I had the pleasure of interviewing Colby McKenzie, CEO of Enlighten, a multifaceted cannabis technology company that has quickly emerged as a premiere technology company in the space.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I am a lawyer with a M&A background and expertise in strategic growth. Sitting in board rooms of multi-billion dollar companies and some of the largest private equity firms in the United States provided me with an intimate understanding of how companies build value and position themselves in the market. After being connected with the technology and operations expert behind Eyechronic, I saw the value in the company’s core competencies and as the co-founder of Eyechronic helped drive enormous growth over the past 18 months culminating in the Eyechronic network recently rolling into Enlighten, where I took over as CEO.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
My interesting story actually comes from my foray into the industry. The last deal I did while still practicing law was for an out of home advertising company. Watching how much that company sold for, I told myself I have to get into this industry, never believing it would be in anything more than an investor capacity. Low and behold, just a few years later I am the CEO of a company that operates the largest digital out of home advertising network in the cannabis industry. Its funny how things develop from something as simple as a seed planted from a random occurrence in life.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Dedication to the craft. I am a perfectionist by nature and demand that our employees work to always provide first class service to our clients and shine the best light possible on the company. As the cannabis industry has transitioned from the wild west to an emerging powerhouse sector, there has been a transition from many fly-by-night companies to those that take their craft, in our case retail technology, extremely serious. It is the later that are proving to have the foundation and reputation to survive and thrive over the long haul. One illustration of this is a demanding client calling on the eve of a big holiday with some time consuming request. Rather than partake in the many things I am sure that he wished he was otherwise doing, our employee did not hesitate to stay late into the night to deliver on the request and make sure the client was satisfied. That client will be a client for life. Definitely owe him a beer after that one.
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?
Hands down Jeremy Jacobs, the Chairman of Enlighten. I was an entrepreneurial rookie when he and I met and it has been his guidance and mentorship that not only catapulted our company to the top of the industry, but helped me develop into the executive that I am today. I definitely believe in the mantra that we are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with and have had the luxury of many great people’s help to shape me along the way.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We have a few game changing technologies in the late beta stages. I think some of them have the ability to not only change cannabis retail, but retail as a whole. That said, I better keep a lid on the R&D advances for now. Check back with me later in the year on that one.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Knowledge drives enlightenment (pun intended) and we are using our national reach and television screens in hundreds of locations around the country to provide as much educational content as possible to consumers and our partner’s employees.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I live by As A Man Thinketh by James Allen, but from a business perspective, I am a big fan of The Intelligent Entrepreneur by Bill Murphy, Jr.
You likely have heard of the famous cliche that in a gold rush the one selling the shovels makes much more than the one who finds gold. This is the modern day “green rush”. Can you recommend to our readers 5 technologies or services that can potentially be lucrative “shovels” for the cannabis industry? Can you give an example for each?
I have definitely used that analogy in potential investor presentations. Here are five technologies that I think are pillars to the growth of the industry.
1. Extraction technologies because high tech processing is needed for many forms of consumption.
2. Technologies that regulate the plant’s growing environment (temperature, CO2, hydration, etc.)
3. Seed to sale technologies will be vital regardless of whether the industry becomes federally legal because it is important to track and regulate the distribution and sale of the product.
4. In-store content display that can run real time. Enlighten utilizes technologies that allow us to work hand in hand with state governments to push public service announcements and instantly send out recall and other important alerts, educate consumers at a time when they are thinking about the product and promote brands and products when the customer has their wallet in hand.
4. Data aggregation tools. We deploy a few ourselves, but there are several players in the industry aggregating sales and consumer traffic data. This is extremely important as we try and learn about and analyze this young industry.
What 3 things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?
1) Build a base — I have more formal education than I care to admit, but more importantly, I read tons of books and articles to help develop my knowledge base and create a level of secondhand foresight even before I personally experience things.
2) Be bold — you cannot be a successful entrepreneur without taking big risks. I walked away from the safety of a job that paid very well into the unknown with nothing to rely on by my skill and will to be great.
3) Don’t have a rigid plan — Things never go as planned, so why map out your life. If someone had have told me I would be running a technology company in the cannabis space five years ago, I would have called them crazy…yet here we are. Opportunities are out there if you are open and looking for the right opportunity, not the one you planned.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Confidence and persistence are key. There are more bad days than good in the path to success. You have to be confident enough to be undeterred by those bad days and persistent enough to push forward if you ever want to build a successful company.
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. :-)
I am a Texas native and inspired by Mark Cuban. I appreciate his intelligence, unfiltered approach and success in business and beyond. Would be a heck of a breakfast.
Jilea Hemmings is the CEO & Co-Founder of Leaf Tyme. She is running a series on the latest innovations impacting the cannabis industry.