The learning curve and the hard work needed to pioneer an industry with Christian Hageseth, CEO and co-founder of ONE Cannabis Group
“Leadership isn’t just about running an organization, it’s about inspiring an idea. I believe that great leaders set the direction and empower others — whether its employees, customers, shareholders, local communities, etc. — to move in the same direction.”
Christian Hageseth, CEO and co-founder of ONE Cannabis Group — one of the first companies to bring the franchise business model to the cannabis industry. He has been a partner in five Colorado dispensaries and has built seven cultivation centers around the country. Christian’s decade-long career in the legal cannabis industry is most notably marked by his record of perfect compliance and the profitable operations, which has led to numerous awards, including six High Times Cannabis Cups and an Industry Trailblazer award from High Times magazine. His first years in the legal cannabis industry are outlined in his book “Big Weed.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur. Right out of college, I founded a successful ice cream business and then a real estate finance company that I grew to $12 million in revenue before the market crashed in 2008. It was then that I began looking for the next chapter in my entrepreneurial career and entered the cannabis industry with the founding of Green Man Cannabis in Denver. Over the past decade, I’ve built out a number of grow facilities and have been a partner in five dispensaries. Green Man Cannabis has been one of the top five operators in Colorado for years.
A few years ago, my team and I decided to leverage our wealth of experience in the legal cannabis industry to help others compliantly operate their business without having to learn the expensive lessons that obstruct so many entrepreneurs. Even if someone has operated a business in the past, managing and building a cannabis business is far more complicated due to several considerations unique to cannabis. We officially launched ONE Cannabis as a franchise offering in January 2018 — since then, we have signed five franchise agreements with a group of entrepreneurs who have extensive multi-unit franchise experience. We also have several deals in the works in multiple states and in Canada with other entrepreneurial teams.
Most recently, we launched a social equity program called SEED (Social Equity and Economic Development). It’s the ONE Cannabis franchise model adapted to meet the needs of our social equity and economic development partners. The SEED platform is geared toward empowering minorities of all color, women, veterans and individuals from communities most adversely impacted by the “War on Drugs.” We facilitate their entry into the cannabis industry by helping them secure licenses and lead compliant, successful cannabis businesses.
With our franchise opportunity and SEED program, we’re easing the barrier to entry, making cannabis entrepreneurship more feasible to a broader group.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
In 2012, I won my first cannabis award for product excellence — it was the Rooster Cup in Colorado and we won with a strain called Hell’s Angels OG Kush. The award winners were published in an industry magazine and the next day three Hell’s Angels members visited two of our Green Man dispensaries.
We received frantic calls from our budtenders, and I started thinking, “Man, this is when the shake down starts.” My mind went to visions of bikers stealing products and assaulting our team. But, the situation was so far from that.
Yes, there were three bikers in all out leather and vests branded Hell’s Angels. But, they calmly asked my staff to see the Hell’s Angels OG Kush strains to confirm that their name was included on our product, and then offered to send a cease and desist letter if we didn’t change the name.
We changed our product to Hell’s OG Kush.
What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?
I’ve overcome countless challenges in my ten years in the legal cannabis industry, but probably the biggest was lack of industry knowledge. Having founded two successful businesses in the past, I severely underestimated the learning curve. Running a cannabis business presents a whole new depth of variables to navigate. There are special considerations that are unique to the industry when it comes to accounting, taxes, security, compliance, insurance, banking, legal protections, marketing and government affairs. The list goes on and on. In cannabis, you need to be compliant in order to be profitable. So, knowing these special considerations and making sure they are enforced is critical.
I first got into the legal cannabis industry when medicinal use in Colorado was legalized. It was like the “Wild West” — there weren’t many qualified professionals in it. I began talking more to others when making big decisions — I’ll talk to a few lawyers, a couple accountants and our compliance experts to make sure I’m seeing it from every angle to ensure that I’ve informed myself.
I learned this the hard way — I’ve been fortunate to make millions of dollars in cannabis, but I’ve also lost millions. Now, I’m trying to save others from making the same costly mistakes I made through franchising with ONE Cannabis.
What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?
Leadership is an activity that continues constantly. It’s a dialogue and a dance, where you have to be able to communicate with other people and work with them in a balanced, fluid way.
Leadership isn’t just about running an organization, it’s about inspiring an idea. I believe that great leaders set the direction and empower others — whether its employees, customers, shareholders, local communities, etc. — to move in the same direction. Communication is key in getting others to latch onto certain objectives, have ownership of it and feel empowered to do it themselves.
I am a visionary and, admittedly, I am not the best manager. That’s why I hire good managers to lead in their focused areas of the business so we can achieve our true potential. You are only as good as the people around you, so you need a truly solid team in order to be successful. My role as CEO: I point to a light on the horizon and try to get everyone to move in that direction.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Gary Schwartz. He was one of the first investors I approached when I decided to start a business in legal cannabis in 2009, and has been a partner and board member ever since. I entered the industry as a total rookie — sure, I had a successful entrepreneurial track record, but I knew nothing about operating a cannabis business and pretty much have made every mistake possible along the way. He believed in me from the start and his support has been unwavering throughout — I couldn’t have done all this without him.
Story I can share? Well, I wrote a book a few years ago that follows my entrepreneurial career in cannabis, called “Big Weed.” Gary has always been a confidant I’ve turned to for advice and clarity surrounding the many challenges I’ve found myself in — so, he is obviously a big part of my journey in cannabis. The problem I encountered when writing the book: he wouldn’t let me use his name. To get around this, I simply referred to him as Mr. Pink.
Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?
It’s been very difficult and still is. My wife is a well-known psychic medium. We are both authors, each have our own successful businesses and we have six kids ranging in age from 1–15 years-old.
You do the best you can. If you asked me this question a year ago, I would say that keeping a balance of travel for business and pleasure has helped. I’m very spiritual, so being able to go to Costa Rica for a yoga retreat or San Diego for a few days with Deepak Chopra have helped keep me centered.
My life is so unbalanced right now, but it’s okay. What I’m doing is going to pay dividends in the future, so I need to make the sacrifices now to have the balance later. To feel balance, you need to change the measure of time. Don’t look at balance by a day or a week, try to see it by a year or a decade.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life?
As we’ve added more layers into the business and become more successful as a company, demands have significantly escalated for me as the CEO. We’re anticipating going public in the near future on the Canadian Stock Exchange. With this, the ONE Cannabis franchise offering and SEED platform, we’re constantly in talks with investors and different audiences. In the past 20 days alone, I’ve completed more than 40 in-person presentations with investors, city councils and prospective acquisitions throughout North America.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?
- Understand that balance isn’t measured in a day or a week. You’re looking at your life balance, so you should be measuring by a year or a decade. Accept that you might need to make work-life balance sacrifices for a few weeks, months or even a year if it means that you’ll have the work-life balance you want later.
- Take time and give yourself permission to do nothing. I meditate each morning to get centered on what’s important for the day, so I don’t become reactionary. I also purposely block time in my schedule to do nothing but think. I don’t look at emails — I just sit there and give myself the time and space to be creative and intentional. Often, when you’re so busy you neglect to see situations for what they really are. Allowing myself this time gives me clarity.
- Drink a lot of water. There are so many health benefits and it might help reduce stress.
- Be an active listener. Though so many things might be on your mind, you need to listen to everyone and everything — don’t just listen to their words but everything they are really saying. For example, when I walk into a dispensary, I listen to what my team is saying by both their words and body expression. Being an active listener gives you amazing insight into what they’re really saying. Strengthening this skill early on has greatly prepared me as an entrepreneur. We’re constantly talking to potential investors who will tell you everything, just not directly. You need to pay attention to their actions and body language to get a full picture.
- Know the why and be able to explain it to other people quickly and articulately. In business and in life, it’s not what we do, it’s how we do it. It’s the why that is inspiring, so as a leader you need to be able to demonstrate it in a way that is meaningful to others and encourages them to move toward the goal.
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride?
It’s creating a business that is going to outlast me. We’re at 100 employees now, and have a solid, all-star team in place to keep driving the business forward. There is real satisfaction in creating something that has a life of its own. For an entrepreneur, a business is like having a kid. Eventually they grow up and become an adult — their own person in the world. A business is just like that and to me that’s a very satisfying experience.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Our SEED platform. While the nascent cannabis industry is emerging as one of the fastest growing and most economically advantageous industries in the country — African-Americans, Hispanics, other minorities and women are not adequately represented. This is especially unfair as people of color and disadvantaged socio-economic communities have been damaged by the “War on Drugs” and the subsequent enforcement of racially biased cannabis laws.
For example, I know two guys who got busted for weed in California around the same time, 10 years ago. One was older and white, and the other was a young African-American. They did the same thing, at the same time, in the same state, but only one served a jail sentence. I’m sure you can guess who walked away as if nothing happened.
The system has been rigged for so many years, and finally there are social equity programs in numerous states that assign preferential cannabis licenses to these groups. It’s amazing to be part of the restorative justice and empower people who have been wronged by cannabis, the opportunity to benefit.
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?
About the author: Jacob Rupp is a coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and rabbi. He is the founder of Lift Your Legacy, a community that helps people live a more authentic life. He has a regular, syndicated column that appears in ThriveGlobal and Authority magazine. To learn more about him or to listen to the Lift Your Legacy podcast, search iTunes or visit his site: liftyourlegacy.live
The learning curve and the hard work needed to pioneer an industry with Christian Hageseth, CEO… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.