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A Scaling Up coach uncovers a fast-growing new niche: guiding emerging cannabis companies 

By Verne Harnish

Bruce Eckfeldt has always been an early adopter. Trained as an architect, he got involved in digital product design in his early career and then started an agile/lean software consultancy, Cyrus Innovation. He built it into an Inc. 500 company before he exited a decade later and became a Scaling Up certified coach

Eckfeldt was just as quick to start working with cannabis companies when that industry began to take off. Many cannabis entrepreneurs have deep knowledge of growing and selling their products but are less familiar with traditional business practices. “It was an emerging market where I saw a lot of interesting opportunities from a business point of view,” says Eckfeldt.

Today, about 30% of his clients are in the cannabis industry, and he is venturing into serving companies in the psychedelics space. Many leaders of these fast-growing companies are receptive to the Scaling Up platform as they put the systems, strategies and structures in place that they need to succeed—but need guidance in an industry that operates differently from many others. Banking has been problematic in an industry that is not federally legal. And cannabis companies face double taxation because they cannot write off business expenses without categorizing them under the “cost of goods sold.” “No other business has to do this,” he says. 

In addition to cannabis companies, Eckfeldt—host of the Scaling Up Services podcast—coaches many services businesses. In this area of his practice, he helps clients analyze their accounts as they strive to grow their businesses profitably. 

Eckfeldt has been an active member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization who has been a New York City board member and Accelerator chair. He opened his coaching practice in 2013, specializing in the Lean methodology. He became a Scaling Up certified coach in 2016. 

He first became aware of the potential of cannabis to help with many medical problems when he fell and broke his back in 2017. His doctor gave him a prescription for Percocet, but he didn’t want to continue taking it and switched to cannabis. “Within two weeks, I was off the Percocet, and I was using cannabis for pain management and inflammation,” says Eckfeldt. “I was sleeping like a baby and thought, “This is really interesting.'”

As Eckfeldt reached out to companies in the industry, he learned that many cannabis companies need help with strategy—a challenge in an industry facing constant regulatory change. “That’s fun for me as a strategic coach because it becomes complicated,” he says. “You really need to think through your business plan and strategy and do a lot of multi-scenario planning.” 

He discovered that a big part of his work would be to help industry leaders bring structure to operations once conducted under the radar.”There’s conditioning around not talking about it, keeping everything secret and not writing things down,” says Eckfeldt. “Moving into a legal market, these learned behaviors became very difficult to overcome. We want to model things, collect data, develop industry standards, and share best practices. That was antithetical to how they think about the market.” 

With investors flocking, Eckfeldt also finds himself act as a translator of sorts. Many cannabis companies have cultures that are very relaxed, compared to the world of finance. “I’ve run meetings where the entire leadership team is high, because that’s how they operate, and we’re running through a cash flow analysis,” says Eckfeldt. 

But investors still expect the leadership teams at cannabis companies to operate their businesses according to accepted business practices. That’s often where coaching based on the Scaling Up platform is particularly valuable. “You’ve got investment bankers and private equity folks coming into this space bringing in traditional views,” says Eckfeldt. “I can bridge both sides. I can understand the cannabis folks and the private equity guys and be a bridge between them.” 

Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish is founder of the world-renowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and chaired for fifteen years EO’s premiere CEO program, the “Birthing of Giants” and WEO’s “Advanced Business” executive program both held at MIT. Founder and CEO of Gazelles, a global executive education and coaching company with over 150 coaching partners on six continents, Verne has spent the past three decades helping companies scale-up. The “Growth Guy” syndicated columnist, he’s also the Venture columnist for FORTUNE magazine. He’s the author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0); Mastering the Rockefeller Habits; and along with the editors of Fortune, authored The Greatest Business Decisions of All Times," for which Jim Collins wrote the foreword. Verne also chairs FORTUNE Magazine’s annual Leadership and Growth Summits and serves on several boards including chairman of The Riordan Clinic and the newly launched Geoversity. He is an investor in many scale-ups. A father of four, he enjoys piano, tennis, and magic as a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.