MP recently sat down with Colin Landforce, a serial entrepreneur based in Portland, Oregon. After spending the first part of his career working in several regulated consumer goods spaces, he made a jump and spent the last five years in recreational cannabis. His efforts have gone toward building brands in both the Oregon and California recreational markets. Today, he sits as Chief Technology Officer at Unrivaled Brands ($UNRV), building generational cannabis CPG brands.
MP: What are Unrivaled Brands and what is its mission?
CL: In cannabis, companies with operations in several states are called MSOs, or multi-state operators. We’re the leading west coast MSO with operations in California, Oregon, and Nevada. We own multiple category-leading consumer brands. We’re vertically integrated, so our licensed businesses include retail, distribution, light manufacturing, and cultivation.
What makes Unrivaled Brands unique?
West Coast, best coast. Cannabis has been decriminalized out here for more than 20 years, and our brands were born and bred in the culture. A lot of the large cannabis companies are building brands that were born in a marketing agency 2 years ago – not ours. We’re doing cannabis for cannabis users, which is unique among MSOs.
What are three obstacles you’ve faced growing Unrivaled Brands over the years and how have you overcome them?
1 – In addition to cannabis products not being able to cross state lines, cannabis operates with fragmented state-by-state regulation. This obviously means I can’t produce a product in California and sell it in Oregon, but it also means that there are different compliance and labeling requirements for the said product across the states. We try and keep as many components as possible state agnostic – flexible enough to work for any state – but that only goes so far. In many cases, each SKU we sell has components, label templates, sales collateral, product images – that all vary by state. This ‘similar but different’ dynamic doubles the number of items we need to manage for any given SKU. However, this is something federal legalization will help with.
2 – Cannabis is popular, which means it’s competitive. That’s where the fun begins. Pricing pressure gives the whole supply chain a margin squeeze that makes any business difficult – especially in a traditionally competitive space: consumer packaged goods. Oversupply in the Oregon market and a very saturated retail market has made $20, even $10 8ths an everyday occurrence. I say all that to say, like any other business, cash flow matters.
3 – Agriculture, which is the core of the cannabis industry, is inherently inconsistent. Think about the produce section at the grocery store. Until recently, cannabis agriculture has been completely underground. From techniques to technology, and everything in between, this all contributes to a lot of variability in the supply chain both for SKUs that directly use the flower and more fungible oil-based SKUs. Having our own cultivators growing our genetics for our brands inserts us directly into our own supply chain, which is valuable for our brands. We’re not selling widgets over here.
How did Unrivaled Brands, which is on track to sell $70 million in consumer-packaged goods this year, build a successful customer base?
Execution and brand support. We have a strong bias for swift and decisive action and forward motion, and we get our hands dirty at all levels. There’s not a job in our organization I haven’t done, and not a corner of the business that management and the executive teams aren’t in the weeds on. The only constant in cannabis is things change fast. The mix of this repeated evolution and improvement is a cross-functional value. From the trim room to the sales floor, and everywhere in between, we get busy, measure everything, and move fast.
What kind of culture exists within Unrivaled Brands and how was it established?
We’re a lean, mean, sales, and process-driven organization. Even only a few years into recreational cannabis, our team has been through several seasons of change, launched brands, adjusted around COVID, and more. We’ve been through and built a lot together. We’re based on the West Coast and that bleeds through into our team and brand cultures daily. Our name is Unrivaled because we’re competitive internally and externally.
How do you market your products, which tactics have been most successful, and why do you think this is the case?
1 – The industry is young, so it’s all about education both now and for the foreseeable future. Consumers look to their budtenders to learn about products and strains, so consumer education, and budtender education, are critical once the product is on the shelf.
2 – Creating our distribution network, while ripe with nuance, is just good old-fashioned relationship-based outbound business-to-business sales. We sell brands that buyers and consumers enjoy, so with budtender education, brand support, and execution, the rest is history.
3 – Direct response digital connects us with consumers and keeps them coming back for more. In addition to content like our Black Book, we’re email and social-heavy and promote limited-run releases directly to consumers, limited-time offers, and hold events at retail stores.
What are your three greatest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears?
To be completely honest, I’ve been through a lot in business – I’m not scared of much. My only real fear is letting down the people around me.
What are three pieces of advice you can share with people looking to become effective leaders in their own businesses and why?
1 – Over-index on positivity and prioritize it in your people.
2 – Enable, trust, and verify. Verify and follow up relentlessly.
3 – Lead with action and by example.
What questions should would-be entrepreneurs ask themselves before starting a new venture and why?
If you’re questioning it, I’m not sure you should. Something that has become a tagline for me is “builders build.” Creating and business are in my DNA, so I don’t have a choice. While many entrepreneurs experience that to different degrees, it might not be for you if you’re hesitating. If you do find yourself on the edge, I think the only question that matters is “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” It’s probably not that bad.
Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful leader?
I don’t. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to emulate the leadership models of successful people and when you dig in, you realize there isn’t a model. There are trends and characteristics, but there’s no right way to be a leader. For me, it’s radical ownership, candor, feedback loops, and a focus on enablement.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Cover photo courtesy of Colin Landforce.