An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Hiring the right people is hard! We have gone through so many employees that interviewed amazingly, and that we were very excited about, only to find out within the first few months that they were the wrong person for the job. When you are a young company with limited finances the wrong hire can be a very costly experience. Don’t be scared to let somebody go and find the right fit.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Yauger, CEO for the cannabis industry B2B events company Lemonhaze.

Lemonhaze is a premier B2B events company that facilitates connections within the cannabis space. Lemonhaze events are designed to foster elite experiences. As a result, their Lemonhaze Cannabis Industry Executive Golf Invitationals have emerged as the most coveted invitation in the cannabis industry. Please visit their website to stay informed about other Lemonhaze experiences, including Virtual Upfronts, legendary Budtenders First Parties, and focus groups.

Lemonhaze — Where the industry grows together.

Originally from Austin, Texas, Brian Yauger is the visionary CEO behind Lemonhaze, architects of exclusive experiences connecting the cannabis space.

Known as ‘the most connected man in cannabis,” Brian’s career began in college football after attending Texas State University before transferring to Hardin-Simmons University, where he graduated with degrees in Political Science and History. He coached for 12 years, including Big 12 and Ivy League teams like Oklahoma State and Columbia University, before returning to Austin in 2011 to start his first company, Cool Earth Contracting and Coating.

Recognizing the potential of the burgeoning cannabis industry, Brian relocated to Seattle, Washington, and was soon leading business development for a fund. In 2015 he started FRONT RUNNER, a SAS cannabis sales data website rebranded as Lemonhaze in 2016. In 2018 Lemonhaze pivoted from data to an events company when Brian discovered that the events the company organized to promote its services were the most successful aspect of its business. They began with events focusing on budtenders, eventually expanding out of Washington to Oregon, California, and Nevada. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Brian and his company to get creative, which led to growing their business to include Virtual Upfronts. Described as “speed dating for cannabis buying,” these events offer product salespeople and dispensary buyers a distinctive opportunity to directly engage through the efficiency of video meetings and sales platforms.

An avid golfer, sports fan, and cigar aficionado, Brian combined his love for the cannabis industry and the game of bringing the company out of COVID in 2021 by creating the Lemonhaze Cannabis Executive Golf Classic tour and the Lemonhaze Cannabis Executive Invitational. Tailored for the industry executive, these tournaments offer a day of friendly competition and networking on the green, which quickly emerged as Lemonhaze’s signature events.

Brian currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada. However, if you are ever fortunate enough to attend one of Lemonhaze’s coveted events, you can usually find him wearing sunglasses in a golf cart with a cooler full of beverages and a cigar in his mouth, laughing, shaking hands, and passing out drinks.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Growing up in Austin Texas, sports were the center of my life. Like a lot of young people, I tried many sports, but from an early age, it was obvious that football was going to be my sport of choice. I lived the Texas “Friday Night Lights” high school years. I graduated from Westlake High School, well known for future Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks Drew Brees and Nick Foles, as well as NFL kicker and holder of the record for the longest kick in NFL Justin Tucker. I moved on to play football at Texas State and Hardin Simmons University.

It was obvious that my skills as a player were not going to take me much farther than playing for a small college, but my career ambitions were set to coach at the highest levels of college football. I was fortunate enough to do that for 12 years before my career path moved to entrepreneurship. The lessons I learned from sports still guide the life and business decisions that I make today.

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

When I was a freshman in college, I was spending spring break with friends in Cancun, Mexico. One night at Senior Frogs, I looked up and saw I sign on the ceiling that read, “life is what happens while you are making other plans”. For some reason that stuck with me. And every time I have made a life-changing decision that went against my “life plan” I have thought about that sign and made many decisions based on that quote, such as getting out of my lifelong dream of coaching or starting my company when my original job in Seattle fell through.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The podcast “How I Built This with Guy Raz” is a regular listen for me. The books “Shoe Dog: a Memoir by the Creator of Nike” by Phil Knight and “The Founders: The Story of PayPal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley” are two of my favorite books.

Entrepreneurship is incredibly rewarding, but it is also incredibly hard. Podcasts and books that interview or are written by successful entrepreneurs that tell the story of how they started and share stories of how they faced the same challenges Lemonhaze faces today are an inspiration in my life. I love to hear how others have faced challenges and I try to learn from what they did to overcome them.

There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

The biggest lesson I have learned as an entrepreneur is to build a company that I would want to use myself because if it would be helpful to me, it will be helpful for someone else. I took my experiences of going to trade shows with the first company I founded, and we just built Lemonhaze with the idea of what I wanted when we would go to those shows. Ironically it has worked out so well for our sponsors, that Lemonhaze has actually become a customer of Lemonhaze. The executives that attend our Executive Golf events as guests are our exact customers for sponsorships. We even set up our own booth at our executive events to promote sponsorships to our budtender events (a budtender is a person who works at a legal cannabis dispensary that makes recommendations on products and helps customers with purchases) our own attendees, thus making Lemonhaze not only the event organizer but also one of the sponsoring companies.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

In today’s world, a simple Google or even YouTube search can let you know what else is out there. However, anyone thinking of starting a business should not let the fact that there is someone else doing something similar stop them from moving forward. If your idea is good, and if you are willing to work hard and not let the word “no” stop you, then you can be successful. Many times it is the pivot that is the success. In the case of Lemonhaze, we started as a data company tracking the data of the recreational marijuana industry in Washington state. We started throwing our own events to promote our own product. When the companies from around the industry started knocking on our door asking to sponsor the events so that they could get access to the audience we were bringing in for ourselves, we knew that our future was in events and not data. However, we never lost our data roots, and data is still a big factor in what we do.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands?

As happens a lot in life you work very hard for 5 or 10 years to become an overnight success. The company that people know as Lemonhaze today started in 2015 as a technology company called Tetratrak that provided a SAS data service that rebranded to Front Runner. Then rebranded again in 2016 as Lemonhaze to include an enterprise solution along with a SAS solution. It wasn’t until 2017 that we started holding events to promote our own product that we started making any money. In 2018 we made the full pivot to events full time, but we did not reach national recognition in the industry until 2021. Now Lemonhaze is the fastest-growing cannabis b2b events company in the country, but it took many steps, many failed attempts like other products to find what our customers wanted.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?

Hiring the right people is hard! We have gone through so many employees that interviewed amazingly, and that we were very excited about, only to find out within the first few months that they were the wrong person for the job. When you are a young company with limited finances the wrong hire can be a very costly experience. Don’t be scared to let somebody go and find the right fit.

You can’t be all things to all people: It is important to listen to your customers and guide your company to what the customer wants. But you can’t do everything. When we were starting, we tried to do everything that was suggested to us, and we ended up paralyzing our growth because we couldn’t focus on a core product.

Hire people that are smarter and better than you: When you start a company you do everything from product development to marketing, to sales. As our company grew, I started hiring people and telling them how to do the job I hired them for and I was underutilizing their skills. What I have learned is to hire people that are better than me at all the tasks I used to do. It is important as a leader that you make sure that all employees know and follow the vision of the company, but hire people that make the vision clearer and better and clearer to your customers.

Simply get used to the word and learn to love the word “no”: These are two parts. First, when it comes to finding new customers, finding funding, or even looking for strategic partners, you will hear the word “no” so many more times than you will hear the word “yes”. Don’t let it bring you down. It is just like breathing and eating. You have to have it. The second part of that is to learn to love to use it. People will know you are a start-up, and they will try to get discounts or something free from you in exchange for something less valuable. Don’t be afraid to use the word “no”. You will be surprised how many times they come back with a yes a short time later.

You will know when it is right: Don’t let impostor syndrome bring you down. If your product works for the market, you will know it, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be hard and that you won’t have doubts. Use the fear and the doubt to make it work for you.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Try it first on friends and family and listen to what they say, “would be cool if it did X”. People will tell you what they want if you give them a place to start. If you asked 10 people, “what would you want” you will get 10 completely different answers. However, if you build a widget that you would like to use and show it to the same 10 people they will say, “It is great, and you know it would be cool if it also did X”. And for 5 of them, the “X” will be the same thing. The “X” is what people will happily pay for. The entrepreneur has to be careful though. You can’t build something that does everything. You have to find the core of what “X” is and get very good at that. Then start expanding around that core product.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I have hired multiple consultants over the years and while I have been able to take bits and pieces of knowledge from each of them, I have found that they have never been worth the money. Impostor syndrome is real. Having a little insecurity is normal and many times an entrepreneur thinks they should hire someone that they perceive knows more than them. But the reality is that the entrepreneur knows their business better than anyone else. The consultant ends up reaffirming what I already knew was right. For me, finding mentors that have my best interest at heart has been much more useful for me in growing our company. It is not possible for you to hire someone to come in and make your company successful in the way you want your company to operate. But it is possible to find people you trust to help guide the decisions you make to help you become successful.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

In my opinion, you have to bootstrap at first. Your first idea will probably not be the idea that takes off. You have to find what the market wants, and when you find it, then go for capital and push the gas pedal down towards what works.

As an events company, we have seen dozens of companies come into the market well funded and blow all their money in a year over promoting a product that probably could have worked had they spent time building it first before taking on money.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

This is something we are working very hard on right now. The Lemonhaze business model is to put events together that bring in all the decision-makers for segments of the industry together at a specific event. For us, those decision-makers can be budtenders, dispensary buyers, or cannabis executives. When we started doing events exclusively for cannabis executives when you looked around the room of executive attendees it was a lot of white middle-aged men. It was a huge mirror to the industry that did not go unnoticed. We are working on structuring our networking events to make sure that women and diverse candidates have access to the people that hire for the jobs at the c-suite and VP levels.

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. For our executives, it is to get qualified women and diverse candidates in front of the people that hire for executive-level positions. For our budtenders that love the industry, we want to find ways to help them climb the corporate ladder. Today’s budtender could be tomorrow’s VP or owner if they have access to the right mentors and the right education.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Any entrepreneur that started with nothing and built a globally known brand. I would love to hear how they overcame challenges that we all face building our company. Peter Thiel or Phil Knight would probably top that list.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Making Something From Nothing: Brian Yauger Of Lemonhaze On How To Go From Idea To Launch was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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