As a trained nutritionist, I would genuinely like to see complementary and alternative health practitioners able to use cannabis as part of their practice. Their credible voices serve as a trusted authority among their communities, and their recommendations have the power to shape individual wellness, that will send ripples across the wider population they serve. They are educated influencers and often will be early adopters themselves. This includes naturopath’s, nutritionists, massage therapists, herbalists, physiotherapists, personal trainers, psychologists, etc. I would like to create a professional designation, training program or educational platform that equips them to know how to apply due diligence to the claims and benefits associated with cannabis, to filter fact from fiction, and to navigate safe and responsible consumption within the regulatory limitations where they practice. This goes back to my belief that everyone can experience greater health and happiness through various forms of cannabis consumption, and accessibility, awareness and education through trusted sources is how we will get there.
As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emma Andrews, Chief Commercialization Officer of BevCanna Enterprises Inc. Emma is a dynamic leader with proven expertise in building global lifestyle brands. She combines her passion for education, innovation, health sciences and marketing to deliver an “anything but average” approach to building world-class programs, products, and experiences. Emma holds more than ten years’ experience across the natural products, sport nutrition, and cannabis industries. She previously led product innovation and education at plant-based nutrition company Vega, during the lead-up to a $700 million acquisition by White Wave Foods. Following this success, and prior to entering the cannabis industry, Emma was Co-founder at Pineapple Collective, a boutique multi-national consulting agency working with global brands such as Nestlé, and category leaders in the natural health space including Navitas Organics Superfoods and BioK+ Probiotics. Leveraging a long-standing passion for cannabis including advanced study and deep industry connections, Emma now holds a number of leadership roles. In addition to her executive role at BevCanna, Emma is Director of Marketing at cannabis processing solution provider Nextleaf, is Head of Education for Higharchy Brands & Investments, and is a Partner at Abbott Keefer Consulting Inc., specialists in fast growth companies and emerging brands. Combined with her passion for studying category trends, Emma has developed a comprehensive understanding of consumer segments, and best practices for retailers & brands to engage with them. Emma holds the designations of New Product Development Professional (NPDP) and Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) and has a BA from the University of Calgary.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is it about the position of Chief Commercialization Officer the most attracted you to it?
This role is a dynamic blend of traditional marketing skills, paired with the ability to innovate within disruptive categories and emerging / fast growth industries, like the cannabis industry and in particular infused beverages. I like to say I have the best job on our team, because I get to touch all aspects within the product life-cycle, from ideation and conception, formulation and product development, all the way to launch and distribution. It’s a large scope, but I feel a deep sense of ownership and pride for what I’m bringing to life. I have to be detail oriented for aspects like compliance and regulations, and be able to see the big picture to ensure my ideas are scalable.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a Chief Commercialization Officer does, but in just a few words can you explain what a CCO does that is different from the responsibilities of the other executives?
I actually wasn’t familiar with the role before accepting it! I’d heard of the traditional CMO and COO titles, but a CCO is a bit of a hybrid. A CCO is more focused on sales success than a CMO, and creates lasting relationships with key customers or clients. They are also more engaged in the marketplace than a COO, because they are actively launching products, versus exclusive focus on internal implementation of business objectives (such as R&D, QA or formulation).
What were your biggest struggles throughout your professional life and how did you overcome them?
I began my career as a nutritionist before getting immersed in business, and eventually pivoting into cannabis. My challenge is often finding a balance between altruism and scalability. What I mean by this is caring so deeply about the integrity of ingredients in a product, the sourcing story, and health benefits, when sometimes this is cost prohibitive, doesn’t have broadly appealing taste, and may not resonate with the widest segment of consumers. Not everyone is “all the way too bright” I’ve learned. I now understand that my job is to help provide accessible products that are better-for-you, and meet consumers where they are at on their health journey. This has helped me to understand various consumer segments better, and create products that meet their unique needs. Nothing is more satisfying than creating something that resonates on a wide scale.
What are the biggest challenges faced by women in the c-suite that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I am 6 months pregnant with my first child right now, so this has definitely been a uniquely female experience not faced by my male colleagues. While I don’t prefer to look at it as a challenge, it’s truly a blessing, it presents unique scenarios I have to mindfully navigate. From decisions like when it’s appropriate to tell your colleagues, to how this impacts hiring plans for the future, and planning for business continuity during your mat leave (no matter the intended duration).
In media appearances, especially among investor circles I want to be able to instil confidence that I’m committed to the company’s vision over the long term, without bringing up doubt in their mind when they see my burgeoning belly. Similarly for meeting with strategic business partners, where confidence is established through relationship building, I am very conscious of ensuring they feel well supported by our whole team, so there isn’t a reliance on me alone. Being a new mother will create some restrictions on my time, so I want to enable access to various team members. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being a CCO?
Overseeing the full life cycle of a product, from ideation through to launch. I have to be very intentional about all my decisions, and have awareness about how they will affect all the subsequent steps that follow. It’s both tactical and visionary. Also working as a CCO within the cannabis industry is hugely rewarding because we’re just at the starting gate of what will become a global landscape, I feel like I’m truly crafting the future.
What are the downsides of being a CCO?
Getting involved is so many aspects of the product life-cycle means sometimes feeling like you’re spread thin. Instead of a deep mastery of one aspect, you have to be able to understand a broad knowledge base. A bit of a jack/jill of all trades scenario, but inevitably certain aspects will excite you more, and you’ll always wish you had more time to devote to immersing yourself deeply in it. For me, I love analyzing consumer trends and market insights, and because the legal cannabis industry is so new it means evaluating trends from complementary categories as well as the illicit market, it’s kind of like a treasure hunt. However if I stayed in this research and knowledge acquisition phase, I’d never bring a product to life!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I attended Oaksterdam University, America’s longest running and arguably most reputable cannabis college, in Oakland, California, January 2018. The whole experience was more than just interesting, it changed me as a person and a professional. I heard from lawyers, activists, advocates, medical health professionals, cultivators, formulators, and some of the most notable personalities on the ‘front line’ of legalization. I returned to (Vancouver) Canada ignited with passion for the plant, as well as shock about the volume of misinformation that had been perpetuated since prohibition, it really solidified for me the value of the legacy I would be carrying on through my contributions in the industry.
I now encourage everyone who wants to shift their career into cannabis to combine their existing skills with a bit of industry specific education (there’s now many more online and in-person programs you can attend).
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This is a hard one! I’ve had immensely fun (‘pinch me’) moments like the first time I was ever on a 1,000,000 square foot cannabis cultivation site, it’s a room so big there’s cannabis as far as the eye can see. It’s an unparalleled experience to be in a sea of green, especially when the plant has been prohibited for so long, to stand in the middle of that much ‘weed’. I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.
The mistake I’ve learned from the most involves making an assumption about an idea; we were pitching to a potential client without having done enough research to validate it. When the client prospect ended up correcting us in the meeting (and left us empty handed, and looking sheepish), I vowed to vet all my ideas more thoroughly (or at least pre-acknowledge them as un-vetted). Never assume!
Specifically, what is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I spend a lot more time educating people and enrolling them in the vision. Not everyone who gets involved in the cannabis industry is as deeply passionate as I am, often they have complementary skills but may not understand the consumer, the product, or the plant very well. So I end up splitting my time between strategy development and knowledge transfer more than I anticipated.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be a CCO, what specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful CCO and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be a CCO?
Be obsessively passionate about the consumer. Tapping deep into their desires, needs, wants and problems, is how a CCO can be truly successful. You don’t have to be the target consumer yourself, although in my experience this helps with your overall satisfaction and motivation. Truly understanding your consumer, actively listening to their narrative, and even participating in the conversation is how you’ll best design products, and business objectives that feel authentic to them.
In cannabis, there’s a lot of speculation about what types of products will resonate with the next generation consumer (the “canna-curious”), without alienating the current consumer (the “canna-confident”). Because it’s such a new landscape, if you’re not intently paying attention to shifts in buying behaviour, and consumer preferences you risk missing the mark before the game even gets started. You only get the timing opportunity we have with legalization once.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Spend the necessary time enrolling others in your vision, and keep it concise but compelling. If you have to work harder to prove your ideas, then make sure you validate them with metrics and data, but don’t underestimate the power of your conviction. Confidence is key. I often organize my thoughts visually before pitching something to my executive team. A simple slide deck, a white board mapping session, notes by hand, whatever it takes to make sure I am crystal clear on the main points before we dissect it around the boardroom table. Everybody learns and absorbs information differently, so often the same visual aids that help you prepare can also help you convey your message.
Who inspired/inspires you and why?
Cannabis entrepreneurs who have embraced the power of diverse perspectives, and how this contributes to innovation, along with those who show a true respect for the plant, and the people who advocated for the progression of legalization long before capital markets and investors got involved. Trail blazers who I’m always keeping a keen eye on include Barrinder Rasode, CEO of GrowTech Labs, Alison Gordon, Co-CEO of 48 North, and April Pride, Founder of VanderPop.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
All the CEO’s I work with! Marcello Leone (BevCanna), Paul Pedersen (Nextleaf), and Matt Christopherson (Higharchy). They’ve believed in my voice, and my potential to be a strong leader in the cannabis industry. I knew each of them prior to starting the companies they now lead, and had strong relationships which I am very grateful for. In some ways there’s less risk when hiring/joining people you know, but each of them have trusted me with responsibilities that in many cases exceeded my previous experiences (for example, my role with BevCanna is my first C-level role), or during the critical start-up phase of their companies growth when every dollar (spent or invested) counts.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I truly believe in the power of cannabis to elevate people’s quality of life through greater health and happiness. I believe my role is to increase access and availability of products and education that allows people to overcome stigma, normalize consumption and find the right method of consumption for their needs. If I’m successful in achieving this, I am confident that more people will experience a greater sense of well-being — and to me — that leaves the world a better place.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t think of a highly regulated industry with strict compliance as handcuffs, think of it more like a playground. I’ve had to reframe my perspective in order to make the most of the early opportunities within cannabis, rather than taking a “wait and see” approach and allowing others to make the first move, or for regulations to relax over time.
- How much effort and diligence is involved in taking a company public. I’ve worked exclusively in privately held companies prior to the cannabis industry, and have now worked with several publicly traded companies (through the go-public phase). I had no idea it’s basically like doubling your workload! Between a whole new audience (investors), customized messaging and marketing plans for lead generation, events to attend and partners to work with, above and beyond your core operational business.
- Have as many (qualified) conversations as possible. In the cannabis industry, there’s a general sense of camaraderie because we’re all writing the rules together, and chances are you have something to gain from one another.
- Be more patient than you’ve ever been. I am very action oriented, and if I’m not seeing progress I can get anxious, so when I took on this role I assumed we would hit the ground running. There’s been a lot of negotiations and due diligence that have taken longer than I anticipated, planning around regulations that had been proposed but not yet finalized, and exploring technology that existed in outside industries but was not yet validated within cannabis. This has meant being patient in regards to outcomes, yet persistent within the discovery process.
- Don’t focus on having all the answers, just be open to all the questions. In an emerging industry like cannabis, it’s impossible to have all the answers! Be able to show how you’ll uncover the information necessary to come up with a plan, or at least a starting point, if the answer is unknown.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
As a trained nutritionist, I would genuinely like to see complementary and alternative health practitioners able to use cannabis as part of their practice. Their credible voices serve as a trusted authority among their communities, and their recommendations have the power to shape individual wellness, that will send ripples across the wider population they serve.
They are educated influencers and often will be early adopters themselves. This includes naturopath’s, nutritionists, massage therapists, herbalists, physiotherapists, personal trainers, psychologists, etc. I would like to create a professional designation, training program or educational platform that equips them to know how to apply due diligence to the claims and benefits associated with cannabis, to filter fact from fiction, and to navigate safe and responsible consumption within the regulatory limitations where they practice.
This goes back to my belief that everyone can experience greater health and happiness through various forms of cannabis consumption, and accessibility, awareness and education through trusted sources is how we will get there.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Direction is so much more important than speed. Some are going nowhere, fast”.
“Aligned is the new hustle”.
These expressions really resonate with me because it’s not about how much you can accomplish, but whether those were the most impactful actions. I’ve spent a lot of my early career trying to simply be productive, valuing hours worked instead of milestones achieved, and often this meant burning out. I’ve learned to have the internal conviction to know that what I’m working on will deliver the most value. I’ve found this to be a more sustainable approach to managing my time, and ultimately delivering better results.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Serena Williams. I just finished reading a profile about her in Forbes “America’s richest self-made women” issue and it affirmed she is not only a total bad ass and champion on the court, but rapidly becoming equally as notorious in business. She prioritizes investment in female founded/led companies through her VC firm Serena Ventures, and has backed several health and lifestyle brands I have been eagerly watching, such as Brandless, Impossible Foods and Daily Harvest. I’d be very curious to hear her take on the cannabis industry, how she identifies an opportunity worth backing, and unpack her motivation.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
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About the author:
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 350 works in print. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke