He was once a former soldier in search of a new mission. Then he used his military smarts to create a security company that protects cannabis companies — without intimidating customers.

December 10, 2018 4 min read

Opinions expressed by Green Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It was a crisp winter day in 2014, and I’d recently returned to Colorado from a tour as a Marine infantryman in Afghanistan. I could barely sleep. I was constantly on edge. The only thing that helped me function was cannabis, which is why I was walking up to a pot dispensary.

Many dispensaries weren’t exactly welcoming in those early days, even in our weed-friendly state. I rang the bell, and an amped-up security guard opened the door, nodding at me with a grunt. He was outfitted like a riot police officer — a gun, baton and pepper spray all prominently displayed on his tactical belt. I thought, Why does this guy look like he’s about to take down a customer?

Related: Cannabis Companies Generously Support Their Communities But Don’t Get to Deduct It From Their Taxes

Afterward, I went home to the house I shared with my girlfriend and three other veteran friends. I told them the story of this off-putting guard, and we started talking about how we would do things differently. Our training made us sensitive to how environmental indicators affected human behavior — how an unwelcoming presence, like armed soldiers, puts people on edge. We knew that these intimidating guards couldn’t be good for business. 

At the time, we were all unemployed and directionless. Cannabis and our friendship were the only things getting us through this rough time — and now, we suddenly realized, we could put them both to work. Our military experiences taught us every tactic a security guard would need. We were sure we could do it better than the companies currently out there. All we had to do was translate our old career into a new opportunity.

We began sketching out a company. We’d call it Iron Protection Group. We had no resources and very little information, but we’d felt like that before, in Afghanistan, where we faced seemingly impossible missions. 

Related: The Most Experienced Guy In Cannabis Has a Warning for You

We considered what we knew for sure: By working with the local populations in war zones, we learned that soft skills, such as communication, problem solving, and adaptability, can be just as important as tactical training. So we decided that our business wouldn’t just provide guards; it would also train our staff for customer service, sales, compliance, and regulation. 

We’d also rethink what a guard looks like. While other security guards wore badges, police-like uniforms, and belts with weapons, our staff would be outfitted in golf polos, khakis and a smile. That way, our guards don’t look like they’re there to just protect; they look like they’re there to serve. 

Related: 6 Proven Ways to Win a Cannabusiness Pitch Contest

Next, the big challenge: How do we sell this service? If our selling points were our experience and our demeanor, we realized we’d need to meet dispensary owners face-to-face. So we hit the pavement, visiting dispensaries throughout the Denver area and sharing our story. Dispensary owners got it; they wanted to adapt to a changing industry and customer base. In the first four hours of meetings, we secured $780,000 worth of business. In four months, we went from employing four veterans to more than 60. Today our security firm has more than 100 employees across Colorado and California.

I’ve come to appreciate my military training in a whole new way — as the raw material for something I could build that’ll be long-lasting. I now share that with my fellow vets. Just recently, I was on the phone with a friend who had returned home from another tour and was having a hard time transitioning back to civilian society. I invited him to join me. Now he’s a guard at a dispensary, outfitted with a smile that you see first instead of his gun. — As told to Andrew Freeman

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