Cannabis Spotlight: Johanna Williamson
In our latest interview with leading cannabis entrepreneurs, we spoke with Johanna Williamson, Director of Business Development at Moss Crossing. She offers a lot of great insights into the current state of the cannabis industry here in Oregon, how a cannabis business should approach their brand, and what entrepreneurs need to be aware of when looking to enter the industry.
What do you view as the biggest challenges facing the cannabis industry right now?
I think the biggest challenges for us all, currently, are a combination of overly-burdensome and expensive state regulations (soon to be multiplied by new layers of federal regs coming soon); our inability to write things off like a normal business due to the 280E tax code; general tax burdens that are not well thought out by law-makers in a way that allows cannabis to be economically viable or create economic opportunities that will last in the communities it is in. This impacts certain disenfranchised groups in a much heavier way than it does those who have access to and are experts in finance and capitalization, and it also really forces a homogenization of the pool of businesses, creating a much less diverse ecosystem.
How should a new cannabis company approach branding when just starting out?
Use a professional designer or product developer who has experience in what works and what doesn't. Don't try to figure it all out yourself, unless you are already a bit of an expert in this from previous projects. Don't create a brand just to create a brand. Have a purpose behind your brand that people get emotionally excited about. Consumers can tell when something is just being churned out on a template to make money.
Also, work with your designer on your options on cost of goods for materials to produce and market your brand, while you are planning the brand. See if you can create something people are drawn to that doesn't pass a super high cost of goods on to the customer. Every dollar in your final price point will count in the competition against other brands as people decide which product they want to buy.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Be sure to over-estimate the cost of expensive regulations and tax structures and legal fees into your business plan ahead of time. If you're in a Trac-n-Trace (Metrc, MJ Freeway, etc.) state, research what % of your overhead will go to Trac-n-Trace administration and time consuming mistakes that cost money to figure out. Interview multiple tax consultants about what your tax burden will look like in each state you plan to operate, if you are plant-touching. Talk to other successful business owners in the state with similar business models as you plan to deploy, and and ask them if they'd be willing to share what they spend on things like legal fees and compliance.
I've been shocked how many entrepreneurs I've spoken with in the past who raised their money before looking into these things! It helps immensely to be able to ballpark these things ahead of time, and they will almost always cost you more than you plan on.
What opportunities do you see in the industry in the next one to two years?
Product-wise, this is different state-to-state. I would say, though, for those looking for employment or who want a change of pace from their current industry: there are always ways to transfer your current skills over to cannabis. Cannabis is a great place to learn and grow professionally, whether you want to learn more about business in the real world, or you want to post up in your happy place in a garden or as a budtender!
I also think now is the time to join a cannabis trade organization and get involved in the law-making process. We need people more than ever right now to make friends with their lawmakers and tell them what does and does not make sense for our industry. Otherwise, they will make the laws and regulations without us!
How can businesses make themselves look more attractive to potential investors?
Know your business inside and out. Have a value proposition that is realistic, attainable, and clearly illustrated. Be educated on the different ways things are valuated and be sure that what you're asking for can deliver a healthy return to your investor that is better than what they could get somewhere else (this obviously depends on the investor).
If you're selling, also have your processes documented and in order. Create an environment where anyone could step in and find the instructions to be able to do what you are currently doing (in operations, in finance, and in sales). Know the current market and know what types of buyers would be interested in what you're selling (how do THEY valuate, and why?). Different groups valuate with different methods for different reasons, in cannabis. It's not a one size fits all, so talk to people in the market who have bought or sold recently to figure out how you should price your own business.
About Johanna Williamson: Johanna has 13 years of experience in management, director, and C-Level roles in the alternative medicine space, with a particular focus on the growing world of cannabis and CBD. She has a proven track record of improving businesses through increased revenue and curating profitable or cost-cutting B2B partnerships. She has also assisted in building startups and participated in taking a company to publicly traded status.
Moss Crossing is a locally owned and operated cannabis dispensary & lifestyle brand based in Eugene Oregon.