of things happening on the federal level that stand to potentially derail a lot of the progresses that we’ve been fighting for and our victories that have happened slowly over time. I think that it’s gonna be a really arduous journey to get to a place where we are able to treat this like a real business.
Bianca Green: What have some of your challenges been since you’ve decided you wanted to get into this space?
Michael Katz: Every single aspect of creating a physical product was totally new to me. Coming from advertising and entertainment, I make videos. I’ve made videos. You can call them whatever, commercials, music videos, feature films, marketing content, brand activation pieces, whatever, it’s videos. When you deliver a video, that’s what you deliver. It’s done. It’s always the same thing, it’s final. It’ll go out in various channels and different people will see it in different ways and maybe it’ll be well received or maybe it’ll just be fluff or whatever it is. When you make a physical product that people are ingesting, personally, the level of responsibility that you have increases exponentially. And with that responsibility comes the need to fine-tune so many parts, so many moving parts, to get that product into someone’s hand and have them have a positive experience every time and that’s, especially for startups with limited resources like family business pulling together the cousins and the aunts and uncles.
It’s like we were able to take our strengths, which in my case were branding and communications and this incredible idea that we developed, but with that every bit of from finding the right hardware producer, finding the right oil partner. Because we’re not cultivators, we don’t have any background in the cannabis space so sourcing individual non-cannabis components is one thing. That’s just you make phone calls, you have meetings, you do testing, you can do that with basically anything. But when you want to get the best product at a price that then enables you to have a sustainable business, you have a lot of work to do. Because cannabis I think of as this circle and when you come in from nowhere, you’re at the very end and at the edge of the circle, there’s no accountability, everybody’s selling you something different, you don’t know who to trust, you don’t know what’s real, and you tend to believe the people because if you’re used to working in different businesses, you have different experiences, you’re like, “Oh, somebody says this, it means this. And somebody says that, it means that.” And generally, if you’re just starting off and you haven’t met the right people who are doing this for the right reasons, they’re gonna give you the runaround because they know that they can.
And that happened to us a lot at the beginning. But if you’re doing this for the right reasons and if you’re expressing yourself correctly and you care about what you’re doing and you’re the activist that this industry requires to be, if you’re going to do it right for the right reasons then there is so much love and open arms and support and collaborative spirit that’s unlike anything I’ve seen as a professional in sixteen years working in Hollywood. And so that collaborative spirit in the cannabis community, that’s a very real thing that’s very different from the cannabis industry. To see that-
Bianca Green: And the cannabis culture. But I feel like the three of them are really melding all into one, right? The consumer, the entrepreneur, and advocate?
Michael Katz: … So yes, there is this … Right now it’s almost like those toothpastes where there’s two barrels and you push it in and then they come into one stream or whatever? So there’s these three streams and that’s happening and then the question is gonna be how much egalitarianism is gonna happen between those three groups? I think that-
Bianca Green: What does egalitarian, say it again?
Michael Katz: Like equality, like the-
Bianca Green: I’ve definitely heard of it, I just really didn’t know.
Michael Katz: I mean in the sense of is there going to be equal parts industry, community, culture? Industry is very powerful and industry historically in our country and in the world has had the power to destroy community and culture. It’s done so efficiently and effectively and at great personal profit to them. That is what industry comes from and so the industry that’s entering now in this space is … There are people who are genuinely interested in it and I’m sure that there are just as many people who are circling the pond, waiting for the real floodgates to open and then getting ready to employ all the tactics that we as progressives in our lives outside of cannabis have been fighting against for decades regardless. And I think that there’s a lot of that spirit in the cannabis industry. Generally there’s a lot of humanism in the cannabis industry, that I’ve seen. I think that those morals and those ethics are the things that we want to expand on and use to help build the foundation. And it’s in the same way that starting a new company is an every day struggle, fighting this battle of the culture of our industry and making sure that we all work together to direct it in the right ways because if we don’t and we don’t maintain that consistent voice like standing up for the community, it’s just gonna get railroaded.
Bianca Green: Well I love your perspective and it’s so spiritual. I believe that the plant is the catalyst to consciousness and the more people who have access to it, the better. To whatever capacity. CBD is changing people’s lives. Heavy THC is helping people that are in chronic pain and serious illnesses and seizures. And then there’s a wellness component that I definitely believe goes into a preventative action that the plant enables people to have.
Michael Katz: Oh yeah. … The exciting thing for us and one of the things that we speak to in just our initial product line is that that’s only beginning. We blend essential oils with cannabis and so what that does is it just creates a more purpose driven experience. It’s like, that’s one thing and it’s only the first thing. But what we’re gonna have the ability to do if we keep fighting for the rights to do it is continue to find out what else can we take cannabinoids and these terpenes and these compounds and other compounds that we’ve already developed — maybe some of them are natural, maybe some of them are pharmaceutical. But I just imagine this world where THC and CBD become regular parts of our health and wellness on a societal scale. And the other cannabinoids as we are able to express them and experiment with them, I just imagine treatments for cancer that if you could combine the restorative powers of cannabis with some of the targeted effective pharmacological solutions. Imagine being able to reduce harm but increase efficiency of targeting these cancer cells.
Bianca Green: It’s amazing. Some of the research and science and technology that people are looking into coming out with, that’s why I’m so encouraged by the fact that we are legal in California and some of the proponents will really start focusing on federal change. ‘Cause it’s a super important thing ’cause that’s where we really get to do the research. We’re doing it in other countries right now but because it’s a schedule one narcotic, we got no shot at having any research even have any value.
Michael Katz: Yeah, the great thing about the cannabis industry is that we know all of that research is happening even if it’s not being approved federally. And it’s not-
Bianca Green: But, it’s hearsay.
Michael Katz: Well, I know but-
Bianca Green: Unfortunately, until it becomes legal.
Michael Katz: Right, but the thing though is that by having that foundation that’s so much larger than just traditional anecdotal. It’s not like if you have chicken soup, you’re gonna get better from a cold. It’s like we have people in multiple states creating products that they’re creating in their facilities that are pharmaceutical grade extractions that are gonna be able to be tested and utilized as soon as the infrastructure becomes available. We know people who are taking all kinds of risks and their freedom to be able to do these experiments and it’s important that we provide them the support to be able to really get out of the closet and the garage and really come into the light and take that value and help provide it to society.
Bianca Green: Well your contribution with Evoxe is a huge step in the right direction and being a part of such an awesome new industry that exists. And your business model’s awesome, your product is awesome, I’m such a huge fan. I guess we can change you from Mr. Hollywood to maybe Mr. Hollyweed. Maybe that would be a better title for you at this point? So tell our listeners where we can find you.
Michael Katz: Okay, great. Well, we’re in dispensaries throughout the state from Sacramento down to San Diego. Check us out on our website at evoxelabs.com, that’s E-V-O-X-E labs-dot-com. We’re also on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, the interwebs.
Bianca Green: Yeah, you guys are really active.
Michael Katz: There’s some fun videos you there.
Bianca Green: Awesome. Anything you would tell our listeners that are entrepreneurs out there?
Michael Katz: Yeah. Basically there’s only one way to do what you want to do in this world and that is to do it. Nobody is able to do anything completely on their own. And what is really evident in the cannabis industry to me is that finding the right partners to build a broader foundation that allows multiple groups to succeed and thrive at the same time, that collaborative spirit is … Everyone talks about entrepreneurs but they rarely talk about the network that supports the entrepreneur without which the entrepreneur would not be able to get anything done. It’s that community that builds a much larger ecosystem and that’s the kind of thing that can support tons and tons of people to really create value for themselves and for society.
Bianca Green: Awesome. Well thanks so much for being here.
Michael Katz: Thanks for having me.
Bianca Green: Live at the Emerald Cup, if you can hear some background noise it’s from some sound checks going on in the Grace Pavilion. I’m really stoked to have had this time with you.
Michael Katz: Thanks, Bianca.
Bianca Green: Awesome.
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