Noah Miller

CEO of Black Dog LED

Noah Miller, Black Dog LED‘s CEO, has been engaged in the legal cannabis industry since its inception and is a cannabis cultivation technologist. Noah joined Black Dog LED as employee #1 and has over 25 years of management experience ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies. With a BS in Hospitality Management, an MBA and 3 startups behind him as well as 8 years’ consulting with C-level clients, Noah brings a business background to the exciting and rapidly-growing cannabis industry.

Where did the idea for Black Dog LED come from?

Originally the founder had been around growing and wanted to grow cannabis legally indoors and looked at traditional lighting. He didn’t like the idea of having heat-intensive HID lighting and saw that there were LED lights to grow plants but the technology was terrible at the time so he thought he’d go ahead and solve the problem by building his own light.

I came to Colorado for training and was introduced to the founder through a mutual acquaintance, we hit it off, and I agreed with his philosophy for lighting. I joined onboard as the first employee to help grow the business and have since become the company’s CEO.

We’re continuing to push the boundaries of LED lighting technology and have grown the company dramatically while establishing a strong reputation as science-led leaders in lighting spectrum – allowing some of the largest growers in the country to maximize yield while improving efficiency per square foot, which saves hundreds of thousands of dollars for our customers.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My day is quite varied. As the CEO I spend a lot of time meeting with leaders of various business groups, listening to how things are going and helping remove obstacles to their success.

Based on my skillset, I may spend more hands-on time with some functions versus others – such as growing top-level sales or meeting directly with some of our customers to create holistic solutions for their growing operations or product development.

It is very easy to get distracted or pulled in many different directions, so to stay productive. I keep careful tabs on not spreading myself too thin on low-value items. When planning my day I identify the most important tasks and try to block myself from the low-value, high-effort work that can either be delegated or postponed to a later date.

How do you bring ideas to life?

For me, the better question is how do you determine the BEST ideas that are worth spending effort on? It is easy to drown in opportunity as we live in a day and age in which ANYTHING is possible, especially in the cannabis industry.

The key is to identify one or two ideas that will truly make an impact and are worth devoting resources to as the reality is that spreading your company’s attention too thin will result in low-quality products. Steve Jobs once said that “Focusing is about saying ‘no” and he put this into action by streamlining Apple’s product line from hundreds of disparate electronics to just four.

We take a similar approach in focusing our efforts on creating the best grow lights, backed by science, and only engage in new ideas if it aligns with our North Star.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’m excited by the cannabis industry in general and can’t wait to see where it ends up. In my lifetime I can remember cannabis being so misunderstood and legalization so far away.

Now, there is so much public momentum that it only feels like it’s a matter of time before cannabis is legalized and disrupts nearly every industry – be it by providing cleaner alternatives to opioids, new consumer products, and more. It’s an honor to play a part in shaping this exciting, fast-growing industry.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

For me, it’s taking detailed notes which is critical. I’m currently using Microsoft OneNote which has served as a second brain, allowing me to memorize details, stay organized and ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. OneNote makes it easy for my notes to follow me across phone, laptop, and other devices.

Additionally, I try to stay as focused as possible and ensure that I’m spending my time on tasks that benefit the business and are the best utilization of my skill set – be it sales, customer service or partnerships.

I also know where I’m not as strong and try to not spend a chunk of my time on these tasks which would take others, who are more proficient in those sectors, a fraction of the time it would take me to solve.

What advice would you give your younger self?

When I was younger I tried to do a lot alone but if you want to accomplish something truly meaningful and long-lasting you need a team. You can move fast by yourself, but if you want to go far you need to do it together.

While Mark Zuckerberg had a great idea and is viewed as a solo founder he had a team in place from the beginning and engineers who helped build the code. Even he didn’t make Facebook what it is on his own – there’s always a team in the background serving as bedrock.

I’d also tell my younger self to expose myself to different experiences, skills or I risk locking myself into too narrow of a career path. All of my various odd jobs and skills that seemed random at the time are coming in handy now as CEO be it tech, pharma, or customer service.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

We focus on the quality of our products, particularly on developing the best lighting spectrum for our lights to enhance cannabis plant growth, at the cost of profit.

Competitors will often say that their lights grow better or as well as ours is often not true. The reality is that it is cheaper to produce lights with certain colors that are cheaper to purchase since we’re buying parts from the same sources, but the reality is that we have a fundamentally different approach as a company.

We’ll gladly spend money on researching the impact of ultraviolet light on plants, building research facilities and spending countless hours adjusting the minute details of our lighting spectrum if it means building the best product we can.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Change up the tools you use. Entrepreneurs often get fixated on doing the same thing or using the same programs and could benefit from taking a step back to see how new products and technological advancements can dramatically increase their productivity.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Customer focus. My undergrad was in hotel and restaurant management and I’ve owned restaurants while I was younger and even in school. With restaurants, it’s all about customers and I’ve been trained in this field, so I view customer service much differently than others since I’ve lived it.

We believe that customer service isn’t just helping customers when there’s something wrong with the product – you’re supposed to do that. We’re all about being proactive and going above and beyond.

For example, if a customer asks us a simple question such as what light to buy, we don’t just give them a simple response or try to sell them our more expensive light. We’ll send them a detailed, several paragraph response talking through different scenarios, asking what their goals are, and tailoring our response to their needs. Often we are bringing up points and considerations they have not even considered.

As a company, we spend a lot of effort in publishing white papers, educational blog posts and more to ensure that our customers are well informed before making a purchase. I truly believe that this has been a key reason for our success.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The hardest thing for me has been dealing with people as I’m more technologically focused by nature. Being a manager, training employees and having to deal with hiring and firing can be a challenge.

The only way I’ve learned how to overcome this has been by reading, going through training and most importantly, by finding mentors and people I trust who can provide their educated thoughts and past experiences. Those mentors and sounding boards have proven to be the most valuable tool in bridging this gap.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A lot of people believe in cloth pots which are essentially pots made out of felt – they provide aeration, prevent roots from strangling themselves and have other advantages.

The challenge, if you’re a pro grower, is if you clean them out and pressure wash them and bleach normal pots you’re fine. With cloth pots, you’ll need an industrial washing machine to clean them and it’s a much bigger hassle as they’re cloth.

Why hasn’t someone thought of an automated pot delivery service that can deliver these pots on a regular basis, clean and recycle the old felt pots using their own services, and save growers time and cost. We see companies provide this type of service in gyms, restaurants, etc. in the form of towels, uniforms, etc. This is simply re-applying this model to the cannabis industry. It’d make a ton of money.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Having a delicious dinner with friends, colleagues and family can create memories and experiences that are far more valuable than $100. Sharing a meal has always been a staple of my upbringing. There is something special about breaking bread and imbibing that, even in a business setting, that allows us to let our guard down and reveal our true selves which creates an even stronger bond amongst people.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Gmail, I know it is boring since it is an email client. But that is the point. I have a lot of software that I use, but email is critical. Learning how to harness the power of your email platform, whatever it is, can be time well spent. I try to learn at least one new piece of functionality a week in Gmail. For example, learning to use the search operators built into Gmail can help you work faster almost every single day. By being able to write search queries that quickly allow you to find what you are looking for is incredibly powerful.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

One of my favorite books have been those from Franklin Covey and their theories and thoughts on productivity – particularly David Allen’s “Getting Things Done.”

Its a simple, quick read and what fascinated me was that his tips on productivity have provided a system flexible from industry to industry while remaining applicable. His theories held water everywhere I’ve been. Our parents may have been in the ‘cradle to grave’ work world, but that is certainly not the case anymore, so having a system that can move from one industry or job role to another is critical.

What is your favorite quote?

“Treat others as you want to be treated,” The Golden Rule

Key Learnings:

  • Ideas are very important but validating your ideas and their execution is even more critical.
  • Don’t chase every single opportunity. Spend time really diving deep on one idea, its pros, and cons, to ensure that you’re chasing an opportunity rooted in thought and research versus chasing too much.
  • At the same time, have a broad range of experiences and don’t be too narrow in your career. You never know when those random skills will come in handy later on.
  • Treat others the way you want to be treated.