Sara Batterby | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Sara Batterby

Background:  

Based in Hillsboro, Hifi Farms is a Clean Green Certified craft cannabis cultivation company. It was founded by four friends who combined their passions for music, sustainability and organics, and set about designing a conscious cultivation model that produces high-quality, clean cannabis while lessening its impact on the environment.

The Mistake:

One of the really important lessons I’ve learned is you can’t delegate, at least not without proper vetting – particularly if you are looking to hire someone who is external to your company.

We made a big mistake with hiring a couple of contractors early on in the startup process. I really didn’t dig deep enough in terms of understanding their previous experience. These people came along with a shiny resume, a smooth presentation, and an impressive can-do attitude.

We realized we were in trouble with our construction project. It took three months to sever the relationship, and go through process of fixing all that.

And then we hired a branding agency and started working with a designer. He was talented, but just the wrong guy. It was clear he wasn’t getting it. He didn’t feel the brand. But we kept trying, asking him to massage this or rework that, when really, we were totally on the wrong track. We just got to the point where we all were like, 'This isn’t working.'

In a startup environment, I think you need to focus on the talent in your team, where you know there is proper oversight and management. We left some key projects in the hands of people outside the company, and it cost us a lot of time and money.

No one is going to build your business for you.

The Lesson:

I subsequently realized in the midst of a later branding exercise, that in a startup, there’s something about it in which it operates like a cult. You’ve got this small team of overworked, stressed-out people trying to get a company off the ground.

And it’s easy to be distracted by someone from the outside who says they can do the work, have all the answers, etc. But there is some truth to that saying: If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t. No one is going to build your business for you. I put the trust of our company into the hands of people who weren’t really part of our company, and that was a risk that didn’t necessarily pay off. They may be better-qualified, or have led other companies to great successes, but there is something about ownership.

We are hugely fortunate that our company has generated a lot of interest, and I am often asked for advice and input and to speak across the country. I’m trying to be better personally about being present and making sure people get the importance of that.

We do, of course, hire contractors to help with those same things that were problematic in the very beginning: design and branding and cultivation-facility projects. Our process is much more thorough because we have a better sense of who we are, how we work and what we need.

We also make our in-house employees are a top priority.  From maternity and paternity leave to a family-friendly work environment, our policies are progressive. Our employees work hard, sometimes crazy hours. We want to make sure they are happy and feel valued and recognized. Running counter to most startup issues around resources, and giving away as little as possible to build value, I thought it was important to give all of HiFi's’s employees stock in the company.

This industry is still so close to its roots in the activist community and still focuses on the social justice movement, righting some of the wrongs in the way cannabis punished minority communities. We are a part of this incredibly potent wealth-generating machine. As CEO, I feel it’s important to vest workers in our success, and to hire the right workers to ensure we achieve success.

Follow Sara Batterby on Twitter at: @Sara_Batterby

Photo courtesy of Sara Batterby.

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