Len Giancola
Jul 4 · 9 min read

I am a big believer in immediate trust. I don’t believe that trust is earned. I believe that trust can be taken away. I would rather trust somebody and have them start using their cognitive function to solve problems on the company’s behalf than to micromanage them. So you know the advice that I would give to help your team thrive is to give people a lot of room to succeed. Don’t tell people what to do, ask them some questions and let them figure it out for themselves. Empower them to be the domain expert in their field. That comes with time.

As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryne O’Donnell, the founder and CEO of Sol-ti, an organic sustainably-packaged beverage manufacturer based out of San Diego, California that owns and operates its own FDA-approved facility and distributes throughout the United States. Ryne is also the founder of Permaculture Planet, which develops and sells permaculture estates in Costa Rica and plants thousands of exotic fruit trees annually.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was brought to this career path through my personal obsession with improving my health and my passion to continuously evolve as a human. When I was in my mid 20s, I was working for a technology company that had an intense workload and strenuous travel schedule. I noticed positive changes in my mental clarity and in my body when I ate an organic, plant based diet. So I continued on that journey. My passion evolved into me figuring out the benefits and deciphering how to bring sustainably packaged products to more people, and then eventually introducing cannabis in the form of non-psychoactive hemp derived CBD. It is great for the human body, promotes homeostasis, nurtures calmness and reduces inflammation.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

One of the most interesting stories is that we found UV light filtration out of a need and being forced to find a solution by the California Department of Public Health back in the early days (in 2014). We were producing juice products that were raw, organic and in a glass bottle and had a seven day shelf life or less. During this time, we were distributing only in Southern California and had quite the challenge with the shelf life. We were working on UV light filtration in the background, which would allow us to use the technology to extend the shelf life of our products, while retaining the nutrients and enzymes in the process. I knew the clock was ticking and sure enough, the California Department of Public Health came knocking. They told us that we could not produce raw juice anymore since this was against FDA guidelines and that we had to figure out a “kill step” to continue to produce. We were already working on UV light filtration with Cornell University, we just hadn’t implemented it yet. We had to get the machine from the East Coast to the West Coast and start using it — but that posed some challenges. Because we were in a rental kitchen by the hour, they didn’t want this big machine coming into a kitchen that wasn’t ours. I met with the Department of Public Health and they gave us a 30 day window to get our processes in line. So I got on a plane to the East Coast to make sure that this machine was going to work. This was a machine that we had reengineered from the ground up, it was version 1.0. We trucked it across the U.S. and I had to go out and find a commercial kitchen that was health department approved and negotiate for a monthly lease. We ran production at night and when we put UV light filtration in, we got the shelf life up right away. So the health department came back in and they couldn’t believe we were in a new building and that we had the machine in less than 30 days. We passed the inspection and were the first in the world bottling in glass and processing using UV light filtration. That was a changing point in the company — without that the company wouldn’t be here today.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We’ve made many mistakes, but I think the mistakes are good. The more micro mistakes you can make the better — so you can learn, adjust and continuously improve. One mistake we made was before we even started bottling juice. We had quite a few trials of different products. We had a vending machine and that was a lot of headache. One out of one hundred transactions would fail and the machine would stop — it doesn’t sound like a lot to have 1% of transactions fail, but that means every day you have to go to the location to fix the machine. We had this at a yoga studio and for the first month and a half every day I was there trying to fix the machine, apologizing to customers, and gifting them the product. So there were a lot of little and funny mistakes that we made when we were first starting. The lesson I learned from that is you have to try things over and over, and then listen to customers. When you take the feedback and make little changes and improvements, the product gets better. And when the product gets better, the whole market benefits from it.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

As a company and a brand we’re constantly evolving and improving. The newest projects that we’re working on are the CBD+ Tea and CBD+ Wellness Shot. These two product lines are going to be winners and we’re seeing initial traction like we’ve never seen before. Some of these products are outselling our top selling SuperAde line out of the gate after two months. We’re excited about not only transforming the industry and providing living, unpasteurized beverages, but also coming full circle with a sustainable package. Our newest shot line is in a 100% sustainable package — a glass bottle with an aluminum cap and an aluminum tamper evident band which is paramount to eliminating plastic waste and keeping our oceans clean. These are the types of projects that excite me as we grow.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My uncle has been an incredible supporter of mine since 2013. I had been talking about this project and started it in 2014. We’ve been through ups and downs but its brought us to where we are today. He’s always had an unbiased opinion. He purposely didn’t invest in the company because if he had, he would have been skewed in his advice. We role play scenarios — “This is what’s happening,” “What do you think of this, what do you think of that?” I’m really grateful for my uncle’s involvement and help throughout the years. He’s always there for a phone call and to talk about scenarios all the time.

This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?

I think authenticity on social media platforms and growing your social reach organically, while having authentic conversations with consumers is important. Social media is truly innovative marketing. You can reach twice as many people, five times as fast on social media and get instant feedback which leads to improvements. I think that larger legacy companies should consider that it’s going to be harder for them because the younger generations are sick of the old companies that just change the product and keep the brand. I think really listening to your audience is huge and a lot of our products candidly have come from customer feedback. The SuperAde is a great example — customers said they didn’t want the product to be nine dollars, they wanted it to be in the five dollar range. That product is now $4.99. Customers said they wanted low sugar, so we use small amounts of unfiltered maple syrup in some products as its a mineral-rich natural sweetener. So listening to customers on social media can make an enormous impact.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?

The cannabis industry is an incredible opportunity for the whole world, not only the United States. If you think about farming in other countries, and even the US, there is a lack of money that farmers are earning, suicide rates amongst farmers are high and they face issues when not getting paid for their crop. The food system is the backbone of the population. There’s a famous saying — whoever controls the food supply controls the people. What’s really exciting about the cannabis industry, is we can get back to profitable farming. The cost per gram, the cost per pound and the cost per kilo of cannabis flour- the amount of money that a farmer can make on that is astronomical. The other exciting benefit is the awareness level now in the world around plant-based medicine. More people are now open to this non-psychoactive cannabis that can help with homeostasis, reduce inflammation and help with all kinds of ailments. The thing that most concerns me is really the regulation, the tax and the licensing barriers to entry. Hopefully it becomes regulated so that that the product quality is high to the consumer, but not over-regulated.

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

I wish we would have started incorporating cannabis sooner. It has been on our radar for a couple of years, but really we didn’t take action to put it into a product until 2018. I would have been open to it sooner, but thought that the regulation was going to be too tough. We not only sell CBD products, we sell organic beverages with all different types of plant-based ingredients — CBD is just one part of our product portfolio. It’s become an important part and we think it has a lot of health and economic benefits to the people.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

I am a big believer in immediate trust. I don’t believe that trust is earned. I believe that trust can be taken away. I would rather trust somebody and have them start using their cognitive function to solve problems on the company’s behalf than to micromanage them. So you know the advice that I would give to help your team thrive is to give people a lot of room to succeed. Don’t tell people what to do, ask them some questions and let them figure it out for themselves. Empower them to be the domain expert in their field. That comes with time.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to people, it would be to change your eating habits. When you start eating cleaner and getting more connected to nature, then you start to change and evolve in different ways. You begin to figure out what’s important to you and the environment you’re in. And I think that that’s a good thing. When our awareness rises as a whole on this planet, then the whole planet evolves into a better place. We are all on different journeys. As our awareness evolves, our ability to self govern in accordance to natural laws increases.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Sol-ti’s channels:

Facebook: http://facebook.com/drinksolti

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drinksolti/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/drinksolti

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDOokRY7Z5RmHe3vfSyxPPw

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/solti-juice

Ryne’s LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryne-o-donnell-62041816

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

About the author:

Len Giancola has over 25 years of experience in Executive Management and Business Ownership. Formerly a Managing Director of Global Securities Finance in New York, responsible for a $16 billion trading portfolio, he is now an Officer/Board Member of over 30 corporations. With well over $100 million in sales over the last decade, including a successful residential development company, vacation rental property management company and diversified investment and online technology portfolio, Len is a Founding Partner of MJ.com and is a frequent media guest on international podcasts such as Rich Dad Radio with Robert Kiyosaki along with many other entrepreneurial and mentorship vehicles.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Len Giancola

Written by

Founding Partner of MJ.com

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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