Brett Stevens is the CEO of Fohse, Inc., a horticultural science and engineering company that’s developed energy-efficient industrial grow lights specifically designed for cannabis.
We recently invited Brett for a Q&A session to talk about his background and his company Fohse, Inc.
Ganjly: What is your background and what made you decide to pursue a career in cannabis?
Brett Stevens: I’m a serial entrepreneur through and through. My father was an entrepreneur and worked harder than anyone I have ever met, so it was only natural I would follow in his footsteps. Being from Iowa I walked the fields picking weeds and working around the farms as a farm hand, and by the age of 15, I had saved enough money to start my first business.
I bought some serious PA equipment with my savings and started a DJ company. It wasn’t long before I was DJing high school dances and weddings every weekend. Since I was only 15 and didn’t even have a license my Dad would drive me to my gigs. The DJ company was pretty successful. I ran it up to the time I started college, and as soon as I turned 21 I made for the next logical scale up — I got a liquor license and I opened my first dance club. The club was so successful I was able to duplicate and open another location.
I’ve never really been a drinker so in the early 2000s when MMA started to take off, I found my next venture. I had been watching the UFC since its first event, and I knew I wanted to be involved in the industry in some way, shape or form. I made the decision to step away from the long nights at the club, and dove in head first in MMA.
After a year of training, competing, and networking I had worked up to the level of professional competition. Being an entrepreneur, it didn’t take long into my pro career for me to see a significant role in the market. So I went on to launch a company called Fight Co, which was a management company that handled all purse, travel, sponsorship and endorsement negotiations. That company blew all expectations out of the water. In its prime we had more than 60 athletes signed and fighting in competitions all over the world.
Fast forward to 2008, I was involved in a severe motorcycle accident, which crippled the company and my fighting career at a time when industry changes were making our business model obsolete. After Fight Co. I began working as a consultant for start-ups. I appreciate the fast-moving, high-intensity environment of them and the potential for great returns is a plus. I’ve been watching cannabis for nearly a decade, and with most everything in life, when the timing and opportunity were right I went full steam ahead.
Ganjly: How many employees do you have and what kind of traits do you look for when hiring new members?
Brett Stevens: Being that the Founders Group are all late Millennials, we’ve structured the company a little differently than you’d expect. Our core team is made up of 6 people working in the trenches of our ‘Inner Circle,’ and an even broader team of over 40 partners all working to achieve the Fohse vision. Speed and agility is the name of the game for us, and operating as a well-supported guerrilla unit rather than a slow-moving army has been crucial to our success. Everyone we work with has to be responsive, specialized, and self-accountable.
Ganjly: What is the most challenging experience you have had in the cannabis industry so far?
Brett Stevens: Vetting potential business partners. You have to be on your toes in this space. It’s so new and the amount of people rushing to the market with green in their eyes is vast. Weeding through all the people to find genuine players can become a monotonous task.
Ganjly: What is your proudest moment since you started down this path of being an entrepreneur in the cannabis space?
Brett Stevens: The day we heard that we got the Louisiana State University contract, which is being managed by GB Sciences (GBLX). The COO of GB Sciences gave us a call to remark that our tech was the real deal and that we had outperformed every other LED they tested. Given the success of their tests both they and LSU wanted to place an order. That day made our 20 months of R&D worth every day.
Ganjly: Do you have plans for new products, services or events and would you be willing to drop any hints about what we can expect from your company in the future?
Brett Stevens: Yes, we have quite a few products we are working on, in various stages from testing to vetting. We are an engineering company at heart, so naturally, we are looking at everything that pertains to the cultivation of cannabis. We’re always wondering what can be done more efficiently.
We do have several new products that will hit the market this year. We have a couple LED fixtures we are very excited about. Our flagship fixture for commercial applications — the G2V — is available now for order which is our indoor fixture. Also on the way is the O6I for greenhouse and light deprivation applications, and a modular fixture for containers and vertical applications that we call the F1V.
Ganjly: What is your advice for hopeful cannabis entrepreneurs who are considering joining the cannabis industry? What are the positives and negatives they should expect?
Brett Stevens: Let’s start with the negatives so we can end on a positive note. The most significant problem you’re going to face is the infancy of the industry. It’s not a favorable sector in the eyes of the Federal government, which makes things hard. Most new industries have pretty clear and defined laws and methods, but not so much in the cannabis industry.
That brings me to the second negative: the landscape is changing by the day. When I say this industry is changing, I mean the whole space is changing on a daily basis — the laws, the growing methods, the packaging, the advertising, the clientele, the employees, the owners, all are changing every day. With so much change the job of business development is tough. As soon as you get traction the person that was your contact has left, or the doors have been shut.
That leads to the third very real and problematic negative: you never know if who you’re talking to is a real opportunity or someone wasting your time. Be prepared for many fruitless meetings and endless times where you want to pound your head on the table. This space is full of overnight “experts,” some more convincing than others. The fact is everyone in the space is learning still, so anyone throwing around “expert” anything should be carefully scrutinized. This space is hard and is definitely not for the weak or those easily pushed around. I’ve seen this industry make seasoned and intelligent investors and entrepreneurs alike cry like babies.
With the negatives out of the way, I have to say the positives make it all worth it. You will be able to test yourself and your team and reap the rewards in a new and emerging market. The sky is indeed the limit in this industry. Where else can you wake up every day knowing you’re paving the road for future generations, and the fantastic medical benefits this plant will offer once honestly studied and researched.
Thank you, Brett, for taking the time out to talk to us! Your answers were so informative and we love learning about your journey as an entrepreneur.
To learn more about his company, go to Fohse, Inc.