Q&A with Vangst founder Karson Humiston

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Renee Cotsis (Mattio)

I’ve been working in the cannabis space for a year now, so I get a lot of questions about how to get involved. It’s not just about getting stoned all day. It’s a rapidly growing industry that offers financial incentives, creative expression and personal freedom to the right candidates. As the industry expands and more states open up, companies need talent to fill the surge of new jobs — an estimated 340,000 of them nationwide by 2020. By 2025, the global legal cannabis market is expected to reach $146.4 billion.

Due to the newness of the industry and the complication of cannabis still being federally illegal, it’s been a challenge for companies to recruit and fill both temporary and full-time positions. Karson Humiston, a 25-year-old entrepreneur living in Denver, saw the opportunity to found Vangst in 2016, which has been the cannabis industry’s leading recruiting platform ever since. Think of it like the LinkedIn for cannabis. Vangst has connected more than 10,000 people with jobs at over 650 cannabis businesses around the U.S. The company recently raised $12.5 million from some of the top tech and cannabis investors, and Humiston was featured on the 2018 Forbes 30 under 30 list. I decided to chat with her about some of the trends in the industry. (Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Boulder Weekly: Who should consider working in the cannabis industry?

Karson Humiston: People who have the most success are ones with experience in startups and fast-growing companies. If you think about it, this entire industry is a startup, so therefore every company is a startup. Candidates that are used to coming from massive Fortune 500 companies with thousands of employees and all these systems in place don’t have an edge in this industry. If you take a job in this industry, you’re likely to be with a company that’s just getting started, which requires you to wear a ton of different hats and be ready to pivot and roll with the punches. You couple that with an industry that’s changing every single minute, it creates an environment where you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and work multiple roles. People at Vangst would never say, “That’s not in my job description,” because everybody does everything. Everyone is wearing a ton of different hats but we’re all working toward the same goal. I think that people that are coming in and want to help build a company and build the industry are the ones who succeed versus people who come in and treat this like another job.

BW: Should Coloradans with cannabis experience consider moving east?

KH: If you think about it, there are a limited amount of candidates who have experience growing large-scale commercial-compliant legal cannabis. So if you’re opening up a facility in a place like Maryland and you need a director of cultivation, where are you going to go? So candidates with experience in this industry have really good opportunities once more states open their cannabis markets. We’ve seen people go from budtender to assistant manager to store manager in Colorado and then get their salary offered double to them to move to the East Coast and bring their dispensary management experience and industry knowledge and product knowledge with them to the East Coast.

BW: Do you see yourself having an influence in the industry?

KH: We’ve worked with more than 10,000 people and 650 companies and have built great relationships along the way. I think we’ve done that helping companies set up best hiring practices from day one, such as prioritizing diversity and inclusion. We believe we have the opportunity to make this one of the most inclusive industries in the world because it’s starting from nothing, versus industries that have been around for hundreds of years. In 15, 20 years from now, we think all the industries will be trying to mimic the cannabis industry because of the success that comes with prioritizing diverse hiring practices. Having a lot of different perspectives at the table makes a huge difference and our clients get to experience that.

BW: What are your goals for the future?

KH: Right now we’re in Colorado and California and we’d like to open in 10 additional markets. By 2021, we want to be able to say we’ve placed 100,000 people in cannabis jobs. Also, we’re hiring. We have over a dozen open positions from recruiting to sales to marketing to content to engineering, so anyone interested in joining a great company should check out the career page on vangst.com