Liz and Will Fitch have had a busy year. They launched a business, purchased their first home, and got married – all within a month’s time – and life hasn’t slowed down since. Their cannabis business firm, Green Delta Consulting, boasts the motto “always compliant, never complacent,” and Liz and Will have worked tirelessly to bring that vision to fruition for the benefit of each of their clients. I met Liz back in February, during Women Grow Lobby Days, a three-day event that brought women from around country together on Capitol Hill to educate Congress about the cannabis industry. (She chairs Women Grow’s Asheville chapter, and Green Delta Consulting is a member of Women Grow’s First 50 sponsorship cohort.) I was immediately pulled in by her affable, direct manor and her down-to-earth charm and wanted to get to know her even more when I learned that she and Will were in business together.
Some will tell you that you should never work with your spouse, and for many people this is probably true. But that kind of talk gets us down. So when I meet couples who are founding and operating businesses together, who are making it work as life partners and business partners at the same time, I’m always eager to chat. I spoke to Liz and Will on the phone shortly before their trip to the Cannabis Cup in Denver. Here’s our conversation:
Weekend Review Kit: Where did the idea for Green Delta Consulting come from? What made you decide this is what you wanted to do and that you wanted to do it together?
Liz: I think we got our start about five years ago really, when we were graduating from college. We went to school in South Carolina and were both econ majors at Wofford. I figured I’d go into finance, banking, something like that. At that same time, my sister was starting a dispensary out in Colorado, and my parents were like, “If you don’t do this, we’ll kill you,” kind of thing. So we went out to Denver. My ideas about women in the industry were first implemented during that time. She and I worked together on a daily basis and were able to accomplish a lot – like an incredible amount – in a short time. We were just that efficient. So we were pretty successful at Salida Green Cross. We had entries in the Denver Medical Cup, and our Grape Ape Wellness Wax actually won the Concentrate Cup. And then, eventually, we starting planning to move back east, so I was out of the industry for awhile. The industry in Colorado five years ago was moving along quite well, but we had no idea what is was going to become. We kind of thought, well, we can’t take this back with us, but it’ll be a great story one day.
Will: As for me, I was always working different jobs – when we were in college I worked at a deli – but I was always kind of the right-hand man, the one they called to fix whatever happened. The same thing in Colorado, the same kind of problem solving: I loved to tour different dispensaries, figure out what worked, what didn’t, what was pushing sales. I was working at a recycling center, and, again, I was the go-to guy. All that really helped with starting this because having those experiences gave us ideas about how to get moving. We have several clients we play quarterback for, during the application process, and we’re able to pull together the team and get everybody moving in the same direction.
Liz: Since coming back east, my background has been job after job after job, not because I got fired or anything, but because I glean what I can from a situation and after a couple months on a job I get bored. I’ve always been in sales, been excited to do that. I’ve worked at an olive oil and balsamic vinegar store, selling commercial roofing equipment, at an Episcopalian conference center. Our small business experience, nonprofit experience, board member experience – we took all these pieces from all the things we’ve done. My grandfather used to put it really well: know a little bit about everything, not necessarily be great at all things, but know what you can about absolutely everything. That way if you don’t know the answer, you’ll know somebody who does.
And it’s kind of a full circle family thing – not just with my sister, but Will’s sisters are both entrepreneurs, and his dad is the Chairman of the Board at Tijuana Flats, so he knows a ton about franchising and growing businesses, standardizing to reproduce in other markets, things like that. My dad is in sales and has been for 30 years, so he has a lot of expertise too. Our families are both very enterprising, and we’re able to call on them and ask questions about taxes, business decisions. It’s our “dad-visory board.”
The thing that ties the whole together, really, is Adilas. It’s a dispensary POS system I learned about at my sister’s store. The only reason I remembered it, literally, is because it was Salida spelled backwards. The creator walked into our store how many times, and how many times did we tell him to go away, and five years down the road he’s changed our life. We got on Adalis and really ran with it. I mean Steve was a saint, and I stayed in touch with him over the years. Over two years ago he reached out and asked if I wanted to sell Adalis – there’s no brick and mortar, you can do it everywhere. Steve’s philosophy really is, let’s let a lot of people get good at this and be successful. He couldn’t be any nicer. And we get to see all these different implementations in all these different states. It’s cool to be a part of those developments and to think it is potentially best practices. Things are changing so much in this beta stage. You work hard to explain all of this, bring these people into this regulated system. With the breadth of clientele we have, coast to coast, some are application clients, some are e-commerce, some are inventory control. Adalis is usually the conduit somehow.
Anyway, pretty soon we started thinking we could transition the skills and leads we were getting from Adalis into a “hey, we can quarterback” mentality. I would be talking to people about record keeping, inventory, point of sale systems, basically everything they needed for their application, and they would say, “Wow, you articulated all those things so well, you’re so knowledgeable about all the requirements.” I had firsthand experience from our Colorado application, and I’d helped to provide info for Illinois, New Mexico, and New Hampshire applications. I can write a five-page response about how this is audit proof, I know the jargon, I know that a budtender is the agent in charge. So, as for what does make a cannabis consultant? I don’t know who bestows that title, but it was obvious that I knew what they were asking, and I could cut through it all much more efficiently. So how about I write the content for your application?
WRK: When did you feel you could declare your own legitimacy, in a manner of speaking?
Liz: So much is about confidence. I would get the question, what are your credentials? And I was always upfront. Here’s what I can do. I’m not telling you I’m a lawyer or an accountant. But I can help you get all the stuff you need ready to give to them. And we sort of jumped into it all at once. We launched Green Delta on September 23, a month exactly after our wedding. In that month we bought a house, Will quit his job, we got married, and then started the company.
WRK: How do you manage the dynamics of a marriage and a business partnership? How do you decide who does what?
Will: Liz does the more complicated stuff; I’m the worker bee. She’s the people person; she does a lot of talking with clients. Basically she tells me what to do and I sit at the computer to do it.
Liz: Right, but Will does the things that allow us to stay in business. You know, invoices people, does our books, keeps us compliant. While I’m like, “I’m going to do another demo.” Also, my sister, who was my boss, is now our partner out in Denver. It’s fantastic. Will has always had a great relationship with Amanda; they’ve always gotten along very well. With her being in Denver, she knows everyone. And she also knows everyone in the music scene. We’ll be staying with her when we go out there. I forget what it’s like to be in the thick of things like that.
But, for the two of us, working together, honestly it’s one of those things where we are both legitimately pissed off that we weren’t president of a company, that we haven’t risen up through the ranks by the age of 25. We were both those kids who were like, “I’m going to be running things.” When I took standardized tests, I would come home crying that I was in the 99th percentile, and my mom had to explain to me that that’s because there is no 100th percentile. We are kind of aggressive in different ways. I’m really in your face and Will’s really – well, if he wakes up pissed off, he’s in the office right away and doing work. I don’t know if aggressive if the right word. It’s like we both worry: someone’s going to catch me enjoying myself!
I think working together helps both of us. We talk each other down. If one person is like, “We’re not doing anything,” the other takes the defiant stance. The other day I was saying, “What do we even do for people?” And Will had this great response, he said, “We don’t just help people open a dispensary, we help people open their dispensary. Anyone can put together a sample or a QA plan, but we want your voice. If we were working with you to open Chad and Jenn’s dispensary, y’all would come through in that. We put that together in all the pieces.
Really, it’s made us stronger. It’s funny we always joke, why can’t we have our good days together? It always feels like we trade off. But it’s great when one person can say, “No, screw that. Cheer up; we are doing cool things, we’re going to Denver soon, we get to reenergize.” That’s why we’ve been trying to do so much, to be so involved with Women Grow. We thought so long about how to pull it together to be a sponsor.
And, you know, we’re stuck with each other, so space is a good thing sometimes.
WRK: You’re based in North Carolina, which doesn’t currently have a legal cannabis industry, medical or recreational. How does living in a prohibition state affect your business?
Liz: Well, that’s a timely question. Our latest legislation, House Bill 78, was the best chance we’ve had at a medical, and it went to Judiciary Committee and got voted down by all members, unfavorably. So they can’t even talk about it on the capital until the end of 2016. There’s another bill for terminally ill patients, bit it’s really reaching. So it really stinks. But then there were like 17 or18 people at Women Grow last time and that’s so promising. You do realize that you may not seek out the politics, but it affects your business, so we decided from a local activism front that we needed to get involved.
Through the Asheville NORML chapter, we learned about – and maybe you’ve heard about this too, now – there is a guy, Todd Stimson, who ran a dispensary here, and he was just convicted of trafficking. What a person this guy is. His daughter had ovarian cancer, and he’s used cannabis to help with people with all sorts of conditions. How we found out about him, we were asked how does it work in Colorado, with the shops and their patients? How do you let them know what strain you need so they can grow it for you? And we had to say, “You know that’s not really how it works out there.” The way he worked with his patients, he did a whole intake and developed a pretty unique course of treatment for every patient. I mean, when I heard about him, I just thought, “You’re describing a caregiver in the truest sense possible, but that doesn’t really happen.” It does, though; he was doing it at the Blue Ridge Medical Cannabis Research Company. It’s crazy what he was doing and what he knows, and now he’s in jail.
Well, his wife and daughter came out last night to the meeting, so we’ve been able to meet them and support that effort. The message I was preaching last night is that clearly no one’s gotten on a plane and gone out west to see how this works. We have to educate here. Don’t take it as a negative that we can’t do this until 2017; we can take this as an opportunity to incubate ideas, to look at best practices. The more input we have, the more people who are educated, the more this works.
We’re optimistic, but it’s one of those things where we definitely have considered – especially after all of that – maybe not permanent relocation, because we want to be in Asheville, that’s why we moved back here. But we’ve talked about refinancing, renting out, popping around the West Coast, maybe get a little more hands-on experience. That’s the biggest daily hurdle, staying in it mentally. We’re all on Facebook, we all know each other, we’re connected to the ladies of Women Grow, the people we meet. But in reality, we’re in North Carolina. You exist in a completely different world than you live in.
And people are more skeptical; they say, you’re in Asheville NC. But when we can answer those questions about what have you done, seen, experienced, having actually won licenses, having dispensary experience, having positive references and testimonials, that goes a long way.
Will: We develop long-term relationships with our clients and quite a few times they’ve referred new clients to us. We don’t lose touch with them and that says a lot about how we work.
WRK: If geography is one of the bigger challenges, what’s the best part of the cannabis industry?
Liz: We get to work in this industry and see how accommodating and nice and like minded almost everyone we deal with is. There’s just not a lot of crotchety, angry people. Sometimes, when I go out to Denver, I joke with people that everything surrounding cannabis is just so serendipitous. It’s like, “I need a blah,” and the next day you get ten of those. For instance, this past time I went to Denver, we had opted out of the Vegas thing and were kind of worried that was a mistake. But I went to Denver the following week, and got to meet with five or six people who were speakers in Vegas, who I never would’ve gotten to talk to at such a big event. My sister told me to meet her at this address. And I was thinking, “Oh, it’s the Clinic.” But she was in the Women Grow office. They were all cleaning out the space WeedMaps had just given them. I walked in, Jane [West] was in her office, so I just introduced myself. And she said: “Well why don’t you start a chapter in Asheville?”
WRK: You’re living this blended life in terms of your marriage and your professional partnership. Do you feel like you also have a blended life in terms of your business and your recreation?
Liz: It’s not what we lead with, obviously, but there comes a point in time where if you’re able to explain ingestion methods from a personal standpoint or say, “Hey, I’ve been there, I’ve seen someone do this for the first time.” Or talking to somebody and having the confidence to guide a client who’s suggesting that they want to charge a hundred dollars an eighth. I do think that culturally, it is on your marijuana resume. It’s definitely a soft skill. I think it’s just like any other trusting relationship that’s established. That’s so much of the cannabis industry – alluding to things, talking in this language that we all understand, being thoughtful and decisive about the words that we use. It definitely helps but I will say there is still a stigma. We understand, and you hope it goes without saying, that we don’t show up reeking of weed to a meeting. You put on a blazer, you shower. You start out saying cannabis before you move into slang. The professional aspects of it first and foremost.
I’m a huge fan of analogies. I think my love for them comes from when I was a Mandarin major in college until junior year. There are these four-character phrases that are basically analogies. I think once you put it in terms that people understand, they really grasp it. So when a professor from West Carolina University asked me, “How do you consult in so many different states, when there are so many sets of regulations?,” very simply I was like, “Don’t you teach more than one course? You teach and grade the students the same way, but it’s different material and different criteria.” And she totally got it.
WRK: I imagine you’re looking forward to going back to Denver for the Cannabis Cup?
Liz: I’m looking forward, first and foremost, to introducing Will to so many people in real life. If I ever listened to myself talk I would think I was full of shit, it’s just crazy how things have worked out. So I want him to experience that.
WRK: What about you, Will? Same thing?
Will: Pretty much. And getting to try everything. I haven’t been out since recreational became legal.
WRK: How about outside of the industry, the cannabis plant itself? What do you love to do with cannabis, how do you like to ingest it, what are some favorite strains?
Liz: Of course, anything we would be talking about would be when we lived in Denver!
WRK: Of course!
Liz: We have two dogs, and hiking is huge for us. We love being outdoors. We’ve got a couple things we’ve invested in glass-wise that are decent for sure. And, as I’m sure you’re aware being on the East Coast, the concentrate thing, it does lag a bit here, but it is present. I like that for sure. And I’m definitely a Durban Poison fan.
Will: I prefer smoking out of a bong. Some of my favorites are Cheesequake and Blue Dream.
Liz: That would be Blue Dream for me too!
Will: And I learned that around here, that’s really kind of the dominant strain because we have perfect growing conditions for it. Indicas don’t really grow well here because of humidity.
WRK: What’s exciting about the future?
Liz: We used to always ask, “Who do we check with? Who tells us this is a good idea?” Now we have the confidence to do that ourselves. The best things in business you learn from your mistakes. When I did this, when I had to struggle, when I had to remediate myself and missed out on 1000 hours of invoicing, so now I do a really good job of record keeping. So I’m excited to go forward with all that we’ve learned.