Cannabis entrepreneurs are a lot like chameleons. Both must possess the ability to adapt, i.e., transform in their respective, ever-changing environments if they hope to survive. Change is the norm in the cannabis industry. And like the chameleon, sometimes you wish you had eyes in the back of your head. Or at least the ability to camouflage yourself while observing others and avoiding any missteps.
But ultimately, learning from others mistakes is just as important as checking off your own victories. For cannapreneurs like Paige Kazazian, this is a blessing in disguise, because adaptation is in her blood. Her early successes are no accident, rather, a colorful path that speaks to her entrepreneurial spirit, but also a familial integrity and unstoppable work ethic.
ADAPT, OR GO HOME
“My greatest strength is adaptability,” says Paige. “One year in the cannabis industry is like dog years. You could have a focus in one area and a single regulation changes and the whole game changes. If you can’t adjust, cannabis isn’t the space for you. If you’re not comfortable with change or trusting your instincts on where to pivot, then cannabis is definitely not for you.”
Wise words from a millennial, but also a testament to a hands-on approach that started when she was a child. A 3rd generation entrepreneur, Paige was born in New Jersey to Armenian-Irish parents yet grew up in North Carolina – two very different worlds. Her father has been a successful restaurateur for over 30 years whose formal training was the ‘culinary school of experience.’
“Basically, I was born in a kitchen,” says Paige. “Dad’s philosophy is simple; be smart, fair and transparent, and watch quality. Food [to him] is a side note. Care about the people around you. Focus on quality and consistency. Sell the same thing for less so all people can enjoy it. I want to do the same with cannabis edibles.”
The family business instilled a strong work ethic, but also an environment of love and security that would give Paige the strength to ‘come out’ when she was still in high school. She attended a magnate art school and went on to study medical and crime scene photography, trading her NC roots for NYC. Being a young, queer woman, Paige found it difficult to be taken seriously. Plus, the world of crime scene/autopsy photography was a tad chaotic. So when an offer to return home came, Paige pivoted. It was a job offer from E-Tix, the first event e-ticket company to develop print-at-home tickets. She advanced quickly and within a year, she managed a team of 30, making her the youngest female department head. But the title, money and corner office weren’t enough. It just didn’t satisfy her need to help people.
The legalization of recreational cannabis caught Paige’s attention, and it wasn’t long before that restlessness took hold:
“I attribute a lot of my success in cannabis to setting out on my own. Not knowing a single person forced me to put myself out there and to completely devote myself to learning the cannabis industry from the ground up. It was a difficult winter, but it gave way to a great spring.”
With recreational cannabis now legal, she worked in a multitude of dispensaries in Denver, learning everything about the business from point of sale and system staffing to ordering inventory. Tapping into her own instincts and viable trends, she consulted in Las Vegas for one of the first ten dispensaries to open in Clark County. From there, she pivoted to Oregon, the next canna hot spot, and wrote a 100-page business plan for the Oregon market. It was a lot of hard work…for other people. That’s when the epiphany came: Paige knew she could use all her experience and run her OWN company. So she returned to her first loves; cannabis, and the Kitchen. It was there that Faro, her edibles company, was born.
FARO: CANNABIS KITCHEN Lights The Way Toward the End of prohibition
Faro means “lamplighter” in Spanish, and Paige’s desire to light the way for new cannabis users had begun. Her vision meant focusing on infrequent users who might still be uncomfortable with cannabis, but are curious. Paige explains:
“People are still afraid to come out to their families and coworkers if they use cannabis because a stigma still exists. As a queer individual, I understand the fear of coming out to people, in general, and how people’s secrecy matters to them. But the truth is, so many more people want to experiment with cannabis for whatever reason, medicinal or recreational, but there just isn’t a product yet that appeals to them. That’s what FARO is all about. The industry as a whole still struggles with how to reach these new or infrequent consumers, as demonstrated by the majority of marketing and branding today. Tourists and adult men are no longer the biggest users. As someone who has assisted thousands of customers and has first-hand experience with their pain points, I find it surprising that no one is reaching out to these consumers. But it’s certainly a great advantage for Faro. We (FARO BARS) want to incorporate things you normally consume and bring CBD into your diet, as well as THC. We look at it as cannabis being synergistic with your body…as a wellness product. Instead of cookies and gummies. we make energy and nutrition bars. We thought it’d be a more familiar beacon for them to follow, hence ‘Faro.’”
Another passion point behind her vision is the desire to end Cannabis Prohibition. But what will it take? How does one edible company (or any other canna-start up) take on the Government, Big Pharma, state and local laws? One grain of hope is to look at history. As unlikely as it was at the time, alcohol Prohibition ended. The people spoke! And the world has never been the same. Will history repeat itself?
Now that science is backing the medicinal efficacy of cannabis for a multitude of illnesses and chronic pain issues, the general population is experiencing a shift in thought, sloughing off long-held negative beliefs that were propagated by mainstream media at the time (Just Say No) and many politicians seeking re-election. Today, New Media is being used to its advantage, as more documentaries, case studies, and opinion pieces are being created and put out into the world. People are forming their own opinions, based on personal needs and science. You can’t stop a runaway train, and luckily, it looks like the cannabis industry has left the station. Chugga Chugga, Whoo Whoo!
Paige Catches A Brass Ring And Lets It Go…
Paige has come a long way in the past two years. And it’s easy to see how her early experiences in the kitchen and familial roots have influenced her business practices today. But Paige believes they also helped set herself apart from over 1,500 like-minded cannabis business hopefuls vying for a spot on the 2018 season of The Marijuana Show. Although it was Paige’s first pitch, she went in with confidence and a solid business plan and pitch deck…and beat the odds. The Producers of the Amazon-Prime reality showed called and offered Paige 1 of 10 coveted spots. All she had to do was agree to the term sheet.
This was a dream come true and an unarguable opportunity to put herself in front of real cannabis investors and show the world her product, which is why it was pretty devastating that she had to turn them down.
“It was heartbreaking”, says Paige. “I wanted nothing more than this opportunity. I truly believe I would have gone on there and been able to convey my dreams, and it would’ve been to people looking to invest in cannabis.”
This was a pivotal moment in Paige’s career where she was forced to make a business decision far beyond her millennial years. Negotiating terms at this high level was one thing, but the bottom line came down to legalities:
“I couldn’t do the show based on Colorado law. Even though Colorado got rid of the vertical integration model, they replaced it with an ‘enforcement agreement’ that allows Colorado recreational companies to have investors who live outside the state. This arrangement means I can only have 15 members total, including myself, partners and investors. The LLC for the show would have claimed 4 of the 10 spots, leaving only 6 for investors. So the way I look at it, no investor is going to be happy having to make up the difference of those 4 slots that would be taken. This wasn’t attractive, and it would’ve been a disservice to my company. Plus, I would have shot myself in the foot to have any chance with future investors. I’m all about taking risks, but not if it’s going to do a disservice to future members of my company…While I’m incredibly disappointed to be sitting out of the best opportunity I’ve had to secure much-needed capital, I am proud to have been selected and wish the Marijuana Show nothing but success.”
Dreams die hard. Unless you’re a chameleon. Then you just pivot. Adapt. Survive.