This is the first in an occasional series where StarterStudio mentors and staff sit down (virtually and otherwise) and talk with founders of tech-enabled businesses in Central Florida about the challenges–and successes–of starting up.
In November 2021, we chatted up Eddy Mazarredo, who participated in StarterStudio’s Build Stage Accelerator in May – July of 2021. Build stage is for companies that are beyond the ideation phase of a startup, have a product or services to sell, and have real sales from customers. They are looking to grow and need guidance on creating and managing growth and how to scale. Eddy has an apparel and swag business focused on the cannabis culture, as well as a tech spinoff for content generation and management. Eddy spoke to us on November 8, 2021. This is an edited transcription of that chat.
SS: Pardon me, but I’ve got to start with the obvious, you run a business that revolves around cannabis. What’s that about?
Eddy: Saying cannabis in the professional world people still frown upon it for some reason, you know, but it’s a full-fledged industry. I get offers now from local universities that show up on my Facebook or social media feeds saying they offer classes on cultivating or marketing or legal aspects of the industry. It’s an industry now, you know, and it’s here. Florida is now the third largest growing market in the country in terms of the cannabis space.
SS: Eddy, you were a part of our Build Stage Accelerator #2 in 2021. You were a different kind of candidate than we usually see. You already had a successful branded cannabis apparel and swag business and were selling online. There are aspects of what you were doing that might be called a “stealth brand.”
Eddy: Back in 2011, when I created Orlando State as a cannabis lifestyle brand and digital publication, we had a lot of success in the merchandising space. See, Orlando State was born because in 2011ish, 10 years ago, you couldn’t really openly come out and say I support the cannabis product. Right? It had to be discreet, you had to have a discreet aspect to it.
So, I think that being Orlando State, because Orlando is not a state and as a college, it doesn’t exist . . . that created that forward momentum for the brand itself to really take off. What I’m saying is that creates the intrigue aspect of it and then sales started to fuel itself.
SS: So, the Orlando State brand was humming along, and as part of the development of your company you started building some tools to help you generate and manage the content you were developing. Tell us more about that.
Eddy: I got involved in promoting the Orlando State brand through social media. And in doing so I found that it was extremely time consuming to do all the work that I needed to do when I create any content online.
That included who was I going to tag, what locations, if I was partnering with anybody, etc.
I created my own little dashboard. And that’s what I originally called dynaBOOST Technology. It was my own personal tool that basically told me which were the hot hashtags that were applicable to my brand. And they were applicable to my size of an organization and who I was trying to reach. I started using this tool when I was doing any kind of social media postings, just to make my life easier. And to make my posts a lot more meaningful and a lot more engaging for our users.
SS: So, at that point in time things kind of morphed, right? Instead of one company you have two. And you started to research accelerators to prepare you more for growth and you found StarterStudio and the Build Stage Accelerator.
What do you think compelled you to go ahead and apply for the Build Stage? Was there something in particular that drove you towards that decision?
Eddy: Well, you know, when I met with Lilian [Executive Director of StarterStudio] I really liked her, her character, and her ability to connect with me. She really showed a lot more interest in the technology side, you know, and I think for a while there being that I’ve been a technology-driven guy, you know, been a software programmer for 25 years, it kind of just made sense to really kind of explore more the tech side of things, you know.
I was really well established with Orlando State. And I was marketing myself and the business extremely well. But at the same time, I had to learn, and really get dynaBOOST up to par with the other participants in the cohort so that I could at least be in their space.
And I felt that I was far behind where other people were with dynaBOOST, but equivalent to where they were with Orlando State, right?
SS: Can you expand more on your journey in the accelerator?
Eddy: I learned so much from Lilian in those early days. And I really did see that, you know, how can I gain this knowledge that she had about technology and what the whole Build Stage was about, because my whole life, I’ve been building these kinds of applications, but I just used them for myself, and I never really thought of monetizing them, or I didn’t even know how to monetize them.
SS: Did you have other mentors that you relied on in the Build Stage?
Eddy: Everyone. Everyone that’s been part of the program there. You know, I’m always the one, I could talk for hours. But I always like to say that if you see me, the talkative guy being quiet, it’s usually because I’m listening. My mom taught me to listen a lot more than talking, you know? More knowledge that way.
SS: As an entrepreneur, what do you think the key gains, or the benefits were for you in participating in the cohort?
Eddy: Number one, obviously, is networking. You’re talking to other people, and they’re going through the same struggles as you are, because I wake up probably, the feelings that I feel, as you know, the emotional side of being a startup every day, you wake up and you’re like, why am I doing this? I could be at the beach today, you know.
SS: Were their other aspects of the program that were especially helpful–or challenging?
Eddy: To make sure I was as sharp as I could be, whenever we did any of the pitches, I was up till three or four o’clock in the morning preparing the speeches. I’m saying I like to be prepared, I like to come in and hit it. You know what I mean? I like to be as best prepared for every situation as I can. And StarterStudio had the tools. Not just the knowledge that you shared, but also all the tools that you presented.
All the customer grids or the customer competition grids, I didn’t know where to get any of that stuff. Because if you understand this, then you start getting into that conversational piece, when you’re talking to, whether it be somebody that you’re trying to bring in as a founder or somebody you’re trying to talk to as an angel or an investor, you kind of know what you’re talking about with your own business, right?
You got to know those key factors that they’re looking for, right? Like, what’s your growth rate? What’s your burn rate, right? Things like this, that I didn’t even think about before, right? But, if you don’t have the tools from StarterStudio, in my opinion, it doesn’t, I don’t think it’s gonna really propel you to the next level of the business.
SS: Any final thoughts?
Eddy: I want to not only be known as Eddy from Orlando State and dynaBOOST, I want to be known for going to every event to support, to help to mentor, to share, to collaborate to bring things together. Because one of the things that irks me is I’m a very competitive person. I hear that Miami is like becoming the tech stuff, the tech hub of place, and I don’t believe it. I want Orlando to be that space.
And I’ll do whatever it takes to put us in the number one spot.
About Orlando State – home of the Good TimeZ: As a true local Orlando original brand, founded in 2011, Orlando State represents everything groovy about collegiate apparel & higher ed. Thus evolving – the hipster collegiate brand. At its inception, itZ slogan was “the highest institution in the land” and to some original supporters of the brand, it still iZ (and yes, we fully support the legalization, regulation of the plant). We exclusively support the local culture – food, arts, & music / local entertainment.