The Learning Lessons From The Canadian Cannabis Experiment
"We are still really only at the end of the first chapter, so the rest of the book is yet to be written"
Since joining the cannabis industry three years ago I’ve had the pleasure of talking with many incredibly smart & passionate people, however, one person in particular whose perspective has always really impressed me is Nick Pateras.
In 2017, Nick left his position as a brand manager at a Fortune 500 company to become one of the earliest employees at Lift & Co, a company that made a significant impact on the legal cannabis industry in its earliest days.
Nick Pateras is the former Vice President of Strategy at Lift & Co and is currently the Managing Director of Europe for Materia Ventures.
What motivated you to leave your job as a brand manager at a Fortune 500 company to join the cannabis industry?
Nick: This is rewinding several years but coming out of business school I wanted a work environment that would challenge me to apply what I had just spent so much time studying. Johnson & Johnson was a perfect training ground in that respect, as I was empowered to own my business’ P&L from the first week.
Those years helped me sharpen my strategic and commercial mind and also exposed me to the absorbingly complex universe of healthcare – from both the OTC and strictly pharmaceutical angles. It was a terrific learning experience and at some point, I started to consider whether I could package those skills up and make an even bigger impact at a smaller company.
I had just started that train of thought when a friend who was working in medical cannabis told me about the market’s dynamics, how fast it was growing, and how dramatically patients could respond to cannabis’ therapeutic properties. This was back in early 2016 so well before the Cannabis Act was introduced to legalize adult-use. In fact, the potential of legalization didn’t really play into my decision.
I was completely engrossed by the idea of this demonized plant changing how people with debilitating conditions experienced life. That’s why when the opportunity to join Lift & Co as one of the first employees presented itself at the end of that year, it felt like the right mix of start-up, cannabis, and healthcare.
Lift & Co played an essential role in connecting the legal cannabis industry in its earliest days, what was the most important lesson you took away from your time at Lift?
Nick: I feel like I could write a book about the journey at Lift & Co, though perhaps that’s true of anyone at an early stage startup. Building a company is hard and it’s especially hard in a new industry where everyone’s working in the dark. Against that backdrop, you learn a lot about assembling high-performance teams and when to take on larger risk, but more than anything you learn about prioritization.
In my mind, you have two pools of capital – the financial support of your investors and any early revenue streams, and your team’s collective time.
It’s critical to be protective of both and think of time as an equally finite resource. This keeps everyone anchored to the vision. The question I’ll always ask myself and my teams now is, “How much does this matter? Is this an A+ problem or a B+ or C problem?” The latter usually sort themselves out.
Cannabis Content For Cannabis Professionals
What’s the most important learning lesson other nations should seek to take away from Canada if they too are seeking to legalize cannabis for adult use purposes?
Nick: The answer really depends on the goal of the exercise. If the objective is to drive economic growth or generate tax revenue, as some US states now openly admit, then it’s important not to weigh the industry down with red tape and overly cautious regulation.
In Europe, it’s more probable that legalization will aim to combat the black market and protect youth, which themselves don’t overlap perfectly as objectives. To combat the black market you have to replicate what the black market offers by way of products, pricing, and accessibility.
Canada has been notably slow here. To protect minors you need to build in gates that prevent youth access and strong education programs that discourage underage consumption. I’d consider Canada’s efforts here meritorious, but the data is still emerging.
Which European nations currently excite you the most as it relates to cannabis?
Nick: From a medical cannabis perspective it’s obviously Germany, being larger than the sum of every other market put together and also still growing considerably. There are several dynamics unfolding, from an influx of competition to an as yet untapped opportunity on extracts.
A few months ago we bought a German company that distributes to pharmacies and I can’t wait to have our own products flowing through that asset next year. On the CBD side, the UK is also an obvious choice, for its size and growth as well. That one resembles a more traditional CPG market with some eccentricities around elements like category understanding and fragmented distribution infrastructure.
Both Germany and the UK are definitely maturing, but we’re still really only at the end of the first chapter, so the rest of the book is yet to be written.
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