Today we’d like to introduce you to Alberto Valdovinos and Edgar Vasquez.
Alberto and Edgar, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Our story began in a high volume cannabis retail store in the OC. It was both a storefront and a delivery service. We were 19, Edgar worked as a driver, budtender, and worked his way up to assistant to the owner. I (Albert) worked as a driver and then became head of security.
This cannabis retail store ended up being sold and the employment was shifted to a full line of cannabis manufacturing. They made everything from chocolates to drinks and pre-rolls. We were able to see how cannabis helped people. There were patients that had illnesses like HIV, Cancer, and some patients with burn marks. Cannabis helped them with pain and in some cases increased cancer patient’s appetite. This had a huge impact on us, it changed our perspective on the industry as a whole.
As years went on we grew with the industry, met a lot of good people and mentors along the way. But, we were hungry for more. We wanted to create our own company, on our own terms, to empower and express who we are and where we come from.
POLA – Product of Los Angeles( Producto de Los Angeles) – is the name we chose to for our company. Under the company umbrella we would launch our first brand – La Familia Chocolate. A full line of chocolates with Latin influenced flavors such as Mexican Style Hot Chocolate, White Chocolate Horchata, Fresas con Creama, White Chocolate Mazapan, and Dark Chocolate Cajeta (caramel style filling- The only filled bar in the industry). It took us about 1 month to really learn how to make chocolate and another month to fully develop the packaging.
Once the La Familia brand was created- it was time to sell, something we knew nothing about. Ed and I starting reading books, listening to podcast and watching youtube videos that would help us with the sales process. On top of that we would get hands-on experience going door to door to Collectives, introducing our selves and our product and leaving samples for the managers and their team to try. After about a month or two our sales started to pick up. Edgar took the role of chocolate making and my role was sales and packaging/ fulfillment.
After about a year and half we were in over 100 collectives and were generating a decent revenue. We became noticeable and the industry starting picking up on our niche. We targeted a market that had never been targeted in the cannabis industry and we created an entirely new consumer category. The Latino cannabis community – it was untouched until we arrived. This made us look very valuable. Many saw our potential and wanted to buy our company out as a whole or offer us some type of buy out deal. We had offers after offers luckily we weren’t in this for a quick buck. We are in this for the long run, so we ended up partnering up with two great individuals who were able to take our company to the next level.
We now have a fully licensed facility and our company continues to thrive.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Wow, definitely not. We started this business when we were 22 years old. Edgar had already been a father for three years and my son was on the way. In the beginning, Edgar would work full-time for a company and then would come home to work another full-time shift for POLA. I would work full-time, go to school full time and then find time to do sales and package our product.
There are so many things that can go wrong when owning a company and not having much experience. Negotiation is something I wish we had more experience in . We would pay top dollar for all of our ingredients, this would cut our margins. After some time we realized how valuable we actually were to some of these vendors that sold us our ingredients. Then we had leverage over them, with that we were able to lower all of our cost of goods and increase our margins.
It wasn’t easy, I would go out on sales and people can be rude, it’s discouraging. Especially for someone just learning or finding their way through the process. Eventually we prevailed, we grew and changed fast in order to actually be competitive.
We worked two years for our company before we decided to give ourselves a salary. Most days were 12plus hours, some were a full 24 hours, and on 4/20 2018 we broke our record and worked a full 36 hours. It’s funny- not a lot of people would believe this, but if you own a business or have ever owned a business you understand this fully. It was all a sacrifice we had to make to fill orders and keep our customers happy. Edgar and I were more than happy to do that, not only that, we were proud. It was just him and I in the beginning, now we employ over 20 people. We’ve came a long way.
POLA – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The First Mexican Cannabis brand, We are an extraction company run by the best scientist in the industry. We are a confectionery run by top chefs and flavor developers. We are brand developers and designers. We are a team and we are a family.
I think the thing that makes us the most proud is that if we were to walk in a room full of 100 brands, and we were one of them – we would be in the top 10% that actually stand out. Not one other company in the industry is directed to the latino demographic. You’ll find companies with spanish names, or something small like that, but we are authentic. Edgar and I are both Mexican, and we understand our roots and where we come from, to have created the brand with the flavor profiles was easy for us.
Our brand touches our target market in the soul, this is what we feel is the part that separates us. When they see or hear our flavors they are immediately reminded of Childhood memories, eating a Mazapan for example. I remember so many times trying to open up the mazapan and having it break on me – we have a white chocolate Mazapan the smell and the taste always reminds me of when times were a lot simpler. Edgar and I are sure that there are so many people out there that can relate. People don’t only purchase our products because they’re delicious, they purchase it because they know its authentic, they purchase it because they know there are some hard working latino people behind the scenes, and they purchase it because they want to support us and they love what we are about – our culture.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success is waking up every day and doing what you love. Ed and I like being with our family but we love to work, and we love to create. Success for us would be a balance between the two. A marker for us would be when we have more time for our selves and our families. Right now we’re hustling day and night to make sure we that our business is running properly. Little by little, we will continue to put systems in place where we can step back for a bit.
- Our 100mg Churro Rice Krispie, Fresa Rice Krispie , and Abuelita Hot Chocolate Cookie are $25 at licensed retail stores.
- Our 100mg Chocolates are also $25 at licensed retail stores.