Now he wants to put his own mark on your lungs, with Shift Genuine Cannabis available in dispensaries throughout Colorado. We spoke with Howard to learn more about his journey through legal cannabis and why he chose to start a flower-focused company.
Westword: Shift just launched as a cannabis brand, but the website says the company was founded in 2010. How does that work?
Travis Howard: Those two dates — 2010 and our product launch — there's a lot of time between them, so it doesn't make that much sense at first. But it really does, because in 2010 I was consulting for cannabis companies while practicing law. Most of it was just general business, but also how to set up business plans that included all the legal regulations of medical marijuana. My clients at the time were less sophisticated — very bright and capable people, but less sophisticated in the traditional sense. So the company that owns Shift was formed in 2010, and that entity went from consulting into operations and managing contracts, then license acquisitions. Through that, we ended up winning a license for ourselves in New Mexico, where we got our first Shift dispensary in 2015.
We continued growing the company and Shift brand, but it was still an operations partner for building business plans, training staff and other consulting. We had been known as Shift Cannabis Company, or just Shift, and it was a service and brain trust. When you thought about that five-letter word, you knew you were purchasing intelligence and expertise. Our clients were good people, but they weren't aligning with the vision I had for this company, which is that if cannabis is only for the heady, then it'll never be normalized. And isn't that the real goal: to get all the pro and negative treatment out of the world, and allow it to stand on its own? So if it's only for the heady, we've failed.
With the advent of Wall Street and this capital infusion — if it goes all toward that, then we've also failed. For us, we had clients that were one or the other. The heady were more fun, and the Wall Street types actually paid their bills. Business was going well, but no one at Shift was fired up. So we decided to be what we want in the world, and we started redeveloping the brand around eighteen months ago. Now we've added the tagline "Genuine Cannabis" behind Shift, and we get to give to the community what we always tried to coach and consult into the community.
When you look at brands, the marketing world has decided that twelve different brand archetypes exist. They range from the funny and goofy jester to the ruler, who wears a Rolex. We are the explorer archetype, and that wasn't something we pulled out of thin air. When we looked around the room and went through our Instagram feeds and PTO requests, we saw a common thread: love for cannabis, especially flower, and our love to consume it outdoors. We consume all sorts of different kinds of cannabis, but we really appreciate well-manicured flower.
We wanted to kill the couch-stoner stereotype, even though I still love to watch a movie and smoke Pre-'98 Bubba for two hours. We're not anti-anything, but we are pro-activity. So out came this idea, which is that finding something genuine is the best adventure of all. Finding something authentic: That's what we are.
Instead of indica and sativa designations, you've classified your strains as "explore," "dream" and "wander." Which strains go best with those categories?
I'm traditionally in the "explore" category. I love to smoke when the sun is up and get out to go mountain biking or on the golf range. Even tossing baseballs or gardening in the yard with my kids. But I'm in my forties now, and my body isn't what it used to be; I've got bone spurs in my neck from all that exploring. So we're also launching a "thrive" category, which has CBD. We've got some really good genetics that have Star Dawg crossed with Good Medicine and Star Dawg crossed with Medicine Woman. I still love the high, but I don't need a 32 percent THC banger all the time.
I've seen stuff that grows like an indica but produces sativa terpenes. It just wasn't working, but trying to explain that to people would make their eyes glaze over. The "wander" category is for people who don't want to go so far in either direction, and just want something easy and safe with almost no anxiety.
Why focus the brand on flower as concentrates and edibles gain a larger market share?
The best moments of my life have been going against the grain. From that component, it's the appropriate time to be a little different. Let's focus on few ingredients, get closer to the dirt and focus on purity. I think you're seeing this across a lot of industries. When our company was trying to figure out who we were, someone blurted out, "We're flower people," and all of us agreed.
If they can make a cannabinoid out of yeast, that's great for getting to the best possible drug for medical reasons. But when we're talking about recreation, I want the cannabinoids and terpenes to come from this plant. There's a time and place for a distillate cartridge or edible, too — when you're on a ski lift or want to feel something for the next four hours — but flower people know the edges and boundaries of smoking flower. That is the genuine nature of the plant. That is our roots. The rest of it is powerful and useful, but it's not at the core.