I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristen Yoder, CEO of Soil to the Oil. A 13 year California cannabis industry veteran, 40 under 40 Rising Stars of Cannabis — Marijuana Venture Magazine, and radio co-host on Notes from the Underground on KNSJ in San Diego.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? How did you first get into this business or get interested in the business?
Imanaged the first dispensary in the City of LA for 5 years, apprenticed under a master grower for 2 years, did supply chain management/product development and R&D/operations management for one of the largest edible companies in CA for 3 years, project management at an analytical testing lab with locations in WA, OR and CA for 2 years, followed by a year of management consulting for cannabis businesses, currently an adviser for investors/entrepreneurs and companies interested in getting into the cannabis industry.
I got into the industry 2 weeks after I went in to a dispensary the first time. I had no idea selling cannabis was a real job. Suffice it to say I was no longer a hairdresser the following week, and so began my lifelong cannabis journey. I was interested in the industry because I love every part of cannabis — the culture, the science, the plant, the effects, and the experiences.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company
I had the awesome opportunity to emcee the “Battle of the Terpene Alchemists” at the Terpenes and Testing Conference in San Jose in April. It was an onstage demonstration of 3 companies creating terpene infused beverages for everyone in the crowd to try. If you have ever been a part of creating and executing a cannabis event, you know that hiccups and chaos are not only inevitable, they are par for the course. There had been a little confusion about when the demonstration would begin, so only 1 out of the 3 companies had their products ready. I had the company with their products ready, start their demo, while the other companies got their supplies. I decided to tell the growing crowd a funny story about the time I accidentally overdosed on a terpene infused edible while doing R&D at the edible company I used to manage. The terpene concentration was off by a power of 10 too much! There’s nothing like a story about vomiting on yourself followed by a 4 hour case of couch paralysis to get people in the mood for consuming terpene-infused beverages! Fortunately it didn’t hinder anyone from trying it! After the demonstrations, I could hear people murmur when I passed by “that’s the girl that puked on herself”. As long as I made people laugh and taught them something new — mission accomplished!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I am my company. What makes me stand out is that I have managed the operations of successful businesses in every sector of the cannabis industry, during which I have experienced and had to solve every issue that could possibly happen along the supply chain, from seed all the way through sale. I have a wealth of knowledge and experience in this industry that can’t be taught in school or easily searchable through online research. I remember cannabis companies from a decade ago, including what mistakes they made, what they did well, who their competitors were, etc. While legalization seems like a fairly new topic, I’ve experienced LA and CA failures to regulate their industry firsthand, for over a DECADE. My thirst for knowledge and unyielding curiosity puts me in a different league, because I know where to look for BS, as I have seen and lived through it for years. The better something sounds, the more skepticism you should have, and since most of my clients are optimists, I’m kind of like their guardian cynic for hire. The cannabis industry is becoming more and more capitalistic, and idealism can be more of a liability than asset.
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?
My parents were there for me, even when they weren’t supportive of my decision to continue working in the industry after every negative experience I went through. The Los Angeles cannabis industry is not for the faint of heart. It is still one of the most cut-throat, unregulated/criminal cannabis markets in the country. When an industry is illegal, it is unregulated, which means you don’t have the police on call to protect your business. If your dispensary gets robbed at gunpoint, they probably wont call the police, because they don’t want to bring attention to their operation. There were no protections for consumers, employees, employers, vendors etc back then, and there barely are now. That’s got to be hard for a parent to watch and know that there kid is in the middle of that stuff.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
I’m working on a podcast right now(unpublished as of yet) called “The CannaBS Podcast; Calling out the BS in the CannaBiS Industry”. There are a lot of podcasts about cannabis, from medical to cultural to B2B, but none of them seem to talk about the darker side of the industry. I truly believe that the media is the 4th branch of the government, and I want to use that branch as a glaring spotlight to put pressure on government officials shirking their responsibilities, or scamsters trying to defraud cannabis business owners. I want to inform people of the BS they will come across so that they can be aware and avoid it. I want to effect change with a microphone, because I have no faith in the government as a whole when it comes to protecting this plant and the people living/fighting/dying for it.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
- Watching the cannabis industry grow into a legal, regulated industry
- All of the scientific discoveries and our growing understanding of the chemical constituents in cannabis
- Cleaning up the supply chain(pesticides/fungicides/mold) through required testing of product, and raising standards in packaging and advertising
- Mass Consolidation — The playing field becomes even more difficult for small players
- Corporate takeovers of sectors serving the industry by “less than savory” corporations — ie Scotts Miracle Gro aka Hawthorne Garden Division buying up all of the biggest players in the hydroponics industry, Botanicare, Gavita Lights, General Hydroponic, etc
- Policy favoring special interests, not “best interests” — example: Prop 64 in CA had a cultivation size limit cap at 22k sq ft for cultivation sites until 2023 to allow the smaller companies to get on their feet — IT WAS REMOVED THE NIGHT BEFORE IT BECAME LAW — who bought that?
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.
- You’re going to take a pay cut. Everyone wants to work in the cannabis industry! There are a lot of candidates per job, and some of those candidates will be willing to work for less money than they deserve.
- Lower your expectations of people. The cannabis industry is full of people that won’t return your calls or emails. 85% of people will be late for one reason or another. You might think I’m over exaggerating, which is why I said you need to lower your expectations! The higher your expectations of others, the faster you will burn out.
- Do your due diligence on cannabis companies you want to work at or cannabis opportunities you’d like to pursue. There are a lot of great people and companies in this industry, but there is something about it being federally illegal and profitable that brings out bad players and greed-fueled less than above board “ventures”.
- Before you try to start your own cannabis-touching company, consider working in one first. The learning curve is incredibly steep and financially prohibitive. There are unique aspects in this industry that are unlike any other, and they are generally very expensive when unanticipated. Learn from others mistakes, and even better, on their dime, not yours!
- You will not get rich quick, and might end up losing more than you started with. This is a long game. Like, a really long game. For example, the majority of companies in California that pursue cannabis licensing won’t show a profit until year 2, if not longer. The upfront costs of starting a legal cannabis company are much higher than normal businesses because every department, landlord, lawyer, consultant, accountant, local and state government regulating agency see dollar signs in cannabis. If your locality allows cannabis businesses, it’s because they want the tax revenue. Unfortunately, even if you play and pay by the rules, localities can then change their mind after collecting that money and ban all cannabis businesses* *like calaveras county did.
In our experience when people are passionate about what they do they are more successful. Where does you cannabis passion come from?
My passion lies in calling out the BS in this industry for the good of the consumer and business alike. There are far too many enablers and scammers profiting off of the hopes and dreams of good natured people.
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?
My business aka me in 5 years, will have my own show — TV or radio — where I will keep people informed of the undercurrents of the cannabis industry, and use that influence to effect change by putting a spotlight on issues.
I’ll give my prediction for CA cannabis in 5 years. There will be a consolidation like we see in Canada, where a few companies dominate and steadily acquire smaller companies.
What growth sectors should most people be paying attention to that they might not be currently?
I never hear about cultivation products and equipment in the media, perhaps it isnt as sexy, but they are ESSENTIAL to the lifeblood of the industry — growing cannabis and hemp!
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. :-)
2 women: Lisa Ling from This Is Life on CNN. I’ve been watching her reporting since I was in junior high, I love her honest, no frills, immersive approach to journalism and reporting. She seems like such a down to earth, genuine person with a similar curiosity. I also love Sarah Silverman! She is my spirit comedian:) I would love to have and a sesh and grab a bite with her.