Robert Smart: CannaCon
Close your eyes and imagine this: You’re standing in the middle of an exposition hall, business bustling around you, consumers weaving themselves through the aisles, vendors dressed in professional business attire, products being bought, relationships being made… This is not a lifestyle event or a networking forum, though both are necessary, this is a commerce platform for vendors and consumers to buy and sell. This is Robert Smart’s vision. As the founder and CEO of CannaCon, he seeks to engage the public, empower the business owners, and provide a place for education, awareness, and commerce. His business model is derived from the words that were posted above his grandfather’s desk and as simple as that is, it’s one of the keys to his success in the cannabis industry.
What was the deciding factor for you to join this particular industry?
Having come from the trade show industry in the past for industries that had nothing to do with cannabis, I just thought there was a gap for a different kind of trade show for this space, one that people could show their product and sell it to the people who want to buy it. That was probably one of the biggest deciding factors in terms of starting CannaCon. As to what got me into this industry specifically, I’m a grower. I was on morphine for almost two decades, a lot of it, and I finally got off of it by smoking a little bit of pot every day. I haven’t had a single pain pill in over a decade!
What were you doing before?
I worked for Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, managing a sales office and selling timeshares. Before that, I was the National Show Manager for Cal Spas, we did over 300 shows a year across the nation selling hot tubs. So, I have a pretty good idea about how the whole trade show industry works and having been growing for a long time, it really just put me in a unique position to understand both sides of it. And of course, I own my own Home & Garden Show here in the United States.
Tell us about the point in the time you realized the coming of the ‘green rush’?
I would have to say that it was about 2009 when I moved back from Mexico and Washington had legalized medical cannabis and were talking about doing recreational. That’s the point in which I started looking at getting more involved. It still took me a few years to make the leap to retire from Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and do this full-time, but that was pretty much the point I started figuring it out, when the laws started changing.
Right now, where are you guiding your passion and energy towards?
Definitely CannaCon and all the things we are trying to do with it. There’s really no other show like it! All the other shows are either business shows with people meeting up to talk about business, which is needed, or lifestyle shows, which are a lot of fun to go to and are needed, but there’s really not a marketplace show! That’s what CannaCon provides – A marketplace for businesses to showcase the products that they want to get out to the public and a place where consumers can come and check out all the new things that they can buy.
That’s what CannaCon provides – A marketplace for businesses to showcase the products that they want to get out to the public and a place where consumers can come and check out all the new things that they can buy.
The other huge part of CannaCon is education. At our first two shows, we had 54 seminars at each of them and I believe that’s more than any of the other shows has ever done. We plan on continuing that and pushing forward with that and starting an education seminar series that travels around the United States. Aside from that, we are trying to expand CannaCon to 5 times a year in different cities. Right now, if you’re a grower or consumer, you have to fly in for these shows. What I’d rather do is bring the show to where the people are. It makes it way more affordable for everyone to be there. I think that’s one of the things that makes CannaCon different – We’re extremely inexpensive to go to and we intend to keep it that way! We want everyone to be able to participate and that’s really where my passion is: To keep growing CannaCon and continue providing a place for businesses to showcase their awesome new products.
Describe your work ethic to us in one word.
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?
That would be my grandfather. He was a police chief in a tiny little town in California and I watched him build up a tiny gas station into an extremely successful multi-million dollar business as I was growing up. He had one thing above his desk that I’ll never forget that he pounded into my head and that was the 7 P’s: Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance and I’ve always lived by that!
He had one thing above his desk that I’ll never forget that he pounded into my head and that was the 7 P’s: Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance and I’ve always lived by that!
What book have you read that you’ve been inspired by? Any particular read we should put on our list?
It’s not a business book, but I do have one that I’d like to recommend and that’s, “Time Enough for Love” which is about a guy who was born in the 20s and can’t die, he lives forever. The book is about him trying to find something new, something to keep his interest because he’s bored with life because he’s already done everything. What I took from this book was to ‘keep going and always find something new to do!’ You’ll get bored with things, so always be seeking something new.
Tell us about an esteemed achievement of yours.
That would certainly be CannaCon and getting this thing off the ground and making it as successful as it is – that’d have to be it! We started this from scratch. I believe our very first show was one of the largest in the nation! It was a huge success; almost 11,000 people came and the vendors sold a ton of merchandise. Being able to provide that for the industry and be a part in changing public perception of cannabis is something I am very proud of doing. When you come to CannaCon, there’s no smoking, everyone is in suit and tie conducting business. If your grandma came in, she’d have no idea it had anything to do with cannabis. It’s just like a home show, just different products. That’s what we tried to do with it!
Being able to provide that for the industry and be a part in changing public perception of cannabis is something I am very proud of doing.
Other than that, having my three kids and my grandchildren. I am immensely proud of them.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
That would definitely be what I got from my grandfather, the 7 P’s.
What is the most important thing for us to know now about the legal marijuana industry?
That it’s not going to go away! It’s here to stay and I hope that cannabis gets declassified soon. That’s everybody’s hope, really. I think we’re going to see every state legalize it and I think that we’re going to either move it to a Schedule II or de-schedule it entirely! We’re going to see a big change not only nationwide, but worldwide – New medicines, new products, and a lot of new innovations!
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 I will be saying, “I told you so!” Everything is going to be different. Just think about how fast technology changes, that’s how fast this industry is going to change! Everybody in the industry is starting to figure it out. They are seeing that this is a business and that they need to treat it like real business. They are seeing that they need to have real brands and marketing plans just like any other business would have. They are dressing nicer, they are investing more in their business, and they’re aspiring to represent this industry professionally and respectfully. We can expect to see major growth in that regard.