Brian Athaide is CFO at the Green Organic Dutchman, a cannabis grower and R&D company based out of Ontario.
What makes your company different from others in the cannabis space?
There are several key differentiating factors that set The Green Organic Dutchman apart. Our CEO Rob Anderson has spent his exceptional career helping startups develop and fund business plans. When developing the vision for TGOD he designed the plan based on all his learnings from across industries - including a couple of other cannabis companies - he and his partners helped.
We are one of the few licensed producers in Canada that grow organically and one of only two that are certified organic. We are well capitalized, having raised approximately $160 million privately from 4,000 retail shareholders prior to our IPO, which increases it to a total of $290 million raised.
We have a notable strategic partner in Aurora Cannabis, who provides significant industry knowledge and expertise in addition to investment. Further, we have derisked both the construction and operating plan for the company. On the construction side, we have established strategic alliance partnerships with Aurora Larssen Projects Inc., Eaton Power, Ledcor Group and Hamilton Utility Corp. to assist with facility development and power optimization. With a combination of production scale, automation and among the lowest power rates in the country, we are well positioned to be a low-cost producer.
We have also derisked the operations by having a strategic supply agreement with Aurora for 20% of our Canadian production and by ensuring we have an experienced and proven management team who can execute with excellence. Our diverse leadership expertise in finance, consumer branding, packaged goods, M&A, financial controls, operations, marketing, cultivation and pharma among others, provides investors with confidence that we can execute on our strategic business plan. TGOD is uniquely positioned to be the international premium organic cannabis company which combined with being a lower-cost producer will provide industry leading margins.
How did you get into the cannabis space?
I started my career with Procter & Gamble Canada and spent 25 years with them, with only 4 years being in Canada. I have lived and worked in 8 different countries, finishing as the Eastern Europe CFO of the multi-billion-dollar business based in Moscow, Russia. My wife and I always wanted to come back to Canada for our children’s high school years, so I left P&G and joined Andrew Peller Limited, the largest publicly traded wine and craft alcohol company in Canada. The wine industry has a lot of similarities to cannabis - having a large agricultural footprint, a product creation process which is part science and part art, and a highly regulated and government-controlled distribution structure. Following the Constellation investment in Canopy, as a leading wine company, many LPs approached our Company to do a partnership, so I started doing my due diligence on the space and learned a lot very quickly. I had not realized the full scope of medical benefits the products can bring. When TGOD approached me, I was intrigued and had to take my diligence to the next level to validate their business and financial model and ensure they were committed to have a team which could deliver. I loved the mission “Making Life Better,” and the unique business plan which would leverage my international packaged goods experience. Perhaps what also helped was patriotic pride as I saw a chance to be a part of a unique opportunity for global disruptive value creation, where Canada has a clear advantage to take the lead.
Walk us through a normal day.
There is no normal day. I live in Niagara Wine Country, so my commute has gone from 6 minutes to over an hour. I usually leave home at 7am and use the commute time to plan my day and focus on where I can add the most value. This industry attracts people who may have a higher risk tolerance but who are also smart, energetic and driven by a mission. We have an exceptional team and I spend most of my day helping unleash them to find ways to build and execute a plan which will make TGOD the global leader in organic cannabis. Recognizing that Canada is only 36 million people, I usually spend a large portion of my time on our international opportunities.
What has been your biggest lesson about working in cannabis, and in business in general?
I have only been in the business for a few months, though with the pace of change each month feels like a year in other industries. The cannabis sector is an incredibly dynamic and rapidly evolving industry, as we have seen with recent M&A activity, continued legislation and international developments. In order to be successful in this sector you need to be able to adapt, properly fund and execute on your business plan. There is an excitement that comes with working in an emerging sector in a country that is arguably at the forefront of a global movement. One of my biggest lessons would be to hire the best and brightest people who can execute on our strategic plan with excellence. We are very focused on building this team.
What do you see as your biggest opportunity?
TGOD’s biggest opportunity is to execute on our business plan to become the global leader in organic cannabis through international distribution of high quality premium certified organic cannabis products and services. We plan to be a vertically-integrated consumer packaged goods company providing consumers with unique novel products and solutions designed with advanced R&D initiatives that are safe, reliable and of the highest quality. A key opportunity is bringing the best technologies for growing and cultivation to product forms to consumers around the world in the most efficient way. This can be a combination of internally developed IP and technology or use the best that is out there globally. With our recent announcement of licensing technologies from CBx/Evolabs and from StillWater CS you can start to see how our plan is unfolding.
I’d also like to point out our entry into Jamaica. This is a significant move forward for our company and our first international partnership. A perfect example of how we plan to take technologies like CBx/Evolabs and Stillwater to international jurisdictions, establish international operations, and begin sales almost immediately. We really are just getting started.
What sets you apart to make you a potential leader in cannabis?
It will be our ability to execute with excellence. Our team has significant experience in sectors we feel are crucial to success in the cannabis industry that include: cannabis organic cultivation, scaled organic growing, finance, financial controls, consumer packaged goods, branding, marketing, sales, power optimization, and many more.
We are proud to boast a collective 125 years of CPG experience on our senior leadership team. This is unique in the industry and will be a differentiator as the business becomes consumer-branded globally.
What is the most frustrating aspect of the cannabis industry today?
Although continually changing for the better, we still face certain stigmas and challenges surrounding cannabis legalization, banking and regulation. To elaborate, there are some who believe cannabis, in general, is purely recreational in nature. This couldn't be further from the truth. Cannabinoids are used to treat everything from seizures to chronic pain, anxiety and sleep disorders in addition to enhancing the appetite of cancer patients. Overcoming these negative stigmas is still, in my opinion, the largest challenge. But it's getting better every day.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the cannabis space?
Canada is creating an entirely new legal industry with billions of dollars of direct business, and even more ancillary business to be done. However, there is now competition with an enormous head start and capital behind it. You need to be differentiated with a clear strategy and a strong business plan in addition to strong partnerships to survive and thrive. There are over 100 Licensed Producers in Canada, and I would be surprised if more than five large producers, and 20-30 small niche producers existed in five years.
What are your biggest tips for branding cannabis?
Think professional. Think clean. The future of cannabis is clean, professional, and with medical roots. The times of the Rastafarian weed smoker are long gone, and anyone looking to position themselves in the industry should have an idea of where it's been, but more importantly where it's going. Cannabis is heading towards any other packaged goods industry, in our view, and the future will be branded as such. More consumer-focused and lifestyle brands than anything else.
We eat better and understand what we are putting in our bodies better than ever before. People want to live healthier and longer. I have talked to many consumers first-hand how cannabis is enabling them to live their lives better. While cannabis can be habit-forming like coffee, it is not addictive like alcohol, tobacco or opioids can be. It also has no calories or hangover effects. Once edibles, beverages and other consumption forms beyond smoking become legal, I believe many of the stigmas and biases about the industry will drop away quickly.
Do you see any big changes coming of cannabis?
The biggest changes are yet to come with recreational cannabis. Consumers will be able to buy cannabis at government-run storefronts, discover and explore various branded LP products and sample different delivery methods. The future of cannabis is just getting started!
Do you consume cannabis? And if so, what's your favorite way to consume?
I have recently tried cannabis oils and tasted various edibles in the legal Colorado and California markets. My favorite way to consume is edibles, as I am not a smoker. It was so interesting to see the trends in legal states where the share of cannabis being smoked has declined rapidly as consistent and safe edibles come onto the market. It reaffirmed all beliefs that the future of cannabis will consist of consumer branded products with varying delivery methods to suit everyone’s different preferences and needs.