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Navigating the uncertain cannabis market

  • Jonatan Kamenetsky
  • |
  • Mar 10, 2020
Navigating the uncertain cannabis market

Panellists Chris Jones, Trang Trinh, and Mario Naric at the Bloom Conference. The panel was moderated by Rachel Bain.

Jonatan Kamenetsky is an HBA2 student at Ivey Business School. He writes about the lessons learned from speakers and panellists at the First Annual Bloom Conference, organized by the students of the Ivey Cannabis Business Club.

Students attending the Ivey Cannabis Business Club’s first Annual Conference, Bloom, learned from industry leaders about navigating in an uncertain market without a playbook.

Nichola Thompson, CFO of London-based licensed producer (LPs), WeedMD, discussed how the public company positioned itself during a year full of turbulence for cultivators. As one of the first LPs to acquire an outdoor growing licence, Nichola acknowledged supply-side challenges. However, she summarized 2019 as a great year for collecting data on outdoor growing, optimizing operations, and learning from mistakes.

Morning panel

The executive panel with Trang Trinh, HBA ’08, Founding Director and CEO of TREC Brands; Mario Naric, COO at Motif Labs; and, Chris Jones, Corporate Development Associate at Origin House reflected on the need to act nimbly to changing regulations and sticky consumer preferences, in order to survive and thrive.

Due to a lack of accurate data on cannabis and its consumers, regulatory difficulties have resulted in legalization being pushed back by 17 weeks and Cannabis 2.0 products not coming to shelves for more than 60 days. Panellists said this led to a much slower consumer adoption rate, curbing expected consumption and exacerbating pain points of the oversupplied market. Jones said industry problems would get worse before they got better, while Trinh felt, for companies able to source capital and sustain the cash burn, the low points of the market could be an opportunity for a consolidation of brands that would later flourish when consumer promotion became less stringent.

Sales and Finance workshops

Ivey Faculty Member Eric Janssen spoke with Peter Machalek, HBA ’08, VP Partnerships & Sales at TREC Brands, and Shahbaaz Kara-Virani, Head of Sales at Lift & Co. about the unique cannabis sales environment. Their conversation highlighted the importance of creating an intimate connection with consumers to break down barriers for the cannabis curious and help them understand the endocannabinoid system.

In the finance workshop, Chris Jones discussed valuing cannabis companies with Adam Pope, HBA’17, Deals Associate at Canopy Rivers, and Dalton Talbot, HBA ’13, Manager of Financial Reporting at WeedMD and Ivey lecturer. They highlighted the reasons to pursue a finance job in the cannabis industry:

  • Peers are open to different perspectives and creating valuable connections;
  • Observing, learning, and working with talented CEOs early in your career;
  • The infectious excitement of the industry;
  • The risk-reward potential; and,
  • The challenge of a flexible, fast-paced environment.

Ending keynote

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani shared his atypical journey, from working as a Sales Leader at Salesforce to becoming the Head of Sales at Lift & Co. He recalled his shock at operating in a fresh market and turning around solutions on brand monetization without an established system. He noted many leaders did not know what they were doing, including himself. When navigating an industry blind, Shahbaaz advised to, “double down on the inputs you control, fail hard, fail harder, and win the right way next time.”  

Thank you to all speakers that made this conference an amazing educational event by sharing your experience and insights on the cannabis industry.