Cannabis companies in California are in a tough yet exciting spot. Many are feeling the pressures of rapid growth mixed with a conflicting sense of uncertainty and optimism. After all, the market is poised to see $7.7 billion in spending by 2020, due to our state’s approval of the adult use of recreational marijuana. Things are moving incredibly fast. New opportunities continue to arise, from CBD-infused products to mega consumer brands looking into cannabis drinks. Explosive growth across this sector appears imminent while questions persist as regulations evolve and federal prohibition hangs over everything.
In some respects, the challenges cannabis companies are facing right now resemble what other fast-moving companies around Silicon Valley deal with, like those in the tech and life sciences sectors. The pressure is on to be the first and the best out of the gate.
To endure in the canna industry, companies in the earliest stage of their business lifecycle have to focus on survival and conserving cash. Those that then grow rapidly in the next stage need to figure out how to scale without cracking and how to stand out from the pack. Their work becomes more complicated as they balance today’s demands while planning for the future. A solid finance function can make or break their survival as well as their lasting success. Here are some tips for cannabis companies on the rise.
Know where to turn. Growth is messy and can be inefficient. Not everyone knows what to do. Enormous growth can throw off employees who are not used to high-growth situations. As the company grows, hold on tight to the loyalists who know the business, but also turn to people who have experience going through rapid change to help the company conquer the chaos.
An interim CFO or controller knows what is needed—currently and in the future—and can help leaders hire permanent employees when the time comes. High-growth companies might not need a full-time CFO or finance team at the outset which is costly. Rather, they can use outsourced experts for a few hours per week, conserving cash, and grow from there.
Plan for the unexpected. The landscape in this industry will continue to shift. Acquisitions and mergers are certain to happen, as more players get involved and competition tightens up. For strong valuations and desirableness, know that acquirers and investors will be looking for companies that have their financial houses in order. Finance is the language of business, and they want accurate, timely information—and won’t wait around for companies that can’t deliver reliable financial data.
Be aware of the risks. What should you do when you suspect your existing systems cannot keep up with your business? Is your current way of handling cash and bank issues going to falter if you take on more orders? Do you have a grip on cash flow, or is it anyone’s guess?
Senior-level finance experts can help identify and fill in the knowledge gaps—from the risks your company is facing and how those risks can be best managed, to applying essential financial discipline for using cash in the most efficient way. There is no one size fits all—CFO pros who know your industry and get to know your company will balance the financial needs of the organization with the dynamics of the market, including legal and regulatory issues, supply chain complexities, product scarcities, pricing pressures, and competitor stresses.
Lay the groundwork. An established financial framework gives decision makers a lay of the land with accurate, timely information they can base smart choices on. They need to ensure the company is running on scalable and appropriate systems that provide reliable data for sound scenario planning and decision making.
Partner up. Building out every area of the company isn’t necessary in the early stages and is, in fact, quite expensive. What’s important is access to resources and specialized skills—but only when they’re needed. Who can help out when issues develop and when compliance questions crop up? How will you reach them at a moment’s notice? Fill out the expertise you don’t possess in-house by evaluating your partners and folding in new ones you trust, from banking experts and tax professionals to specialists in HR and system implementations.
You need to be able to jump on opportunities when they happen. You need to be ready. Nothing is worse than when opportunity knocks and you’re not prepared. That means making connections now. Look for partners who “get” you by focusing on those that have high-growth industry experience and who have a strong network of smart connections and partners with integrity.
Getting Through Fast Times
It’s a pivotal time for cannabis companies as they see demand in their products increasing and relentless competition right at their door. Navigating your finance function to support explosive growth and the shifting needs of the organization requires a particular expertise to do it right. An ecosystem of trusted partners can take you far when you have the ability to tap into it whenever the need arises.
Expansion can happen fast and then contract. Ride the waves—having access to the right expertise and resources at the right time can make the difference as cannabis companies professionalize their operations and fine-tune their finances.
As vice president of business development, Maureen Ryan has kept RoseRyan pushing the envelope in innovation, including leading the charge into the cannabis marketplace and developing the firm’s finance and accounting Cannabis Solution. Maureen has 25 years’ experience in business—working in engineering, sales, business development, marketing, and operations for a variety of Silicon Valley companies.