ExtractionTek's Sean Winfield on the Creativity of Smaller Players in Cannabis

Plus, how the industry is increasingly reckoning with its environmental impact

Sean Winfield is a brand and marketing expert with over two decades of experience across multiple industries and a focus on cannabis since 2014.

He is currently CMO of ExtractionTek Stainless, which makes stainless-steel extraction equipment for the cannabis market. Sean manages and generates revenue, oversees the sales team, builds sales platforms around products and handles the operations of scaling to accommodate agreements with large MSOs. Sean’s knowledge of the challenges and peculiarities of operating in the cannabis industry is critical to the ongoing growth of ExtractionTek Stainless and its community of manufacturing partners. 

Originally from Newark, New Jersey, Sean now lives in Denver with his wife and their family of seven. When time allows, he enjoys being in the mountains, golfing and playing soccer.

We spoke with Sean for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in cannabis.

Sean, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I was born in Newark, New Jersey. I've spent time in West Virginia and New Orleans and have been living in the Denver area for the last 24 years. At this point in my life, I consider Colorado my home.

Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.

Based out of the Denver metro, I am the CMO and a partner at ExtractionTek Stainless (ETS).

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

Cannabis has been a constant in my life since the '80s. When I had the chance to play a role in the compliant cannabis market, I jumped at the opportunity. There is only one topic for me in terms of the positive impact cannabis has had on my life: Cannabis has offered me the opportunity to support my family and friends. I have a large family—six kids and two grandbabies—and the success we have found with ETS allows me to be the main source of income for our troop and for my wife Adelitia to play a stronger role in the lives of all our kids day to day. Cannabis has helped to strengthen the bonds and love across my family, something for which I cannot express enough appreciation—and, due to the day-to-day drama every large family enjoys, it doesn't hurt to have a little cannabis in our lives. 

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

The challenges have changed over the last decade as the world of cannabis continues to evolve into a more traditional industry model. We now have the tools other industries use from the web metric side and we have the proper software stacks to support the levels of growth we have all encountered. What we lack is a strong trade organization that can help shape the industry's marketing space in a way that offers the data we need to judge success beyond simple revenue and EBITDA growth. The resources made available to our industry often come with conditions or caveats due to us being a "weed" company, even though we're technically not plant-touching. In the end, we pay more for services that are often discounted in terms of performance. We are treated as a novelty and have little choice other than to work with professional resources that are geared to supporting our industry. There are great partners in the model, but overall it comes at an expense to the marketing of the industry directly.

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.

ETS has been focused on supporting both the independent and MSO sides of the processing niche for over 10 years. It has been fascinating to watch the struggles as well as successes of these two very different business models. Watching these large, well-funded MSO entities battle over market share and M&A activity can be tough to track with any level of certainty. What I am certain of is that the progress of creative marketing from the smaller independent shops inspires me as a marketing professional. Yes, there is a level of David and Goliath in this equation. Witnessing a small, independent group creatively market around the large players with quality products, creative ideas and old-school great service just inspires me as an entrepreneur.  

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

I know I spent the last question professing my love for the smaller players in the space, but in terms of social justice organizations, I am a big supporter of the program Cresco has built in the Illinois market. Cresco is a long-standing client of ours and we jumped at the opportunity to work closely with them on their Social Equity and Education Development (Seed) program. It has been an incredible experience for our team. What I appreciate about the program most is that a well-funded partner like Cresco is willing to help with entry into the industry specifically for those who have fallen victim to the War on Drugs. Cresco's dedication to the educational aspect of the program combined with their efforts in expungement has led to direct entry for small operations who genuinely deserve the opportunity. The business incubator aspect of the program offers a level of support that is hard to match in the current cannabis environment. It has been a pleasure supporting the program from its inception.  

A recent project you're proud of.

Personally, I have managed the sale, installation, planning and training of a large outdoor operation in Bucaramanga, Colombia. This project was organized and executed by a large public company that did not necessarily have an excess of cannabis experience on their team. Our experience in the industry led to a successful launch for the company and they are currently exporting concentrate to both Canada and the EU. Working with Colombian agricultural engineers and traditional fruit growers has been educational. The unique nature of the remote location of the farm presents challenges that my company had to navigate carefully, but we were able to complete on time, under budget and to spec. These types of wins represent an evolution for our company and the industry that I really enjoy.      

Someone else's project you admired recently.

The National Cannabis Industry Association's commitment to defining some of the challenges this industry presents to our global and local environments is inspiring. The program started with a large white paper discussing the many categories where cannabis underperforms in relation to our impact. This document marked the first time I had read about the full spectrum of issues we must address as an industry. Previously I had only looked at the local waste impacts of the extensive packaging the cannabis industry creates. Although packaging may be the most visible issue to the public, learning about the challenges related to soil degradation, air quality and overall energy usage definitely left a mark on me. Since this report has been published, the organizations tasked with solving these issues have been empowered. Our firm plays as strong a role as we can in helping to address these threats to our planet and our industry. My hope is that both the traditional and legal markets will continue to work together with local regulators and organizations like the NCIA to continually improve our performance related to these environmental impacts.

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.

There are many individuals I could call out in this response, but one individual I have been watching for a while now is Sean Kiernan. Sean is the organizer and leader behind the Weed for Warriors project, which on its own is a huge accomplishment. Most importantly to me, Sean is working hard to protect the compassionate cannabis movement that was established in the Bay Area in the 1980s. Although our industry has moved mountains in the last decade, many of the fundamental, caring principles that established this industry have gone overlooked. It is important we maintain these programs, and individuals like Sean should be an inspiration to all of us involved with cannabis. 

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.

Probably buying and consuming cannabis! And I would probably still be on a path of executive sales management related to team management in some other boring industry. Overpaid, under-challenged and looking for more in my career. My opportunity in cannabis has been rewarding on so many different levels that I could not imagine doing anything else with my career.     

Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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