Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday and Wednesday look for a fresh episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes and interview the leaders of the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at www(dot)cannainsider(dot)com. That’s www(dot)cannainsider(dot)com. Do you know that feeling when you sense opportunity, when you see something before most people and you just know it will be successful, then you're ready. Ready for CannaInsider Consulting. Learn more at www(dot)canninsider(dot)com/consulting. Now here's your program.
As the cannabis market continues to grow many new entrepreneurs and investors are gravitating to the industry but lack the context and framework to understand how to succeed in this space. That is why I’ve asked Leslie Bocskor, The President of Electrum Partners back to help us get the key insights and context that many newcomers need to prosper. Leslie welcome back to CannaInsider.
Leslie: It’s a pleasure to be here as always. Thank you very much for having me on the show again.
Matthew: To give us a sense of geography can you tell us where you are in the world today?
Leslie: Today I’m in Las Vegas, Nevada enjoying a beautiful, sunny, warm, and dry day.
Matthew: Good. Now you were on the show in 2014 but for new listeners can you give us a little bit of an overview and background about yourself and why you got into the cannabis industry?
Leslie: Sure. I’ve always been sympathetic to cannabis and the plight of cannabis prohibition. Going back to when I first encountered “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” by Jack Herer in the 80s and when I moved down to Las Vegas, Nevada from New York I discovered that medical marijuana was obviously not just what they do in California with granola and yoga and it was a more substantial industry than I had previously thought. We ended up getting very involved in the policy side of it and helping Nevada establish a robust and well regarded regulatory framework that serves the interests of the citizens of the state, the consumers of the product, the patients in medical marijuana and is a very business friendly environment.
That led me to forming Electrum Partners that got involved in the licensing advising people in the industry. We ended up being very deeply involved in the licensing process and advising people in their strategy in the state and outside. I also ended up contemplating and have begun setting up a fund that is going to be investing in the industry and also we have been very involved in strategy with a number of different companies. We look for the best of breed and the businesses that have the best teams and employ best practices in various verticals within the industry and we’ve been creating an eco system within our relationships of those businesses and that’s currently where we are today.
Matthew: How has the cannabis market evolved in Nevada over the last twelve or eighteen months?
Leslie: Now it is starting to really hit the what would I call the aggressive ramp up. We’re now seeing new dispensaries open every week or every couple of weeks. I think we’ve got to be at around twelve to fifteen of them in southern Nevada currently and we will probably be at about forty to forty-five within the next two to three months. They are doing business. The reciprocity aspect of it has really been fantastic. We’re told by some of the dispensaries that some seventy to eighty percent of their business comes from out of state patients.
Leslie: And we’re now also in the middle of our Ballot Initiative Campaign where we’re going to be voting on adult use in the ballot box this November which we are working aggressively to see pass and so to sum up the industry has started to really take on some momentum right now. Cultivations are coming online. Product diversity is starting to exist in the dispensaries and the dispensaries are starting to do a substantial amount of business. It’s really an exciting time here in Nevada.
Matthew: The reciprocity you mentioned. How big a factor is California in that reciprocity? Is it nearly all or what would you guess?
Leslie: I would say it’s a very big factor in it. I’m told that on any Friday or Saturday night one third of the people in Clark County are from southern California and so with over one million medical marijuana cardholders in Nevada; I’m sorry California it is no surprise that a lot of the patients that are coming to the dispensaries are from California. That being said I know there are people that have come here from Michigan, from Washington, from Colorado, from Oregon, from Holland, from Israel, and from other jurisdictions, Canada that are using their medical marijuana recommendations when they’re in Nevada because every one of them is recognized.
Matthew: How likely do you think recreational use will pass? Is that a high probability you think or where we at on that?
Leslie: So it’s a great question Matt and I think that we’re at a very key point and I am trying to do what I can to inspire everybody that can make a difference. Getting out every vote, getting every person registered to vote. It is critical. It’s currently polling at sixty percent. That’s incredibly good.
Leslie: The other side of that is the poll that released that data was arranged by Sheldon Adelson and I’m told that Sheldon Adelson is already raising money and getting people committed to fight the ballot initiative and so obviously being one of the wealthiest people in the world and being here in Las Vegas and this being his backyard and being the person who contributed five million dollars to the campaign against medical marijuana in Florida two years ago that was also a contribution to help Governor Rick Scott elected. We believe that it’s a fight and we really need to be prepared for a fight and so we are cautiously optimistic and really rolling up our sleeves to get involved in the battle that is coming.
Matthew: How have you seen the type of investor and entrepreneur that’s coming into the cannabis space change or evolve since you got in?
Leslie: Matt since I got involved in 2012 things have changed very dramatically and incrementally and consistently. Every ArcView meeting that I go to we’re seeing the level of sophistication, the level of due diligence, the quality of the teams and the diversity of the teams that are being assembled, the granularity in terms of detail for business model, the intellectual property protections, the planning for the future, looking out to the future has all been improving constantly from ArcView meeting to ArcView meeting and every other type of conference that I’ve been too. So the answer is we’re seeing the changes take place primarily at this point in the form of two major areas.
One the level of preparation, due diligence, and detail going into the businesses plans. The entrepreneurs plans has increased fairly dramatically and two the diversity and depth of the bench. The breadth and depth of the bench that the different projects have in terms of their team members has been increasing fairly dramatically. Whereas when I first came into the industry people like myself and others who came out of other industries with levels of previous success were much more limited. It was much more of an industry specific type of group at that time. Meaning everybody who was involved was really cannabis industry professionals. Now we’re seeing people come out of science, medicine, coming out of marketing, come out of the creative side of it, distribution, logistics.
I was recently speaking with a group that specialized in logistics that came out of United Parcel Service and other shipping companies and now they’re looking at how their particular areas of experience, knowledge, and relationships would be applicable in the cannabis industry. So the answer to your question is we’re seeing a marked change and the biggest single changes are once again the detail and the level that people are putting into their preparation for their businesses and the breadth and depth of the team members that they have to execute those businesses.
Matthew: That’s great to hear. It really is. So there are some markets in the U.S. that are not totally functional. Illinois pops into mind right away. What do you think about these markets that have legalized medical and they just don’t give their participants the tools they need to succeed? Is that a trend we’re seeing or how do you feel about that in general?
Leslie: That is a trend. That is a positive trend because we want to put it in context of when that happened. So Illinois is really a legacy of four years ago. New Jersey is really a legacy of four to five years ago. New York is really a legacy of two years ago. Connecticut is a legacy of three to four years ago. Minnesota three to four years ago. Those are some of the markets that are most restrictive. Florida is something that has been going on for two to three years now in terms of these very restricted markets. What we’re seeing is a mirror of what happened in Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and Alaska where markets get established.
So let’s look at Nevada as an example. Nevada first passed medical marijuana in 2001 and it was a very limited program. It wasn’t until 2013 that SB347 went through the legislature and expanded the market into being what is now regarded as the most well regulated market in the world with the best regulatory framework. That took time for that to happen. Colorado first established medical marijuana and then it went into adult use and there’s been a lot of maturity there, same thing in Oregon and Washington and Alaska and now look at Florida. Florida is likely going to pass a ballot initiative for an expansion of the existing very limited CBD only primarily; five licenses given out. A framework and so there’s going to be an expansion there.
So I say that all of those markets like Illinois and the others that are very restrictive and off to a slow start it’s a good step in the right direction and we need to keep in mind it’s only a step in the right direction. It’s not an end goal but it’s just one of the stops along the way to getting where we want to get too which is adult use where it’s well regulated. Where the medical marijuana market is well regulated, where it’s available to all the people that need it for compassionate use in all of the different conditions from PTSD to Seizure Syndromes, to Cancer patients, to the people with chronic pain, and more and so we see these expansions happen in fits and starts and we can get lost in the weeds when we look at what happens in Illinois not realizing that it’s really just part of a much larger arc of the evolution of the drop of prohibition on cannabis in that jurisdiction. Did that make sense?
Matthew: That makes total sense. It’s a stepping stone.
Matthew: So don’t be discouraged. I like that.
Matthew: So you mentioned that Nevada is very business friendly and I agree. Do you see business owners, entrepreneurs, investors just checking out of California? Today as we speak the governor of California just signed into law a higher minimum wage but that’s just one of the more let’s say one more thing that just adds friction for businesses in California. Do you see any sort of exodus at all into a market like Nevada from California or not so much?
Leslie: We have seen hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in the Nevada market a lot of that which came from California or was California/Colorado businesses. I would not say I’ve seen an exodus in California. I would say that the California market is going to experience a tremendous evolution as we see the opportunities there equaling nothing else we’ve seen yet in the industry and that’s going to be as the regulatory framework that was passed into law last year and signed into law by Jerry Brown becomes implemented we are going to see California turn into the largest legal cannabis market in the world and the opportunity for investment and for establishing businesses in that market will be extraordinary.
So in fact I think that California is at a plateau right now where there have been many California businesses investing into other markets and now they’re starting to get ready and look at their local market which is mirrored by the news announcement from Harbor Side today that they’re cancelling all of their national expansion to focus exclusively on the California market and that is going to be something we’ll see more of as well let me speak to the fifteen dollar minimum wage. I believe that if people start to look at the employment opportunities that a cannabis industry brings the fifteen dollar minimum wage would be less of a conversation at least in that context. In the context of looking at the cannabis industry as an employment opportunity because it’s easy for people in the cannabis industry to look at a fifteen dollar minimum wage because it turns out that many businesses in cannabis spend more than that on their employees are paid better than that.
There is a major player in California that I won’t use their name because this is old data but I was told that one of the biggest dispensaries in California a few years ago by the operator they told me that their average hourly pay across their entire spectrum was over forty dollars an hour.
Leslie: And so we now are looking at a way to get people employed that need gainful employment. The cannabis industry presents the best opportunity the United States has to offer in a growing industry that can pay well and provide real; can provide real opportunity to them and that is what we’re seeing now. So this is just sort of an add on to your comment about the fifteen dollar minimum wage. I don’t think that it’s going to be much of an issue for the cannabis industry because the cannabis industry pays that generally speaking and more.
Matthew: Right, right. I meant more as a general comment on business and economy. I mean I keep on reading that the fast food restaurants and such are doing to do more automation and creating robots and things like this. So it actually has the reverse effect in many cases that the well intention politicians would like to see of hey let’s give people more of a working wage but the drivers and the incentives change for the businesses that actually make those decisions.
Leslie: That’s a very big conversation and we could go really deep on that.
Matthew: It is.
Leslie: And I think that it also is very much dependent upon the geography and the individual economy on a localized basis. For example a fifteen dollar minimum wage makes a lot more sense in New York than it does in even Las Vegas and so Las Vegas it’s easier to have a very high standard of living making less money in Las Vegas than you might in New York or San Francisco where fifteen dollar minimum wage would make a lot of sense. That being said I happen to think that the recent interview of Asher Edelman on CNBC talking about the velocity of money and economic policy speaks to issues like this in a very long view and I believe that ultimately raising the minimum wage for many people or raising the earning potential of people on the lower end of the employment spectrum creates much more disposable or much more consumer demand.
The people that are on the lower end of the spectrum tend to spend 100 to a 110 percent of the money they earn versus the people in the higher end of the spectrum that only tend to spend 5 or 8 percent of the money they bring in. So the more money we see going to people at that end the higher, the more money we’re going to see going into the economy.
Matthew: Great points and there’s certainly more than one variable to be looked at here. It’s a very dynamic situation and regional as well so. You’re known for asking hard questions of entrepreneurs and having acumen for the due diligence process. For entrepreneurs and even investors listening that want to get prepared to present themselves what should they do? What answers should they be ready to have right on hand and what paperwork should they have? They show that they’re prepared. They show that they’ve thought through what your care abouts might be and they have intelligent answers.
Leslie: So Matt I’m actually writing a book that’s going to be getting published very soon that deals with these specific issues.
Matthew: Oh good.
Leslie: I’m trying to provide something to investors and entrepreneurs that can assist them in making their proposition more effective. I want entrepreneurs to be able to get a leg up on getting their businesses up and running and succeeding. Knowing what the key issues they have to hit are. Investors knowing what the key issues they need to hit are to be able to be more successful as an investor and so for an entrepreneur the things that I think need to be focused on are a little bit of what I mentioned earlier and the first thing I’d say is team. You want to make sure you assemble an absolutely stellar team. The best you can bring together.
You want people that have had previous success in areas that are related to the enterprise you’re currently executing. So if you are going to be in retail you would like to have people that have had previous retail experience even if it’s not specifically in cannabis. They want to have success. You want to if you’re going to be raising money from investors you want to be able to show that you have taken in capital before and gotten to liquidity for investors and yourself previously. You want other team members to have that experience as well. You want to make sure that the breath of your team is ample and the depth of experience of the team members are ample. I often say I’d rather bet on an A team with a C project than a B team with an A project because I believe team makes 90 percent of the difference.
Then you want to make sure that other 10 percent or whatever it might be that a value proposition is solid and it is extremely well documented. You want to be able to look at the assumptions that you’re basing your value proposition on. You want to be able to parse them out separately and look at each individual assumption and you want to make sure that none of them go unnoticed. Every assumption for what your business is based on needs to be documented, segregated, and supported with research and information that’s available from other credible sources to show that it’s not just your instincts but there’s data supporting your assumptions and so you want your value proposition to be very well articulated with a lot of supporting documentation in an appendix if you have a business plan to show that you’ve done your research and you have checked to make sure that your assumptions make sense and here are the people and here are the research reports that support it.
You want to make sure that you have taken a good look at the competition in the market and that you understand there is competition. What the competition has that they offer and what you’re going to do to be able to answer their competitive approach and to be able to succeed and prevail regardless of it. You want to have knowledge of the competition and you want to have something that gives you a secret sauce and defensibility, intellectual property, market, etc. or first to market whatever it might be. You want to then make sure you’re understanding of the overall market opportunity. Once again parsing out all the assumptions and the data about the market and showing that you’ve done the research that gives you that knowledge.
And then last you want to make sure that you’re taking a look from exit backwards. What is your ultimate end goal? Are you building a business that is going to be so profitable that it’s going to be giving distributions to all of the participants, all of the shareholders in it? Are you going to be building something that one day will be a perfect acquisition candidate or are you building something that one day will look to the public markets for liquidity? You’ve got to be focused on where you’re going to get with this and what the end result is going to be because no investor is going to want to get involved unless they know where they’re going to go. They want to make sure that there is going to be an end game where they’re going to see their capital back, they’re going to see appreciation, they’re going to see eventual liquidity and return. So those are the five major points that I like to hit on from the entrepreneurs perspective.
From the investors perspective it’s about evaluating those things and then also making sure that the research you can do is deep. I would recommend that if you’re contemplating making a substantial investment in any business in the cannabis space you should be interviewing the operators if it’s a substantial investment. You should be asking to speak to their vendors. The people that sell to them whatever it might be. Provide services whether it’s attorney, accountants, or actual the seller of goods. Speak to their vendors and see what the relationship is like. Talk to their customers and their clients. Talk to the people that actually do business with them. Get hands on. Roll your sleeves up and get that knowledge because those little bits of information that you’re going to get can make the difference between pulling the trigger and making the investment or deciding not too and they can make the difference between success and losing your capital.
And so the five points that I hit as well from an investors perspective I’d say roll your sleeves up get in there, do the due diligence, become knowledgeable, and make sure you’re spending the time to really give yourself the edge. I encourage investors to look to professional investors to see what they do and try to emulate that the best that you can. If you can’t do it by yourself put together small networks of people where you can have different group members evaluate the different aspects of the investment and you can invest as a team.
Matthew: How do you feel about valuations in general since you’ve gotten into the industry? How have you seen valuations change and for entrepreneurs out there who are trying to come up with evaluation for their company? Any suggestions there?
Leslie: Research, research, research. You want to make sure that you’re going out there and you’re looking for comparables. It’s just like selling a home. If you want to sell your house you look at the neighborhood, you look at the nearby neighborhoods, you look at neighborhoods that are similar to yours and you look at what the comparable transactions have been and what people are looking to get out of their properties at this particular time; once again comparable transactions that have closed. The same thing here you have to look for business that are similar to yours both in the cannabis industry and outside of the cannabis industry. Look to the public markets for evaluations and you can start to get some idea of what a reasonable evaluation might be.
Keeping in mind that evaluations are also extremely fluid and the market will bear what the market will bear. That being said I would say that evaluations overall right now are very negotiable. There is a lot of opportunity to invest in the industry and there’s a lot of capital looking to invest in the industry. The velocity of it has not been so high that the evaluations are unreasonable. I think that if you look around you can still see incredible opportunities to get in at early stages with things that you can see substantial, substantial returns on in fairly short periods of time.
Why is that Matt? The reason for that is that the legal cannabis industry presents a unique opportunity we have never seen in the world of finance and investing before and that is taking a market that has been a grey or black market but enormous in size. According to RanCorp study of 2010 it was 42 billion dollars a year just for the illegal rec market; the adult use market in the United States. To give context if you were to look at the NFL, NHL, Major League Baseball, and NBA that same year they were under 35 billion a year combined. So the illegal adult use market was bigger than all essential major league sports in the United States combined.
So when you take a market that’s that enormous and you start migrating it to a regulated market as well you’re taking market where the prices have been kept very high because of it being a black market. The risks involved in the black market are incarceration, arrest, asset seizure, and more and so people have to keep the prices very high in the black market to accommodate all of those risks. Well when it migrates from a black market to a regulated market the prices don’t come down immediately especially in the United States where the federal legality makes each state be rampant to be like its own market and what I mean by that and this all goes back to the same point and when you look at somewhere like Oregon and Washington the wholesale prices can be very different in each one even though they’re right next to each other because there’s no Interstate Commerce.
That tends to create an environment where the migration allows for businesses to become profitable very quickly and the evaluations that happen because of that tend to expand very quickly. So you can get in at early stage businesses where the evaluations are low and you can see them explode within a year or two because of the large margins that allow for profitability to happen very quickly. One fact that I’ll reference according to the MJ Business Daily fact book from a year ago 80+ percent of businesses started in the legal cannabis industry were break even or profitable within the first year. That’s never existed in any other industry in the history of the world on this scale and so evaluation shifts are very fast when you see that type of rapid profitability. So you can get good evaluations at the early stage and you can see substantial evaluation shifts very quickly.
Matthew: Looking at the whole cannabis eco system is there any particular business type or category that gets you most excited right now?
Leslie: I am very interested in industrial hemp. I think that hemp is the less exciting cousin of cannabis and so the hemp industry I believe is going to encompass hemp paper, hemp textiles, hemp plastics, biofuel, food products, and industrial chemicals, construction materials, and more and it will be massive in size. It will provide real relief to industries that are currently toxic pulp paper mills; mills cutting down old growth timber to product paper. Cotton farming which uses 25 percent more water I’m told than hemp and in the processing of the cotton is substantially more toxic in terms of what it produces in runoff to our environment. So I believe hemp is going to be one of the most exciting and most rapidly growing areas of the cannabis and related markets.
Matthew: Great point. Yeah hemp is not as sexy of a headline as cannabis so I’m glad you mentioned that. Where do you see the legal cannabis market in the next three to five years?
Leslie: I am hopeful that by 2021 we will see federal prohibition dropped and we will see the market approaching its ultimate zenith in the U.S. so probably about 200 billion dollars a year nationally in revenue and that’s including adult use, medical use, pharmaceutical products being developed on it, nutraceutical and supplement products being developed on it, industrial hemp, the ancillary markets both for B to B and B to C, and veterinary and so I think over the next three to five years we’re going to see the growth to all of those different areas being created
This year we have California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, hopefully Maine all with adult use initiatives. We have Vermont likely to legislatively be the first state to pass adult use. We have a number of other states that may have ballot initiatives or legislative initiatives to establish adult use markets. We have Ohio and Florida with ballot initiatives. Florida already certified for medical marijuana, Ohio getting these signatures right now for medical marijuana. We may see legislative action in Pennsylvania for medical marijuana and so that’s going to be a major series of steps over the next nine months that are going to result at the end of 2016 having a very different market than we do currently today.
There will then be a period of a back and fill as we sort of take those expansions and people start working those expansions and the next level of states to look at expansions of medical marijuana, establishment of adult use, and legislative and ballot initiative mechanisms to achieve them and so I see this sort of major year in 2016. 2017 will be a year of market establishment and expansion. 2018 we’ll see some other probably attempts and then in 2020 four years out we’re probably going to see another ten states with ballot initiatives for adult use or medical as well and so I see major activity in the next few years and the investing activity that’s going to be taking place as a result is going to eclipse everything we’ve seen up until this point combined after we see this year’s election.
It’s just going to be enormous the amount of money that’s going to be coming into the market to invest in it, the opportunities in it, the establishment of these markets, and what it’s going to mean for our economy because it’s touching so many different areas not just adult use but as I said pharmaceuticals, industrial hemp, nutraceuticals, and then the ancillary markets. So I see a couple of major things along the way that ultimately result in what we hope will be the drop of federal prohibition on the national basis 2021, 2022 by a descheduling of cannabis and having it be treated the way we treat tobacco and alcohol.
Matthew: Let’s pivot to a more personal and personal development type question Leslie. Looking back over your life is there a book or two that stands out that you would recommend to listeners?
Leslie: Unexpected question Matt but great question. A couple of personal favorites. There is a book called “Seeking Wisdom” from Darwin to Munger. That’s an extraordinary book. The author interviewed Charlie Munger who has been Warren Buffett’s right hand man for a long time and that is a book I would recommend. I would also recommend some books by and about ([33:37] unclear) who was largely responsible for bringing yoga to the west in the early part of the twentieth century. I would recommend “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach and I’m a science fiction fan myself so books by Isaac Asimov and others are always very interesting to me.
Matthew: Wonderful. Thanks for those suggestions. Leslie how can listeners learn more about Electrum Partners and find you online?
Leslie: Well one of the things that I think is probably useful to many of them that are useful in the cannabis industry is to find me on Twitter. Leslie Bocskor on Twitter. L-e-s-l-i-e-B-o-c-s-k-n-e-r. I probably review an average of about between myself and my team we probably look at a couple hundred articles a day that are about the cannabis industry and about cannabis in general. From those couple of hundred we try to distill down to the fifty that we think or thirty that we think are most relevant and then from that thirty to fifty we try and find the fifteen or twenty that are the ones that you have to read and then those will go out on my Twitter feed. I would say that the website www.electrumpartners.com is definitely worth looking into and we’re going to be looking at a launch of a new site taking the existing site and going to Electrum Parners 3.0 in terms of the website within the near future.
And then you can often find me at ArcView and I’m happy to speak to anybody and I look forward to meeting people at the various conferences as well as the NCIA National Conference in Oakland in June. The primary way though is through our website and through Twitter.
Matthew: Leslie thank you so much for coming on CannaInsider today. We really appreciate it.
Leslie: Matt is was really my pleasure. I always enjoy the interviews with you. You do a great job pulling out great data from the people that you interview.
Matthew: : If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at www(dot)cannainsider(dot)com/itunes. What are the five major trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www(dot)cannainsider(dot)com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on www(dot)cannainsider(dot)com, simply send us an email at feedback(at)cannainsider(dot)com. We would love to hear from you.
Leslie Bocskor is the President at Electrum Partners and founding chairman of the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association. Leslie gives us context about the rapidly changing landscape of challenges and opportunities facing cannabis entrepreneurs and investors.
What are the five trends that will disrupt the cannabis market in the next five years? Find out with your free guide at: https://www.cannainsider.com/trends
[1:28] – Leslie’s Background
[3:08] – Evolving cannabis market in Nevada
[5:31] – Well recreational use pass
[6:53] – How the investors have changed since he got in the industry
[9:48] – Leslie discusses Illinois’ emerging medical marijuana market
[12:58] – Friction in the California small business market
[18:15] – Leslie gives advice to entrepreneurs pitching to investors
[24:07] – Leslie talks about how valuations have changed
[28:14] – Leslie’s take on the hemp industry
[29:41] – The legal cannabis market in three to five years
[33:02] – Leslie’s favorite personal development books
[34:11] – Contact information for Electrum Partners