Lauri Kibby is best described as a serial entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. She has a master’s degree in business administration from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-founded several cannabis businesses including Kings Garden and Endourage. In our interview we talk about how she got her start, the post-Prop 64 landscape, and, of course, running cannabis companies during turbulent times.
Tell me about how you got started in the cannabis industry.
It was a total fluke! I just happened to be at a meeting where I met Mike King, who was setting up an indoor cultivation facility for a craft, premium cannabis business, and I mentioned I would love to invest. Well, pretty quickly the conversation became serious and I put the funds together. This was the foundation for what would become what is now a multi-million dollar company. My skills are in organizing and bringing structure to a vision, which is exactly what I did. Michael scaled the company, and Charlie Kieley, our third founding partner, insured our protocols for growing were air tight.
Mike has a tenacious will and vision when it comes to scaling, and I make sure the structure for growth is in place, including how to manage what is now 200 employees and more than 200 investors, and Charlie oversees cultivation. We are proud of how fast we have grown, and more importantly, we are now able to do quarterly dividends. We built our business on my partners’ belief that you begin with quality infrastructure and means and methods, then quality assurance, and then you build your brand. This is what we have done and are now one of the top selling indoor flower brands in California.
In branding Kings Garden we began with an exploration of our vision with the goal being to make sure we aligned our vision and promise with our targeted consumer so that our message was clear and aligned with our consumers.
We have taken a similar approach with Endourage. We think the consumer market for CBD is saturated. Many of the leading CBD brands have been tested by third parties only to be discovered that often they do not contain what they claim. Given the lack of regulation, Endourage is strongly committed to product integrity. We are also committed to creating a product that is clinician grade and believe the future of CBD rich products is in the medicinal arena. So we focus on producing products that are tested and available through clinicians.
Tell me about life in the business before and after Prop 64.
Prop 64 provided the opportunity to be a real company. Prior to that it was a collective model, a non-profit model. You couldn’t design a company and organize for the future. Now you can. As to regulations—they’re good and beneficial but they need to be enforced! Hopefully, here in California, tax revenue from the industry will help to end the illicit market.
If you were getting started today, would you do anything differently?
We have been really successful at establishing a plan and then executing that plan. You do need to be well-funded, you need to know you have a good team, one you can rely on. To grow, it takes real skill and you have to be committed to quality first and foremost.
What are you noticing about how COVID-19 has changed the business?
We haven’t seen any negative affect. The pandemic has provided a platform for growth. There seems to be higher demand, so we are growing to meet that demand.
What advice do you have about guiding a company through turbulent times?
When the pandemic first struck, we made a priority of keeping our people safe. We are an “essential business” in California, so we were able to stay open when other businesses had to close their doors. We had to make adjustments—like reorganizing our trimming area to allow for social distancing. We already operated with a clean room mentality with protocols like masks, hair coverings, jumpsuits, and gloves, but we had to put in supplies to ensure we had supply to support our protocols. We at Kings Garden live in a bubble because our people are going to work every day and being paid a good wage. We have to realize that the Kings Garden team has family members that are not a part of our corporate family and not doing as well. I am always reminded how blessed we are and how grateful I am that we can keep people working and doing well. This moment has made me more philanthropic and I have upped my contribution to many charities as a result.
Let’s talk about philanthropy then. Is there a role for philanthropy in the industry?
This is such a new industry, and I think within every company, it is important to think about how to support your local community, especially with hiring decisions including a strong and clear commitment to diversity. With any nascent industry, first think about how you are bettering communities from within, from your hiring practices, your interest in diversity, and your standards of treating your people. The industry is learning what it can support outside of itself.
Let’s talk about future plans.
Directly related to the pandemic: We are expanding and will grow more to meet the demand. We are in the middle of licensing our brand in other states. We are designing how we are going to license and expand. At Endourage, we are focused on successfully executing clinical trials because it is our belief that all the wild claims about CBD should be backed up by reputable studies so clinicians can look to evidence. And we are in conversations across borders and are preparing to announce the results of some exciting clinical CBD trials.
Robert O’Shaughnessy is co-founder and partner at Higher Ground Agency, a public relations and marketing firm supporting the cannabis industry, where he manages the marketing and digital side of things. A graduate of Boston University, he is a frequent speaker and published author, and would probably really enjoy having a beer with you.