Cassandra Farrington is the CEO of Marijuana Business Daily. It’s no exaggeration that everybody in the industry will be at this conference. Listen in to hear what you’ll learn, who you will rub shoulders with and how this conference can help your business grow.
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[1:22] – What is Marijuana Business Daily
[2:04] – Cassandra’s background
[5:20] – How has the Marijuana Business Conference grown
[9:24] – Cassandra reveals the keynote for this year
[11:42] – Cassandra talks about irrational exuberant areas in the space
[15:44] – Getting the most out of the Marijuana Business Conference
18.24 – Strategies for exhibitors
[20:30] – Cassandra talks about designing booths
[22:05] – Taking the conference’s crash course
[24:25] – Cassandra asks some personal development questions
Are you looking to understand the cannabis business more, network and socialize with other cannabis business professionals and grow your business, the you’ll want to know about the largest cannabis business conference coming up in Las Vegas this November. Here to tell us about it is Cassandra Farrington, CEO of Marijuana Business Daily. Cassandra, welcome to CannaInsider.
Cassandra: Thank you so much Matt. I’m really glad to be here.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography, where are you in the world today?
Cassandra: I am luckily at my home base, in my office in the Denver area. I have been on the road non-stop it feels like for about six weeks, and I’m glad to be kind of anchoring down for a few weeks before the big show hits in November.
Matthew: Yes, it is, it’s a very consistently nice weather. I really like it. What is Marijuana Business Daily? I think almost everybody in the industry probably gets your emails at this point, but for the people that are new that don’t, just tell us what Marijuana Business Daily is.
Cassandra: Sure, so Marijuana Business Daily is effectively the Wall Street Journal resource for and about the cannabis industry. It is a completely business focused and B2B tool that the industry has relied on for many years to just understand the development, the opportunities, the risks, the threats, the regulations, the changing business landscape as the cannabis industry has developed over the last several years.
Matthew: Yeah the threats, it seems like there’s more threats than anything these day, so I’m glad you cover those. What is your background? How did you get into this business, and maybe you could talk a little bit about Ann Holland, to give people a sense of context.
Cassandra: Absolutely. My business partner, Ann and I, are business to business media veterans. We both worked together at a newsletter publisher back in the day completely on the business to business side. So, it was an industry where, back in the day again, paper newsletters that you may have a 1,000 subscribers for your newsletter product, but you charge a $1,000 a year, it would be a very high end, really targeted publication to a very niche audience and you had a nice little business model there. You string three or four of those things together in the airline industry. Had different niches within that and roll it up under a common sales team or common publisher and you’d have a great business model.
That is what we set out to do, not in cannabis, but just in business overall and to translate that to the web. As we were looking for new things to launch into back in 2011, we noted here in Denver the emerging dispensary market specifically. Thought, well there’s a group of people who had a growing industry, who are figuring this out day-by-day. We can put together business resources for that group of people and help them do their jobs better and help them grow their businesses quicker. So, we set out to do that and everything else has followed from that method of idea.
Matthew: I actually followed your business partner Ann when she ran, I think, What Runs Where or Which Test One.
Cassandra: Which Test One. Exactly. Which Test One was one Ann Holland Ventures, so mine and Ann’s, one of our other launches that we had before we came into the cannabis space, and that was all about A/B testing in marketing circumstances. We had another one that was all about how to harness subscription website more effectively. So, think about pay walls or fan club websites, this transition to paid news on the web, those sorts of things. That was another industry we covered. Like I said, the cannabis space was our third. Let’s see what’s happening over there.
As this has grown, we’ve actually divested both Which Test One and Subscription Insider. They’re both off to better homes now. We unfortunately just couldn’t keep up and give those products and business lines the attention and love they deserved to be able to flourish themselves, while we were also doing this, because the cannabis space, as you know Matt, has just continued to explode.
Matthew: It has. Gosh, I was at your last conference and I just was shocked how big it had become. I had gone in 2014 in Las Vegas at the Rio, and it was a nice size then, but this last year in Vegas it was like a Guns and Roses concert. There were so many people. Not the same motif as a Guns and Roses concert, but the size of it. It was unbelievable, the floor and the exhibition, and we’ll get into that in a minute. Maybe you can tell us how large the conference was and how it’s progressed in the size to where it is now.
Cassandra: Our last event we had to stop allowing people to register when we hit 11,000 people, just right above that number. That was due to fire code at the Rio where the event was held last year. As you said, you were there, it was just wall to wall. We were getting to a point where people were just not comfortable in the space, and of course we want to make sure the people who are there harbor the experience. So, we did decide to limit registrations at that point. We’re moving this year to the Las Vegas convention center. So, not concerned about being able to let everybody who wants to participate come in the door and check out the show floor.
The show floor is also going to be significantly larger than it was last year. You mentioned, last year it was expansive and we had it in two different halls at the venue where we were at last year. We’re all under one roof this year, but we’re taking over the north halls of the convention center. There’s going to be 650+ exhibitors on the show floor with everything from grow lights to HVAC systems, to greenhouse construction. On the retail side from tracking systems to retail displays and design services on the extraction side. Infused products, everything from packaging to extraction machines and testing equipment. It’s going to be the full ecosystem of everything that goes into creating an end user product with cannabis material. Everything is going to be right there on that show floor.
Matthew: How would you say the conference is unique? One thing I’ve noticed is you execute very well. You have all the details taken care of. I know there is a ton, and good job on that. One thing I notice is the conference space and I think in general business kind of moving to this winner take all approach. I don’t know what the reason is, but there’s only one Facebook. You’ve really captured the business to business conference market, and everything seems to be moving to this unipolar world where winner takes all. Do you feel like that’s happening? What’s your sense there?
Cassandra: I think it’s natural within business, in any business landscape that there’s going to be a dominant player, and there’s no question that MJ Biz Con has become the dominant player. I think that we have earned that position simply through having really terrific, unbiased and well curing content. Having a great expo, as you said, with all the details taken care of, it runs smoothly. It’s a good experience for the people who are there. With trade show in particular, whether it’s an expo only type event or whether it’s a conference type of event, there’s absolutely a sense of critical mass that plays into that.
We live in such a virtual world today that at some point people do need to get together, if they’re going to be traveling to an event, if they’re going to be making that investing in being on-site somewhere, they want to be at that place where they know the most people are going to be who are going to be able to help them advance their own business activities to find the right partners, to scope out the right vendor for the next part of their business expansion. Whatever that is, they want to go to where the critical of people and businesses and opportunities are going to be. That simply has become into Biz Com.
Matthew: Who was the keynote speaker last year, and who is it going to be this year? I’m trying to remember. It wasn’t Ben and Jerry. That was 2014.
Cassandra: That was 2014. This year we’re having George Blankenship is going to be our keynote speaker. He is a business innovator. He has worked with Tesla, and with Apple and with many other forward thinking companies over the last many years, and is going to bring his insights into business innovation and industry innovation to the show floor here, to the show in Las Vegas. I’m very much looking forward to hearing how somebody who has been on the forefront on so many business advancements that have fundamentally changed the way our society operates.
When you think about Apple and the ways they have impacted not just computers, but how that has really flowed through our entire society and changed the way that we approach the world. I think that cannabis can be and is becoming a similar game changing and innovation industry. I think his intents are going to be very valuable. We’re also having, as a keynote this year, Jean Sullivan who is a noted investor in this space and was a noted Dot Com investor as well, and she’ll be talking about her experiences during the Dot Com boom and some of the parallels she’s seeing as the cannabis develops and some of the irrational exuberant that we’re starting to see here in the cannabis market. She has some words of wisdom and [10.57 unclear] and values for attendees, as people move forward in those landscapes.
Last year we had Penn Jillette, from the comedy duo Penn and Teller. Penn is a noted libertarian and free thinker himself. His comments were very much appreciated in terms of how people like him are influencing the conversation of cannabis in the general society. Not just in the United States, but globally as we see things change.
Matthew: You mentioned irrational exuberance there. There are areas that seem a little bit frothy. What areas are those to you in your mind?
Cassandra: The places where I see the most exuberance, absolutely the places where there are the most opportunities. So, I think California, as that market comes out, it’s obviously going to be huge. I think it’s going to take a little while to sort itself out. Right now there’s a lot of investment that’s just going into that space to try to seize opportunity, but I don’t know that there is very much risk mitigation going on right now. Now, I get that that’s difficult to do because we still don’t even have emergency legislation out that’s going to control things come January 1st, so how do you mitigate risk when you don’t know the landscape you’re going to be playing on. That’s absolutely a difficult question, but there’s definitely going to be some people who end up with the short straw in that market.
Canada, something of a similar situation. The amount of investment that’s pouring in up there is both heartening because it is a precursor of what could be possible if the United States legalized thoroughly and got their act together. The Canada marketplace is going to be a much more stable with full federal regulation, full federal legalization, which means you’ll be able to do banking and commerce and taxing and regulation across the entire federal landscape. That’s a great foundation on which to build a business that we simply don’t have here in the United States, but the amount of money that’s going into that market right now does not, I think, match the size of the Canadian market.
So, where I think where people are looking, and I think this is an interesting angle of the Canadian marketplace, is Canada is quickly becoming an international hub for cannabis commerce. So, the Canada issue is not just about Canada, but it’s about Germany, and it’s about Australia and the Caribbean and other import/export markets and transborder, crossing the border with an IP that’s being developed up in Canada, things like that. So, there’s a lot going on and a lot of opportunities out there. Just always make sure you know what you’re doing when you’re up to foreign money.
Matthew: Yeah, I definitely am concerned about the cost of cannabis just going down quite a bit in California, once that engine really starts running and people that are running into that now, it’s like the top 1 percent of the people into automation and agriculture on a large scale that put in a ton of upfront investment are really going to be able to do things at scale that the small and medium guys just won’t be able to do. So, that’s one thing I worry about.
Cassandra: It is, it is a concern. Ultimately we are talking about a commoditization, a commodity market for an agricultural product at base level. Now, I think that the cannabis industry would be more benefitted by pursuing more of a consumer package goods model, rather than thinking of it necessarily as a commodity. Take Corn Flakes for example. Corn is a commodity. Corn Flakes is a consumer package good, and you so you can brand and charge more and market corn flakes very differently than you can a bushel of corn. So, thinking of it that way I think would be a good guidance for cannabis entrepreneurs.
Matthew: Yeah, I think of Tiffany’s also. Diamonds are a commodity in a sense, but the blue box from Tiffany’s is something that has real brand equity.
Cassandra: Absolutely, and that’s the way that we need to be thinking about things that are in this space.
Matthew: So, what’s the best strategy to get the most out of the conference in your opinion, especially for newcomers?
Cassandra: That’s a big question because the show has gotten big and it can feel intimidating, especially if it’s your first time at a cannabis event. So, the first thing I would say is, especially to newcomers, understand that this is a real business environment. This is not a consumer festival. Don’t feel like you’re walking into a smoke tent, something like that. This is a trade show like any other you’ve been to in whatever industry you’ve come from. If you are a newcomer, I highly recommend coming in a day early, on Tuesday the 14th and attending the Marijuana Business Crash Course. That even on Tuesday will be a smaller conference type activity that will really help you get centered in what the cannabis industry is, what it is not and help you understand what you want to be doing over the next three days of the show, what other conference sessions you want to attend, what exhibitors you really want to target to go visit, what kinds of people you want to meet over the next three days.
Then beyond that I would just say make sure that you have studied the conference agenda. Make sure that you’ve looked at the show floor. Have a plan going in as to this is what I want to do and what I want to get out of this show. I think it’s a really great idea to bring a common with you, especially if you’re looking to get a sense for the entire scope and scale of the marketplace. You may want to go talk to each and every one of those 650+ exhibitors in which case you really are going to need more than one person walking that show floor and having those conversations and understanding what all of those people are about.
Matthew: One little tactic I use is that it gets so overwhelming to meet so many people so quickly that when I meet someone new and plan on following up with each other just to take a selfie of you and that person together and when you email them say, hey this is me and you. Oh, right, I do remember you.
Cassandra: That’s a great idea. I love it.
Matthew: Thanks. How about an exhibitor? What can an exhibitor do to get the most foot traffic attention and how can they talk with people? Do they need to have an escalator pitch ready to get out what they need to get out and see if there’s a match and if not, move on to the next one? Do you have any strategies around that?
Cassandra: Absolutely. We start, all of our exhibitors take advantage of the retrieval systems that are included with their Show News, with their show packages. Every batch you will be able to just scan a badge and capture somebody’s information, make a couple of notes about it. So you can quickly capture those good leads that are going to be walking by your booth. You absolutely need an elevator type pitch, and you need everybody who is working your booth to be using it consistently, so that you can quickly go through and screen for, all right this is somebody that we want to be talking more to. Is this somebody we should then talk to more right now, or do we want to grab this person’s information and have them go on and reach out to them quickly next week or the week after.
It’s going to be a very busy show floor. There are going to be tons of highly qualified leads that will be walking by each and every one of those booths ready to make investment decisions and will be at MJ Biz Com to scope out which vendor or which partner they’re going to go out with. So, that’s the conversations you need to be prepared to have and that everybody in your business needs to be prepared to have. Beyond that, comfortable shoes. These are going to be some really exciting days and long ones, so make sure that you’ve gotten enough sleep and are ready to take this head on.
Matthew: Yeah, great suggestion there, and definitely having a team where one person can always be at the booth, because I know sometimes it’s just exhausting, so people take breaks, but then you go by their booth and there’s no one there. So, they’re missing out on some business. One question I have for you is let’s say I’m an exhibitor or considering making a booth, but I’ve never made a booth before. Is there any vendors or design firms or companies that you recommend that a listener reach out to in terms of creating a cool booth?
Cassandra: Sure. We have an entire exhibitor’s services manual that we provide to all of our exhibiting companies that has all of that information in there, tons of ideas, tons of vendors to reach out to to do those things. Our exhibit service company that we work with is Freeman. They provide those services. There are also lots of independents that work in the exhibit space. Lots of people come into the cannabis from another industry and have relationships with people from previous industries that have worked trade shows before and can capture those opportunities.
Then if you are more of a complete new entrepreneur startup activity, there’s tons of suggest in that exhibitor. So, this is mainly to make sure you use those documents that you have available to you. In addition, this year we’re about to release some exhibitor videos that we’ve put together to help our exhibitors walk through the last few weeks before the show, making sure that they have everything that they need ready. Make sure you have these checklists taken care of. Make sure you’re ready with your elevator and here’s a great way to staff your booth and those sorts of things so people can really take advantage of the opportunity of exhibiting at MJ Biz Com.
Matthew: I just want to circle back to the crash course for a second, because there’s a lot of people who have attended that who are listening, but then others that are considering hey, is that right for me. Can you just talk a little more detail about what you learn at the crash course?
Cassandra: You bet. We start about 10 o’clock in the morning with a cannabis industry overview, just sort of laying out the opportunity that is in front of you if you’re considering entering the cannabis marketplace. Then we go through, here’s a quick primer on cannabis itself. Here’s what it does. Here’s what it doesn’t do, those sorts of questions. Then into each of the major niches; cultivation, retail, infused products and how to put primer on all of those. All of these sessions include time for Q&A with the audience so that you can make sure you’re getting your questions answered, all of the contact information for all the speakers is included.
Those experts that we’re putting up on stage who have walked the road that the newbies in the audience are walking right now, they know who they can reach out to. It says, all right this person has been in my shoes and can answer my question. After we run through the niches, we go on with legal and accounting and banking, cash management, financing, both getting financing for your business, as well as deploying the finance into the cannabis space, if that’s what you’re angle is. So, this is about six to seven hours of just here is the quick download of what the cannabis space is and what the opportunities are, and that really has helped people their feet under them as they head into the rest of the show, meeting people. It helps them understand the lingo and know what things when they hear about them in the sessions later.
That crash course in fact has really helped us elevate the content that we’ve been able to put into the rest of the conference, because having given the new people an opportunity to get that base knowledge, we can then take that other conference to a 2 or 1 or 3 or 1 level. That really attracts and appeals to a much broader audience and helps the entire industry advance in that way.
Matthew: Great points. Let’s pivot to a couple personal development questions. Is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you would like to share? It doesn’t have to be in the cannabis space or business space. Anything is fine.
Cassandra: I’m an Alabama girl, strangely enough. Back in the day I grew up in small town Alabama and one of my favorite books of all time has always been To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it when I was not quite Scott’s age, but I was a little older than that, but I read it when I was still fairly young. It had a big impression on me back then. Every time I go back and reread that book I’m just reminded of how important it is to be a good human, first and foremost, no matter what else happens. It’s just so important in personal development and personal happiness to be sure that you’re doing the right thing for people and with people first and foremost. That has in fact carried through to my business philosophy, they way that I run my company here. Ann and I set out in the early days to help people do their jobs better and run their businesses better. That philosophy has carried through to the way that the team here at MJ Biz Daily works. I have always wanted to create a place just where people enjoy what they’re doing. They feel successful about it, and they enjoy who they’re doing it with. Those things are all things that come out of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Matthew: Classic book. That’s a great book. I escaped Hurricane Matthew last year and went into Alabama for a couple of weeks just spontaneously. Driving all around through Birmingham and through the rolling hills and everything, and I was really impressed by it. I didn’t know what to think of Alabama, but Birmingham was really fun and interesting and there was a great farmer’s market there on Saturday. That whole scene I think is, I don’t know, like a merging America. People just don’t talk about it.
Cassandra: It is. Alabama is a great place to be from. The people are so warm and friendly. I have very near and dear family and friends still down there. I love being able to say that I’m from Alabama, even though in the cannabis space it does raise an eyebrow or two.
Matthew: Because Jeff Sessions is from there right.
Cassandra: Exactly. Jeff Sessions is from there. It is on the short list of states that will be last to legalize, which I agree with. I get it. I grew up around that environment, and I understand where those people are coming from. It’s just a, honestly and this is kind of a departure to politics and the drug war and all that sort of thing.
Is there a tool, web-based or otherwise, that you consider vital to your business operation or productivity?
Cassandra: We are actually experimenting and looking at several things that will enhance our reader experience with MJ Biz Daily and their web experience when they engage with that, as well as the conference experience. There is so much new and emerging conference technology that’s coming out from chat bots to app based systems, to things that you’ll actually be able to experience on the show floor this year at MJ Biz Com. I think it’s that amalgamation of technologies that we’re going to be able to tap into as the show and as MJ Biz Daily and as the cannabis industry continues to grow.
I’ll make another comment about technology and especially with cannabis. I’ve been thinking about this recently that I think there’s two key reasons why the cannabis industry has been on the growth trajectory it has been. There’s no question that it is become an economy, an industry that has gotten its legs under it, much more quickly than any before it. I think there’s two good reasons why. Number one is the fairly obvious, consumer adoption issue is that this is a product that people have been using for a very long time, and the only thing that’s stopping them from using more of it is access and legal status. The other reason why, beyond the fact that we don’t have to convince people here’s this new thing try this, people have already tried it and they know what it is and they know they want it. So, we don’t have that consumer adoption issue.
The other thing that we’re working with that no other industry has ever worked with before is that this is the first industry after the Dot Com boom. This is the first industry that has been created on the back of things like seed to sale software and Big Data harvesting and analysis and communication systems that are far more effective than they’ve ever been in the past. I think that the way that technology has fueled the cannabis industry is only going to continue to expand and then export back out into other mainstream industries.
Matthew: One thing I wanted to ask you about is the statistic about most businesses failing is really high, but when I look your and Ann’s track record you have a really good success record. What is the formula there? Do you try to get into emerging businesses that have strong profit potential, add value and then provide something back to those people? Is there a formula that you kind of follow?
Casssandra: To some degree there is. When we launched our products we always looked for an industry that was growing at 7 percent or more per year, that had a certain number, a critical mass of businesses with employees. So, not just some little entrepreneurs, but people who were making payroll, who felt a sense of obligation to I have to make sure my staffers get paid this week, because that has a different level of commitment to it as an entrepreneur and therefore staying power. Then a few other things. Yeah, we did follow a check list as we went through that, but I do think that it comes back to this sense of helping people do their jobs better.
If you give people a sense of comfort that not only are you a trustworthy source, but you are one that’s invested in your success, they will in turn invest in more success, and give you back what you need to be able to help them. It becomes a very positive and virtuous cycle that has really fueled our activities.
Matthew: It’s like a karmic snowball.
Cassandra: It is. It’s a good way to live life.
Matthew: Well Cassandra, thanks so much for coming on the show today. Can you give out your website and let people know how to register as an attendee or an exhibitor?
Cassandra: You bet. Actually our exhibit hall is completely sold out, but if you’re interested it is… but if you’re interested in being part of MJ Biz Com next year or in a future event, by all means reach out to our sales department firstname.lastname@example.org. You can register for the show at www.mjbizcon.com. For your listeners Matt we have a $50 discount available if they just use discount code CANNAINSIDER50. They’ll be able to get an additional $50 the sessions and exhibits price of the registration. If they register before October 19th, the price is $200 off sessions and exhibits, $100 an expo pass. So, if they get out there and get their registrations here in the next week, then we’ll be able to save them even more money that way.
Matthew: Great. Well, Cassandra, thanks so much for coming on the show and educating us. We really appreciate it.
Cassandra: Matt, I really appreciate the time