The Executive Page: Yen Pham

Co-Founder and CEO of Link4 Greenhouse Controls, an Anaheim, California, maker of greenhouse control systems and hydroponic equipment

By Kristen Nichols

What was your biggest business “aha” moment?

Our environmental controllers were popular with commercial greenhouse customers long before cannabis. But we would receive calls from customers wanting to make hacks and unusual configurations to our controllers. We couldn’t figure out why they were wanting such changes. We were told they were growing African orchids and other rare, exotic plants. The “aha” moment was when we realized people were using our controls to grow indoors and “African orchids” were code words for cannabis.

What’s been your biggest mistake?

I made the mistake of hiring people that were like me. Some were friends, people that I related to. Later on, I discovered that we all had the same blind spots. Today I realize it can be better to hire people that I don’t feel so comfortable with. I hire people that will challenge me. It’s not as comfortable, but it’s a better way to go.

This industry is growing rapidly. What are your best tips for hiring new talent quickly?

I can always find coders who can build great software, but that’s not where the passion comes from. When I look for new talent, I look for two things: competency in their field and also a passion for plants, organics and food production. Finding this combination quickly always remains a challenge.

How do you evaluate business partners in this booming Wild West industry?

I want to avoid potential business partners that make bold claims. “I create the biggest yields … the best technologies.” This is a red flag for me. There are not a lot of shortcuts in commercial growing. The best business partners are ones who have been in the space a long time.

Where do you look for management advice in an industry without long-established operators?

Business fundamentals in this industry are the same as in many others. Getting advice from those in completely different sectors can be especially valuable.