Billion Dollar Start-Up: The Story of HEXO

As a budding entrepreneur, I love to indulge in business books every now and then. Reading about the successes, failures, and many obstacles along the way to building a solid business. 

I figured there would be a lot of hoops to jump through when creating the company I was about to read about in the newest book on my shelf: Billion Dollar Start Up: The True Story of How a Couple of 29 Year Olds Turned $35,000 Into a $1 Billion Cannabis Company.

I've had my hands in quite a few pots over the years, everything from running a successful travel blog, a small but lucrative wellness tea brand, and a not so successful (but a lot of lessons learned along the way) at home yoga platform. 

I've also been working as an Executive Assistant for ten plus years at some of the world's most successful companies, an invaluable learning experience and a job I continue to love.

Entrepreneurship is in my blood. I get excited by new ideas, my pulse quickening at the thought of innovating and building something new. 

Billion Dollar Start-Up follows brother-in-law’s and business partners Adam Miron and S├ębastien St-Louis, as they fly by the seat of their pants building Hydropothecary: a high end, luxury, cannabis company. Think Cartier, Chanel, Dior… but for cannabis. When starting out, that was their target demographic as well.

S├ębastien St-Louis (Co-Founder & CEO)

I found the book to be quite disjointed (pun intended), even though it was written in the form of a diary, it still seemed to jump around quite a bit.

At first, I was irritated by the partners, thinking "is it all about money for these guys?" Of course, for entrepreneurs, money is always part of the plan, but there's a lot more to building a company than just that. Show me some passion.

I also felt misled by the cover which suggests that they started out with only $35,000, when in fact they seemed to have quite a bit more than that. They were able to pull together the initial $250,000 required to start the business pretty quickly, and an additional $200,000 as if it were no big deal, on the premise that "we'll be richer quicker."

Adam Miron (Co-Founder)

Perhaps I just felt rubbed the wrong way because being rich seemed to take precedence over everything else. Being an entrepreneur isn't about being rich for me. It's about the adrenaline, the innovating, the blood, sweat, and tears that go into building something new and bringing it to market. A check at the end is just the cherry on top. 

For Adam and Seb, most if not all the decisions and conversations were about money, and not about the consumers, marketing, and vision. This showed a lack of interest for me. The only vision I saw was them sitting down and counting how many zeros they would bank at the end of the game. 

Courtesy of HEXO Corp. Facebook

Turns out though, the blood, sweat and tears, the insane hours, work ethic, the adrenaline, and all that entrepreneurial spirit would come later, in the middle of the book.

However, the book continued to give inconsistent messaging, with the partners sometimes appearing humble and down to earth, frugal and just like the rest of us, but at other times, spending in excess on champagne, caviar, and Brooks Brother’s suits and Zegna ties. 

I’m not sure who they wanted to relate to at various parts in the story. 

They went from having no money to having a 250,000 sq. ft greenhouse expansion and a TSX stock exchange listing over the course of a few pages without much of an explanation to how they got there. The writer spends more time indulging me in the details of Adam’s kitchen than how the partners actually made it to the stock exchange. Less fluff and more detail here would have been nice. 

Courtesy of HEXO Corp. Facebook

I hated the Zuckerberg reference. Seb talks about flexing his 'Zuckerberg muscle', which involves leaving interested partners waiting for hours before closing a deal, it's important to remember, that's not good business, and he's not Mark Zuckerberg.

One thing I did love and wanted to highlight were the Billion Dollar Lessons spread throughout the book. Not all of them resonated with me, but I had a couple of favourites that I wanted to share, and there’s many more in the book that are worth reading.

  • "The most powerful learning experiences come from our failures." - Seb
  • "Take the chance, believe in yourself, and pivot when you need to." - Adam

There’s also some great advice about organizational structure, how to hire the right team, fundraising, and failing in order to succeed. 

Toward the end, it seemed that Hydropothecary (now called HEXO) started to find their voice, their mission statement, their North Star. With the launch of Elixir and Decarb, innovation started to bubble within the company. It no longer seemed like it was just about money for the founders, it was about hiring the right folks and bringing new and innovative products to market. 

Some things I did like about the partners: I liked that they were risk-takers, they took chances, and they knew good team members when they found them. Adam and Seb entered an untouched market which is an extremely difficult thing to do, and despite being told no again and again, they persevered, which shows how driven they were.

Courtesy of HEXO Corp. Facebook

They refer to setbacks as "just another mountain to climb up, climb around, or blow up," which I really liked. 

All in, I think HEXO has a great story to tell. The company is extremely successful, the partners are interesting, and the story is unique. However, I think they could have waited another 5 years before writing a book, or at least portrayed their story in a more engaging way. 

Sharing a few recent business books I've read recently and enjoyed:

Eat a Peach by David Chang

I also really enjoy NPR's How I Built This with Guy Raz podcast and strongly recommend listening to it if you're interested in business, entrepreneurship, and starting your own gig, or even just finding out how the products you consume came to be. It's awesome. Guy Raz just released a book too, which I haven't read so I can't vouch for, but if it's as good as the podcast, then I'm sure it's fantastic!