Featured image credit: Konbini
Calling all aspiring and active cannabis entrepreneurs – this interview is for YOU!
I recently had the incredible opportunity to speak with Jane West; Industry Icon, Superconnector, and Total Badass.
If you aren’t acquainted with this absolute queen of cannabis, allow me to give you the sparknotes.
Jane’s career was launched into the spotlight in 2014 when her cannabis-friendly cocktail parties gained massive media attention and she was forced to resign from her day job in corporate event planning. From there she went on to co-found Women Grow and start her own glassware, travel and CBD collections. In 2018 she closed her first equity crowdfunding campaign that raised $189,000 from 550 investors across 17 countries – and, she’s back for round 2 of fundraising. Her company, Jane West, is 80% owned by women and people of color. Incredible.
Now, if equity crowdfunding isn’t something you’re familiar with, you’re not alone. When it comes to raising money for your budding biz, you might know about taking a loan for the bank or pitching your idea to a team of VCs a la shark tank.
Equity ( shares in a company) + crowdfunding (taking small sums of money from a big group of supporters) means that average people like you and I can help fund a growing business while receiving a percentage stake in the company. Pretty cool, right?
Jane West just broke the exciting news that she’s raising another equity crowdfunding round, which inspired me to reach out for more details. Let’s dive into the interview.
B: Jane, thanks for taking the time to chat today! You’re a very widely recognized female in cannabis. What’s the secret sauce behind building such a strong personal brand?
Jane: I wish there was an easy formula that other people could simply apply. But for me, I try to be constantly breaking new ground. Doing something that’s going to make a big impact.
Social media platforms are so fickle and unwelcoming to cannabis that traditional marketing. Advertising isn’t working at all. I have 5,000 friends on Facebook and most of them are highly engaged, but I’ll make a post and get like three likes. That’s not real. I know that’s not real. So since [social media] is a black hole, I don’t put money into it. So, my secret sauce has been being able to leverage earned media. And by earned media, I mean just someone genuinely finding you and talking about what you’re doing.
I never turned down an interview. There’s plenty of people whose sites I checked out (when they first reached out to me) and they didn’t have a big following. But the fact that they were interested in what I was doing is what really mattered to me.
As a company, we have to try our best to leverage our network to make the biggest impact. And means getting more people, who didn’t know you or your brand are, to know what you’re doing.
That’s hard to do. A lot of people are new to the industry and it’s almost like being a freshman in college. By the time they’re a “junior in college”, they’ve picked their friends and business partners and that’s something that you can’t do if you’re going to keep breaking new ground.
I see a lot of people falling into this trap of finding their group, which is great, but then they go to events and they’re standing there with the same 10 people and that’s not helpful. You need to be standing there with nine people that don’t know who you are. And then at the end of the day you can say, wow, nine more people know who I am and the brand that we’re building.
You have to constantly be looking towards what you win if today someone met you or learned about you who did not know who you were. Always be looking for that next lily pad of people that don’t know anything about what you’re doing, educate them and whenever possible, leveraging the use of media to get your name and brand name out there.
B: You’re doing the hard work by going out there and meeting so many new people. I’m sure that’s exhausting at times and exhilarating and others. But you’ve built an amazing network out of it.
So let’s talk about the unique way you’re funding your business. Why did you choose to do an equity crowdfunding campaign instead of going the venture capital route?
Jane: Venture capital in the cannabis industry is just so predatory. It’s very Caucasian male-dominated, and it’s not a friendly place for new businesses.
In a lot of ways, once you learn about how a lot of [venture capital] deal structures work, you see how advantageous they are to the VCs, not to the actual businesses. Many capitalize on the idealism of new entrepreneurs.
We hear about these big deals closing and money being raised. But, some of the most widely known cannabis brands are just holding companies that have all these licenses – they haven’t built anything yet. They haven’t started selling cannabis to customers on a regular basis where they actually have a real business. Even though they may have found a way to own a bunch of licenses and a ton of square footage and be able to grow flower. They need to realize that customers are going to care what they’re buying.
And so it’s really interesting how it all evolves. I think there are many professionals in finance who saw this opportunity in cannabis because they could foresee how it could become a bubble.
Oh, only the Toronto stock market is taking investments? And there’s only a handful of companies in this burgeoning industry? Of course there’s going to be a bubble! Of course we’re going to be able to rush in and drive up the price, even though these companies have never even sold cannabis to a single person yet!
My overall point is that the VC world is a game, and it’s not a game I’m interested in playing. I can tell what investors really care about the future of my business versus the future of their personal bottom line. At the end of the day, you need to have people that are your investors who actually care about the longevity of the business.
So as difficult as it was to build the company this way, I wasn’t going to take a deal that wasn’t good for me or the overall integrity of the company.
What matters to me is having invested customers. I’ve already closed a handful of $25 investors on Republic and those people mean just as much of me as bigger VCs. It’s somebody that believes in you and what you’re doing. If I’m able to scale my equity crowdfunding to reach more people and we’re able to meet the same numbers my company needs (by closing a thousand people at a smaller number instead of 10 people at a much bigger number) than I’d much rather do that.
This also ties back into what we were talking about previously, which was the advertising restrictions.
By outlining what my brand is and what we do and what our goals are on the Republic website, I’m able to draw attention to what we’re doing in a way that isn’t advertising. People are reading about the nuances of my business and my overall strategy by reading my deal page on Republic. To me, that’s even better than having a billboard or print advertisement in a magazine that only makes a short term impression on a customer.
B: Yes! It’s such a smart marketing play too. For women that want to invest in cannabis in a thoughtful way, I think the idea of investing in an actual entrepreneur that’s building a real business is very impactful.
I’d love to learn what you’re working on next. What do you plan to do with the new round of funding?
Jane West: We could raise up to $1,000,000. But I decided to raise $535,000 because after that amount we’re subject to another level of financial reporting that I currently don’t want to have to maintain with my team.
I’m dialed in on the overhead of my company so I know that raising half a million dollars will cover our operating costs, so we can be much bolder in spending our revenue. To a lot of people, half a million dollars might not seem like a lot. But for us, it’s the perfect number to have our overhead covered and then to make a lot bigger plays with our capital.
In terms of what I’m going to spend the capital on specifically? I’m really excited about getting merchandise. I’d like to make actual promo items. We’ve never bought t-shirts, hats, hoodies, anything like that at all. I invested in stickers one time and I was like, where’d all the stickers go? We’re never doing that again.
That’s one of the things I’m most excited about doing because now that we’re in 10 different states and we have all these budtenders that are pushing our product, I’d like to to get some high-quality merchandise in their hands.
Additionally, we’ve gotten a lot of traction with Jane West CBD Coffee. I’m more of a coffee snob – I want to grind my own beans every morning. But a lot of our audience really wants our product in a ground version. So one use of the funds will be bringing additional variance to market of some of our products at a lower price point.
Right now we sell the coffee at $48 MSRP in whole bean and you get 12 ounces. But if we sold it for $24 in a ground bag, we hit a whole different group and that’s what a lot of the consumer product goods brokers that we’ve been working with have given us feedback on.
Also, It depends on how [cannabis dispensary] shelf space evolves, but I’d like to start making upgraded displayers. I’ve always dreamed of having displayers for the brand that look more and feel like something in the Mac makeup counter – backlit with the logo and all the products, right there for you to try. Something where people can interact with the product and touch it and feel it.
B: How exciting! Anything else you’d like to share?
Jane: I personally think we’re off to a good start with this latest equity crowdfunding campaign, bringing in over $2,000 a day in the first three days.
So far I have posted on Instagram to share the news, and then my instagram got shut down for a week. Then, I emailed all existing investors about it. That’s all we’ve done as a company to get to this $6,800 total. So that’s a really good sign for me.
I’m super dedicated to equity crowdfunding. So if this goes well, this is something I plan on doing on a regular basis and continuing to build that audience.
It’s also notable that this campaign ends on 420!
Thank you to Jane West for her conversation and candor. If you’d like to get learn more about Jane and her equity crowdfunding campaign, check out her Republic page here.
Disclosure: The author of this blog owns shares of Jane West.