Cannabis: The Afghanistan of Entrepreneurs?
Because of its geopolitical value at the silk road gateway of Iran, Central Asia and India, the region of modern Afghanistan has historically been a conquest target. Empire after empire have literally broken themselves trying to seize this region, earning Afghanistan the ominous nickname, the “Graveyard of Empires.” While scholars debate nuances of why the region confounds conquest, few disagree a prime cause is the arrogance of foreigners failing to fully appreciate the difficult terrain and complex tribal factions.
I’m sorry to say to all you ambitious entrepreneurs and investors, but Cannabis may be your Afghanistan. I understand, it may be too difficult to ignore the boom of the cannabis markets world-wide, or the seemingly unstoppable march of global legalization, or the eye-popping financial projections or sheer volume of raw opportunities these early days offer. But I’m here to tell you, there’s hordes of cannabis tribesmen who will watch your attack helicopter explode against a craggy mountainside and then just go back to goat herding because they’ve seen it happen so many times before.
So, I thought perhaps some pointers might be valuable to reduce the carnage of those new to the industry.
The first pointer is cannabis doesn’t need you. Cannabis is not a shiny new industry in need of salvation by traditional industry professionals. Far, far from it. The fact is that a highly complex cannabis supply chain and culture already exists in every community. How do I know? Because despite the most aggressive state sponsored war on drugs in human history – the cannabis supply chain in every community is thriving. Can you make it better? Yes, but my advice would be don’t go rearranging the furniture until you know who owns the house.
The second pointer is that a simple business strategy is not a stupid business strategy. I’m reminded of the famous urban legend of the U.S. spending millions on developing a zero gravity pressurized pen for space travel while the Russians went ahead with a lead pencil. Grow clean quality plants, process them well, package and brand them well and get them to market. Keep it simple -- it might be too early for your pressurized space pen.
The third pointer is cannabis is the crappiest get-rich-quick scheme in history. Be ready to invest years of intense hard work, frustration, fear and humiliation into your plan. Cannabis is intensely political, fast moving and difficult to anticipate. Nobody exits without scars. Wear ‘em. It’s the badge of creating an entire industry from scratch. But if you’re uncomfortable with getting up from multiple failures, best to go shopping in a different aisle -- cannabis might be too uncertain for you.
Finally, cannabis is a painfully small world and chattier than the lunchroom in junior high school. Remember you are not just developing relationships, you are developing a reputation in an industry where for most of its history, reputation spelled the difference between life or death, freedom or incarceration. Comport yourself accordingly. It may seem that no one is looking, but it’s far from the fact.