She’s driven by a work ethic that was engrained in her as a child and she’s outstandingly intelligent, but she always makes sure that she’s never the smartest one in the room. Brandy Keen is VP of Sales at Surna, which her and her husband became a part of after they sold them their water-cooling technology company. She is the power behind the company’s sales department and has found her place in the cannabis industry, in a niche where she is certainly making a major impact on agricultural technology!
What is the story behind your involvement with the cannabis industry?
I created Hydro Innovations with my husband, Stephen Keen, several years ago when we set out to create technology for indoor grows as a side project. We have always focused on controlled environment agriculture, starting with palm trees nearly 12 years ago. In the winter, we grew the baby palm trees in our garage and it was often over 100 degrees in there as a result of the HID lighting. Stephen has always had a head for mechanical systems and he started tinkering with different ways to efficiently cool controlled environments. He hit some winners and in 2007, we ultimately sold the land where we were growing the palm trees to fund our water-cooling technology company, Hydro Innovations.
I always had a head for sales and business management, so together we built a strong business and developed some really cool technology, which we later sold to Surna. We stayed on and I became Surna’s VP of Sales and Stephen became Surna’s VP of R&D. Our involvement with Surna has allowed us both the opportunity to really excel at our respective skill sets. Company sales are very strong and we are developing some of the coolest, most advanced agricultural cultivation technologies in the world. It’s a really exciting time for us. Aside from our cultivation experience, cannabis in particular is our current focus because of our personal experience in its obvious medicinal uses. Now that the industry is opening up and legalizing across multiple states, I get to support something that I’m passionate about, do something I’m extremely good at, and I get to help our industry reduce its overwhelming energy consumption. There are no downsides in my opinion.
What were you doing before?
My background is in business-to-business semiconductor sales, supporting companies like IBM, Advanced Micro Devices, and Texas Instruments. I’ve also got a strong background in commercial construction, as I grew up on a construction site and handled the business side of a commercial remodeling and construction company for several years. This combination of experiences has provided a strong foundation for what I’m doing now.
What other industry might you compare the ‘green rush’ to and why?
It’s a cliché to a certain extent, but truly the American Gold Rush of the 1800’s is a really strong comparison. You have early entrepreneurs and risk-takers putting everything they have into the possibility of a big payoff, you have legitimate business owners mixed in with schemers, and then you have ancillary businesses like Surna (the pick and shovel providers) with strong opportunities to capitalize. You have the big winners and big losers and an entire economy built around a single industry. The key difference of course, is that it was never federally illegal to mine for gold….
You have early entrepreneurs and risk-takers putting everything they have into the possibility of a big payoff, you have legitimate business owners mixed in with schemers, and then you have ancillary businesses like Surna (the pick and shovel providers) with strong opportunities to capitalize.
Right now, where are you guiding your passion and energy towards?
My continued focus is on supporting and delighting my customers and helping Surna succeed in a market full of risk and opportunity. I am volunteering as a mentor to some local start-ups as well because I think it’s really important to share your experience and help guide hard workers with strong ideas whenever possible. In my personal life, I am married, have a 6-year-old son, and a baby on the way, so I try to reserve some passion and energy for my family too.
Who is a person that you consider as a role model? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
Not to be too obvious, but my parents have always been my strongest role models. I’m 38 years old and their influence is still evident in everything that I do. The strength of my father’s work ethic has resonated with me throughout my life—there is literally nothing he wouldn’t do, regardless of the impact it had on him personally, to see a job through to the end. I think it’s a direct result of his influence that led me to get my first job on my 16th birthday. I haven’t been without a job for even a single day since my first day at that pizza parlor when I was 16 years old. The strength of my parents’ relationship and partnership has been an influence on me both in my own relationships and from the perspective that when you commit to something, you see it through. These are two people that ran away together and got married at 16 years old, had a child at 17, and have succeeded against all odds as parents, as a couple, and as a success story in general, all as a result of hard work and commitment. They worked during the day and went to school at night while raising children and managed it all as a team. It’s impossible not to be moved by that.
What inspires you the most about this space?
The risk takers. The hard workers. The incredible wealth of ideas and the entrepreneurial spirits of the people operating in this space. I have never been involved with more people that I respect and admire than since I started working in this industry through Hydro Innovations.
Tell me about an esteemed achievement of yours.
Professionally, Hydro Innovations and Surna are the things I’m the most proud of. We literally started Hydro Innovations with $30,000 in seed money and worked out of our garage. We built a team that helped to turn it into what it is today: a company with 35 employees that is developing efficient technology that is going to change the way cannabis consumes energy.
Where do your great ideas come from?
Someone once said to me, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you need to find another room.” That has always been my mantra — both from the perspective that I need to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am, and also to make sure that I learn from them and absorb what they have to say. Great ideas feed other great ideas and being surrounded with great people means that the great ideas will come by default.
Someone once said to me, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you need to find another room.” That has always been my mantra — both from the perspective that I need to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am, and also to make sure that I learn from them and absorb what they have to say.
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader in this space?
I talk to incredibly smart people every day and I try to absorb every iota of information that comes my way. I attend every industry event I can make it to and I subscribe to and read every bit of industry news that is available to me. I work with a lot of extremely experienced cultivators on the customer side and some incredibly talented engineers and experienced cultivators internally as well. There is literally no one that I can’t learn something from.
What is important to you – mission, vision, or core values? Why?
Work hard, honor your commitments, and be honest. Help deserving people when it’s in your power to do so. Respect science and respect our planet. Hold everyone in your life, both professionally and personally, to the same standard. These are guiding principles that will always bring their own rewards.
If we are sitting across from each other a year from now, how will our conversation about the ‘green rush’ be going?
I anticipate additional legalization measures in other states (of course). I expect more good news about the positive impact legalization measures are having on communities—less crime, more money for communities and schools through tax revenue, lowered teen use of cannabis, etc. I expect more interest from big business (particularly big agriculture and investment groups), but fewer ethically challenged sharks in the water looking to take advantage of the smaller (perhaps underfunded) start-ups. I expect the start-ups that do exist to come into the industry with more education about what the real risks and rewards are and I expect more and more investment into this space.