Cannabis: Lessons from the Internet

The release of Windows 95 didn’t only mark the arrival of the graphical user interface, it also spawned a five-year period in which companies saw an unprecedented boom in valuations, business opportunity and access to capital. The extension ‘.com’ alone became valuable enough that nearly 100 public companies incorporated it into their names in 1998-1999. During this period, a name change meant cumulative abnormal positive returns without the expected post-announcement negative drift.Technology was then an industry, and now one is stretched to think of any untouched by it. While the cannabis movement is quickly evolving into an industry, it is similarly difficult to imagine a single sector that will remain untouched by this plant in the decades ahead. 750 medical uses and 50,000 industrial uses remain but a surface indication of the deeper impact potential of this ancient and sacred herb.These lessons from the dawn of the internet may prove valuable to the astute history student along with the cannabis investor and entrepreneur alike:Value Creation: Many investors and entrepreneurs are more motivated by the prospect of making a quick return than the responsibility of creating something of value. While fortunes will be won and lost during the creation of the cannabis chapters, stakeholders are well served to identify and address decisions driven by myopia.Business Principals: A glossy investment deck is essential, and far from enough. Businesses built on sound principals of purpose and profit fueled by passion have the best odds of surviving impending consolidation. If you are not strong enough to withstand mainstream competition or attractive enough to attract a mainstream suitor, in a federally legal environment your only other inevitability as a business is failure.Realistic Expectations: There are plenty of reasons for optimism in cannabis, making it that much more important that these don’t propel projections beyond the realm of the realistically attainable. It is important that expectations remain achievable and that investor diligence carefully focus on the same. That $3,000 lb is unlikely to be a reality in 18 months if you are even lucky enough to command those prices today.Cash Management: The number one reason companies go out of business is that they run out of money. Between March 11, 2000 and October 9, 2002, stocks had lost $5 trillion in value while the NASDAQ had dropped over 78%. Dot-com companies had maintained outsized spend on marketing to capture mindshare, a strategy that evolved to focus on cash burn as venture capital dried up. Do the entrepreneurs you are invested in act as true fiduciaries of your capital? Do they treat your money as they would their own? If you are running a business, are you rigorous about managing your burn-rate? Are your margins sustainable and are you charging towards profitability or towards your next raise? Super Bowl XXXIV in January, 2000 was witness to sixteen dot-com commercials. The following year, that number went down to three. Super Bowl ads remain a major drain on cash reserves.Metrics: Fewer than half of all dot-com companies survived the bursting of the first tech bubble, and prominent amongst those were companies adept at spending investor capital with no hope of profitability to focus on ‘new-age’ metrics. The cannabis industry can learn from this trajectory as companies are now vying to outspend each other in an effort to capture the modern day ‘eyeball’.Capital Structure: The telecom sector grew at a torrid pace on the bet that economic advance would necessitate ubiquitous broadband access, and companies went deep into debt to secure infrastructure investments that ended up proving to be out of proportion with their cash flows. The telecom bubble crumbled under the weight of its own debt, and telecom companies lost $700 billion in less than 24 months from the beginning of 2000. Sometimes confused with the dot-com crash, this was a loss created by an entirely different set of reasons. While not a large concern today, cannabis companies are well served to pay careful attention to their balance sheets as increased access to capital facilities can help fuel an environment in which irresponsible cash management will thrive.Business Experience: Cannabis may be a new industry; business is an old game. While companies in the industry can certainly benefit from cannabis experience, business experience is far more impactful to ultimate success. Gray remains an excellent hair color.Cannabis will change our medicine, environment, social bond and collective perception, and society will successfully adapt and evolve to embrace these positive steps. As humans, we are creative, resourceful, flexible and persistent. We are in the midst of a novel business renaissance in an industry building itself with relative lack of interference from corporate America. As technology is now a part of every industry, so will become the cannabis plant. Its bounty of food, fuel, fiber, paper and medicine along with its unique impact on the environment, social justice, civil rights, cognitive liberty and collective conscience provides us the opportunity to take a meaningful social step forward on the path towards the unlocking of true human potential.

The movie may be different, the theater remains the same