Nicholas Warrender: “Here Are 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”
Run your own race. It’s easy to be distracted by what everybody else is doing; put the blinders on. Everybody has something to offer in their own way. Don’t worry about the big corporations moving into the industry with tons of money; they have their own issues — and a lot of them. There are lots of entrepreneurs, including myself, that started with nothing and are competing successfully, and winning, against those big guys. Focus on your own game, and you will find yourself ahead.
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 Nicholas Warrender. Nicholas is Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of publicly-traded Acquired Sales Corp. (ticker symbol AQSP; www.AcquiredSalesCorp.com) and Chief Executive Officer of AQSP’s wholly-owned subsidiary Lifted Made . Mr. Warrender founded Lifted Made in 2015 and has served as CEO ever since. Mr. Warrender has built out Lifted Made’s unique brand identity with premium, innovative cannabis products and presentation since its inception.
After playing competitive basketball in his youth with the prospect of a Division I college scholarship on the horizon, Mr. Warrender contracted a viral disease that derailed his basketball career and was the impetus for him to pursue other ventures. After a successful career as a DJ performing shows at legendary venues like Los Angeles’ Viper Room and opening for chart-topping artists like Kid Cudi, Mr. Warrender’s entrepreneurial drive and interest in health and wellness propelled him toward the cannabis industry, and in 2015 he launched Lifted Made. Mr. Warrender grew the company from a one-man operation out of a 10’ by 10’ room in his parents’ house to a fully staffed, nationally recognized company with a 3,500 square foot facility in Illinois producing an array of premium and progressive cannabis products. On February 24, 2020, Lifted Made merged with publicly traded Acquired Sales Corp.
Warrender graduated from Carthage College with a degree in Communications with a focus on Business and Cinematography.
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?
Of course, thank you, glad to be a part of this series! I grew up in Illinois and my first love was basketball. As a top tier high school basketball player, my goal in life was to play basketball professionally and I seemed to be on the right path toward doing that. But then the unthinkable happened. Just as I was at the peak of my young and budding basketball career, my family took a cruise that docked in Belize, and our dream vacation quickly turned into a nightmare when my brother, best friend and I were kidnapped and ended up in a Belize prison because we didn’t pay off the kidnappers. My Dad had a gut feeling that we didn’t get back on the yacht before the scheduled departure and he stayed in Belize (without telling my Mom, who was waiting on the yacht) to try to find us. Miraculously, he did, and my Dad was able to work with various locals and the embassy to get us out after three days — and fly back to the USA the day before I had to take my SATs. But, the effects of being in that prison lingered: I’d contracted a viral auto immune disorder that permanently derailed my basketball career and had me in and out of the hospital for 6 years.
Nonetheless, I never gave up; I maintained the same levels of ambition, competitive drive and creativity in me that I’d had prior to contracting the disease, and that I’d developed as an athlete. In college, I turned to producing music and I DJ’d for several years; I even opened for Kid Cudi. Through my music career I broadened my network, and the connections I made there have played a big part in my business today. I became interested in the e-liquid industry business because my Dad was a smoker and I thought that this could be a healthier alternative and a way to help people wean themselves off of smoking cigarettes. At the time, e-liquids in the market had a laundry list of unfamiliar and bad ingredients. I identified the opportunity to sell e-liquids with a number of ingredients that you could count on one hand, and in 2015, I founded Lifted Made.
In the beginning, I’d mix the ingredients myself in my parents’ house, design and develop the labels, and then drive all over the Midwest to sell the products to retail stores. I wouldn’t come home until I sold all the inventory in my car.
Eventually, I was introduced to CBD as a treatment for the autoimmune issues that I’d been struggling with, and I realized that cannabis products were another way to help people. Lifted Made soon evolved into a company specializing in creative cannabinoid products, from bath bombs and lotions to smokeable and edibles, some of the products made with hemp grown by local Midwestern farms.
Since our foundation in 2015, we’ve grown into a fully staffed company with products available for shipping nationwide and a strong retail presence in major markets across the country. We manufacture, distribute and do all of our work out of our 3,500 square foot space in Zion, Illinois.
We’ve matured, pivoted and come a long way since the beginning of Lifted, but we’ve never forgotten our humble beginnings, and we keep them in mind to keep us grounded and focused on the right steps to continue scaling our business.
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?
It’s quite a sad story but it did push me to work harder and persevere. My first business partner was a close friend and former Marine who suffered from PTSD and ended up taking his own life. Soon after, another close friend of mine who was a promising BMX rider overdosed on heroin. These experiences were extremely upsetting but they also really drove me to put all my effort and focus into my business and work around the clock until we became successful. I dedicated my efforts to those close friends.
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?
Lifted Made first became successful with a grassroots marketing strategy, connecting directly with retail store managers and consumers, including throwing events and parties at various stores. Our involvement in our community and events, and obviously the quality of our products, created a very loyal following of consumers. It’s important to get out in the field, meet your customers face to face, and develop relationships with them, on top of producing high quality products with vibrant, distinct, eye-catching packaging. I think that the leaders of large legacy companies probably should spend more time outside of their ivory tower corporate headquarters and meet the people!
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! We are so excited about the new brands and unique products that we are rolling out in 2020. We are currently launching our new premium hemp flower brand called Urb (www.UrbFlower.com), which features products with CBD and CBG, the next cannabinoid poised to make major waves in the industry. Urb showcases rare strains grown by Midwestern farms combined with vibrant, eye-catching packaging, Urb provides an unmatched experience for flower connoisseurs and the canna-curious alike. We plan to cycle into Urb’s product lines new strains as they are harvested by local farmers. We recently signed an exclusive agreement to manufacture CBD-infused products for American Top Team (www.AmericanTopTeam.com), the leader in MMA (mixed martial arts) and Brazilian jiu-jitsu training. We will also be launching some other new brands, but I can’t say anything more about those for now — stay tuned for more exciting news!
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?
I was doing a big road trip around the USA promoting Lifted, and at the time I had this Dodge Viper truck, a 6 speed, and it was wrapped with our logo which looked really cool. We were on our way to Miami for the final stop, and we were just stoked because you know, we thought we looked hot driving this thing and we thought it would garner a lot of attention in South Beach — we thought we were crushing it! But then, just before we got into Miami, the truck broke down, totally dead, and so we had to ingloriously limp around Miami in a tiny rental car — very humbling!!!
But in all seriousness, one of the biggest lessons that I have learned is that you have to take it a day at a time. Everyone wants to project what’s going to happen, and what revenue numbers they will hit, etc., but especially in this industry, which is so volatile and changing so quickly, you just have to stay in the present, and take on the day instead of the future. This helps in staying humble and helps you be ready for success and opportunities as they come up.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My parents. Throughout this journey, there have been many challenging times, and my parents have been there for me. I mean, I started Lifted with my own money, and never took money from my parents or anybody else, but my parents came from humble beginnings and were entrepreneurial as well, and they helped me emotionally get through some challenging times. My parents also allowed me to work out of the 10’ by 10’ room that I started Lifted in, so that I wouldn’t have to carry the overhead of renting space — that was a huge help that I am grateful for.
I’ve also obviously interacted with a lot of other business owners including distributors, store owners, and suppliers, and I’ve learned a lot from these guys, some of whom have been in business for a long, long time. I’ve come to understand their culture, how they operate, and the essential soft skills. And from them, I’ve learned to mirror the traits that I like, and I’ve learned how to deflect the traits of the bad people I’ve run across. Interacting with these other entrepreneurs, and absorbing what they do well, and avoiding doing what they do poorly, has helped me achieve success.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
Because cannabis was illegal for so long, the opportunity has now arisen for so much to roll out of it, because hemp is legal and marijuana is legal in certain states. As advanced as we are in society, the whole industry is a baby.
Three things that most excite me about the cannabis industry:
1) It’s a new industry that is centered around benefiting people’s lives and minimizing risks that can be associated with other bad crutches that people have especially opioids. Moreover, cannabis helps both consumers and employees. Cannabis is something that the millennial crowd uses and advocates for, and we offer millennials jobs in an industry that they enjoy.
2) It’s also exciting to see people of all different walks of life and backgrounds, including farmers, business people, designers, tech professionals, attorneys, etc. working together for the betterment of this industry. These are people that historically you wouldn’t see working together. Cannabis is mending social, economic and age gaps and bringing all sorts of people together. And these people, pooling together their various skills, backgrounds and resources, are making things happen, growing the industry and impacting society for the better. And as a result, bad stigma linked to cannabis continues to fade, and every day, cannabis is being seen in a more acceptable, positive light.
3) Coming into this industry at its infancy on the ground floor and being a pioneer in it is so cool, and could be historical. We are a part of the DNA progressing the industry; we are a part of the innovation, distribution, compliance, and advocacy. And this is based on timing. How many people can be a part of the DNA of an industry at the beginning? We are stoked to be here and are giving it our all.
Three things that concern me about the cannabis industry:
- Unclear guidelines for compliance and an indecisive enforcement mentality are allowing many fraudulent products to mislead consumers and damage price points. In the current environment, sadly, we have first-time CBD users buying CBD products off of Amazon (a “trusted” marketplace) thinking that the products are legitimate and that the products have as much CBD in them as represented, while in fact they're sometimes is no CBD whatsoever in what was purchased! Consequently, the consumers feel no health impact, conclude that CBD is “snake oil,” and as a result, the whole industry loses potential consumers because those consumers refuse to buy CBD again. And, on the pricing side, these bad actors damage price points for real players like Lifted because they price their products lower than ours, and drive down prices. The industry desperately needs more “smart” regulation.
- The illicit market. Consumers are buying illegal products off of the street that has harmful chemicals in them, and when people get sick or die from these products, it hurts the image and success of the legal market.
- Inaccurate news reporting. This concern pairs with my second concern. The vaping industry took a huge hit in the summer of 2019 because bad actors were selling illegal THC cartridges on the black market that were causing illnesses in people and killing some. The media jumped on the story for clicks, but instead of doing some research and accurate reporting from the beginning that the cause of the illnesses and deaths were illegal THC cartridges, the media decided to blame it all on “vapes,” and the general public, including consumers and potential consumers, were misled and misinformed. As a result, the cannabis and nicotine industries were badly hurt. Although there has been some recovery for legal businesses producing cannabis and nicotine vapes since that summer, it is undeniable that people are buying less vape and vaping-related products because of inaccurate news reports.
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.
Here are the “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”:
- Run your own race. It’s easy to be distracted by what everybody else is doing; put the blinders on. Everybody has something to offer in their own way. Don’t worry about the big corporations moving into the industry with tons of money; they have their own issues — and a lot of them. There are lots of entrepreneurs, including myself, that started with nothing and are competing successfully, and winning, against those big guys. Focus on your own game, and you will find yourself ahead.
- Check and verify, and check and verify again. There are a lot of bad people in this industry. Just because you try to be an honest, ethical person does not mean you can expect anyone else to be like that. Be careful about who you do business with. Be careful about who you partner with. Make sure your values and morals are in alignment. There is a healthy level of paranoia that you should have. Not everybody is your friend. People are looking for a quick buck and will get one at your expense. Watch out!
- Put it in writing. Always put contracts in place and have an attorney review those contracts before you execute them.
- Enjoy the journey. When you first start, you think about pushing to the next level, and time flies by, and sometimes you will burn yourself out. When you are on the road, enjoy your lunch and reflect on how far you’ve come. You can lose sight and fall back into the comparison game; don’t do that. Life flies by.
- Take calculated risks. You want to be conservative as a business person, but you have to take risks to get ahead. You have to envision what tomorrow is going to look like, and take a risk to get there. Once you’ve decided to take a risk, commit to it.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
The advice I’d give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees thrive is that you should spend time with them outside of work. Build a relationship with your people beyond the boss and employee mentality. Our generation does not like the “command and control” structure that has been around so long. To build an internal business family, you have to do it externally. Little things we’ve done as a team, like going to an escape room, has brought us all closer together. Everyone has issues and is dealing with life. Talk to your team after hours and show them that you care about them beyond just the work that they do. They will then try to help you do better in business because you want to help them in their lives outside of work. And lastly, lead by example.
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. :-)
The “movement” that I’d like to inspire would be to let all employees in the industry become partners and owners in the companies that they work for. Income inequality and wealth inequality have become so pronounced that company owners need to share the upside. It takes a lot of work from a lot of people to build the biggest and best company in a huge industry; they need to be rewarded. When we closed the merger with Acquired Sales Corp., I handed out a lot of stock and stock options to all of the people working at Lifted. I’m a capitalist, don’t get me wrong, but there should be more sharing of the success amongst all of the people in the organization who make it happen. We are trying to lead by example at Acquired Sales Corp., where we have a company-wide management bonus pool, which can be generally described as a cash set-aside for annual bonuses for those who make it happen at the company during the year.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media? You can check us out on our websites at www.LiftedMade.com, www.UrbFlower.com, and www.AcquiredSalesCorp.com, or on our Instagram at @Lifted_Made.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!