When I first entered the cannabis space, I never would have imagined that the tools I would use the most would come from my experience training in jiu jitsu. I first discovered jiu jitsu as a college wrestler, when a .black belt practitioner showed up at my gym one day looking for a challenge. As I sized up my competition, he didn’t seem particularly strong or large. I can take this guy. How wrong I was.
It wasn’t the black belt’s bulk or aggression that allowed him to take me down with ease. It was his preparedness; his sense of calm and self-control; and his strategic approach. These principles have guided me the most on my journey to become the co-founder and CEO of Fohse, a rapidly-growing cannabis cultivation LED light manufacturer. They’ve also allowed me to take a uniquely hyper-focused, purposeful, and impactful approach to the expansive, competitive, and oftentimes-chaotic cannabis landscape.
Entrepreneurs entering the cannabis arena today are faced with a significant challenge: Carving out a position for themselves in an industry that is itself still finding its place. To do so effectively requires patience, mindfulness, and intentionality.
These traits aren’t characteristics we’re born with. They’re skills that we must learn, hone, and continue to develop over time. For some, these lessons may be learned in a classroom or in a boardroom. As I discovered, they can also be learned on a jiu jitsu mat.
Before charging into a fight, however, you need to be prepared. As a CEO, I’m reminded each day of a motto my trainer taught me: position before submission. It’s imperative, in jiu jitsu, that you ensure your arms and legs are in the proper position before you take action. This lesson is one that I carried with me and instilled into my team as we prepared to put our product out into the world. Before entering the cannabis ring, we needed to make sure we had a plan—and that we knew and believed in our technology inside and out. When many of our competitors were cutting corners to save a buck and an hour, in order to succeed in this business, we knew that we needed to take the time and invest the money to create a premium LED light that would outperform all others.
While preparedness can improve your ability to take on challenges, it doesn’t mean that those challenges won’t come. Like my fight with the jiu jitsu practitioner, sometimes you might underestimate the competition. It’s not uncommon on the jiu jitsu mat to find your neck under attack or in a chokehold—an incredibly uncomfortable feeling. The key to getting through these attacks isn’t brute strength and resistance alone: it’s remaining calm and thinking strategically.
The same lesson applies when facing high-pressure situations in the business world. More than once, the Fohse team has found ourselves blindsided by an unexpected complication—a promise from a contractor suddenly unfulfilled; a shortage of supplies due to demand from competitors. In our breakout year, Fohse began to pick up momentum and win business over several of our major competitors. One even went so far as to buy up a two year supply of horticultural diodes that are imperative to our grow lights. When the metaphorical hands squeeze your neck, when your instinct is to feel briefly helpless, you must remember to always stay calm and trust yourself, your product, and think strategically. Through our deep relationship with our supplier who knew our need for the product, we were able to work with them to set up an entirely new assembly line to create the part.
In the nearly two decades since I first discovered jiu jitsu, I’ve advanced to the rank of purple belt, worked with celebrity trainers, and achieved my one-time dream of fighting professionally in the MMA arena. I’ve also built a successful startup from the ground up, forged meaningful relationships with industry leaders, and sold tens of thousands of lights to cannabis growers around the world—thanks in large part to the lessons learned through my martial arts training. But, in jiu jitsu and on the journey of entrepreneurship, perhaps the most important lesson of all is maintaining perspective and humility: Remembering that, no matter how many matches you win, there’s always room to keep growing—and there’s always another challenge on the horizon.