Cody Stevenson is a serial entrepreneur with an emphasis in the digital space, and he is the current Director of Business Development for Ganjapreneur.
Before coming to Ganjapreneur, Cody served in the U.S. Marine Corps, founded several media-based startups, and worked on digital marketing campaigns with many different Fortune 500 brands; he also built and launched KushJobs — which was incorporated into the Ganjapreneur.com Job Board when Cody was hired — and he has worked closely with Spark the Conversation and Bianca Green, traveling throughout California to meet with advocates and spread awareness about the importance of cannabis reforms leading up to the 2016 elections.
We decided to host this Q&A with Cody not only so our readers would have a chance to get to know him, but also because he has a lot of valuable experience to share!
Ganjapreneur: What was your background before getting into the cannabis industry, and what drove your decision to pursue a career in cannabis?
Cody Stevenson: I wish I had an easy answer to this question, but I am all over the place and always have my hands in something new. I started my first company, HMC Media, with 2 partners in 2007 after deploying to Iraq and being medically discharged from the United States Marine Corps. This is when I realized I loved entrepreneurship and growing businesses in the digital space.
In 2010, I had a successful exit from HMC and was headhunted by a large defense company to scale operations in the Middle East. I spent over two years in Afghanistan getting operations setup and running and then returned back to the States and worked on several projects, including working with a team to set a world flight record. I have a lot of experience in advanced technologies and large-scale operations management.
I never lost my love for the digital space and entrepreneurship, though. I had been running a digital think tank on the side the whole time I was doing the defense work. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many websites I’ve built, failed at, acquired, sold, etc. If I had an idea, I dove in 200% on everything. At this time I was really starting to have a horrible taste in my mouth for the corporate world and defense work in general. Morally it just didn’t sit with me well. Oddly enough — or maybe not so much, hah — this is when I reunited with cannabis and realized the medical benefits for veterans with PTSD issues. It had been about 10 years since I had used cannabis recreationally in high school and to be completely honest I had been medicating with alcohol up to this point. NOT A GOOD THING!
Almost 3 years ago I decided to leave the corporate world and go full-time into the digital media world again. I worked on some great campaigns with companies like Verizon Wireless, Novatel, Applebees, Tinder, etc. The problem was I still wasn’t 100% happy with what I was doing. The stress I was getting from being a cannabis user and having to hide it wasn’t fun either. That’s when a light bulb went off in my head. Hey, I really believe in the benefits of cannabis and I have a lot of skills I can use to break into the industry! Not sure why it took me so long to realize this?
I knew I was going to have to prove myself and show how my experience could transition into cannabis. That is when I went full-time building and launching KushJobs.co. The rest is pretty much history! I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really awesome people since I went down this path.
I worked with Bianca Green and SparkTheConversation.org to build out their digital presence and project management for a 22-day bus tour throughout California advocating for marijuana last year, and here I am today doing Biz Dev with Ganjpreneur.com while launching Trim Media. I couldn’t be happier!
With so many people trying to get into the cannabis industry, what can job-seekers do to make their applications stand out?
Present yourself as a professional and highlight how your experience relates to the position you’re applying for. I know that sounds like common sense, but I can’t tell you how many resumes and applications I have seen from people that think cannabis is all about the “stoner” culture and just being able to get high on the job. This may be the standard operating procedure at some places, but a large majority of companies are looking for professionals with real-world experience to help scale their businesses.
A lot of people resist this, but part of the issue with weed is the stigma that has been attached to it. The reality is this industry is no different than any other industry. People from all walks of life consume cannabis. So put forth the same effort you would if you were applying for any other professional career.
From your experience, is there more of a sense of community in the cannabis industry compared to other industries?
Yes! Just by the nature of the legalities around the industry and the effects, the plant has on us as consumers, we are brought together for a common cause that a large majority of us truly believe in. The industry does have areas where money is the driving factor, and I think it is important for us to not let the business side of the industry get out of hand — then we would be no different from any other industry where the bottom line is all that matters. I’m hopeful we will regulate ourselves and not just become “Big Cannabis,” if you will. That would be a sad day and I think a lot of the benefits provided by the plant would be lost.
What do you think is the most important consideration for someone who is thinking about launching a business in the cannabis industry?
Do it out of passion and not for money. It’s really that simple. If you are thinking about launching a cannabis business because you think it will make you rich quickly, you probably won’t last long at all. If you have a really good idea though, and you really love working with cannabis — the possibilities are endless!
People come to the cannabis industry from all walks of life. In your time working in the industry, have you noticed any traits that seem to be universal among cannabis entrepreneurs?
I’ve noticed several different factions of cannabis entrepreneurs. The advocate, the patient, techies, and then your typical entrepreneur type. Patients that have directly benefited from cannabis are very common though, which I think is super cool. That’s what brought me down this path. Not too many industries have those kinds of roots.
One of my favorite parts of this industry though is the high amount of trailblazers. You have to be willing to risk a lot to get into this industry just because of its legal status in our country. I think that is what I really enjoy and makes me respect everyone that works in the industry. You’re not just risking capital or time, but possibly your personal freedom as well.
Given your experience working on campaigns for Fortune 500 brands, how do you think companies in the cannabis industry should think about the value of marketing, and where should they be focusing their advertising budgets?
Having a great product will only get you so far. The cannabis industry is extremely competitive and will only get more competitive as the industry grows. Companies need to plan for the future and start building a culture around their brand. I would argue that, with the current state of the industry, marketing is one of the most important aspects of any cannabis business right now.
As the industry matures and becomes more normalized, we will start to see already established companies move in with complete marketing departments and large budgets behind them. This is a reality that all brands need to prepare for and why they should start establishing their voice early.
I’m a big advocate for storytelling through creative digital content. The generations with the most buying power right now make decisions based on content they consume on a daily basis. A well-crafted video or written piece speaking to your brand’s message and values can go a long way. The days of just placing your product in front of consumers are behind us in my opinion. I want to know who is making my product, can I relate to them, and do they have the best interest of the industry in mind? More importantly, are they real people just like me? Most companies don’t have the budget for a complete marketing department, though, so it is essential to work with well-established media outlets in the industry to get your message to the consumer.
Last but not least! You can tell a great story and do amazing branding, but can you cap it all off with a great customer experience? Make the consumer part of your community, engage them on social media, and turn them into a brand ambassador. If you take care of your customer, they will take care of you. I highly recommend that anyone who runs a business in the cannabis industry takes the time to read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh.
What advice would you give to someone looking to transition from their career in an established industry to a position at a cannabis start-up? What are the positives and negatives they should expect?
First things first. You need to have a serious conversation with your spouse if you have one and then the people you associate with every day. This was a big factor for me, specifically with my Dad. I grew up in very conservative rural Kansas and was always told marijuana will basically turn you into the devil and make you brain dead. Luckily my Dad didn’t have the response I thought he would and supported me. My wife has always supported me in everything I do. I can’t stress the importance of this as an entrepreneur enough.
Be prepared to lose friends as well. A lot of people I know have stopped talking to me or just don’t associate anymore. I expected this considering I have a deep background in the military and defense industry. To be blunt, they probably weren’t the greatest of friends to start with anyway.
Once you get that squared away, what transferable skills do you have? I find that people are really bad at realizing their own strengths and how to apply them to various industries. The cannabis industry is extremely young and it is just like any other industry. Marijuana isn’t all about growing and selling. This industry needs software developers, accountants, security professionals, photographers, etc.
Once you realize what your unique talent is that you can offer the industry, get out and participate! Overall, the industry is pretty small in the grand scheme of things and word of mouth travels fast. Go to events, connect with owners, offer your services at a discounted rate if you need to. Anything you can do that isn’t sitting around just thinking about making the leap is a step in the right direction.
The last advice I would give applies to any industry. This is 2017! Like it or not, we live in a digital world where the Internet is quickly taking over all forms of media and marketing. Get a personal website up, be proactive on social media, and don’t be afraid to build something yourself. All of the greatest knowledge I have comes from failing. If you are really interested in a specific start-up, become a power user of that platform.
If I can do this anybody can do this. I grew up on farms spraying Thistles, fishing, and riding four-wheelers in a very small town in Kansas. I have no formal training outside of the Marine Corps and am self-taught in all of the skills that have got me to where I am today.
Cody is in charge of our Fall 2017 and 2018 advertising schedules – if you would like to review a copy of our media kit, feel free to send him an email at [email protected]! You can also find Cody on Instagram and Twitter.