Mary’s List CEO Denise Biderman: “Empower your employees to be their best selves. If one way of doing something doesn't work for them, help them see outside the box and find what works better”

Fotis Georgiadis
Apr 24 · 11 min read

Empower your employees to be their best selves. If one way of doing something doesn’t work for them, help them see outside the box and find what works better. Recognize their strengths and work around what doesn’t work. It will make them more efficient and in turn, things will work better for the company as a whole!


As a part of my series about “the 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business ”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Denise Biderman. Denise Biderman is the Co-Founder and CEO of Mary’s List — a professional services marketplace for the cannabis community allowing businesses to hire freelancers and other service professionals on a project-to-project basis, wherever they are in the country. Denise practiced law in New York City for several years before transitioning her career into the cannabis industry, first as a licensing consultant and later with Mary’s List. Denise has consulted on licensing applications around the country as well as Canada and is a member of the National Cannabis Bar Association. She has been featured in publications such as Centennial Spotlight’s Women & Weed, Got a Girl Crush and Sensi Magazine Boston.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with the ‘backstory” about what brought you to the CDB and cannabis space?

I am delighted to participate, thank you so much for the invitation!

A little background about myself…although cannabis has been a part of my life in some form for many, many years, this story begins about three years ago. In 2016, I was practicing criminal law in New York and was simply burnt out. It was nearly impossible to watch the system repeatedly take in people of color for drug offenses while others were making millions around the country. At around the same time, I was facing my fourth knee surgery: reconstructive surgery to graft cadaver bone into a hole in my knee. The recovery would be tedious; eight hours a day on a machine that bent and straightened my knee plus physical therapy three times per week. It was essentially a full-time job. I reconciled this as an opportunity to take a step back, to reflect on my life and where I was going. I was unhappy and wanted a change. Little did I know how much my life would change after that.

One thing was for certain, I knew that I wanted to avoid opioids for pain management after surgery. I started researching alternatives and read study after study about cannabis and pain relief. I had always been a strong advocate for medical cannabis. Around this same time, New York added “chronic pain” to its qualifying symptoms for their medical program. I soon applied for and became a registered medical patient in New York.

Using cannabis to treat my pain changed my life. I’d used it for insomnia and anxiety before, but having the option to use something grown from the earth that’s non-addictive to treat bone reconstruction? Well, it was within the first week of recovery that I knew I had found my calling. I decided to use my professional background to help others access this same medicine. I left the courtroom behind and pursued my dream to work in the cannabis industry.

Although I began dabbling with cannabis consulting around the Tri-State area & New England, I decided to move westward to continue my journey into the cannabis space and see what mature markets looked like. I packed up two suitcases and moved from NYC to Denver, then California as a licensing consultant, before finally coming back home to New York to launch Mary’s List.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

While falling down the black hole that is the internet, looking up incubators, accelerators, start ups, and anything related to guided fundraising in cannabis, I came across the “Second Annual Boston University Cannabis Start Up Competition.” First of all, the SECOND annual? There had been a first? Held at an incredibly prestigious institution like Boston University? I was living for it!

To apply, you had to 1) be an ancillary business supporting the cannabis industry (check!) — and 2) be a current student or alumni of Boston University. Luckily, my Co-Founder, Taylor Aldredge, is an alumnus of Boston University (double check!). Since we were heads down working day and night to get the site up and running, it was in the mere moments before my two best friends were walking down the aisle to get married that Taylor and I finished our application. A couple of weeks later, we were accepted as finalists.

The next month, we spent nearly 12 hours a day working on our pitch deck and consulting with our incredible advisors and the organizers of the competition, Jeffrey Zucker and Michael Bologna of Green Lion Partners.

On November 7th, 2018, surrounded by our amazing family and friends, we won the Second Annual Boston University Cannabis Start Up Competition and $10,000 for our company. Winning the competition was one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me in my professional career and lit the fire for what Mary’s List has become 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?

It’s funny how, at the time, mistakes seem to be very unamusing. But, when you’re about a year out, they’re hilarious! Unfortunately, I took some bad legal advice when I opened and dissolved not one, but TWO corporate structures before finally opening our third and current formation. The mistakes were expensive and frustrating, but looking back, all I can do is laugh!

The Lesson: trust your gut. My intuition told me that the advice was wrong, but I took it anyway because it came from a seemingly trustworthy source. I didn’t have much experience in corporate formations aside from a clinic I did in law school and studying for the bar exam. I assumed that the lawyer giving me advice knew better than me! I should have trusted that all the research I did was right, because if I had, I could have avoided costly mistakes, saved time and saved a nice chunk of change for other startup needs.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Yes, we certainly are! We have partnered with BrightTALK, an online webinar platform, to highlight professionals (particularly Womxn) in the cannabis industry. In honor of the auspicious month of April in cannabis culture, our first webinar series, “Trailblazing Womxn Changing the Face of Cannabis” will be held on April 24th, from 11am EST — 1pm EST.

Also, we have started to fundraise, which is unbelievably exciting. We are ready to take Mary’s List to the next level, implement new design changes to the site and expand our team from two people to as many as we need to help get people hired.

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?

Absolutely. Amanda Ostrowitz of CannaRegs was the first mentor I ever had when starting Mary’s List.

We met at a National Cannabis Bar Association conference and kept running into each other at cannabis events. She made time for a call and heard me out on the concept of Mary’s List as well as the struggles we were going through.

Ultimately, she gave us advice and made introductions that helped lead us to sort out our banking. We wouldn’t be where we are today without her. I can’t thank her enough. When I asked her why she was helping me, she said very matter-of-factly, “Other women helped me get to where I am, and I wouldn’t be here without them. I can’t pay them back, all I can do is pay it forward. Just remember to do the same.” I couldn’t be more grateful to have such a powerhouse as a mentor and as a friend. I have lived by those words, supporting other women however I can.

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?

I think the most compelling thing we do at Mary’s List is keep it real and stay authentic. The voice of the brand is very much a reflection of myself, and I want people to connect with that voice. I know this may not seem that innovative on the surface, but I think it’s something that legacy companies should keep in mind. People want to connect with the brand. They want to feel heard and they want to feel like they are part of something. People are smart and know how to sniff out BS from authenticity. We connect with our community and talk to them like they are our friends, because they are our friends. We’re transparent about the current state of affairs at Mary’s List, and by doing so, it’s as if they are growing up with us, watching a baby start to crawl to taking its first steps and so on. By empowering our community with knowledge, we empower ourselves. I believe this is what helps us grow, day-by-day.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?

Most exciting:

  1. All the new science regarding this amazing plant and how learning about cannabis can help with all sorts of medical ailments from cancer to surgery recovery to pain management to anxiety. It’s incredible how versatile the plant is.
  2. Watching women take ownership of this industry by creating their own companies and investments — I love this. It’s the best feeling to see so many women supporting each other.
  3. The incredibly creative and brilliant people whom I meet making this industry possible: from incarcerated folks who have paved the way to legalization, chefs and event planners hosting underground parties, the attorneys suing the federal government for legalization, and everyone in between making this industry a possibility — I LOVE IT. I couldn’t feel more inspired every single day.
  4. One last quick one! The fact that I can go into a dispensary and pick out something that can help soothe what ails me. I feel empowered that I can take control of my own health and well-being as easily as going to a grocery store or pharmacy.

Most concerning:

  1. That millions of people of color are still in jail for cannabis convictions, while others are making millions selling the same plant. And, even when they get out of jail, their records bar them from entering the industry as license holders. Unbelievable. SMH vigorously.
  2. The lack of diversity in the cannabis industry. Period.
  3. Inequitable access to licensing. It concerns me that big businesses and money are pricing out small business owners in cannabis. It takes a lot of money to start a cannabis company and many people emerging from underground markets do not always have the finances, nor affiliations needed, to secure licenses. There needs to be more support around education and equitable access to licensing.

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. Be prepared to be persistent. Although we are an ancillary cannabis business, we are still considered to be in the business of cannabis. It was incredibly difficult to onboard a payment processor to do payouts for our professionals on Mary’s List. We went through 15 different payment processors before finally finding a company that would allow us to do payouts. We were met with the same hurdles that any plant-touching business would go through getting a payment processor, which is a lot. We kept believing there was an option out there for us, and the 16th processor was our saving grace. Always be persistent.
  2. Startup capital is important, so get some and probably get more than you think! You’re going to need money to make money, especially in the cannabis industry. It’s expensive to be at events, set up your business, work with and hire the right partners to grow — the day-to-day adds up so be prepared because it could be a while before you start turning a profit.
  3. The stigma is ALIVE AND REAL. Even though you could be building an ancillary company in the cannabis industry, you’re still in cannabis. There are people out there that don’t approve of cannabis as individuals or as businesses. For example, when we were in Las Vegas for MJ Biz Con, we needed to get something printed last minute. I had a company flat-out tell me that they refused to do any printing for me because I was involved in cannabis. They didn’t care if I didn’t touch the plant, and then they hung up on me.
  4. Be prepared to be resilient: things are constantly changing for the cannabis industry. It’s an emerging market, this is all brand new, and we’re all figuring it out at the same time. One day won’t always be the same as the next. Be flexible and don’t let the hard days get you down.
  5. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help: you can’t do everything alone. Make sure you have the right people in your corner, and that you build the right team. You want to have people around you that support YOU because every day is not going to be golden, and it’s incredibly beneficial when you can reach out for help.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Empower your employees to be their best selves. If one way of doing something doesn’t work for them, help them see outside the box and find what works better. Recognize their strengths and work around what doesn’t work. It will make them more efficient and in turn, things will work better for the company as a whole!

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. :-)

Wow, thank you! If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, it would be to transition your professional skills into the cannabis industry. By working in the industry, you can help more people get access to medicine every day…it’s that simple. Whether helping a dispensary with a licensing application, educating people about the effects of cannabis, constructing a cultivation facility or helping trim the bud that a manufacturer uses to create a product, at the end of the day, cannabis is an industry that requires workers to help get products to market. I feel very lucky to do what I do every single day because Mary’s List is my manifestation of exactly that — I help people access medicine by helping people get the jobs to help this beautiful plant grow and flourish.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Instagram: @maryslist.co

Twitter: @maryslist_co

LinkedIn: Mary’s List

FB: maryslist.co

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Fotis Georgiadis

Written by

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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