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Top 3 Key Takeaways from NCIA Seed-to-Sale 2019

After last week's 3rd Annual NCIA Seed-to-Sale Conference, here's a look at the top three takeaways from the event.

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NCIA Seed to Sale 2019 is in the books. The National Cannabis Industry Association, one of the premier cannabis industry organizations in the world, hosted its annual show focusing on evolving legislation, with exhibitors offering a wide array of services from soil to legal services to lighting to leadership recruiting and more.

The show offered three different themed tracks to help attendees focus on the most relevant panel sessions; most of the sessions I attended focused on the “Elevating Your Cannabis Business’ track.

With the wide array of questions, topics, and presenters, one theme boiled to the top for me… people.

It might be what I’m tuned into because of my professional history, but it was refreshing to hear executives from the top ancillary and plant-touching cannabis businesses in the world come back to the continued themes of people operations, empowering team members, acquiring and retaining top talent, and the fact that their business success sits squarely on the shoulders of their team members.

Here are my top takeaways from NCIA Seed to Sale 2019:

1. Cannabis Retail Driving Consumer Education

The show kicked off on a rather controversial note with Adam Bierman, CEO of MedMen, leading the keynote discussion with Seth Adler discussing business opportunities in the growing legalization of cannabis and how the community can re-define society's relationship with the plant. Adam is a visionary for the industry and champion of professional standards.

“We look at Whole Foods, when we talk about there being a high likelihood this is the first time someone is walking into one of our stores. I remember growing up, where if you wanted hemp oil, you would have to go to a health food store. You didn’t buy your hemp oil, your coconut water and you certainly didn’t have your almond milk. And then Whole Foods came around, and said, ‘This is a healthier way to live. We understand the stigma around it, so we’re going to make it feel main stream. We’re going to invest heavily in the people in our store because they are the shepherds into tomorrow.” Adam Bierman

And for some in the industry, part of driving forward innovation means having the most compliant and customer-centric processes possible. Leah Heise, CXO at 4Front, speaks to the growth in the industry and the responsibility to provide the safest and compliant products because, “If we want to usher in a new age in the (cannabis) industry, we have to be better than all other industries.”

2. Data-Driven Organizations Will Prevail

From the exhibit floor to the panel discussion, there were many discussions being had regarding data aggregation and leveraging the information already being collected to help your business prevail in what is becoming an increasingly competitive field of players.

From elevating customer service to better understanding the future of product innovation, to increasing labor efficiency, productivity, and retention, to simply making sense of large amount of unused business data… advanced analytics are a valuable tool for operators and ancillary business to compete and win in the growing global cannabis industry.

This focus on data held consistent from inventory tracking all the way to people operations. Gary Cohen, CEO of Cova Software, asked the audience "What is your organization doing to capture and make sense customer satisfaction data?"

Seemingly, nearly all industry professionals are familiar with leveraging business intelligence data, but only a very small portion of businesses are using data to generate more accurate results in customer experience, sales and operations.

Christine Hodgdon, Director of Human Resources at Native Roots talked about how this practice has helped their organization grow from one location in 2009 to over twenty-one locations today: “We view our people AND data as our most important resources. We capture people data to help make better decisions and we use that to analyze the ROI of our in-store experience.”

Emily Paxhia, Managing Director at Poseidon Asset Management, notes: “When evaluating companies, we examine key metrics around customer attraction, retention, and lifetime value in order to make better investment decisions".

3. “Invest in Your People, Invest in the Systems”

While offering advice to companies entering and scaling in the cannabis industry, Dina Rollman, Chief Compliance Officer at Green Thumb Industries (GTI), recommended that in order to succeed in this space, leaders should, “Invest in your people, invest in the systems.” She goes on to detail how well-documented systems and processes are an organization's best defense against compliance-related errors. An organization is only as good as its people, but people are also an organization's biggest risk.

When consequences are dire, investing in the systems, protocols, and SOPs, and ensuring that all employees have instant access to those resources, are mission-critical initiatives.

Attracting top talent, hiring the best cultural fits for your organization, training employees with comprehensive industry knowledge, and retaining your top performers should be top priorities for serious cannabis industry leaders. Mike Dundas, CEO of Sira Naturals attributes much of his personal and professional success to having made the right hires from day one.

If you want to succeed in this industry, “Aim for would class people,” said Dundas.

Going Forward

Sure, having spent most of my career working in HR technology for large, decentralized workforces, I may be bias to the narrative of successful organizations requiring strong investment in people operations. However this past week in Boston indicated to me that the cannabis industry's foremost leaders leaders also share my perspective.

Conversations on people management, risk mitigation, and workforce engagement were everywhere, even during panels not explicitly focused on HR and operations. Every one of the executives on the roundtable “Entry to Exit: A Legal and Business Primer for a Thoughtful Entry and Successful Exit in the Cannabis Space,” attributed some degree of their business success to early investment in their people and the systems that helped them to succeed.

Ready to discuss building a customer and data-centric organization and how you can effectively invest in your people and processes? I'm here to talk.

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