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We had the pleasure to interview Jane West, who shared one of the most interesting journey behind her becoming a one of the most well known entrepreneurs in the legal marijuana industry.
Jane West founded Women Grow, the cannabis industry’s largest professional networking organization, and is now the CEO of her eponymous cannabis lifestyle brand Jane West, a cannabis-focused lifestyle brand that is shaping the emerging mainstream cannabis culture. At Jane West, she develops accessories and home goods that invite mainstream women to experience the benefits of cannabis and take part in the legal lifestyle.
The idea for Jane West came about at the dawn of legalization in Colorado in 2013, but the company really started to take shape in 2015 when the team came together and closed their first round of funding, and began working on the products that you can buy today.
"Our goal is to create the products that help busy women engage with cannabis and enjoy the plant’s incredible benefits." Jane said; "We offer a curated collection of thoughtfully designed proprietary accessories, home goods, and brand collaborations for the new legal lifestyle. We make products that combine form and function, and make sense in a woman’s daily life, like flower accessories that echo the high-end beauty products that are already in our bags."
Jane West Company launched its first line of proprietary flower accessories, The Collection, last year. More recently, however, Jane West partnered with a female-owned cultivation company to bring the very first Jane West cannabis pre-rolls and flower products in Day and Night varietals to Colorado dispensaries.
How do you describe yourself personally and professionally?
- Personally, I am like so many women I know--a busy, working mother of two with a full, active life. I’m also a daily flower consumer. Professionally, I am the CEO of my eponymous lifestyle brand, where I develop luxury accessories and home goods that invite celebrates the legal lifestyle and invites everyday Americans like me, especially women, to experience cannabis.
Describe your role in the company and how is your role and/or company connected to the marijuana industry?
We’re creating the cannabis products and accessories that are shaping the emerging legal lifestyle. Women stand to benefit so much from cannabis--especially as a replacement for alcohol or pharmaceuticals--but there are just so few products that make sense in their daily lives.- I am the Founder and CEO at Jane West. Since I launched my first cannabis-related company in 2013, I’ve been a voice for people like me; mainstream Americans who enjoy cannabis or are curious about it. In particular, I’ve always been passionate about inviting women to connect with cannabis. That started with Women Grow, the professional networking organization that has invited so many women to consider careers in the cannabis industry, and it continues now with Jane West.
We’re meeting that unmet demand with sophisticated, high quality products that are shifting the status quo and giving more people a way to connect with this amazing plant. And as a brand (versus a state-licensed producer) we’re not limited by geographic boundaries. We partner with the best producers in any legal market, and create accessories that are widely available regardless of where you live.
Could you please speak a little bit about women in the work place specifically in the marijuana industry, the negatives and the positives?
"The old boys’ club hasn’t taken over the cannabis industry, and the traditional power structures that reinforce white male privilege aren’t yet the status quo. As a new regulated sector with the potential for trillions in profits, women, people of color, and other groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in corporate leadership have a unique opportunity to build and lead businesses that work on our terms. Women are also one of the fastest-growing cannabis consumer demographics.
Who better to design products for women than women? Power is consolidating in the cannabis industry, mainstream investors have arrived, and we’re seeing more and more of the challenges that women face in any industry rise to the surface. But there’s still never going to be a better time than right now for women to find their place in this industry. There’s a need for every skill set, and now is the time to make our marks and lead a sustainable, successful, global industry.
What made you take the leap into marijuana industry?
- When legalization arrived in Colorado, I decided to combine my passion for entertaining and my love for cannabis and host sophisticated cannabis-friendly events that would showcase the social side of cannabis. I launched my cannabis events company, Edible Events, and my parties quickly attracted more attention than I ever could have imagined. My got fired from my corporate event planning job after my employer saw me vaping during a segment about my business on CNBC. What some might have seen as a moment to panic felt instead like a huge opportunity. I immediately decided to go all in on the cannabis industry.
How did you get into the marijuana industry? What ignited the spark? And why?
Since I started Edible Events, my focus has always been on bringing cannabis into the mainstream. In all of my ventures, I have been focused on connecting people, and especially women, with this plant and its benefits. As I became more involved in the cannabis space, I kept meeting with women entrepreneurs and executives who wanted to help other women in the industry make the most of this opportunity to lead and succeed. I knew I wanted to help these incredible women connect and learn, and I met co-founders who shared my vision and had the skills to build what is today the cannabis industry’s largest professional networking organization.- I’ve been an enthusiastic cannabis consumer since I was a young adult. When I started Edible Events in 2014 and began creating sophisticated, cannabis-friendly events in Colorado, I was happily working a mid-level management job in corporate events planning. The media interest in my events was much more intense than I could have imagined, and ultimately I was fired when my employer saw me vaping in a segment about Edible Events on CNBC. Colorado’s legalization program had just begun and I decided to go all in on this exciting, totally new industry.
Soon after starting Women Grow, I very quickly realized that women also needed a platform to connect with cannabis as consumers, so in 2015, I launched my lifestyle brand that invites women to be part of the legal lifestyle that I enjoy. The established cannabis subculture wasn’t relatable for me, and I knew there were plenty of women like me who felt the same way. I’m not the only woman out there who feels that an awkwardly built four foot bong doesn’t feel right for a dinner party. I couldn’t find cannabis accessories that fit my aesthetic or my lifestyle, so I decided to create them.
Is it different starting a business in the marijuana industry than other ones?
As in any industry, the operational realities, entrepreneurial demands, and need for capital are very real challenges for cannabis businesses. But unlike most traditional industries, the playing field is constantly shifting. The market is expanding, new consumer demographics are emerging all the time, and there’s an incredible opportunity to capture and shape demand. There’s no playbook for the cannabis industry. If you have an appetite for risk and a bold vision, it’s a once in a lifetime entrepreneurial opportunity.
What are the struggles/obstacles you’re facing in the cannabis industry? On a personal level and/or professional.
Women face many of the same challenges breaking into the cannabis industry that they do elsewhere. We’re not immune to the forces that shape society and women’s role in it. Working mothers wear so many hats, and it’s a challenge to balance demanding professional lives with their roles at home. Female founders have much less access to funding than men do - I had no idea how challenging it would be to raise money for Jane West. The federally illegal nature of cannabis does present some unique challenges for women. Existing stigmas (and laws) around cannabis mean that in many states, a woman risks having her children taken away because of her connection to the legal cannabis industry. Coming out of the cannabis closet, even just as professionals, remains a huge hurdle for many women.
Do you have a preference hiring women over men? And why?
I’m building a team that creates products for women, so it makes so to hire women. My team is my tribe. We have a responsibility to ensure that all groups that have been left out of the boardroom have a seat at the table in cannabis, and especially to ensure that communities of color which were disproportionately damaged by the war on drugs have opportunities to benefit from legalization. At the end of the day, cannabis is for everyone, and I hope that my business and the industry reflect that. I’m proud to say that Jane West is currently 80% held by women and people of color.
If money is not an issue, what would you rather do?
If you had asked me if I would be the CEO of my own cannabis lifestyle company five years ago, I couldn’t have imagined it. Today, it’s just as impossible for me to imagine my life without the business I created and incredible women who are right beside me. I am living my dream, and there’s so much more to create and conquer.
Due to the stigma behind marijuana, have you ever dealt with contention from your family concerning your pursuits in the cannabis industry? How being in this industry has affected your personal and/or professional life? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
For my entire adult life, cannabis has been a positive, normal part of my experience. I guess there will always be those that judge, but their close-mindedness isn’t my concern. There have been real consequences to my involvement in the industry. I was fired from my corporate job after my employer saw me vaping in a segment about Edible events. A SWAT team showed up at my 420 brunch, and I ended up with a criminal misdemeanor….for serving liquor without a license. I am lucky to have a supportive family and the privilege that comes with being white and middle class in the first state to legalize adult-use cannabis. When you begin to think about the mass incarceration and deeply ingrained racism of the war on drugs, my experience as a white, middle-class woman living in the first state to legalize adult-use cannabis doesn’t carry weight. I am very fortunate.
If you smoke weed and you’re comfortable talking about it, how did it help you in your personal and/or professional life? And what that piece of advice you would like to give to stoners?
As a mom, the stress of having two full-time jobs and the self-medication it leads to are very real to me. Like so many women I know, it was easy for me to reach for an extra glass of wine or a sleeping pill, and was hard for me to get going the next morning. Replacing alcohol with cannabis has made me healthier, happier, and more engaged at home and at work. Cannabis didn’t just enhance my life, it put me on the path I’m on today.
I encourage fellow cannabis consumers to take ownership of their relationship to this amazing plant. We are living, breathing challenges to the worst stereotypes about cannabis culture. As cannabis consumers come out of the closet, we are changing the conversation about cannabis and forcing people to rethink drug war stereotypes and stigmas. Your voice can help make safe, legal access to cannabis a reality for everyone.
Where did your organization’s funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?
Finding the right investors for Jane West was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I was intent on finding investors who shared our vision and could offer the right kind of strategic support. It took more than a year, and more meetings and calls than I ever thought possible. The way we raised money wasn’t easy, but I’m totally convinced it was right. I’m extremely fortunate to have an incredible CFO, Heather Molloy, who kept us focused, got us in the right rooms with the right people, and guided us to where we are today.
How do you see the competitive environment in the industry?
As the industry grows, the competition will continue to increase. I encourage women in the industry to stay agile, and understand that everyone’s time is equally valuable, whether you’re the CEO or the intern. We can never get back lost time, so make sure you’re investing it wisely.
What would you like to see changes in the industry?
I’d like to see cannabis declassified, and more widely regulated like alcohol. I hope that the federal landscape will evolve, and that we’ll have fair access to banking and sustainable regulatory environment for small business. And of course, I’d like to see the injustices of the war on drugs be addressed and for cannabis consumption to be normalized.
I look forward to seeing how women’s lives change when they are able to openly embrace cannabis as a therapeutic alternative to harmful, mind-altering pharmaceuticals and alcohol. I hope women will be able to buy Jane West products at mainstream stores and feel comfortable enjoying themselves openly.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started in this industry?
I actually spoke on a topic similar to this at the 2017 Women Grow Leadership Summit. You can view the video here:
What’s next for you?
2018 is going to be a big year for Jane West. We’re producing more colors of our GRAV glass line, bringing the Collection to more consumers online and in mainstream retail environments in the US and internationally, and seeking opportunities to expand the availability of Jane West cannabis products like the Day and Night mini joints. We also just launched an equity crowdfunding campaign on Republic.co (www.republic.co/jane-west). Cannabis is for everyone, and the financial opportunity in the industry should be too. Equity crowdfunding makes it possible for anyone with $100 can be a stakeholder in the most important industry to emerge in our lifetime.