In the competitive cannabis industry, Hope Wiseman is a boss amongst bosses. By the age of 26, she made history as the youngest Black woman dispensary owner in the U.S. Beyond entrepreneurship, she is looking to break down stigmas, raise awareness and educate about the positive impact cannabis can have on America’s economy and communities. She has often said that once the dismissive connotation of cannabis has been dissolved, communities will have the opportunity to heal and economically prosper.
The Spelman graduate spoke with Mogul Millennial to help us learn more about her journey from finance to entrepreneurship and making money moves in the cannabis industry.
In launching Mary and Main, you entered a billion-dollar market where there are bigger players and a lack of diversity. What have you learned from entering this competitive space?
I have learned that it is really all about performance rather than your race, age and gender. All those things definitely play a role and you know subconsciously people cannot help what they've been conditioned to support. If your company is operating under a system of excellence, then that allows you to still succeed in this industry. I feel like this industry craves sophisticated leaders, [because] people can form businesses that can sustain all different types of environments, especially right now with coronavirus.
Before you launched Mary and Main, you had a career in investment banking. What were some of the transferable skills that allowed you to make the transition to entrepreneurship?
I gained hard and soft skills from investment banking that helped me be successful in my quest to obtain a license as well as in my operational side. First, I believe from a soft skill perspective, it taught me how to be tenacious, as well as how to figure things out on my own. My problem-solving skills are great because when I was working in investment banking as an analyst, if you didn't know how to do something, you had to figure it out on your own or you'd have to seek your own help. [You have to be] able to troubleshoot, figure things out quickly and keep a level head while working through issues.
I used to work in equity institutional sales, so I was interpreting stock research. We would have analysts internally that would completely turn the company inside out to study it and give a stock recommendation. As a result, I understand how companies and their finances work. For me, that makes it a lot easier going into my entrepreneurial journey. I know where I want to go and where I want to take the company. I understand the inner workings of how companies should be run to get to a certain point, and I think it has been a tremendous help.
For the more tangible, hard skills, I’m good at financial modeling. Also, the resources and connections in my network are probably a little bit more expanded than your average person because I was working at the top investment bank on Wall Street as a sophomore in college. I definitely feel like investment banking played a big part in giving me the confidence and the actual tools I needed to be successful in the cannabis industry.
When you launched Mary and Main, how did you determine your revenue share model with your product partners?
The three founders bootstrapped the entire process in the beginning, so there was no revenue share. We have since raised some money, but it's all equity. There's no revenue sharing going on as of right now. We have a few small owners, but about 90% of the company is owned by the three founders.
We know you like to partner with brands that are in line with your company's values and offer their products as well. What are some of the lessons you've learned during that journey of building out partnerships and maintaining those relationships?
Because of federal irregularities of cannabis, we are only allowed to purchase products that are grown and processed in the state of Maryland. As a result, we are limited to 10, maybe 20 companies, total. We don't have a big variety because there's not a lot of options. We pretty much work with everyone in the market. And with everyone in the Maryland market, it's so regulated. Everybody has high quality products, some higher quality than others, but we have every type of patient that comes to our store so we need to have lower cost products and super high quality products that have a higher price point.
[Moving forward], we will definitely work with companies that have a strong focus on minority participation within their organization and high quality standards. However, in states like Maryland and New Jersey, states that are highly regulated, every single producer will be high quality. It'll be more about the relationships you have with people and the types of deals you're able to negotiate with.
How have you been able to build and sustain a brand and customer loyalty in such a crowded competitive space?
For us, we have built a community of people that support us mainly because we give great service and it's really like a family. But two, they are supporting a minority-owned company. We receive a lot of support simply because of that. We're very proud to be minority-owned and are trying to help other minorities get into the industry as well. We want [our patients] to feel comfortable with shopping in a dispensary. People always enjoy working, shopping and doing things with people they feel they can relate to. We are offering that space within the cannabis industry and I believe that's where a lot of our loyalty comes from—knowing and having a feeling of a safe environment to do something that is still very sensitive to a lot of people. They want to feel comfortable and have a lot of questions. It's easier to talk to someone who you feel can relate to you.
Transitioning from investment banking into entrepreneurship, what would be one lesson that you learned that you wish you would have known going into that transition?
That's something I regret from early on. I wish I had been doing that. But I'd say those are the two main things: maintaining connections and looking at ancillary services from the beginning.
Do you feel that your experience at Spelman, and also just the experience of being enrolled at an HBCU, contributed anything to your success?
I was very strategic when I realized companies’ recruiting teams were looking for black women. The first place they’re going to go is Spelman College. They’re not going to go to University of Maryland or Harvard and look for me there. As prestigious as both those schools are, I felt I had the best chance at being where they would look for me rather than the [other way around]. Investment bank recruiters like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan don’t even recruit at schools like University of Maryland. So for me, it felt like a no-brainer if I wanted to land the best possible job after school. I also really enjoyed becoming a woman and adult around other Black women who were going through the same thing as me. It’s empowering and gives you the confidence to be able to walk out into the world and be proud of who you are, at the core.
I’m proud to be part of that sisterhood. Everywhere I go, everytime I meet another Spelman sister, we connect and support each other. That’s something I also couldn’t get from a school that wasn’t an HBCU.
Has mentorship been helpful to your career? Also from having mentors or becoming a mentor, is that a role that you would hope to take on at some point?
I feel like [mentorship] is something that will continue throughout my life as I move to different levels. I’ll continue to find allies and mentors that can help me navigate that stage, and I plan to do that for other people. Although I’m still early in my journey and still establishing myself, I do it as much as I can for others in the cannabis industry. I plan to be able to do a lot more for others in the cannabis industry and entrepreneurship.
I was telling someone how I want to focus more on women entrepreneurs. That’s really what’s at my core. I love the cannabis industry and think it’s awesome, but I want to focus on promoting female entrepreneurship, period. I feel like that’s something I’ll do as a mentor.
What makes you a Mogul Millennial?
I feel that the more you give, the more you receive. The more you give, the better the world is. That’s what promotes expansion in a person. I make myself a better person, then I help others do the same.
*feature photo credit: All About-It, LLC (per Hope Wiseman)