Brothers Andrew and Martin Wesley spent 25 years working in different startups in Silicon Valley prior to entering the cannabis industry. I spoke with Martin last Thursday, and he credits their experience in the startup industry as one of the reasons CoCo Farms has been able to grow and expand since their beginnings in 2018.
“When you’re working in startups, you’re always kind of hand to mouth. You’re never well funded. But you have to figure out a way to make it work, right?” Martin reflected.
Just before CoCo Farms started, Martin was living in Rio Vista and was weighing his options in regards to what industry to transition to. At first he and his brother considered getting into the agriculture business, then oyster mushrooms, and later livestock. He and his brother eventually decided on cannabis after learning of a cannabis ordinance that was pending approval. From there, the rest is history.
To start Rio Vista Farms, they had to raise the capital. To do that, they relied on a network of family and friends as key investors.
“We raised about a million and a quarter or so in equity invested. So we had our friends and family invested. They’re putting in $5,000; we had some other people put in, you know, $10,000 or $15000, or $75,000. But we got to about one and a quarter million that enabled us to get Rio Vista farms open.” Martin reflected.
The idea of CoCo Farms came up in May of 2017, and they opened in Rio Vista in June of 2018. By analyzing customer data, Martin and Andrew found that many of their customers lived in Antioch, Brentwood, Pittsburg and Oakley.
Recognizing their residence in CoCo Farms, Antioch’s economic development department eventually contacted them and shared that they wanted them to be the face of cannabis in their city.
“We made the decision, this is actually a good life lesson I think for anyone that’s building a business, is that I came to the conclusion that if we don’t cannibalize ourselves in Rio Vista by opening in Antioch, somebody else is going to do it.” Martin shared.
From there, Christmas of 2019, CoCo Farms opened their second location in Antioch. To this day, the Antioch location is one of their busiest locations.
Shortly after the launch of their second location, CoCo Farms took over two failing dispensaries. Del Ray Farms was started in Del Ray Oaks, and Valley Farms was started in Salinas.
After launching four successful micro cannabis businesses, CoCo Farms began to face their first set of challenges both from competitors and bureaucracy when they aimed to start VTown Farms in Vallejo.
When asked about why opening VTown Farms was so challenging, Martin shared, “It was delay after delay. It was a massive cash burn for the business. It definitely hampered the business because we were putting guards because there was a problem with looters and property damage, and stripping out copper wires, plumbing and things like that. So, as we kind of tried to fix the building, we had to have guards there 24/7. So the costs were stacking up. The competition did a really good job of trying to keep this from opening.”
When asked about why the cannabis market in Vallejo is so challenging, Martin admitted, ”It’s going to be a war of attrition and Vallejo.”
VTown Farms is a massive 25,000 square foot site and is already the busiest dispensary in Vallejo after opening in July of 2021. However, Martin and his team continued to set their sites on expansion, and they have a planned location set to open in Concord on June 3. With great support from the city, they are expecting the Concord location to be their highest selling business.
A top priority for CoCo Farms is driving the price down for their consumers.
“That can only be done through verticalization. So basically covering everything from seed to sale, cultivation, all the way through packaged products.”
One of the unique things about CoCo Farms is that they have conducted IPOs, or a Regulation A through their affiliated entity KOLAboration Ventures. However, through it all, Martin Wesely aims for CoCo Farms to prioritize their loyal customers.
“I said, look, we’re gonna go to our customers first for our Reg A, and enable them to get in. Then when we go public, if Wall Street wants to invest they can, but they’re going to want to. I’m not going to pander to bankers and stuff in Wall Street, and enable them to take that financial benefit that I’m trying to offer our customers.”
So CoCo Farms started in 2018, and they have expanded to quite a few businesses since then. Are they considering expanding too fast? Absolutely not, and it’s because of their commitment to California.
Martin confidently declared, “Our goal is to be one of the major players in California from a cannabis perspective. If we end up being the Sierra Nevada or the In-N-Out Burger of California, that’s great. When people come to California, they always want to go to In-N-Out Burger; we all know that. So that’s our role. And if that’s what we end up being, that’s great.”
So what does the future look like for CoCo Farms? More expansion and more name recognition is planned. That includes investing in billboards throughout Northern California, and learning more about their customer base.
CoCo Farms has also connected with the Bay Area hip-hop community. They have collaborated with Bay Area rappers to release EP’s. Vallejo rapper Nef the Pharaoh has also been a key partner in driving attention to VTown Farms by hosting album release and autograph events at their Vallejo location as well.
With humble beginnings, and close family ties, CoCo Farms’ authentic expansion proves to be something to keep an eye on for 2022 and beyond.