Best Buds Partner Spotlight: Sarah Larson, Eden Ventures

Our first Best Buds partner spotlight features Sarah Larson of Eden Ventures. Sarah is the founder and lead consultant of her full-service cannabis retail and operations consulting firm. Read on to find out why our H2 Talent team admires and loves working with Sarah and her team at Eden Ventures.

What inspired you to enter the cannabis industry, and how has your journey been so far?

I was drawn to the industry after relocating to Boulder, Colorado for work in 2012. I could feel that cannabis was on the brink of something big. I immediately got my red card, and after visiting medical dispensaries, I knew I wanted to be in that world SO badly. I had the opportunity to budtend, and quit my job to start at the bottom to learn the business. At that time Colorado had not yet legalized, and the industry was very different than it is today. It’s been such a wild ride so far — from starting in cannabis before legalization, opening at the start of legalization in CO, and working in other states as they’ve legalized has been an incredible experience.  I’ve been lucky enough to work for some big players in the business, which has allowed me to see so much of this world and work with so many incredible people along the way. This industry moves fast, so working in it for one year can feel like ten, but my experience has been very fun, sometimes chaotic, and extremely fulfilling. Being a part of starting this industry, seeing all the change, working in emerging markets, and opening so many dispensaries across the US and in Canada has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What are some key challenges you’ve faced while operating in the cannabis sector, and how have you overcome them?

So many! I’d say in general having to create everything from scratch and without the same type of support or infrastructure you might find in other industries. In addition, working in a challenging regulatory environment and having to be at the mercy of new rules and regulations that are thrown at you. Individuals who work in cannabis are truly pioneers, and in the beginning we weren’t able to get help in the same way a regular business would — so you have to be scrappy, smart, nimble, and flexible. I think the biggest way I’ve overcome the challenges I’ve faced in cannabis is by learning to be comfortable and even enjoy uncertainty and change, and leaning on people to formulate and execute creative and proactive solutions — for all the challenges we have in the industry, we make up for it in the type of people we attract. With our individual innovations and ideas, our commitment to the industry and pushing it forward, and strong culture, we’ve been able to create some very impressive workarounds, processes, business models, and brands from nothing.

What has surprised you, in a good way, about the cannabis industry?

Community and culture. To piggy-back on my previous answer, the people that work in cannabis are incredible. I’ve found that people in the industry are very supportive and care about helping each other succeed in this wild environment. The culture we have in this industry, and our sense of community, is one of the reasons I continue to work in cannabis. It’s really a one-of-a-kind industry, and I feel lucky to work in this business.

What sets your cannabis products/services apart from your peers in the industry?

I differentiate myself because of my experience and the services I offer. I’ve been lucky enough to have first-hand experience in every service I offer my clients, and my focus is to support my clients in achieving success and exceeding their goals in the retail space. I’m able to guide and advise my clients through situations I have been in 100+ times in the past 11 years. Whether it’s business optimization, how to open a dispensary, training and development of your team, hiring the right players, understanding areas of opportunity, operational efficiency, promotional planning and marketing, operational efficiency, gaining market share, or how to drive sales — I have the experience and tool-kit needed to provide the best solutions that will be successful. I’ve also already made the mistakes, learned the best way forward, and can speak to what options are best for their situation from my personal experience. I have done every job in the cannabis retail space in many different markets,  and have worked for vertically integrated companies, so I can speak specifically to various aspects of the business from retail, operations, data analytics, production, compliance, marketing, business management, and strategy.  I’m able to provide holistic approaches to ensure sustainability and growth based on what I’ve seen work (or not work) to drive success and help companies achieve their goals. Finally,  I’d say I’m extremely passionate, and care deeply about my clients’ success — I’ve been in their shoes, so I know how hard it is to succeed. It’s my job to ensure they meet their goals and exceed their potential.

How do you prioritize sustainability and social responsibility in your cannabis business practices?

Sustainability and social responsibility are how we will continue to grow and expand this industry so that it’s around for decades to come. They are critical for our future success. For me, prioritizing social equity, environmental impact, and supporting the communities where we operate go hand-in-hand with our credo for cannabis — we are disruptors, we are going against the grain, so we have a huge ability and the right philosophy to make an impact from the ground up. When I work with clients, we have an opportunity to focus on these two critical pieces from the beginning of a business, which is an exciting place to be. This starts with how you plan your dispensary or production facility, how you hire, what you’ll give back to your community, how your brand will make a positive impact, what products and materials you’ll use, and how you’ll drive traffic. If you aren’t focusing on environmental impact and social responsibility, there likely won’t be a place for you in this industry in the future.

How do you approach building strategic partnerships within the cannabis industry?

People and relationships are everything in this business! Fostering relationships and building rapport is critical. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been able to work with partners time and time again to support clients. We all have a niche we are filling, and clients have multifaceted needs. Ultimately, I have had the opportunity to work with so many talented people across many specialties in this business to support clients in their success — there’s nothing better than that. I think my approach involves spending as much time connecting with individuals in our industry as I can, and staying up-to-date with what’s happening in our world — you never know when someone might need something you offer, or vice-versa.

In what ways do you envision the future of the cannabis industry evolving in the coming year?  What big changes are you hoping to see?

I envision the industry continuing to grow and expand on a global level, and becoming more sophisticated and interconnected.  I hope expansion brings some better common-sense legislation for our businesses that help us operate in an easier and more effective way, and removes the barriers to entry and hurdles we currently face. I’m also hoping to see our industry reflect our society in a bigger way — more women and minority-owned businesses is what this industry truly needs, and businesses that reach more communities and have a positive impact. I know cannabis will continue to innovate from a product and production perspective as well, and it will be exciting to see what types of products and processes we’re using in the future to be more sustainable and attract and benefit different types of customers.

Anything you’d like to add, but we haven’t asked *just* the right question?

I’d just like to add that being a part of this industry is so special, but also challenging, and I commend every individual who operates or works in cannabis or is looking to operate in cannabis. It’s truly incredible to see how far the industry has come in the 11 years I’ve been a part of it, and I know things will continue to grow and evolve. The one thing in cannabis we can count on is change, and I’m excited to be able to help clients effectively prepare for that change, and use it to their advantage to achieve success.