How This Former Marine Turned His PTSD Into a Multi-Million-Dollar Business in 60 Days
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Hunter Garth, bearded, 27, seems to be as chill as they come. After all, he works with marijuana.
But, this was not always the case.
Returning home after serving with the United States Marine Corps in Afghanistan for four years was not easy. Readapting to civilian life was not easy. And, as you might imagine, overcoming the trauma of war was not easy--is it ever?
"During my life in deployment, I was hyper-exposed to trauma, but I really negated it all, telling myself that it was not that bad. I really took a tough guy approach while I was in the Marine Corps," Garth reveals.
However, coming back home was a whole other issue. He could no longer live in denial. "My deployment had pretty extensive consequences. During my transitional period, I was not thinking right, I was not sleeping well, [and] I wasn't handling things in an appropriate manner," he continues.
Despite being among the lucky ones, counting on the support of friends and family at the time of his return, Garth marks the moment of getting out of the Marine Corps as the one where things really went South--not only for him but also for almost every one of his comrades. There was not a lot of time to process things in Afghanistan; back home, they were all alone with their thoughts.
"A few of the guys that I served with killed themselves; a few of them got in adrenaline-based accidents ... Basically, we were all self-medicating and acting in a way that was incredibly dangerous as a group of people and as individuals."
"I can tell you with certainty that I thought about killing myself more than once. And so did one of my best friends and former unit companion, Caleb Patton," he adds. "It was the guys around us, who are now part of IPG, that saved us."
Garth had gotten his stuff on a U-Haul, with 400 bucks in his pocket, moved from his home state, Florida, to Colorado and never looked back. Pretty much the opposite: he was now incentivizing his friends to do the same.
Caleb Patton had served in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside Hunter Garth. Upon returning home, he had to undergo a Calvary of his own. Suffering from excruciating physical and mental pain deriving from an injury he got during a training accident--in which seven of his fellow Marines were killed--Patton had turned to alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs, which "the United States Department of Veterans Affairs was feeding him," Garth points out. After a long quest, he found comfort in cannabis. He never imagined weed would change his life, not only on a personal level, but also on a financial one.
When Garth returned from Afghanistan, he found himself without a job, without a college education and without any experience beyond being a Marine. He was 23 years old, and to a certain extent, it looked like everything was said and done.
One day, already in Denver, he walked into a dispensary to get some cannabis, which helps him soothe and deal with post-traumatic stress more easily, and saw an armed guard. "His behavior, how he presented himself, and his general attitude were very off-putting," he describes.
He immediately thought that nobody wants to feel uncomfortable when buying weed. This was his a-ha moment: "I've got extensive knowledge about cannabis and a military background. I can do this better," he thought.
That same day, he decided to reach out to his friend Caleb Patton to discuss this idea. This is how Iron Protection Group (IPG) came to be, formed by four former Marines without any additional outside funding or help from business-savvy people.
IPG is not a security company that specializes in marijuana; it's a marijuana company that specializes in security, the co-founders often mention. The concept is not hard to grasp: in an industry where each batch of product is worth tens of thousands of dollars and is not covered by insurance; where almost every transaction is made in cash; and where access to traditional banking is pretty limited, danger abounds. There are millions of dollars in product and actual bills sitting around at any given moment.
So, what IPG does is make sure that everyone involved in producing, selling and moving the product and the money derived from it is safe--and feels that way.
"People are not necessarily afraid of guns but rather of the people using them," Garth argues when confronted with the issue of IPG personnel carrying guns. "All of our team served in the military and was in combat; we would literally go out and fight the Taliban. So, we have extreme confidence around firearms and extreme training to use them correctly. However, we are also all very calm in our approach to threats and danger. We are quiet professionals: this means we know our jobs and our skills; we don't need to prove we are bad-ass."
This is an industry where there is space for anyone with good ideas and good intentions.
As you'll find out in the next few paragraphs, Garth's story is the embodiment of the cannabis industry's values; it shows that the cannabis industry is not just about growing and selling weed.
This is an industry that loves the Wall Street suit-type as much as it loves the underdog and the "least likely to succeed." This is an industry where there is space for anyone with good ideas and good intentions. This is an industry where everyone will find a role that suits him or her. And this is the industry that saved, in more than one way, all the war veterans involved in IPG: people who gave up what many consider to be the best years of their lives so that Americans in every corner of the country can enjoy the liberties they adore.
"We started IPG with four guys, and in about 60 days, we already had 30 employees," Garth says. "We went from nothing to a multi-million-dollar business in literally two months, but none of us had business knowledge--we weren't even 25 years old. All we knew was there was a problem in the industry and we could help fix it."
The complete lack of business knowledge was not a problem at first. However, as time went by, what Garth and Patton learned (the hard way) was that clients would get delayed with payments and, in occasions, would not pay at all. In fact, this is something that every entrepreneur in every industry should know: "shut up and take my money" is an expression that only exists on memes. In real life, people are very often unreliable payers.
Questions emerged quickly. How would IPG continue to cover its expenses as delinquency rates surged? How would they stay afloat with no financial backers other than its owners? If this were your business, how would you?
Faced with these hard questions, Garth decided to stop taking on new clients and instead dedicate his time to getting educated on entrepreneurship and business issues. Six months later, he felt he was ready to go back to taking on new customers and managing the cash flow resulting from these contracts.
But, probably the most important lesson Garth got from his business education was that his company needed expert help. Remember this because you will, too!
Consequently, he decided to reach out to Advanced Cannabis Solutions, which is now a $24 million, publicly traded company that goes by the name of General Cannabis and trades over the counter under the CANN symbol. After presenting his business over a breakfast meeting, Advanced Cannabis Solutions' Chairman committed to helping Garth get the $200,000 he needed to finance and grow his operation. After looking into it in detail, they decided they would rather acquire IPG, but none of its co-founders were willing to sell.
"This is my baby. I need help, but I am not ready to let go," Garth told them.
When discussing this story with Tyler Stratford, who's also a veteran and now serves as director of client operations at one of North America's top cannabis consulting firms, Canna Advisors, he stopped us at this point. "I love that these guys are still in the business. I don't like to see people come into the industry, make a quick dollar and then leave," he commented.
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Instead of just making a profit from his company and running, Garth agreed to an acquisition where General Cannabis would give him and his partners equity in the parent company, finance IPG and retain the entirety of the team. What this meant was that IPG would now count on the support of a corporate structure (back office, legal and financial backing) without having to actually sell out.
"This company was built by brothers helping brothers, and we intend to follow that path," Patton adds.
This company was built by brothers helping brothers.
This success story clearly shows how anyone like yourself, educated or not, connected or not, experienced or not, can make it in the cannabis industry. "I had made a million dollars, personally, by the time I turned 26," Garth discloses.
On the other hand, this story also provides numerous lessons about what's important when creating a business. Funding and expert advisory are central to the realization of a business idea; the fact that the guys at IPG got lucky does not mean anyone else will. In order to make it in the cannabis world, you'll need to plan ahead, raise money and get good advice.
Having said this, know that you'll have to put a lot of effort into your business. "People think they will become rich overnight. But, this is rarely the case. Cannabis today is a long-term play," Marvin Washington, Super Bowl champion turned cannabis investor and activist, points out.
"We could have been eaten alive in this process. Someone could have easily taken the company from our hands," Garth reflects. "I now understand the public space and the nuances of finance, but I didn't at the time. Education and mentorship were the most important takeaways from this experience."
"You need to be extremely confident on what you know and get help with what you don't know."