She brought Germany’s first medical cannabis company to the stock exchange: Pia Marten is co-founder and managing director of Cannovum. Your startup is a fully licensed pharmaceutical wholesaler, importer and manufacturer of medical cannabis based in Berlin. Cannovum’s goal is to improve medical and scientific education in the field of cannabis products and to enable the widespread sale of cannabinoid starting materials in order to create more access to cannabis-based therapies. We learn from the 30-year-old founder how she can keep track of things at work, why Google Meet often causes problems and what trick she uses to calm down in the evening.
Pia, what makes work difficult in your professional field – I’m thinking of licenses and guidelines in the Narcotics Act – and how did you overcome these hurdles?
In order to be able to operate in this market at all, we had to obtain numerous licenses in a lengthy process: for example, the wholesale license, the GMP license (Good Manufacturing Practice: good manufacturing practice for quality assurance of production processes) and the narcotics license, as well as an import license to import cannabis to be allowed.
The process took us about a year – and we were quick! This often takes several years. This is a major hurdle in the industry because, logically, nothing can be sold during this time and the financial burden is correspondingly high.
Since the topic of cannabis is generally very stigmatized, there were many smaller and larger, unexpected hurdles. For example, it was very difficult to open a company account with the bank. I see the biggest hurdle at the moment for patients: We have many more patients in Germany than doctors who prescribe. Not every patient who can benefit from cannabis-based therapy is given access to it. I would like to change that.
How would you describe your own way of working?
As is well known, there is always a lot to do in a startup. To keep track of things, I follow a very structured way of working – I organize myself with various tools such as Trello, Calendly and Google Calendar. Trello helps me to keep track of all to-dos and to prioritize (I check my boards several times a day) and also like to block time slots in Google Calendar so that I can work on a topic in a particularly focused manner. Since I travel a lot as CEO, the digital tools and to-do lists are really helpful to easily work from anywhere. If I’m stressed in between or have the feeling that there are too many topics on the table, it helps me enormously to take another look at my various Trello boards and, if necessary, to re-prioritize them.
In which area could you change or improve?
I’m currently working on delegating more tasks and handing in topics from time to time. My team is growing rapidly and I am still used to working on almost all topics – just like in the initial phase of the foundation. I know that this is difficult for many founders because it feels a bit like giving up your own baby. But above a certain size, this is necessary. You can’t do everything. Fortunately, I have a wonderful team with great people and I know that all tasks are in good hands and that everyone takes responsibility. That helps me a lot in letting go. On the other hand, with a growing team, one-on-one meetings become less common, which is a shame. However, through recurring workshops we keep a good team spirit and solidarity in the company.
Do you have a certain routine during the working day?
The first thing I do in the morning is drink coffee, check my emails and read my messages. In the evening it is often not easy for me to switch off properly. As a result, it always takes a little while to fall asleep. That’s why I’ve gotten into the habit of listening to an audio book and then setting myself a sleep timer. Right now I’m listening to my favorite classic from my youth again: Harry Potter.
Which digital helper do you and your team get along with best?
Cannovum and the individual teams work with tools from Google, for example: Mail, Meet and Drive. We use Trello for the distribution of tasks – there is a Trello board for everyone and one for each team. Each team also uses other tools – for example, our marketing team works with Asana, our communications team uses Hootsuite. It is important to us that our IT systems are cloud-based.
Which of these digital helpers are you more at odds with?
Google Meet – sometimes there are days when the quality of the video calls is less good and there are transmission delays. Then calls are a bit exhausting. In that case we switch to another platform or the good old phone. And there is a digital helper that I absolutely don’t like and that we don’t use internally either: Microsoft Teams.
On which working days does your team work particularly well? What is different on days like this?
We are a Berlin company and many of our employees live in Berlin, but not all. That is why Cannovum is set up remotely and digitally – we work from home if you wish, but we also have an office in Berlin, which everyone can use as they wish. And every Wednesday we meet together in the on-site office. That works very well for us. But precisely because not everyone is always in Berlin, we have introduced team workshops every six to eight weeks. These are very important for us, because we come together personally on these days and work together, but also strengthen the team spirit and do something together, such as ending the working day together over dinner.
What are your hobbies and how do they help you?, Relieve stress?
In my often limited free time, it is important to me to be able to switch off. My friends, with whom I like to meet for good food and a glass of wine, help me with this. And I’m not a fitness fanatic, but when my time allows, I like to go jogging or do yoga or a cardio workout at home. Movement helps me clear my head. Especially because I naturally sit at my desk a lot in my job. I also like to read. Most recently “Boarderlines” by Andreas Brendt and currently “COVID: The great Reset” by Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret.
When do you work best and most productively yourself and why?
I work best in the morning when I am still completely to myself and have no fixed work appointments and work meetings. I never used to be an early riser, but that has changed since it was founded. I set myself a time slot from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. to focus on the most important tasks of the day. I am usually most productive and concentrated in a clearly defined block of time without interruptions.
How do you motivate your team, especially in tough times?
Everyone here in the team bears a lot of responsibility, but at the same time receives a lot of support and support from everyone – especially when things go wrong. Everyone in the team is aware that we are all working on the same vision and that we are all pulling together. We have a strong team spirit and everyone helps each other out. Patient stories always give us a good motivational boost. When we hear from doctors and pharmacists how much better patients feel, how much joy and quality of life they have (re) gained and that they can participate in life again, then we are of course particularly pleased. Because for us, every patient deserves the best therapy.
And how do you motivate yourself, especially in tough times?
My family and my circle of friends always support and encourage me in every situation in life and especially when it is difficult. They give me the strength and motivation that I need. It helps me a lot to have found a sparring partner in my co-founder Marius. This allows me to think about all possible solutions from two perspectives in order to be able to filter out the best in difficult situations. In addition, our chairman of the supervisory board, Udo Schmickler, is like a mentor for me, who is at my side with his many years of experience and gives me valuable advice and tips.
What advice would you like to give to other women in the startup world?
Believe in yourselves and don’t let it get you down. Your enthusiasm and trust in your vision is your greatest strength. Remembering your “why” over and over again will help and motivate you when things don’t go as planned. It is important to keep reminding yourself what the purpose of your vision is: Why did you choose what you are doing? What will it change? Trust your vision and trust that you will grow along with all the tasks and hurdles that come your way. Nobody is perfect and if you manage to stay in the growth mindset, nothing can get you down. Because then stumbling or making a mistake is just a small stop on your way to realizing your vision.
What is some advice you can give to all founders?
Just do it! It is very important to start at all and not be put off by the respect for big goals and related to-do’s. Once started, it will work. And better, you set yourself small intermediate goals and work towards them, instead of wanting to tackle a mammoth task directly. It’s less frustrating, you stay more patient and don’t get lost in the meantime. And finally: don’t give up! Taking a step back isn’t as bad as it sometimes feels and has nothing to do with failure. Rather, it can help to renegotiate situations, to rethink – and ultimately to get closer to one’s goals.