In this week's C-Suite, we talk to Adrian Sedlin, CEO of Canndescent on the biggest lessons he's learned in the cannabis space and what it means to live the startup life.
What makes your company different from others in the cannabis space?
Canndescent differentiates its brand in many ways. First, we laser-focus on cultivating ultra-premium cannabis, and we’re the only company that exclusively targets the luxury market for cannabis flower. From controlling our grow rooms down to the square inch, to including humidity packs in our pre-packed 1/8ths, we inject quality into our product at every turn.
Second, we make the category far more approachable for consumers. We are the first and only cultivator in the world to abandon traditional strain names such as Trainwreck and Durban Poison and to replace them with user-friendly categories such as Calm, Cruise, Create, Connect and Charge. In short, we’ve simplified cannabis selection the way Apple simplified computing and the way Google simplified search. Simplifying cannabis allows consumers to curate their lives based on how they want to feel. That’s "The Art of Flower". Bottom line, it’s significantly easier to understand Create No. 301 described as, “Focuses your mind and settles your body, so it’s ideal for craft or computer work,” when compared to foreign words such as terpenes, flavonoids, sativa, CBD, linolool, cannabinoids, or Gorilla Glue.
How did you get into the cannabis space?
My brother-in-law has cultivated cannabis since 1993, and he called me in 2015 and said, “Bro, will you buy me a building?” While I didn’t buy him a building, we opened the first municipally-permitted cannabis cultivation facility in California and will have over 100,000 square feet operating in 18 months.
Walk us through a normal day.
As you might suspect, CEOs of cannabis companies don’t have routine days. One day I may be touring a TV crew through our facility, on another I’m meeting with investors, on another I’m working with architects on a new project, on another I’m working on public policy for the NCIA [The National Cannabis Industry Association], and on another I’m working with the marketing team on design. If there’s a consistent piece, it’s that I have the greatest job on the planet, and I love what I do.
What has been your biggest lesson about working in cannabis, and in business in general?
My biggest lesson running a cannabis startup has been that it’s just like any other startup. You’re building the plane at the same time you’re flying the plane. That’s startup life.
My biggest lesson in business is that it’s about focus, focus, focus. In Canndescent’s case, we spend all of our time thinking about how to produce the best cannabis flower on earth.
What do you see as your biggest opportunity?
Our biggest opportunity rests with the 98% of adults who are not regularly enjoying cannabis. We seek to educate them on how they can curate their lives with flower. If they want a restful sleep, we have Calm No. 101, if they want to write, we have Create No. 302, or it they want to enjoy time with friends, we have Connect No. 402. The opportunity for us rests in mainstreaming cannabis and bringing it to consumers in understandable ways that can improve their lives.
Do you have any thoughts or concerns about Sean Spicer’s statements indicating the Trump Administration’s intention to crack down on recreational cannabis?
Generally speaking, I wish the administration had a stronger understanding of cannabis science when compared to more toxic substances like alcohol and prescription drugs like Xanax and Percocet. That said, I’m not overly concerned about the recent statements as they’ve never said anything about cracking down on state-compliant operators such as Canndescent. In fact, Mr. Sessions alluded to the fact that he would follow the principles outlined in the Cole Memo.
What sets you apart to make you a potential leader in cannabis?
Many things establish Canndescent as a category thought leader and as the first ultra-premium line of cannabis flowers. For example, we were the first municipally-permitted cultivator to operate in California history. We raised a $6.5M seed round, the largest in history for a cultivator. We are the first cultivator in the country to abandon strain names and to introduce simple categories for consumers and patients. Additionally, we are the first in California to package flowers in child-resistant packaging, and also the first to include papers, hemp wick, and matches. Last, we’re growing to 123,000 square feet over the next 18 months so that should make us one of the largest producers in the state.
What is the most frustrating aspect of the cannabis industry today?
The history of cannabis and the misinformation surrounding it frustrates me most. When you understand that cannabis has a lower withdrawal profile than caffeine and has countless medical applications, it bugs me to see how expensive it is to get this amazing plant to patients and consumers.
What would you say to those who are considering investing in your company?
I’d say, “We’re creating an iconic cannabis brand focused on the high-end, consumer market. If you think that’s a great idea, you won’t find a better team of professionals than Canndescent. We’re super-passionate, hyper focused, and care deeply about creating a brilliant, consumer experience. Because of this, you’ll make money.”
What are the biggest challenges of being a publicly offered cannabis company?
Canndescent is privately held at present because cannabis companies cannot go public in the United States. As a result, inefficient capital challenges the entire industry. Prohibition layers a massive risk premium on capital, and this increases prices to consumers and patients.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the cannabis space?
It's a specialized business, so like anything else, you need to know what you’re doing. During the Gold Rush, many people died on The Oregon Trail; similarly, many will fail in the Green Rush.
What are your biggest tips for branding cannabis?
Great brands are built by those who solve an identifiable consumer problem and who apply a rigorous philosophy to solving it. Brands are not about a cool logo, a slick advertisement or a celebrity licensing deal. Brand is about thousands of business decisions that build synergistically to resolve a consumer pain point. Pick your target audience, care deeply about them and forget about everything and everyone else.
Do you see any big changes coming in the future of cannabis?
I’m not aware of an industry going through more dramatic change than cannabis. Looking back 25 years from now, it will be mainstream for people to give cannabis as a dinner party gift or for Walgreen’s to fill a prescription for a particular cannabinoid profile.
Do you consume cannabis? And if so, what's your favorite way to consume?
Edibles and oils are junk foods and processed foods. I prefer whole foods and flower.