Each week we highlight entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry for our viewers to learn more about the leading cannabis executives of our time.
This week, we highlight Kyle Hudson, CEO of Highlanders Distribution. Kyle Hudson grew up in Southern California until he joined the Marine Corps at the age of 19. From there, Kyle became an Arabic and French linguist initially, later to become a Reconnaissance Marine.
Shortly after returning from deployment, Kyle exited the Marines and started his undergraduate degree at the University of Southern California, where he studied International Relations. Kyle immediately joined Cohort 2 of the newly developed Master of Business for Veterans Program, at USC Marshall School of Business. While in the program, Kyle met his future business partner and fellow veteran, Mike Garcia, and eventually started Highlanders Distribution.
Being around veterans with varying levels of PTSD, partnered with the announcement of potentially mandating third-party distribution in the cannabis industry, they thought there was no better time or reason. Today, Highlanders has grown exponentially, fueled by a desire to positively impact the world, help those in need, and the desire to be the most reliable distribution group in the industry.
In our interview with Kyle, we asked a variety of questions to learn more about Highlanders Distribution, what it takes to build a business in the cannabis industry and much more!
First off Kyle, congratulations on being featured as this week’s entrepreneur of the week! Can you please share with our readers about Highlanders Distribution?
Kyle Hudson: Highlanders Distribution is a veteran-owned business to business distribution company, currently specializing in California’s brands and dispensaries. Highlanders believes in social causes, positive vibes, effective communication, reliable service, and servant leadership.
What ignited the spark for you to start to launch your business? Or how did your idea evolve?
Kyle Hudson: Surrounded by veterans with varying levels of PTSD, partnered with the announcement of potentially mandating third-party distribution in the cannabis industry, we thought there was no better time or reason.
How are you helping the cannabis industry in a positive way?
Kyle Hudson: Highlanders Distribution tries to participate in social causes whenever possible. Highlanders already work with various non-profits and are currently organizing cannabis community-oriented blood drives to make a positive impact on the world and help erase negative stigmas towards cannabis users.
Who is your role model, and why?
Kyle Hudson: Josh Skelton, unbelievable work ethic, yet can get along with anyone and has fun doing it.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Kyle Hudson: Imagination, situational awareness, attention to detail.
Where did your organization’s funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it?
Kyle Hudson: We haven’t received any funding, everything has been bootstrapped so far. I worked a full-time job for the first year and would make deliveries during my lunch break and after work. I often found myself getting off work at 6 pm, only to drive from Santa Monica to San Diego and back after work, only to do it all again the next workday.
If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?
Kyle Hudson: The Wright Brothers (either one). I was once told that although they didn’t have the money or technology that their competitors had, their passion, hard work, and vision is what made them so successful. I can’t possibly compare us to the Wright Brothers, but I feel like we’ve been up against a lot of the same hurdles, and I think it would be fascinating to hear about their experiences.
How do you stay balanced?
Kyle Hudson: It’s pretty hard sometimes, but lately I’ve been trying to meditate and get back into yoga.
What is the best piece of advice you can give to others looking to launch a company in the cannabis industry?
Kyle Hudson: Think outside the box, but be realistic. There’s a big difference between being ahead of your time, and being unrealistic. I feel like many are trying to be different, which is awesome, but you may waste a lot of time and money if you’re trying to be too different or ahead of your time just for the sake of being different. Imagine, create, receive feedback and pivot. A very strong work ethic is crucial. Don’t be discouraged by “No’s”, but do be accepting of constructive criticism. Look long-term. I used to drive ridiculous distances for the smallest sale, but it’s not always about the immediate return. You’re doing a lot for your brand and your partner’s brands each time you reach a new territory. “Don’t chase the paper, chase the dream”. – Biggy Smalls
What’s the hardest part of founding and running a startup?
Kyle Hudson: Money. If you’re passionate about the idea, working hard isn’t even a thought, it’s your calling. A lack of money, makes it really hard to pay employees, innovate, market, and expand. We’ve always believed in slow, sustainable growth. Part of that is because we never had the money to expand faster, but more importantly, we’ve never wanted to disappoint or let anyone down. We’d much rather under-promise and over-deliver than the opposite.
Is there anything that surprised you about being an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry?
Kyle Hudson: A lot of proposed guidelines/regulations have surprised me. I”m also always surprised every time something pivotal happens and you realize just how far you’ve come.
Being a founder, we are bound to make a mistake or two, what is one mistake you made that turned up being one of your biggest learning lessons?
Kyle Hudson: Trust but verify might be up there in the top lessons learned. You have to be extremely cautious when hiring. We’ve had individuals come on board that we swore would be a good fit, only to find out that they were stealing, not being honest, or not representing the true spirit of the company. When you’re in a pinch and want to expand, it’s easy to see the best in people and hire quickly. A lot of the time, those mistakes have a larger negative than positive impact and can really sour relationships that you worked really hard to establish.
What book has inspired you the most?
Kyle Hudson: There are tons, but I think that for the role I’ve carved out for myself in Highlanders, “Growth Hacker Marketing” by Ryan Holiday has had a pretty big impact on me.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Kyle Hudson: Outside of the cannabis industry, I really admire what Tom’s has been doing for the less fortunate. Within our industry, I really admire any company like Jetty or Potters that has a social mission and is trying to positively impact the world.
How can we as an industry continue to make a positive difference in society?
Kyle Hudson: The cannabis industry has a lot of hurdles that other industries don’t. The footwear industry would never have to wonder how the footwear industry as a whole can make a positive difference, but the cannabis industry is fighting negative stigmas on top of everything else. Fortunately, I think trying to have a positive social impact on the world would fix a lot of ours. We’re just now trying to get the Green Cross Bud Drive ( @greencrossbuddrive ) off the ground.
Turns out cannabis users are eligible to donate blood. I’d really like to start coordinating blood drives that are hosted by dispensaries. Dispensaries wouldn’t have to do anything except allow the Red Cross bus to park in their parking lot. Altogether though, I think we can help those in need while helping erase negative stigmas associated with cannabis users. This is especially important after the hurricanes, racial clashes, the Las Vegas shooting, and the recent fires across California. I think that the more the cannabis industry can show that we’re engaged and good peace-loving individuals, the less ammo others will have to push back with.
Thank you, Kyle, for sharing your story and offering such real and insightful advice! It was so great being able to feature you as this week’s entrepreneur of the week!
For those looking to learn more about Highlanders Distribution, click here. Find them on Instagram:@highlanders_distribution