“Political engagement is part of the process. Most license processes begin at the local level, whether it be the building department, public hearings, the city administrator or city council. Every cannabis entrepreneur should get comfortable navigating City Hall.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Salwa Ibrahim, Product Leader, Mesh Brands
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I have been in the cannabis industry for a little over 10 years. I first began working at Oaksterdam University, the first educational institution for cannabis industry entrepreneurs. While I worked for the parent company there, the founder Richard Lee spearheaded Proposition 19 which was California’s first effort for legalizing cannabis. Though it lost by a narrow margin I learned a great deal.
During the campaign, the City of Oakland released an RFP process for 4 dispensaries. My business partners and I applied for a permit and were ultimately ranked number one in the process.
Blum first opened its doors in November 2012. At its height we were seeing 1000+ patients a day and was one of the first on-site vertically integrated dispensaries. Since opening the first Blum we expanded the shop to San Leandro, Santa Ana, Reno and Las Vegas.
In 2016 we completed a merger with TRTC, effectively becoming the first publicly traded cannabis dispensary.
I currently serve as a product specialist for Mesh Brands. We specialize in branding strategies for cannabis products that need to a refresh for the new recreational compliant market, both those that have been in the market and new ones that are emerging. Mesh brands allows me to work with industry pioneers from the emerald triangle and beyond, including high profile cannabis personalities such as Berner, my favorite cannabis rapper.
Speaking of music — In April I founded an event company called Highland Events that is curating a cannabis village at Outside Lands, the largest music festival in Northern California. The goal of this company is to figure out how cannabis concession will operate in the legal market while, navigating the ever-changing regulations.
How did you first get into this business or get interested in the business?
Before entering the cannabis industry, I worked for a development firm that was spearheading an effort to revitalize downtown Oakland, CA through the redevelopment of the Oakland Fox Theater. My responsibility was to reach out to the community and help fundraise for this important project. At the time there were a number of cannabis businesses that surrounded the theater. The local cannabis industry was always the first to step up and donate or raise money critical to the project. In the end, the Oaksterdam Community was the second-largest private donor, after Bank of America. After the theater opened in early 2009, I realized that I, too, wanted to be in the cannabis industry.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
One time this young man tried to give me a jar of random cannabis seeds in exchange for a job. That was pretty funny.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Mesh has chosen to focus on a specific part of the supply chain. Where others have chosen to be vertical, we decided to narrow our focus. We benefit from strategic investments in companies that are best in class in their category. Together, we have access to the best-in-class. So far, it’s coming together quite nicely.
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?
Martin Kaufman is my partner and mentor. Martin and I met during the application process for the Oakland dispensary permit. That was a very challenging time. The government was enforcing prohibition. I had everything and nothing to lose. There were too many times when I wanted to quit and he helped give me the encouragement I needed. Martin has been my champion for over a decade and I still ask him why he continues to believe in me and he always replies “I just do.”
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We are excited to launch a handful of brands that will hit the market in Q3. My favorite is dedicated to helping ease everyday stress on women. We are also helping Berner launch Lemonnade — his newly revamped cannabis line — in multiple states. The genetic crosses that the team has created are game changing. The smell, the structure, the buzz is amazing =)
In addition to launching brands. I am diligently working on co creating the cannabis village at Outside Lands in partnership with Another Planet Entertainment. This project is exciting because it’s the first time a mainstream music festival will embrace our industry in a public way.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
- How fast prohibition is ending.
- Potential partnerships up and down the supply chain. The industry is attracting such talented people, building alliances is fun … and exciting.
- Seeing new products that are emerging. I was just introduced to a cannabis mixer that can be used to make everything from cocktails to icing.
- Unaffordable taxes
- Market Correction
- Rapid expansion
Can you share your top “5 things you need to know in order to succeed in the Cannabis industry”? Please share a story or example for each.
Banking is a challenge. — Yeah…not sharing details here. You can look it up on your own ;-)
Make sure everything is in writing … before you do any work. As you can imagine in the beginning of a new project everyone is excited and promises are made. It saves a bunch of time and heartache to just wait until things are formalized before you kick a project off.
Political engagement is part of the process. Most license processes begin at the local level, whether it be the building department, public hearings, the city administrator or city council. Every cannabis entrepreneur should get comfortable navigating City Hall.
Cannabis is hard … like really hard. There is a misconception that cannabis is an easy business to get into and more importantly make money at. Well I hate to break it to you … it’s not. I’ve seen a lot of seasoned “traditional” business people waste a ton of money making investments that they don’t understand.
Don’t feel pressure to go to every cannabis event. There are so many conferences, education seminars and parties if you attend all of them you will never get any work done. It’s ok to skip some. You are not missing out ;-)
In our experience when people are passionate about what they do they are more successful. Where does you cannabis passion come from?
The reason why I first got into cannabis was to help people. During my days as a dispensary operator I witnessed a lot of sickness, healing and unfortunately death. It was wonderful being an ear for people and offering a healthier alternative for some. When you get to connect with people on a daily basis its hard not to be passionate about what you do.
Also, I am lucky. My best friends, my husband and people I respect are in and around the industry, so for me it’s easy to be passionate about this movement. It is ever changing and far from boring. There is truly never a dull day.
Where do you see your business going in the next 5 years? Where do you see the cannabis industry going in the next 5 years?
Ideally we will have launched several brands in multiple states. We will discover new benefits of specific cannabinoids and likely create products with specific desired outcomes. Think: weight loss weed.
The industry is going mainstream. The stigma will be removed and cannabis will be just like wine. Weed tours, tastings and vacations.
Are you able to identify any rising stars at your company or in your industry that people need to keep an eye on?
Susan Grayson Stone, Teresa Starkey, Tori Cole. These women work harder and smarter then anyone in the game. Their ability to create order out of chaos, build successful strategies and execute is remarkable. They are making moves, for sure.
What growth sectors should most people be paying attention to that they might not be currently?
Like everything, technology is always an interesting sector to watch. Tech that helps with process, production, efficiency or scale is interesting. This industry is ripe for disruption and tech advances is an easy way to do it.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
‘Sup Elon? … I do admire Elon Musk, he has portfolio diversity and a good long game.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!