Nancy Do has experienced everything from arrest to raids to evictions pursuing a career as a cannabis entrepreneur. The Vietnamese-American operator, a member of Momentum’s inaugural class, persevered and went on to found Endo Industries, a business focused on providing top quality cannabis and hemp genetics to growers using modern agricultural techniques. We talked to her about her journey, from her family’s escape from Vietnam to San Francisco to the cannabis industry to Momentum.
Tell me a little bit about where you grew up, what your family was like, and kind of your childhood experience.
I grew up in Eastside San Jose. I make that very specific because my heart is in the east side of San Jose. I was actually born in Omaha, Nebraska, but my family moved out to San Jose when I was two because we were refugees from the Vietnam War and we were sponsored by a family there.
I like to say that we escaped Vietnam, but we also then escaped Omaha, Nebraska. I mean, no disrespect to Omaha, but there were not a lot of people of color so we found community in San Jose. There’s a large Vietnamese population there, so it allowed us to build more family and community.
When did you first get involved in the cannabis space? Cannabis in general, I guess.
I had tried cannabis and used it starting in college, I went to Berkeley, so I guess it’s kind of a rite of passage and expected, but I actually didn’t use it that much in college because I was a college athlete. I played rugby. It would have been great to actually be able to use cannabis and rugby at the same time.
I started in cannabis as an entrepreneur in 2009 and I got into it because I learned that there were all these amazing medicinal benefits that I had no idea existed in this plant, and I didn’t even understand that there was an industry that existed around medical cannabis.
I have a couple of personal experiences with cannabis that really drew me in. It is effective for pain management and I grew up with a mom who suffered from chronic pain for most of my life. She ended up committing suicide when I was 10 because she was in so much pain and there was really nothing at the time that was effective for her. So she slept zero to two hours a night for many, many years because the pain was unbearable.
When I learned that cannabis was amazing for pain management, I was perplexed. If this plant was a possible solution for the suffering, why was it not in the hands of the masses and why were people going to jail for it? Specifically people of color.
So then my journey in cannabis began. I started growing for three patients in my garage, built a shed with some friends and got kicked out of the garage very quickly because my landlord found out, but it didn’t deter me. I kept going and found other places to grow.
What are some of the trials and tribulations, some of the hardships you’ve had to go through to get to where you’re at today?
So many. Being an operator 10 years ago was a very different space. There were all kinds of people in the industry and it was a challenge navigating that. Even though we had Proposition 215, in some ways people treated it like a black market so you had to be careful about who you worked with.
Especially [because I am] a woman and a woman of color, it was really scary. I ended up getting an [androgynous] nickname in the industry that I took from my childhood and and brought it into the cannabis industry.
What was it?
DJ. It still sticks with me. You can call me DJ or Nancy. Some of the other trials and tribulations were that you could be evicted from a building, have to move out in 24 or 72 hours from a landlord that was extorting you or quite honestly didn’t know what you were doing.
The other piece was going to jail a couple of times, to be honest with you. I had been arrested twice for being a cannabis operator. The second time was really bad. I was raided and my facilities were shut down. I was arrested and put in jail and had to fight the case. I had to fight four felonies at the time and it decimated my personal and professional life. It broke down every piece of who I was.
This was back in 2016. This was probably one of the last big raids in California. It was right before Proposition 64 passed and it actually dropped my felonies to a misdemeanor and it allowed me to fight my case faster. Even though I would’ve been able to fight my case successfully eventually, it would’ve taken me years to battle that incident.
Some of my friends in LA had grow operations at proper storefronts and they were raided by the federal government. They were running everything legally, but the federal government said, “Nope, we don’t think it’s legal. Even though you have all the state licenses.” And they burn everything, they take everything, and then they’re just now stuck with no product, paying rent, paying all that with nothing.
A lot of those incidents happened to people who have been in the industry for a long time. e were always treated as guilty and had to prove our innocence later, and it was hard. You never knew where it was coming from, and if you were a person of color you were an easier target. It could be because you fired an employee who was disgruntled, or if you brought in a contractor who thought they should be paid more. You were always vulnerable.
I just wanted to run business in a way that I thought was right and it was a challenge.In business, people may make mistakes or have disagreements, but there is a proper way to handle things.. It’s just a very strange world that I don’t miss. I mean, there are many things about Prop 64 that I think are very flawed. There are things that yeah, we need to work on, but overall I’m happy to see that now that we’re moving into a place where that world doesn’t exist anymore.
What are you hoping to get out of the program?
Community. As an entrepreneur you have your head down sometimes because there’s just the everyday hustle and grind, especially in this industry. There’s so much going on all the time and to survive it’s like doing an IronMan Marathon. So to make sure that you’re building the connections with the right people is a challenge.
[I’m also hoping to] become a wiser and more strategic operator. As a cannabis legacy operator, I have these skill sets and these attributes that a lot of people don’t have. I mean, there’s deep industry expertise and grit, right? That is clear if I’m still standing here.
So you’ve had a very interesting life. You’ve had trials and tribulations throughout. What are you most proud of, of the kind of person that’s sitting in front of me today?
I’m most proud of the fact that despite going through all these trials and tribulations, I’m still here. I haven’t lost my sense of self, even though it could’ve been easy in any of those incidents in the past. I think I could have been jaded. I could’ve been angry. I could have decided that I should just go for the money and recoup any losses that I have incurred.. But I’m in this industry for the right reasons. I’m always committed to community and collaboration. I haven’t lost sight of that. I think it’s so easy to do when times are hard.