Hacking Your Marijuana Conference Experience

Like many people in the web startup space, I’m obsessed with network building and efficiency. And like many folks that spend too much time on the internet, I find business conferences to be a bit outside of my social comfort zone. A recent podcast from Tim Ferriss got me reflecting on the Marijuana Investor Summit events I’ve had the privilege to attend this year and I’ve cobbled together some thoughts that I hope will be useful for you at your next marijuana business conference. And as a quick plug, we’ve got  a great one coming up in Los Angeles on September 16th.

Particularly in a young, high growth industry like cannabis, building relationships and networks is immensely important. Some of the folks you interact with today will still be in the industry in 20 years, and making a bad impression can ruin a potentially long term partner.

Treat everyone like they will change your life
There is a fairly obvious split between entrepreneurs and investors at these events. As you might imagine, the younger crowd makes up the vast majority of the entrepreneurs and the older crowd tend to be investors. But that stereotype can be deceiving. I met a few investors in their early 30’s that could have passed for undergrads.

There will also be a fair amount of the dreadlocked granola crowd making their way amidst the suits. Typically, they have been growing cannabis professionally for longer than you’ve been alive. Be respectful to everyone and don’t be dismissive of anyone.

Its Okay to be Dumb

I’m a self confident idiot, so I don’t have to feign ignorance about a variety of things. For the rest of you geniuses, focus less on impressing people with your startup and focus more on being genuinely curious about what other people are doing. Are you a farmer? Great, talk to the web guys. Are you a lawyer? Great, talk to the farmers. This helps grow your knowledge base, but also helps you make introductions to people that might be helpful to one another.

Like politics and religion, cannabis brings out strong opinions
Don’t forget that there are a lot of people at these conferences that have personal experiences with marijuana that they feel strongly about. Everyone wants legalization, but getting into the nitty gritty of local/state/national policy might evoke some emotional reactions. Your objective at these conferences should be to make friends, not win debates.
Business Cards Are Still a Thing
A symptom of being an idiot is forgetting to bring business cards to a conference (guilty). You’ll interact with hundreds of people at these events and if you don’t have something physical to give them, you are just making it more difficult for people to remember who you are.
For extra points, spend some time and money on fancy business cards or some sort of swag you can give out. The most memorable for me has been Solexx‘s custom business “cards” cut in a circle out of their greenhouse building material.

Be Nice

There are going to be a lot of young entrepreneurs that are trying to make it, and just because you aren’t interested in their Chia-Pet-For-Pot idea (Patent Pending!) doesn’t mean you can’t give them a few minutes of your time and offer some constructive feedback. The industry is still young and if you burn a bridge today, it could have some lasting impacts for you and your company.
Slow Down

This one is hardest for me, but it’s the most important. Spend some time with people to get to know them, talk about baseball or your hometown or really anything that can serve as a point of common interest. You’ll remember Jenny from Los Angeles who likes motocross more than you’ll remember the COO of the 50th Full-Service Consultant Group you talked to, and the inverse applies as well.

If you are engaging with someone really well, offer to buy them a coffee (or a joint, depending on your locale) to cement that relationship a bit more.

Ask Questions
What session are you excited about? Where are you from? What brings you here?Ask questions to get the conversation going. “What do you do” will trigger a verbal advertisement and is a fairly sub-optimal entry point.

Be able to explain yourself in one sentence

Think about why you are there, and distill that into something that is easy to understand. “I’m here looking for investors,” will get you more mileage than “Well I’m the managing director of the west coast branch of our team and we’re interested in collaborating with strategic…” You’ve lost me and I’m looking at your uneven sideburns.

Don’t talk about business exclusively
If you are just there to pitch your company, you can probably do that more effectively from home. You’re there to make some lasting human connections. I remember and am infinitely more interested in the fact that that the MJINews Editor in Chief races sled dogs but I couldn’t tell you which vape company had the best vape pens at the Cannabis Creative Conference.
Be Honest
Particularly with investors, if you aren’t making money, don’t say you are making money. If you have some problems with your business, you’ll be infinitely better served talking to people there that might know how to solve them.
Graceful Exits 
Even great conversations don’t last forever. Make sure you thank your new friends for their time, and recap any promises to engage. Try to remember their first names because you are likely to see them again in 5 minutes.
Follow Ups
Make some time after the conference to go through your stack of business cards. Reach out in a timely way, and remind your fellow attendees of your mutual interest. It can be helpful to have some business links in your signature block to help jog memories.

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