Aviv Hadar woke from a dead sleep at 3 a.m. in 2012 with the idea for his next business venture: a cannabis company.
His first call was to his mom, who supported the idea. His second call was to his childhood friend, Kevin Hogan. Hogan said he was in and, in 2013, the two launched Bend-based Oregrown Industries. Today, the company operates an 84-acre grow in Deschutes County and retail stores in Portland, Bend, Eugene and Cannon Beach. It has 45 full-time employees, more during peak season.
Hadar has founded a handful of technology companies, including Think Brilliant Media Studios, which created the viral “I’m with Coco” campaign, and the content creation company SoulPancake.
He’s now applying that entrepreneurial energy to help grow not only Oregrown but the state’s cannabis industry as a whole. He is a founding member of the Oregon Cannabis Association, and a member of the National Cannabis Industry Association and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s Rules Advisory Committee.
We talked to Hadar about his global vision for Oregrown and his search for private capital.
(This interview has been edited.)
How did you pivot from technology to cannabis?
I spent a lot of time following around the band Phish … (and through that) my friends and I were involved in the (cannabis) industry. I met my wife, Christina, after Phish broke up. I went to school in Montana and jumped into computer science. I eventually dropped out and founded a software business. I had some success and some nice exits. Christina was from Oregon and when she brought me here, I fell in love, the surfing, the snowboarding, everything. The idea for Oregrown literally hit me one night at 3 a.m., right as Colorado laws were changing. I woke up from a dead sleep and started working on the business.
You started as a grow operation but soon added retail stores. Why?
We realized people were not representing our products the way we wanted so we opened up the stores. Our Bend flagship store is one of the top performing in the country and has generated revenue annually in the high millions. We’re a retail beast. Given how crowded the retail market is in Oregon, how critical is product differentiation? Until there’s interstate commerce, this industry is in a box. You need to differentiate yourself in terms of the products, how you retain and acquire customers, and how you diversify your customer base. You need to appeal to people who are not the stereotypical customer.
How have you done that?
We were early in not using marijuana leaves in our branding. Our flagship store, people think it’s an apparel store or a grocery store. We are right downtown in Bend. We are elegant in presenting our brand. There are a lot of people who want to shop discreetly and would rather come to our shop than to shop in one with a big neon green cross on the outside. We’ve also differentiated through our apparel line. We’ve brought in fashion pros. We’ve poached people from QuickSilver and LG and are working on our fall 2019 line.
Have you taken on any outside investors?
We haven’t, but we are starting to explore it now. We know what we are worth, we have intense expansion plans, and that includes global. I was born in Israel and Israel has federally legalized cannabis. We are in final talks for a partnership with an Israeli company. When we are approved, through that partnership, (we will be able to) export seven to 10 countries. It is a huge opportunity. If you look at Israel cannabis export news, you’ll see a couple hundred million dollars in deals have been signed in just the past couple of days.
What’s the biggest challenge for the industry going forward?
Quite honestly, it’s capital. As the years continue to turn, you’re seeing a different level of consolidation or mergers. Every time … there’s bigger, more sophisticated money getting involved. In three, four years, who’s going to be entering the Oregon cannabis scene, it’s going to be nuts. We’re talking to investors who have made billions of dollars in tech. Now they want to know where to go in cannabis.