How This Northwest Duo Took on Cannabis and Liquor with a Unique Approach

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Wild Roots

Wild Roots Spirits is a unique company, based in Portland, Ore., that's trying to change how you consume your vodka and now your CBD, too. WYLD and WYLD CBD are actually the companies behind the Cannabis/CBD - WYLD launched in 2013, and WYLD CBD in 2016. They are separate from the spirits brand.

As natives to the Pacific Northwest, the two founders Aaron Morris and Chris Joseph, knew there were few places in the world that produced fruit as flavorful and abundant as Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The rich soil, pure water, and exceptional climate allow the fruit to develop unparalleled taste and balance—which is crucial for creating an authentic tasting spirit. 

The company began with humble beginnings in 2012 and has since gone on to win numerous awards and honors such as "Best Flavored Vodka" by Sip Northwest Magazine two years in a row for the "Marionberry" flavor. 

ONE37pm had a chance to interview the two founders about their business and how they've achieved success. The following is a lightly edited interview with Morris and Joseph.

aaron morris chris joseph
Wild Roots

What makes your process for extracting CBD different from others?

Aaron Morris: We don’t process our own CBD—we go through a rigorous process with our team of food scientists on vetting our suppliers for consistency, quality, and transparency of their supply chain. We currently use Broad-Spectrum CBD oil which is THC-free yet allows for other cannabinoids to stay within our products to get all their benefits on top of CBD.

What's "good" CBD vs "bad" CBD?

Morris: The industry lacks a rulebook and a governing regulatory agency, so it really is more about if brands are being 100% honest with what they are putting in their products. Good CBD is 100% derived from the hemp plant, is not laced with anything, and is free of any additives. Bad CBD can be synthetic, created in a lab, or laced with additives to trick a consumer into feeling something... but isn't actually CBD.

Describe your brand building strategy in one sentence. 

Morris: WYLD focuses on creating the best experience for our consumers by delivering consistent, high quality, fruit-infused products on a national level.

Chris Joseph: Similarly, Wild Roots focuses on creating premium, natural, handcrafted spirits that are unique to the Pacific Northwest, but can be enjoyed anywhere.


If you were pitching your business on “Shark Tank,” what would you say? 

Morris and Joseph: With spirits and CBD as two of the most oversaturated markets in the world, something was missing—an all-natural fruit-infused product. Artificial flavors, colors, and extracts line the shelves and we knew something had to be done. Through our desire for natural products, WYLD and Wild Roots were born. All of our products burst with real flavors that leave you with a natural, homegrown taste. WYLD and Wild Roots focus on using real, high-quality ingredients in order to create one-of-a-kind products. 

wyld cbd gummies
Wild Roots

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a founder?

Morris: That chaos breeds character as long as you maintain your positive outlook and you work for/with your employees - not the other way around.

Joseph: There are a lot of lessons that you are forced into learning as a business owner, some of which are good and some of which are not as enjoyable. I think it is important to stand back and see where you are and appreciate those moments. It was not long ago that we were starting a distillery in an 800 square foot garage and living on the floor in a barn house trying to figure out how to make gummies. Appreciating the struggles and the foundation of which the organization was built on is extremely important. Outside of appreciating the journey, I believe in order to be successful in business you have to plan for the unknown. We live in a forever-changing world that makes everything nearly impossible to forecast. It is important to be adaptable and structure your business in a way that is built for change. Growing 1,300% and not having VC funding behind growth can be stressful and can create an environment where it is hard to sleep... but building a solid, well-rounded team that can adapt to what the business needs is crucial in order to fight through that. 

What’s one aspect of your job that you knew nothing about? How did you adapt?

Morris: Large scale manufacturing. We had to quickly adapt - but instead of trying to find the fully automated system right away, we found it helpful to look at our bottlenecks and work on improving one manufacturing process at a time. Eventually, it all came together... but it also allowed us to become journeymen at each stage of manufacturing.

Joseph: We started our first company [Wild Roots] right out of college. In a way, every aspect of our company was new to us. Learning from others and surrounding ourselves with great mentors and employees was crucial for the development of our organization. Legal & Compliance was an area I knew nothing about. Cannabis and liquor are some of the most highly regulated industries and not having a background before getting involved was definitely a learning curve. In order to adapt and navigate through this, we went to seminars, read everything we could find, and eventually added onto our team so that we could have someone internally staying on top of current changes. 

Tell us about the time in your career when you felt the most “stuck.”

Morris: In the THC/CBD industry, it's the cost of navigating the burdensome infrastructure, licensing, and inability to access traditional funding, distribution, and supply chain avenues. We bootstrapped all of our businesses, and there are days we looked at our financials and at our master plan, just saying "how the hell are we going to pull this off?"

Joseph: For liquor, getting approval for chains and new distribution can take years. For example, we tried expanding into Nevada and California for 5 years. We presented to every distributor that we could find. In liquor, there are a lot of variables that can restrict a brand from opening into new markets. There are a lot of gatekeepers and it can be extremely expensive trying to get into those. We were able to adapt and change our growth plan. Rather than going wide and entering into every state, we decided to go deep with the states we were currently available in. This turned out to be very successful for us—we quickly became one of the largest producing distilleries in Oregon, which then gave us recognition, which then opened Nevada and California. 

wrs cucumber grapefruit gin 3 photo credit jordan hughes highproofpreacher
Wild Roots

What do you consider your greatest failure to date? What did it teach you?

Morris: Working with the wrong partners and not properly vetting who you do business with. We had business partners who were stealing from the company and almost tanked it in its early stages where every dollar really counted. When you are a non-VC funded entrepreneur, you are always in a rush and forget to take the time to slow down and really do your due diligence.

How do you take your coffee?

Morris: Black, strong and extremely hot - duh.

What is your number one way to inspire positive company morale?

Morris: Work with your employees, really get to know them as people and always remind them that you are a human before a CEO. People love strong leadership, but too often these days leaders forget that your most valuable infrastructure is your people, not your physical assets. Invest in them as humans, not just as employees who perform a specific job duty.

How can a candidate impress you in a job interview?

Morris: Show me that you are self-interested but also that you want to build something bigger than yourself. I'm less focused on your direct skillset as those can be taught/learned... but I'm really looking for a type of person, over a resume.

How do you balance your career and your family life?

Morris: Personally, I love what I do... but I also really like to travel. As our Sales Director taught me, it's not about work/life balance, its more about work/life integration. You don't have to prioritize work over everything, but technology has really allowed me to integrate work into my life even while I am in foreign countries. Stay away from the belief of a 9-5.

Joseph: That is an easy one to lose sight in, especially as your business turns into your life. You live, breathe - and in our cases - you eat and drink it. At the end of the day, though, what good is your business if you don’t enjoy the other things you love too? I try to take the weekends off and turn off the phones at dinner. I also try to unplug and take a few trips a year with my family. It has been a focus of mine to be more present and realize the emails will still be there tomorrow.


What advice would you give to anyone looking to launch a business?

Morris: Do not waver in your dedication to your idea. You will end up sacrificing more than you originally planned - that's inevitable - but you will also grow exponentially as a human through the process if you keep your perspective. Often, traditional advice can come from someone who is truly scared of change, but you can't be an entrepreneur if you aren't going to push the norm.

Related: 6 CBD Products Men Should Try in 2019

Related: Mr. Moxey’s Mints Took On CBD from a Different Angle

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