Vince Ning is the Founder and CEO of cannabis distribution company, Nabis, and a Board Member of the Cannabis Distribution Association. In this Q&A, Vince shares about his leadership philosophy of building a cannabis company and team, and where he hopes to see the industry go in the future.
What brought you to the cannabis industry?
With my background as a technologist, I often think about what new markets would benefit from new, improved technology. Cannabis was a personal passion of mine growing up that I shared with my childhood best friend and co-founder, Jun S. Lee. We always wanted to start a business together, and seeing the rapidly growing cannabis industry, we noticed the need for technology to help scale the industry. With our Tech and Entrepreneurial backgrounds, founding Nabis was the perfect opportunity for us to get into cannabis, technology, and a new market all while working together.
How has cannabis served you?
Cannabis has served me in so many ways. First, as a user of the product, I've developed lifelong friendships in social settings. And second, in my work as a cannabis entrepreneur, I've been fortunate enough to have this industry lift the sails of our business as legalization continues to unfold.
In what ways have you served the cannabis plant?
I've built a business in the past few years, where our mission is to empower the world to discover cannabis by providing choice, access, and innovation. We work hard each and every day to get the best quality cannabis products into consumers' hands at scale. Nabis now distributes over $350M worth of cannabis products by retail value, and we've built a platform that enables continuous product development and innovation.
What is the reason your company or organization exists? Please brag about what you do:
Nabis exists because brands need to scalably ship products from their licensed manufacturing and cultivation sites to retail dispensaries and delivery businesses. Nabis distributes over a quarter billion dollars worth of cannabis products per year. We currently work with 85 brands and ship their products out to nearly 100% of retailers across the state of California. Beyond just distribution, we offer a full-suite platform of services that helps a brand not only launch, but also scale. We help them with logistics, but as the brand grows, we provide them financial services, sales and marketing services, and analytics tools to help them scale even faster.
What is your philosophy about building companies, teams and partnerships in this new industry?
Nabis’ philosophy about building companies, teams, and partnerships, is to focus on providing the absolute best customer experience. We obsess over the customer and work backwards from what they need to determine what we build next.
What do you hope the California cannabis industry looks like in 5 years? 10 years? 20?
I hope that the California cannabis industry can exhibit two main characteristics: 1. Be an open and free market where brands that have the best product and consumer satisfaction wins. 2. Be regulated to ensure consumer safety with low enough taxes to combat the illicit market.
What advice do you have to new or aspiring companies who are just starting out in California cannabis?
The best advice I can give to an aspiring company just starting out in California cannabis is to have an open mind and be prepared to learn quickly. Cannabis is entirely a newly legalized market, which means there are no predefined notions or conventions.
What can the cannabis industry learn from other industries?
Other industries are much better at planning and making more data-driven decisions. The cannabis industry is maturing and certainly getting there, but there is still a lack of enough data transparency to even make objective decisions to that degree. We’ll get there though!
What is the highest vision for your cannabis business? What do you hope to achieve and contribute?
Nabis will be the largest cannabis distribution company in the world. We hope to be able to help any entrepreneur be able to create a product from idea to implementation with very low friction, which will translate into providing the most choice and access to retailers. In doing so, this creates a more democratic market of products that will ultimately benefit the consumer.
How do you think about building businesses in a way that is both equitable and profitable?
Nabis gives a 20% discount on all distribution rates for equity-owned and female-owned brands. Without a distributor in the industry who can offer that, these players will never have a chance of getting to market statewide and stay competitive.
What do you look for when adding team members?
When we add team members, we are looking for talented individuals who are really excited about building an entirely new supply chain and technology from scratch, be willing to learn, and be open to adapting to the unique challenges of the cannabis industry.
What is the best investment you've made — resources, time or money, you've made in the last year?
The best investment that we’ve made is first and foremost developing talent. There is insatiable demand for our distribution services since we offer the lower rates and the best quality of service. However, in order to continue scaling ourselves, we run an “atoms” business in many ways, not entirely a “bits” business, so we need to be able to continue to develop our staff to take on higher level roles.
What are good examples of poor leadership and great examples of great leadership?
I’ve witnessed poor leadership from those who make ego-driven decisions, which leads to a company that doesn’t serve its customers, but themselves.
What's the most effective habit you've cultivated in the last year?
The most effective habit is to give our leadership team and managers more time to think strategically. As an earlier stage startup for the past three years, we have been in a constant mode of “doing things that don’t scale” in order to make that extra dollar and/or please a customer. However, the leaders of our organization are best equipped to plan and make long-term investments for the business that have a longer term payback cycle for us and our customers, rather than focus intensely on the day to day.
What's your morning routine?
I go on a two mile run early in the morning along The Embarcadero in San Francisco, where the water is gleaming and the air is crisp. On my way back, I pick up a cup of tea from Philz Coffee before I head home to start reading my emails.
What are your 3 favorite cannabis products right now? 1. GanjaGold Red Tarantula (Infused Pre-Roll) 2. Cookies Cereal Milk (Flower) 3. PLUS Sleep Cloudberry (Edible)
Learn more about Vince and his team: nabis.com