HerbForce, the specialized cannabis hiring division of ForceBrands, officially launched earlier this year, formalizing several years of work helping numerous cannabis brands navigate the uncharted waters of brand building in a new industry.
Director of Client Strategy Devin Penhall works out of ForceBrands’ Los Angeles office and helps advise some of the fastest-growing cannabis companies in the country on their unique hiring strategies. Penhall brings years of experience in both CPG and cannabis brand building to his current role at companies both large and small. As a former marketing manager at Red Bull for more than eight years and an instrumental player in the launch of a cannabis startup, Penhall is excited to be immersed in an industry full of emerging new players.
“I’m able to talk to these cannabis brands at their infancy and strategizing with people who could become the next Coca-Cola or Red Bull of cannabis,” Penhall says.
We caught up with him to discover what it takes to make it in the industry as a professional and as a brand; what challenges cannabis presents; and why brands should focus on “quality over quantity” when it comes to cannabis products.
ForceBrands: Tell us about your background and how you began working in the cannabis industry.
Devin Penhall: After I graduated college, I had the opportunity to work part-time for Red Bull and I just fell in love with the brand. I did everything I could to work for them full-time. I was eventually hired into the On-Premise world and started to do a lot of high-level activation projects for Coachella, BottleRock, etc. When you’re doing experiential marketing for Red Bull, you’re doing the coolest stuff and you’re working with really big opinion leaders. I was there for 10 years and I thought I’d be there for the rest of my life. But then an opportunity came about to move into the cannabis industry. I’d been a cannabis consumer for most of my life, and it was so exciting for me to take the experience I had working at Red Bull and apply it to the cannabis industry. I became the Director of Marketing for this vertically integrated cannabis startup in Southern California, where I was tasked to build out the marketing program, work with the sales team to help figure out routes to market, and launch this brand in an extremely competitive space (cannabis had just become legal).
My job was to get this brand into as many dispensaries as we could because California is the epicenter of cannabis culture; brands that are developed in California will most likely be the leaders of the industry just because this is where it’s all happening.
It was a challenge, but we were able to succeed. We got our product into 120 different dispensaries throughout Southern and Northern California within six months.
FB: Why did you decide to join ForceBrands?
DP: As I was helping to grow that cannabis brand, I was exposed to so many different cannabis companies that were emerging in the space. When the opportunity with ForceBrands came about, I gravitated to it because I felt that I could use my expertise from the CPG side of things to be able to advise these newer brands that are emerging and help them identify the right key hires. I just saw it as the perfect opportunity and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of the team now.
FB: What is the most exciting part about working in ForceBrands’ cannabis division HerbForce?
DP: The exciting part is that we’re just in the infancy of what is going to be one of the biggest industries in the United States. Since prohibition in the 1900s, this is the first major new industry and product we’ve seen. I’m able to talk to these brands at their infancy and strategize with people who could become the next big leaders of global companies like Coca-Cola or Red Bull, but of cannabis.
It’s exciting because you have hundreds of new brands out there and not all of them are going to make it, but we have this opportunity to put the right people in positions and help build out the right teams for these brands to get them to that next level, where they can hopefully become leaders in the industry.
FB: What is the most challenging part of working in the cannabis space?
DP: The most challenging part is that it’s still an illegal drug. Until it becomes federally legal, there are financial challenges. Candidates who are coming into the space are very excited about the opportunity, but there’s also hesitation because they want to understand the credibility of the industry. Is it legitimate? Will it be around for the long haul? For the most part, they connect to the right company and the right opportunity, and the sky is the limit for their career, but, you know, we’re not talking about a trendy new food product; we’re talking about something federally illegal. Ultimately, as we continue to work through this industry, the stigma is going to start being lifted because cannabis is an incredibly versatile and wonderful plant. It has so many medical properties. It helps change people’s lives in such a positive way that we’re going to get to the point where most of the country will see that. But we’re not there yet.
FB: What are some of the most dominant trends you’ve seen that are helping to define and shape the direction of the industry?
DP: From the product side of things, anything that’s about the right measured dosage is trending. You’ve had all these cannabis products with high THC content, but now people want to use it for pain relief or to unwind instead of just getting high. As a result, we are moving into these effect-based products. We have low-dose edibles, we have companies like dosist that are providing you with a product that gives you a proper dosage every time you use it. The trend is all about moderation.
From the hiring side of things, it’s comparable to any other CPG company. They need marketing professionals to build the brands, they need finance experts who are not afraid to work in an industry that doesn’t rely on banks for the most part. I would say retail is one of the fastest-growing businesses because now you have these dispensaries that are going to be the new Walgreens of the cannabis space.
FB: What advice do you have for someone interested in transitioning their career into the cannabis industry?
DP: My main tip would be: you don’t have to have experience working for a cannabis brand but you should have a passion for the plant. You should have general excitement about the industry. If you’re trying to get into the industry just to make a quick buck, these companies will feel that out. You have to have some credibility in this industry, and that doesn’t mean you have to smoke every day. You have to care about where the industry is going. It’s paying homage to what the industry has done in the past, but using your expertise from the CPG side of things to help elevate the industry and move it forward into this legal, legitimate future of the cannabis world.
FB: What advice do you have for emerging cannabis brands?
DP: Find your lane and create a product that you’re passionate about or that you truly believe in and don’t expand too fast. Become the expert in that space versus trying to launch every single cannabis product at the same time. If you’re a company and you have the opportunity to make edibles, vapes, and everything else, it doesn’t mean you should. Do something really well, and be the brand for that specific product. Down the line, as you gain traction and credibility with consumers, you can start to expand your product line.
Interested in learning more about the cannabis industry? Explore our HerbForce division.