Team. Hire to build a culture, not to fill roles.
Startups usually start with a small cohort of close colleagues. But what happens when you add a bunch of new people into this close cohort? How do you maintain the company culture? In addition, what is needed to successfully scale a business to increase market share or to increase offerings? How can a small startup grow successfully to a midsize and then large company? To address these questions, we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and insights from their experiences about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”. As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sean Samuel.
Sean Samuel is Vice President of Sales and Marketing at C15 Solutions, a technology company that delivers a life sciences-based eQMS platform tailored for the global cannabis sector and adjacent industries. Sean has a sales and business development background that spans the tobacco and finance sectors. Currently, Sean manages the sales process at C15, spearheads marketing initiatives, establishes key strategic partnerships, executes product demos, and secures valued customers. Sean has helped grow the company from scratch to 65+ corporate customers across 8 countries.
Thank you for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
My career is an intersection of three things I love — cannabis, technology, and innovation on a global scale!
When Canada initially mulled over federal legalization, I was working at the Bank of Montreal and had long been speculating on the early medical cannabis companies in small-cap portfolios. Shortly after Canada passed adult use, C15 Solutions was formed, and it was C15’s partnership with Veeva Systems (VEEV:NYSE) that really intrigued me. They have long been an established tech provider to the Life Sciences and CPG industries, working with multinational corporations like Kraft, Nestle, Bayer, Pfizer, Unilever, and more. Cannabis always struck me as an amalgamation of agriculture (cultivation), pharma (medical), and consumer packaged goods (adult use) so, adopting best practices from those established sectors and adding to the quality and safety of cannabis production was a mission I could embrace.
I was already keen on trying to help accelerate the sector’s trajectory when it came to being a leader in the industry, especially as it globalized. The opportunity to work with such an innovative and supportive partner in Veeva, as well as being able to build something from scratch (opposite of my situation at BMO) with a fantastic management team at C15, was what ultimately drove me in this direction!
You’ve had a remarkable career journey. Can you highlight a key decision in your career that helped you get to where you are today?
Yes, as a matter of fact, it was a literal fork in the road. In 2017, I was working on Bay St. for one of the ‘big 6’ banks and was offered two new jobs — both were with start-ups (my type of culture/working environment) but one was in finance and the other, cannabis. The finance job came with significantly better pay and a small equity stake. The cannabis job was a riskier one that paid less and required commuting (vs. a 15-minute commute to Bay St.) and yet, the decision really wasn’t one I lost much sleep over, picking C15 with conviction.
Five years later, the start-up on Bay St. I almost joined is killing it, but I still have zero regrets in my decision. Why? Because this is my passion. Navigating the ‘wild west’ cannabis landscape and building a brand from scratch has been my most rewarding professional experience. Plus, I’m extremely proud of being part of the legalization of a wonderful plant with genuine medicinal properties.
What’s the most impactful initiative you’ve led that you’re particularly proud of?
That’s easy — C15 Solutions! Our mission is to raise the quality and compliance bar for the entire cannabis sector, globally. That’s a lofty mission statement, however, we are unequivocally doing just that; we’ve taken a technology that is widely adopted in other regulated sectors like pharma, life sciences, and CPG, and we’ve tailored it specifically for cannabis operators, regardless of the jurisdiction they operate in. The result is higher-quality, safer cannabis products and maturing, compliant cannabis companies.
How has mentorship played a role in your career, whether receiving mentorship or offering it to others?
Mentorship has played a massive and pivotal role in my career. I would say I’ve had three professional mentors over the course of my career thus far and each was instrumental in either inspiring me to change my professional trajectory or refine and accelerate my existing one. With that said, I’d love to give a quick shoutout to Rob Butler, Carter Davidson, and my father, Scott Samuel, for their wisdom and inspiration over the years. All three have meant so much to me for different reasons.
Developing your leadership style takes time and practice. Who do you model your leadership style after? What are some key character traits you try to emulate?
I genuinely do not have a single leadership ‘model’ in mind. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a variety of executives (at big and small companies) and to play with many captains and coaches during my competitive hockey days. This has allowed me to adopt specific traits such as direct, transparent communication and identify ones that are not my style such as immediate, cut-throat judgment. I don’t think there’s a ‘perfect leader’ out there, rather, perfect fits of team and leadership.
Based on your experience, can you share with our readers the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”?
Efficiency. As C15 grew, we had to listen to what the market was telling us and learn and adapt our sales and service strategies to become more efficient. Whether it’s tinkering with your outbound process or how you engage with your customers, we’re constantly looking to become more efficient so that our customer acquisition cost is lower, and our customer engagement is higher.
A Growth Plan. Whether it’s new products or new markets, research and analysis MUST be done and a ‘growth at all costs’ plan will often result in self-destruction. In the cannabis sector especially, which is both highly competitive and highly regulated, a growth plan must be well thought out, deliberate, and ideally vetted by trusted stakeholders.
Team. Hire to build a culture, not to fill roles.
Partners. As the saying goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and in business, it takes the right partners to reach the next level. In our case, C15 has the best tech partner we could possibly ask for in Veeva Systems, as well as incredible shareholders like Emily and Morgan Paxhia from Poseidon Asset Management.
Financing. This is kind of a technicality more than anything. Obviously, capital is required to scale but I think nuance lies in what kind of financing… Debt? Equity? What terms? Who are the shareholders? It takes strong, experienced leadership to nail this part.
Can you share a few of the mistakes that companies make when they try to scale a business? What would you suggest to address those errors?
Hiring for a job vs. hiring the right person and finding them work to do was a mistake we made in the beginning. As a start-up, you might have an idea of how you want your company to be structured and how it looks down the road, however, one of the lessons I’ve learned is that building the right culture is integral for a young company and maintaining that culture as you scale is just as important. This is why we’re now more in tune with the ‘people’ we hire vs the ‘role’ we hire.
Scaling includes bringing new people into the organization. How can a company preserve its company culture and ethos when new people are brought in?
Answered in the above question — hire for people, and not roles.
Many times, a key aspect of scaling your business is scaling your team’s knowledge and internal procedures. What tools or techniques have helped your teams be successful at scaling internally?
I think we do two things extremely well at C15 to scale our knowledge AND our culture.
- Hybrid work model — We employ roughly a 70/30 work-from-office/work-from-home model. This hybrid model is very important to us as it enables us to learn from each other and collaborate much more efficiently while simultaneously delivering a work/family balance that is quite rewarding.
- Lunch & learns — We schedule periodic lunch & learns (on the days when most of the team is in the office) and everyone rotates through being the ‘teacher’. They will speak to role-specific issues, team-specific issues, or even macro/tech-related issues and this usually generates some colourful team discussion!
What software or tools do you recommend to help onboard new hires?
Our Sales Team uses Hubspot as our CRM of choice and that’s a big part of our onboarding process — the entire sales journey and pipeline is effectively captured here. The Customer Success Team leverages Totango to track the deployment journey and customer health, so that’s also integral to the onboarding process of new hires.
Because of your role, you are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your ideas can trigger.
My answer to this hasn’t changed since I last spoke with Authority Magazine, so I’d still say make the conscious decision to step away from your devices and other digital distractions, in order to fully engage with the present moment and the people around you. I find myself in a similar position of looking for the right balance when it comes to tech of any kind, but especially AI. I absolutely see some of the merits of AI but I’m similarly apprehensive about some of its potential as well — look no further than Chaos GPT…
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can keep up with C15 on Twitter and LinkedIn.
This was truly meaningful! Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise!
Sean Samuel Of C15 Solutions On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.