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How to Succeed in the California Cannabis Industry with Vinayak Shastry

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Talent in Cannabis Sunset Sesh, Episode #23

Vinayak Shastry, CEO at Ember Valley, joins David Belsky for episode 23 of FlowerHire’s Talent in Cannabis Sunset Sesh.

Vinayak Shastry talks about: 

  • Raising capital for cannabis companies
  • The shift in hiring methodology he’s witnessed at Ember Valley
  • What it takes to run a successful brand with longevity in mind

Below are a few key points from the interview. (Listen to the whole interview above):

Raising capital for cannabis companies

A lot of capital in 2019 was from Canadian capital markets. There was not much in the form of private equity. At first, the Canadian capital infusion was all about growing as much cannabis as you can. And then people start asking how are you actually going to make money?

It’s important to understand what the business model is for the industry. Vinayak Shastry says, “At Ember Valley, we had not raised capital. We focused on the foundation — day-to-day execution and operations. Staying lean and focused on what we were, and still are, good at.”

Focusing on what your company is good at is how cannabis companies will, not only survive, but succeed.

Starting a cannabis business in California vs. the East Coast.

Eastern states are well-curated at the state level. The barrier to entry on the east coast is getting a license and capital. “If you can actually get a license and capital, you’re likely going to do well,” says Vinayak Shastry.

In California, the licensure is much easier to get. But once you’re in, it’s much harder to succeed. There’s a lot more competition in the California market.

How to hire in the cannabis industry

When Ember Valley first got started hiring, the questions were more focused on skills and criteria. For example, we would say, “I need a person who knows excel, QuickBooks, and has relationships with specific accounts.” 

Now, we try to hire more on the “who.” There’s much more depth in our organization. Some of the questions we ask during the hiring process are:

  • Are you a problem-solver? 
  • How motivated are you? 
  • How proactive are you?


“This has been a huge philosophical change for us,” says Vinayak Shastry. It’s a change in how hiring is done in other industries these days.

The modern job search has been dumbed down to keywords and bullet points. But in cannabis, everyone has to be trained because it’s a new industry. So we really look to hire the best person and train them. When we’re hiring someone new for the Ember Valley team, we want to know:

  • Can they learn?
  • Are they passionate?
  • Are they loyal
  • Are they responsible?

There’s a concerted effort to changing criteria from skillset and experience to what type of person are we hiring. 

The industry as a whole is just making it up as we go. So it’s important to build your hiring process as you build the company. This industry is a chance to work hard and work your way up.

Hire top cannabis talent that sticks with you long-term

Ember Valley brand activation process

“We were bootstrapped, we had no funding, and a fire in northern California burnt down the electrical substation that fed our first facility. We lost every plant. We were running on fumes. We had a minimal budget. So we used mason jars and let the flower speak for itself. And it did,” says Vinayak Shastry.

Ember Valley is proof that sticking to what you’re good at and focusing on that will pay off.

The future of Ember Valley

We want to broaden our product offering. We only offer products that we produce. For example, if we’re selling extracts it’s because we’re doing the extracting. We are selling about 90 percent flower right now.

What is a lifestyle brand and what does it take to build a lifestyle brand in cannabis?

“There are only a few cannabis lifestyle brands that really resonate with the consumer. Not many cannabis brands really connect with brands on a personal level. It takes time and this is a new industry,” says Vinayak Shastry.

When you say lifestyle brand, it’s “who you hang out with.” And, at Ember Valley, we are still figuring out who we hang out with. 

To get there, we are staying true to the core of ourselves. We are continuing to do what we do, bring our A-game, be ourselves, and finding our community.

A good way to build a brand is to understand what you’re good at and deliver for your customers consistently.

If you’re not honest as a brand, people will see right through it. Have gratitude, stay authentic, build your community, and execute.

Thank you, Vinayak Shastry, for joining us!

Listen to the full interview to hear why Vinayak Shastry thinks California retailers are going to start aggressively vertically integrating.

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