A Veteran CPG Executive on Building a Cannabis Brand

The cannabis business has been exponentially growing in the last few years — just look to the proliferation of dispensaries, and growing acceptance across state lines. But thanks likely in part to stress and stay-at-home orders, 2020 was a big year for the bud. According to a BDSA report, sales of legal cannabis in the U.S. hit $17.5 billion last year, a nearly 50% increase from 2019. And it’s projected to jump to more than $40 billion by 2026 as more and more states legalize cannabis overall or add adult use programs to existing medical ones.

That means standing out in the market is all the more important. Businesses can follow some parts of the consumer product playbook, but with wildly different rules and regulations from state to state, bringing a cannabis product to market is anything but traditional. That’s what InterimExecs RED Team executive, Leah Bailey — Chief Business Development Officer at Australis Capital Inc. an early stage, brand focused MSO that was originally an offshoot of Canadian LP Aurora and former CEO of Fluresh, a vertically integrated cannabis company based in Michigan — experienced when she made the pivot to cannabis.

“I’d worked for many years in consumer products and was looking to find new challenges and learn a new industry,” says Bailey, whose resume includes mass market personal care and beauty product providers Helen of Troy, Paris Presents and Unilever. “I love the fact that everything we do is a challenge. Many people are coming out of traditional consumer products companies like PepsiCo and Kraft and going into cannabis from a marketing standpoint. It’s become very accepted.”

What is the key to starting and growing a cannabis business? Here, Bailey explains how to translate traditional CPG skills to a cannabis brand, understanding consumers without traditional market research, and what the future holds for the industry.

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CFO Leads Cannabis Company to IPO

The global market for legal marijuana is valued at $17.7 billion as of 2019, and Grand View Research says that number is expected to rise to $73.6 billion by 2027. A quickly evolving market, more interim and project-based executives are being called on to lead the charge.

U.S. legal marijuana market

Jon Paul started his career at Arthur Anderson in the seventies then moved to multiple Chief Financial Officer positions, before getting on the cannabis bus in 2018 when he was recruited to take San Francisco-based gummies company, Plus Products, public.

Cannabis industry newsletter Grown In interviewed Jon Paul about the challenges involved in taking a company to a listing on the Canadian Stock Exchange. 

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What Keeps Business Owners Up at Night

The best, truest, and most bleak line I’ve heard from a mega-successful company founder was Dave Becker telling me: “we have all had the sleepless nights, when it’s 2am and you’re staring at the ceiling.” Dave is the founder of a number of companies including First Internet Bancorp (Nasdaq: INBK), the granddaddy of online banking.

From the outside, we see a successful entrepreneur with multiple home runs and think they must be sitting on easy street. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer is: everything. It always appears easy or obvious once a company has made it, but what we often don’t hear about are the trials and tribulations that happen at every stage of a company’s growth from young and unknown, to in between, and then big and ambitious. The sleepless nights. The questions of can you make payroll. The we-almost-went-bankrupt moments. This is real and it’s no surprise that many of our inquiries for help from owners show up in our inbox after the 9-5 employees have gone home.

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Everyone knows the U.S. healthcare delivery system is sick, and cost increases unsustainable. Difficult reforms are underway, piecemeal and painful.

Many experts have taken a swing at the U.S. healthcare behemoth. Who is powerful enough to take the problem on? Probably not government, probably not hospital groups, and probably not insurance companies, according to Ron Hammerle, an interim executive specializing in the healthcare field.

The solution to healthcare, Hammerle argues, involves large U.S. retailers, including those who might run the local supermarket. Still a minority viewpoint at this point, but Hammerle said it is rapidly catching on.

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A manufacturing renewal is quietly developing in the United States. The US is re-emerging as a best value manufacturing nation and is now very competitive with low labor cost countries.

Verto Partners LLC, a performance improvement firm serving the middle market as advisors to management, as interim management or in Board of Directors roles, has been tracking this “re-birth” and compiling information regarding emerging trends that currently support and will enable US manufacturing growth to accelerate in the coming decade. Any Company considering its own plans for manufacturing and/or sourcing manufactured components outside of the US should reconsider those plans in light of this developing trend. Furthermore, any non-US company considering manufacturing for the American market should consider investing in the United States.

(This article was co-written with Lance Wimmer.)

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