Leveraging over a decade of cannabis industry experience and a demonstrated history of success in the realms of strategic partnerships and brand development, Flower One’s Chief Strategy Officer, Kellen O’Keefe, is responsible for the oversight and execution of Flower One’s market strategies, including ongoing investor relations and the growth and development of the Company’s Brand Partner portfolio.
Prior to joining Flower One, Mr. O’Keefe was an early partner and the Senior Vice President of Business Development at MedMen – one of America’s leading cannabis retailers and premium brands. While there he played an instrumental role in growing the business, securing over $250 million dollars in investment capital while sourcing over $250 million in M&A transactions. Over the course of his career, Mr. O’Keefe has worked closely with some of North America’s leading cannabis brands, including Cookies, Old Pal, GPen, Nature’s Lab Extracts, QOA, and more.
As one of the nation’s most steadfast proponents of marijuana legalization efforts at local, state and federal levels, Mr. O’Keefe regularly contributes both strategy, time, and capital to the country’s leading advocacy groups. His interests lie in addressing issues pertaining to the reform of the criminal justice system to reduce mass incarceration and creating equal opportunity to those disproportionately displaced by drug laws in the United States.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I lost my father to pancreatic cancer in 2012 and although we were unable to cure his cancer the benefits cannabis provided during the palliative care or end of life phase were tremendous and eye-opening relative to the incredible role cannabis would play in the future of healthcare. As an advocate and connoisseur this experience took my passion for the plant to a whole different level and gave me the courage to explore a full-time career in cannabis.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Flower One had a unique problem in that our production far exceeded that of our initial design and expectations; creating what we called a world class problem of more fresh cannabis than our initial drying capacity could handle and still properly preserve the terpenes. We ultimately had to improvise and bring in temporary shipping containers to solve the problem. It was our team’s ability to act quickly and come up with a creative solution that saved the day and made sure we preserved our weekly harvest.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
A lot of the early predictions for where the industry would be by 2020 have taught us a lot about human nature and our ability to be blinded with optimism. I think a lot of us, both the industry and investors were overly optimistic when it came to how quickly laws would change and how long it would take to build a real industry. The truth is, it will cost far more and take decades longer for the industry to mature and for cannabis to be accepted and legally sold around the world. I’ve learned that it takes collaboration to achieve such monumental tasks. As an industry, we started out much more competitive and have only more recently evolved into an ecosystem working together to achieve common goals. Think about how overly ambitious it was to assume you could be a great farmer, scientist, marketer, retailer, and more all at the same time. Vertical integration isn’t common in most industries and likely won’t play huge role in future of cannabis.
Growing a Cannabis Business - CBD - Kellen O'Keefe, Flower One
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Absolutely. We have a lot of exciting work being done inside the lab at Flower One. Given our unique access to premium flower at scale, our team can create entirely new product categories using new extraction technology and delivery methods to maximize desired effects and capture the true essence of cannabis. Edibles, beverages, and other healthier forms of consumption will continue to grow in popularity, and we have only scratched the surface of what is possible with regards to product development in those categories.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have had the fortune of working with some very talented leaders that have all taught me very different things. Whether it be the visionaries like Adam Bierman and Gilbert Milam (aka Berner) that have built two of the industry’s most recognizable brands in MedMen and Cookies or the world’s tomato grower; each brings their own unique perspective and have helped shape the way I see the cannabis industry. As for a story, one of our largest initial investors at MedMen was the result of a cold outreach on LinkedIn. You never know where your next big break will come from as long as you believe in yourself and are prepared to seize the opportunity when it presents itself.
This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
Cannabis and culture are inherently connected and will always be. Branding cannabis is tricky and nothing can be everything to everyone. The key is to know who your audience is and how to reach them. A lot of people working in cannabis struggle with trying to be too many things at once and not tailoring their approach to work with each demographic.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry?
1. The People. It’s all about the people and I have met some of the most amazing people working in cannabis.
2. The Plant. Cannabis itself, has so many incredible benefits and deserves to be shared with the world. I am excited to continue to play a role in making that happen.
3. The Progress. Legalization is upon us. Not only will this put an end to prohibition and change the laws that have ruined the lives of so many, but it will create opportunities for so many more. I can’t wait to see how many cannabis jobs are created across the United States over the next decade.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
Criminal Justice Reform – The end of prohibition doesn’t guarantee that all those incarcerated for cannabis are released. I believe we need to continue to fight for their freedom and for the social equity programs that provide opportunities to those affected most by the war on drugs.
Transparency- In testing, regulations, licensing and beyond. As a customer and consumer, first and foremost I believe that we need to create regulations that assure products are exactly what they claim to be. States like Nevada have the most stringent requirements in the country and for operators like Flower One, that are used to operating in regulated industries, we view this as a positive. I look forward to seeing every state follow suit and evolve their programs to assure they are doing everything in their power to protect consumers.
Legalization – As optimistic as I am about the progress we have made, cannabis prohibition is not over and the majority of the world does not have access to safe, legal cannabis. Even in California where cannabis is legal, most of the cities in the state have not allowed it. We need to continue to educate people with the facts and truth about cannabis and force the opposition to acknowledge the evidence.
Growing a Cannabis Business - CBD - Kellen O'Keefe, Flower One
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or examples.
People – It is always all about the people. Choose your team wisely
Patience – This process will take much longer than you think. Be patient.
Persistence – This will be much harder than expected. Hang in there and stay focused.
Fundamentals – Just like a good coach always says, you can’t play the game without them. Learn them and practice them until they are second nature for your company.
Timing – This is everything. Great success is often the result of timing. Make sure you always keep an eye on the clock.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Culture. Culture. Culture. It is what makes or breaks an organization at a certain point. It is what determines how much your employees care, how hard they work, and how they represent you. It is difficult to buy culture as it must come from inside the leaders themselves. I spend a lot of time thinking about this and working on how I can lead by example to promote a culture of collaboration and accountability.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Stay present and mindful. Our ability to solve problems when grounded and in control of our emotions is limitless. We often worry about the wrong things and are easily distracted from what really matters. Focus on what matters and let the noise fall aside.