By 2026, the marijuana industry could be worth $50 billion annually, and 24-year-old Karson Humiston wants to bridge the gap between workers interested in cannabis careers and companies looking to grow their business.
Humiston is the founder of online career platform Vangsters, which provides a central location for cannabis employers to find potential employees. The platform is free for job candidates, but companies using the site pay a fee of $69 per month for unlimited job postings.
Humiston had the idea to recruit talent in the cannabis industry in 2015, when she was a soon-to-be graduate from St. Lawrence University.
After attending a cannabis trade show in New York and hearing companies talk about openings in areas like marketing and retail, Humiston knew she could help employers fill those jobs.
"The types of positions that were available in the cannabis industry, even in 2015, blew my mind," she tells CNBC Make It. "So I decided to start a business, which used to be called 'Gradujuana,' where we would connect college students and recent grads with jobs in the emerging cannabis industry."
The next day, Humiston returned to the trade show with newly-made business cards to show employers just how serious she was.
"I walked around booth to booth saying, 'I'm Karson Humiston and I can help you find an intern or recent grad with my company, Gradujuana.'"
After generating enough leads to confirm her idea could become a business, the recent grad relocated from New York to Denver, where most of the companies in the industry were located.
"I didn't know anyone in Denver," says Humiston. "I was living in a hotel and said I'm going to stay for one month, and if I can get meetings set up and get a client I'm going to stick around out here and do this."
In July 2015, Humiston secured her first client, O.penVape. The company needed help finding an accounting intern.
"I told them, 'What I will do, is I will go and put this out to my network of students and recent grads that you're hiring for an accounting intern," she says. "I will interview the candidates, check their references and I will send you the top candidates — and the best part is I'm going to do all of this for $500."
As a bonus, she offered to waive her fee if she failed to find the company a candidate. O.penVape signed a contract.
Humiston continued to follow up with companies from the trade show, and in late August of 2015 she connected with cannabis business consulting firm Canna Advisors.
The company told Humiston they were no longer interested in paying their current search firm 20 percent of the first year salary of the jobs they were filling. Since Humiston was a novice, they offered her $2,000 per position to fill openings for a construction project manager, a technical writer and an executive assistant.
"A light bulb went off in my head like, 'Oh my God, there are companies out there charging 20 percent of annual salary,'" says Humiston. "At this point, I had this coming-to-Jesus moment that I needed to go out and hire other people who had experience in recruiting, who had experience in client acquisition — and that's really when our business started taking off."
Humiston used the revenue from filling the jobs at Canna Advisors to make her first real hire. In 2016, as the company started to fill more senior-level positions, she changed its name from Gradujuana to Vangst Talent Network.
"Vangst means 'catch' in Dutch," says Humiston, who now has 25 employees. "I'm part Dutch, and the idea was we were catching the top talent, and it wasn't just interns and recent grads."
Canna Advisors is still a client of Humiston's today, and Vangst has placed eight or nine employees with the small firm, including a VP of business development.
"I've used a combination of internal HR people and recruiting agencies, and I just find that Karson's staff are really great hunters and good at reaching out and finding talent who might not be looking," says co-founder Diane Czarkowski.
On the success of Vangst Talent Network, Humiston held a cannabis career summit in Denver in 2016, and launched online platform Vangsters in August 2017.
There are 12,000 candidates, 53 companies and roughly 200 job openings on the platform so far, but Humiston says one of her biggest challenges is still helping companies overcome the stereotypes associated with the industry.
She recalls helping a client in San Francisco pull talent from a luxury brand to work as a retail store manager at their company.
"Convincing people to leave being a manager at Neiman Marcus or Chanel to manage a dispensary is a transition, and people aren't exactly comfortable with the industry yet," says Humiston. "So as a company, we have an obligation to educate our candidates on the industry, on where the industry is going and where the opportunities are."
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