Giadha Aguirre de Carcer is the Founder and CEO of New Frontier Data, the foremost big data company in the cannabis industry. An entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience, she has worked in investment banking, defense, technology, and telecommunications, and successfully launched and operated four data-driven ventures including one holding the original patent application behind solutions such as Progressive’s Snapshot and Verizon’s Hum. Half-Italian and half-Cuban, she’s fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and has a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations & Trade from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Master of Arts in International Security from Georgetown University.
Hi Giadha, thanks for speaking with us today. Can’t believe it took us a month to finally get this together.
It’s finally the end of an incredibly busy season. I’m so glad we’ve gotten the chance to speak now.
You have one of the most impressive professional resumes we’ve ever seen, from finance to defense to telecom. When you considered the legal cannabis industry, what opportunity did you see that your mainstream business peers did not?
Well thank you, it has been quite the journey. As it pertains to the emergence of a cannabis industry, I must clarify that it was not a complete secret when I started almost four years ago. Most of my peers within the industry today started then, if not even earlier, and many others knew of the nascent industry, but were just not ready to jump at such an early, and arguably still uncertain, time. Many of course also saw massive stigma and even judged quite harshly any association with the plant, thus had no interest in participating, ever.
But I did see it a bit differently than most because of my own personal career experience and track. I’m an analyst and strategist by training, and also had the unique opportunity to combine those traits with data and technology. So, when I asked the standard analyst question of “where is the research?” and subsequently, “why is there no viable research?” I was able to identify a gaping hole in the foundation of any modern time burgeoning industry – reliable and comprehensive data and analysis. I, along with an equally intrigued team, went on to build what I hoped would be that information and reporting nexus enabling trusted transparency across the cannabis space.
You were one of the earliest mainstream industry professionals to see the opportunity in this way. But weren’t the risks pretty big in those days?
What looked like risk to my peers looked like opportunity to me. I am female, an immigrant, a minority, and had worked for 20 years in male-dominated sectors. For someone like me, the "glass ceiling" is very real.
In this case, the opportunity I hoped to find was NOT to hit that glass ceiling. People in the cannabis industry did not care about any of the things people cared about in the other industries I had worked in. There was no clique or special network that protected the privilege of a select few; I did not have to force myself to fit into someone else’s structure or match a pre-existing profile. I was able to thrive based on my ideas and hard work, benefitting from a true meritocratic environment.
All of that said, there was also a massive economic opportunity in my mind that some were just not fully appreciating – a plant with medical, recreational, and industrial applications? That was just unprecedented. Cannabis was the ultimate emerging market, and still is. New opportunities to use data come to us virtually every day. So yes, there was risk, but the relative economic upside combined with the personal opportunity to me made it irresistible.
Our old friends tell us “Ooh, you’re on the dark side now” - - If you get this question, how do you respond?
It’s funny you asked that. I used to have a list of canned answers ready: “I’m not the Queen of the South”. “No, I do not have weed on me.” “No, I am not stoned…” As the industry and certainly my own business have matured, so have most people’s questions. Today my responses would be the same, but my peers’ questions have changed drastically.
We’ve interviewed several people with defense or military backgrounds who have migrated to the cannabis industry. In your opinion, what is the connection?
I think there are three interesting factors that have made the connection between veterans and cannabis quite symbiotic. To start with, the military fosters unique leadership skills and traits that transition perfectly into successful entrepreneurship. In about 2014, there was a huge influx of veterans coming home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet the work environment in the US at the time was neither receptive nor prepared to assimilate these war heroes and their perceived misaligned skills. Entrepreneurship was truly one of the only viable options for those at a loss on how to re-enter the work force, and the cannabis industry was a fresh new space hungry for innovation and new entrepreneurs looking to make a difference. Timing was certainly an element.
Equally important was the fact that veterans have a much higher threshold for risk than most, so naturally the risks perceived by most which discouraged entry amongst the general population, had little impact on those returning from having served in wars were their lives were literally at stake. A great example of opportunity meeting preparation.
Last but not least, while still controversial and not fully legalized, many veterans suffering from PTSD gravitated towards cannabis as a treatment, giving them front row seats to what the plant medical impact could be as well as well as to any business opportunities it may present.
On a personal, when I entered the cannabis space I did so for purely capitalistic reasons, and that’s the truth. But since, having my own front row seat to the data showing the impact this plant has had on many, whether we understand how or not, it has instilled a whole new level of appreciation for that ‘double bottom line’ many talk about today. I will now never be able to work in a business that does not make an impact. It is quite humbling, and every day that I am in this industry, I learn more.
OK, macro-economic question: There's a lot of chatter about “killing the golden goose”: that high taxation is going to enable the black market to live on. What are your thoughts on government’s need for restraint and perspective in taxation?
Great question - - We are about to release an entire report on taxation. We saw the damaging effects of high taxes in the State of Washington, which actually fueled the black market for a moment. Although that has since been fixed, we know it is critical that government exercises restraint if not balance as it evaluates the right taxation level for its state.
Said ‘right’ taxation level however presents some complexities, and depends on variables such as the size of the state, size of the market, whether the state has an adult market and/ or a medicinal one, number of qualifying conditions on the medical side and many, many more aspects connected to that particular state. On the international front, taxation, as it will soon pertain to import-export tariffs and shipping rates, becomes even more complex, making proper understanding of the ramifications both domestically and internationally critical to the cannabis global marketplace.
An interesting factor I do not see sufficiently covered is the expected future impact of price increases to consumer or patients, one that is often expected to fuel the black market based on past trends, but may in fact not continue to do so as we see medical products’ quality increase. Medical cannabis products should be more expensive due to the added cost of proper testing, packaging, dosage and other compliance to higher standards required when using cannabis as a medicine. While in the past data has shown that increases in prices can fuel the local black market, cannabis consumers, and especially patients, are becoming increasingly knowledgeable and will likely be happy to pay higher prices to ensure they are consuming a better product, especially for those patients looking to replace opioid-based medicine which tend to have massively higher prices.
What are the two most compelling pieces of data you’ve seen in the cannabis industry? Please answer with one that points to opportunity and one that points to a warning/danger.
From a US perspective, the biggest risk the legal cannabis industry faces is lack of nationwide standardization and federal regulation. Because of our Schedule I issue, cannabis scientific research is advancing much slower in the US than it already is in many other countries. While we may have a first-mover advantage in some ways, our slower ability to understand dosage, genetic makeup, and medical application presents a massive risk on the medical segment, which our data shows will drive cannabis market growth as early as 2020 in the US and likely abroad. Lack of federal regulation will further hurt the US ability to partake, let alone compete, in what we expect to be a prolific international trading environment.
The biggest opportunity lies with hemp. Hemp has enormous industrial applications and could very well revolutionize multiple industries beyond agriculture. Hemp’s utility as fuel, automobile parts, construction, textiles (hemp has a natural microbial repellant quality not seen in anything else), and its ability to remediate toxicity in the soil are unique and quite cost-effective. We are discarding so much of this plant in the US today that could be repurposed, such “waste” is in fact priceless.
Here again is an area where my background may allow me to connect the dots somewhat differently. My mother was born in communist Cuba, which had massive Chinese influence in the 50s and 60s. Having a Chinese great-grand parent myself, I ended up studying post Mao China quite extensively. I in fact learned that China historically crafts 50 to 100+ year economic plans, and while having opened up economically, has maintained a centralized government structure enabling them to diligently implement such long visions.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, China’s top plan has been to strengthen its economic position worldwide, to become the most powerful economy in the world, and as such, ultimately become the world greatest power. To that effect, for the past 30 China has made numerous strategic investments around the world acquiring, or gaining control over, large industrial real estate complexes in the US, Asia and Europe; ore mines, telecommunication and electrical infrastructure across Africa and Latin America; and now hemp cultivation, processing and distribution… China is the largest producer and exporter of hemp in the world today…
Tell us about the trajectory of your company, New Frontier Data? How’s it going? What’s next?
In 2014, I wrote a 5-year plan – I have written many of these in the past but this is fully on track which is quite unusual for a 5-year plan! We are in the Growth stage; we now understand who our clients are, what their appetite is, and how to best align their needs with our services, combined with the fact that our core services are to stay ahead of the marketplace, it gives us a massive edge compared to other companies out there.
Our focus in 2018 is expansion abroad, especially in Latin America and Europe, focus on predictive analytics, and outreach to brands and athletic organizations. Our larger and more diverse data sets are now perfectly suited to create intelligence for more diverse stakeholders outside of the cannabis industry. For example, brands are traditionally hungry for data. The cannabis consumer is now more engaged than ever, willing to share, ask questions and learn. This makes branding a very rich opportunity for those not yet in the cannabis industry, let alone those within it.
Likewise, athletes and athletic institutions want information. Celebrities are standing behind brands and want data to support them. Investors, financial institutions, NGOs, and governments want to understand the global impact of end of prohibition. We are in a sweet spot in the industry.
Is there any issue you wished we’d talked about? And how would you respond to it?
I appreciate you asking this question. One of the most important issues I would love the industry to focus more on is diversity. Not only is it personally close to my heart, but it also represents an unprecedented opportunity in the cannabis industry today.
Earlier in my career I worked in energy, technology, banking and other such industries where segregation and gender, age, and ethnic biases still prevail.
The cannabis industry is quite different; it has already provided unique opportunities for women to shatter the proverbial glass ceiling, and born of a movement, it continues to foster equality in a way I have never experienced before. That said, we must do more and remain vigilant to protect opportunities for minorities, people with disabilities, people different ethnicities and genders… It is a billion-dollar industry and the opportunity to be inclusive is unprecedented.
And here’s the thing: while it might sound like the pop-issue of the moment, data shows that better decision-making and companies are more profitable when they hire for diversity.