As if inventing a new cannabis sublingual wasn't enough, Kirby decided to reformulate the entire Kin Slips product line.
Back when you could only buy edibles in the form of grassy brownies and oil-drenched sour belts, Kin Slips' CEO Josh Kirby figured there had to be a better way. In the process, he invented a new method of ingesting cannabis altogether: a sublingual strip you could dissolve under your tongue to feel the effects faster than a traditional edible. Since those early days, Kin Slips has come a long way, going from a novelty product in Washington to a sublingual empire in California. Still, that was just the beginning of what would ultimately become Kin Slips 2.0.
Without further ado, this is Josh Kirby and Kin Slips' story as told to Proper.
On transitioning from music to cannabis
I was raised in upstate New York in a little farm town in the middle of nowhere. My whole life, all I've ever wanted to do is play music. Ever since I was a little kid, my mom taught me how to play drums. She was a drummer. So at the age of two, she put drumsticks in my hand and kind of taught me how to do that. I was immediately fascinated by it, and it was pretty much all I did from the time I was two all the way through college. I ended up going to school for audio engineering and got a degree in that. And then after college I started touring with different groups. So I would do some live sound work, I would do some tour management, and I would do some performing as well.
When you're touring like that, you're on the road for two months and then off the road for two months and on the road and off the road and so on. And I was never with any groups that were big enough to pay for the time that I had off the road. I ended up having to get all these really weird odd jobs to cobble together enough income to get to the next tour. And in the process of doing that, I learned how to essentially learn things really, really quickly because you have to in order to be useful in some sort of two-month engagement. In one of those roles, I ended up working for a group that was doing some exploratory work in the cannabis industry.
“At that time, you could still go into a dispensary and buy brownies wrapped in Saran wrap with Sharpie written on them.”
This was around 2012 and that job got me very interested in what was going on in cannabis. After that, I decided I wanted to actually pursue working in the cannabis industry myself. So I moved to Seattle in 2013 and started my first cannabis company. It was basically an infused products company in the medical market in Washington. The idea was to look at opportunities in the space and try to make a disruptive product that would work better and appeal to more people.
The first thing I realized when I got there was that no one was focused on making a consumer product. No one was looking at it from a CPG perspective. At that time, you could still go into a dispensary and buy brownies wrapped in Saran wrap with Sharpie written on them. It was pretty obvious what the next step was.
On inventing a new product by accident
It was also pretty obvious at the time, or at least to us, that most of the smoke-free products people were using didn't really work that well. They were really unreliable from a dosage perspective. And even if you could find a consistently dosed product, the effect range was all over the place. So I focused on developing products that we could package really nicely and that people would understand, but also more importantly, products that worked the way people wanted them to work.
“My plan was to make a candy shell around the outside of the gum and put all the cannabis in there.”
One of the original concepts I wanted to pursue was creating an infused gum. I thought that would be really interesting. It should have, you know, some sort of increased bioavailability to it. And it's a modality that people are incredibly familiar with. So I set to work trying to figure out how to make this gum, and ultimately I did figure out how to extract cannabis and then infuse that into the gum. After a couple of months of mucking around in the kitchen, I had this gum and started testing it with myself and some friends. What we realized was that it just didn't work. It didn't actually release the cannabis from the gum into your mouth because the cannabis stayed bound to the gum.
And so what led to the development of the strip was a little bit of an accident. My plan was to make a candy shell around the outside of the gum and put all the cannabis in there. The intention was that you’d bite into it, the candy shell would fall apart, it would dissolve into your mouth, and that's how you would release the cannabis into your system. In the process of trying to figure out how to do that, I accidentally figured out how to make this really thin, fast-dissolving candy. And that was what sparked the, "Oh my god, we should just make this stripped product instead."
It took another few months of just playing around with goop in the kitchen to get some stuff to work. And then eventually I had a strip and started trying it. And it worked really, really well. At the time, I didn't have a good sense of, you know, how sublingual absorption worked or really what it was, but I did know that this was a convenient, discreet way for people to use cannabis. And so we ended up marketing it as a breath strip. It kind of became this novelty thing up in Washington and had a little bit of popularity, but ultimately it didn't really go very far.