2 Minutes With … Mario Naric, Founder and CEO of Motif Labs

On how strong operators are rising to the top

Mario is an an engineer, consultant, entrepreneur and creative pro. He currently serves as founder and chief executive officer of Motif Labs.

We spent two minutes with Mario to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations and recent work he's admired.

Mario, tell us …

Where you grew up, and where you live now.  

I was born in Bosnia during its war in the '90s, and my family moved to Canada when I was five. I grew up in London, Ontario, but lived in Toronto and other cities before returning to London six years ago, when I founded Motif Labs. My wife and I live in London today.   

How you first got interested in cannabis.  

I'm a chemical engineer by training and started my career in the oil and gas business. A friend sent me a pitch deck of one of Canada's first cannabis LPs back in 2016. The deck explained the legislative updates being made and caught my attention. I worked at Imperial Oil at the time but was actively looking for an entrepreneurial endeavor. As I learned more about cannabis, I realized that extraction and cannabis 2.0 products were right up my alley. So, I took the plunge and started crafting the business model. 

One of your favorite projects you've ever worked on.

Our new vape line, Rizzlers, stands out from a sea of generic 510 cartridges and offers a customized and eye-catching closed-loop pod design that pulls from '90s nostalgia for the skater scene. But it has also been modernized to appeal to adult users who came of age after cannabis became legal. Rizzlers was launched with a lot more process, data and structure than our best-selling brand, BOXHOT, which is Canada’s no.1 vape product. Rizzlers benefited from the lessons we learned with BOXHOT.

A recent project you're proud of.

We are very proud of the commercialization of our large-scale THCA (also known as "diamond") hydrocarbon process. It was great to have departments—marketing, innovation, creative, operations, safety—come together to commercialize something so novel and technically difficult. Diamonds are the pinnacle of cannabis extraction tech. You cannot make a purer form of THC, and we are making 99 percent+ THCA, which is great. It has led to so much innovation with our vapes and infused pre-rolls.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today, and how to approach it.  

Motif has quite a few irons in the fire to ensure we're not overly dependent on any single product line. But we have found that if we focus purposefully, we can accomplish more growth with fewer SKUs at a higher margin. There isn't an unlimited set of resources, so we are constantly reprioritizing. The way we approach this challenge is by harnessing the data and watching for indicators that flavors, SKUs, product lines or brands are working or not working. We adapt our next move based on that data. 

One thing about how the cannabis industry is evolving that you're excited about.  

The speculation part of the cannabis rollout is over, and the egregious spending part is almost over, too, which allows strong operators to rise to the top. This is making it easier to understand who to do business with and who to avoid. This is exciting because we do not run a business from speculation; we run it from data, and we appreciate working with others who take running a profitable business seriously. There is a lot to be excited about in the cannabis industry maturing and becoming more reputable. I think it will bring back the excitement that's been missing. We've endured a lot of doom and gloom and look forward to that period ending. 

Someone else's work, in cannabis or beyond, that you admired lately.  

U.K.-based street photographer Sean Tucker. I like his approach of using a single point-and-shoot camera with minimal editing. I admire that he focuses more on using light and story to capture strong photos vs. having 50 lenses and spending hours editing. That method makes the craft of photography a lot more enjoyable and allows me to disconnect from running a business. I also think it's easy to overcomplicate any product, whether it's a photo or brand. You must really, deeply know who your audience is and why they respond to your product, and then double down on that. Tucker is very successful, and I think it's because of his attention to what he's shooting rather than his gear or editing skills. I respect that. 

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring. 

I recently listened to Dark Matter on Audible. It focuses on parallel universes and contemplates the many forks in the road that brought you to the moment you're currently in. There are infinite ways that reality can play out. My current reality happens to be busy and overwhelming at times, but also so surreal and incredible. I am living my dream, but that often gets buried in the vastness of running a large company. It was a good reminder to appreciate the present and appreciate that there is no "end point." Life is a series of decisions, and you are where you're supposed to be, right now. 

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.  

I used to play guitar and I'm getting more involved in it again. Lately, I've been enjoying Mateus Asato. He pushed electric guitar forward since the last time I was obsessed with it in high school. He has developed his own style, which is very current and highly technical, but also very melodic. 

Your favorite fictional character.  

June Osborne from The Handmaid's Tale. Her ability to handle and compartmentalize adversity and her will to win and survive are inspiring. 

Someone worth following in social media.

Banksy. He breaks the rules, deals in surprise, changes the way people perceive their surroundings.

Your main strength as a marketer/creative.  

I've always been attuned to when a product, a space, an image feels "right" and hits what I am looking for. I like to understand what it is that's hitting the spot. What combination of features resonates with me? By being hyper-aware of that, I can put myself in other people's shoes to understand what combination of features would resonate with them. Being able to get into the head of the consumer—through intuition, process and data—is my biggest strength and allows me to come up with concepts that resonate at scale. 

Your biggest weakness.  

I was officially diagnosed with ADHD this year, which is no surprise if you ask anyone who knows me. I always have millions of ideas in my head, and it's hard for me not to want to do everything all at once. I'm constantly working on building processes and a team that allow me to turn my ideas into winning bets. Depending on how we view things, our weaknesses can often be our greatest strengths, and this is certainly true for me. 

Something people would find surprising about you.  

I enjoy creative outlets more than engineering outlets. If you look at my LinkedIn, you'll see the defining terms "engineer," "consultant" and "entrepreneur." And if you meet me in a business setting, you'll probably find me focused and intense. I am happiest innovating concepts, creating products, playing and listening to music. But It my core, being creative is where I'm supposed to be.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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