Ajay Narayan: MJ Legal, PC
The pivotal moment is here… when the legal marijuana industry is no longer being dismissed for it’s recreational stoner culture, but instead is becoming recognized as a reputable and profitable industry. Entrepreneurs and professionals alike are staking their claim in the business, honing their skills, and revolutionizing the way our society sees the plant. And this is where an important gentleman walks into the scene – Ajay Narayan, the founder of MJ Legal, PC. While the opportunities and possibilities are endless for those who want to start a cannabusiness, there are still the legal constraints which need to be carefully advised upon. Ajay Narayan is an innovative intellectual who knows all there is to know and more and has already advised numerous business owners with his experience as an attorney. But there is a lot more insight to be gained from an esteemed professional like Ajay and that is what we sought to find out.
What was the deciding factor for me to join this industry?
There really wasn’t a single deciding factor. In deciding to be part of this industry there were more than a number of factors that converged. First and foremost, I believed and still believe that the legalization of marijuana is the smartest social policy for our country, our state, and our local communities. I believe that the legalization and regulation of marijuana will decrease crime and substantially increase state and municipal revenues. Although I do believe cannabis has the potential for abuse as many legally sanctioned drugs do, I also credit its wide variety of medicinal uses that are only beginning to be discovered and applied. I also believe it is a safe recreational drug in comparison to alcohol and tobacco.
I believe that the legalization and regulation of marijuana will decrease crime and substantially increase state and municipal revenues.
The second reason I joined this industry is that I have always had a strong personal connection to cannabis. I was a teenager when I first tried marijuana and it has been a consistent part of my life and my surrounding culture ever since. I have many close personal friends who I grew up with that work in this industry full-time. Over the last ten years we have all watched the legal cannabis industry evolve from solely being a black-market enterprise into a legitimate mainstream industry.
Given my strongly-held belief that marijuana should be legalized and regulated, my decades-long connection to the cannabis industry, and my relevant experience as an attorney and entrepreneur, I believed that I was in a perfect position to play a meaningful role in the growth of the legal cannabis industry and that is why I launched MJ Legal earlier this year.
What were you doing before the Green Rush?
In 2005, in my last term as a UCLA undergraduate, I co-founded 1to1 Tutor, an online education company focusing on providing math instruction to K-12 students. Over the next seven years, in addition to earning my law license, I worked to grow 1to1 Tutor from a pre-launch startup into a national organization with annual revenues in excess of $10 million. In 2011, after many years of working in education, I wanted to try something different while still building on the skills I had acquired as an entrepreneur and as an attorney. That’s when I became involved in the legal cannabis industry. As a newly licensed attorney, many of my friends who had worked in the industry for years were coming to me for advice on how to run their businesses and comply with state and local law. It wasn’t long until I was providing legal counsel to dozens of different businesses and individuals involved in the industry. I was finding a substantially growing demand for my services so that’s when I decided to create MJ Legal and dedicate my firm’s practice to serving clients in the legal cannabis industry.
I was finding a substantially growing demand for my services so that’s when I decided to create MJ Legal and dedicate my firm’s practice to serving clients in the legal cannabis industry.
What are you doing now to impact the industry?
I provide legal counsel to a wide variety of individuals and businesses involved in the legal cannabis industry. My services include everything from Corporate Planning and Maintenance for dispensaries, to drafting real estate contracts for growers, to filing conditional use permits for prospective cannabusinesses. In the three years I have been a medical marijuana attorney and business consultant, I watched the legal landscape of this industry transform itself from a quasi-legal system that most businesses kept their distance from, to a mainstream high-growth industry with entrepreneurs from all walks of life entering the market. Moving forward, I expect MJ Legal to expand to different states and legal markets, and eventually become a nationally recognized professional services firm for the legal cannabis industry.
If you could describe your work ethic in one word, what would it be?
I’ve never been very good at describing myself using one word, but if I were to try, I’d say my work ethic could be described as “focused”. In terms of my skills as an attorney and entrepreneur, I know exactly what I have to offer my clients and this industry. I have a long-term vision of where I want to take my company and I use that vision to guide me through my day-to-day activities and challenges.
Tell me about a time in your career that didn’t go as planned and what you did about that? How did you handle it?
One of the struggles of being an entrepreneur is that your career will rarely move according to plan and my career is no exception. There were so many times that my plans didn’t work out, that it is hard to think of a specific example. I remember when I launched my first company, 1to1 Tutor in 2005; originally, I was convinced that I could enroll a large enough number of students directly which would eventually make the company profitable. In 2006, my plan was to enroll 500 students over the course of the school year by marketing to their parents and convincing them to sign up their children. Needless to say, enrollment did not go according to plan. After 18 months of effort and nearly running out of funding, I needed to either cut my losses or the entire model of my business. That’s when I decided that instead of a business’s-to-customer (B2C) model, I would market my company’s services directly to schools and school districts (B2B) through bulk contracting. By being willing to adapt and admit that my plans were not working, I was able to help prevent the company from shutting down.
What book have you read that you’ve been inspired by? Any particular read we should put on our list?
In terms of business and management books, I highly recommend Good to Great by Jim Collins. In this book, Collins analyzes several well-known companies that have stood the test of time over multiple generations, as well as other well established companies that went out of business despite having been successful for many years. Through his thoughtful analyses, he was able to demonstrate that the culture and management style of an organization and its key employees has a greater impact on the company’s long-term success than any other factor. In Good to Great the author provides numerous examples of where companies have made strategic and often unintended blunders in the creation of their corporate culture. It also taught readers how to avoid the same mistakes while managing their own business. Definitely a must-read for any entrepreneur.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
The best business advice I have ever received was from my father who is also a serial entrepreneur. He told me to have a vision of where I want to be in five years, then after that vision is clear in my mind, to focus on what I can do today to make that vision a reality. This was very helpful advice that has stayed with me over the years. Entrepreneurs primarily think in “big picture” terms and often get bogged down by their vision for the future at the expense of moving things forward in the present. I try to remind myself every day of where I see my company and the industry going, then focus on what I can actually do today to get there.
How would you advise someone who wants to join the industry?
I would say that if you want to enter the legal cannabis industry, you should have a good enough reason why you really want to join this culture and know what you can bring to the table. Are you an investor? A marketing expert? Experienced grower or a proficient edible manufacturer? Find your niche and continue to build expertise in your field. I’ve provided advice to hundreds of prospective cannabusiness entrepreneurs and many of them want to be in the industry but can’t identify what skills they have.
If you don’t have skills, I would recommend taking the time to build them. There are no classes that people can take to learn more about the various sectors within the legal cannabis industry. Educate yourself on the industry as a whole and then focus on the areas where you can bring the most value.
What is a skill or trait that you think is necessary to make an impact in this industry?
In addition to bringing real value through your work, the best way to make an impact in this industry is to conduct yourself in a professional manner and show the broader community that legal cannabis is not a threat to their way of life. It is important for everyone involved in this industry to adhere to the highest standards of ethics and professionalism.
the best way to make an impact in this industry is to conduct yourself in a professional manner and show the broader community that legal cannabis is not a threat to their way of life.
What is the most important thing for us to know now about the legal marijuana industry?
I would stress that despite the incredible growth of this industry and its projected future growth, the legal cannabis industry is volatile. It will continue to have both winners and losers. There is a false narrative being built that anyone who invests in legal cannabis will make a fortune in a short amount of time – that simply isn’t true! However, for those with a long-term commitment to make it work and who are willing to put in the effort, there are many great opportunities.
If we are sitting across from each other a year from now, how will our conversation about the “green rush” be going?
A year from now we won’t just be talking about Colorado and Washington. We will be talking about Alaska, Massachusetts, and Oregon, too. A whole new slate of recreational marijuana and medical marijuana states will enter the market. The political lobbies in Washington, D.C. will continue to put pressure on the Federal Government to relax its marijuana laws and it is very possible we could see cannabis rescheduled as a Schedule II Narcotic. On the financial side, more banks will become receptive to working with cannabis related businesses, paving the way for mainstream institutional investors to enter the market.