Leslie Bocskor: Electrum Partners
Have you realized how unique the legal cannabis space is, yet? Have you taken note of the opportunity there is at hand for you to make a positive and powerful impact on the world? Leslie Bocskor, Managing Partner of Electrum Partners, is here to point out that the above is not only true, but imperative to understanding your part as an entrepreneur in this industry. He grew up looking at things differently and it’s this rare perspective that he’s shared with us in the interview below…
What is the story behind your involvement with the cannabis industry?
Well, I’ve always been partial to cannabis and have been interested in it, although I never honestly thought there’d be an actual industry for it. It wasn’t until my wife and I moved from New York to Las Vegas that I became acquainted with the fact that there was an actual cannabis industry growing here on the West Coast. In New York, we would never have imagined that to be the case. I went on to research this industry for a couple more years and after the 2012 elections, it was clear to me that we were at a substantial infection point. I then did an even deeper dive into the industry – researching it and determining the different factors at play… the social justice issues, economic issues, political issues, the regulatory environment and how it’s shifting, and what the interplay between all those factors were. It was all this that made me realize that this was a once-in-many-lifetimes opportunity that far surpassed even the birth of the internet, which I had witnessed as an Investment Banker in the field.
It was all this that made me realize that this was a once-in-many-lifetimes opportunity that far surpassed even the birth of the internet, which I had witnessed as an Investment Banker in the field.
What were you doing before?
I am a corporate finance and banking professional by trade and I had been previously looking at identifying disruptive industries that were about to surface and evolve. I was really trying to find what industry captured my interest and provided me with an opportunity to see the creative destruction from that perspective of evolution. Before coming upon the cannabis industry, I was looking at the financial market and crowdfunding, the online-based casino industry, the security industry, and aspects of the entertainment industry. It was looking at these specific industries that brought me out to Las Vegas in the first place where I came to recognize the existence of the cannabis industry.
What other industry might you compare the ‘green rush’ to and why?
The truth of the matter is, is that I could compare it to a lot of things. I could compare it to the birth of the alcohol industry in 1933, I could compare it to the dot-com boom, I could compare it to the biotech industry, except there is such a significant difference in all of those compared to that of the cannabis industry. We have never seen an industry of this size! According to a United Nations report in 2012, it was estimated at being about a $110 billion a year industry. So, what makes this different and why I can’t really compare it to anything else, is that unlike the computer, mobile, or biotech industries, we do know how big this can be. With any other industry, it was just a guess, but with the cannabis industry, we can look at the black market and know the size already. We’ve never had this as our advantage before! We are simply seeing this industry transition from black market to white market. This isn’t even counting the ancillary markets. You could easily be looking at a $200 billion dollar industry transitioning over the next 5 to 7 years, essentially marking this industry as the fastest growing in the history of business.
Right now, where are you guiding your passion and energy towards?
This is an incredible opportunity! The truth of the matter is, is that I enjoyed working on the internet with new media and technology companies. The idea of discovering new ways for people to do business was incredibly exciting, but the thing that was missing from it was the feeling of ‘rightness’. So, when you ask me about where I’m guiding my passion and energy towards, I’d say it is towards the convergence of social justice issues, economic justice issues, and economic opportunity into one specific focal point. I don’t know where this has ever happened before, where you can make this much money, in an industry that has such a tremendous upside, and go to sleep at night knowing that you’ve made the world a better place!
I don’t know where this has ever happened before, where you can make this much money, in an industry that has such a tremendous upside, and go to sleep at night knowing that you’ve made the world a better place!
So, when you ask where I’m directing my passion and energy towards, there is really three things that compose my life right now: My family, first and foremost, my wife and 3-1/2 year old son, my work in reintegrating the arts into a civic context throughout the world, and my working in the legal cannabis industry; which I know its not only economically viable, but is also going to eventually change the face of our country and our world. This is something I am proud to be a part of and is something that I wake up in the middle of the night and get excited about. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t feel like I have enough hours in the day, so I work whenever I can and spend time with my family and on my other projects whenever I can, but it’s just an incredible moment!
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?
David Darst, the Chief Investment Strategist for the Private Wealth division of Morgan Stanley. You can see him nearly every Friday on CNBC. He is, first and foremost, my dearest friend and my son’s godfather. He has been a mentor to me and is someone I’ve learned more from than any singular person I’ve spent time with throughout my entire life. He cares more about business, more about process, more about character, more about attitude, more about crisp and professional execution, than anyone I’ve ever encountered. He’s an unbelievable human being and is one of the brightest people I know on Earth, internationally regarded for what we does. He has been a great mentor to me and I couldn’t be more thankful for his place in my life.
What inspires you the most about this space?
The fact that you can have a convergence of social justice issues, quality of life issues, and economic impact is unique. In my personal study of industry, I don’t know there has really been anything of this particular combination. We’ve obviously had social justice issues and economic revolutions before, but never has an industry combined the two. There are over 680,000 people incarcerated for cannabis every year in the United States, while 80% of that number are for minor possession, some are incarcerated for decades. This is not only ruining the lives of those incarcerated and inhibiting them from ever landing a decent job because of the red mark on their record, but it is costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars per inmate per year.
So, let’s parse this out. There’s the economic impact on the taxpayer that’s a drain on our society. Every one of those people being incarcerated for cannabis has a dollar amount associated with them. Think about how many people are incarcerated every year for cannabis-related crimes and do the math. The numbers get so big, they grow into the billions! Then, when these people get out of jail, they leave with this permanent stigma on their record. They can’t go out and get a respectable job because they are now regarded as a convict. When you see how much power you have to change this and make an impact, how can you not be inspired by this industry?
When you see how much power you have to change this and make an impact, how can you not be inspired by this industry?
Tell me about an esteemed achievement of yours.
I’m the founding chairman of the Figment Project, which is an arts and culture organization that started out in New York City about 9 years ago. We put on our first event celebrating culture and life and didn’t involve any commerce whatsoever. We had no sponsorships, we simply wanted to create a place where people could collectively gather and share some time together in the midst of art and community. Instead of the anticipated 500 attendees, we had 2,500 attendees and would have had upward of 5,000, but the ferry to the island had limited capacity and couldn’t shuttle everyone over. Flash forward to present day and you’ll be able to find us in 12 cities this year, 3 countries, and 2 continents and we expect that number to grow by next year. We were called ‘New York’s BEST Art Festival’ by The Village Voice and BBC Radio and News said that, ‘If Figment were a country, it’d be the happiest place on Earth!’ My role as a part of this team, is my proudest achievement.
Where do your great ideas come from?
I would say that I was born a certain way and I look at the world and I see, very often times, not just the way the world is, but the way the world can and will be! I would say that my ideas come from my unique life experience as well. I believe that I’ve been led to this point where I can now see trends and hopefully be right about them a substantial amount of time which, knock on wood, I have been so far. I can have my team be at a place before the world knows that that is the place to be! My ideas come from a combination of meditation, thought, life experience, and my own personal makeup.
My ideas come from a combination of meditation, thought, life experience, and my own personal makeup.
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader in this space?
I say that one of the things that makes the cannabis industry so unique, and I go back to when us talking about social justice issues, is the fact that this is a business where you can both make money and do something great for the world! It reminds us about how important it is to give back on a regular basis and how important it is to do that philanthropic work and to give back to the new entrepreneurs entering the space. Being a part of Troy Dayton’s ArcView group, one of the most important groups in this industry, and aligning myself with people like Troy, who has done unbelievably great things for this industry, is essential to my growth.
Every time we meet, I volunteer to mentor one or two companies to help them make their presentations be the best that they can be! It’s not something that I get compensated for, but it is incredibly rewarding to be working with young entrepreneurs and helping them present their idea in a way that scores highest among all the other pitches. I grow by giving back as much as I can.
What is important to you – mission, vision, or core values? Why?
I believe we are at an infection point in history where capitalism has shown that unbridled capitalism has substantial issues that can lead to the destabilization of our entire monetary system. If the entire focus of your business is bottom-line driven, without values mediating your bottom-line goals, you’ll see people making decisions that probably weren’t the ‘right’ thing to do. I’d definitely see values as the most important facet of all our capitalistic ventures. If we don’t have underlying values in what we do, we don’t have any underlying principles guiding us to choose between right and wrong. I think it’s important for businesses to have shared values and culture. Out of your values, can come your mission; and from your mission, can come your vision. I think the underpinning of it all is a shared set of values.
If we don’t have underlying values in what we do, we don’t have any underlying principles guiding us to choose between right and wrong.
If we are sitting across from each other a year from now, how will our conversation about the ‘green rush’ be going?
About a year from now, in March 2016, I would say that our conversation will be about new state legislature changes for medical or recreational cannabis. We’ll be talking about Arizona, Nevada, California, Massachusetts, Maine, and maybe a couple others that have ba loted full adult usage of cannabis. We’ll be talking about how the industry is really starting to mature and how more banks are coming to accept applications for cannabis-related businesses. We’ll be talking about the changes that Native American lands are making in regards to supporting the cannabis space and the advantage they have over not paying income taxes. I’ll say that the conversation overall will have evolved and become even more sophisticated. Where we are at now is still just the beginning!