The first time Karson Humiston went to a cannabis trade show in New York she didn’t really know a lot about the industry. Actually, she didn’t really know exactly what she was doing there.
She was about to finish college at St. Lawrence University – and was thinking about what to do next. “I wasn’t looking for anything in particular,” Humiston said. “Just kind of poking around.”
She was sort of looking at potential jobs and was surprised at the variety of jobs companies said they were looking to fill, from accounting to retail management, even tech jobs.
“Tons and tons of jobs I wouldn’t have thought of,” Humiston said. “So I asked how they found employees.”
You know, did they use recruiters, LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed, job boards? A “where should I start” kind of question. And she got her first lesson about the industry itself.
“There wasn’t a staffing agency, not even a jobs board,” Humiston was amazed to learn. “Job boards would often take postings down.”
For these companies still on the fringe of respectability, and in some places illegal, finding people to hire wasn’t as simple as throwing up an ad. As Humiston pondered that, “the idea hit me,” she said.
And a company was born.
While she didn’t know much about the marijuana business, Humiston did know something many in the nascent industry didn’t – she knew the names and contact info of a huge group of young people looking to start careers: her network of friends and classmates, and clients of a student travel business she had run in college.
She left the trade show and went and had business cards made.
(There was another lesson she had to learn – the industry was trying to gain respectability and her initial idea for a name, Graduana, wouldn’t cut it. Too amateurish, as was its mortar board and cannabis leaf logo.)
But now, three years on, the company is the leader in a cannabis job search field, a sector it basically started.
The company, now called Vangst (which is Dutch for “catch”), connects cannabis industry companies with employees, and says it has helped more than 5,500 people get hired in the sector. It has been called by one publication the “LinkedIn of Weed,” More than 600 employers use its services.
Three years after Humiston thought up the idea while attending that New York trade show, things are different. Vangst now has 40 employees itself, up from less than 10 just a year ago, has been profitable from the get-go and recently announced it has raised more than $3 million from venture capital funds for even more expansion.
In one way, though, things aren’t totally different. Humiston, who is still only 25, and Vangst continue to have what that bright-eyed college senior had a few years ago: a big network of people it can tap into to help companies find employees and a desire to help them out. The company gets thousands of resumes and draws “Vangsters” to its meet-ups in Colorado and California.
But in another key way, something is very different. Humiston and her team at Vangst, now know what they’re doing. In fact, they’ve become experts on the intricacies of hiring in an industry with a lot of different rules in different states – rules that, if not followed, can really end up costing companies that make missteps.
The company now, in addition to providing a job board and doing basic recruiting, serves the broader staffing consulting role common in more traditional industries, helping companies and would-be licensees navigate the arcane world of starting up in the cannabis business.
“We’re working with clients to help them navigate regulations in different states – every state has a different set of employment rules,” Humiston says.
CEO: KARSON HUMISTON
Companies that are seeking cultivation licenses, for example, may go to Vangst because they have to have a staffing plan as part of their licensing application.
Vangst can help them determine what types of employees they’ll need to meet state regulations – and then help them find candidates, vet the candidates, and help them hire.
The fact that the industry remains young – and reliant on new businesses that have to hire from scratch – makes Vangst a good bet at success, the venture capital fund Lerer Hippeau wrote in a post on Medium explaining why it was investing in the company.
“Because many large companies are still hesitating to touch cannabis, startups are meeting the sector’s evolving demands,” the VC fund’s post said. “These companies are looking to quickly fill a growing number of open roles, putting Vangst in an ideal position to meet the industry’s hiring needs in the years to come.”
At the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo in New York at the end of this month, Humiston, a young job seeker just a few years ago, this time will be at the company’s booth.
She’s also a speaker at the expo, she’ll join LeafLink co-founder Ryan Smith at a session called “Land Your Job in Cannabis.”