Navigating The Complex Medical Cannabis Industry With Nic Easley, Founder & CEO of 3C Consulting And Co-host Jaime Zawmon of TitanCEO
If there is one industry that can be tough to understand, especially if you are doing it legally, it would be the cannabis industry. Those who are in the medical cannabis business know how it can be challenging to understand the regulatory risks and compliance, to name a few. Stepping right in to help businesses and investors navigate this complex and new industry, Nic Easley founded 3C Consulting, LLC. He joins Bob Roark and Jaime Zawmon of Titan CEO this episode to share with us what goes on behind the scenes of this business as CEO, highlighting what characteristics will make one a Titan of Industry. Nic then gives some advice about leading and building a great business, no matter what industry.
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Navigating The Complex Medical Cannabis Industry With Nic Easley, Founder & CEO of 3C Consulting And Co-host Jaime Zawmon of TitanCEO
In this episode, we have our special cohost Jaime Zawmon. She is the Founder and President of Titan CEO and our guest is Nic Easley. He's the Founder and CEO of 3C Consulting and he’s the Managing Director of Multiverse Capital. Jaime, Nic, welcome.
Thanks for making the time.
We were privileged by you taking the time and sharing your experience and wisdom with us. With that being said, if you would, tell us about your business and who you serve.
I've been in the legal cannabis industry for many years. Originally, I was an Air Force Linguist and I speak a few languages. I was from the farm county Wisconsin. After the military, I got hurt after about four years and came to Colorado. Medical cannabis was legal in 2006 or 2007 and I got my first medical card. I saw how people were growing and was disgusted by pesticides and indoor lights which is very unsustainable, non-environmental and not safe for patients. I started my business many years ago to help the cannabis industry form in a responsible way.
As you see it now being over a $30 billion industry, which is a drop in the bucket for where this would go. It was to help companies understand the regulatory risks and compliance of navigating this brand-new industry that is a medical product. It's an adult-use product, but then also getting into the hemp industry and making papers, plastics and fibers. Helping businesses and investors navigate this complex and new industry is how we established ourselves.
What are the typical issues that a client you're serving now has that you were able to solve their problems? I'm trying to paint a picture in the reader's mind of what's your clients and who your clients are?
One of the challenges with cannabis is that it's federally illegal and each state has come up with its own medical or adult-use program. At the end of 2020, we have sixteen adult-use states where 21 and older consumption and possession is legal and we have 47 states with some medical laws on their books. About 37 of those are also having medical sales. In a normal business, you're like, “I want to open a gas station or a restaurant,” you would have that state's Department of Health to deal with. When it comes to cannabis, each program is different. I'm working on applications right now in the State of Georgia. Eleven million people are giving six licenses for cultivation for eleven million-person marketplace. It can be competitive.
How does a client build a team, put their financial models together and start to raise capital? Put together thousands of pages of voluminous application content about the standards of DEA cages and vaults that they might need or video recording or production plants based on the Georgia Department of Agriculture requirements. We help people that want to get into a new market and not just domestic. We've done licensed work in nineteen countries. I own and operate cannabis businesses in Portugal, Denmark, Germany, South Africa, Colombia, Uruguay and Canada, to name a few.
[bctt tweet="If you're going for too much margin, your competition is going to find that unique secret sauce." username=""]
Each one of those has their own regulatory requirements that if they don't have over a decade of experience, how do they solve those problems, raise capital or have some unique advantage because you might've seen in some of your states. You're driving around, you might see sticky buds or something that's very cliché, like a green cross or flashing pot leafs. We're a professional industry and trying to make this a bonafide industry for the United States and internationally. To help clients come up with a new strategy is to not repeat the same past mistakes of California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado, even though this is where we started. We will never allow a client to repeat past mistakes that we saw other groups do in other markets.
It's refreshing listening to you speak about the wealth of knowledge in this industry which is one of the reasons why you were recognized as a 2020 Titan 100. For the readers, I have a copy of the 2020 Titan 100 book which recognizes Colorado's Top 100 CEOs and C-level executives, 100 Titans of industry, which Nic is a Titan in the cannabis world. I have to ask you, Nic, and I ask all of the Titans that we interview in this show, what characteristics do you believe it takes to be considered a Titan of industry?
There are always millions of problems in business. I'm a biologist and a military linguist. I didn't have an MBA, I didn't have normal business training, but I looked at things from ecological lens systems. Business owners are always going to face internal problems, external problems, threats, competition and liabilities. If you're going to be at the tip of the spear of your game, it's dealing with problems before they start and your planning and understanding what's unique about what you do as a business or a business leader and how to maintain that culture. Especially during COVID times, I can't go into an office and have a big motivational presentation and give everybody a gift and motivate people. It's like, how do you adapt and change the situations as they come up?
It's still federally illegal what we do and risky. We are trying to navigate this and not having normal banking. We have to solve every single problem from the ground up that’s never been solved before. One of the biggest things is innovation and perseverance to where someone might say, “It's 40 hours a week.” I'm like, “That's cute. I remember my first part-time job.” It’s that delicate balance. Being a single veteran, how to manage that startup mentality or business mentality, home and work-life balance and knowing that if it's a business and revenue that you're interested in, that's not going to motivate you than if it's mission-driven.
I'm a disabled vet. I know medical cannabis helped me to get off of eleven different types of prescriptions many years ago. I owe my life to this plant. That's why I'm able to run my company in such an aggressive way that this isn't about profitability and KPIs. It's how do we deliver quality medicine that's sustainable, affordable and set a new example for what industry is going to be. You could think of alcohol. What alcohol has done to our culture versus cannabis? With this being legalized, how to not just monetize on the opportunity? It's not just an opportunity, it's a responsibility.
For business leaders to find that why. Why do they do what they do? It's not to sell more soap, houses, or build bigger buildings but your buildings are more energy-efficient, going to be better for design or healthier environments for people to live better lives. That's what your business needs to do. If you forget that as a business leader, your customers and the regulators are going to see that. If you're going for too much margin, your competition is going to find that unique secret sauce. You always have to be innovative. The biggest sin in business is getting complacent and thinking, “I'm at the tip of my game, everything is going well. We're winning in all these states. We keep doing better.”
We have to constantly innovate and stay on top of that to avoid competitors taking us out, becoming mundane, forgetting our mission or not focused. That's the main thing I remember, remind my staff, and our customers every day like, “We get to do this once.” Normal industries have been established for hundreds of years like real estate. They're not making any more real estate. This new world is ours for taking. If we don't do it right, there are bad people out there that might establish this industry irresponsibly. You might've heard about the vape crisis for electronic cigarettes and cannabis.
Some of those were dangerous with pesticides. As soon as we hear things like that, we start to work with regulators and think, “How do we make this safe so it doesn't have bad credibility?” I'm coming from many years of federal prohibition. We have a big job on our unions but we can never get complacent and forget why we do what we do to make the world a better place with our business, for our customers, and for the planet that supports this plant that we grow and caretake.
[caption id="attachment_5686" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Medical Cannabis Industry: To help clients come up with a new strategy is to not repeat the same past mistakes of California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado.[/caption]
Those are profound words and spoken like a true Titan. Thank you for sharing your why with us.
As you were talking and I was thinking about your path from there to here, Biology degree. I'm a tacked Intel guy, you're a linguist, we both have an Intel background. I only speak Southern so I never picked up a second language. I'm handicapped for sure. In any case, how did you get from the farm to where you are now?
I'm from Central Wisconsin which is farm country all around it. I was in FFA, Future Farmers for America. I was the one not dairy kid. I was all about vegetables. I was homeschooled by a botanist for a few years in middle school. He had a big native American background, honoring medicinal plants and the space for them. Going through high school, as a raft guide down in Tennessee and North Carolina in the summertime during high school, I still never understood how my parents allowed me to go from Wisconsin to live with a bunch of college kids in the woods in Tennessee that developed a big love for whitewater and adventure. The military approached me. I was going to go to a normal college but they said, “You have a high aptitude to learn languages. How many do you speak?”
I'm like, “That's a big old zero.” Being eighteen, I went into the military, I figured instead of my parents using all their savings to send me to college, I would do the right thing and learn some skillsets, personal development and go into the military. Having white level security clearance working on high level, top-secret type projects with linguistics and international relations. I learned early on that professionalism goes a long way, but in getting hurt and then having the VA to provide medications after I'd got out, I thought that was the right thing to do. When I got to Colorado, medical cannabis was legal and I came out to be a ski bum in Crested Butte back in 2006. I did a winter out here. I learned about cannabis and tried that. I slept wonderfully for the first time in years.
I didn't have a lot of pain from some of my injuries. I wanted to see how people grew up. When I saw that, it was disgusting to think about how we were utilizing this plant and cannabis is dioecious. There are a male and a female. The female unpollinated flowers which is important but it was being grown with such dangerous pesticides. There was no research and no understanding for me to have got off of those medications and realized there's a profound medical opportunity here in hemp, being the Great Dane of our species. Medical cannabis is the little poodle. They're both dogs. We looked into ways that how I could, as a business owner, not only make a living but make an impact.
After getting hurt in the military and then I hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, it was getting my physical body working better. During those six months, I started to get a profound reason of we're a part of a biological system and we have a role in this. I started thinking about how businesses have roles in this and how I could use business to make the impact I wanted other than writing a book or teaching a few growers in Colorado.
By 2010, when we were doing some of the first greenhouses in Colorado using natural sunlight like echinacea farms that I'd worked on as a kid or tomatoes. I was seeing the environmental impact being about 1/6 of what it was to do this indoors and how we could cultivate cannabis organically, sustainably, and provide medicine and make it a lot cheaper, more accessible for people. All of the painful, bad things on my path in the military of getting hurt that led me into a medicinal plant and then led me to a state of Colorado which was more legal. We had the first legal medical program ever that was commercialized where you could purchase it, not just donations like California originally.
In 2014, to be one of the first business owners to own an adult-use dispensary. We've had six years of recreational cannabis in Colorado. To take that experience than to these other states to where people see the green rush but they don't know how to do this and they'll often repeat those same mistakes in the past. All the things that had happened to me allowed me to see the industry and where it was going and know that one way or another, we didn't know how fast it was going to take. 2020 has five new states on my mind.
[bctt tweet="The biggest sin in business is getting complacent." username=""]
I've worked with the United Nations as a voting member for the opioid crisis for about 2.5 years as an advisor and to see the United Nations finally remove cannabis from Schedule IV, which was the same as heroin, no medicinal benefit. On an international level to be changing policies on the pesticide workgroup in Colorado with their Department of Ag all the way to the highest levels of government with the United Nations and to think of how some allowed me to change international drug policy. It's a responsibility now to help this industry grow and guide because there's already multibillion-dollar Canadian public companies in this. They all thought they'd produce cannabis in Canada which is very cold compared to some of our farms in Colombia, where we're producing it for $0.7 to $.10 a gram compared to $1 to $1.50.
What are the environmental implications of this that allowed us to see this and grow with this? Using my GI ability to get another degree in college at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, I was studying environmental sciences. I already had degrees from the military but I did an energy audit on the cannabis industry. People don't realize that 1 gram of a marijuana cigarette, like a joint to take over 22 pounds of coal to produce that gram was the sunlight.
We can change this industry. We don't have to do it like high times taught us for years. That brought me from Wisconsin farm kid like FFA all the way to now to being a business executive, flying and working all over the world. I'm thankful for those things, enemies, or injuries in the past that led me to here because without it, I wouldn't be in this industry and it wouldn't be as safe as it is now from some of the things that we've learned and educated the regulators on.
It's quite profound the impact that you've had in your industry. There are many things that we don't understand or think about. You're navigating new water with regulation and rules. You're paving the way for many and kudos to you for taking the stand to be someone who wants to set the standard for how things should be done because somebody has to step up. I appreciate your experience. In a typical business, we don't have a lot of these challenges with the fact of all these regulations. It's interesting you share about how you've navigated things. With that, I have to ask you. You've amassed quite a bit of knowledge and experience but if you could go back ten years per se of experience and offer the less experienced you some advice about leading or building what you have built now, what would you say to yourself?
In a new industry or a new business, there's no road map. We always are guessing but I realized now there were a lot of resources out there for typical businesses and I committed that air of like, “We're busy, we have so much demand, we're growing fast and hiring. We'll fix some of this stuff later.” That idea as a business owner, we keep going fast and then we'll fix some of these problems later. Those problems get bigger and harder to fix later but it's easy to get entrenched. Imagine the pioneers crossing the prairies. If you keep going in the same path, those wagon wheel rust and get deeper and it's harder to change later or turn your course.
I wish I could have said some of the things. I should have prioritized more on HR staffing, payroll, accountability, legal compliance, documentation of having a strong template because someone like myself being a public speaker, as you said, navigating the waters. I was a Grand Canyon River guide for years. What we do with clients is to help them navigate new places. We've been there before. Having been there before, I made sure that my clients never repeat some of those things. We now have new business checklists. “When you start a business, here are 37 things you need to do to get ahead of these problems.” I wish I could have taken some of my own advice but if I hadn't made some of those problems early on, I would have never known how important they were.
When you have a key man or a key woman and that's mission-driven, one-to-one consulting or working with clients, it doesn't scale. It’s trying to figure out how early on it could have gone from one to many of templatizing certain offerings where if I'm going to have seven clients in Arizona at the same time, they all need to know the same thing. Instead of me and my project managers get on those calls, how could we make it more assessable for them to get this information, do the things that they need to do instead of having less limited client-by-client? That's what allowed us to scale a lot bigger years ago of going from one-to-one and one-to-many. How can you do one thing that's going to have a massive impact on massive clients and be repurposable instead of spending all the time to do the exact same thing for a client?
That handholding is nice and personal touch but...