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HerbForce CEO Josh Wand on Making a career transition into the cannabis industry

How to quit your current day job and transition into the exploding cannabis industry with HerbForce CEO Josh Wand

It’s hard to find good help these days — especially in the cannabis industry, one of the fastest-growing industries of modern times. With job openings in the space growing faster than the talent pool, it’s become a job-seekers market. That’s good news for anyone interested in working in the business because compensation packages are being beefed up in order to attract talent from similar industries.

One of the companies that has jumped on the opportunity to grow with the cannabis industry is ForceBrands. The company has been working with cannabis operations for the past few years, and with the passage of the Farm Bill and the subsequent legalization of hemp, ForceBrands has officially launched its new division, HerbForce.

ForceBrands executive recruitment team consists of about 30 recruiters who specialize in placing top talent in industries such as pharmaceutical/medicinal products, the food and beverage industries, the beauty industry, and agtech with specialties in sales and marketing, finance, operations, and HR roles.

PotNetwork spoke with ForceBrands founder and CEO Josh Wand about the explosion of opportunities in the industry to get some professional advice for our readers who might be interested in transitioning into the cannabis industry.

The cannabis industry is growing faster than the talent pool, and it’s become a job-seekers’ market. Where do you think we are in the ramp-up of the cannabis industry? Is it going to plateau soon or keep growing at this pace for a while?

Yeah, it’s a job-seekers’ market. I mean, there are just so many opportunities out there. These organizations aren’t just adding on incremental headcount, they’re building from scratch. Imagine the food industry, the beverage, the tech industry — or any industry — having to get off the ground now and build out whole teams. They have to build out entire organizational design structures and functional groups. Think about the demand for talent.

We haven’t seen this in any space geared towards consumers in a long time. The job seekers are really in the driver’s seat right now, and they’re coming from traditional spaces like the wine industry, food, beverage, beauty, med tech, or pharma. There’s a lot of opportunity out there.

We feel that cannabis is just getting started. All these markets are just at their infant stage. There are so many new emerging players coming in. There are so few brands that have trust yet and so few businesses that are even established that I just feel like we’re at the tip of the iceberg.

Do you find there’s a lot of excitement among job seekers to get into the cannabis space, specifically?

A lot of senior-level executives are interested in applying their skills and talents in cannabis startups. A lot of these cannabis companies are thinking about their board of directors and advisory positions. So you’re seeing a lot of people that actually want to come in and sit on boards, or come in and lead the direction of the organizations.

But I think, as far as exciting roles, what’s really interesting is R&D. If you’re in R&D and product development, you’re really excited to go to a cannabis company that’s doing exciting things with new form factors, new delivery mechanisms.

People are coming from other established industries to work in cannabis and we’re finding innovators in all areas that are willing to jump onboard. They’re all excited about all of it. I would say the whole sector. Even on the retail side there are interesting jobs and people are getting paid well. If you look at sales, marketing, finance, ops, HR and legal — it’s a new frontier, and people are eager to learn more, grow professionally, and to develop into a new industry that’s clearly going to be healthy.

Aside from growers and dispensaries, what other types of companies in the space — like technology and lifestyle companies — are using services such as HerbForce to fill positions?

In addition to the tech, which you mentioned, and the equipment companies, are the packaging companies. What we’re finding is that brand development is a big opportunity now. That consumer space is so ripe — what people are going to vape, eat, drink, or put on their skin.

And what all these companies are realizing is they have to create brands that align with consumers. We want to be the next Unilever, or we want to be the next Nestle. How do we do that? Branding is ultimately going to add much more value in the marketplace, and if they’re looking for any type of liquidity to exit, brand multiples are historically higher than anything in any other industry. If you think about it, is there a national brand out there that everyone knows? Not yet. And it’s a very complicated product to build out because they’re manufacturing state-by-state, unless you’re doing CBD only. But I believe that branding is a big opportunity.

Which positions are you having the most difficulty filling at the present time?

Sales and marketing is a challenge because these are new trade channels. It’s such a young industry, companies are needing to legally sell their product in trade channels that didn’t exist a few years ago. Having people navigate that universe is a challenge. So they’re looking to find people from sales and marketing from other retail-focused industries or verticals like food, beverage, and beauty.

Finance and operations are an easy transition, but sales and marketing seem to be a big challenge. These companies are raising so much money and they need to show significant ramp up and scale from a revenue perspective.

But the sales people and marketing people are building out a whole network and all these new trade channels, so that’s super exciting.

Also, I think that there’s always a challenge with cultivation, finding people that can grow to scale, and they’re often finding that from people coming from organic farms and from wineries.

Do you find that a lot of applicants are willing to relocate to get into this industry?

One hundred percent. We’re seeing a lot of people that come from major markets where it’s not legal yet, they’re moving to other markets where it is because they don’t want to miss out on this. We’re seeing people move from these markets where they just can’t play in the space. They’re moving quite a bit to Massachusetts, to Florida, Jersey and New York is going to open up. It’s going to be huge.

How do compensation packages compare with similar industries?

That’s a great question. We just ran a compensation report that we’re releasing in the next couple of weeks that we’ll be happy to share with you. It shows, vertically, what compensation packages look like on a national, regional and local level per function, in cannabis, compared to food, beverage and beauty. We’ll be happy to share that with you when it’s ready.

What were the considerations that prompted your move into cannabis industry placements?

For us, getting into the cannabis industry was a natural transition of the work we were already doing at ForceBrands. We started getting calls about three years ago from cannabis companies that were doing confections, edibles, vapes, or tinctures, and saying, “we want to build brands, we realize that the type of talent that we’re going to attract probably hasn’t been working in the cannabis space for 15 years, we want people that have built companies to scale, that we admire.

So we decided to really start working with them in a meaningful way. We knew for some time that this was a great space for us, but we didn’t really feel that marketing our brand was appropriate until the Farm Bill passed. That’s when we officially launched HerbForce.

But we’ve been deeply entrenched in it for the past three years and worked with 25-30 companies, just a great group of people that are building really, really talented organizations. For us it made sense because we were in consumer, and cannabis is so consumer-driven. Now we just feel very fortunate to be in the heart of it and to help build these companies with amazing leaders, to help them grow and bring their vision to life. So a lot of it was timing and a lot of it was passion.

You mentioned the Farm Bill. What are your thoughts on the growth of the CBD market versus marijuana?

I just had a conversation about this yesterday. CBD is going to be explosive. You’re going to see a massive expansion in European markets. CBD is going to be enormous, and all the major globals are going to get into it.

I think THC, being a controlled substance and more highly regulated, it won’t have the groundswell approach yet, but eventually—if you look at beverage/alcohol—it’s going to be massive. I think it’s a different suitor because it is a controlled substance, but I feel that CBD is going to see a groundswell over the next 2-4 years. And THC is just really going to be enormous. We’ve never seen categoric growth like this, at least not since I’ve been alive. I believe this industry, for the next 7-10 years, is going to be the healthiest industry.

What advice do you have for anyone looking to jump over to the cannabis industry from their present job?

Research the companies, research the people behind the organizations, research the investor groups. And really be careful. Just because this is a new industry doesn’t mean you should go work for any company. Talk to people that work there. People in this industry are very friendly, they’re willing to share where they’ve come from and where they’re headed. I think really becoming a student of the game is the key.

Make sure it aligns with your philosophy, and it’s the right company culture, and it’s the right people and their vision is aligned with where you want to go in your career. Take your time, really think it through, and really get to know the people behind it. Once you start working for a company, you’re there every day. You have to dedicate your life to it and spend more time there than you are with your family, nine times out of ten.

So I would say, just be thoughtful. Just because it’s a cannabis company doesn’t mean it’s the right cannabis company for you. Understand what it is that you want to do in the cannabis space. You might want to be on the brand side, you might want to be in cultivation, distribution, extraction, or on the tech side. So, really, just study it. Go to conferences. Get to know the people behind the business.

Are there any particular educational avenues that you recommend to those interested in getting in the cannabis industry?

We’re researching them right now to try to find the most credible, accredited, and educational courses. We’re evaluating quite a few right now. A few that end up rising to the top.

What I’d recommend right now is going to the trade shows, talking to the manufacturers, talking to the producers, talking to growers, and becoming a student of the game. Get your hands dirty. I think over time you’ll start to see a lot of these courses emerge, just like you see the Court of Master Sommeliers or the Cicerone Certification Program for beer. There will be organizations that are dedicated to it.

What action should our readers take if they are interested in a consultation with someone at your firm?

If anyone ever wants to give us call and talk about career opportunities and how to navigate the cannabis space, anyone at HerbForce would be happy to chat with them. You can visit the HerbForce.com website, you can reach out to us directly, give us a call.

We have a team nationally of 65-70 people and we’re always happy to share as much experience as we can and help people talk through their career transition and options. So, whatever we can do to be helpful, more than happy to.

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