Ten Things a Budding Ganjapreneur Should Know About Starting a Cannabis Business

Every startup has its challenges, but a cannabis startup comes with additional challenges. Entrepreneurs who want to get in the business face a unique set of hurdles, including ever-changing regulations, legal issues and struggles to set up the right team.

Canopy, a Boulder-based business accelerator program and venture fund for the cannabis industry, chooses ten new enterprises every year for its mentorship and business-building program. The first class graduated in 2015; this year's companies range from a robotics endeavor to a real estate outfit to an eco-friendly packaging firm.

Micah Tapman, managing director of Canopy, is in charge of the team that narrows down the program applicants. "Finding participants is easy and hard," he notes. "It's easy to get a lot of interest; it's hard to find the gems."

We recently sat down with Tapman to find out what he thinks is essential for success in the cannabis industry. Then we added some tips from the Women Grow Leadership Summit earlier this month to compile this list of ten things would-be ganjapreneurs need to know:

1. Your team is key

The main challenge for any company getting started, whether it's in the cannabis field or any other industry, is setting up a balanced management team, Tapman notes. "The team really has to have a bit of diversity, particularly in terms of skill set. They need to combine business and finance with some technical skill, and then some sales and marketing skill. That can be one person if they're a super-person, but more likely that'll be two or three people," he says.

2. Get an attorney

Karyn Wagner, CEO of Paradigm Cannabis, says that the most important thing to do when starting a business is get an attorney — and not just one attorney. You need a lawyer for your business and a personal attorney, and any partners should have their own attorneys as well. "It sounds like overkill," she says, but that is the only way to ensure that everyone's interests are being protected. There's one person looking out for the business's interests, someone looking out for you, and someone looking out for your partner.  It's easy to get into this industry with friends or people you're comfortable with, she explains, but it's important to treat your company as a business from the get-go in order to prevent problems or disagreements that can spiral out of control down the line.

3. Impressions matter

This is an extremely relaxed industry; most people can get away with wearing jeans and a T-shirt to work. But Tapman thinks it's important to own at least one good blazer: "You may not want to wear a suit, and that's fine, but [investors] would like to see you show up in a professional way," he says. "For better or worse, impressions matter. When you walk in the door, people are going to judge you from the first second you walk in." Tapman suggests walking the line between showcasing your personality and looking professional: "When you show up, the dreadlocks are fine, but you might want to throw on a button-down shirt."

4. Be authentic

This industry has room for everyone. From the former banker who founded Tokken to the tech and business nerds behind Baker, successful ganjapreneurs have their own strengths and capitalize on past experience. Gail Rand, CFO of ForwardGro, says it's critical to market yourself authentically. There are plenty of people in the industry who fail because they try to be what everyone else thinks they should be; Rand advises that the most important thing you can do for your business is be your best self and bring all you have to the table.

5. If you feel like you don't know what you're doing, that's okay; others have been there

Jane West is one of the most recognizable people and brands in the cannabis space. West has a successful line of bongs and accessories, but she admits to falling into cannabis almost by accident. She started out thinking it'd be fun to host cannabis events, and started doing just that almost as a hobby in 2014, right after recreational marijuana sales started. She attracted attention quickly, and the coverage propelled her to the front of the industry. "I was in the press so much that people were reaching out to me from all over the country and all over the world," she says. "What I was doing, I had only done twice when I got fired. I held two two-hour events. That's it...I had no idea what I was doing."

Keep reading for five more things to know.

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Kate McKee Simmons interned at the National Catholic Reporter, was a reporter for the New York Post, and spent a brief stint in Israel learning international reporting before writing for Westword.