We visited Old Pal’s headquarters to talk about crafting affordable flower, mini vapes, and a brand baby boomers can love.
Four and a half years ago, Rusty Wilenkin (right) called Jason Osni (left) to ask about a distribution partnership opportunity between the cannabis companies they were each working for at the time. This phone call led to years of consistently working together at their respective cannabis-based day jobs, and it was their long track record that led Osni to call on Wilenkin again in 2018. Wilenkin recalls Osni’s words during that fateful phone call: “Hey, we’re going to start our first brand that’s really focused on the value shelf and making cannabis accessible for everyone.”
Fast forward to now, and they’re sitting in a sunlit room on the second floor of Old Pal's Venice Beach headquarters. We caught up with them to learn their story and what’s on the horizon.
What did you see was missing on the cannabis market, and how did Old Pal move to fill that void?
Osni: When everyone’s focusing on one thing, there’s usually something that’s not getting enough attention on the opposite side. When everybody’s looking at high-end craft cannabis, there’s a good chance that not enough people are focusing on value cannabis. When everyone’s making craft beers, people start to lose focus on the Budweisers of the world. To us, it was like, let’s be the first to do this. I think given Rusty’s experience with supply chains and my experience with high-level strategy and brand, we were able to be the first to do it the right way. Here we are a year later and it’s worked out.
Wilenkin: It was pretty crazy how quickly that first phone call turned into product on shelves. I want to say it was maybe five or six weeks from speaking to the first time we were on the Eaze menu going live.
Wow. How did you achieve that? Did you already have the ball rolling?
Wilenkin: Jason had already had been working with designers at LAND in Austin, so when we started talking, he already had a vision for the brand and was ready to put the pieces together.
Osni: To that point, it’s like writing a book. You think about it 10 or 20 years before the book’s actually written. The framework is mentally in your head, there’s a road map. Then you put pen to paper and it begins to flesh out pretty quickly. The actual book might take three months to write but it’s a lifetime of experiences that go into it. For me, Old Pal is something I’ve been thinking about for years—while I was in law school, while I was in undergrad. It came to a point where I was like, “Now how do I execute?” It felt like the manual for how to do it was there and had been preconceived, but Rusty was able to take that and make it a business by getting the product and pieces in place.
Your aim was to be the most affordable cannabis brand out there. How did you embrace that in your brand messaging and what hurdles did you face when it came to articulating that?
“It’s this idea of masstige—prestige to the masses.”
Osni: There’s an interesting line that needs to be drawn between being the lowest price and being value-accessible branded. Teetering on that was an interesting balance. We didn’t want to come out and be Natty Light. We wanted to be Anheuser-Busch. That’s a totally different brand message. To do that, we wanted the feeling behind the brand to be really elevated, but we wanted the price point to be accessible. A lot of people miss the mark and become cheap. Our goal is to make sure that doesn’t happen. People aspire to be Old Pal users yet it’s the most affordable product on the market. It’s this idea of masstige—prestige to the masses.
How do you ensure your cannabis is accessible?
Wilenkin: Both of us have worked in this space for five or six years. We’ve done right by everyone in our ecosystem, and that’s a level of trust money can’t buy. So when we go to farmers that we’ve done business with for three, four, five years, there’s a lot of trust and our friends want to support us. Today, our scale represents such an outlet for the farmers we work with that we’re helping them come into the legal market and move product in volumes where they’re comfortable being here again. It’s really hard for farmers to grow 10,000 or 20,000 pounds a year and think about selling five or ten pounds at a time and moving through that harvest in a legal way. So we really try to work with farmers and we’ve gotten aggressive with helping with down payments and things that help with processing to make it more doable for them. But it’s really been about trust and doing right by all the people in our ecosystem.