“Know when to say no”

Know when to say no: When I started Allay, I felt I had something to prove and said “yes” to almost everything, from happy hours, to conferences, to speaking gigs, to any client request. I kept this schedule for a few years before realizing it was not sustainable — my work began to suffer, and I felt spent. A year ago, I started cutting back on what I said “yes” to, and I prioritized high quality and valuable opportunities. There’s no denying that you must grind at the beginning of starting a business, but it’s also important to know when to say no and when to delegate.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Stuck.

Kim Stuck is the founder and CEO of Allay Consulting, a compliance strategy and services provider serving the hemp and cannabis industries nationwide. She brings a regulator’s keen eye and wide-reaching knowledge on evolving compliance and safety mandates to support businesses in tightly regulated industries. Ms. Stuck holds numerous accreditations, such as certified quality auditor (CQA) and certified professional of food safety (CP-FS), among others. In addition to serving on several industry advisory boards, she has been a member of ASTM International’s cannabis standards committee since its 2017 inception.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I began my career in the cannabis industry in 2014 when Colorado became the first state to allow adult-use sales. For over three years, I worked as an investigator for the City of Denver’s health department, specializing in regulatory compliance in cultivation, manufacturing and retail. From what I kept seeing business owners struggle with, I felt I could make a more significant positive impact in cannabis if I worked for the industry directly.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

While there are many stories I could share, the initial transition from regulator to consultant led to a few awkward interactions because folks from the industry recognized me as a regulator. This happened at one of my first site visits to check out a client’s cultivation operation, where I spent upwards of 30 minutes profusely explaining to the head grower that I didn’t work for the government and was supposed to be on the property. It took a phone call to his boss before he finally accepted me — this was a repeat situation throughout my first year as a business owner.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In my time as a business owner, I have made many mistakes — it’s natural and I look at it as a way to learn and grow. Early on, my biggest mistake was going out of my way for people who didn’t deserve it and underpricing myself. The information I held was a commodity, and at first, I gave much of it away without compensation. But I learned to never undervalue the work my team does. While I always want to help, there is a difference between sharing a helpful tip and doing the work for free. My other advice? Get a contract signed and ask for payment upfront, always.

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 about that?

Many people helped me get to where I am; it would be impossible to list them all. That said, I am grateful to have a partner who supports me in my dreams, and I am also very thankful to my team for believing in the Allay vision and helping me make it a reality — it truly takes a village to build a business.

Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I think it’s a few different factors. For starters, many women lack support from family and friends. Many people in my life harped on how risky starting a business was, how hard it would be, how I wouldn’t have time for a family, etc. Once I started to succeed, those same people quickly changed their tune — crediting my success to “luck” or other ridiculous reasons, when in reality, I worked extremely hard and stayed true to my dream. You have to surround yourself with people who aren’t negative and genuinely want to see your business flourish.

Many women are also running a household alongside running a business. Even in marriages without children, 75% of the household chores fall to women, which can seem overwhelming. I always say you are who you marry. Find a partner who is supportive of your success and not intimidated by it, and who can do their part.

I also think some women are afraid to fail, when failure is simply a part of the process of success.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

Having had to learn so much on the fly, I think women starting a company would benefit greatly from local educational resources, such as free business classes and support groups. Women should know that they can do anything: You can have a successful career, have kids, travel, go back to school — do what feels best for you.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

More women should become founders because diversity is a strength, and any industry with women and minorities at the helm makes that industry stronger overall. We all have unique views and dynamic talents that we can apply to our businesses. Women are both empathetic and pragmatic and because of these traits are expert problem solvers.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

The title “founder” doesn’t mean much to me; it’s what you do with the business that matters. Anyone can give themselves a title, but the team behind you and your customers makes a business successful. I am grateful that I’m not in this alone and believe that my team is as capable as I am, if not more. While I see the big picture, I know that I wouldn’t have Allay without the community around me.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

I don’t think everyone has the patience or grit to be a founder, and I understand why someone might not want that role. Being in charge of a company is challenging — anything that doesn’t go right is ultimately your responsibility. You must have enough drive to manage your time well and have faith in your abilities without any oversight from someone else. You must be your own boss and your own cheerleader. You must have resilience, empathy, compassion and motivation.

While challenging, I love what I do. When I started, I didn’t realize the depths of things I would discover about myself. Being a founder changes you personally, and your worldview will never be the same.

Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Vision: You must know what you want to accomplish and how you plan to achieve that goal. My goal was to help cannabis companies be more compliant, protect them from not understanding regulations and help the industry make products safer. When I wasn’t able to accomplish this goal as a regulator, I looked at other options and decided I would become a consultant instead, and my vision is now what I do every day.
  2. A little help from my friends: There is no such thing as a “self-made woman.” I had a lot of help from some wonderful people, all of whom I am still in touch with today. I received support from my family and my partner as well. Support is essential for running a business — founders have a lot on their plates, so make sure you surround yourself with folks cheering for you.
  3. A killer team: If you plan to expand from a one-person business, building the right team is vital. What makes a founder strong is the team you have behind you. Everyone on a team has different strengths, and they should complement each other, which fosters advanced problem solving and collaboration. Your team is critical, so treat them well, and you can’t go wrong.
  4. Confidence: When you first start a business, your confidence will waver at times. Trust in yourself — believe that you are an expert in your field. Many people talk themselves out of their dreams, when what they need to do is lean in and accept that they’re where they’re supposed to be.
  5. Know when to say no: When I started Allay, I felt I had something to prove and said “yes” to almost everything, from happy hours, to conferences, to speaking gigs, to any client request. I kept this schedule for a few years before realizing it was not sustainable — my work began to suffer, and I felt spent. A year ago, I started cutting back on what I said “yes” to, and I prioritized high quality and valuable opportunities. There’s no denying that you must grind at the beginning of starting a business, but it’s also important to know when to say no and when to delegate.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

When the world has access to safe, legal and quality cannabis, it becomes a better place by default. I volunteer on several different advisory boards and workgroups to influence the policies and regulations in the cannabis industry to ensure not only are the rules and regulations fair to the industry, but the industry is making the safest, most consistent products possible.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I want to help the cannabis industry become normalized and treated like other industries. I want consumers to go home, smoke a joint and have it viewed the same as having a glass of wine. I want cannabis businesses to have access to banking services, pay taxes, support the local economy and function without fear of being shut down or a negative stigma. Most importantly, I want the world to recognize and embrace cannabis for its medical benefits and utilize it for health and healing.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

While I have met some extraordinary people throughout my journey, I have always followed business advice from Richard Branson. I’m inspired by the way he loves life and how he views people and business. He’s also pro-cannabis, which doesn’t hurt.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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