A lesson most of us are taught as we grow up is that we can’t have it both ways. In other words, if you live a life of leisure, don’t expect to get rich; if you expect to be taken seriously, don’t lie (unless you’re a Trump); if you strive for good health, don’t live on doughnuts and junk food.
I know this is simplifying things, but you get the picture: Life is about choices and trade-offs.
In the cannabis industry, I regularly run into folks who want to have their cake and eat it too. I’ve met many people who were shocked that their grand vision of “green riches” involved a lot more work than they anticipated, a lot more complexity than they like dealing with and a lot more challenges in the never-ending search for quality employees to replace cousin “Buzz,” who regularly showed up for work late and stoned, if at all.
Business is serious stuff, and the cannabis industry is no different from any other — whether you’re running a fast food restaurant, operating a landscaping company or founding a giant enterprise like Microsoft. Winning, and the rewards that come with it — whatever they may be — go to the best prepared and most determined. Entrepreneurs who do their homework, study the landscape and put in lots of sweat equity rise to the top. It’s that simple.
Washington state has seen its share of winners and losers in the cannabis industry. In the six years we’ve been publishing Marijuana Venture, I know of no successful folks that made it without some pain and suffering, reevaluation of their strategies and putting in long hours.
I recently spent the afternoon with Robert McKinley, the CEO of Grow Op Farms, a business he co-founded with his wife, Katrina. Grow Op is the No. 1 producer/processor in Washington (and quite possibly, the most successful privately owned cannabis cultivation business in the United States). Its revenues now run north of $50 million annually, and profits are consistent. While I anticipated seeing a tight operation and a well-run facility, I didn’t expect to hear Robert ruminate about his past business experience during our casual lunch conversation. He’s not one to toot his own horn, but he nonetheless discussed his work history. It turns out he has a more or less continuous string of successes: He launched an early internet marketing company, a real estate tech company and, for the past few years, has put in long hours making Grow Op’s Phat Panda flower brand the No. 1 seller in the state. It might make a better read to attribute his success to a special “strain,” a celebrity brand or an insider’s edge, but that would be misleading. As far as I can tell, his ascent to the top is based on simple stuff: Hard work, great products, good management and all the same basics that made Bill Gates and Microsoft the world’s No. 1 software company and Ray Kroc a huge success at McDonald’s.
In short, there is no magic to this business and no easy way to the top.
Winning at American-style capitalism invariably comes down to the same thing: Hard work!