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Women Leading The Cannabis Industry: “We need to support other women whenever we can”, With Erika Tingey of Backbone

Individuals — Lift each other up. As women, we need to support other women whenever we can. Whether you’re just starting your career or are an old hand (like me), look around for ways to work together. And if you’re an ally, keep on the lookout for opportunities to make a difference, whether it’s supporting women-owned businesses, opening up job opportunities, or recognizing someone for the great work they do.

As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erika Tingey.

Erika Tingey is Head of Product at Backbone. Erika’s work at Backbone is driven by solving the unique problems cannabis companies face, developing features based on client insights, while minding the future vision for Backbone products. Erika holds a Bachelor of Arts in Modern Languages from Pomona College and Master of Fine Art in Choreography from Mills College. Drawing from a background as a software engineer at QuickBooks and Product Management at Sage Intacct, Erika brings expertise in financial systems, accounting, and inventory to the needs of mid-tier enterprise customers. Additionally, Erika performs product design, data analysis, problem-solving, customer research, and helps develop strong engineering teams at Backbone.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

I started my career in software at Intuit working on QuickBooks. I always say I “grew up” at Intuit, and because of our focus on understanding customer problems by spending time watching them work, I learned to solve those problems in innovative ways. The thing I loved most was helping customers live their dreams — most of them didn’t want to spend time on accounting, but rather do the work they started the business for. When I was approached about being Head of Product at Backbone, the most appealing thing was to bring some of that expertise into solving problems for cannabis companies in magical ways. Also, I also love learning. Learning a new industry, especially one as special and community-oriented as cannabis, was really appealing. I’ve been lucky enough to learn not only from our customers, but also from long-time cannabis operators at Backbone like Dr. Peter Huson and Dylan Livingearth.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?

When I first started, I said that I was making software for the weed industry, and so many people heard “wheat.” They couldn’t understand why the wheat industry needed special software. Of course, lots of people don’t understand why we need software in the cannabis industry either — they don’t see the complexity of compliance, cultivation, production, and distribution that we have to deal with.

Can you tell us a bit more about your company?

Backbone is a fully customizable supply-chain management platform, tracking production, compliance, COGS, yields, and audit reporting data in real time. In fact, it has been leading the way in supply chain management software for cannabis and hemp producers since 2017. With Backbone, all of your important supply chain data is aggregated in one easy-to-use dashboard. This live data empowers producers to immediately course correct, ensuring the delivery of consistent products from a business-wide playbook. Backbone also provides deep data-driven insights into reducing production costs, improving quality, and increasing yields as producers scale their businesses and grow their teams.

What about the team?

The Backbone team consists of engineers and product managers from NetSuite, Sage Intacct, and Intuit, as well as seasoned Humboldt County cannabis operators with decades of experience. We all use our expertise to help our customers figure out how to be productive and successful. At the same time we’re continuously learning from them about what they need, so we can build the best products possible.

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?

Amanda Friedman has been an inspiration to me. I met her when I joined Backbone, and very early on she told me her dream job was to run a community outreach program, and now she’s the Social Impact Coordinator at Cookies. I’m so impressed by how she made her dream a reality. I also have to shout out to my mom. She was always enthusiastic about whatever I wanted to do, and really encouraged me to take risks. I wouldn’t be who I am today without her. She passed away 16 years ago, and I still think about her every day.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have so many great projects coming out in the next few months. One that immediately jumps to mind is our integration with QuickBooks Online. Our customers need to understand the financial health of their business, and Backbone has the details of costs and productivity to help with that. By automating their entry into QBO, we can ensure our customers have accurate and up to date information about how their business is going.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?

  1. Individuals — Lift each other up. As women, we need to support other women whenever we can. Whether you’re just starting your career or are an old hand (like me), look around for ways to work together. And if you’re an ally, keep on the lookout for opportunities to make a difference, whether it’s supporting women-owned businesses, opening up job opportunities, or recognizing someone for the great work they do.
  2. Companies — Inclusive hiring. Start by writing job descriptions that don’t subtly exclude women and people of color. There are some great tools to help you with more inclusive language, like Textio. Post those inclusive job listings on boards like The Mom Project, FairyGodBoss, or cannabis networks like Vangst. Use a blind hiring process to solve for unconscious bias like Pinpoint, Blendoor, or Entelo. Finally, assemble a diverse interview panel. A more diverse workforce benefits everyone, and is better for your business.
  3. Society “When women do better, economies do better.” This quote from Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund stands true even in challenging times like Covid. Call out sexism and harassment, demand equal work culture (changing tables in men’s rooms, breastfeeding rooms, etc.), and teach girls their worth. By giving everyone opportunities, we create a stronger industry and one that we all will love to be a part of.

You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.

  1. It’s all about relationships. In spite of its reach and growth potential, cannabis is a small industry at the moment. Everyone knows everyone else, so maintaining those relationships is key. And people move in pods — early on one of our customers suddenly lost about 5 employees at once, because it was the girlfriend/brother/cousin of an employee who left.
  2. Trust. Earning trust in our industry can be tough, especially coming in from another industry. I’ve noticed that being authentic and bringing your real self to any interaction can help. Also don’t make promises you can’t keep. It’s important to us as a company to have integrity in every dealing, so we are honest about what we can and can’t do. We’ve heard about it from our customers when they’ve had interactions with other software companies who were less than forthcoming about what they could provide, and they were not willing to continue working with them.
  3. Things are still changing — The cannabis industry is still in its early stages, and constant shifts are par for the course. Regulators are rewriting or reinterpreting the rules, new players are joining the industry in all areas, and consumers have shifting needs and expectations. We all need to be flexible and look forward to what might happen next. Federal legalization jumps to mind as a change that will upend a lot of things in the market.

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

  1. Our industry is still so new — and everything is constantly changing. There’s so much to explore and understand. Our customers come to us with new problems all the time, and it’s so much fun to try to understand what’s happening and to come up with a good solution.
  2. The people! Everyone I’ve met is great to work with and so passionate about some aspect of cannabis. Some are plant enthusiasts, others love figuring out how to make the best product possible. The cannabis community is so supportive and so focused on making sure everyone is successful. I’m inspired to see how much collaboration is happening.
  3. We’re at a moment where attitudes are changing towards cannabis across the world, where legalization is happening not just in new states all the time, but in many countries as well. We have the opportunity to create a global cannabis community.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?

There are a few things that could go badly. But, if we get it right, these are really going to impact business:

  1. Simplify and coordinate regulations — One of the hardest things to resolve is going to be when cannabis is federally legal, and we have to reconcile all the different ways states have set up regulations and taxes. In addition, each state has its own track and trace software which is going to make interstate commerce complicated and hard to manage.
  2. Make sure no one gets left behind — Our industry is different from any other. Now that we need to reconcile between the traditional market and the regulated market, and we have new people and companies coming in from other industries, we need to ensure we provide opportunities for everyone to benefit. Representation of both women and people of color is immensely important, especially because that ethos of equity is already entrenched in cannabis.
  3. Ensure that all required systems — like track and trace, filing taxes, or any kind of reporting — have the ability to support the amount of traffic required — We can’t expect timely reporting if the infrastructure isn’t there.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Change the world by being yourself.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to be my authentic self in every situation. I no longer have a “work self” and a “real self.” By bringing my whole self to every interaction, I’ve built amazing relationships throughout my life, and those relationships are key to both my happiness and success.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

The cannabis industry has a responsibility to assist those impacted the most by the war on drugs. One example of how people are coming together with this mission in mind is The Cookies Workforce Development Program, which creates career opportunities for social equity applicants who are ready to get involved in the cannabis industry. The pilot program is now open for social equity participants based in California. Program graduates will have opportunities for internships, jobs at Cookies, and staffing at partner operations across the state. It’s all of our responsibility to take care of each other. I encourage everyone in the space to find ways to support equity and legacy businesses.

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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