Why We Need Women in the Marijuana Industry, with Cassandra Farrington
Episode 78: Why We Need Women in the Marijuana Industry, with Cassandra Farrington
Cassandra Farrington is passionate about providing information. As CEO and Co-Founder of Marijuana Business Daily, she works to provide information resources to cannabis industry entrepreneurs and investors. After working in the corporate world and realizing the important role that women play in the industry, she started Marijuana Business Daily with her mentor and business partner. In this week’s podcast, Cassandra talks about the importance and rise of social entrepreneurship, the difference between cannabis and marijuana, and the reason women are key players in decision making. Women's roles are vital to the success of this ever-growing industry.
00:00 Rachel Griesinger: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast: Conversations With Women Changing the Face of Business. And now, your hosts, Kristy Wallace and Maricella Herrera.
00:13 Kristy Wallace: Hello, and welcome to the Ellevate Network Podcast: Conversations With Women Changing the Face of Business. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, and I'm joined by my co-host, Maricella Herrera.
00:25 Maricella Herrera: Hey, Kristy, how's it going?
00:26 KW: It is going fantastic. It is a great day. I'm having fun. I'm living the life, helping women get ahead in business. That's what this is about.
00:36 KW: It doesn't get any better than that.
00:39 MH: It is what it is about. [chuckle]
00:41 KW: And clearly, as you can tell by my voice, I really enjoyed my conversation with Cassandra Farrington, who is also kicking butt. She is doing some innovative, creative, groundbreaking work within a very up and coming industry, which is the cannabis industry. Early entry into how she can be a conduit for information, for community within this industry, where we're seeing a number of the players and the business leaders are women. Not only is it impacting women, as business leaders, providing economic opportunity, but I think also, as Cassandra points out, impacting women as parents and caregivers. So there's a lot of interesting aspects to our talk and I cannot wait for all of our listeners to hear it.
01:38 MH: I am so excited about this one. I am really excited. I think it's a very interesting, different conversation, and a very different industry that we usually cover. And I'm looking forward to hearing this interview, and hearing her story.
01:57 KW: And I love that you point that out, because something that makes Ellevate so unique for me, and why I initially joined as a member way back in the day, is the diversity in industry, in geography, in experience, in career stage, and you learn so much from that. I know I've learned so much, and I've learned business lessons that I can apply to our business, but I've also just gained so many personal and inspirational insights from the stories that we hear. And this is one of 'em. Certainly, having access to women from all walks of life has enriched me.
02:36 MH: Yeah. And if you are having fun listening to the Ellevate Podcast, please don't forget to rate, review, share it with your friends. And if you wanna get inspired even more, by all of the stories of our amazing guests, we do have an ebook for the podcast that has just come out. You can download it, follow us on social media, on Twitter, @ellevate N-T-W-K, or Instagram, ellevate_N-T-W-K, and you'll find the link to download the ebook, and even hear more of these amazing stories.
03:11 KW: And I was so excited for this ebook. It really came out well, because what we do, is we have had 55 plus conversations with truly inspiring women, and some men, and we take their stories, and compile them in a way that's really pulling out some of the biggest lessons we learned, as we're making it easy for you to gain some inspiration, and also to share the inspiration with those that you care about. I can't wait for you to read it, and for you to share with us your thoughts. Please email us at email@example.com. Tell us what you think of the podcast, what you think of the ebook, and what questions you have, 'cause we would love to answer them.
04:00 KW: Cassandra, I'm really excited to have you on the podcast today, because you have a career path, a journey that I think will really resonate with many of the women and men who listen to the podcast. You started working out at a large multinational corporation, and then have founded your own company. And so can you tell us just a little bit about how you went from Citi to where you are now?
04:30 Cassandra Farrington: Sure. And in fact, the journey goes back even farther than that. My first real job out of college was with a newsletter, business-to-business paper newsletters back in the day, all about the really niche content for new breaking industries, that back at that point, it was like cable, the cable industry and everything that a cable executive might need to know, on the cutting edge of this brand new industry. And at that role, I met the person who is now my co-founder and my business partner, who, she and I very quickly became good friends. She's long been a mentor to me throughout my career. And as I left that role, and went off to get my MBA, did some other things, and then came into Citi, moved out of a marketing role, and more into an operations background at Citi, and loved it. I loved Citi. I loved working there. I loved the program that I was in. It was your kind of, that dream job that MBA students long for, to get this management training program right out of college, where I was on a two-year rotational training program, getting to see and experience different parts of the business, and getting my hands into a lot of different things that go on there, and getting some amazing experiences.
05:53 CF: And then, as I came out of that training program, moving into a more stable, full-time, regular, ongoing role within the business, and somewhere through there, for a lot of different reasons, I just hit the corporate wall. I hit the glass ceiling, all of those things that I know many of your listeners have also experienced. And as that was all happening, my very good friend and business partner now, reached out. And she had gone off to do her own entrepreneurial thing, and had built up and sold, very successfully, a company herself, had driven herself a little bit crazy in early retirement. This really wasn't the right time for her to hang it up, and she knew she wanted to do something again, but if she learned one thing about herself through her first journey, it was that she didn't want to do it alone. And she was looking for somebody with the operational skills and experience that I had gone out and gotten, that she knew she could trust, and had a great feeling about as a business partner, reached out to me and said, "Are you interested in doing something with me?" And the very first thought that came across my head, as I was reading the email that she actually had sent me was, "If there is anybody I would ever take a risk on being entrepreneurial with, it is this woman right here." And that's where it all started.
07:26 KW: I love that story, and particularly, how you connected with your business partner in many different ways, from mentor to working alongside each other over the course of your career. And that's something we don't think about enough, is the people that come in and out of our lives, and may have one role at one point in our lives, and then something different later on. And how do you stay in touch with those contacts, and cultivate and value those relationships?
08:00 CF: It's hard. And it's actually something that I think social media has made a huge difference in. I am in much better contact with my friends, colleagues, peers, classmates from my business school class, than I am with anybody from my undergraduate days. And the difference in between then, between those two graduating points, was social media, and I really think that has absolutely helped. I very much, just personally, as a friend, made a huge point staying in touch with Anne through the years. It was just a great fit and I am lucky that it worked out that way.
08:39 KW: Tell me a little bit more about your business, Marijuana Business Daily, and I know you're also at Anne Holland Ventures as well. So you're doing... You're wearing many hats, doing some great stuff right now, but I would love to hear a little bit more about that.
08:53 CF: You bet. Anne Holland Ventures is the parent company for what is now, at this point, a single line of business. We originally set out to have multiple niche business-to-business news and events publications, trade shows, that sort of thing. As we hit upon the cannabis industry, as our third launch, and hit it at, really, just the right time with a good offering, and being flexible enough to follow where the industry needed us to go, as that business news and information resource, and as that grew, and grew, and grew, we've now divested everything else. At this point, Anne Holland Ventures, as a company, is more of just a parent company, holding company of this single product line, Marijuana Business Daily, and everything that we do there. And Marijuana Business Daily is the leading news and information website for the professionals, financiers, entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry, certainly, across the US, and also globally. I'm sure many of your listeners are well aware that this is a very engaged topic in American, and even global society today, the advancements of the cannabis industry, and everything that that means, both from the social side of things, to the economic side of things, to medical and that whole range, it is such an interesting and fascinating industry, that we are seeing developed before our eyes.
10:35 KW: And it's exciting, the industry that you're in, because it's changing so rapidly with new companies starting, new products, understanding the customer, legislation. I mean, there's so much happening in this space. What role do you see yourself, particularly focusing on the B2B aspect of really helping to define and direct the trajectory, the standards, the culture of an industry like this?
11:08 CF: Yeah, that's a great question, because we don't see ourselves as having a role of doing all of what you were just explaining. Rather, what we see our role as, is providing that platform for the industry to coalesce around, that gives them very trusted and reliable information, data, stats, forecasts, so that they can make great business plans that are rooted in reality, to be able to set their own path forward, so that they have a professional environment to gather at a business conference, for example, which did not exist before we started MJBizCon. And to give them that platform to get together, understand that I'm not this solo entrepreneur who's out there fighting the good fight, running my dispensary in this small mountain town in Colorado, trying to advance this thought that cannabis is medicine, and it really does matter to the health and well being of certain people with certain ailments, and trying to fight the ingrained understanding of the "just say no" era that permeates much of our society. But giving people that platform to come together and feel like they're not alone, that there is an entire industry and massive numbers of people who believe in this socially. And that is the roots of this industry. It's one of the things I love about this. This absolutely started as a social movement and moved very quickly into social entrepreneurship.
12:47 CF: And there are high numbers of people who are still getting involved today. A lot of the new entrepreneurs who are still getting involved today have, at least, some element of social entrepreneurship as their back, as their driving reason for why they're doing it. Whether it's because it's a mom who has a sick kid, who was able to find some relief through cannabis for their child, and want to share that with other moms, or be able to provide that solution to other families. Whether it's somebody with PTSD, whether it's somebody on the social justice side with regard to the racial disparities, and drug laws, and how many people have been incarcerated over the years. There's a lot of discussion and focus on those social issues, which have driven the entrepreneurial side of things. And the entrepreneurial side of things is now taking that even farther forward, and reinforcing the positive impact that the business side of the industry can then have on those social issues.
13:51 KW: And what is the difference, or is there a difference between cannabis and marijuana?
13:56 CF: Cannabis is the technical name of the plant. There's a wide spectrum of cannabis plants that can range from what you know as industrial hemp, all the way through to high THC varietals, to things that are... Things like Charlotte's Web, which have different compounds in them. It's not unlike grapes, where you have white grapes, you have red grapes, you have Merlot grapes, you have Chardonnay grapes, you have champagne grapes, you have all of these different varietals of a plant and it's all grapes. Same thing with cannabis. It's all cannabis, and then there's different varietals. Marijuana is actually a term that was popularized by, in the 20s and 30s, and then again in the 70s, by the misinformation campaign, to propaganda campaigns, especially by the US government, Harry Anslinger, the Yellow Journalism, all that sort of thing. There are actually a fair number of people within the industry who won't use that word, and will only use the word 'cannabis.' I understand where they get that from. We use them interchangeably here, because most people do know it as marijuana in the general population. That's how most people do refer to it. It's codified into many state laws. It's codified into the Controlled Substances Act as marijuana as well. So that's the term that we were founded on. We use both interchangeably.
15:23 KW: Thank you. I've read in the cannabis industry, there's quite a high number of female entrepreneurs, of women that are starting companies and are leading companies. Why do you think that is and are you seeing that?
15:42 CF: Yes, I do. I do. And there are a remarkable number of female entrepreneurs and professionals in this industry. I think that's being driven by primarily two things. First of all, it's what I referred to earlier, it's the fact that moms, that women make a lot of the health decisions for their families, or are digging into ailments, and things like that for their kids, for their parents. They're the caregivers and they're the ones looking for those solutions. And when they find those, and then get their home life stable, to where they can get back into the workplace, they are wanting to share their successes with others, and see that as a path to do so.
16:21 CF: The other reason is more people like me, who absolutely are burned out on corporate life, hit the corporate wall, hit the glass ceiling, whatever that is. And because cannabis is developing as a nascent industry right now, there is no barrier to slotting right in at a top level of a company, or founding your own. It is still at this point, at least, a very open and equal playing field. There is so much development happening, and people are looking just simply for great skills and great talent. Because of those two things, female entrepreneurship in the cannabis industry has long been a topic of... Long, I say that, the industry's really existed whole cloth for about seven, eight years. So within [chuckle] relatively long time of that timeframe, it has long been discussed as a very prominent issue among the leaders of the industry, including myself. It is something that many people are very mindful of.
17:24 CF: Now, we are starting to see a shift in that, unfortunately, and it's something that I will continue to be very vocal about. I know that my fellow female entrepreneurs in this industry are going to do so as well. Where I think that's being driven from, is that the future development of the cannabis industry is gonna be driven by two major things. One is technology, whether that's technology to increase yields, or to better track products through the supply chain, or whatever it is. There's a lot of tech development going on, specific to the cannabis industry. And there's a lot of financing activity going on as well. A lot of money is coming into the industry, funding these startups. We're really looking at a second dot-com type environment here. And those are two areas, tech and finance, that have very historically been more dominated by males. And so you're now seeing these private venture capitalists, who have done five or six different startups, who have their team of people, who, they're like, "Okay, let's go over here and do this cannabis thing." And that team of people has always been a group of guys, and they're bringing that entire team, and dropping 'em right into the cannabis industry.
18:45 CF: That's why I think we may be starting to see a shift. That said, as I mentioned, I and many other people remain very vocal on the importance of making sure that women remain very much front and center in this industry, engaged in the conversations, and just provide so much insight and business savvy into customers. As I mentioned, women make health decisions, not just on the medical side, but also just on the wellness side, and even on the recreational entertainment side for their family. So women are a huge segment of this marketplace, that businesses need to be able to connect with. And if you got a group of guys, who are sitting there thinking that they're marketing to 20-something stoners coming out of college, or going to Vegas for the weekend, they're missing a huge part of this industry. Just one example of how women need to remain very much involved in the conversation here, for those companies to reach their full potential.
19:50 KW: Thank you for saying, especially that last point, that women make the majority of these decisions and the purchasing decisions. And we have whole economies built around women as consumers. But yet, women are not represented in the leadership, or in those important decisions, in terms of attracting and marketing to those consumers. And so here, really looking at, "Who is that customer, who's making those decisions, and how can we make sure that customer's represented within the industry?" That is part of driving the future in the growth of this industry. And to your correlation about the startup industry, it's necessary to have that diversity of experience, and thought, and perspective, particularly, as we are looking at the types of companies we're creating, the types of solutions, the types of innovation and growth. And it comes down to having all of those voices represented in the room, and around the table.
20:54 CF: It really does. And I have a middle school daughter, and one of my... I actually just recently had an exchange with one of her teachers, who had said something about, "So when your mom drops you off in the carpool lot." And I'm like, "This is not a mom job." And I feel the conversation I had with this particular individual was, it is so... We're doing a disservice to so many, not just of our daughters, but of our sons. We're cutting off their thinking that, as they themselves become entrepreneurial, or just get into the business world, if they aren't very attuned to thinking, "That woman has just as much to offer to this team as that man," we are cutting off half of their resource pool, even for our sons. And that's so frustrating, that we're ingraining those things. And socialization of girls and boys, and all that sort of thing at early ages, is a topic much discussed. And I know that many of your listeners, I'm sure are nodding their heads in agreement, and all that sort of thing. But it gets back to this thing: You've got to have that diversity. And it's not just gender diversity, it is also cultural diversity. It's African Americans, and Hispanics, and all Asians, and all those other cultural groups who are represented in our society, but we don't get their voices heard in the decisions that drive the economy of our country.
22:32 KW: Absolutely. Absolutely. You mentioned earlier about the culture of your company, specifically. And this is something that's very important to me. I think, as business leaders, what is the culture that we create within our businesses, and how does that then translate into the industry, into the supply chain, the customers? A company culture is not contained within the four walls of your office. It should bleed into all aspects of business and the people you touch. So what are some of the core cultural or core beliefs, values that you've created for your business?
23:15 CF: I wish it were more defined than this. I've just always known the kind of place that I wanted to go to work at each day, and have done my best to ensure that that happens. And it's a place where people are friendly to each other, where I don't tolerate backstabbing, or throwing people under the bus, or things like that. We don't crucify for mistakes. Mistakes happen, and if they're not happening, then we're not trying hard enough. It's definitely a place where people are very friendly with each other. There are a lot of great friendships developing here, and I think back to the environment where Anne and I met, back... Again, my first real job out of college, Anne was a more senior manager, than I was at that point. But it was the type of environment where this junior marketer could become friends with this managerial type person, and get a lot out of that relationship, both directions.
24:16 CF: Just creating that open and friendly environment, where people feel like they have a voice, where they are in a stable place, that as a startup, it can be a rough ride. And I have always, always managed the business to make sure that people feel very secure, that when they come in here, they can focus on their job, not whether they're gonna get a paycheck that Friday, those sorts of things. And it's, again, I wish it were more defined. We haven't stopped and thought about it long enough, because it's not... We just haven't had the time to, because of how fast we've been growing, and that's a good problem to have. I'm sure that it would certainly shore up around the edges, if we did so. I'm really happy with the direction we're heading.
25:02 KW: Yeah. We had a company off-site about a year ago, and during that time, we devoted some of the time to talking about our core values. And it was really interesting, because we did some brainstorming exercises, and every person in the company contributed to what those values could be, what were the things that we felt were important for our business? And it was things like, get stuff done, but be most respectful interpretations, because we're B2C, and we have so much inbound communication from the community, and that's, how do you always look at that in the most respectful way? Email and the way that we communicate these days has stripped out some of the emotions, or the nuances of language, or in-person communication. So we brainstormed all of this, and then we clearly articulated them, and it's really come in handy, because there's, oftentimes, business decisions that you're looking to make, and not only just the business leader, but people within the company, and employees, and teams, and when they can look back at what those values are, it keeps us going down that right path. And like you said, it's like you're focusing on growth, and impact, and success, but knowing that these values are your guardrails, and keeping you on that road.
26:35 CF: Absolutely. And for the business, focused externally, we do have five core values that we share with the industry, which involve, as an editorial company, we are independent, for example. And even in our early days of our business, we got a lot of pushback from some of the long-standing social advocates in the industry, who were very focused on, "You guys need to be actually advocating for legalization. You need to be beating that drum, specifically." And our position has always been, "No, again, that's not what we do. We are here to give you guys the information, so that you can go do that."
27:15 KW: Sure.
27:18 CF: And that has continued through, as we've developed into a much broader resource, where we're kind of the Wall Street Journal or Investor's Business Daily for this industry. We have to be very neutral to the entire industry, because we can't cover one company differently than another company, because we'll get accused, then the bias comes in, and then you're off to the races with press, and media, and everything going on with today's environment. We've always held up a very professional standpoint. The cannabis industry, historically, has not been very professional. It literally has come up out of the basement, and a lot of bad behavior was allowed to flourish in the basement, and from the get-go. But we have said from the beginning, "We are going to have a very professional persona. We're going to demand that at our trade shows. If you're at one of our events, it is going to be for and by professionals. So, dress, act, behave according to that."
28:23 CF: We've always been really big on high quality, on being responsive to the needs of the marketplace, 'cause with an industry growing as quickly as this one has been, what the industry needs has changed over time. And then, just being really inclusive, and having that core value of integrity. And then, again, back to the internal company culture, I've always felt very strongly that I'm an adult, and I've got a staff of adults, and as long as we always treat each other like adults, and think the best of people... That was triggered, that thought triggered in my head when you were talking about that, "Assume the best possible interpretation." As long as we're all assuming the best, and treating each other respectfully, and as adults, I don't need to be looking over your shoulder, as to whether you're clocking seven and a half hours today, as opposed to the 10 hours you clocked yesterday. I don't care. Fine. If you get your job done, get a job done well, and we'll be off to the races. Let's go.
29:21 KW: Yup. I love it. I love it. Well, thank you. Thanks so much for joining me today on the podcast. It was great to meet you and to have this conversation. I've learned a lot and I wish you tons of success.
29:35 CF: Thank you so much. It's been a lot of fun. I appreciate it. And I love talking about these subjects, so thanks so much for having me.
29:44 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out. Subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes. Give us five stars and share your review. Also, don't forget to follow us on Twitter, @ellevate N-T-W-K, that's Ellevate Network, and become a member. You can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website, www.ellevatenetwork.com. That's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E network.com. And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller, she rocks. And to our voiceover artist, Rachel Griesinger, thanks so much, and join us next week.
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