Armando Ramos – CEO of Hip To Be Hemp
Armando Ramos, Founder and CEO of Hip To Be Hemp, founded his company with his fellow US military veterans in mind. Armando noticed that his veteran friends were consuming cannabis to effectively deal with a wide variety of post-service ailments, such as PTSD. However, Armando noticed the same problem kept resurfacing that represented an inconsistency within the cannabis supply chain. Patients were finding a strain that fit their needs one day, but would have different effects the next time they purchased from the same dispensary. For Armando, this was simply unacceptable. That’s when he came up with the idea for Hip To Be Hemp, a company comprised of Lean Six Sigma Process Engineers and a Certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. Hip To Be Hemp uses a quantitative approach to hemp production, operations and compliance to make sure the entire process, from cultivation to distribution, is as safe, effective, productive and consistent as possible. We recently sat down with Armando and he shared some trade secrets that every business entrepreneur can learn from.
What was the deciding factor that made you want to enter the cannabis industry?
I’ve been passionate about cannabis and hemp for many years now. For me, the deciding factor stems from two things:
First, the Japanese culture has had a very big impact on me. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to Japan numerous times and it’s amazing how different cannabis and hemp culture is over there. The Japanese have hemp everywhere in their gardens and they have used it throughout history to make clothes, baskets and many other productive items; such as phytoremediation of the Fukushima Plant. Yes, hemp absorbs radiation. Seeing how prevalent hemp has been to their culture really brought to light the wide array of applications hemp could provide. It is incredible how strong hemp fibers are. In fact, Henry Ford created his first automobiles out of hemp.
When I came home from those trips, I really started to look into the history of hemp in America and how it could impact our future. I found out that George Washington grew so much hemp that he paid all his taxes off hemp income alone. Another cool tidbit I came across is that, years ago, the State of Kentucky produced the finest hemp in the WORLD. Lastly, did you know that when our former President George Bush was shot down over the pacific, his parachute harness was made of hemp.
It is incredible how strong hemp fibers are. In fact, Henry Ford created his first automobiles out of hemp.
Another big factor for me was my history as a US military veteran and the lack of consistency in the cannabis industry. I have friends who use cannabis to treat PTSD as well as other injuries they sustained while serving the country. However, the systems in place in the cannabis industry are quite the opposite of those from our former military careers. There is very little consistency across the board and all too often I have seen a patient experience different results from the ‘same’ medication. He might find a strain that perfectly serves his PTSD symptoms, but, he might go back to the dispensary and buy that same strain again, only to find out it isn’t having the same results because it wasn’t produced the same way. That sort of irregularity in the industry has really motivated me in the creation of ‘Hip To Be Hemp’.
To organic or not to organic, is that even a question?
We stress organics, natural pesticides and nature fertilizers until we’re blue in the face. For us, it is important to set yourself up for success, both in the short term and the long term. There may not be a need for an FDA approved label quite yet, but that time is fast approaching and the cultivators who best set themselves up for that change are going to be the ones who take over as leaders in the space.
I’ve taken cultivation cycles from 160 days to 120 days, that’s almost an extra cycle per year.
As soon as federal legalization takes place, I imagine the cannabis industry will be regulated much like the alcohol industry. Everything is going to need a label and ingredient listing. Percentages are going to have to be precisely noted and quality control systems are going to move to the forefront of the industry. Instead of waiting for that day, we are helping companies become compliant now. That way, when the time hits, they can continue to operate effectively, requiring only micro level adjustments rather than a wide-scale company overhaul.
Give us some insight as to the Hip To Be Hemp process?
Let’s pretend you are the cultivator who is looking to improve their process. The first thing we do when we arrive at your facility is what we call a ‘gap analysis’. Basically that means we are going to run analytics on your facility itself to determine the effectiveness of production versus where it should be. We consider lighting, PH levels, humidity, temperature and numerous other factors in this determination, weighing those reading against our baselines that we have created as analysis tool. If you are off that baseline, you have a gap that needs to be fixed.
Our most recent process overhaul is projected to save our client’s dispensary $142,000 in this next year.
In addition, we have studied the science of cannabis cultivation and offer a wide range of improvements to your cultivation techniques. For example, let’s say the average curing time in the industry right now is around two weeks. I’ve developed as system that has it down to two hours. Systems like these will improve your cultivation process and allow you to make money more quickly. These are the concepts of ‘lean’ known as the velocity ratio. I’ve taken cultivation cycles from 160 days to 120 days, that’s almost an extra cycle per year. Not only does it save money, it actually makes you money. Often times our services pay for themselves in the very first year!
You have a Masters of Arts in Industrial Organizational Psychology. How do you think that helps you and Hip To Be Hemp?
First off, the industrial psychologist is closely related to the industrial engineer. The main difference between an industrial psychologist and an industrial engineer is that the industrial psychologist does not design tooling systems. Instead, our specialty is the knowledge of experimental science and statistics. In other words, we are applied mathematicians. We use analytics to improve systems and create a more productive, efficient process. For example, recently I was working with a cultivator who was taking 13 days to complete his germination process. By the time we were finished that process was down to 6 days, less than half the time.
How are you innovating new cannabis systems? Can you give us an example?
One of the many things we have had success improving is the process of concentrate extraction. Our scientists have developed an extraction process that uses no chemicals, no CO2 and no butane. It is 100% green and 100% safe. Our goal for that technology is to rid the industry of extraction explosions from those chemicals and butane, something we have been seeing too frequently in the industry.
Our goal is to not only improve your system, but also to make you one of the first in the cannabis industry to be independently certified as a quality supplier of medical grade products.
These systems, among the others we have created, all go back to my Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt education. For years, businesses outside of the cannabis industry have been applying these methods and processes to become leaders in their fields. I think we can apply that same effort to the cannabis industry, which will allow entrepreneurs to make more money and the industry to grow more quickly as a whole. If I can come in to your dispensary and improve your process so that you can serve 200 customers in the same time it would have previously taken you to serve 100, then you can double your revenue without increasing your cost. Our most recent process overhaul is projected to save our client’s dispensary $142,000 in this next year.
How You Stand Out
We’ve talked about reducing costs for the same amount of overhead. Perhaps just as important is our ability to make your business stand out to the public. Take Colorado for example. There might be a dispensary on every corner, so in order for you business to set itself apart, you have to prove that you can serve customers more efficiently and effectively than the location across the street. If you can provide the same, high quality experience every time someone visits, then they will return to your location more frequently. It’s the same logic that has been successfully applied to franchises all over the world. That is how empires are built and how businesses will stick out in the cannabis industry.
Hip To Be Hemp has a certified ISO 13485 (International Organization for Standardization) auditor. Our goal is to not only improve your system, but also to make you one of the first in the cannabis industry to be independently certified as a quality supplier of medical grade products. We are a third party, non-affiliated company, so our international certification will make you one of the first in the world to gain such accreditation within the cannabis space. And if that’s not enough, when you’re certified, you get to put the internationally recognized certification logo on the front of your business. That immediately tells your new or existing customers that your products and processes are proven safe, effective and consistent. In an evolving industry that can, from time to time, mirror the Wild West, this proactive certification will prove to be invaluable to your company’s future.
Old School Vs New School
I love everything about the cannabis industry. It is filled with old school and new school entrepreneurs that provide a wide range of talent and wisdom. While I enjoy that diversity, one of my overall hopes is to bring the ‘grow by feel’ cultivators into a more consistent, new school model. I’m not saying we need to get rid of the flair that part of the industry has provided us for decades, but rather we need to create a more consistent cannabis product so that patients can rely on specific effects every time they consume it for medical treatment. We want consumers to know exactly what’s in that bottle.
Imagine if you were that soldier in combat, and you had to walk all over the battlefield when you ran out of ammo because everything was in a different place every time.
Perhaps a good example would be McDonald’s and the consistency they have achieved across the world. Doesn’t matter if you are in California or Florida, if you buy a McDonald’s french-fry at either location, it will taste exactly the same. It looks the same. It’s in the same container. It’s scooped with the same scoop. The temperature under which it’s warmed is the same temperature. That sort of process control is going to lead to a safer cannabis community, especially on the medical side.
How has your military experience helped you with Hip To Be Hemp?
In the Army everything has to be very well organized. If you’re in combat, you can’t be looking for your ammunition. It’s got to be in the same place every time. I know that is a specific example, but it provides a solid mental picture as to exactly what we do at Hip To Be Hemp. I was recently looking at a time study for a dispensary I was working with. One of the first things I noticed was that the employees had to navigate themselves throughout the entire dispensary for a single transaction. Imagine if you were that soldier in combat, and you had to walk all over the battlefield when you ran out of ammo because everything was in a different place every time. It wouldn’t be safe for you and it is not efficient for these companies. I’m often amazed that the experiences I had in the military are not more commonplace in the civilian world.
How do you help businesses build consumer trust?
From the consumer’s perspective, a well-run organization sets itself apart in a number of different ways. First off, posting certifications outside of your business tells the consumer that they are entering a facility that has been vetted for quality products and service. Then when they make it inside, most people can tell right off the bat if they are going to have a good experience or not. How are the products laid out? We want it to be as if you were going to Walgreens; clean, safe, quality protocols in place, trained employees, pest control, house keeping, corrective action for customer complaints, safe packaging, correct labels. Is the cannabis untouched or is it being handled by the staff with gloves? Do the budtenders have sufficient information to make accurate recommendations? Is the process quick and streamlined? All of these factors build consumer trust and loyalty.
Posting certifications outside of your business tells the consumer that they are entering a facility that has been vetted for quality products and service.
As the cannabis industry grows and more entrepreneurs enter the space, value is going to be created by systems and processes like these. Taking initiative now will help you build that strong patient base and, no matter how big the market gets, you will retain and capture more clients than any of your competitors who don’t offer these same assurances. Human nature desires a certain level of comfort and reliability. We can help your business maximize those attributes.
Do you think consumer trust is important for a successful business? What is the number one thing a company does to lose your trust as a consumer? Join the conversation and comment below!