For Papa & Barkley founder Adam Grossman, cannabis is a magical elixir. Weed helped him recover from debilitating injuries, sharpened his mental faculties, and expanded his spiritual awareness…not necessarily in that order.
“I think in earlier years the spiritual and mental health aspects were primary for me,” Grossman said. “As I get older, I have been amazed by the relief it provides from chronic pain and just normal soreness and injuries from working out.”
The herb didn’t become his life’s work until he watched loved ones suffer. His father, Morton, was bedridden with debilitating back pain, leaving him unable to care for Adam’s mother, an Alzheimer’s patient. Endless trips from New York City to Boston to ensure the elderly couple was well-cared-for left Adam exhausted, frustrated, and feeling helpless.
So, he decided to take action. At night, after long days caring for his parents at hospice, Grossman morphed, like some cannabis superhero, into a mad mixologist, adding this and that elixir to high-grade cannabis oil he bought from producers in the Emerald Triangle. After concocting what would become Papa & Barkley’s Releaf Balm and using it himself to treat an old injury, he convinced his father to give the product a try. Within a few months, papa was home and able to play with his beloved dog, Barkley, a handsome, stoic, and gentle seventy-five-pound red-nosed pit bull. “He would not leave my dad’s side, including sleeping in the bed with him, under the covers, every night,” Grossman said. “He was a powerful source of love and comfort to my dad.” Papa Grossman lived two more years. His legacy lives on in the company named for him and his best friend.
Forming a cannabis company was never on Grossman’s professional agenda. He graduated from Georgetown University in 1987 with law and master of business administration degrees. After five years of practicing business law in Los Angeles, he joined a classmate to build a specialty finance business, Stone Street Capital, in Washington, D.C. They sold the company in 2000 and started investing in startups like Northeast Dental Management, where they used their operational expertise to help the companies grow. NEDM, for example, quickly grew from eleven to thirty-five offices and was acquired by a larger private equity fund. Grossman’s experience scaling NEDM from early stage into a multi-state, compliance-heavy, consumer facing platform prepared him to turn his midnight cannabinoid concoctions into a multi-million-dollar cannabis company.
Initially, Grossman wanted only to invest in other people’s cannabis businesses. “Our goal was to find great operators and help them grow in this dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he said. But after the life-changing experience with his father, he began giving away samples of the balm to family and friends. The feedback was astounding, he said: Everyone wanted more—immediately. “I began pursuing it as a passion project at first,” he said. “Then I came to California and met my partner, Guy Rocourt, who is a genius at product creation and extraction.”
Together, they formed Papa & Barkley. The company now produces five additional products: a body oil, a bath soak, capsules, transdermal patches, and tinctures. According to a recent Forbes magazine article, the company is approaching $1 million a month in sales. P&B has offices in Los Angeles and Eureka, California, and a distribution center in Sacramento. Rocourt, who has been cultivating cannabis in California for almost twenty years, spends most of his time in Eureka, working closely with local farmers and processors. Grossman calls him “a wizard in whole-plant extraction.”
“Whole-plant extraction is the reason we believe the products work so well,” Grossman said. “The products are triple-tested, too. The farmers, who are second- and third-generation, provide us with a test in something called the track-and-trace program. There are no heavy metals, no pesticides, and the plants are tested for microbiology and grown with care. We don’t buy them if they are not tested. We then do an infusion, which is then tested. Our final product is then tested again.”
The final product is bottled in a handsome glass container topped with an elegant wood cap, creating an aesthetic that is at once medicinal and trendy and would look right at home in any boutique spa. The aroma is earthy, pleasant, and potent. “No oil residue, either,” noted Grossman.
mg: What do you hope the Papa & Barkley brand says to consumers?
Adam Grossman: I hope the brand represents trust and caring for the those we love. Trust that our products are of the highest quality and very effective. We strive to create best-in-class products based on potency; our milligrams-per-gram ratio is very high. For us, science is key. We currently are doing a clinical trial in Israel and have scientists on our board. And, of course, purity: All of our products are solvent-free. We view ourselves as an evidenced-based nutraceutical company and feel a responsibility to demonstrate, especially to people inexperienced with cannabis, about how cannabis products can truly take away pain and improve people’s lives.
Who is Papa & Barkley’s core consumer?
Our core consumer is educated and curious and tends to be active and a little older. Our key demographic groups are DIY healers, women in their 30s and 40s who are quality consumers and health-conscious, weekend warrior types or aging athletes like me, and chronic-pain managers, which includes seniors and skews older [as a demographic]. I personally have a soft spot for educating and caring for elderly folks. We have been coordinating lots of wonderful events in that community.
Papa & Barkley seems to have product ratios for just about everyone.
We believe in the entourage effect. All of our products have ratios of CBD to THC—for instance, our 3:1 CBD:THC pain balm and our 1:3 CBD:THC transdermal patch. We make a variety of topicals, including pain balms and transdermal patches in various formulations, as well as consumables such as tinctures and capsules. Because we each have a unique endocannabinoid system and health situation, we try to provide multiple form factors and ratios so consumers can find what works for them.
Releaf Balm was your original product. Is it still your best seller?
Yes. It’s super potent, four to five times more so than our competitors. It provides great value, too. The THC-rich formulation is pain-focused while the CBD-rich balm is especially effective on inflammation. Our CBD-rich tinctures and capsules are doing well too, as people are taking them as a daily nutraceutical with great effects for sleep, anti-anxiety, and sports recovery.
Your new Releaf Tinctures have gotten amazing reviews.
Our tinctures are very pure and highly concentrated at 30mg/gram. The 30:1 CBD-rich tincture is taken by folks to help with sleep and anxiety as well as more serious conditions. The 1:3 THC-rich tincture helps with chronic pain management and can be dosed up and down appropriately. The 1:1 CBD:THCa tincture uses THCa, which provides THC to patients who need it but is not nearly as psychoactive as THC.
You’re among the first in the industry to use 3D printing technology to produce products.
Yes. For our Releaf Patches, we use 3D printing technology to ensure precision dosing. They come in four formulations and provide a slow release of approximately 3mg per hour for twelve hours. Transdermal patches work great in some unusual situations. An older lady we work with buys [CBD patches] for her husband to wear every day. He has dementia and had been starting to curse at her for the first time in their 40-year marriage. With the patch on, he doesn’t.
Papa & Barkley has developed a reputation as a company people want to work for. What’s your secret?
Our employees are the key to our success. This is very much a team sport, and I think we have the best team in the business. We have focused on building a great company culture—it really is like a family, which can be tough at times, but it’s so worth the extra effort to be thoughtful about culture. We always try to treat people with respect and ask for their opinions. We have ongoing surveys for feedback and monthly all-hands video calls to stay in sync. We do a lot of company teaming events like river trips and baseball games. We volunteer in the community and participate in environmental cleanups. We put in a 401(k) plan very early on—with matching—and lots of employees are also company shareholders. We definitely promote from within.
Papa & Barkley was one of only a handful of companies ready when California went adult-use-legal. How did you succeed where others didn’t?
We had to put on additional shifts to manage the new packaging requirements and our growth. Our logistics team includes people like Brandon Robinson and Houston Smith, who have been working nights and weekends to repackage orders and take care of our dispensary partners who were affected by the packaging changes. We would be lost without their work ethic and leadership.
I could go on and on regarding our people. Jon O’Connor keeps us on track in Eureka and statewide from a compliance perspective. I think we have more than thirty-five employees in Eureka now and close to the same number between Sacramento and Los Angeles. It’s amazing to be able to ride this wave and to help open people’s minds to the incredible power of this amazing plant.
How has your business changed since adult use became legal?
We have been super lucky on the response to our products and finding good people, so we have been growing steadily since we launched. In terms of revenue, however, we have had some lumpiness, largely due to regulatory changes, but otherwise have been growing steadily at an average rate of 15 percent per month. We are scaling across all elements of the business, including the required extraction of oils, product development, production, sales, distribution, and delivery. It is a complicated model, as we are doing almost everything aside from growing and retail ourselves. We are moving quickly to scale productive capacity. We are very bullish on the long-term prospects of the market.
What are your day-to-day duties?
My duties change from day to day, but lately they have been a lot about real estate and how to expand production. Also. legal compliance and how to manage the new regs. I am also responsible for raising money and interfacing with investors. Managing the growing team can be a challenge. I don’t seem to have the time to spend with folks that I used to.
How do you stay ahead of the competition?
Our products are purely made, carefully tested, very potent, and highly effective. Our potency tends to be the first and most significant difference, as our products are usually much more potent than competitors’. We are therefore a better value for consumers from a cost-per-milligram perspective, if you do the math.
It is really expensive and difficult to do what we do. We create and produce a diverse portfolio of highly effective pain and wellness products, delivered consistently at a very high level. It’s all about execution and, in this market, problem solving. We try to stay focused on our core mission and don’t really think much about competition. There’s plenty of room for people making quality products in this growing market. We think of it more as “coopetition” and are trying to build a community.
Where do you see growth opportunities? Will you be acquiring? Expanding?
No acquisitions are planned, but we will continue to grow organically. We are launching Papa & Barkley Essentials, our CBD-only business, this fall in Colorado. It will sell a CBD-only formulation subset of our products that can be sold online and in other states. This will give us a chance to build an online presence and sales capability, and to extend the brand to folks in states that don’t yet have safe access.
What have been your biggest obstacles?
Navigating the changing regulatory rules. Staying focused when there are so many potential strategic directions to go in. And keeping up with demand, without ever sacrificing quality
Do you have a hero?
I really respect Teddy Roosevelt and, of course, my dad. He was not a great businessman, but he was always looking at things positively; looking for the best in a situation or in a person. He had great empathy. [The P&B management team] tries to apply that philosophy in our business. We try to look for the optimum outcome in a business situation and put ourselves in the shoes of the people we work with, starting with those who use our products and our dispensary partners. I always ask, “What is the best possible outcome we could hope for?” Then, we see how close we can get to it.
Where do you see the company in one year, five years, 10 years?
We want to be an international brand. In one year I want to be growing steadily but carefully, still focused on California. In five years, it would be great to be a national brand, or at least be present in some other states that make sense for us, so long as we can ensure the quality is there. Input product is king, and it is not easy to replicate Humboldt County flowers. In ten years we want to be all over the world, making people feel better.
The Goods: Anatomy of a Holistic Line
Concocted of Dead Sea salts and essential oils, Releaf Soak relieves aches and pains while leaving skin smooth. In CBD:THC ratios of 1:3, 1:1, and 30:1.
Releaf Tincture can be applied under the tongue, swallowed, or put in a beverage. Ratios: 1:3 and 30:1, plus a CBD: THCa of 1:1.
Micro-dose formula provides whole-body relief for up to twelve hours. CBD:THC ratios of 1:3,1:1, and 3:1.
Each vegan capsule contains 30mg of full-spectrum cannabinoids and should be taken with food. Seven-count and 30-count bottles; in CBD:THC ratios of 1:3 and 30:1.
The product that launched Papa & Barkely, Releaf Balm targets pain without entering the bloodstream. CBD:THC ratios of 1:3 and 3:1.
Releaf Body Oil
Releaf Body Oil can be used after a workout or as a recreational massage oil and skin moisturizing agent. CBD:THC ratio of 1:3.