Zaneta Pacific is a Co-Founder and the CEO of Smells Like Business, a start-up preparing future entrepreneurs for the legalization of cannabis in Europe. Zaneta was first exposed to cannabis while studying at the University of Maastricht, and then University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Before entering the world of cannabis, Zaneta gained her experience by working for corporations and start-ups around Europe. She has experience in running events for Fortune 500 companies  in Europe, the US and China, and a strong passion for entrepreneurship and cannabis. 

Zaneta wants to turn Smells Like Business into a go-to place for everybody who wants to enter the cannabis industry in Europe, but doesn’t know how. As a strong advocate of small and medium businesses run with sustainability in mind, Smells Like Business brings information that makes it easier for cannabis enthusiasts to not only enter the cannabis market, but to also do it right, keeping sustainability and fairness in mind. 

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

I grew up believing that cannabis is an evil drug that destroys lives. I guess the scare tactics worked a little too well in my case. Everything changed when I moved to the Netherlands. I was shocked to see that the experience of purchasing and consuming cannabis did not differ at all from buying a beer in a bar. I was blown away! Not only was cannabis available to everyone over 18, but also many of my fellow students who were top performers in this highly competitive and demanding school, enjoyed cannabis on a regular basis. Inspired by what I saw around me I decided to learn more about cannabis. It took a while before I managed to change my brainwashed mindset and realize that cannabis is not only safe, but also fun and has numerous health benefits. 

I am a strong believer that cannabis should be legal. I do not enjoy breaking the law, nor do I enjoy putting my health in the hands of random dealers. I am obsessed with information and knowledge, so being unable to tell what it is that I am consuming drives me insane. I want to be able to purchase cannabis knowing exactly what is in it and where it comes from. 

With the European cannabis industry on the rise, it is extremely important to me that cannabis does not become the new tobacco. I started Smells Like Business to help people who want to run, or work for, cannabis businesses. It is my goal and mission to influence cannabis entrepreneurs and show them that there is a sustainable way of running a cannabis business. 

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

An unexpected collaboration with Hempzon, a cannabis expo in Luxembourg. A few months ago we were minding our own business, working hard on making our first event a success, when we got approached by a cannabis expo in Luxembourg with an offer to combine our forces. Hempzon is an expo run by three Luxembourgers who share our values and vision on how cannabis legalization in Europe should look like. 

While an idea of running our entrepreneurial Smells Like Business event at the same time as a huge expo never crossed our minds, we jumped at the opportunity. We managed to come up with a setup that would give more attendees access to our event and would hopefully have a positive impact on Luxembourgish decision makers who are now working on the laws and regulations regarding the legislation process in Luxembourg. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Hempzon expo and all our Smells Like Business events had to be cancelled. But we will collaborate next year, and plan on coming back even stronger in 2021. 

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?

It was both so funny and so painful! We had a flyer with a great design which we distributed at various cannabis events in Europe and it worked great. One time we decided to go a step further and publish an ad in a magazine, using the same design. Unfortunately, the design did not translate at all! The font was very hard to read, and the graphics did not represent what we wanted them to. I opened the magazine once and haven’t been able to look at it since. The lesson learned is that even if something works once, it does not mean that it will work again, when the conditions are different. Every business decision, especially when you are a new business, requires your full attention and thought. There really are no shortcuts. 

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry? 

What is really funny is that many of my family members simply do not understand what it is that I do. It is not that they are for or against it. It is just that they can not comprehend it. They do not understand that there is a whole industry behind cannabis. In their minds if you are involved with cannabis you must be a drug dealer 🙂 

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?

Where I come from, cannabis is still illegal and some of my family members and friends who do understand what I do disapprove of my choice to start a cannabis business. They believe that I am reckless and that my decision is a waste of years of hard work at Uni as well as  in my professional life. The person who I have to thank the most is my mother, who is often on the front line of these interventions. She has learned to understand the benefits of cannabis and is both very supportive and excited about Smells Like Business. She has always defended my choice.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people? 

Yes! Since we had to cancel our events, we have decided to interview our speakers and cannabis specialists, and share these interviews with our followers through a podcast. The podcast focuses on all aspects of cannabis  in Europe and is a great resource for anybody who wants to learn more about cannabis in Europe. Every episode we meet with different business owners and cannabis specialists making it easier for anyone to enter, and better understand, the European cannabis industry.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the  main core of our interview.  Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry.  According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?

One thing that really bugs me and which I believe has a very negative impact on gender equality in the cannabis industry is the “cannabis chick” image that is often used in cannabis branding. Cannabis expos nearly always have half naked women running around promoting CBD oils or cannabis seeds. This outdated esthetics have to be abandoned in order to make the cannabis industry more women friendly, as this kind of branding and advertising techniques makes it look like the industry is run by men, for men. I am just tired of feeling like I’m going to an auto show from the 90’s.

I would also like to encourage women to apply for jobs in cannabis companies. While it is a mostly male-dominated industry right now, we still have a chance to stop it from turning it into the tech industry of the past. It is important to note that you do not have to be a user in order to work for these companies. As long as you believe that cannabis should be legal and available to anyone who wants it, or more importantly, needs it, you will be fine.

The last thing that we can all do is to do our research when we buy any cannabis products or services. If you want more women in the industry, support female led companies and companies that make an effort to keep their workforce diverse. The best way to support anything that we believe in, whether it is sustainability, equality or anything else, is to do your research and spend your money wisely. Every time we make a purchase we cast a vote of support towards something. Make sure you vote for the right things.

You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each. 

  1. Banking will be a nightmare. Make sure that you find a friendly bank and set up an account as soon as possible. What was supposed to take between 2 and 3 weeks took us 4 month and many, many phone calls, emails and constant nagging. It will be tough.
  2. Get a great accountant. It is one of the best business investments you will ever make! We have an accountant that is used to working with small and medium size businesses run by expats. He saved us money the first time we met, realizing that we missed a tax deadline we didn’t even know we had!
  3. Cannabis laws are constantly changing, as well as the world we are living in, so you better get used to constant change. Events are a big part of our business, and now that we have a pandemic on our hands, we have had to pivot drastically. Our friends at Hempzon (who we were going to collaborate with) are another good example. Last year they had several seed bank exhibitors at their event, but due to a recent change in the local law some of these exhibitors were no longer able to bring seeds with them.Things like that happen, and they will keep on happening. You can either give up, or adapt.
  4. Quality is everything. Do your research and make sure that your suppliers are not cutting any corners. While we do not sell any products, friends of ours who run successful cannabis companies always mention the importance of researching and finding the highest quality products from reliable sources as one of the main reasons for their success.
  5. Figure out quickly what it is that you can not do and partner up with someone who masters these skills. That is exactly what I did. While I love everything to do with running and managing a business, I am an introvert and hosting a podcast or an event is the last thing I want to do. Tom, an ex-budtender with a rock’n’roll past, fills this role perfectly. He is a natural front man who is able to run these interviews incredibly well, making our guests feel very comfortable and our listeners feel very entertained. I can count on him to deliver a really good show, every single time.  

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?

    1. The amount of opportunities. Since this is a new industry, we can turn it into whatever we want. The opportunities and options are endless and the end of prohibition will give business savvy cannabis enthusiasts the opportunity to create their dream job.
    2. The increased amount of money spent on research. The more money the businesses bring, the more money will be invested into learning about cannabis. While we already know that cannabis is a miracle plant, there are so many things that we still do not understand about it. I am very excited to see what else we can learn about this beautiful product of mother earth. 
    3. It’s potential to cure and help. The world is full of suffering and I think it is extremely exciting to know that the cannabis industry is an industry that will bring relief and improve quality of life to those who need it the most.  

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? 

  1. Lack of sustainability – the amount of plastic and non recyclable materials used for cannabis products is way higher than what it should be. It is a new industry and we have this wonderful opportunity to set up standards that can help the environment and the planet. New businesses should do their best to include as many sustainable practices as possible from the very beginning. It is much easier and cheaper to implement these standards from the start, than to adapt and change things later.
  2. Lack of justice – there are too many people treated unfairly for their crimes involved with cannabis. The fact that some people are still in jail because of cannabis possession, even in places where cannabis is now legal, is ridiculous. It is important to talk about it, and to bring it to the attention of our politicians.
  3. Lack of laws and regulations supporting ganjapreneurs and small businesses – the way the industry is set up in the US at the moment makes it a lot easier for big corporations to enter this industry. If governments do not set up regulations and certification programs that are affordable to smaller business owners, the cannabis industry will be dominated by big corporations. Governments should be supporting sustainable businesses and promoting positive entrepreneurship in order to prevent any further devastation of the planet done by big corporations.

What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?

If the legal market is to win over the black market, federal legalization is the only way to go. Businesses need to be able to operate everywhere and all citizens have to have equal access to cannabis. Without federal legalization the black market will not be weakened, it will simply change its location and target groups. 

Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?

The cannabis status has to be different, because the product is completely different. The task of the government is to educate the public, prevent minors from using cannabis, and provide grown ups with high quality products. It makes no sense to classify cannabis as tobacco. The best way to think about it is when thinking about cancer patients. How can a product that causes cancer and a product that helps fight it be sold in the same way, and be presented in the same category? Isn’t that misleading? It just feels wrong to me.

Can you please give us your favorite  “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? 

I have just finished reading “The obstacle is the way” by Ryan Holiday. It’s a great read for times like these, where many of us have been significantly influenced by the current pandemic. A great quote from that book is Ryan Holliday’s definition of an entrepreneur. He says that “an entrepreneur is someone with faith in their ability to make something where there was nothing before”, and there could be no better description when I think of all the brave people entering the cannabis industry. I do hope that we all end up creating a wonderful, inspiring and strong “something”.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement  that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to encourage people to talk about cannabis with those who are against it. It is easy to talk about legalization with your close friends, but the real challenge that we face is talking with people who are against it. It is important to master these conversations and have good and convincing arguments. In many cases the fact that somebody is against cannabis is because they have never been exposed to it, just like I was before moving to the Netherlands. If each of us were able to have a calm and reasoned conversation with a cannabis opponent, and if each of us manages to inspire cannabis opponents to reconsider their beliefs, legalization would happen much faster.

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!