Ryan Brown took over the reins as CEO at Native Roots (NR) after joining the company as Chief Revenue Officer in early 2016. Brown, a man with a lot of diverse interests, was chosen to lead one of the largest single state vertical operators at a time when the company sorely needed a different type of the leadership, diversity of thought, strategic insight and the team building skills required to scale as they build a multiple-state and international enterprise and corresponding market share.
After graduating with a degree in liberal arts from the University of Denver, Brown pursued his MBA in sustainable business and the local Coloradoan, who literally grew up just down the street from NR’s headquarters, began his professional career in the renewable energy sector where he broadened his horizons and experience set as a financial analyst. He moved into consulting where he worked on a number of projects (and in a variety of industries including healthcare, manufacturing, and technology) before growing his experience set at RevGen Partners where he managed the execution of business strategy services, business intelligence, business process optimization and change management solutions as well as product development and roll-outs. As you can imagine, he spent the better part of his early years on a plane and with suitcase in hand as he developed the skills that would lead him to Native Roots and the Cannabis Industry.
Brown’s curiosity played well in the early years of his professional career, he developed a penchant for
organizational development and business strategy and was in his element with people driven organizational design. Like many executives in the industry, he never envisioned cannabis as part of his career path but a relationship with Mickey Krieger, a childhood friend and now Chief Innovation Officer at Native Roots (Krieger joined NRs’ Co-Founder Rhett Jordan earlier), would change that.
NR needed some different skills to take it to the next step, Co-Founder & CEO Josh Ginsberg had grown the company to over 600 employees and dominant market-share in Colorado, but NR needed the skill sets that
Brown brought with him to scale the organization, prioritize the myriad strategic opportunities and manage a highly complicated business. Brown’s independent and inquisitive nature led him to evaluate the opportunity and whether his experiences and skill sets would translate to the Cannabis Industry. He ultimately decided that joining the company would expand his creativity and would represent the kind of challenge he was seeking…taking the company from a start-up management mode to a long-term sophisticated strategic organization, which would operate seamlessly as the industry grew and adapted.
One of his first moves was to bring in long-time friend, mentor and confident Beth Kotarba as Director
of Operations and now NR’s COO. Brown and Kotarba had worked together in two of the firms that Brown had sharpened his skill sets at before joining NR.
He also brought in experienced entrepreneur, marketing and branding expert Chris Znerold as Chief Marketing Officer to lead NR’s branding efforts and to build a marketing and branding ecosystem that would be important to the
company’s expansion in January of 2018.
Another key hire was Shannon Fender to head up Public Affairs to give NR a voice at the regulatory
table as well as in the local community, first in CO., then in other markets as NR branches out. And industry regulatory and compliance expert Dave Cuesta, who had joined NR in 2014 and Jon Boord General Counsel rounded out a management team that could tackle the issue of building a complex operation, systems and processes while integrating the
strengths of the 600 employee member team at NR.
With 3.5 million transactions since 2016, NR has collected a lot of data about its customer needs and wants. Brown and his team have begun leveraging that information to create real insights about consumers and their retail experience as it
targets new markets for expansion. NR has focused on the Canadian market first for a number of reasons including:
- Access to capital
- Access to a broader investor pool
- Access to markets with few experienced cannabis retail shops like Toronto, ON; Vancouver, BC; Winnipeg, MB, etc.
- Access to International markets
- Ability to run a full ecommerce experience (could be key learning point for US expansion efforts)
In August this year, NR, in a partnership with Avana Canada Inc. of Ontario, Fisher River Cree First Nation of Manitoba, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation of Ontario, and MediPharm Labs Inc. of Ontario, and NR announced the formation of Garden Variety which they have positioned as the only current Canadian company with existing expertise in operating adult-use retail cannabis dispensaries. The Garden Variety partnership has developed strategic plans for store development in four locations including two in Winnipeg, one in Brandon and one in Thompson. The Manitoba Growth, Enterprise & Trade (GET) authority has reviewed the proposed locations and found them permissible.
It also paves the way for future retail expansion into key Canadian population centers with the experience that NR has developed with nearly 9 years of operating experience in CO.
Even though Governor Hickenlooper vetoed House Bill (HB) 1011 (referred to as the Marijuana Business Allow Publicly Traded Owners), the election of Jared Polis as Governor should be watched closely regarding efforts to level the capital generation playing field for Colorado cannabis operators. Many in the state are confident that the Polis administration will support that initiative.
NR Best Practices and What’s Next
Like their US competitor Curaleaf, NR is eying key eastern US limited license markets for domestic expansion with Florida and NJ high on their list. Brown and NR believe that limited license markets offer the greatest opportunity to build market share like they have achieved in CO and the greatest opportunity to deliver investor return, but know they have the skills to succeed in highly competitive markets, like CO as well.
In addition to proving the retail knowledge transferred to their Garden Variety brand launch in Canada, Brown believes the following best practices will pay large dividends as NR continues its march towards its stated goals.
- Strong retail, customer focused experience and data analytics.
- Hiring experienced staff to scale NR into new population centers domestically and abroad.
- Meld team into focused collective force.
- Move thoughtfully and strategically for long-term success and return on investment
- Running a company with strong ethical values, organizational discipline and employee empowerment.
With Cannabis Industry consolidation well underway, it will be interesting to see how rapidly Brown and NR move over the next year with private or public capital access expanding rapidly. As usual, CBE will keep its readers apprised of Brown and the NR team’s progress towards being a force for its competitors to contend with in the years ahead.
Cannabis Business Executive Background Information
Company Name: Native Roots Dispensary, Garden Variety (Canadian Brand)
Year Founded: 2009/2018
Ownership structure/operating entities: Privately Held Company
C-Suite Management Team:
- Ryan Brown, CEO
- Beth Kotarba, COO
- Jon Boord, General Counsel
- Mickey Krieger, Chief Innovation
- Chris Znerold, CMO
- Dave Cuesta – Chief Compliance
- Grow – Jason MacDonald
- Retail – Grant Troeger
- Finance – Kathy Kochis, Jeff Michalski
- Post Harvest – Dave Forester
- MIP – Kristen Hill
- Legal – Kelly Archer
- Compliance – Ian Farrell
- Marketing – Drew Sima
- Supply Chain – Theresa Eckman
- HR – Christine Hodgdon
- Wholesale – Manny Fields
- Public Affairs – Shannon Fender
- Communications – Kim Casey
- Facilities Management– George Grieg
- IT– Alex Bitz
Industry Segment/Category: Vertically Integrated – Cultivation, Extraction, Product Manufacturing, Retail, Wholesale
Current Markets/States Served:
- Native Roots – 20 Retail locations across Colorado
- Garden Variety – Manitoba, CN
Number of Locations:
Native Roots 20 Retail; 2 Grow; 21 MIP
Garden Variety – 4 Adult Retail
Current Number of employees: 600 Colorado, Manitoba – in process
Market Strategy/Goal: To liberate happiness in all legal markets available by 2030
2015-2018 Revenues: NA, CBE estimates in the $100 million US annual range currently
Expansion Plans: Native Roots initial targets: FL & NJ and has its eye on large population eastern US limited license markets, Garden Variety initial targets: Saskatchewan & Ontario
Financing strategy: Privately held company.
In Case You Missed It (Published 9/27/2016): Hip, Cool, and Fresh: Native Roots