Interviews

Jim McAlpine Redefines Cannabis Entrepreneurship

By David Jenison

Jim McAlpine Redefines Cannabis Entrepreneurship

“I was starting forward on my soccer team in high school, I was the starting pitcher on my baseball team, I was always one of the best athletes, and I was always a daily cannabis user,” says Jim McAlpine, founder of 420 Games, Power Plant Gym and the New West Summit. “I broke the stereotype of the lazy stoner.”

McAlpine, a natural born athlete and entrepreneur, combined both talents at a young age launching companies like SnowBomb and a multi-city ski and snowboarding festival. He is also a cannabis enthusiast who once swam between San Francisco and Alcatraz after eating an edible, and three years ago he decided to do something about the lazy stoner stereotype. McAlpine launched 420 Games, a cannabis-themed athletic event held in numerous cities (upcoming events include Boulder, Colorado on October 1 and in Portland, Oregon on October 29). The annual tech-driven New West Summit followed in 2015, and the Power Plant Gym—a cannabis health and wellness center with former NFL star Ricky Williams—opens early next year.

In just a few short years, McAlpine has become a major role model for other entrepreneurs looking at positive opportunities in the cannabis space. PRØHBTD spoke with McAlpine to learn more about his background, business endeavors and recommendations.

Your first big company was SnowBomb in 1997. Tell me about it.

SnowBomb.com was a website to buy lift tickets cheaper and get deals on skiing and snowboarding. After college, I took one year to play around and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I went to Hawaii and became a surf and mountain bike and kayaking instructor. During that year, I decided to do something in the business world that allowed me to follow my passions, like skiing and snowboarding. That's why I went to college in Boulder. I thought, “If I'm going to go to college, I might as well go where I can ski.”

I started my first real career in the ski industry because I wanted to do something I loved doing, and thankfully it stuck. Now I'm doing it again because cannabis has been something I've loved my whole life. It's something that made me a better person and happier in life. I felt like skiing is the same thing, and I was able to make a lifestyle around it. Now I'm doing the same thing with cannabis.

You also started the San Francisco Ski and Snowboarding Festival.

I started with SnowBomb, and then the second piece was the SnowBomb Ski and Snowboard Festivals. They are two separate companies, but I talk about them as the same. It was an [industry] show with booths for ski resorts, Burton, K2 and companies like that. I started doing the festival because the shows in our industry were pretty lame. It's the same impetus that led me to start [the New West Summit] in the cannabis industry. A couple of years back, I was like, "Wow, there are a lot of events out there, and they're all pretty mediocre. Maybe I should come in and do something different.”

What was your first example of entrepreneurship?

In the 4th or 5th grade, I learned how to solve the Rubik's Cube, and nobody else could do it so I started Jim's Rubik Cube Solving Business, or something like that. All the kids would pay me like five bucks, and I would solve their Rubik's Cube. Since then, I've always had my own businesses. It's funny because, after I was successful with SnowBomb, I gave a speech at the Sierra Nevada Entrepreneurship College in Tahoe. I remember saying, "Hey, that guy in your dorm selling weed is an entrepreneur. He's the guy who sees an opportunity and puts himself in the middle of it to provide a service and make money.” The professor looked at me like, "I wish you hadn't just said that," but it is very cool to look back now and see how this underground, illegal activity has become a real business.

What are some comparisons between the ski and cannabis industries from an entrepreneurial perspective?

The ski industry is a group of passionate people who do something because they love it. You're not going to get really rich in the ski industry unless you're one of the very few people lucky enough to own a company. So every year at the SIA [SnowSports Industries America] conference, the motto is, "This is business, act like it." You put about 1,000 ski and snowboard people in a room, and people are getting wasted and throwing up. SIA’s whole thing was, "This is a business conference. Don't act like an idiot." There's a lot more partying at the ski industry than the cannabis industry. There's a degree of professionalism in the cannabis space that's surprising.

What was the creative spark that motivated you to start the 420 Games?

My wife and I watched an episode of Silicon Valley in which Erlich Bachman goes on a vision quest. He’s driving to the desert, and he throws all this acid down his mouth like, "Yeah, this is going to kick in after about two hours,” but then he hits a wall of traffic. He ends up going into this AM/PM bathroom and tripping balls for six hours.

There had been a four-year drought in California, and watching this episode, I literally told my wife, "Baby, I'm going on a vision quest." I bought some top notch cannabis and edibles from my local dispensary, and I went to Tahoe. There I saw an episode of VICE about the Green Rush in Colorado, and I thought, “I’m an event producer, an athlete and I love marijuana.” It just organically slapped me across the face. I can do what I’ve done my whole life, but instead of making ski events, I can do cannabis events and teach.

I started skiing at 21 so there was this fire in me to teach the world that skiing is cool. Now there's this fire in me to teach people to consider cannabis. I’m not a pusher, and I don't think everyone should use it, but don't not use it for the wrong reasons.

Tell me about 420 Games.

If you were driving by our event, it would look like a 5K or 10k run you could see anywhere. What I’m excited about as the proprietor is not the financial success that's going to come, but rather the change it's going to create in places that need it. It was hard to start this event in California and Oregon and Colorado, so it would've been impossible to start it in Arkansas or Texas, but next year we're headed to Texas, Arkansas and New York. That's where athleticism will move the needle. In this era of bullshit blah blah blahing, I don't even listen. When we go to these states that won’t listen to words, athleticism is like a picture.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but athleticism is worth a million words. You can't refute Ricky Williams was the best, right? You can't refute Michael Phelps was the fastest man ever in the water or Usain Bolt the fastest man ever on land, and they're both cannabis enthusiasts. There's a [meme] of Michael Phelps with his 12 or 15 gold medals that says, "Winners don't smoke weed, champions do."

Tell me about the Power Plant Gym. Is it still on track to open in November?

We'll probably open in December or January. Like all construction projects, the build-up’s taking a little longer, but yeah, everything is still on track. We have the investors behind it, and it's going really well.

How would you describe the concept, and has it changed since the original announcement?

I don't think it changed much, but the original media perception was a little different than what it is. Power Plant Gym is a place where you can work out, but to me it's a cannabis health and wellness center. We go well beyond working out. We have yoga classes, massage, sound healing, speaker series and we allow consumption on site. We have trainers who can teach you if cannabis is good for your fitness regimen, and if it is, how to implement it. Beyond just building muscle, it's about building your mind and your flexibility and everything else that goes beyond being just an athlete. I want people to understand that it's a fitness and wellness center, not just a gym where you can smoke marijuana.

Let's say I'm an entrepreneur who was never in the cannabis industry, what do I need to know if I want to get involved?

There are two things I would say to any talented, smart person looking in from the outside. Number one, it's definitely not too late. We're still in the beginning stages, and there's so much to be worked out. If you're a true professional who wants to put in the time and effort to do something prolific, it's not too late to get involved from the ground floor up. Number two, do your homework. It's changing, but there are unfortunately a lot of sketchy people in this industry still. If you don't vet out who you're working with, you can get burned or associate with the wrong people.

When was the first time you ever smoked?

The first time I tried marijuana was my freshman year of high school. A friend of mine had an older brother, and when he was out, we went into his room and stole one of his joints. I didn’t feel it that much, but then I tried it again pretty quickly after, and I figured out it was something I enjoyed. As I look back, I was definitely not a stoner, I was an athlete who used cannabis. From that time, 30-whatever-years ago to now, that's the same message I'm pushing. I had this idea for the world's first marijuana gym when I was 18 years old. I remember vividly talking about it to my friends, lifting weights and smoking weed in my parents' garage when I was 18.

How does your entrepreneur side interact with your competitive side as an athlete?

I'm not competitive anymore. The cool thing about getting old is that your ego starts to go away. Twenty years ago I wanted to be the fastest guy and the coolest guy, but I'm a dad now. I'm not looking to inspire athletes to drop a second off their time, I'm trying to inspire the guy who’s sitting on the couch to get up and start walking. From the gym to the 420 Games, I want to proliferate the idea that you win just by doing something active.

With several businesses already, is there another one on the horizon?

No, because of my wife, and thank God I have her. I have a million other ideas, and what I've learned right now is that the most important thing is my family. I miss them so immensely. Even sitting here right now, I can't wait to look at my phone and see a picture of my girls.

If I’m a father or mother wanting to break into the industry, how do I explain it to my kids?

Straight up be honest. The biggest disservice to children regarding cannabis is hiding it and talking about it in a whisper. I've never lied about cannabis to my daughters. I intentionally don't smoke or drink in front of them, but I've never lied about it. If I'm going to use the word marijuana, I say it the same way and in the exact same tone as everything else. The short answer is just talk about it in an honest, real and straightforward way.

David Jenison (david@prohbtd.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. 420 Games photos by Larry Gassan and Josh Fogel.

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