I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Lazar, founder and driving force behind The Hemponair, an emerging fashion and cannabis lifestyle magazine that’s been featured in Forbes, Leafly, and several other notable industry publications, as well as the co-founder of Slickster, a travel and activity planning app that makes finding, planning, and sharing things to do slick and easy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of what first introduced you into this business or helped you get interested in the business?
My pleasure! I had a friend who started a company that was designing high-end packaging for the cannabis space (child-proof jars, zip bags, tins, etc.). This was back in 2013, before the cannabis boom really took off. At the time I thought it was a little crazy, but eventually started reading and hearing more about cannabis online, on TV, and in magazines and newspapers. One day I picked up a copy of Fortune magazine at the airport and there my buddy was, with his jars and bags talking cannabis! I then saw him featured on ABC and in several other high-profile pubs, and finally realized that this was no joke — this whole mainstream cannabis movement was really happening, and now was the perfect time to jump on board.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Ha, there are a lot of those in the cannabis space. Hard to definitively narrow it down to a single story, but definitely one of the more interesting experiences was flying down to Miami to test drive a car made out of cannabis. When I was initially approached about the cannabis car, I was both skeptical and intrigued. That intrigue (and the weather) led me to fly down to Miami and meet Bruce Dietzen, a retired former Dell executive who turned a red hot Mazda Miata into a smoking hot car made of hemp. We took it for a spin throughout South Beach and downtown Miami, including a complete photo shoot in Miami’s Wynwood art district. The car said “Cannabis Car” in big letters across it, so people kept stopping and staring, blown away to learn that the car was made from hemp.
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?
While I’ve definitely made my share of mistakes, I can’t really recall any of them that were necessarily “funny.” There was one of our first events where I ate a significant amount of infused chocolates that I thought were low-dose CBD edibles. Turns out they were actually high-dosed THC. That was a long night lol. Lesson learned? Always ask twice before ingesting anything at a cannabis event.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
In this space there’s always exciting stuff in the works. Right now we’re talking to potential partners about a cannabis-themed Art Basel event down in Miami, as well as planning a few fun things with several partners here in NYC, including a wild 4/20 event and several other elevated gatherings. We’re also speaking with a poplar business magazine about being part of an upcoming cannabis video series spotlighting what it’s like to work in the industry, which we’re really excited about.
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?
I don’t think there’s any one person in particular, but rather a bunch of people with different experiences and skill sets who I’ve come to turn to and learn from. What’s great about working in such a young industry is that many of us are navigating much of the same hurdles and issues together, so we’re all looking out for one another and trying to help each other succeed. Plus I also feel that’s just the nature of cannabis as well. Cannabis has always been about community and bringing people together, and often times you really feel that when meeting, talking to, and working with many of the people in the space. We’re all in this together, navigating this “wild west” of an industry and kind of making it up as we go along, and that’s what makes it so exciting.
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?
Due to many of the legal issues surrounding advertising and marketing in the space, many people rely heavily social, including us. Of course most legacy companies this day and age are super active on social — they have to be — but they have other avenues to market on as well. Companies and brands in the cannabis space are really limited to just social, and even then there are additional restrictions and challenges we face, as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snap, and even Google make it very difficult for cannabis brands to market on their platforms, let alone have an account in many cases.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
1) The illegal/taboo factor
2) The newness/unknown
3) The potential
1) The illegal/taboo factor. It’s all a bit scary and concerning, but that’s what makes it exciting!
2) Shady characters and even shadier products. Too many people claim their products can do x, y, and z when x, y, and z have never been verified or proven. It’s a dangerous slope that stems a lot from the legal issues the industry faces along with little regulation. But we’re slowly changing that.
3) Product overload. Every day I hear of a new CBD cream or CBD “miracle” pill that, when compared to others, really all do the same exact thing, but are just packaged and branded differently.
Can you share your top “5 Things You Need To Know In Order To Run a Successful Cannabis Ancillary Company”? Please share a story or example for each.
1) Have a clear business plan. Make sure you fully understand what it is your business does and how you plan on making it money. Then put that plan in writing and make sure you work each and every day towards achieving it.
2) Don’t be afraid to change that plan. Yes, sometimes what you think your business is becomes something completely different. Don’t be afraid to pivot if something isn’t working or a bigger opportunity arises.
3) The laws in the state(s) you’re operating. With little changing on the federal level just yet, you’re relying solely on the laws in the respective states you’re operating in. Sure, you might not be touching the actual plant itself if your business is an ancillary one, but you’ll likely being doing business with companies that do. As such, it’s important to have a proper understanding of the legal status of cannabis in those areas.
4) The movers and shakers. Every industry has them, and cannabis is no exception. Know who the big players are — from the handful of companies making news with big investments to the list of people behind those companies pulling the strings.
5) Your competitors. As innovative as your business/idea/product might be, let’s be real — there are likely at least one, if not many, other companies doing the same thing (or at least something similar). Knowing them and their strengths and weaknesses is super important when it comes to defining your business and setting it apart — and hopefully above — the playing field.
Aside from your particular vertical, which other cannabis ancillary industries to you think have very strong potential in the next few years? Can you explain why?
I think POS, operating, and other back and front-end software tailored specifically to the cannabis space will be huge. Right now there are a lot of obstacles when it comes to tracking inventory, shipping, payments, etc. — much of these are legal, but many are due to the fact that the cannabis space is still such a young industry that just doesn’t have the right resources and infrastructures dedicated to it just yet. As legality spreads and more people and companies get involved, I think this will change and present a huge opportunity for innovative tech platforms created specifically to serve the cannabis space. That, and commercial lighting and gardening equipment. There’s the old saying, “Don’t mind for gold when you can sell shovels.” Once it becomes federally legal, there are going to be a whole lot of grows and dispensaries popping up all over the country, making the classic pick-and-shovel investment play a huge opportunity for those who get it right.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Don’t be a dick. Sure, it seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many times I’ve come across people who run their own companies and are just complete assholes. Nobody wants to work with an asshole, let alone for one. Especially in this industry, where there are so many everyday challenges that other companies wouldn’t have to think twice about. Karma is real and being nice matters, so make sure you’re only spreading the kind. And no, contrary to popular belief, we’re not all hippies. 🙂
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. 🙂
Ha, not sure I’m a person of great influence just yet, but hopefully one day I’ll get there. That being said, I think this movement you speak of is already underway — helping to eliminate the stigma around cannabis and proving once and for all that it’s perfectly safe and normal to enjoy in a reasonable, responsible way. That’s our mission, to elevate the conversation around this wonderful plant and show that just because you enjoy cannabis, doesn’t mean you should be stereotyped or looked upon in a bad light, not to mention prosecuted or imprisoned. This is what we truly believe and what we work on every day to convey — one article, product, and event at a time.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Jilea Hemmings is the CEO & Co-Founder of Leaf Tyme. She is running a series on Leaders In The Cannabis Industry.