It is a special industry, you need to understand it well and it requires a lot to navigate it as an entrepreneur. You need to really know the industry well to be successful.
As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brett Stevens of Fohse.
Fohse: the Future of Horticultural Science & Engineering, is the leading manufacturer of high-performance LED grow lights designed for cannabis cultivation and organic growth. Through creating proprietary, innovative lighting fixtures, Fohse enables the cultivation industry previously unobtainable and unthinkable results. Founded in 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada, Fohse’s sustainable and first-of-their-kind products have created a loyal customer base of thousands of commercial and home growers around the world which guarantee increased dry yield rates and reduction of energy use.
As CEO, Brett manages the executive team and oversees large-scale commercial customer operations. A self-described serial entrepreneur, Brett’s previous ventures include launching the MMA management companies Fight Co. and Absolute Athlete, owning and revamping multiple successful businesses in Iowa, and serving as an advisor for Tennessee Extracts, the largest hemp extraction facility in the country. Stevens got his start in the working world as a young boy with a paper route and a long list of chores on his family farm. It was that hard-earned work ethic engrained at a young age that drives his success. In his spare time, Brett is an avid motocross racer and practitioner of jiu-jitsu, and also enjoys boating and surfing.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Necessity! We were already in the cannabis industry working on the cultivation side and we saw a hole in the market and seized a great opportunity. The lighting products our company was utilizing just weren’t cutting it and we realized that the feature was in LED.
When growing cannabis indoors you really need to have the best lights to ensure optimizing both your day and night cycles for growing. One day, I was talking to a friend from high school who is a very successful engineer about how we could create a better solution for night cycles. He told me that we could definitely make a better lighting product than the existing ones but that it would cost money to get it going. I said sure, if there is just a 1 percent chance that this will innovate the marketplace and improve our company’s growing abilities, I am down! We made a vow that we would not go to market unless we could create something exceptional and we did!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I am a serial entrepreneur so I have learned a lot of lessons since starting my own businesses. But I think I did not realize the power of social media until I became a business leader in the cannabis industry. So many people hide behind their screens and put a lot of negative stuff and silly memes on social media and it’s hard not to get caught up in it because we’re all human.
I have really learned kindness wins, be mature and not feed into negativity. My personal focus, and thus my voice in social media, is focused on being positive, showing what success looks like and keep generating Fohse products that have an impact.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We made a lot of mistakes — they didn’t feel so funny at the time but that is what it is like starting a business!
When we first started out we spent a lot of money on R&D before going into production. We designed a whole lighting fixture around an LED chip that a partner had promised they could deliver. But when the product came together it turned out that the LED chip was not working at all and the result was that we had an underpowered useless light so we had to redesign the whole thing.
But that led us to starting a new partnership with Samsung, who flew in from South Korea to meet with us and they became our LED partner. We learned the importance of choosing the right partners to create long term partnerships with to ensure the best quality products.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are constantly focused on R&D, working on a bunch of new products and today have so many exciting projects in development and coming to market. Fohse is always focused on creating new products through trying to foresee challenges ahead for cannabis growers and farmers.
Currently, we are expanding rapidly beyond cannabis and actively pursuing indoor organic agriculture. We just set up a 350,000 square foot organic leafy green facility with our lights. So we are super excited about growing our business into new sectors.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
We had a lot of help and support along the way and we are extremely grateful for that.
But there is one particular cannabis grower that really has made a difference for us: Steve Cantwell from Green Life Productions in Las Vegas. He has been such a huge supporter of Fohse from day one and he has given us a ton of feedback that really helped us develop the light and give us the market position we have now.
He is young and part of the new cannabis generation of innovators but he is growing cannabis in the old school way. He wants to grow the best product possible and he only grows in small batches so he really has an intimate feeling on how our lights affect his plants growing and he can give us great insight.
This industry is young, dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
Like any company, we weave the value of our products into our messaging. That’s marketing 101. One thing to keep in mind is the ability that people have to sense BS; I’m talking about the stale, played out statements like “World’s best cup of coffee.” Statements like that don’t usually land well when promoting your product. Unless you actually do make the world’s best of anything.
So that’s what we’ve done. We took the extra time in R&D to make truly special products. By the time we were ready to go to market we had put in the work to make the world’s most powerful and most efficient fixtures. Now we’ve got the data to legitimately own power statements like “Most Powerful”, “Most Efficient”, “Highest Yielding”, and so on.
We learned early on, however, that the most impactful marketing comes from our clients. One of the downsides of the growing social media culture is a surge in narcissism — everyone talking about themselves. So, in keeping with the general theme of our success, we took an opposite approach to the crowd. We put our clients and allies in the spotlight and help them tell their stories. That has been a real game changer for us. Telling their stories also tells our story. As the saying goes: “All boats rise with the tide.” Paramount to this strategy working is first building solid relationships in the industry — be a good person, operate ethically, and, most importantly, do what you say you’re going to do.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?Please share a story or example for each.
I am most excited about:
- Medical benefits of cannabis: The plant can do so much for people in need.
- Working in an Innovative industry: It is so much fun to be part of such an innovative new industry and really riding the wave.
- Future international growth: The industry is not only growing in the US but also internationally so I am excited about all the international opportunities ahead for Fohse.
I have some concerns about:
- The bad apples in the bunch: since it is a new and growing industry there are people coming in to make quick money and not actually adding value to the industry.
- Distractions from the plant: The plant is so powerful and sometimes there is so much fluff in the cannabis industry that the plant is almost forgotten.
- Legislative framework: The cannabis industry is hard to navigate due to ever changing legislation. Coming from cultivation I understand the impact it has on the industry.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
- The Cannabis industry: It is a special industry, you need to understand it well and it requires a lot to navigate it as an entrepreneur. You need to really know the industry well to be successful.
- Raising money: When raising capital look for money but also what else the investor can bring to the table. Find investors who will provide you with business input, relationships and overall value.
- Pick your partners well: Beyond investors you need to pick great partners that you can trust and who will work with you on achieving your goals as a business.
- Social Media: Hire someone to do it way before you actually need it. Create a strategy and stick with it.
- Hire the right people: The majority of the people we hired came from industries other than cannabis so do not be afraid to merge people from more traditional industries into a non-traditional industry like cannabis.
We are a family owned company and we really try to only bring in people we trust. Since we started we have had an extremely low turnover because we are careful when hiring. Like Steve Jobs said, hire people smarter than you! So we try to do that but also make sure we have the same goals and give space to grow.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The movement to bring cannabis cultivation deeper into the mainstream of our country and the world’s agricultural systems. There is so much our growing, innovative industry can share with farmers and big AG and conversely, so much that we can learn together. As Fohse continues to grow and we expand from cannabis cultivation into organic farming, we hope to begin to pave the way for this exciting movement of “Innovative Agriculture.” We would love to lead the way in tech farming driving sustainability that is accessible for the masses.