“Be open-minded. A lot of times, that means not only open-minded about where the product could go, but open-minded about the kind of people you need at the time.”
A couple years ago, Carol Bartz, former CEO of Autodesk, Inc. (NASDAQ:ADSK) and Yahoo, joined seed-to-sale cannabis company Caliva – now owned by TPCO Holding Corp (OTC:GRAMF), after investing in it alongside NFL legend Joe Montana – found here talking about cannabis and football.
Surprisingly, the 70-year-old tech industry superstar was very open about her cannabis use, disclosing her predilection not only for the super trendy, non-psychoactive CBD, but also for THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis that makes people feel “high.”
“I do consider myself a progressive, kind of experimental, person,” Bartz told me during a recent conversation, as she discussed her first experience with medical cannabis, which she described as “crazy good.”
Bartz has a computer science degree and programmed her first computer in 1968. At the time, her friends kept asking why she was doing something that took so much time and didn’t provide any credit toward her degree.
Despite her friends’ skepticism, Bartz carried on. She remembers vividly the first time she ever finished writing a program. “Wow! This is going to change everybody’s lives!” she thought at the time.
But beware, for being progressive is not the same as being stupid, Bartz warned. She brought up a story to illustrate her progressive thinking.
It happened approximately 35 years ago, when she was working at Sun Microsystems. One of her employees brought up a beer company with what was supposed to be a great recipe had a plan to outsource its production to Bartz’s home state, Minnesota, and asked her if she wanted to invest in it. “It turns out it was Pete’s Wicked Ale, which was behind Sam Adams, the second biggest artisanal beer-maker in the U.S…. I made lots of money.
“This is yet another example like what I see in Caliva… It’s different and it’s got a great team,” she said.
Extrapolating Lessons From Tech
As readers can tell by now, Bartz has decades of experience in building and investing in innovative businesses. I wondered if she had learned anything from her early days in programming in the late 60s that could apply to the cannabis industry today.
Bartz responded with a saying of hers:
What this means, is “to move forward, your can’t be afraid to fail. But if you fail, try to figure it out as fast as you can, and then hopefully move a half a step forward and keep doing that. People who are too structured and are afraid to try something new and fail, won’t make it in a new environment like this. You have to have some ‘cojones’ — you have to be able to get out there and try.”
She ended up with another saying, laughing again, showing her characteristic humor and good mood: “if you don’t try you definitely won’t do it.”
‘Fail. Fast Forward.’
I was hooked with that “Fail. Fast Forward.” philosophy of Bartz’s. Having failed and flashed forward many times, what kind of advice could she share?
“Just when you think that everything that’s going to be done is done – boom! Out comes something else. Look at what’s happening with the cure for cancer and some very specialized targeted medicines… I think the same thing will happen in the cannabis industry, where there will be not just different strains and potencies, but different [molecular] combinations that really do different things for the body,” she said, calling for the re-scheduling of cannabis – and a change in its federally illegal status, so that it can be properly studied and tested.
So, here’s the actual piece of advice:
Be open-minded. A lot of times, that means not only open-minded about where the product could go, but open-minded about the kind of people you need at the time. For instance, in the beginning, you might need agro technology [expertise] more than you need extraction technology [expertise]… What happens is companies can get in a rut, and they are the ones that work on the new ideas. I mean look at Apple: Apple was in a rut for a while, actually for quite a long while, it just wasn’t an interesting company. Then a new leader comes in and… blows it open
So, the lesson here is you need to be adaptable, adjustable, and smart enough to make some really hard decisions.