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Mick Frederick: the cannabis stigma

At Eaze, Mick Frederick isn’t just fighting for his customers — he’s fighting against a decades-old social stigma.

Hosts

  • Maria Almeida, Head of Editorial, Unbabel
  • Rafaela Cortez, Editorial Manager, Unbabel

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An interview with Mick Frederick, VP of Customer Experience at Eaze, the cannabis delivery platform. In addition to traditional hurdles like turnaround time, Mick is up against the vicissitudes of a new market; a daunting regulatory landscape; and a decades-long campaign to convince the public his product is evil.

Transcript

Maria Almeida: Mick Frederick is the VP of Customer Experience at Eaze, the legal cannabis delivery platform. Over the last couple of years, he has been facing an unprecedented set of obstacles: building trust for a product that is still illegal in most parts of the world, writing the playbook for a completely new market, and helping destigmatize cannabis.

But those were all challenges Mick was willing to face. He had been working in customer experience for more than 15 years at companies like Microsoft, as the Senior Manager for Global Support Engineering; at Zendesk, as the Director of Customer Support; and most recently at Coinbase, as the Director of Customer Operations.

However, what really drew Mick to Eaze was much more personal. Back in 2017, when the opioid crisis was on the rise, taking over 47,000 lives in the United States that year alone, Mick realized he actually wanted to do something meaningful that could help prevent the epidemic:

Mick Frederick: The biggest thing for me that kind of drew me into it, once things started getting serious was how important it was for the world. The opioid crisis crisis had been on the rise, especially, you know, in America, it's out of control. And I, you know, having had family members that have had health issues and been, you know, put on painkillers and all this other stuff, it seemed like cannabis was being very, very much overlooked as a possibility. And we had already had medical marijuana in the states already going, but it just wasn't getting that kind of support. And so I felt, I felt a responsibility to try to do something to be part of something that was going to help push this in a good direction.

Maria Almeida: And that’s what Mick has been doing at Eaze ever since he joined their mission to enhance safe access to cannabis, educate people on how to use it, and drive smart cannabis policies. As their VP of Customer Experience, Mick has helped to build the customer operations team, set the stage for the legalization of cannabis in California, and build trust through customer experience.

I’m Maria Almeida.

Rafaela Cortez: And I’m Rafaela Cortez.

Maria Almeida: And this is the first episode of the Customer Centric Podcast, an original podcast from Unbabel where we’re bringing humanity back to the customer experience, one conversation at a time.

On this episode: How to deliver customer experience where no one else has done it before, when you’re not just writing the rules, but fighting social stigma, biased laws, and trying to right decades of wrong.

Mick Frederick: What makes it interesting about this industry for me is that I, when we started, we don't know how to solve these problems. These are new problems. These are new problems for everybody.

What do you do if a pre-roll arrives and it's broken? We had to write the playbook for everything. Like what are you doing with melted gummies? What are you doing melted chocolate. What happens if somebody complains about the effect of something? So we had to figure out the different types of scenarios and basically by experiencing them and you know, like some things are way out there and very, very one off situations. Then some things like are weird at first and then they're just become so commonplace. You're like, wow, I remember when that was a weird thing and now it's like five, six times a day type of thing. I think the thing that I like most about it is that we are literally writing the playbook. Like there's no, there's never a dull moment.

We have some pretty interesting cases that come up and you know, a lot of it dealing with like the effects of something, a lot of it dealing with, just basically like somebody brand new to cannabis and just like not really knowing that experience and wanting some help with that. And so, because of these things in the very beginning, we created a group called the concierge group, who you can think of as like a personal budtender. There are people that will like talk to you, give you the your entire experience about being in a dispensary without actually being able to smell the product. Right.

So, I felt that that was necessary with recreation coming and thinking about my mom, thinking about like, you know, her going to the website, being completely overwhelmed, uh, buying something she recognizes like a cookie or gummies or something, not knowing how to dose herself and ending up in space for a couple of days because nobody told her how to do it and what to expect out of it.

So, um, that terrified me, that terrified me, not only that it could happen to somebody, but you know, I was pretty much responsible for that. I was responsible for whatever follow came from that.

Rafaela Cortez: I mean, you’re dealing with a product that not only has a stigma around it — and I imagine a lot of misinformation. But also you go on Eaze’s website, like you said, and there’s so many different kinds of things you can order — there’s buds and gummies and drops and drinks, I mean, it’s a bit overwhelming. So while it’s important to educate your customers in every industry, it feels like it’s a bit more relevant in yours.

Mick Frederick: That's, that's one of the things that, you know, that’s one of the biggest challenges for my team, and not so much a challenge, but an initiative is for them to not just help people with the logistics of the order, but help people with questions. Like, they help with the message that it's a positive thing. They help with a message that it's okay to be cannabis friendly. It's okay for the world to be, to accept this plant essentially. Um, so they, they play a big role with the company and being like kind of the voice of positivity and encouraging people and mainly talking people off of the ledge who are scared to do it because they don't know what people are gonna think about them. They don't know if it's gonna like change them in any way, like that kind of thing. So it's definitely a big responsibility in my team to kind of like de-stigmatize or help de-stigmatize cannabis.

As we start to realize where we can control the narrative, we're going to start to bring cannabis back to be a positive word. But yeah, back then it was like, you know, it was, it was those hippies, you know, as the hippie community, it was like, you know, the community that was seen as being, you know, lazy and you know, they were anti everything that anybody wanted to do. And so that was just one way of like, well, I don't smoke pot, but all these people over here with long hair, smoke pot, so it must be the pot that's doing it. That's the pot. And so it automatically, that's where the stigma comes from. Right? So I dunno, it's undoing 50 years of bad.

Rafaela Cortez: Ok, I feel like we need a bit of context for this one. So, 50 years ago, in 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act into law, classifying cannabis as a Schedule I drug.

President Richard Nixon: America’s public enemy number one, in the United States, is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy it is necessary to wage a new all out offensive. I’ve asked the congress to provide the legislative authority and the funds to fuel this kind of an offensive.

Rafaela Cortez: Schedule I is reserved for drugs that have high potential for abuse and addiction and no accepted medical use, such as heroin and ecstasy. This move effectively branded cannabis as one of the most dangerous drugs available — more dangerous, for example, than cocaine or methamphetamines.

Mind you, it was supposed to be a temporary move. In that same year, 1970, Nixon created the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, also known as the Shafer Commission, to report on the effects of cannabis, and advise congress on where to place it in the Controlled Substances Act.

The commission, lead by Raymond P. Shafer, a former prosecutor known as a “law and order” governor, conducted the most extensive study of cannabis ever performed by the US government. Two years later, in 1972, the commission finally presented its findings.

The report, named “Marihuana, a signal of misunderstanding,” called for the decriminalization of cannabis possession, noting that it didn’t pose a threat to public safety, that there were no, and I quote, “significant physical, biochemical, or mental abnormalities [that] could be attributed solely to marihuana smoking.” It also says: “it is unlikely that marijuana will affect the future strength, stability, or vitality of our social and political institutions.”

The report fell on deaf ears.

President Richard Nixon: I shall continue to oppose efforts to legalize marijuana

Rafaela Cortez: The Nixon administration kept cannabis classified as a schedule I drug, and ever since 1970, when the Controlled Substances act first passed, there have been more than 25 million arrests for cannabis possession and distribution.

But times are changing. Despite remaining illegal under US federal law, in 1996, California approved Proposition 215, the first piece of legislation to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. Other states began following suit — until finally, in 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

Ok, now back to the episode.

Maria Almeida: Can you talk a little bit about the experience of buying cannabis before it was legal and what it’s like now?

Mick Frederick: Well you had to know a guy or girl, right? You had to know somebody who, you got what you got, you gave somebody money, you got what you got. Very, very black market, very ilicit, very scary, kind of a creepy situation. Well I mean the one thing that for people who are not sick and just like, you know, like I said or whatever, um, you know, and then then came legalization, medical legalization and you had to go to a dispensary and you had to get your medical card and all this other stuff, but you still had to go through like, you know, the security guard and all this other stuff at the dispensary and you know, um, if it was pouring rain or snowing, you had to go out in that.

And then comes us, where you are literally sitting at home and you go to our menu and you order and you get it faster than you get your pizza.

The name kinda came because it was ridiculously easy to do. It was ridiculously easy to obtain, at the time, medical cannabis for a decent price in a very safe setting. Um, and that's been kind of our mantra is that like, you know, be the leading provider of cannabis with easiest possible way, with the customer first focus on everything. So, um, it's, it's definitely like, even in two years is definitely changed to where it's, we are literally beating pizza to the door. You order both at the same time and you have them race and uh, see which one gets there faster. Most of the time we will win.

Maria Almeida: In 2014, when Eaze launched in California, cannabis was only legal for medical purposes. But then, in November 2016, came Prop 64, supporting the legalization of recreational use. This was around the time when you joined Eaze as VP of Customer Experience. I can imagine that the atmosphere was very exciting and chaotic at the same time. Everything was changing suddenly. What was it like?

Mick Frederick: It was, it was, that's, that's a pretty good description. I think it was one of those things where it was like a hurry up and wait type of thing. Like we were excited, we were ready to really open this up. But we being like the leaders of what we were doing, we had to be the most compliant with what we were doing too. And by most compliant, I mean 100%, because we were setting the stage for how other companies need to act.

Because of those regulations, we went through a lot of things, we had to put it in place. So it was, it was chaotic because things were changing at a pretty rapid pace. Um, everything from how you worded something to the packaging, to all this other stuff. We had to work hand in hand with everybody to make sure this was on the up and up. Um, so it was exciting, but it was still very, very frustrating and it was like basically hurry up and wait, you know? And finally when it launched we had found that like we were, we were very, very ready, but a lot of people in the industry were not.

Maria Almeida: It looks like it's, it's, it's going because according to the hidden business journal, the cannabis market can grow 700% by 2020. Uh, which is very exciting, but also a bit daunting because this means you're going to get a lot of competition. So do you think that your customer experience is going to be a key differentiator?

Mick Frederick: Key differentiator, absolutely. Um, mainly because like, you know, the one thing that we, one of our four tenants of our company is customer first. It's, that's actually number one. Um, and so I take this stuff very seriously. The authenticity piece, just being real and straight with customers. And so that's why I think I was chosen for this ‘cause they wanted somebody to bring in and bring up an authentic team. I can't say that there's not going to be a company out there that's gonna be just as good at it. But what I can say is that as long as we're doing what we're doing and somebody else is doing something like us, I'm going to do it better. I'm going to make everything I can do, uh, make every, every opportunity I can to make it better for our customers. I like the competition. I like being, having competition with what I do because that kinda gives, um, gives me and us as a company kind of a gauge as to where we are. You know, like you don't know how fast you're running unless you have somebody running with you.

Rafaela Cortez: Do you think that the way you pick people to do the customer support and to be the kind of curators of that experience, do you think it's different from any other kind of industry or is it, there are specific traits that you look for in your team to, to kind of provide a great customer experience?

Mick Frederick: We ended up doing, I, I wanted somebody obviously, you know, knowledgeable about cannabis. But my biggest thing is I wanted there to be authenticity with it.

Finding the right people was definitely a little bit out of my wheelhouse. Like I've never hired budtenders, so I don't know what a good quality is. But we went on this terror and we hired up a bunch of people that may have been a budtender at one time, maybe you were a bartender, maybe you were food server. We had somebody who was selling CBD oil in the past. But for the most part it was just like, are you authentic? And I can kind of spot that stuff pretty quickly. As a matter of fact, one of the first hires I ever made was a delivery driver who delivered to my house. I basically interviewed her on my doorstep. Then I told her who I was and we had her hired two days later. So that was pretty cool. I loved her authenticity. She was very sweet about the way she went through my order, the products I had, what to expect. I was like, wow, I'm looking for somebody like you. I need somebody like you. So that was definitely, you know, that, that's definitely the direction we go with those types of hires. It's like authentic, accountable, honest, trustworthy.

Maria Almeida: And what about your customers? Who’s your ideal customer?

Mick Frederick: I think that's, I think now we're at the point where that's like asking who is the ideal wine drinker? Like as far as I'm concerned, it could be anybody. It could be anybody, you know, if it's done in a compliant way and, if they’re 21 years and older, like I welcome anybody at it like. I love talking to people who, you know, my, my personal favorite are the, like the baby boomers who maybe have last tried cannabis back in their twenties, years ago, when it was like, you didn't get an indica or a sativa, you just got what you got. And you know, now it's like you can break it down by strain and you could break it into something else. And like, you know, it's ridiculously overwhelming. So I like talking to them and educating them and being like, look, we can pinpoint exactly what you want this effect to be. So they’re my current favorite. I also like people who are doing it for the first time.

But my other favorite are the people that think they've had everything. And then we turned them onto something that's like, they haven't been able to find or experience. And that's pretty cool to me too.

Rafaela Cortez: Oh, wow, and what’s usually that typical something?

Mick Frederick: It's usually a strain, like a new strain or something or like, you know, there's this, um, there's this specific kind of edible that we have on the menu. Um, that a lot of times some edibles can taste kind of weedy, you know, they can taste it a little bit, but then there's this other one that's like, you know, you can't taste anything and it tastes like really good chocolate. So it's things like that. I like discovering stuff like that. Um, and then sharing it with friends. Like, here, try this. Don't worry.

Rafaela Cortez: You can trust me.

Mick Frederick: Yeah, always trust me.

Maria Almeida: Well, I particularly liked reading this on your blog, where you mention mommy needs a joints should be as socially acceptable as mommy needs a glass of wine. So do you think this is where we going, where I'm going to get to a point where I don't need to explain to my mom that, you know, I'm smoking weed or I'm growing my own plants or things like that.

Mick Frederick: I hope so. I mean that's what we're trying for is that like, it should be as socially acceptable. I'm not gonna out anybody in my friends and family, but I'll just tell a little anecdote as to how this has changed. We moved to our neighborhood and put our kids in a school and, uh, when you become my age, like you don't have friends anymore, you just have friends of your kids, friends’ parents. And so like the parents become the friends and that's just the way it works out. Cause you're always at the same functions, birthday parties, all this other stuff. And so I remember when I first started out, I kinda kept it under wraps as to what I did, cause I didn't, you know, mostly for my wife, I don't care, but mostly for my wife.

I wanted her to be able to like get into a social network without me having to mess everything up by being, you know, the cannabis guy. Right. And this was early on when even I had a little bit of a stigma about it. And so as time went on, you know, it got a little bit of like curiosity, people would ask me and they'd, we'd start talking and it's like in two years it's evolved into, I'd rather, you know, smoke some cannabis than drink, if that's okay. And so it's become like this really weird thing where we'll have a barbecue, somebody will take a gummy and then not touch beer, or you know, somebody will take a hit off of a joint and not touch a glass of wine. And it's kind of like, it was completely different two years ago, at least in my experience. So I think that, you know, mommy needs a joint is a pretty good allegory to like how this is shifting into your acceptance.

Like that kind of thing where it's just like the narrative has shifted from “I'm doing something completely weird” to “Holy crap, this is cool”. So like it's taken about two years of just, you know, initiatives, regulations, lobbying, and getting the positive word out there. I would have never thought in a million years, let alone two, that our company would have a billboard like all over California. Like basically with the words cannabis and delivered on it. It blows my mind.

Maria Almeida: You mentioned this before, so your business is tightly connected to politics and regulation and it is legal in California, but not in other states in the US, and not in other countries... well, we have a few countries like the Netherlands, but very few. Do you expect this to change?

Mick Frederick: I think that, you know, political power is starting to see the benefit of the money that can come from this or come from this and you know, even better, they do see medical benefit as well. Um, you get enough medical professionals behind them saying like, look, you got to do this. This is like the studies are right here. You can't help but ignore it and like lobbyists and helps, uh, calling your congressman, all that stuff that really helps out too. Um, so I think that the growth in the United States is going to be exponential and it's going to be rapid.

Rafaela Cortez: And it's very complicated, you have a lot of companies profiting off of this very lucrative market, while the country is still waging a war on drugs. And minorities are still being disproportionately prosecuted and impacted, they’re not really benefiting from legalization. So how do you reconcile this?

Mick Frederick: That's, that's the difficult part, right? Is that like, you know, people have been arrested for doing what we're doing right now and you know, the best thing that we can do is do full support of helping expunge those people out of prison and jail, um, and helping lobby to rewrite laws. You know. I mean, I get it. It's like we're, we're, it's the toughest part of the transition, right? It's getting this was bad. This is good. We're right in the middle. We have to get all, all the way over to good. So there's a lot of cleanup that we have to do from a lot of very poor decisions have been historically made.

Rafaela Cortez: But in a way, a successful cannabis market can help undo some of the harm caused by the War on Drugs. I mean, Eaze is involved in a few social initiatives — for example, a partnership with Code for America, who developed a program that can help governments clear around 250,000 low-level criminal records, eligible under prop 64. So what would otherwise be a complicated, time-consuming and costly process, becomes essentially automatic. That’s amazing!

Mick Frederick: We’re definitely doing that. It's still, it's still a hike though. Like it's still, it's not going to be an overnight thing. It's going to take a while.

And I think with the support of the community that we kind of put out there and show ourselves as accountable for this, where this stuff, um, you know, will gain the trust of the people and then this will just go faster as time goes on.

Maria Almeida: What do you like to do besides work?

Mick Frederick: I have two young kids. I have a six year old boy and a four year old girl, and uh, that is my free time, whether I like it or not.

So yeah, I think for me that I never thought that like being a father would be a hobby, but it kind of is because, you know what I think is cool about it, what I think is actually like given me an advantage in this industry too and customer support is like being a dad has helped me reshape how I think things because I'm basically watching the world happen all over again through somebody else's eyes. And like I get to see things that I've been taken for granted my entire life. You know, as an adult, as you would like, who cares? Right. But then like you're, your kid will point something out to you that is so mindbogglingly, you know, blowing him away that you're just like, dude, that happens all the time, but then you look at it through his eyes, you're like, Holy Shit. That is, that's amazing. That's incredible. If that's done anything for me that's taught me to take a look at everything with a beginner's mind and you know, don't pollute yourself with things that you think you've gone through.

Rafaela Cortez: Have you talked to them about your job?

Mick Frederick: So when asked once, my son and I don't, I had never talked to him about it and he was probably, Geez, I gotta say four or five at the time, when I just started, they, it was like, talk about your parents' Day. Like, you know, uh, what's your mom? My Mom's, my mom's a librarian. Like, what about your dad? And he said, my daddy gets medicine for people who can't get to it. And I was like, holy cow, that's.. A) where the hell did that come from? B) who told you to say that?

My jaw dropped and I looked at my wife and I was like “did you tell him that?” she's like “no, did you?" Cause that's literally how I would've described it to him. Like I help make sure that people who can't get their medicine can get their medicine.

It's one of those things where I, at the end of the day, I want my kids to know that like I'm trying to do something good for them and for the world. You know, like you hear about all these startups, they're just like, we're just trying to make the world a better place. It's like, okay, well your knowledge base isn't going to do that. Let’s really think about what we’re doing here.

We started that kind of thought process for me and trying to do better things is when I worked for a bitcoin company before this one. And so that's when I thought I was actually contributing back to the world. Cause that's a great equalizer. That's like you could live in a third world nation or you could live in like Tahoe and a bitcoin is a bitcoin, and you can pay that way. And so I did that for a while and then cannabis was the only next only thing I could do.

I just want to make sure that my kids understand that I'm doing this to make their world a better place because they are, you know, they're inheriting a lot of nonsense from us as bad adults. I want to make sure I always did my part to make sure it wasn't such a disaster when they grow up and have their own kids.

Maria Almeida: And so in the deep of night Mick pits cannabis against pizza, in a race not just for better customer experience, but for a fairer, safer world.

This was the first episode of Customer Centric, an original podcast from Unbabel where we're bringing humanity back to the customer experience, one conversation at a time. I’m your host, Maria Almeida.

Rafaela Cortez: And I’m Rafaela Cortez.

Maria Almeida: This episode was produced by Rafaela and myself, and it was scored and mixed by Bernardo Afonso.

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