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Andrés Fajardo of Clever Leaves: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis or CBD Business

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

It takes time — While I always knew it would take time to build a successful cannabis business, many were not expecting the industry to take so long to mature

As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrés Fajardo.

Andrés Fajardo, CEO of Clever Leaves, has over 20 years of leadership and management experience. He has served as a director of the Clever Leaves board since December 2020 and as president since 2019, and in various other roles at the Company since its establishment in 2016. Prior to Clever Leaves, Fajardo was a founding partner of Mojo Ventures, CEO of IQ Outsourcing, and a principal member at Booz & Company. He obtained a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School and a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and Economics from Los Andes University in Colombia.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I began my career in management consulting and acquired an abundance of knowledge in decision-making, execution, and leadership. I knew that I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and after about 5 or 6 years in consulting, I felt ready to start my own business. My partners, Gustavo Escobar and Julian Wilches, and I saw an opportunity in the emerging cannabis industry, specifically in Colombia, where the economical and geographical conditions are prime for cultivation. We wanted to build a company to help people and other businesses while sharing cannabis with people around the world and in 2016, we set out to do just that. Now, 6 years later, Clever Leaves has operations across the globe.

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?

Cash is king — Focusing on the bigger picture and being cognizant of how you grow and invest is essential when making effective decisions as a company leader. In 2016 when the ‘green rush’ began, the industry attracted a lot of investment and there was a positive outlook on the future of the cannabis space. After some time, investment began to slow and capital became scarce while companies were trying to establish themselves and grow. Navigating 2020 during the pandemic was difficult for many operators who were just trying to financially survive and in an industry that’s fast paced, there is no room to slow down. By the end of 2020, Clever Leaves went public and we were able to continue our global expansion by learning how to adapt and react during difficult times. This experience taught me much about making tough decisions. We were able to successfully adapt our strategy and continue to grow as a company, while many organizations were not.

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?

In 2016, when my partners and I first founded Clever Leaves in Colombia, the government had no implementable legislation on cannabis, although it had been proposed since 1986. We were working to obtain a license and in order to be granted one, insurance was required. As cannabis was not yet mainstream, institution after institution turned us down, until we were able to find one willing to insure us. It was 3:45 pm, the same day that the application was due at 4:00 pm, we only had 15 minutes and realized we were $50 dollars short. Thankfully we were able to scrounge it all together and submit all materials before the deadline. I often think about this day and how one small moment has the ability to shift the course of your entire company or career. Being as prepared as you can be for anything that comes your way is crucial as a leader, but the ability to perform under pressure and navigate difficult situations sets you apart and makes you successful.

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

Clever Leaves recently made some changes in terms of cost restructuring and shifting our strategy to focus on the markets in which we want to lead in. We founded the company with three objectives; 1 — to bring cannabis to people around the world, 2 — to generate wellness and well-being within the communities we serve, and 3 — to establish a company that our employees and shareholders are proud of and dedicated to, in order to fulfill our mission and help the most people possible while breading a positive work environment.

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?

Finding the right partner to build a business with is essential and I could not have built Clever Leaves to its level of success without my partner, Gustavo Escobar. Since we founded the company, we built Clever Leaves to new heights by working as a team and supporting each other, professionally and personally. Having a complementary vision for the company and views on how it should function is key to building a company together. Gustavo and I both aspire to generate well-being through Clever Leaves and with his guidance, he’s played a crucial role in helping me get to where I am today.

This industry is young, dynamic and creative. Does your company use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?

Instagram and social media. We’re highly regulated on the medical side and focus a lot on B2B, but we’re utilizing various strategic communication techniques and have adopted an account-based marketing model. We target specific markets or regions depending on where the operation is and develop campaigns per launch through the integration of our teams. We’ve been seeing our sales grow, and pipeline increase, resulting from our close alignment and articulation between sales, marketing, and product development.

Can you share some things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share some things that most concern you?

For three things that excited me–

Market potential — there is a market out there to be tapped and the ability for companies to make money is still there.

The cannabis industry is fast-paced and requires flexibility and adaptability to be successful. We’ve been able to obtain this in an industry that’s constantly evolving.

In the U.S., there’s been a lot more development in the cannabis industry and room for it to be shaped in the world. Being a part of shaping and creating an industry is exciting.

Two things that concern me–

Capital availability is very limited and cannabis requires investment for a longer period than originally foreseen.

Lack of regulation is causing a slow in industry growth. Regulation and legislation are required in order to propel the industry forward.

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

It takes time — While I always knew it would take time to build a successful cannabis business, many were not expecting the industry to take so long to mature

Understand the dependency on regulation and how it changes.

Focus on cash flow and profitability instead of capacity and valuations, which is more important to investors who are not looking to over-invest.

Institutional capital would take a long time to enter the space and, in some cases, wouldn’t enter the space. We’re proud of the institutional investors we have but the industry lacks institutional capital, complicating operations and putting pressure on these organizations.

Mastering grow and cultivation of smokable cannabis flower is difficult and requires patience, adaptation, and expertise.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

At the center of running Clever Leaves, we value cultivating mojo, creating value, and changing lives. In order for your people and teams to thrive, you have to love what you do. Doing what you love is a bit unrealistic but loving what you do with optimism and the belief that you will reach the other side successfully- this is how companies thrive. Success comes through a combination of leadership and putting your people in positions to grow while allowing them to have the autonomy to make decisions. When people work with Clever Leaves, they always tell us that we have something special, and I think this has driven much of our success. When our employees thrive, so do we.

You are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂

Being a leader in cannabis allows me to focus on doing good for the masses by providing wellness to the communities we serve and building a company people can be proud to support. We built Clever Leaves to inspire, motivate and help people and if I was able to change the way all companies were managed to focus on its people the way we do at Clever Leaves, I would. Cultivating mojo is at the core of our organization, this is how we keep our people engaged, dedicated, and feeling valued. I am inspired every day by our employees and partners who are just as passionate about the work we do through Clever Leaves.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Andrés Fajardo

Linkedin — Andrés Fajardo

Clever Leaves

Twitter — @clever_leaves

Linked in — Clever Leaves

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Andrés Fajardo of Clever Leaves: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.