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Talent in Cannabis: Why Claire Moloney is passionate about being a cannabis ‘first hire’

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In this Talent in Cannabis, we spoke with Claire Moloney, Vice President of Business Operations at LeafLink. Claire’s journey started as a person with a strong passion for startup culture. When she realized that the cannabis industry was like a startup on steroids and full of a lot of passion, she was sold.

Claire shares:

  • Why she is so passionate about being the first hire at a startup
  • How she went from jumping from startup to startup to finally finding a place she worked with for 8 years – LeafLink
  • The two types of people every startup needs, and which one she is
  • Why she does not believe that just getting your foot in the door is the best way to enter the cannabis industry
  • Similarities between the environmental industry and the cannabis industry
  • Why she believes leadership by women is important
“It’s crucial to be prepared for a high level of ambiguity and constant change. It’s often that a clear direction and end goals are less defined in cannabis than in other industries. As a professional, being mentally prepared for this kind of environment is vital.


– Claire Moloney

claire moloney talent in cannabis profile on flowerhire blog

Before working in the cannabis industry

What were you doing before working in cannabis?

During my senior year at Cornell University, where I majored in environmental science, I took an entrepreneurship class where we heard from founders about their experiences launching companies. I was so inspired that it became my mission to become the first employee at a startup. I specifically wanted to be a first hire because I took a series of personality assessments in a leadership class – they revealed I’m an operator. I knew I wanted to be on the ground floor of a startup, running operations and making things happen. 

I began my career working for several sustainability startups. After four attempts as a first hire, I wasn’t finding the rapid growth I was looking for, so I decided to pivot and try a corporate job. I took a marketing role at a global company with 40,000 people, and I immediately knew it was the wrong choice — I felt like a cog in a machine.

That’s when Ryan G. Smith, co-founder at LeafLink, reached out to me. I decided to give startups one more shot. And now, it’s been eight years since I started at LeafLink, which has had exactly the type of rapid, exciting growth I’d been searching for.

claire moloney and fellow LeafLink employees in a cannabis grow.
Claire Moloney and fellow LeafLink employees in a cannabis grow.

Why did you want to be the first hire?

I learned in one of my entrepreneurship classes that every startup needs two people: an innovator and an operator. 

The innovator is usually the founder — the person with the vision and the idea. 

The operator is the person who makes that idea happen. 

I’m not much of a visionary, but I’m definitely the person who makes things happen. I can take someone’s idea and work cross-functionally to turn it into a reality. Knowing that I’m an operator, my dream has been to be the first hire at a successful startup.

Claire’s cannabis journey

What drew you to the cannabis industry? 

Before entering the cannabis space, my connection with Ryan G. Smith, co-founder of LeafLink, was pivotal. We met through my sister, who saw Ryan speak at the Colgate University entrepreneurship summit. She suggested we connect, given his interest in founding companies and my interest in being a first hire. I knew I wanted to work with Ryan, and so when he approached me about the cannabis startup he was founding, I jumped at the opportunity to join him at LeafLink. 

We tackled major environmental problems in the sustainability industry with a shared, deep-rooted passion. This sense of purpose is similar in the cannabis industry. We’re rapidly launching a new industry, currently at the state level, but with potential for national and global expansion and with major impacts on humanity. At LeafLink, we’re focused on solving supply chain issues inherent in this rapid growth. 

Tell us about your first role at Leaflink

I have been with the company for eight years. I initially joined the company as marketing and operations manager, a role in which I wore many hats, including overseeing our marketing efforts, reporting on company metrics, visiting customers in the field, and even covering customer support on the weekends. 

Over the years, I’ve grown with the company. Now, as the Vice President of Business Operations, I’m part of the leadership team, managing cross-functional initiatives to foster company growth. Currently, I oversee our marketplace, advertising, and direct payments solution lines. I collaborate with marketing, product, and other teams to achieve our company’s growth targets.

What is LeafLink?

LeafLink serves as a wholesale cannabis marketplace, catering to 12,000 licensed retailers and sellers. We handle about 52% of all wholesale orders in the US and operate in 25 markets. Our platform simplifies the process for dispensaries to place and track wholesale orders and for sellers to market their products to licensed buyers and manage payments. We support retailers carrying an extensive range of brands, significantly streamlining their order management.

Since launching, we’ve continuously enhanced our marketplace with new solutions. For instance, we introduced advertising in 2017, payment solutions in 2018, and a logistics solution in 2019, all aimed at optimizing the wholesale ordering process.

Claire Moloney at a LeafLink conference booth.
Claire Moloney at a LeafLink conference booth.

The transition into cannabis

What was similar and different about the environmental industry and cannabis?

My soft skills were more transferrable than my hard skills. My ability to navigate ambiguity, embrace constant change, and have a hands-on attitude were invaluable assets. 

In my previous roles, I primarily focused on marketing and operations. Upon joining LeafLink, I quickly realized that the digital marketing techniques, like SEO, I had used before weren’t directly applicable to the cannabis industry. This realization hit me when a keyword search for the wholesale cannabis sector yielded scant results.

To find solutions, I reached out to industry professionals to understand how they operated, their interests, and where they found business leads. The cannabis community’s openness and willingness to help were a refreshing change and significantly beneficial.

What’s one thing that everyone transitioning into the cannabis industry should know before making the transition?

The cannabis industry moves at an impressively rapid pace. It’s significantly faster than any other sector I’ve experienced. In one year, LeafLink expanded to cover 15 new markets.

It’s crucial to be prepared for a high level of ambiguity and constant change. It’s often that a clear direction and end goals are less defined in cannabis than in other industries. As a professional, being mentally prepared for this kind of environment is vital. It’s not suitable for everyone.

Do you have advice for other people who are starting their journey in the cannabis industry?

If you’re looking to get into the cannabis industry, maintain the same standards in your cannabis job search as you would in any other industry. Don’t compromise your career goals just to get your foot in the door into the cannabis industry – it could lead to a negative work experience for you. 

Take the time to find a role and job that aligns with your personality. It’ll increase the chances of a long-term and fulfilling career. Thoroughly research potential employers and ensure the company aligns with your career objectives, skillset, and values. This is something you can gather during the interview process, with the right questions prepared.


Where do you see your career going?

Currently, it’s hard to envision a future outside of LeafLink. Everyone who knows me knows that I truly love my job. There are still so many intriguing challenges to take on, especially the evolving supply chain as we anticipate federal legalization. The industry needs to prepare for significant scaling, and there’s substantial work to be done to achieve that. I’m committed to being part of this journey for the long haul.

What are one or two things you’d like to see change in the cannabis industry?

Women in cannabis. I strongly believe in the need for more women in cannabis, particularly in leadership roles. At LeafLink, 60% of our leadership team is women, which is much higher than the cannabis industry average of 36%.

Studies show that having more women in leadership leads to improved collaboration. I’ve personally noticed that shift at LeafLink because of our female representation. I can see that our teams work together in closer alignment than ever before.

Social equity. I believe the legacy cannabis market was strong — and still is in many places — because of the diverse set of leaders and innovators in the space. As we build the regulated market, we need to ensure we’re including legacy operators.

New markets are increasingly incorporating social equity into their legislation, but many mature markets need to retroactively incorporate these initiatives into their programs. New York’s aggressive approach to social equity has set a strong example for others to follow. Despite some unforeseen challenges in the rollout, the intent and structure of New York’s program are commendable. I think the CAURD program is especially innovative and should be replicated across other states. 


If you like this, you may like these Talent in Cannabis Profiles:

Amanda Reiman and her dedication to social change

Mike Gray and the importance of cannabis genetics

Otha Smith – renewable energy sales to cannabis entrepreneur

Herlena Harris – the winding path to cannabis

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