How One Cannabis Executive Has Pushed Through Challenges
"Failures and rejections are part of the accomplishment," says Perfect co-founder Mo Isern.
The profound contributions of women are often overlooked in many industries. Historians call this the “Great Man Theory,” in which men are lauded as the main initiators of historical innovations and personal achievements that have shaped where the world is today.
Is the nascent cannabis industry headed down the same path?
It shouldn't be. A study out of Pepperdine University found that Fortune 500 companies with women in leadership roles were more profitable and produced more than two times the revenue per dollar invested, compared to companies without women in the driver’s seat. But this fact doesn’t seem to be sinking with cannabis decision-makers. The percentage of women holding executive roles has dropped drastically over the years, now standing at 22%. This number becomes obvious when stepping into the dispensary, as there are few cannabis brands on the shelves that truly speak to the female consumer.
Mo Isern, female Co-Founder / Brand & Marketing VP of cannabis brand Perfect, believes women have been underestimated as informed, functional users of cannabis. According to Mo, women are the gatekeepers and influencers of the household, and they carry more power than most of us realize.
Here she discusses her journey to becoming a Woman in Green and shares tips for other women entrepreneurs looking to let their voice be heard in cannabis.
What were some of your accomplishments before you got into the cannabis business?
I was a segment producer and editor at MTV’s then digital startup, mtvU. This was after 18 long months of frustrating work in retail. I didn’t know what digital was going to be of course, but I was intrigued. It opened up an amazing journey. I went from board folding shirts, which I was just not good at, for the record - to working with artists and activists like The Killers, John Mayer, and Jesse Jackson. Rev. Jesse Jackson was one of my favorite people to meet and work with - that was definitely a top moment.
What brought you into the cannabis industry?
I was consulting for Dean Hollander (Perfect Cofounder and CEO) through Abracadabra Ventures in early 2018, producing content, collateral, and events for a few cannabis brands. I didn’t know that much about the plant or how to shop with much success myself. I struggled to find the right thing most times or remember what did what. Less than a year in, Dean and I talked about creating a brand within the venture and an idea he had been developing. The rest is history. I was enthralled by the challenge and the opportunity to learn more, and more so excited to be able to shape a new kind of narrative around the misinformation and stigma I could see myself managing.
What obstacles and challenges have you experienced?
Our product stirs different responses and some skepticism. We also first soft-launched in early 2020 right as COVID was unleashing itself. It’s been a huge and rapid learning curve for me, simply coming in from outside the industry like so many have, in the middle of so much uncertainty, and learning about both cannabis and consumer packaging at the same time while regulations, practices, and attitudes are constantly changing. My personal relationship to cannabis and cannabis stigma has been something to continuously unwrap, and a way to understand a certain type of consumer journey and experience that many new or returning cannabis consumers are having right now.
How have you overcome these obstacles?
Open dialogue, especially about the obstacles, is a must. If you can’t talk about the tough stuff, talking about the very existence of that block is a place to start. We’ve also had to reset our expectations around time, fundraising, advertising, events, and what’s doable when you start something new in a volatile industry while the dynamics of the world and retail are changing under your feet. I think becoming open to change as the only constant makes a huge difference, and we’ve all had to take that on at a new level over the last few years. For us, that means testing things, pivoting, pressure testing, whether it’s on packaging, story, or product features. But I think it’s equally important to keep your true north, your larger purpose, always present. We keep coming back to being committed to creating fun, reliable, fresh, and unique products that delight people and contribute to a great experience. The most freeing thing I’ve heard recently was, “Treat your life like a classroom.” And I like to reference the digital world and other category creations to see how opportunities emerge from these colliding moments.
As a woman in cannabis, what advantages or disadvantages do you face?
For a long time, women have been underestimated as productive, informed, functional users of cannabis. I’ve experienced being disregarded in the past like I’m uninformed or not relevant—or called too corporate. I've grown my courage considerably to voice where I stand and share my experiences. Now people are listening to women. It’s tied to real revenue. Women have needs that cannabis can address, and they’re also gatekeepers, caretakers, and influencers to whoever in their household or circle are relying on their ok to consume cannabis around them —even more so publicly. I’m my own head of household. I make the rules and I recommend what I like to my friends, family, colleagues, and my Lyft driver.
What was your greatest lesson learned?
Nothing takes as long, or as short, as you think it will. Don’t get discouraged or stop being inspired when things don’t go the way you think they will go or should go. Building a new cannabis brand over the last few years has definitely provided an opportunity to see that. But how you let it impact you makes a huge difference. Failures and rejections are part of the accomplishment, and they can inspire the next push. It costs creative energy and flow otherwise. Keep building a day at a time, including on the hard lessons and mistakes because those are there to serve you. They’re especially valuable when you get to grow and apply your new understandings, strategies, and ideas to your next opportunity. That’s what it takes and if you can enjoy at least some part of that too, it’s much more fun.
What trait do you rely on most when making business decisions and why is this useful for you?
First instincts are really powerful and I often listen to those, but I also incorporate something that stems from journalism school training and storytelling work: I try to neutralize my listening to source answers from multiple places, not just from my personal point of view. Human beings have complex lives, problems, and desires. There’s no one right way for everyone, so I try to let my thinking acknowledge multiple concerns or possibilities and play devil’s advocate. Creative questioning, critical thinking, is a business tool.