In a young, high growth industry like cannabis, building relationships and networks is vital. 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.
With the California Cannabis Business Expo hitting San Francisco March 3-5, 2016, here are 11 tips for hacking your cannabis expo experience so you can build your network, develop relationships and expand your knowledge.
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, entrepreneurs are often made up of the younger crowd and investors tend to fall in the older crowd; however, stereotypes can be deceiving, as there are some cannabis industry investors in their 30s.
There will also be members of the old cannabis guard 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.
It’s Okay to be Dumb
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 increase your knowledge, but also helps you make introductions to people that might be helpful to one another.
Like Politics, Cannabis Brings Out Strong Opinions
Don’t forget that there are a lot of people at these conferences that have personal experiences with marijuana about which they feel strongly. 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
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.
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.
Spend 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 Consultancy you talked to on the first day, 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 the relationship a bit more.
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 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 … .”
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 attend business conferences to make lasting human connections, so remember to relax and act like a semi-normal human who has interests outside of business. The California Cannabis Business Expo is giving attendees an opportunity to unwind to some music after The Great Marijuana Debate.
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 attendees that might know how to solve them.
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.
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.