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Pipeline Taps Into Experience of Andrew DeAngelo, Christopher Peak

Despite a long history in the cannabis industry during which there were periods of time when everyone and their uncle was a cannabis consultant, with the inevitable bad results, professional consultancy thrives today and will continue to grow as more states legalize cannabis, markets are created, and people open new cannabis businesses and expand existing ones. Meeting the myriad needs of these businesses has become more sophisticated, as well, offered frequently by law firms with cannabis-specific departments that span the nation, and also by business and branding experts who are starting to bring an elevated level of experience and expectation to the table. Pipeline is such an effort, created to support “cannabis startups and businesses navigating all the phases of development, operations, and building sustainable growth.” Founded by Andrew DeAngelo and Chritopher Peak, it launched last month as an add-on of sorts to existing businesses operated independently by each partner: Andrew DeAngelo’s Cannabis Consulting Co-Op and ACV Consulting, which also provides an array of professional services to mainstream businesses, retailers, and brands.

Cannabis Business Executive spoke recently with DeAngelo and Peak about the formation of their new venture, which came to fruition years after the two first met. “Andrew and I met about 6 years ago,” said Peak. “I had just come out of working for almost a decade as an executive at Apple, and I was meeting with a marketing group, and they asked if I’d be interested in having a chat with the DeAngelo boys and the folks over at Harborside. And I said, absolutely, and so we had a chat. I think actually they were looking at just the vibe of some retail viability work around Harborside and its approach to its retail, but I think more than that, they were just looking for a little bit of a chat, because I come out of Apple but I’m a supporter of the cause.”

This was around 2016-17, recalled DeAngelo. “California was about to flip from a medical to an adult-use framework, and we knew at Harborside that we were going to have to rebrand, because we were called Harborside Health Center, but we were also expanding, opening new locations in Desert Hot Springs, San Leandro, and San Francisco,” he said. “We wanted to reset our retail branding and experience, so we were talking to quite a few talented people, and we had investors at that time, and they were also working with us on this.

Andrew DeAngelo

“I’m not sure how Chris got on our radar,” he added, “but when we heard his background…well, Chris is being modest. He built the Apple Stores, especially the big flagship stores. We were all big fans of Apple. We’re in the Bay Area, so it’s Apple, That’s what you use. It’s the main thing in your life.”

Peak interjected to clarify his role at Apple. “I was head of design; I was head of R&D; I was head of procurement,” he said. “And I helped develop the updated concept for the global flag and the mall stores, so I came out of this space of having been very engaged in the development of the experience.”

Ironically, he was serving as a de facto consultant when they first met. “Up to that point, my brother (Steve DeAngela) and I, and our family essentially, were the designers of the space and the experience,” said DeAggelo. “My brother’s partner, Yolanda, was a professional designer, so that was a plus, and Chris, in a previous incarnation, had also worked with Yolanda, so there was a little bit of history there. We had built Harborside Oakland and San Jose, and those were pretty innovative.

“Before 2006, when Harborside Oakland opened,” he added, “all the dispensaries were basically bulletproof glass, bars on the windows, and we didn’t do that. We took it to another level, and after running for eight years or so on that first concept, when we went to adult-use, we thought the market is now going to get a lot bigger in California, and the whole world is going to be watching California, that’s when we decided to get some consultants to help us take everything to the next level. Our investors were also eager to do that, and that’s when we started talking to consultants.”

It turns out Peak was no stranger to the lifestyle or the business. “I may have been a very high-level executive at Apple and done this work for years,” he said, “and I do have this corporate persona, but I also come from hippies. My mother and my father were California hippies in the ‘60s, and I had family members who grew cannabis. So, when it started to legalize in Oakland, where I lived for quite some time, I actually grabbed a chef buddy of mine and we started to develop a product, because I wanted to see what the market was going to be like.

“And it’s funny, but before Andrew and I even knew each other, Harborside was selling a health bar that was infused with cannabis that my chef friend and I put together. We did it for about three months, but my consultant gig for Apple went to a full-time gig and I had to shut the whole thing down, because I couldn’t work for Apple and also trying to work in the cannabis industry.”

Still, with an interest in the cannabis industry that extended back years, when Peak was asked to meet Steven and Andrew, he jumped at the chance. “For me,” he explained, “and this is a total social justice perspective, the viability of the legalization of cannabis is going to be intricately tied up in the idea of doing good business in a real fiscally responsible and creatively explorative and responsible way. If you can show that this is a real business, it’s more likely that the laws will continue to tumble in the right direction. So, my interest was to take what I know and support that, and that’s how Andrew and I got involved in Pipeline. We continue to advocate for what we can do with whatever our superpowers are to help businesses thrive in what can be a very complex setting.”

The Six-Year Itch

Why did it take another six years to make it a reality? “Steve and I wanted to work with Chris,” said DeAngelo, “but our investors had someone else that they wanted to use for our rebranding, and we had to defer to them, maybe a little too much. In any case, I launched my consulting business and Chris sort of matriculated through Apple, and we started talking again about six or eight months ago. Chris was like, ‘Look, I’ve got this new agency I’m starting, and I see you’re doing consulting, so why don’t we finish what we started six years ago and provide what we were going to do for Harborside to everybody else in the world.’ And that’s what we decided to do.

The two men are different types with different skill sets and experience, to be sure, but the differences somehow seem to coalesce into a whole the more they explain what they and their respective teams have to offer and what they want to do with them. “What I’m excited about in particular with Chris and ACV Consulting on board in this formation of Pipeline,” said DeAngelo, “is that we’re able to service any client in the industry: a big MSO may not hire Andrew DeAngelo on their own for all kinds of different reasons. I’m a legacy guy, I have a different background, I don’t have a corporate background, and I don’t have an MBA. I get it, so I bring people onto my team who have that, like Chris, and with my knowledge of this plant and the community and the heavy consumer, and Chris’s knowledge of how to create these retail experiences and work with consumer-facing brands – we do that, too – it’s a powerful combination.

Christopher Peak

“We can take a small client that doesn’t have a ton of resources and we can help them,” he added, “because the way this outfit works is, we don’t have a big fancy office, we’re decentralized, and we use a lot of creative people. Between Chris’s network of creative people and my network of subject-matter experts in cannabis, we’ve created a co-op model, if you will, so everyone can maintain their autonomy, but we can offer the market a lot of different products and a lot of different services. So, one of the things I’m most excited about with Pipeline is that we can serve people that may not look at what I do as matching what they do, but now, with Chris on board, we can match just about anybody. We’re starting to see a lot of rebranding in the space right now with the medium and big-sized company, and that’s something we can really help with.”

What ACV brings is decidedly different but no less valuable. ‘On the ACV side,” said Peak, “we’ve done some cannabis work, but that’s not our primary focus. We work with different brands all over the world. We work in the digital space, in the retail development space, in the branding space. I also sit in as interim executive in some companies, so I’ll do business development for them. I’ve even got companies that I’ve helped take through the process of getting funded, and as an executive, I’ve run one-and-a-half billion-dollar organizations down to startups that were running on fumes.

“What we try to do is bring all of that to bear on a company right at the very beginning of the process, when they’re trying to figure out how to do what they want to do – and that’s where Andrew and I think with Pipeline we can really help get people launched properly,” he added. “But we’re also good at that transitional space, where we’ve bootstrapped ourselves to this moment, and now all of a sudden we’re finding ourselves in this chaotic environment of having thrown a lot of balls up in the air and trying to catch them, so playing a lot of defense. We can step in and help in that space as well, and the great news, as Andrew was saying, is that we’re decentralized. I have a really great team, he has a really great team, but we also have a Rolodex of cohorts that can go out to help fill gaps in companies when needed.

“So,” he concluded, “it really is this idea of, ‘Hey, I know you want to be successful in the space. If you haven’t done it before, or if you’ve been doing it for a while and it’s not going great – but you know you’ve got something – we can come in with a tremendous amount of history and expertise to help guide and sharpen your approach. And because of the way we work, we’re able to keep costs down. Our intent is to help folks be successful, and not purge their pocketbooks.”

New York, New York

New York is one of our target markets,” responded DeAngalo when asked if the clusterfuck rollout of adult-use nonetheless presented a motherload of potential work for Pipeline. “The problem in New York, as you know, is everything’s kind of frozen right now, particularly for the CAURD licensees, but the CAURDs definitely need us, and we’re here for the CAURDs. I have a couple of CAURDs that I know that are not under contract right now, but that I’m doing pro bono work for.”

I am reminded that Pipeline just launched. “We launched a little late for the CAURDs,” said DeAngelo, “but the application window in New York is opening tomorrow, so I expect and already know that we’re going to have several clients that are going to try to go through that licensing window, and we’re very excited to help entrepreneurs in New York.”

Neither are their services focused on start-ups, added Peak. “Just from my own personal story and my company’s story, we’ve done this all over the world, and we’ve done it at all levels of companies in all of the different time-frames of their gestation,” he said. “It isn’t about startups, but I will tell you, the place that we’re probably the most effective, that we can bring the most juice, if you will, is with those companies starting out or with investors starting out. If you’ve haven’t been in the space, or you haven’t done this kind of work before, it’s important to bring in the kind of expertise and the high-level perspectives that are needed to make sure the strategies are working, and that the business you’re building is going to be effective and efficient, make money, and continue to grow. And so, I think we can be really helpful in the startup space, but we’re not bound to that spot.”

In a place like New York, noted DeAngelo, everything is starting up, but that is not the case everywhere. “In a place like California, Chris is not working with me on this yet, but I have a client in San Diego who’s buying a dispensary that’s in receivership right now,” he added. “That dispensary is going to be a fix-it job once the acquisition closes, and they need to grow. They’re stuck at a certain revenue at a certain locations, and they need to grow. So, we’re going to grow them, and that’s an example of a fix-it job.

“There may be other folks that are even further along and are closer to their exit point, and they need to perhaps get some polish on the car before they sell it,” he continued. “Chris and his group are particularly well-positioned to do that, because they’ve already exited lots of different companies, and they help people do that. So, we can help anywhere on the bell curve of the company cycle, but when we get people at the very beginning, like what’s happening in New York right now, we can make sure that we don’t have to do a fix-it job later, and we don’t have to put a lot of polish on when the exit happens, because we’ve done everything right from the beginning. That’s what we’re super passionate about, because the fix-it jobs and some of the later cycle work is a different kind of workflow for us, and frankly, it’s just not as much fun to do. But we’re also totally fine with it, because it’s an area that a lot of people need help with right now.”

Another big difference is the ability to be malleable. “We’re not a one size fits all organization,” explained Peak, “but we’re just about a one size fits all. What we don’t do is come in and say, ‘This is your playbook,’ and it’s the same playbook for everybody. What’s important is making an objective assessment of the current positioning of the business, and then putting together the appropriate response. I think one of the things that happens out there sometimes with consulting groups – particularly young consulting groups in the cannabis and other spaces – is everybody kind of the shows up with the same game. But we come in and really assess, and because of our expertise and our perspective, because we’ve been doing this a long time, we can make a number of different recommendations on direction that people can go, we work with them to take the journey, and we can fit in any way that we need to help them fit in. That’s the way we do it.”

Peak’s current list of non-cannabis clients is varied. “Some of them are startups, some of them are transitioning, some of them have kind of hit that ceiling of expansion and can’t figure out how to expand their business,” he said. “Some of them are folks that have an idea and they’re trying to figure out how to get it funded and how to put together the programming so people will be attracted.”

I asked him what is unique about cannabis and the cannabis industry as a product and a market? “One of the things right out of the gate is just the constraint on the market,” he replied. “And the money piece of it is really complicated, the banking piece. Everybody who is working in the industry knows that there are a lot of constraints on cannabis that don’t show up for other kinds of businesses. So, out of the gate, I’d say that’s one of the things.

“The other thing,” he continued, “and I’m just going to be blunt, but a lot of cannabis spaces that I go into you’re just kind of looking at a vomitorium of products. The voice of the brand doesn’t come through all the time, or it feels like it’s the equivalent of a Radio Shack selling cannabis. Understanding the reason why the business is there isn’t always clear, other than, ‘We’re selling cannabis, trying to make money, these brands are here, and these brands are here.’ There’s no cohesion to it, and listen, when you come out of a cottage industry and start up a new industry, which is what cannabis is, the early days always feel like that. Where I think it can be interesting is to come in and help retailers figure out how they want to express themselves as a voice, and then what’s the right way to go after the physical space, the fixturing, the branding, the logos. And then on the operational side of it, the licensing piece, to make that it’s a cohesive package moving forward.”

A Plurality of Potential Clients

Asked whether they anticipate most of their clients being retailers or vertical startups with their own branded products or standalone brands and product companies, DeAngelo answered, “Both. It’s really one and the same in a certain way. The retailers put all the consumer-facing products on the shelf and create an experience that hopefully has some intelligent design behind it and is not a Radio Shack kind of experience.

“Of course, every state has different constraints, and every state has different markets,” he added, “and every entrepreneur has a different set of given circumstances that they have to build their business within, and that’s where me and my team come in, because we can analyze that from all the experience we’ve had owning and operating in various states and also consulting in various states, where we understand how to compete.

“At the end of the day, we have to compete, and our clients have to compete, in an ecosystem that is very challenging,” he noted. “You’ve got big MSOs that have created a lot of scale, and a lot of these markets are limited license markets, and that makes it very hard to compete with super large companies. And so, radical differentiation in the marketplace and being very creative with the flags and the brands that you create, whether it’s a consumer-facing brand or it’s a retail brand, is going to make the difference between somebody being successful and someone being distressed. That’s really what it’s going to come down to. We’re getting a lot more competition right now, and we also have to deal with some pretty challenging regulations in places like New York and soon California when it comes to branding and marketing. And so, having someone like Chris on board, who is able to navigate that minefield without stepping on a mine, is super helpful.”

For Peak, it is important to “go a bit upstream and talk about strategy.” He clarified, “When putting together the right approach and the right strategy about how you’re going to go into the market, even things like real estate or the size of the store, or if you’re a manufacturer, what your manufacturing pipeline looks like, and how you take it through the pipeline out into the market, this is all the work that we do. I was down in San Diego and walked into a cannabis space that was probably about 4000 square feet of sales floor. There were three people in the store, and they had a tremendous number of fixtures all over the place.

“When I look at that,” he continued, “I’m like, ‘These folks spent a lot of money upfront, but is their return on investment going to be enough to pay for all those fixtures in that big store, and they’re leasing. Being able to work out the strategy beforehand with retailers to understand what’s your capital is, and what is your hope as far as the return on your investment, and when do you expect to pay off the debt on the materials that you’ve together, all of this upfront work is vital, and this is work that we can do as well as help with that strategy. And I think between Andrew’s team and our team, we can really take a look at the entire package and help guide folks through the process of not getting themselves out over their skis, which is often where we see failure in this space. People have huge dreams, they drop a lot of cash up front, and it just doesn’t play out for them at the rate that they need to survive. So, we can help with that as well.”

I noted that the asset-lite model has become very popular in the cash-strapped industry, and wondered if they are proponents of it. “I think that you have to go into each of the markets with your eyes wide open and do a lot of research,” answered Peak. “How much competition is in the market, having some kind of comps on what the real estate’s going to be when you come in, what kind of overhead you’re going to need, the cost of everything from acquisition to the operational support, understanding the licensing path. Every market is different, and I think the important thing is that you have to really drill down to the six-inch mark and look very closely at all of the key components that go into making this a successful business in that region.

“If you try to peanut butter spread everything, you’re going to get caught,” he added. “I’m always a big proponent of putting together a pro forma up front saying, ‘How much capital do you have, what’s your expectation on payback on your investment, and what are your operational costs going to be?’ And then really starting to drill that down so that we have a very clear picture of what’s required for you to be successful. Obviously, that’s in the upfront approach space, but then also, how does your brand speak, how do you get across who you are, and why you should be trusted to bring these products to the market is a huge piece of it as well. That’s about capture, and you really have to dig I, so I’m a big believer in going slow to go fast.”

He added a local anecdote to underscore the point. “I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains just above Silicon Valley in California, and there are a couple of cannabis spaces around here that I think do a fabulous job,” said Peak. “Really beautiful branding, the stores are not too big, they always have great products, the customer service is brilliant, and they’re thriving. There are lots of people in there all the time. And then there are other ones I’ll go into and I can see that they were like, ‘Let’s just go open a space,’ without doing the work that’s necessary upfront to make sure that you’re doing everything that you can to find success, and not guessing.”

The Apple/Cannabis Conundrum

I remarked how, in every interview I had done with MSO CEOs with retail footprints, I asked them the same question: why would I travel to visit their store if there is a dispensary that is closer that has the same or similar products? “Apple has the same issue,” responded Peak. “Think about it. This is an organization that makes trillions of dollars, the biggest retailer on the planet, and the most successful retailer in the history of mankind. Same issue. Why do you go to an Apple store instead of going to an AT&T store, or a Verizon store, to buy the phone. And when I was at Apple, when we became an omnichannel organization and pulled in the online store with the retail store, and all of that worked, this question is a question. How do you go about making sure that you’re the place where people want to go to, and I will tell you, the reason that Apple is successful is because they understand the customer, the voice of the customer, and the customer journey, and they’re able to express that within the expression of the store.

“If I could tell you how unbelievably obnoxious the due diligence is that goes into developing the retail pipeline for Apple, at least when I was there,” he added. “It’s changed since then, it’s not as robust, but we were bringing out the global flagship program, the change in the instore programs, and our focus was on the customer. What is it they need? How do you help them understand that you’re the person that is there to support them in the purchase of a product? And you have to marry that with all of that upfront work looking at what are the constraints in the market, what are the costs, all that pro forma work that both our teams can dive into. Andrew has got a head for that and the localizations of the market, but you really have to marry that stuff. I’m sorry, but the ‘build it, and will come’ idea. This is not a movie about baseball. This is a business and it’s important to you. You’re putting your money into it, and you should be as strategic and thoughtful in your approach as possible.”

For DeAngelo, there is a decidedly more honest answer to my MSO question. “The real answer that they don’t say to you is, ‘Because we have the license. That’s why they’re going to shop with us, because we have a license and nobody else does,’” he said. “About the asset-lite question, when we’re talking about retail experiences, there are two basic models out there in the world. There’s the flagship model, and then there’s the turn-and-burn model. Sometimes a small little turn-and-burn shop is exactly right for the client, and it’s exactly right for the neighborhood or the framework or the state.

“If I’m in the five boroughs,” he continued, “unless I have a particular location or I’m creating a particular thing that may include on-site consumption, given what’s going on with the illegal shops in New York, I’m probably not going to rent a 10,000-square-foot building. Just not going to do it, because like everything in the five boroughs, eventually it’s going to come down to winning in the neighborhood you’re in. If your pizza shop is the best one in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, you’re going to do good. But somebody from Manhattan is probably not going to come over there and get your pizza, but everybody in that neighborhood will, and you will do just fine. So, that’s one asset-lite model that’s happening right now in the world of cannabis.”

Then there is the flagship model. “That’s when somebody says, ‘I want to create something that’s never been created before in cannabis, I’m going to hire Pipeline, we’re going to build a flagship store, and then we’re going to have maybe a few satellite locations that reflect the flagship but are not nearly as costly to run,” he said. “That’s another thing that I see a lot of potential for right now, especially in new markets like New York, where you’re only allowed to have three stores.

“The big MSOs will probably try to get Time Square,” he added, “and they’re probably going to try to get at least two or three of their licenses that are going to be big flagship stores. Other people who aren’t MSOs might have one beautiful flagship store in a great high-traffic location, and then two other little neighborhood stores that reflect the soul of the flagship, but at a much lower labor cost. Labor is the big cost that we have to solve for in cannabis retail – especially given how long it takes for each transaction to occur because of regulation, not because of anything we’re doing or not doing – which means that labor hours are something people have to be mindful of when they’re looking at their businesses, especially with 280E hanging over their head. So, these are the kinds of things I’m seeing, and the innovations that we’re going to help people create with Pipeline.”

Peak added that it really has to be a thoughtful endeavor. “I think a lot of people – not just in the cannabis space – start a business and they have an idea, they have a great idea, but their ability to develop that idea and take that idea out in the world and be successful is diminished dramatically once they take the first step,” he said. “What we try to do is make sure that you have all the tools that you need and all the information you need, and you’re loaded up appropriately, so that when you take those early steps you can be successful, or if you’ve been kind of successful and you’re chugging along, but you can see that you have a lot of faults in the motor, we can come in and really take a look at what you’re doing, do some audits of your business, step back from it, and then come back and say, ‘This is what we see, and these are the prioritizations of the issues and the way that we think you should attack them.”

Beyond Consulting

Because they are both entrepreneurial as well, I wondered if they anticipate developing beyond consultation into partnerships. No,” said DeAngelo. “I think it’s a really slippery slope when it comes to integrity. A lot of consultants will ask to be on entrepreneur’s capitalization tables, or they’ll say, ‘Give me a percentage of your revenue as my fees.’ I don’t think that those are ethical arrangements, at least in the beginning. So, we’re strictly fee-based. If we get into a collaboration with some folks and things go extremely well, and everybody develops a deep level of trust with each other, maybe those conversations can happen. But I’m very mindful that clients’ cap tables are sacred. I learned this at Harborside. If that cap table has some consultant on it, it’s going to diminish your prospects for exit. If that cap table has 55 people on it, it’s going to diminish your time, because one of those 55 people is going to sue whoever acquires the business or sue the other 54 people. We want to make our clients successful, so we try not to burden the businesses with those kind of deals or arrangements.”

“If we do that, we can’t do what we’re doing here,” added Peak. “If I’m going to open up my own retail spaces, that’s my focus, because I know how hard that work is. If I’m going to run teams – and I’ve done this work as well, I’ve had my own startups – if I’m going to go off and have my own business, I have to focus on my business. I can’t help other people with their business when I’m trying to get my own business off the ground. That’s in addition to the integrity piece that Andrew pointed out.”

“And I’ll say this last thing as a way to differentiate us from other consultants,” said DeAngelo. “There are a lot of s cannabis company that figured out how to be successful, particularly in markets like California and Colorado. They’re running their successful company, and all of a sudden, they decide, ‘Hey, let’s start a consulting division. We know how to do this, so let’s get another revenue stream going.’ And what happens is it’s hard for them to focus on their consulting clients because they’re too busy running their already successful cannabis company. Then, because they’re not super responsive, they’re hard to get a hold of, they’re distracted, it’s clear to clients that while they have someone with a lot of knowledge and a good track record, they don’t have somebody with the kind of focus that Chris is talking about.

“Because when you own and operate your own business in this space, that’s all you do,” he added. “That’s what I did at Harborside all day long. For 14 years, I went in and ran the day-to-day of the business. My brother got to be the public face, and he got to build other companies in the space that we needed, like a lab testing facility and a packaging company, but I’m going there every day and putting my head to the grindstone. So, that’s another thing I’m seeing.

“I think you also have to be careful,” noted Peak. “Just because you’ve done this once and been successful – in a certain place and time, at a certain location, under certain specific conditions – doesn’t mean that you can pick that up and go do that every time. I’m 25 years in the game of helping companies, brands, and retail develop and be successful. If somebody has done it for a couple of years and been successful in one spot, that’s great, but I’ve done this all over the planet in the most complex environments. I have a kind of toolbox of being able to respond, and it’s the same with Andrew. He’s going around the country working in these different places. You have to be malleable, you have to have a certain amount of intellectual flexibility, and then the ability to come up with responses that are meaningful for the place where someone is in their company and the location where they’re going to put that company, and I think that’s a really important piece of it.”

A Fractional Future

Pipeline’s flexibility is intended to meet the needs of an industry that is still in its formative stages. “What we’re bringing to bear is the ability to come in, do a little bit of forensics work on your company, sit with you, understand what your needs are, and really you can off-ramp at any time in the cycle,” explained Peak. “We’re not sitting down and saying that in order for you to be successful, you need us to do everything for 20 years. What we’re saying is, ‘This is a very complex system, and doing a little bit of systems analysis of what you’ve got there is helpful.’ Then we can make recommendations, and you can pick and choose whatever the things are that you think you need. It’s your brand, it’s your company, and you have to be the one to make the determination of how you want to move forward. We simply come with a wonderful level of expertise and talent on our teams, and a lot of leadership to help you figure that out and provide whatever you need. We can help fill the gap in all kinds of different places.”

“Entrepreneurs have different skill sets,” pointed out DeAngelo. “Some don’t need help with X, Y, and Z, because they already have that skill-set in house, and they just need help with A, B, and C. Other entrepreneurs don’t know anything about this industry, but they were successful in some other industry, and they need the full Pipeline services, an entire roadmap that we need to be with them on until they cut the ribbon. Most entrepreneurs right now in cannabis envision running their own company, so generally, while we will continue to be on retainer and advise people after they cut the ribbon to make sure that the Pipeline plan that we’ve all created together is on track, we don’t do managed-services agreements generally.

“Now, if someone needs a fractional CEO, and they want Chris to step in for a few months to be their CEO, that’s what we do,” he continued. “We’re doing executive coaching with the entrepreneurs; we are in the C-suite with you until such time as you’re ready to take the training wheels off and ride the bike yourself. So, when Chris says that we tailor things very specifically to each entrepreneur, to each market, to each vision, that’s why. It’s because there are so many different skill-sets within these entrepreneurs that they can choose from our menu what speaks to them the most.”

And it’s not just the entrepreneurs. “We see a lot of people come into this space who come from the banking industries, or they come from the tech industry with a lot of money, and they assume this is the same thing,” said Peak.

So, what is their expectation for demand over the next period of time? “I think the market will continue to expand because new states are going to come online, and new markets are going to come online,” augured DeAngelo. “There’s going to be more and more entrepreneurial activity that we can help with. There’s also going to be reforms made in mature markets, like California, where there is this very exciting bill I hope the governor will sign about cannabis cafes.” [Sadly, Governor Newsom ultimately vetoes the bill in question.]

“So, between the new markets coming online and the rightful exuberance that creates within entrepreneurs, and the reforms being made in mature markets that allow for entrepreneurial activity to be revitalized, that’s where we want to play,” he added. “And we are absolutely in this for the long haul. I won’t speak for Chris, but I assume that he feels the same way I do, and I love building things. I love seeing our collective ideas come to life, and I love seeing customers experience those products or retail spaces and be delighted. I’m always trying to create wow in the end user. I want them to say ‘Wow,’ and if they do, they’ll come back over and over again, and we’ve done our job.”

A noticeable theme over the past several years has been the impact that fiscal discipline has on a company’s ability to decide its own destiny. “To build your own advertising and marketing and strategic team within the C-suite costs a lot more money than hiring us as contractors,” replied DeAngelo. “And we’re seeing that a lot of big companies, instead of bringing in a C-suite that has 12 people in it, they’ll have a C-suite with three or four people, and then they’ll hire some consultants like us. They don’t have to pay health care benefits, they don’t need a 401K, we’re fee-based only, and our fees are often lower than the compensation packages they would have to pay for eight more people in their C-suite.”

“What Andrew is talking about here is fractional leadership,” noted Peak. “I’m a fractional CEO right now for one company, and I’m about to step into another company as a fractional CEO. I give them a couple hours here, a couple hours there, a day here, a day there, but the important thing is that they’re not carrying the burden of that full-time leadership inside the company. And at ACV, my partner, Aaron Carpenter, is also a fractional CMO in a lot of companies, so it is often the right thing to do for companies.

“The other thing I’d add is that we still bring the same level of advocacy, and in fact, we consider ourselves owner-side representation,” he said. “We’re not like a general contractor, and we’re not some outside entity trying to navigate the negotiations of cost with you because we’re giving you services; instead, we’re in the trenches with you. We’re here to help you. We love the industry. We want this thing to strive and thrive, and often what we’re trying to do is get you out of survival mode and into thriving mode, because the skills you’re using to survive don’t translate into thrive, so that’s really what we’re here to do.”

As far as the biggest challenges currently facing the industry are concerned, “I think you have to continue to talk about the funding viability and the money inside the companies,” said Peak. “I get very concerned because you can kind of see that they have become anemic, and you can’t survive if you’re constantly trying to tighten your belt. It’s not a good long-term strategy.”

I noted that it will be very interesting to see how Pipeline develops. They have certainly honed their approach, and it seems like a good idea by the right people at the right time.

“That’s why we’re launching it right now,” concurred DeAngelo. “There was some serendipity with Chris and I coming back together after six years, but we’re really seeing a need for this in the industry, and we’re seeing people perhaps experiencing pain that we can help with. We’re seeing people with vision who really need help making that vision come to life or just refining it really well. So, we agree, we think the moment is now and we’re very excited to help build the industry. We love doing this. We absolutely love our jobs, and I think that’s really important. One of the really important things we bring to this is that it’s more than a job for us. It’s our life.”

Tom Hymes

Tom Hymes

Tom Hymes, CBE Senior Editor, is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor with over 20 years’ experience covering highly regulated industries. He was born and raised in New York City. He can be reached at [email protected].

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