As part of our series about the “**Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Corey Mangold, CEO of Orchid.
Corey Mangold is the Principal and Co-Founder of Gigasavvy, a leading southern California creative marketing agency. He’s established a thriving agency that has launched and managed campaigns for Toshiba, Knott’s Berry Farm, Johnny Rockets, Hi-Chew Candy, Tenet Healthcare and Northgate Markets to name a few. Corey has also worked tirelessly to create a thriving culture at Gigasavvy that has been recognized, 3 years running, as a “Top 10 Places” to work in Orange County.
As the CEO of Orchid Essentials, Corey brings 20 years of start-up experience and a knack for developing successful companies. Corey’s vision and extensive experience in marketing/advertising, branding, design, sales and product development has already established Orchid as the brand to beat in the market.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started off in the software industry at the age of 18 with the founding of my very first company, Mangold Software Development. I sold that at 24 and later began Gigasavvy, a software development agency, in 2008 when I was 28. It eventually ended up becoming a full-fledged advertising agency. I stayed on as owner for 13 years and recently sold it just a few months ago. So I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life, building multi-million dollar companies with a few successful exits.
I entered the cannabis space in 2016 as a consumer. I preferred using vapes but was extremely displeased with the product quality and user experience. I wanted a new venture and was passionate about cannabis, so thought I had something to offer the industry. Naturally, I decided to start a cannabis company — Orchid Essentials — launched in August 2017, to bring to market a vape product that met market expectations.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
It may not be the funniest mistake, but one I used to make in my early days was thinking that a job candidate with an education or degree meant they would be an A-player and excel in the role. That wasn’t actually the case. It depends on the individual and their own motivation, drive and investment in personal and professional growth. I learned how to leverage human capital and inspire my staff to educate themselves and learn from those around them. Early on, I understood the value of institutional education versus the value of what is learned from work experience, not to mention raw natural talent.
Being in the software space, I was seeking software developers like myself, but those who received a traditional education in the computer science program from known universities. But I realized that a majority of what they were being taught from textbooks was already outdated by three to five years. Technology was advancing and evolving so quickly, and colleges were having difficulty keeping up with it.
So I ended up convincing some students to drop out of school and come work for me. It may not sound all that great at first, but they ended up making more money and learning tools and methods that are so much more relevant and timely. Even if they fell short of a degree, the experience they gained working for me that they were able to put on their resumes completely made up for that detail. Meanwhile, they learned that they can gain an education without being in school.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The person that motivated me to become an entrepreneur was my father. He was a CFO for most of his life until I was around 15 years old. At that point, he started his own business and built a great company with revenues within a year. Unfortunately, it went bankrupt two years in, but watching that progression taught me many things.
I learned about work ethic and also the risks of starting a business — and the risk is what excited me the most. The idea that you can build your own success based on your personal efforts — but doing so requires taking a gamble and making risks — was enticing to me.
My father never went into business for himself again, but I’ve always looked at his experience as inspiration. Business is a competition and I’ve been an athlete my whole life so competition runs through my veins — some of it also came from my dad. Even though he didn’t succeed in his own endeavor, he was still my greatest mentor.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Orchid’s purpose was always to create the safest and most rigorously tested products available on the market, and the mission behind both PurTec Delivery Systems and Orchid has always centered around consumer safety and improving the user experience. The cannabis vape products available on the market today have elements that put user safety at risk, so we engineered ours differently. We conducted an advanced safety study over the last 18 months to really understand what’s in these cannabis cartridges and the potential health issues they present. There are glues and adhesives, heavy metals and ceramic particles. These all have to be taken into consideration during testing and production.
Consumer safety is a big weakness in the industry because regulatory bodies don’t test what they should be testing. Cartridges and flower are smoked and inhaled, heated to high temperatures and ingested through the lungs. If you test either at room temperature, you’re not testing what consumers are actually putting into their bodies but rather a substance that changes dramatically as it’s heated up. These tests do nothing to protect consumers.
So we continuously work to raise the bar of consumer protection. At the end of the day, people are using cannabis as medicine. If the products they are using are indeed unhealthy then we are doing them a disservice. Still, to this day our steadfast focus is on consumer safety and improving the user experience.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
The last two years have been the most challenging times I’ve ever experienced in business. In October 2019, news of the Vape Gate came out in full force with laboratories discovering Vitamin E Acetate was being used to cut illegal vape cartridges. Even though it was a problem in the illicit market, it leeched over into the legal industry and we saw a massive downturn in sales.
That was followed by the stock market plummeting in Canada and the disappearance of funding. We were in a difficult scenario, faced with a lack of capital to continue the growth that forced us to pivot our company to a completely different strategy.
On top of all that, COVID spread throughout the world. The pandemic made it incredibly difficult to meet with people and close on new business. Everyone in cannabis was racing to keep up with demand while operating with a fraction of their staff to maintain social distancing.
It was a perfect triad of Vape Gate, the stock market and the pandemic. As a company leader, I worked with my team to develop a new strategy that would limit our capital needs. COVID-19 actually helped in that it enabled us to get rid of our offices and remove those expenses from our balance sheet — we’re now completely virtual. Our new direction allowed us to bootstrap and maintain loyalty and confidence among team members. Everyone was afraid of losing their jobs and the tight-knit family culture I worked so hard to build was extremely important in keeping up motivation and performance.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I don’t subscribe to the thought of giving up. That’s what differentiates people from successful entrepreneurs: “give up” isn’t in the entrepreneur’s dictionary. So, to answer your question, no, I never thought about giving up. It’s about keeping your head down and working harder than everyone else.
The fact is that Orchid was started by myself, family and friends. Most of the money invested in our company has been from friends and family, so I have a responsibility to work as hard and as smart as humanly possible to ensure they see a positive return someday in the near future.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
During difficult times, leaders have to show strength and confidence because, when you do, the people around you unite together and stick with you and your mission. When they smell fear in the water they swim for shore. So leaders must take actions for the benefit of everyone around them. They must motivate their teams without twisting truths and focus on the goal at hand.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
If possible, leaders should try their best to create an environment where their employees feel certain about two things — their job security and function within the company. If they don’t feel valued or like their skills are being used to their full potential, they will have some insecurities. And in trying times, what they need most is security.
They need to know they will still have a job and be able to provide for their families, as well as that management believes in them and is loyal to them. Leaders must communicate this message effectively to create a family environment of loyalty and trust while acknowledging their team’s fears rather than pretending they don’t exist. You will lose trust if you pretend everything is perfect. When you have that family culture you can get through anything because you know you have each other’s backs.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Effective communication is always based on transparency. Don’t sweep important things under the rug, you’ll just leave a noticeable bump in the floor that everyone will trip over. Having owned advertising agencies where I was handling client work with timelines, sometimes we were running late on developments and launches. But every time I went to a client and told them upfront that we were a little behind schedule, they appreciated the honesty. It’s about being open and honest, acknowledging the issues and working together as a team to find solutions. If you hide facts and play propaganda games, you’ll lose team confidence and find yourself without the support you need.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
First, leaders have to understand what they do and don’t have control over. For example, if the market crashes, you can’t do anything to stop it from going further downhill. Instead, you have to move quickly and make difficult adjustments to your business to ensure its survival. Leaders can have the greatest plans but sometimes the universe has something different in mind. You have to swallow your pride and make those decisions, whether it’s layoffs or downsizing assets. One of the many reasons a business goes under is due to lack of creativity and holding off on making changes. You can’t sit around and wait as the company loses money month after month — you have to adapt.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
My number one principle is loyalty. In turbulent times you want loyal employees that will stick with you through it all, even if it means skipping out on a paycheck here and there. It’s a two-way street — leaders need to be loyal and genuine to their teams and they need their teams to be loyal back. If they are, they’ll fight next to you in the trenches.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- The first mistake I’ve seen is a lack of creativity. Many times people will start a business thinking it will be X but then the world will tell you X doesn’t work and you need to be Y. So leaders need to shift to Y very quickly and accurately. It’s a huge mistake to refuse to adjust to the times or evolve as a business in a timely manner.
- The second mistake would be an inability to bootstrap the company. When access to capital disappears, leaders need to be able to downsize and be financially conservative. It’s very possible — it comes down to ingenuity and trust among your network. If there’s trust, you can often get through those times by leveraging relationships to create new business models.
- The last mistake I’ve seen is not building faith in leadership. I personally know people who lost their businesses during the pandemic and a commonality I noticed among them is a lack of support from their staff. They tried to operate business as normal and refused to acknowledge the ridiculous difficulties presented by the pandemic. There was no transparency about how nasty and crazy it would be, the uncomfortable situations that arose and the tight budgets. As a result, people started running to look for companies they thought could survive the pandemic.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
The most significant course of action that helped us make it through was shifting our business model to one that would succeed during hard times. We had both the foresight to evolve as a company as well as the knowledge and experience to bootstrap. We kept forging ahead by reducing operations without directly impacting our sales. There are things that can be cut from the budget, comforts that are awarded to executives that must disappear when you’re pinching pennies. No flying first class or staying in luxury hotels — there’s no wiggle room for that, not that Orchid execs have ever flown first class on the company’s dime. During the pandemic, I drove my motorhome all across the country, adding 16,000 miles to the vehicle in order to meet with people in person in a safe manner. The most important strategy is evolving in many ways to become a company that will survive.
Leaders also have to be capable of taking risks. I took a massive risk lending Orchid a lot of my own personal money just to keep us running. That move made it clear to my staff that I’m wholly committed to this company and that they shouldn’t give up because I’m putting my entire life on the line for its survival and prosperity.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- I’ve mentioned and explained a few of these before so I’ll keep this one brief. The first important aspect of effective leadership is transparency. Leaders should be upfront with their staff and let them know everything the company is going through. This builds loyalty among the team.
- The second part of effective leadership is creativity. When the world is evolving quickly, leaders have to think creatively from a business strategy standpoint in order to meet new demands.
- The third would be the ability to bootstrap and preserve capital. If you run out of runway during a time where funding is difficult to find, you’re stuck and there’s not much you can do. It’s better, in the long run, to keep a tight budget until things start looking up and you can secure additional capital.
- Fourth is being loyal to the staff. If done properly, leaders will garner loyalty in return and their teams will be there for support the entire way through.
- Lastly, effective leadership means creating a family environment and encouraging a proper work-life balance. Understanding people’s personal situations has been one of the most important things I’ve tried to do during this pandemic. We have many parents that work for us, whose children couldn’t go to daycare or school and whose partners weren’t always around. Whatever the scenario may be, leaders have to understand that the individual may not be able to work normal 9–5 hours with the kids at home and that they might be doing work at night to make up for it. Leaders should respect the difficult situation and teach their employees how to create a work-life balance. When someone is burning the candle at both ends or not spending enough time with their family, leaders have to encourage them to take time off and dedicate some time to their family. Home life is extremely important to clear the mind and relax. Leaders have to be there to help them through those times. It’s not always in the business’s best interest, but you have to take care of your people first and foremost.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is from Richard Branson: “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
I’ve always tried to help my people grow professionally and personally to the point where they are capable of going on to the next biggest and better thing, while at the same time treating them so well that they don’t want to leave. If you build better employees, create an engaging company culture and train them well, they will be loyal and want to stay within your company. And even if they do go off and find greater success, at least you’ve helped them get there and have that reputation and relationship with them that could be mutually beneficial down the road.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Company website: https://orchidessentials.com/
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/orchidessentials/
Company Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/orchidessentials/
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/orchidcannabis/
Personal LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/coreymangold