If you look up the terms “hustle” and “drive” in the dictionary, you will likely see a picture of GreenBroz, Inc. founder and CEO Cullen Raichart.
A mechanical engineer by trade, Cullen Raichart left his cushy and lucrative chief engineer position at Hewlett Packard in 2013 to focus on growing his cannabis-harvesting equipment business.
In retrospect, the career pivot was a tremendous business decision. GreenBroz has become the industry leader in automated harvesting equipment in just over seven years since the company’s inception. But at the time, it was a gigantic leap of faith for the Bloomington, Indiana native — one that caused himself to wonder if he had made the correct decision.
“I didn’t lose faith, but there were certainly moments,” said Raichart. “During the build-up, you see all of this potential. You’re working, working, working and no one else sees it, agrees with it or buys into it, and you start questioning it yourself. And there comes this moment when you have to decide if you even believe this.”
Raichart’s road to success was anything but linear.
In 2012, he invented his first piece of cannabis-harvesting equipment — a kief-extracting tumbler that has since been redeveloped into the company’s immensely popular Alchemist 420 machine — after watching a friend struggle to sift trichomes through a silk screen.
The device worked so well that Raichart automatically assumed it would be his golden ticket into the industry. Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case — at least, not immediately.
“I was naive enough at the time to think that all you needed was one invention that people want and you’re suddenly set for life,” said Raichart. “So, I went to a trade show and it garnered some interest, but at that time in the industry there was a real big push on chemical extractions, like wax and shatter.
“Kief wasn’t even considered to be a viable product. I was trying to sell the machine at the show at a ridiculously low price — like $2500 per unit — which was barely more than it was costing me to make it. And we still didn’t sell anything.”
So Raichart packed his tumblers into a trailer, hitched it to the back of his white Ford Bronco — just like O.J.’s! — and drove up the California coast to the Emerald Triangle, where the vast majority of the United States’ cannabis is grown and produced. After getting rejected by over a dozen of the area’s hydroponic and equipment retailers, Raichart stumbled upon Trim Scene Solutions in Humboldt County, which specializes in selling industrial growing, harvesting and extraction equipment to local farmers and cannabis producers.
At first, the manager at Trim Scene Solutions was reluctant to buy even a single tumbler, but eventually agreed to take two on consignment. As Raichart was driving home to San Diego, the manager called him to say that the store had already sold both machines and required another eight units as soon as possible.
Raichart returned to Trim Scene Solutions a few weeks later with the machines. During his visit, he was shown a piece of cannabis trimming equipment called the Mean Green Trimming Machine that had been selling in the store like hotcakes. Raichart inspected the equipment and promised the manager that he would return three weeks later with a more efficient device that he would design and build himself. The former Navy E4 Petty officer spent the next month building a trimmer prototype out of spare parts, stainless steel blades that looked like “Ruffles chips” and scrap sandwich board plastics so yellow and red they would have made Ronald McDonald blush. As promised, Raichart returned to Trim Scene Solutions with the device, and the owner was so impressed with it that he ordered 20 units on the spot.
(GreenBroz Alchemist 215 Trimmer)
The 50-year-old knew that even though he had created an incredible product, he would still need investment capital to help fund the production of more machines. Raichart did an online pitch for The Arcview Group, an Oakland-based cannabis investment and market research company, and they were so intrigued by his products and passion for the industry that they invited him out to Boston to present at a cannabis trade show. Having thrown all of his resources into the development of his machinery, Raichart had to borrow $3500 from his friend’s mother to pay for both the airfare and the booth at the convention.
Raichart was unable to secure any funding at the expo but he made such a positive impression there that The Arcview Group gave him a free booth at an upcoming convention in Denver. It was at this second convention that Raichart’s luck finally started to turn. While waiting to present to a crowd of investors, he called Trim Scene Solutions to ask why they hadn’t ordered more trimming machines after their initial order. He was told that the machines were not large enough to facilitate the heavy-duty demands of local farmers and producers, but was promised a $100,000 purchase order if he could increase the size and output potential of the equipment. Brimming with confidence, Raichart took the stage at the convention moments later and delivered a short presentation that brought the house down.
"I crushed that elevator pitch; you could feel the energy in the crowd,” said Raichart. “As I was walking off the stage, an investor handed me his business card and told me that he wanted to have dinner. An hour later, I received two text messages from other investors and business executives expressing their interest.”
Raichart walked away from the conference with $150,000 in funding, and then returned to his home in San Diego to get started on production. Thanks to that funding, the company was able to ratchet its production and complete $360,000 in sales in 2014. This was a significant improvement from the previous year’s sales of $65,000. Sales then skyrocketed nearly tenfold in 2015 to $3.7 million before increasing by another million dollars in each of the two following years. Raichart expects that upward trend to continue in 2018.
GreenBroz now operates and manufacturers its entire product line out of a 14,000 square foot facility in San Diego — a far cry from the company’s early days.
“It’s gone from me in my garage to 60 employees with an engineering staff of four, a media director and a national sales director,” said Raichart. “We went from nothing to a legitimate, bonafide entity in less than a decade.”
(Raichart motivating employees during a staff meeting)