The legal marijuana business is attracting entrepreneurs as interested in social good as they are in profit.
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She left building a portfolio of affordable housing assets in Washington, DC, working to keep more low- to moderate-income families in the city and entered the cannabis industry. Meet Tahira Rehmatullah, Managing Director and CFO of Hypur Ventures and MTech Acquisition Corp.
Years at current company: HV – 1.5 years, MTech – six months
Education profile: Yale School of Management (MBA), The Ohio State University (BS)
Most successful professional accomplishment before cannabis: Building a portfolio of affordable housing assets in Washington, DC, working to keep more low- to moderate-income families in the city.
What brought you into the cannabis industry?
Like many people, my intro to cannabis was personal. No, not because I smoked a ton in my youth (maybe a little...hi, mom!), but because my grandfather was suffering from cancer in 2013. In our search for alternative treatments, my family and I kept coming across cannabis. At the same time, I was in business school and hunting for jobs that would put my fancy degree to use and be a change of pace from my previous financial services work. I was also really interested in social impact, but had absolutely no idea what that would look like in a career, especially because it seemed like the career qualities I was most attracted to were often at odds with each other. I reconciled that if I found a job that checked just a few of the proverbial boxes (and paid me a living wage), I’d be pretty happy.
Lucky for me, I got an offer from Privateer Holdings. Going into cannabis seemed absolutely crazy at the time, but I knew it was something I couldn't pass up. I feared there was a strong chance I could end up unemployed a few months later and perhaps blacklisted from working in other sectors, but counterbalanced that fear with the notion that taking the job could be the most interesting thing I ever do, even if brief. Thankfully, I was right.
At Privateer, I initially was on the investment team, but transitioned into an operational role, building and launching Marley Natural, the official cannabis brand of Bob Marley. As General Manager, I worked to develop the concept, build and manage the team, and launch the brand into market in early 2016. From there I joined Hypur Ventures, a venture capital fund focused on cannabis ancillary businesses, and then also started working on MTech Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that is listed on the NASDAQ. MTech is the first U.S. SPAC launched to focus on cannabis ancillary businesses. Outside of my day to day with Hypur Ventures and MTech, I continue to advise startups, entrepreneurs and investors in cannabis.
What obstacles and challenges have you experienced operating within this industry?
This industry is not for the faint of heart because everything changes in an instant. You can plan and plan, and then all of a sudden, the world is different, there are new rules, and you have to adjust everything you had been working on. It’s one of the primary challenges, but also one of the exciting parts of the industry -- the rules are still being developed, and we’re helping to create them. It keeps us all on our toes and in a constant state of learning.
How have you overcome these obstacles?
I lean on my network of colleagues and friends a lot. I’ve been fortunate to develop a web of people, both inside and outside of cannabis, who I call on frequently -- whether they want me to or not -- for advice, feedback, or to get their opinion on where the market is heading. And sometimes I just need them to tell me if I’m being crazy or not with certain ideas (the answer is often yes). Many of my successes have come through building relationships with others and working collaboratively, and that has made all the difference.
As a woman in cannabis, do you feel that you are at an advantage or a disadvantage (or both) and why?
It’s been a little of both. My pre-cannabis finance experience has been an advantage in general as there aren’t many women on the investment side of cannabis. My cannabis experiences -- operating, investing, brands – have given me a unique perspective that is often amplified by the fact that I am a woman because there just aren’t that many of us across the industry.
But being a woman, and a woman of color, has its disadvantages because I’m often the only one of either category with a seat at the table. And sometimes I feel like I need to keep fighting for that seat when no one else has to, which can be frustrating and exhausting. It is, however, something that continuously motivates me, too.
Because I very much understand the unequal access to opportunity for women and minorities, I always allocate time to advise female and minority owned businesses in the space, and assist with recruiting and placing people in various roles across the industry. I interact with so many different companies and leadership teams that I’m often asked for candidate referrals, which allows me to ensure women and minorities are gaining access to these companies. I have been very fortunate in my experiences and developing good relationships with people across the industry that have propelled me forward, and feel very strongly about helping others in the process as well.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in this industry?
I’m proud of the experiences I’ve been able to collect and learn from and some of the major impacts that have come out of those experiences -- working on investments in “early” days with no data or historical references, building a brand like Marley Natural at a time when no one else was, and working with entrepreneurs in various cannabis sectors to help them improve their businesses. I have a fairly wide and deep view on what’s happening in the industry, who’s doing what and how things will progress. That has allowed me to be a utility player in a market that has exploded in the last few years and will continue to change and evolve.
What is your greatest lesson learned?
It’s ok to ask for help! There were times when I put so much pressure on myself to carry the weight -- for no other reason than my massive ego -- that I not only hurt myself, but those who worked with me because my decisions impacted everyone. There’s no shame in asking for help, and if you’re in a place that won’t give it to you or punishes you for not being able to go it alone, then you’re probably in the wrong spot.
What trait do you rely on most when making business decisions and why is this useful for you?
I’m someone who plays devil’s advocate with myself on most decisions (which means I’m often that person talking to myself). I try not to go into any decision 100 percent set on what it has to be because I want to be open to what I learn and hear from others. As cliché as it sounds, I do rely on my gut to lead me the right way, but I also know that my knowledge can be limited (I mean, rarely...) and I must do the work to collect as much info as possible. I also lean on gut instinct when it comes to trusting people and assessing their ability to be good partners.