I met Maxim Zavet at a WomenGrow Toronto event a few months ago. Casually dressed, it was nice to see someone not wearing a suit. And that’s what I learned from meeting and talking to Max over the past few months. He’s just a down to earth guy and this culture is part of what the Emblem cannabis brand reflects. A licensed producer that is connected to its audience and understands that company culture starts from the top down.
Maxim used to practice law at Levy Zavet; it’s grown to about 10 lawyers since. I asked him how that transition from Law to Cannabis happened:
My life in Cannabis started relatively early, back when it was much more taboo and completely outlawed. Back when you had to hide any form of use. At the time, my friends and I used it recreationally to help ourselves get through the pressures (and anxieties) of school and such. I never looked at it as a career path until, after working as a successful lawyer, I saw the potential around legalization. It brought me full circle and I knew I had to make the move.
My first thought was to become a licensed grower and “By hook or by crook” I needed to figure out how to make that happen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing compared to law, no experience can prepare you for a business like this. The uphill battles have been plentiful, but have also made our team here stronger.
So what were some of the toughest challenges?
Educating people that there IS a legal side to doing business in Cannabis, and, further, showing them it’s worth the investment even if you’re not the first LP (licensed producer) to the party. In addition, there is the elephant in the room being the ongoing costs (insurance specifically) of running a grow facility. Investors were scared to invest in something so riddled with potential for error due to the lack of templated structure at licensed commercial facilities. It’s not like there are online tutorials to grow weed, you gotta go underground for that kind of help.
I’m currently trying to build a team right now for the New High. There’s a lot of challenges I’m facing, so I’m just curious how did you initially choose your team?
I asked for help, and a friend – who is a headhunter – gave me a hand getting started. From there, we rolled with it and hired for positions we thought we would need (taking a more proactive approach). We even asked other LP’s for advice. You’d be surprised how accommodating competition can be in such a “growing” space.
How do you know which are the right people? What’s important building a team?
Definitely someone you can trust.
I live by the motto hire slow; fire fast. Cultural fit with the team is a must and dedication must be in their DNA. We are a very tight-knit team and generally “weed” out the people who don’t fit rather quickly.
Where does the trust happen or begin?
Being overly-diligent with background checks. Similar to hire slow; fire fast, if they (new hires) pass a check, I instill trust until they give me reason not to. I mean, we are all adults and should be trusted to bring integrity to the work-place, especially with a product like cannabis; there are just so many social and ritualistic elements and nuances to it, you need to always have the right people on the job.
How do you want people in the industry to see you?
I might be the president of Emblem, but I am also a completely separate successful entity outside the company. People don’t need to know me as just Emblem, they can know me as Maxim, understand my backstory, and hopefully, that lays down the groundwork for a long-term relationship. Of course, I won’t please everyone and I am fine with that, too.
We actively maintain relationships players in the community like MMJ, Women Grow, Cannabis Community, etc. We also do what we can to connect to people and ensure our customer care is always top-notch. Building a solid foundation of trust now will help us with our long-term expansion plans.
You mentioned top-notch customer service – what does that look like to you?
Hire people that share your vision and passion, and provide them with the opportunity to learn, don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself. I want that to trickle down to everyone down to everyone else. Lead by example. Show them you’re passionate. When you empower people, they tend to give back in spades. I think our customer service team is so amazing because they share the same passion that I do for this business.
How do you maintain strong relationships?
Make an effort to get to know people and show them they’re more than just a sales figure to you. Take note of things they say and try to relate, listen to them (put your phone down), and become an asset to them before you ask for anything in return. You want that person to naturally want to do things for you, because they genuinely like you.
I notice Emblem’s branding is some of the best, it’s something I really liked about you guys. What was the thinking behind the brand?
We launched as KindCann – nice connotations (kind empathy, kind also meant high quality) and started slowly building it like that. However, by the time we were ready to go public, the market became saturated with other companies with a variation of “Cann” in their name, forcing us to quickly rebrand to Emblem.
Of course, we wanted something unique and iconic; something that had the potential to be a household name. We wanted something that could strike emotion and be connected with both people and nature respectively.
The logo is actually Artemis, who is the Greek Goddess of nurture, nature, fertility, and the hunt. Also associated with wellness, wellbeing, and growth; she’s depicted with the stag has the “E” in the antlers. We wanted our logo to have a story behind it and have the potential to spur conversation when people look at it. Good or bad, everyone will have something to say and that’s exactly what we are gunning for.
Is that branding going to stay the same as you transition to the recreational market?
Very good question and one that I cannot answer honestly right now. It’s something we are absolutely trying to refine. Emblem has developed its goodwill as a medical-focused brand and we want to build off that, to focus on recreational, when the time is right.
So with rec coming what are some of your favorite strains
One of our newest strains, Artemus Maximus! It’s more commonly known as Quantum Kush., It’s a potent sativa hybrid strain, and of the few sativa strains that I don’t get burnt out on. Really good for afternoon use. Though I admit I’m a little biased…it’s named after me so it will always be close to my heart!
I’m also really partial to our Black Widow CBD phenotype which we call Zen’s Garden. It’s a great balanced strain – 2:1 CBD:THC – so very low psychoactive effects.
Zen’s garden got its name from a young boy named Zen who I met a while back. Zen has cerebral palsy and suffers from seizures, and after years of trying different pharmaceutical cocktails, his parents finally tried cannabis. It not only reduced his seizures, but he was happy and smiling – his quality of life changed altogether. He wasn’t a zombie and zoned out. After that his parents have become both advocates and patients themselves. Connecting with people that truly benefit from cannabis makes it all worth it.
Since we are an entrepreneur blog, any advice for future cannabis entrepreneurs?
Hindsight is 20/20, so you need to understand the road you’re about to travel on before you hop in. It’s tough, it’s unforgiving, but it’s 100% rewarding and that is why we continue to push on. Of course, I wouldn’t wish our earlier hardships on anyone, but they did help us become who we are today. Patience is a virtue because regulations are actually changing daily. We have no clue what recreational cannabis is going to look like and distribution across Canada is still unclear; there is a lot of wait and see. You need to be as forward-thinking as possible without stressing the little things too much. Literally, just stay focused, work hard, and abide by the rules!
Don’t scale too quickly, it’s going to take time for medical cannabis to develop and time for the black market to go away.
Be reasonable with expectations, develop your brand, develop your product and everything will grow organically from there. Just need to trust the process.
Where might you see the opportunities in Cannabis then?
It’s becoming really difficult to become a large grower. Most larger LPs started growing a long time ago and a very costly endeavour. So costly in fact, that most entrepreneurs simply don’t have the cash flow available to sustain it. However, the market research is correct, there’s going a massive supply shortage, at least in the interim, so there will need to be more LPs out there producing.
What’s really interesting to me, as far as entrepreneurs are concerned, is that there are so many service-oriented businesses around cannabis and products, and I see a lot of opportunities there. There is a lower price point, lower capital investment, less risk. This of course all depends on what sort of legislation gets passed. And of course the usual suspects like technological advances in vaporization & other consumption methods, hydroponics, and other growing infrastructure.
Thank so much for doing this, any Final Thoughts?
Listen, above all else, as a licensed grower, it’s my job to ensure people are educated. Weed has a stigma and we all know it. We need to work together to eliminate that stigma. We (Emblem) also know that there is a lot of work to do ahead of legalization and I am proud of what we accomplish on a day to day basis. Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day, not all weed gets you high, and pills aren’t the only way to cure mental illness.
I’d like to personally thank Maxim for taking the time out of his day for the interview, his accommodations during the tours and always, genuinely being a friendly guy when running into him. You can follow Maxim on Instagram
or, if you have questions about medical cannabis, information can be found at Growwise Health
More about Emblem Cannabis can be found on their website