Arshad “Adam” Lasi of The Nirvana Group: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis or CBD Business
Working in the licensed cannabis industry is nothing like running a traditional business the way you learn in business school; those traditional processes may not translate well to this emerging, rapidly developing industry. The industry is made up of young people, some of whom first cut their teeth in the unlicensed market, and they may not have the same traditional business or corporate background. That said, they are still highly intelligent and capable, and they drive the industry forward.
As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Arshad “Adam” Lasi.
Arshad “Adam” Lasi is CEO of The Nirvana Group, a vertically integrated family-owned cannabis company in Oklahoma. Their operations include a cultivation and extraction facility, a processing facility, house brands and the only cannabis cash & carry concept in Oklahoma. The Nirvana Group also owns an expanding list of medical dispensaries throughout the state.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It all started with a cold email. I was working with a private equity firm and my father–who was interested in the licensed cannabis industry after a visit to a state with legal adult-use and seeing their dispensaries–received a cold email from a brokerage in Michigan selling properties. We didn’t end up moving forward with this particular opportunity, but it definitely ignited a thirst to get into the industry. We looked at several licensed cannabis businesses to purchase or become a part of in other states, and then finally the Oklahoma medicinal market, which we’re now part of and active players in. We’re from Oklahoma, and what started as a humble smoke shop has now blossomed into a rapidly growing vertically integrated company, The Nirvana Group. We own and operate seven dispensaries with more to come; a 30-acre cultivation and extraction facility; a 3,000 square foot processing facility featuring extraction and distillation capabilities, as well as a commercial kitchen to produce beverages and edibles; Nirvana Distribution, a 10,000 sq ft warehouse that is one the largest Smoke Shop, Glass, Paper, Vaporizer, and Packaging distributors in Oklahoma, servicing more than 500 dispensaries for their ancillary products; and Argent Cannabis Distribution, the only cannabis cash-and-carry concept in Oklahoma and the wholesale distribution company for our portfolio of cannabis brands, which range from vapes to pre-rolls to edibles and beverages to concentrates and more.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
What has been interesting is that throughout our expansion, I’ve learned the importance of still getting to know each and every employee really well. Having a personal connection with employees goes a very long way. We try to hire a diverse group of people and are inclusive of all of our associated team members. Of course, everyone makes mistakes and may have personal issues that they deal with from time to time. Often, when someone is in an executive position overseeing large teams and many employees, it’s tough to know what everyone is going through, but the smallest things can make a difference and simple questions can lead to your staff trusting you more and the development of strong personal connections over time. This leads to really understanding your employees’ strengths and utilizing them to make the business better, as well as helping to ensure they can feel more fulfilled and motivated at work. Happy employees equal productive employees. And happiness at work is just as important as happiness at home.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early into my leadership role with The Nirvana Group, I once sent the wrong text to the wrong person. It wasn’t really funny at the time but we all make mistakes and can move past them.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, we’re always working on new projects and never one to rest on our laurels. We’re planning to open additional dispensaries, plus launch a new gummy line, edibles line and beverage line, which we see as the future of the infused products industry. We’re planning further expansion across the supply chain, which will bring down manufacturing costs and lower prices to benefit Oklahoma medical patients, while still keeping with our superior quality standard.
None of us are able to achieve success without getting 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?
My parents. I started the business with them, and they’ve worked alongside me doing this since the very beginning. Everything has been done with their oversight, and they were there to approve and shape everything we’ve done. It’s great because it helps build our relationship as a family, but it can be difficult when they disapprove of a decision or think things should be done differently, which can be awkward at the dinner table. However, we have a terrific working and personal relationship overall.
This industry is young, dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting? Since we’re a young team, we’re able to pivot quickly and react to what we see in the industry and adjust. We’re likely more nimble than most large companies. We also take notice of various aspects and trends in pop culture that we can incorporate into our day-to-day marketing, in addition to what we see locally in Oklahoma. Of course, we also pay close attention to what our customers like and respond well to.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
As far as exciting: how quickly the cannabis industry grows, how fast it changes and how there are always new developments with this emerging market and emerging science. It’s never just building on the old formulas, and cannabis can be used in many different ways. We’re just at the tip of the iceberg as far as how to use it in everyday life.
Concerns include how regulation from bodies of government who may not understand the industry or the plant itself can shape the direction of the industry as a whole. They can also hinder necessary growth for medical and economic benefits, which is also concerning. Also, regulations that are too overreaching can lead to people resorting to the unlicensed market, for which proper safety and quality standards aren’t always in place.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
- First thing is that the illicit market is everywhere, and in a loose market like Oklahoma, even if someone is licensed, they may be operating a business that still has unlicensed and illicit qualities. That means both businesses and consumers need to be wary of these operators 2
- Sometimes, it’s necessary to get something done quicker, especially on the marketing and promotion side, than to be nuanced. Just get it done (safely and while still upholding a high standard of quality) and get the word out; that way, you don’t miss out on any opportunities.
- Working in the licensed cannabis industry is nothing like running a traditional business the way you learn in business school; those traditional processes may not translate well to this emerging, rapidly developing industry. The industry is made up of young people, some of whom first cut their teeth in the unlicensed market, and they may not have the same traditional business or corporate background. That said, they are still highly intelligent and capable, and they drive the industry forward.
- Cannabis is a commodity, but it is also a brand, a vice, a medicine, a luxury and much more than weed. It’s unique, and you have to really be in tune with your consumers, your buyers, and those who represent you to be successful.
- The industry is very difficult, and it takes lots of time to be successful. You’ll make lots of mistakes along the way, but will learn from them. The cannabis industry is not what it looks like in the media. It is scary and very risky, but it’s fun and you have to make it fun.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
You’re not always going to be able to excel at every aspect of your job, but part of being a leader is choosing the right people to work with and delegating certain tasks. It also involves understanding your own strengths and weaknesses. If you have the right people working with you who are in line with your goals, you will be successful. Especially as a young CEO with limited experience, my biggest asset is choosing the right colleagues and mentors that can provide insight I may not be able to learn on my own.
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.
It’s important to advocate for the legalization of adult-use cannabis in my home state of Oklahoma. Legalizing the adult-use of cannabis in Oklahoma would open up the market to people who can’t afford to get a medical card, and it would also eradicate a lot of activity on the illicit market. Unfortunately, it can be expensive to buy cannabis through medical sources. I would like for all cannabis to be tested, regulated, and to give all adults access to top quality, safe products rather than questionable illicit products. Adult-use legalization is also important for the overall de-stigmatization of cannabis. And when we speak of legalization across both the state and federal levels, we must also take the steps to ensure social equity and market opportunities for people, particularly people of color, who were unjustly targeted and impacted by the criminalization of cannabis. Licenses should be designated, grants should be given, among other measures.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!