"Give your team credit and recognition for everything, because they deserve it. I see a lot of CEO’s out there with huge egos, who don’t give their team credit for anything. The reality is that any entrepreneur or CEO is only as great as the team they have behind them, so making sure you’re constantly giving your team credit for all of the work they are doing is really important."
I had the pleasure of interviewing Karson Humiston, the Founder & CEO of Vangst, the cannabis industry’s leading recruiting platform. Since launching in 2016, Vangst has connected more than 10,000 people with jobs at over 650 leading cannabis businesses around the US. Karson was featured on the 2018 Forbes 30 under 30 list. Prior to founding Vangst, Karson founded On Track Adventures, a student travel organization based out of St. Lawrence University. Vangst is the cannabis industry’s leading hiring platform. Since launching in 2016, through Direct Hire & Vangst GIGS, Vangst has connected over 10,000 people with jobs at over 650 leading cannabis businesses around the US & Canada. Vangst has raised $12.5M from leading tech and cannabis investors, including Lerer Hippeau and Casa Verde Capital.
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?
During my Senior year at St. Lawrence University, I sent an email to people in my network asking them which industries they were most interested in. Over 70% responded saying they were interested in jobs in the cannabis industry. After researching the industry, I discovered employers were hiring thousands of people and reported hiring as their number one pain point. I decided to start a business to connect cannabis employers and talent.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Oh, gosh! So many interesting things have happened to us since starting Vangst. One of the most interesting, in my opinion, has been seeing the companies who operate compliantly thrive, and the companies who operate illegally go under. In 2016, our second-ever hire, Amanda Guerrero and I, were in Los Angeles meeting with our first potential California client. We prepared for the meeting for at least a week, and showed up to the meeting very dressed up ready to present on how we could help them with their hiring. When we arrived to their “office” we were shocked to find the two owners in sweatpants and no shoes, there pitbulls and other dogs running all over the office, and there were piles of cannabis and cash everywhere. For some reason we thought it was a good idea to proceed with the presentation, and throughout the meeting the owners smoked at least 4 joints each! They are no longer in business because they clearly did not meet the compliant California regulation requirements that are now being heavily enforced! We have hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories like this from the early days of starting our business — it was crazy! Fortunately, our platform now confirms businesses licenses, and we only work with cannabis businesses who are operating compliantly, with licenses, to avoid situations like we experienced in 2016.
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?
One time we had a client pay a large invoice in all two dollar bills. Apparently the bank was alarmed by us depositing thousands of dollars in two dollar bills and must have flagged our account and a few days later our account was shut down because we were associated with the federally illegal cannabis industry. We had to scramble to quickly find another bank. The mistake we made was not having backups; being in the cannabis industry, many vendors many unexpectedly drop you. We now have back ups for the backups with every vendor, from CRM, to bank accounts, to payroll providers.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Yes, always! Right now I am spending a lot of time with our product team. We recently hired a new Director of Product Management, David London, and his team is doing a fantastic job working through new features, which we know will help our clients hire more effectively. In addition to strengthening our platform, we are hiring like crazy. We currently have over 25 open roles internally, so I am spending a lot of time working with our leadership team to ensure we are bringing on the best people. Check out our jobs at Vangst.com if you’re interested!
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?
A lot of awesome people have played a huge part in the Vangst journey so far. One group who has been extremely helpful and who we continue to feel so lucky to work with is our first investor, Lerer Hippeau. In addition to great advice, consulting, and support from their entire team, they have connected us with many other early-stage companies in their portfolio, who have always been very helpful to us.
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?
We refer to everyone we place into a job as a “Vangster”, and we throw tons of events for our Vangsters. This has been a very powerful and inexpensive marketing strategy for us as Vangsters refer other future Vangsters to us.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
- Job creation. There are currently over 290,000 people employed full time in the cannabis industry and this number is expected to double over the next few years. These are brand new jobs that need to be filled with rockstars and Vangst is right in the middle of all of it.
- Inclusive hiring practices from day one! Since cannabis businesses are starting from scratch, they have the opportunity to prioritize diversity and inclusion programs into their hiring on day one. We as an industry have the chance to build the most inclusive industry in the world, and the chance to be an industry many others mimic. It’s very exciting to be part of building something and doing our best to build it the right way!
- Banking. There is currently a bill in place (the banking act) which would give cannabis businesses access to regular banking. This would be huge for the industry. If the bill doesn’t pass, we will continue to remain concerned about the current banking situation (many businesses not having access to bank accounts).
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.
- Hire for where you’re going, not where you are. The more people you add, the more layers of management and systems you need. If you don’t have these in place before you need them, your employees will not be successful. Our company has grown really quickly, from 25 people to over 75 in one year, and we made the mistake of not prioritizing hiring senior leadership before adding others. Looking back, had we added management and built systems before actually needing them, we would have avoided some headaches.
- Every time you think you have seen it all, you haven’t. There are so many unexpected and crazy things that happen in this industry on a daily basis and you need to be prepared to roll with the punches and keep going.
- Compliance is key and needs to be at the top of every company’s mind. The industry is one of the most if not the most highly regulated industries in the world, and every state is different. Making sure you understand the rules and regulations before you launch in a new state is critical, even for ancillary businesses like technology companies. We had no idea how complicated it would be to land workers compensation for our GIG workers in California, and the process ended up taking 8 months longer than expected. We now spend a ton of time and energy (very far in advance of when we plan to enter a market) understanding the rules and regulations.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Give your team credit and recognition for everything (because they deserve it). I see a lot of CEO’s out there with huge egos, who don’t give their team credit for anything. The reality is that any entrepreneur or CEO is only as great as the team they have behind them, so making sure you’re constantly giving your team credit for all of the work they are doing is really important.
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. :-)
Wow, tough question. In an effort to not answer like everyone else I am going to go out on a limb and say I would start a movement to help everyone in the world exercise at least 5 days per week. I by no means think I lead the “healthiest” lifestyle; I travel more than two weeks per month, rarely get the right amount of sleep, and I’m addicted to sugar, but finding time to exercise daily has made a massive difference in my life. Days I do not exercise, I am far less energetic, far less focused, and just not on my A Game. In addition to the health benefits, there are so many mental benefits to exercising, and if everyone prioritized it, I think the world would be a better place with healthier and happier people!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
@vangsttalent (twitter & instagram)