By Victoria Dekker
In the fall of 2015, Devon Richardson took a leap of faith. She left a career in IT commodity sales in New York City, packed up and moved to Denver, Colorado, a city in which she had no contacts and no job leads. Why? In a word: cannabis.
What led to your career shift? Why did you first become interested in working in cannabis?
I was unhappy with my lifestyle and I wasn’t happy with the way my career was going. I was working non-stop and realized I wanted to change my career significantly. I wrote a paper on medicinal marijuana in college, which was a long time ago. Understanding the medicinal benefits was a major focus and certain minorities getting targeted for arrests. I was very passionate about the progress in the industry and I saw how fast it was developing. I saw an opportunity with my experience and skillset to really help companies.
How did you transition to working in the field?
Everything was moving so fast and I was at a point in my career that I didn’t have the luxury to study it on the weekend because I was working all the time. So I said, “You know what? I’m going to pick up, quit my job and move to Denver.” I saw it as the epicenter of cannabis. I figured I’d be able to meet the best and brightest and see where the opportunities were for me to plug in my skillset and really help companies. So that’s what I did. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t have any prospects lined up for jobs, so I started quickly networking and I got connected with a cannabis marketing agency.
Sounds like it took a lot of guts. Where did you find the courage to do it?
My entire life I’ve really driven the course. I wasn’t privileged in the way where things were set up for me. I worked three jobs in high school. I bought my first car for $1,300. I was raised in Maryland, and when I went to New York to go to college I wasn’t nervous at all. When I was making the transition to Denver, I was very nervous. I was so nervous. I remember talking to my dad about it, and he was like, “You’ve done this your whole life, just jumped in and figured it out.”
Were you anxious, or did you feel confident that you were on the right path?
The industry was so new. I met some dude before I left who had just moved from Denver to Brooklyn, and he actually asked me, “Well what are you going to do?” I told him I didn’t know yet, and he said, “They’re going to eat you alive.” Even though I was like “Who the hell are you? You don’t know me.” Now I understand, because it’s such a new industry, and there’s the black market and it can be very uncertain – you sometimes don’t even know who you’re doing business with, necessarily. Was I scared? Hell yes. But I’ve always been really confident in my ability to figure thing out. I’ve always managed to surround myself with people who are mentors and provide support.
Did you face any particular challenges upon entering the cannabis industry?
Coming from an industry where the players have such a large corporate background to an industry where backgrounds are from all across the spectrum was a challenge. One day I could be meeting with someone who’s very open about drugs other than cannabis, to someone who’s an investment banker working on Wall Street the next. Having that experience and conversations that were so vastly different was a challenge. Being able to still sell the same services with a different spin was something I had to learn.
Can you tell us about how Nerve came to be?
This was truly the result of circumstance and opportunity that came together. I had the opportunity to work with a group of talent that was bringing innovation to the table for clients in a way the no one was doing. In this industry you have to be creative because there are no benchmarks, no methods to success – everyone is just trying to figure it out. Being surrounded by the brightest and the best and most talented people who can create solutions to make their business better, that’s what started Nerve.
Can you tell us about the work you currently do?
We coin ourselves as a consulting firm, but our wheelhouse really is marketing, PR services and business development. We help clients establish their brand identity, what they look like, their voice, their digital footprint and how people see them online, from their social media sites, to their websites, to their blogs. One thing we’re doing that’s very different is just getting their name out there. Our job is to get media placement and get awareness across both consumers and media. We create marketing campaigns and push brands in unique ways across different platforms. We have unique proprietary software that helps us do this, but we’ve worked with so many different people across the industry, we find a way to do it that’s different, but effective. At the end of the day, we’re a consulting firm because we want to make sure our clients are making money, or whatever their goals are, we’re helping them get there.
What’s your vision for your company?
I really want to be the success engine behind the best brands. One thing I love about our current clients is they’re amazing people. There’s such opportunity in the industry to create change, innovation and help create progress. Obviously there’s underlying economic opportunity that a lot of people are in it for. But there’s also a medical opportunity and a social justice opportunity. I really feel that in order to create change in this industry, we need the best brands at the forefront. I’m realizing that seated at a table together, most of our clients could do business together. I love seeing the synergy that Nerve creates.
In your opinion, are there any challenges unique to women trying to break in and maintain a cannabis career?
The challenges unique to women include the fact that cannabis is a white male-dominated industry. Wherever you are, most people are A-type or extreme personalities, because they’re willing to take the risk of this industry. These personalities add a lot to this industry, but it comes with negatives. Women need to be confident: know who they are, where they’re going and what they want.
What’s great about working in cannabis?
I love seeing everyone breaking ground in the industry. Nothing’s ‘been done’ before. We’re setting the bar in an industry, really, forever. It’s a new industry that isn’t a dot-com bubble. It’s a true, genuine industry that will change the lives of everyone, from patients, to people in prison to communities. Watching this innovation take place, watching people come to the table and try to change the industry is amazing. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the reward of seeing progress and what we bring to our clients is amazing.
In the time that you’ve been in the game, have you noticed any changes or trends relative to women working in the space?
I want to see more women business owners in the industry. A trend is definitely that they’re the target demographic for a lot of products. Everyone wants to go after 30-to-45-year-olds that wear Lululemon and who don’t really understand cannabis. They want to bring that mindset to the table because it’ll bring more refined qualities, if you will. As long as it’s done respectfully, I think it’s great. It’s an opportunity to engage with a group of people who aren’t really educated on what cannabis is, or what CBD is. There are a lot of people who can benefit from a low dose of CBD, to help their quality of life, from raising kids to just being a professional woman.
If you had a crystal ball, where would you say cannabis culture is headed? Any future predictions?
There’s a huge opportunity to develop new technologies for cannabis industry. People are really taking the science behind it to another level. On the product side, low dosage and CBD is going to be huge… and providing a fine quality cannabis experience that will reach a new target and new demographic of consumers.
If you had any advice for females working in or interested in working in cannabis, what would you say?
I’d say they need to ask themselves what they’re really good at and what they enjoy doing. Because there’s such a large opportunity, they need to educate themselves on who are the biggest players that can offer opportunity for them to get involved. Get involved, network as much as possible, talk to as many people as possible and start getting experience in the industry. In my opinion, it’s all about jumping in, getting your feet wet and figuring it out.
Nerve Cannabis Consulting:
WOMEN IN WEED
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