Mentor and advocate for other women in the industry: I think it’s important that women reach out to and support each other, especially in a “budding” industry. If you work for a larger company, help up-and-coming female talent by making them aware of different opportunities within the organization or grooming them for leadership positions. If you are an entrepreneur, make sure you support, get involved in or promote other women-owned businesses.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandria Ohlinger.
Alexandria is an entrepreneur and the Founder & CEO of Grow Green Marketing, a Sacramento-based consultancy dedicated to helping Cannabis businesses grow their revenue by serving as an outsourced marketing team that streamlines marketing strategy, planning and execution. With over 13 years of marketing and business development experience, primarily in the Consumer-Packaged Goods (CPG) industry, Alexandria’s background spans across several functions, including branding, digital marketing, social media, content, product development, eCommerce, retail, and sales.
Alexandria has worked with companies of all sizes, from small start-ups to large Fortune 500 companies, and has operated outside the US in the European and Asia-Pacific markets. Through working with some of the most well-known, multi-million dollar global brands, such as Hot Wheels®, World Wrestling Entertainment®, Disney Princess®, Warner Bros®, and Uno®, as well as building several eCommerce businesses from the bottom up, Alexandria has established a track record of success building and growing Cannabis businesses through a combination of creative, out-of-the-box ideas, ROI-driven strategies, and delivering a great customer experience.
Outside of the business world, Alexandria is the host of the Free to F’Up podcast, a show that is focused on changing the conversation and sentiment around failure through raw and real conversations with everyday people, experts and business leaders who share their own stories, struggles, and advice on how to embrace failure as a positive force in life.
Alexandria holds her MBA from University of Southern California (USC) and her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Marketing from University of Arizona.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
Getting into the cannabis industry was not intentional, but it was certainly a happy surprise! I spent most of my marketing career in the corporate world working for a variety of consumer-packaged goods (CPG) companies across toys, bedding, home entertainment, and skincare.
In 2017, I started doing some marketing consulting work with other businesses as a side hustle. Before I knew it, my company grew to be a full-service marketing consultancy where I helped businesses with everything from strategy to planning to execution. I enjoyed building brands so much, that finally, in 2019, I decided to leave the corporate world behind and commit to my consulting business full-time.
Because of my extensive background in CPG marketing, I started getting clients in the Cannabis industry. I immediately loved the challenge of growing businesses while operating within a strict regulatory environment. As time went on, I started to learn that there is a real need for marketers who not only understand the ins and outs of the Cannabis industry, but also understand how to build brands using CPG best practices. As a result, I founded Grow Green Marketing, a consultancy that serves as an outsourced marketing team for Cannabis companies of all sizes. We create a more cost-effective marketing solution than hiring an agency or an in-house team.
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?
When I first started getting clients in the cannabis industry, most of my clients consisted of Cannabis brands, CBD brands, and dispensaries. I assumed those would be the only types of clients I would take on since they were closest to the CPG world I was familiar with, so I focused my efforts on learning the ins and outs of those specific types of businesses.
When I attended cannabis trade shows, I started getting marketing inquiries from other types of vendors, such as farmers, extractors, seed to sale solutions, and testing facilities, who needed help promoting their companies to other cannabis businesses. Because I wasn’t expecting to take on these types of clients, I had done little to no research on what these businesses did nor did I fully understand their role within the context of the entire industry. My lack of knowledge not only made it challenging to help these businesses with their marketing efforts, but also made me realize that I was being short sided by only focusing on what I knew and felt comfortable with. My initial lack of knowledge cost me business, and it made me see that there were many other Cannabis businesses that I had the ability to help once I had a better understanding of the entire industry.
From that point forward, I made it a priority to learn as much as I could about the industry as a whole and the different functions that operate within it. As a result, I now help cannabis companies across all areas of the value chain.
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 I took on my first cannabis client, I didn’t know the extent of the banking challenges in the industry nor did I understand what the limitations were. I sent over an electronic invoice from Quickbooks for an online payment and they told me they wanted to pay it during our next meeting. I didn’t think much of it until I met with my client the next day and they showed up with several stacks of cash in a bag and gave it to me. I didn’t know what to do because I had never been paid in cash like that before, so I asked my client if they could write me a check instead. They laughed at me. I quickly learned that this was going to be the new normal if I was going to work with cannabis companies, so I adjusted my payment terms and policies accordingly.
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
I don’t really have a specific story, but I always get a laugh when I tell people I work in the industry because without fail, I get one of three questions:
- That sounds fun! Do you just get high all day at work?
- I’ve always wanted to try cannabis. What should I take?
- Can I get some free samples?
I will also say that some of my family members who were not interested in trying cannabis before, are now suddenly curious and ask me a lot of questions. (Hi, Grandma!)
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’m grateful for my family who has always been so supportive of me and has always encouraged me to go after what I want.
If I had to choose one person, it would be my husband, Ryan. Had it not been for him, I would have never had the courage to take the leap and start my own business.
Ryan had a very successful sales career working for various franchise new car dealerships, but always had a life-long dream to start his own dealership. In 2017, he decided to leave his job, do just that and open his business, Petrol Auto Sales. After watching him put his heart and soul in to building his dealership and seeing his business grow year over year, he inspired me to fully commit to building my own company. Not only has he been supportive and encouraging, but he has taught me so much about problem solving, resourcefulness, and sales. I can honestly say that had we not met; I don’t think I would have left the corporate world behind and embraced being an entrepreneur.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! I am working with a group of amazing Cannabis professionals to build a company called MagicPath. MagicPath is an alliance of trusted experts across all professional functions that are needed by Cannabis companies, such as legal, compliance, banking, accounting, payroll, marketing, distribution, licensing, construction, real estate, etc. We are committed to building profitable, compliant Cannabis businesses and setting the gold standard for the industry.
Our company serves as an end-to-end solution and sets up Cannabis businesses for growth, long-term success and viability as the industry continues to evolve. Whether you are starting a new company, looking for a path to growth or trying to turn your business around, our team can help you with any business need or challenge that you might have.
Our mission is to help business owners bring the benefits of Cannabis to as many people as possible, while helping the industry achieve sustainable growth and long-term success.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
- Mentor and advocate for other women in the industry: I think it’s important that women reach out to and support each other, especially in a “budding” industry. If you work for a larger company, help up-and-coming female talent by making them aware of different opportunities within the organization or grooming them for leadership positions. If you are an entrepreneur, make sure you support, get involved in or promote other women-owned businesses.
- Encourage open and honest dialogs between genders: It’s common place for women to only speak to other women about gender parity issues whereas men don’t talk about them enough. Both genders need to make it a point to have open and honest conversations with one another with no feelings of bias or judgement.
- Promote work/life balance: Foster an environment where it’s ok to have a career and take care of your family by offering flexible hours, childcare options, and a career path for women who have taken time off to start a family, regardless of the amount of time that they have been out of the work force.
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
- Ongoing compliance is arguably one of the most important things needed to build a successful Cannabis business for the long-term. Regulatory compliance remains a vital part of all day-to-day operations so that a business can maintain its license, so it’s important to keep up with the changing regulations and legislation. While it’s not the sexiest thing to talk about, compliance is imperative to keep pushing the industry forward while ensuring safety and stability.
- Invest in education. The cannabis plant is extremely complex and as a result, the effects and experience vary from individual to individual. With an overwhelming amount of misinformation and lack of general knowledge, people need to be informed about cannabis, the industry, and effects and interactions it has on the body. Whether it’s taking a class on cannabis science, creating content on your website to educate consumers or offering a course to your employees, being in the industry means you have a responsibility to know what you are talking about when it comes to cannabis.
- The industry runs very much like a start-up. As you build your cannabis business you have to wear many hats and make decisions with limited information because the industry is constantly changing. Don’t worry though — everyone else is trying to figure it out too!
- Be careful about who you work with. There are many auxiliary businesses (i.e. packaging companies, accounting firms, law offices, marketing agencies, etc.) that see the fast growth of the Cannabis industry and try to come in as “experts,” but in reality have a limited understanding the industry. Not only does this result in wasted time and money, but it could also open your business compliance and regulatory issues. Before working with a new partner, ask for references from other cannabis companies that they have previously worked with, so you can do your due diligence.
- Get involved in trade associations. Being a member of the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA) has helped me gain a better understanding of the policy and legislation side of the industry. I have also met so many interesting people and unlikely resources as a result of going to events and policy conferences.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
- Most of the US is finally starting to recognize that cannabis has beneficial uses. This will hopefully open more opportunities for research and studies to be done in a more official capacity (i.e. FDA clinical trials).
- More product innovation and expansion into other CPG categories. Specifically, partnerships between cannabis licenses and established CPG companies.
- A continued push by governments to legalize medicinal and recreational Cannabis use in more states.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
- It’s still the wild west. There are no standardized testing regulations for Cannabis and CBD products across the country other than some high-level guidelines. This makes it difficult to gage quality control, content, composition, potency and toxin levels in products. This lack of clarity impedes the ability for consumers to make informed decisions on what to buy and can potentially be threatening to human health.
- There are limited banking options. Most US banks refuse to work with cannabis companies, resulting in businesses having large amounts of cash on hand. This puts the safety of these businesses in jeopardy because states publish the addresses of legal cannabis companies online, making it easy for criminals to find stores that they can steal from.
- Illegal selling continues. Even in states where cannabis is legal for recreational use, there are hundreds of illegal cannabis businesses still operating by selling legal weed on the black market. In California, the number of illegal storefronts out number legal store fronts 7 to 1 as the excessive taxation gives these black-market operations less of an incentive to operate legally.
To reform or improve the industry, I would recommend the following:
- Create state and/or country wide lab testing standards and protocol for Cannabis and CBD product. Also, require all third-party testing labs to register and be certified through their respective states.
- Lower cannabis tax rates to incentivize black market businesses to operate legally.
- Push for federal legalization, so that more concrete clinical research and studies can be done to verify the benefits and downsides of Cannabis.
What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
There are several arguments that can be made in favor of the federal legalization of Cannabis, but here are my top three:
- It will boost the economy: The cannabis industry (adult-use and medical) in the United States is on track to exceed $24 billion in revenue by 2025.
- It will regulate Cannabis for consumer safety. People buying cannabis on the street have no way of knowing if what they’re ingesting is covered with mold, fungus, pesticides, or other harmful substances. Once cannabis is legalized, the government can enforce laboratory testing and regulations to ensure that cannabis is truly safe to consume.
- Crime decreases when cannabis is legalized. The amount of crime and violence caused by alcohol use is ten times higher than by cannabis use and alcohol is a factor in around 40% of violent crimes. (NCADD.org)
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
I agree Cannabis should be regulated and taxed, but it should not be socially marginalized in the same way that cigarettes are. Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, both of which are known to cause cancer, heart failure, liver damage and more. There are 480,000 deaths from cigarette smoking each year, but to date, there are no recorded cases of death from a cannabis overdose. Yes, there still is plenty of research that needs to be done around the long-term effects of cannabis consumption, but based on findings thus far, there are several positive benefits that come from the plant.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is “everything is figureoutable,” which has become a mantra and a mindset that I live by. It’s a phrase I took from Marie Forleo that reminds me that nothing is impossible — it only takes effort, time and sometimes ingenuity, to get things done.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to encourage people to embrace their failures and mistakes instead of feeling bad or disappointed when they happen. Failures are opportunities to better yourself and grow as a person and should be celebrated instead of discouraged. I feel very strongly about this, so I started a podcast called Free to F’Up. Each week I have conversations with everyday people, business leaders, and influencers, where I ask them to share their own personal mistakes and missteps, process for working through them and tips and tactics for becoming comfortable with failure. The podcast is available on iTunes, so feel free to check it out!
You can connect with me on LinkedIn or Instagram @alexohlinger.
If you are a Cannabis company who is looking for a marketing partner to help grow your business, you can get more information at www.growgreenmarketing.co or follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn @growgreenmktg.
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!