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Aug. 27, 2019, 8:22 a.m. EDT

This woman in cannabis made an early bet on the sector that has paid off

In 2011, Cassandra Farrington of MJBizDaily took a gamble on Colorado’s nascent medical cannabis scene

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch


Marijuana Business Daily
Marijuana Business Daily co-founder and CEO Cassandra Farrington

Back in 2011, few cannabis investors were expecting the sector to mature into a $12 billion industry in just eight years.

Even Cassandra Farrington, co-founder and chief executive of Marijuana Business Daily, or MJBizDaily, admits she was taken aback by the pace of growth that has helped elevate her news site and conference business, MJBizCon, into a key service for those navigating this new legal sector.

This year she expects more than 35,000 people from all over the world, including Canada, which fully legalized cannabis last October, to converge at her industry-shaping Las Vegas event in December. Attendance has surged from about 400 in 2012, her first year for the conference, which is widely considered to be the biggest gathering of cannabis professionals globally.

Farrington was a former Citigroup vice president who had left her job to become a B-2-B media professional, and by 2011 had launched two sites with a silent partner aimed at targeted audience segments. It was only when she began to notice the proliferation of medical cannabis dispensaries in Boulder as part of Colorado’s medical program that she got the idea to move into the space.

Cannabis Watch: Click here for all of MarketWatch’s coverage of cannabis companies

“Talk about a group of people that needed business information!” Farrington told MarketWatch in an interview. “These were companies that had never done business in a traditional way, never had human resources records or accounting or had to deal with regulations. It was a small niche that we set out to serve.”

See also: Tilray signs first deal to supply pot to Europe out of new Portugal facility

The cannabis business was certainly small at the time. Just 16 states had medical cannabis programs and none were offering adult-use recreational weed. That would not change until 2014 when Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational cannabis, followed by Washington state and Oregon. Those moves, which were approved by voters, helped lay the groundwork for others to follow and for a big black market to start the slow transformation to a legitimate one.

Don’t miss: The $4 billion time bomb ticking away inside the biggest marijuana companies

Potential investors in the space lacked more than just information and news. There were few opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs to meet and network and there was a dearth of industry-wide data and analytics. Farrington saw the need for timely information on issues including taxation, licensing and regulation as the business developed. By 2014, the conference had grown to more than 3,000 attendees and established itself as the must-attend event of the year for cannabis investors.

‘Being a woman this business is like being left-handed in a right-handed world.’

Cassandra Farrington

For Farrington, the tipping point in her development as an entrepreneur came when the company went from having 15 employees to 30, and then in 2018, from 30 to 60. It expects to be close to 100 by year-end.

“Managing that growth has been one of the bigger challenges,” she said. “You need the organizational structure to support those people and make sure the culture is being preserved. We want to make sure that people like what they do and who they do it with, and feel they can build careers.”

Read also: Marijuana-derived epilepsy drug doubles sales, sending GW Pharma stock soaring

It seems to be working. The company, which is entirely self funded, chalked up $27 million of revenue in 2018, up 50% from $18 million in 2017.

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