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Alive & Kicking Reminds Us Not To Sacrifice Experience For Effects

Evan and Ryan focus on sharable and sessionable pre-rolls to offer balanced bud for any situation, be it an on-the-go solo toke or smoking circle.

Evan Kennedy and Ryan Lee initially met while overseeing creative direction and marketing on a major project for a high profile brand. They spent a very concentrated amount of time together while NDA’d out of their minds. When they first met, creative sparks flew as they both noticed how bright the other was–they knew right away that they had to collaborate on something.

It was during one of these periods, filled with high-intensity work sessions and subpar lunches, that Evan and Ryan laid the foundation for a strong working relationship and friendship. Breaking bread together became a regular thing for the duo to escape the confines of the corporate hustle, and they eventually helped them realize their similar professional goal–to build something from the ground up.

Fast forward a year and a half, Evan and Ryan are now the co-founders of Alive & Kicking—a cannabis company that specializes in petite, CBD dominant pre-rolls. Their compact joints come in packs of 14, weighing .3 grams each and every one is complete with a filtered tip. The size of their pre-rolls may never change, but the potency level sure does. The original Pink Pack is CBD dominant with a 2:1 CBD to THC ratio, the Blue Pack is purely CBD and their soon-to-be released new line, called “Loosies,” will serve as their high-THC option for the cannabis consumer that’d like a quick, potent and discreet sesh.

We sat down with Evan and Ryan to discuss their reasoning and motivation behind creating CBD dominant pre-rolls, why they opted for smaller joints and how they’ve navigated the changing cannabis landscape during Covid-19.

High CBD Slim Pre-Rolls

How did your relationship at the office eventually morph into you being business partners and starting Alive & Kicking?

Ryan: When Evan and I met, not only did we connect professionally, but we hit it off personally—which led to us meeting up for lunch for shitty sandwiches down the block from our office. During one of those lunches we started talking about cannabis. We both knew we worked well together, but we really didn’t know what each other's aspirations and goals were. I know I’m a creator. I like to start from the ground up, and when I found out Evan also wanted to start something from square one everything just fell into place.

Evan: One day we went to this Thai place for lunch and we talked about our shared desire to grow our own business, and really just not wanting to be in the industry we were in forever. My dad was an entrepreneur and lawyer who represented other entrepreneurs, and he made sure to keep his rates down so he could help others grow. I’ve always had that in my blood. It was instilled in me to work for myself because there’s nothing better. I’ve always wanted to do this. I’ve tried other things in the past and nothing felt right...until we started talking about cannabis and legalization.

So yeah, we were at lunch one day and we made the decision to do something and just took it from there. Once we had this idea of what we were gonna do, we literally just ran with it as fast as we could. That was in May, and I think by July we were visiting farms, hunting things down and checking off items on endless to-do lists. We were just really going at this as fast as possible because we wanted to get it off the ground. It took a year and a half, but we got there.

How did you land on the name Alive & Kicking?

Evan: There are so many strong cannabis products out there that just put you into a couch-locked state. We wanted to create something to make you social and active, something that was going to be a little bit different. We wanted a name that conveyed the feeling, emotion, and behavior of the product we’re providing for people. There are a lot of earthy or scientific names that are great, but we ultimately wanted to incorporate who we are, and what we stand for. Our product is something that’s going to help you feel alive, and keep you kicking. Living life, creating, being social, engaging and anything in between…If Alive & Kicking to you means doing the dishes, then that’s great, that’s what it is, and we’ll help you do it. We just want to make products to help with your life and do our best to make everything a bit better.

Ryan: I think for us, the big thing was that we were okay if straight out the gate the name didn’t exude a sense of, “Oh My God this is a cannabis company!” We wanted a name that could set us up to be a multifaceted brand instead of something that’s going to be very pigeon-holed and overly cannabis focused.

When starting Alive & Kicking, did you strive to fill a void you saw in the cannabis industry?

Ryan: We felt like there weren't a lot of brands out there that were really talking to the mainstream consumer. The cannabis community is wonderful, but it doesn’t do a phenomenal job of bringing in the millions of potential people that could really benefit from and enjoy it. I think we wanted to jump on this opportunity because we didn’t see a lot of legit brands doing that, or maybe they were trying to, but they didn't offer a lot of good flower and pre-roll options. We didn’t want to do vapes, and we somewhat luckily made that decision right before the whole vape crisis happened.

Evan: When I smoke a regular pre-roll or flower, I’m out after a hit or two, and that’s just not a fun experience for me. It’s not sessionable or something I can have an experience with. I’m a lightweight, and like many I deal with anxiety and paranoia. I don’t dab, and generally avoid concentrates. I would love to sit around and smoke all night. That’s what sounds enjoyable to me because I love the act of smoking, and the ritual of rolling. But the potency of most weed nowadays meant that I literally couldn’t do it, so needless to say I was bummed.

There were some light products coming to market, specifically with vapes, but they weren’t something that gave me the full smoking experience—and I think that’s something we saw as a void: the lighter side of the flower market. I wanted something where I can have an entire pre-roll and not get overly stoned. A lot of the stuff out there is just like taking shots of tequila, and I want a beer. The cannabis world needs more “beer” options. I want to be able to have three or four cans in a night and feel good...and that’s how we approach our products. I can go outside and have three or four pre-rolls over the course of a night and still feel great.

It’s just a matter of getting our products in front of consumers, altering tendencies and changing what it means to consume cannabis. I think a lot of current users are in that same mindset of, “Hey, let’s just smoke these really high THC products.” We wanted to be a resource for the people who are newly interested in trying cannabis. We give them the ability to go and consume an entire pre-roll and not have to bow out after a hit or two. We want to offer products to bring those types of people into the space as well.

Something I’ve heard each of you say is “sessionable.” Can you break that down? What do you mean by that?

Ryan: It’s about being able to session out your smoking and smoke as much as you see fit without feeling overwhelmed. To take a cue from the beer world–light options are very sessionable, and you can have very thick and flavorful brews that are lighter while still being able to pace yourself. That’s why we call our products “sessionable.” Their dose is exactly how it should be for the smokers we’re targeting. It feels good to have, like Evan was saying, an entire pre-roll experience where you’re not sharing...especially during Covid!

Evan: Nothing’s more gross than being passed a wet joint and you’re like, “Oh man I don’t know you that well, this is nasty!”

Is that why you made them so petite and individualized?

Ryan: Exactly. That feeds into the need to channel everything back to the brand and not just offer up pretty packaging and imagery. That’s why we started with the purpose of the product and translated that to our design, which ultimately feeds into our goal to provide products for the smoker at every level. We’re trying to create a very comprehensive ecosystem and make something that everyone can enjoy.

The pre-roll packs are 4.20 grams total and they come with 14 pre rolls–very shareable, very on brand.

Evan: We want you to share the pre-rolls. We want you to pass them out while still having the ability to smoke your own.

Ryan: That’s exactly why we put 14 in there, and why they weigh what they do.

The ratio of your Pink Pack is 2:1 CBD to THC, correct?

Evan: Roughly. We want to get higher CBD in there, and we’d like to up the ratio to 3 to 1. It’s more important that it’s CBD dominant, and we want to keep that THC level at ~5%.

Why did you choose to put CBD in it and not use a really low-THC weed instead?

Evan: It has a lot to do with anxiety–CBD helps quell that negative side effect...a lot. I think there are countless benefits with regard to cannabinoids, but there are so many strains that are THC dominant that are missing CBN, CBD and all the other beneficial cannabinoids that help people. So it’s like, why not showcase everything cannabis has to offer? CBD is a great cannabinoid and it should be highlighted more often. Decreasing the total amount of THC helps the lightweights balance it out a bit.

What’s the inspiration behind your packaging? It’s really bright. It’s not necessarily the earth tones that we’re used to seeing in the cannabis space, and are those capybaras on the box?

Ryan: First of all, good on you for knowing that they’re capybaras. We get so many people saying, “What’s up with these gophers? What’s up with these rats? Guinea pigs?” [laughs] When we were designing things we were thinking about the importance of imagery and having a mascot to solidify our brand. We were looking online for inspiration and we found this old encyclopedia illustration of these capybaras chillin’ by the water and it just jumped out at us. We felt so good about it. It looked ancient, and of course the more we looked into it, the more it felt meant to be.

They embody all of the characteristics we were going for. They’re chill as hell, they’re highly can go down a crazy long YouTube hole and see them hanging with real predators like crocodiles, alligators, tigers, and dogs. There were also all these videos of them in Japanese sauna baths, just loving it. So we were like, “This is the animal for our THC line. This makes sense.” After that we were kind of looking at how to treat the word mark, and we added this rad hand-slapped Alive & Kicking. The juxtaposition felt funny...and it felt good, so we thought, “This is it.” Our friend Barry Bruner, who’s a phenomenal illustrator, won a pretty prestigious illustration award for this and he took the idea and made it his.

Evan: We wanted to make something for us, to be totally honest. This is for Ryan and I. This is the stuff we want to smoke. This is the design we like. This is our personal aesthetic. Ultimately, I think that’s why we created it. I agree with Ryan in that the juxtaposition really sold me. I loved the traditional aspect, but dug the aggressiveness as well. It’s a part of life, right? It’s a little bit traditional, and a little bit aggressive.

Your pre-rolls have filters in them. Why did you decide to add this feature?

Ryan: That goes into our form factor. We had the most fun research development of all time because we’d go to our day jobs, and then come home and buckle down and do some work while smoking some of the joints. We tried different blends and different cones–filtered and unfiltered. Finally we came across these really slim tubes, like the size of Capri cigarettes. When we first had them, we weren’t entirely sure what to think, but once we realized they were discreet and went down smooth we wanted to tell everyone to try one on their lunch break.

We wanted people to be able to enjoy these outside without being judged because let’s be honest, there’s a difference when someone goes outside and lights up a big fat cone versus looking like they’re having a cigarette. Our pre-rolls are very discreet. We weaved all of that together and we felt we found exactly what we were going for. Something sessionable, something discreet and something that anyone can fire down quickly on the go.

Evan: We tried crutches, we tried tubes and filters of different sizes, but they all felt over-smoked. There was just too much smoke. Even some of the other filters we tried were too heavy on the inhale. We wanted something that has a manageable level of smoke to ensure that they offer a more comfortable experience. That’s one of the main reasons we chose the filter, it helps keep a joint regulated, consistent and curbs any harshness.

Tell me about your flower sourcing process?

Evan: We always look for high CBD strains, but that’s been really tough. The hemp-focused 2018 Farm Bill caused a lot of guys who were growing CBD to switch to hemp because it’s a lot easier to grow, and has less regulations. So it’s been more difficult to find a reliable source for our CBD strains, but we’re always on the lookout. We have some solid partners we work with that keep us going.

For the THC flower we use, what we found to be really important was sticking to strains in the citrus family. I think they tend to be a little bit more uplifting. We don’t want anything too sleepy, we want strains that’ll give heightened and engaged effects. We don’t want you to pass out, we don’t want you to feel stupid, we want you to feel enlightened. After using our products you should feel Alive & Kicking! So with that said, we tend to look for flower and terpene profiles that give off those effects, and as always, we blend it with high-quality CBD.

As far as hemp is concerned, we’re pretty lucky because we can get good 20-25% CBD flower in the area. Most of our partners are out of Oregon, and we choose those concentrating on organic, clean, and regenerative farming techniques.

High CBD Slim Pre-Rolls Hemp CBD Pre-Rolls

Alive & Kicking launched with the Pink Packs, then you rolled into your Blue Packs. Rumour has it you guys have something else called “Loosies” on the way…could you tell us about that?

Ryan: We can’t ignore the wants and needs of the insiders who actually have a bit of a higher tolerance. So, we are working on creating a product called Loosies, which are designed for people who can tolerate and seek out heavier products. They’re going to have the same form factor and characteristics, they’re just for people who want to turn the dial up a couple notches. We plan to sell them in small packs, and they will be very accessible price wise.

Why the name Loosies?

Ryan: It has a dual meaning for us. Sure, it gets you a bit more loose, but back in the day when you could still smoke in bars, you could always ask the bartender for a “loosie.” I know they still do that in New York, you can find a Bodega that’ll still sell you loosies. This is how we imagine these pre-rolls being purchased. We want these to be something readily accessible on the counter to easily supplement whatever else you’re doing.

How has Covid-19 impacted your business?

Evan: We feel for all the businesses. Everybody’s getting hit hard, in every sector, across the world. It’s a tough time. We definitely feel the pinch in supply chains and operations. But at the same time, and somewhat surprisingly, I think cannabis has been very busy for the past month or so. Sales are up, and we are so thankful to be considered an essential business. We’ve been trying to reduce our time together, Ryan and I, and we’ve been doing as much as we can from home. We’re not taking meetings in person, like everyone else we’re doing everything over Google Hangout or Zoom. It’s a crazy time to try to launch a company. We launched at the beginning of January, and here we are four months later in the middle of a pandemic where we can’t leave our houses. The good news is that right at the start of this we were able to partner up with Ganjarunner, a statewide delivery service. They’ve been fantastic to work with, and we love that people can get easy delivery of our products statewide. Cannabis is a key companion during this time.

Does Alive & Kicking have any social justice initiatives planned to address the reality of cannabis regulations disproportionately hurting communities of color?

Ryan: Yes, we have a very strong desire to help out in this area. Right now, since we just launched, we’re trying to do as much as we can to increase product lines and increase opportunities for jobs. In the very near future we have a couple of things we’d like to do. First and foremost, this is something that Evan and I know has affected a lot of people and it’s not right. We can totally be honest and say we don’t have 100% of the knowledge. Our first step would be to work with an organization and leading experts in this field and make an actionable plan of how we can help those affected. Secondly, we have plans on helping veterans through employment. We are going to have a lot of opportunities for jobs, and we want to make sure they go to the right people.

Is there anything else that you would like people to know about Alive & Kicking?

Evan: We’ve talked about how our CBD products are for people with a lower tolerance, but we also offer our light THC option to people who smoke often, and the feedback has been great across the board. Our products won’t get the heaviest user completely stoned, but they’ll be in a really good place where they feel happy and comfortable. I don’t think we want to be typecast as being solely for those just entering cannabis, or for someone like me, a lightweight. I think these should be experienced by consumers at any level looking for the opportunity to try something discreet and reliable on the lighter side that won’t weigh you down. We make these for everybody. Our goal is to eventually have our product line cover the full spectrum, from light to medium to heavy. I think a range exists that can be used by everybody, in their own way, and at their own pace.

Ryan: Go buy a pack and try them out!

About the Author

Emily Berkey is a freelance journalist and photographer from Portland currently living in Los Angeles. She writes about and takes photos of musicians, artists, and creatives from an intimate perspective. Emily exclusively uses 35mm and Polaroid film.

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