Hire people who are flexible and hard working. Being adaptable and having a workforce that is able to pivot to new roles and new procedures is essential to survival. If somebody struggles with change or shifting expectations, a cannabis business is likely to be overwhelming.
As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Hillary Peckham, the COO of Etain Health.
Hillary Peckham, along with her mother, Amy, and sister Keeley, founded Etain Health in 2014. The company’s mission is to make people happier and healthier through access to high-quality and innovative medical marijuana treatments. Hillary’s leadership and contributions to the company’s license application made her the youngest individual to be awarded a medical marijuana license in the country. Hillary is a graduate of Hamilton College and the Dartmouth Tuck-Bridge School of Business. Hillary’s passion for the medical cannabis industry comes from her own experience with chronic pain and muscular atrophy and she has a strong interest in alternative therapies that provide palliative care for those enduring long-term suffering.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Mymother and I were inspired to get in to this industry after experiencing end of life care with my Grandmother and wanting her and others to have a better quality of life, particularly in palliative care experiences. We found that, as my grandmother had a terminal illness, her care tried to resolve her symptoms on a day-to-day basis but didn’t give her long lasting comfort and dignity as she dealt with a very terrible situation. Inspired to help others, we looked in to medicinal cannabis and saw how there was overwhelming anecdotal evidence of the benefits that medicinal cannabis was having for patients and felt compelled to try and help give others a better quality of life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Being only 23 when we were awarded one of 5 licenses in New York State to operate a medical marijuana business, everything has been a learning experience. Overall, I’ve learned to embrace change and accept that I can’t “do it all”. It’s been challenging the whole way but it’s amazing to look back at where we started and how far I’ve come.
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?
When you work with your own family, sometimes the lines between business and personal are blurred. There are times when you have to remember, while my co-founders are my mother and my sister, they are also in business with me and we need to keep the family conversations for the family dinner…
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re currently moving our New York City dispensary and undergoing a complete brand refresh. We’re exciting to reveal both projects this summer. We’re hoping the new dispensary space will be a welcome retreat and destination for New Yorkers to take a moment to relax and enjoy the surroundings. We’re hoping that our new branding helps us to amplify our voice, and create clarity to the consumer about our mission and the purpose(s) of our products.
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?
We have been forever grateful to Women Grow, an organization dedicated to helping female entrepreneurs enter the cannabis space. Throughout our entire journey they have continued to be a force for positive change and a supportive organization that has helped us meet wonderful people (many of whom are still working with us 5 years later!).
This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
Marketing is always a huge challenge in this industry, whether it be due to federal restrictions, social media restrictions, or state regulation. For us, our priority has always been to engage and support the communities that we locate in and I would encourage any new dispensary to do the same.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
3 things that excite me:
1. My sister, myself and my Mom all love to be creative. Finding new and innovative solutions and improvements to problems and situations is something that I find invigorating and fun.
2. My days are never the same! With regulation changes, new developments in technology or research, there is a lot to do and keep up with.
3. Being able to lead and innovate in my own company
3 things that worry me:
1. State-by-state regulation: I think it’s very concerning that each state has to come up with its own set of guidelines and regulations. This is particularly relevant in the Northeast where, if a patient can’t get access to the NY Medical program they could just go to a neighboring state to get what they are looking for. It can undermine the entire intention of the medical program and create confusion about quality.
2. The future: in cannabis, you never know what the future holds! Whether it be an adjustment to packaging regulations or federal legalization there are a lot of small and large-scale factors that could completely change our operations almost immediately.
3. NY’s medical program hasn’t made any significant updates to help patients access its program in years. As a result, I fear that it’s been too stagnant to really take off. I’m hoping to see meaningful regulatory changes in the next year that will help patients get access to the program.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Be prepared to work really hard, all the time, for a long time! 5 years in we are still working 6–7 day weeks and full days. The good thing is we are not bored!
2. Most cannabis companies are not making money. With the 280E tax law and the intense startup costs, it is very difficult to make money as a cannabis company and takes significant time.
3. 280E in general: this tax law factors in to most decisions we make at the company. Our hiring, our inventory/production all factor back to this.
4. While we’ve come a long way, there are still a lot of misconceptions about cannabis and a lot of education to be done. Every day i’m still in contact with people who don’t know that this program exists or don’t understand the positive benefits and impact this is having on people every day.
5. Things take longer than you expect!
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Hire people who are flexible and hard working. Being adaptable and having a workforce that is able to pivot to new roles and new procedures is essential to survival. If somebody struggles with change or shifting expectations, a cannabis business is likely to be overwhelming. Particularly if you are a new startup.
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. 🙂
I would start a movement with cannabis businesses to allow for more diverse ownership and overall participation that could set an example for other industries and businesses in the US to follow.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
@etainllc on instagram, Etain LLC on facebook
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!