Friday was April 20, the unofficial cannabis culture holiday. As marijuana gains broader legal status each year (recreational use is currently legal in nine U.S. states plus the District of Columbia; medical marijuana is legal in another 29 states), the cannabis industry is poised for massive growth. Market research shows that North American sales are expected to leap from $9.2 billion in 2017 to close to $50 billion ten years from now.
These two entrepreneurs have found their passion and purpose in building canna-businesses. Here, they share their secrets for success.
Karson Humiston is the founder and CEO of Vangst Talent Network, the cannabis industry’s leading recruiting resource. She started the company in 2015, after attending a cannabis trade show where she recognized the huge need marijuana companies had for employees in every position: chemical engineers, botanists, marketing managers, outside sales representatives, accountants, retail store managers, and so on.
Today, Vangst has 31 employees and hundreds of clients. The company has helped thousands of people around the country find jobs in the cannabis industry. From a revenue standpoint, Vangst grew 567% between 2016 and 2017 and is on track for an even larger growth increase between 2017 and 2018. The company recently closed a $2.5M round of funding from Lerer Hippeau and Casa Verde, and Humiston herself was included on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.
“I definitely stumbled into what has become my purpose in life: helping others find careers they’re super excited about,” says Humiston. “The average person will spend over 90,000 hours at work (over a third of their life), yet 72% of people aren’t happy or inspired by their career! At Vangst, our goal is to help people land and thrive in their dream job.”
Humiston offers these tips for succeeding in the cannabis industry:
1. Stay focused. There are tons of opportunities in the cannabis industry right now and it’s easy to attempt to go in a million directions. The more focused you are on the course you set out to achieve, the more successful you will be.
2. Hire great people. Entrepreneurs and their ideas are only as good as the people they can get on board to execute. Successful execution requires a great team.
To other young people looking to find their life purpose, Humiston recommends having as many experiences as possible, ideally ones that take you out of your comfort zone. “Whether it is internships, jobs, volunteer work, travel, school, or other experiences, being young is the perfect time to experiment and find something that you’re inspired by and passionate about.”
Jonathan Barlow is Senior Partner at the Cannabis Practice Group, a Detroit-based consulting firm in the cannabis business marketplace. In 2017, CPG successfully led the voter referendum, which passed by nearly 60%, that got the city of Detroit to opt into Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Facilities and Licensing Act (MMFLA).
Barlow comes from a background of over 15 years as a community organizer, in addition to working as a graphic designer and web developer. He is driven to work in the cannabis industry based on his belief that it can lead to economic access and equality for low-income neighborhoods. “My generation has the opportunity to build new forms of wealth that diverse communities have never seen. I believe in the healing and medicinal aspects of cannabis, as well as the socio-economic benefits.”
Urban communities can benefit from the legalization of cannabis, as taxes from the sales of marijuana often go to the public school system. “In 2018, if we are able to get the state of Michigan to pass full legalization, the Detroit public school system could benefit from $40 million or more in marijuana taxes to fund our struggling schools,” says Barlow. “We are also teaching minorities about the entrepreneurial benefits of entering the canna-business and how to benefit from this green rush. We have helped several minority business owners open dispensaries by consulting with them and providing training, legal representation, and other services. This is a huge economic opportunity for the city of Detroit and other urban environments.”
As a student-athlete in his youth, Barlow says he was misinformed about the medicinal benefits of cannabis. After witnessing both his mother and grandmother use marijuana to cope with chemotherapy during breast cancer battles, and then friends with MS and fibromyalgia find marijuana a safe alternative to opioids, Barlow felt inspired to move the cannabis industry forward. “My life purpose is to bring joy and prosperity to both patients and communities in general.”
Barlow offers these tips for succeeding in the cannabis industry:
1. Compliance is mandatory. You can’t escape the regulatory, tax, and legal requirements operating in this space. If you don’t have the discipline to follow a strict regime of self-auditing your business to stay ahead of compliance rules, then hire a team who can help. Otherwise, don’t go into this business.
2. Build your personal financial capacity or get with a team of investors. The minimum investment range for a startup canna-business is from $750,000 for retrofitting an existing retail store into a provisioning center to $12.5 million for a newly constructed cultivation facility. This includes licensing, permits, facility compliance, staffing, technology, security systems, HR systems, legal, tax and general operational compliance. You need the mandatory capital to provide an opportunity for success and meet the compliance and regulatory standards of your operating state.
3. Be a good neighbor. Cannabis has its positive and negative perceptions. Integrate into your business plan community benefits programming and support of community development activities. Support the community and collect data on your positive impacts in the areas of hiring, taxes paid, property value increases, and other data that demonstrate your contributions.
Although he believes in finding your life purpose, Barlow advises young people not to “follow the latest trends but do what you’re good at. Stay spiritually grounded. Also, don’t try to do it on your own, but find mentors to give you the discipline and realistic timelines for your projects.”