Brandon Pollock of Theory Wellness: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis or CBD Business
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Local politics are paramount — our previous business experience required zero interaction and approvals from local governments. Spending time building relationships with local elected officials is key to the success of any cannabis organization. We initially had trouble getting any traction with finding a location as we were not taking enough time to understand the local politics as a first step.
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 Brandon Pollock, co-founder and CEO of Theory Wellness.
Brandon is a passionate advocate for the thoughtful repeal of cannabis prohibition and a serial entrepreneur with a successful history of managing and growing mission-driven companies. He began his cannabis career by consulting in emerging markets in 2014, prior to focusing on Theory Wellness in 2015. As CEO, Brandon is committed to building a world-class cannabis organization that is a great place to work, produces high quality products, and leads by example with progressive initiatives such as Theory’s social equity program and outdoor cannabis farm.
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?
My business partner and I had always been curious about this industry and passionate about cannabis in general. He and I met in college in 2006, just as medical cannabis reform was gaining steam in California. It was something that we were interested in as entrepreneurs and also on a personal level. After we started our first company, a water purification business, we started consulting in cannabis. We then reunited for Theory in around 2015, five years after we graduated from college when the East Coast, specifically Massachusetts, was getting going with medical cannabis.
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?
There are quite a few at this point, so it’s hard to say.
When we first opened our Great Barrington location for recreational sales it was really wild. We were the sixth recreational cannabis dispensary in Massachusetts to open, and closest to New York City– the demand was overwhelming. We are always cautiously optimistic about charting the unknowns of the industry, but when we opened to massive lines and saw the traffic on our website, we knew it was a turning point for us.
Today, and back then, we worked diligently to make sound decisions to improve based on available metrics we collect. This means evaluating our operations, our staffing, our marketing, and even product choices. While it was a wild moment in our history, it was an opportunity to position our brand and services to show what a world class cannabis operation can look like. We took that seriously, and still do today.
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?
Prior to starting Theory, I was consulting for medical cannabis organizations in California — let’s just say that I was not prepared for the quality and potency of cannabis that I would experience at my first company social event and I spent a few hours trying to keep it together at my new job!
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As we’ve grown, the responsibility to our communities and the industry as a whole has continued to evolve. We recognize that we’re on the forefront of the industry that has a lot of attention with high stakes involved so it challenges us to show how cannabis can be a force for good.
A lot of our focus has been around looking deeper into our locations and what surrounds them. For instance, Chicopee where we have a co-located medical and recreational dispensary, has a high-level of food insecurity. Following the pandemic, we partnered with a local food bank/soup kitchen to start a mobile food program to bridge a gap in access to their offerings through our largest donation to date.
We’re working on a new project now for a location that will have a very deep tie to the local arts community. Our plans include building out a community arts gathering spot which has been attempted several times in the past few years but to no success. The organization and team we are working with is really phenomenal.
Even just recently, we launched a series of infused mints called Statemints. Each of the four SKUs represents a non-profit area of focus that aligns with our mission. They include SKUs that support One Tree Planted for environmental conservatism, National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI) for Mental Health Support, and Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), and one for the arts that we are awaiting to announce but it has to do with the new location previously mentioned. It’s really cool for all of us to work with massive non-profits in this way.
At the end of the day, cannabis can be an immense force for positive change. Communities have been deeply impacted by the war on drugs and we have the opportunity to alter the course of that history in a positive way.
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?
I am incredibly fortunate to have teamed up with my business partner Nick Friedman on this project — he is incredibly smart, driven, and innovative, and together we are able to tackle anything that is thrown at us.
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?
We do, but don’t want to tip anyone off on our marketing strategy!
In general, marketing cannabis is prohibitive due to its federal classification which precludes a lot of traditional channels. While some see this as a restriction, we see that as an opportunity to excel and elevate the brand. The level of restrictions requires you to be foundational strong on your infrastructure for marketing, while simultaneously elevating the aesthetic and messaging.
To excel and standout, you need to take some risks and know your brand inside and out. We’ve focused a lot on making our brand feel cohesive across everything from the website, to packaging, to the retail experience. The bigger you get, the harder it is to find that unity and cohesion.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
Three things that excite me:
- An increased focus on social equity in emerging markets
- The amazing potential of the plant to help adults both treat serious symptoms and also improve their quality of life generally through things such as better sleep and having more fun.
- Formulating new products like beverages which are a lot of fun to work on
Three things that concern me:
- Lack of progress in existing markets for Social Equity inclusion/provisions
- The negative environmental impacts throughout the supply chain (indoor cultivation, packaging, ect)
- The potential for federal legalization to heavily favor only the largest operators
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.
1. These are super demanding businesses– I think it’s common, and certainly was initially how we were thinking, to feel that starting a cannabis business is all about having fun, helping people, and not overly difficult — boy were we wrong. We hear time and time again from our most seasoned executives that it is by far the most difficult environment anyone has ever worked in — everything moves at hyperspeed and there are constant challenges and growing pains.
2. There are no industry standards– you need to create your own. There is no playbook for cannabis, which is both exciting and challenging.
3. Customers are demanding, and for good reason. We have learned time and time again that cannabis customers are discerning and knowledgeable, and your success will depend on their satisfaction.
4. Don’t make the same mistake twice — you will make constant mistakes and that is fine– as long you keep learning and improving things will trend the right direction. Don’t let you or your team be discourage if mistakes are made — you’ve got to keep moving.
5. Local politics are paramount — our previous business experience required zero interaction and approvals from local governments. Spending time building relationships with local elected officials is key to the success of any cannabis organization. We initially had trouble getting any traction with finding a location as we were not taking enough time to understand the local politics as a first step.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
My advice would be to have fun and enjoy the ride. We all get mired down in the day-to-day, and sometimes that makes it difficult to keep perspective. There are vast challenges but even greater rewards.
When things do get difficult (and they will), use it as an opportunity to strengthen your team by staying calm and poised. If they see you navigate adverse circumstances with a positive attitude, they’ll emulate the same response. This strengthens your organization and your team.
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. :-)
This is a hard one for me to answer. I’d say to generally try to be more present and appreciate the beauty found in everyday life, whether it’s the people you are with or the natural world.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!