What’s the inspiration behind NatureTrak?
I was a D.A.R.E. kid. I grew up on commercials that said, “Don't use marijuana. Say no to drugs.” I’ve had family incarcerated, saw the pain of friends who had people ripped away from them—and I wanted to do something about it.
I saw legalization as an opportunity to give back to the communities that have been hardest hit by this war. I was driven to bring legitimacy to an industry that lived in the shadows for a long time, and I knew my education, background, and experience could help me make an impact. And hopefully, the movement to legalize cannabis will provide those who were wrongly incarcerated the vindication they so badly deserve.
As cannabis gets legalized and legitimized, not only are we tearing down the barriers around the war on drugs, but we are also de-stigmatizing what it means to be part of the cannabis community. NatureTrak’s mission is to legitimize the cannabis industry, and to provide those most affected by the war on drugs with a new outlook on life—and the ability to participate rightfully in the industry as a means to create generational wealth.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
The biggest challenge is access to capital. That's why organizations like Republic are so valuable to startups. It's been really hard raising money in this space, primarily because it is cannabis. There’s still a segment of the population that won’t touch cannabis investments—in large part because it’s still federally illegal. Finding the right people is also challenging, as is covering infrastructure costs. As a startup, especially in California, you have payroll, HR, accounting, taxes, and more. Each of those things cost money—which brings us right back to access to capital.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd via Republic?
Republic's an awesome platform. I love their mission and what they're bringing to the general public. The opportunity to invest in a startup is something everyone should have access to regardless of his/her net-worth. It shouldn't just be an option for the uber wealthy.
Republic’s reputation was also a factor. The due diligence that Republic conducted prepared NatureTrak for VCs and provided the credibility needed to entice investors through the platform.
This is not your first time founding a company—what’s unique about your experience with NatureTrak? Have you learned anything new or surprising about entrepreneurship, or about yourself?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that you're always going to fail, but it's what you learn from those failures that really matters. As I was starting NatureTrak, I knew I couldn’t jump in blindly. I really did my due diligence. I went to conferences, spoke with regulators, and met with government officials in an effort to better understand the cannabis landscape, what was happening with legalization, and where the real opportunity was for me to get involved.
The other key lesson I learned from my previous companies is that your team is critical. Prior to NatureTrak, I was the expert; I was the be all, end all of the company. With NatureTrak, I now know my job is to lead. I have a fiduciary responsibility to our stakeholders and investors, but I’m also responsible for finding the right people and building the best possible teams to help NatureTrak achieve its goals.
What has been your experience as a Black entrepreneur & founder?
I would say my experience is very similar to other entrepreneurs and founders. There’s a lot of adversity to overcome regardless of race, and only the best companies are going to make it. However, as a black entrepreneur, resources are not as accessible as they can be. Companies that are well funded or have more resources will always have an advantage.
If you're good enough, you will make it, and I look at it the same way for entrepreneurs. If I'm great. If the company is solving a huge problem. If there's a market need. I have revenue. I have traction. I'm a leader in the industry. If I have momentum, then I will succeed. And I think all entrepreneurs fall into that category.
What's your advice to Black entrepreneurs looking to start a company?
My advice to entrepreneurs in general would be to do your homework. Ideas are a dime a dozen. It's all about execution. Will someone pay for the product or service you're providing? If they would, that’s the key to starting a company.
How do you handle competition?
Competition is good. Iron sharpens iron. I heard from a mentor once that if you're the only one doing something, there's probably a good reason why. Competition in the marketplace validates the need. Competition is always good—but if you're not first, you're last.
What do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
I’d say perseverance, though I'm not sure it’s a skill exactly. There are so many ups and downs throughout various stages of startup growth. You're going to run into walls. You're going to hear “no.” You're going to have fires. You have to keep your eye on the prize, no matter what's going on around you. The building could be burning down around you, but you have to remain steadfast in your goal and your vision.
That doesn't mean that you don't change; you don't pivot; you don't listen; you don't adapt. But if I had let my hardships stop me, I wouldn't be where I am today.
What is your superpower?
I've been a leader for as long as I can remember. It didn't matter whether it was school or athletics. The power to inspire people to trust you, to follow you into a startup, take less money, to follow you at a company where tomorrow's not promised. That’s probably my real superpower.
What’s your kryptonite?
Lack of sleep would be my kryptonite. I'm envisioning Superman. When the kryptonite hits, he starts losing all of his powers and becoming vulnerable. What I envision in my head are long nights, followed by even longer days where I need to function at my highest level throughout the day.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I play Dance, Dance Revolution (DDR) before meetings to get my blood flowing and my mind ready to present. I have my own DDR machine in my house, when typically you only find it in an arcade. I can’t live without it and wish I had purchased it a long, long, long time ago.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Regarding NatureTrak, it would be to go into banking immediately. We started out as a track and trace platform, which is what allowed us to accomplish what we have thus far in cannabis banking. Hindsight being 2020, I would have gotten into risk management immediately.
The other piece of advice, not directly related to NatureTrak, would be to focus more on a work-life balance. It's really important to take care of yourself. And it's really important to take a break and disconnect from the grind. I’ve learned that balance between work, health, and life is paramount.