Startup Stories | Lex Corwin of Stone Road
We sat down with Lex of Stone Road and we explored who he is, to shed light on things he has encountered in his life which have led him to where he is now. We talked personal and business experience.
Hey Lex! Thank you for joining us. I read the bio about you; it sounded like you’ve got your fingers in a few pies and you’re just prolific, which is cool. You’re only 25, so it sounds like you’re in a great spot. Let’s start with your company, Stone Road. What is your company’s goal, or mission?
Lex: Stone Road’s focus is to elevate the entire cannabis experience. That kind of sounds cliché, but it’s really not. We sell joints and are expanding into other products. That’s what we do at face value, but our real aim is to raise the overall experience for people consuming cannabis by being very mindful about their experience. This includes truthfully giving back.
“Truthfully giving back,” what do you mean by that?
Lex: Where a lot of other brands say, “Oh, we love to give back. We love our customers.” But then give them a free hat at a swag promo day. We said, “We can do way better.” So we created the industry’s first rewards app that’s solely for experiences – rather than a free shirt or sticker, we offer completely free adventures like cannabis—friendly yoga classes, surf lessons, and even Hollywood Bowl concerts.
Ok, and what do you do to be mindful about your customer’s experience?
Lex: We learn about our audience, so we can continue to serve their needs better and better. Part of the way we do this is by making smart use of data.
How do you “make smart use of data?”
Everything we sell has this unique QR code that, when scanned, allows you to sign up on our app (iOS | Android) and provide us with some information. Using that data has allowed us to really narrow in on the community we are serving.
What community are you serving?
Lex: We’ve found that around 80% of our buyers fit into the demographic of upper-income female consumers.
Why is it important to you to focus on the experience your customers are having while they are consuming your product?
Lex: I grew up in New York City, and I was fortunate enough to really get exposed to tons of different cultures, music, all these things. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could give experiences to people?” Then we started reaching out to different vendors to see if it was even plausible to do something like that. After some research, we said to ourselves “Yeah, we totally can.”
Cannabis has this stigma attached to it, but it’s lessening by the day. But we need brands like Stone Road and Canndescent, and other quality brands that pride themselves on integrity, high design, transparency, trust—all things that a lot of industries have, but the cannabis industry is just getting their footing with.
What do Stone Road experiences look like?
Lex: On the app, we strive to offer unique and exciting adventures. We sponsor Meditation in Venice every Friday, surf lessons, other things like that. It’s all about getting people up and out. We want to show that using cannabis can actually elevate your life. If we have to literally get you on a surfboard in the ocean to do that, then so be it.
That is really cool! I like it. Why does Stone Road do what it does?
Lex: Because we want to legitimize the entire industry.
That is a huge goal. Tell me more.
Lex: My mom is super anti-cannabis. She, along with my dad, are New York City professionals.
It wasn’t until I got a mention in Vogue that I knew my parents were proud of me. My mom was at dinner and was proudly showing her friends. She was like, “Look! My son’s company is linked to in Vogue.” That was kind of the moment, for me, that I was just like, “Wow, it’s not just about selling joints. It’s about legitimizing the entire experience.” So that your middle-aged mother, who has smoked pot three times in her life is proud to say, “Look at these beautiful products.”
All right. What are you most proud of about your team?
Lex: Honestly, so many things. The first thing that comes to mind is they’ve stuck with me for a really, really tough 18 months.
What did those 18 months look like? What does that mean!?
Lex: They went long periods of not getting paid because they believed in what we were working towards. It was not easy. Our company originally had two partners, now it’s just me. There were legal issues and theft issues, and you-name-it issues that plagued us for the first 18 months. But then, it’s kind of like anything if you continue on. I feel like it just has to succeed. You know what I mean?
I so know what you mean.
Lex: Think about all the huge companies today; at one point, Steve Jobs was so close to just being like, “Fuck it.” He left Disney, he was making this computer in his garage—
every company has battle wounds, and Stone Road is no different.
We’ve talked about your company. Now let’s talk directly about you. I’m going to ask some intense questions. You’ve been warned! What are your top three values in life, currently?
Lex: Top three values in life? Integrity, honesty, and kindness.
Lex: There’s a lot of people in positions of power in the cannabis industry, and others that live for their own self-enrichment when they could lift up so many people with their clout and money. That is the opposite of what I strive to be.
That was really well said. Okay. Why do you do what you do? Why is all of this important to you?
Lex: Because I graduated from college and stepped into a six-figure job working in real estate development in Orange County, and on the surface my life was amazing. I had a dope BMW, I was living in an ocean-front house, but I was wanting to kill myself, you know? I was so unfulfilled and confused. “Is this what life is?”
Something about creating a start-up really spoke to me. I started creating Stone Road while still working my day job. Fast forward nine months, and I was able to leave my job and work for myself full time.
Awesome. If there was one skill you could have developed five years ago had you known that you would eventually want to develop it, what would that skill be?
Lex: Financial literacy.
Lex: It teaches you the importance of tracking spending. Even now we walk a tight cat walk (great revenue matched by high costs) like most start-ups.
I like it. Now I’d like you to speak directly to that person out there who’s just getting a business going, or who is trying to figure out what direction they want to move in, in life. I would like you to tell me about a major struggle that you or your company has faced in getting to where it is today.
Lex: A major struggle… Oh man, where do I start!? Once you go through the process of figuring out your company’s design; once you’ve been ripped off by packaging consultants and print shops;
once you finally have your product: selling it is a whole different game.
I had this beautiful pedigree bud, designed by the woman who did Snoop Dogg’s line, and I couldn’t get it into one dispensary!
What did you do to overcome this struggle?
Lex: To put it simply,
we did two things: (1) continued to present our product as well as possible, and (2) never gave up.
Can you elaborate on that?
Lex: My dad makes this great analogy. He says you go to the most high-end restaurants in the world, and behind the scenes the restaurant is absolute chaos. In the back, it is nuts. But by the time it reaches the customer: the plate has been wiped, the sauce has been done, the little cilantro flecks have been put on—it’s beautiful.
It doesn’t matter what’s going on behind the scenes; it’s all about the presentation.
You need to continue forward with a smile on your face, even if your house is burning down, and make sure the final product is good, clean, beautiful, etc.
Make that your focus and then DO NOT STOP! Most people give up after six months, because they think “Ugh, I was making X amount every two weeks, it was so comfortable.” Obviously, I wanted to go back to my old job. I was making a boatload of money to sit at a desk; but there is nothing like trying to pack up your guys and harvest while a wildfire is a half mile away burning down on you. And the sky is black, and I’m like, “What did I do!?” Then driving two hours to service some shitty, dispensary on a $600 order that doesn’t even cover my time and gas. There have been so many times when I’ve asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” But you learn most from those moments.
What do you find yourself learning in those moments?
Lex:How to navigate yourself so you don’t find yourself in situations like that. But remember, even when you’re in a desperate situation, you must always keep a straight face, and everything always has to be okay at the company. You must keep going and persevere.
Perseverance. Perseverance, not stopping, focus on the presentation, or the final product. And just keep going, even when you’re really doubting it.
Lex: Yes. Even when you’re depressed because you feel like you’ve made a million incorrect decisions which have led you into this situation. Some of the most terrible meetings of my life, I’ve gotten a call three months later and they’ve put in a $12,000 order. And I say to myself, “Wow, I thought I botched that.” You never know.
That’s really cool. Okay. You may have already answered this, but let me see if you’ve got a different take on it. What has been your single greatest challenge as a leader?
Lex: Along the lines of what I was saying earlier, about even if your kitchen is on fire, making sure the dish going out is beautiful, flawless, and looks like you just whipped it up. It can be tough pretending everything’s all good day after day, especially in those moments when you feel like you could be out of business tomorrow. You know you won’t, but it can feel that way. And when you’re the leader of the ship, if you look worried and scared, everyone else will be worried and scared.
That’s definitely the hardest part for me.
Can you give a specific example?
Lex: Haha, yes! There are victories and losses every day; I’ll tell you about a loss since that is where the struggle comes in!
We were using a certain packaging design company. One day we went to place an order and they said, “Oh, we don’t carry that SKU anymore.” In that initial moment I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, well I would really love some heads-up now that I have 1,000 left in inventory and six standing orders for that particular box! How are you in business? Geez!”
After my initial reaction, I said to myself, “All right. We’re going to figure it out, and we’re going to call 20 different packagers over the next three days, and we’re going to send FedEx shipments all around the country to see who can replicate this particular packaging in the quickest time for the lowest cost. On any given day, you’re given a problem and you have to look for a solution. You are the captain—you can’t focus on the problem or who caused it, you must focus on what you’re going to do to solve it.
When you’re in a situation like what you just described, and you’ve got to keep that, you know, the smile on your face. What is the most important thing that you like to keep in mind when facing that challenge?
Lex: You’ll get through it one way or another. When you look back in six months, you probably won’t even remember it because you’ll be on to much bigger things, much more expensive challenges.
When you’re in the moment, do you find yourself repeating that back to yourself?
Lex: Yes, all the time.
Lex: Yes, and here’s more: sometimes if I’m in the office and there’s 12 people around me, and I get a call with really bad news, I’ll just go for a walk and call the first three people I think can help me solve the problem. I can’t let everyone around me in on the day to day. They must focus on what they are doing. Maybe that is creating beautiful joints, getting us into shops, and keeping up the quality control; whatever their job is. Dealing with the major headaches is my job.
Well, Lex, this has been very insightful. I really enjoyed talking with you. Thank you for your time, and for being so open. I think your answers were really awesome, you sound like one hell of a guy. I look forward to seeing this thing in print.
Lex: Yeah, me too.
Sounds good. Have a great day!
Lex: You too. Thanks for the time.