Jane West : Women Grow and Edible Events Co.
She’s absolutely, positively exhilarating. The amount of insight she shared with us blurs with its rapid, passionate pace. She’s the type of person you could sit down at a café with, with a full cup of coffee in your hand, and still have it sitting in front of you hours later barely sipped because you haven’t had a chance to take a breath during your conversation with her. This exemplary woman is Jane West, co-founder and National Events Director of Women Grow, and she was able to escape from her busy schedule of revolutionizing the cannabis industry to answer a few questions we had for her. We need not tempt you more…
What was the deciding factor for you to join this particular industry?
I’ve always proudly been a cannabis user and when it became clear that, due to the hard work of longtime advocates here in Colorado, Amendment 64 would pass and recreational cannabis would become legal, I wanted to use my 20 years of experience in creating events to create a small craft-event series that was cannabis-friendly. I entered the space in January 2014 and after a very short time in meeting countless individuals who work in the cannabis industry, I was incredibly moved to see that this group was made up of some of the most intelligent, motivated, fascinating entrepreneurs and colleagues I’d ever had the pleasure of meeting. This industry isn’t just about making money, we are making history here and once you start getting caught up in that and meeting all of the other incredible individuals that are part of the cannabis industry and community, you’re going to be hooked. It’s amazing!
This industry isn’t just about making money, we are making history here and once you start getting caught up in that and meeting all of the other incredible individuals that are part of the cannabis industry and community, you’re going to be hooked.
What were you doing before the green rush?
Well, that would be the 37 years before December 2013! You know, I’ve always been a recreational cannabis user, I’m a mother of 2 boys, and I live in Denver, CO with my husband; I’ve lived a ‘fairly’ normal life. I have my Master’s Degree in social work from Denver University and have spent the last 20 years doing fundraising events in New York City and Washington D.C., but most recently I was the Western Division Manager of a company that ran experiential education programs for high-achieving high school students that wanted to be doctors. So, I ran these conferences in the field of medicine across the country every summer for up to 8,000 high school students and those were the large conferences and events I ran. I LOVED my job!
What are you doing to impact the industry?
After being asked to resign from that job due to my CNBC interview, I put everything I had into the industry. One of the things I saw a need for was a professional women’s networking organization; I had met some really incredible women that I just felt weren’t being showcased enough and as a woman in the industry who was in the spotlight, I had a platform and an opportunity there! I was also getting a lot of resumes from women wanting to enter the industry and since I don’t run an HR firm and that wasn’t my specialty, I felt that the best way that I could connect them would be through a formal, national organization.
So, we got together with a group of leading women in the cannabis industry in Colorado who all agreed to monetarily fund the start of Women Grow and we started the company. So it was time to get to work, that’s when I met Jazmin Hupp, Women Grow Co-Founder and now Executive Director. She had the vision, business savvy and work ethic we needed, and Women Grow would not be where it is today without her. I am a natural networker and have the background to build our national events. Jazmin has the pragmatic business knowledge to ask those important C-level questions… What does our website look like? What is our message saying? What is our 2015 operating budget? Without her, we couldn’t have gotten this far, this fast! So, Jazmin and I started Women Grow with 24 other founding members. Right now, we are in the middle of our #FIRST50 campaign, which is a movement to have 50 businesses pledge $5,000 to fund the 2015 Women Grow operating budget and so far, we have had 20 businesses pledged out of 50! In 5 months, we have gone from a single chapter in Denver, CO to 16 chapters nationwide where hundreds of women attend our First Thursday networking events each month, and we want to continue to expand from there. Our May Leadership Retreat will focus on the topic of Cannabis Company Valuation, there is so much to learn!
Who’s Women Grow?
Describe your work ethic to me in one word.
Tenacious. In order to succeed in the cannabis industry, you have to dedicate yourself to it 100%! You need to meet with a lot of different people and identify the best, most trusted partners. Information is changing so quickly that you have to be agile and able to make quick decisions and stick by them. Part of that is always trying to figure out what’s next and you have to keep your momentum going. Remember to interpret other’s feedback and advice carefully, some people are going to want to do with your ideas; whatever is interesting and helpful to them, especially as you get more and more successful. It’s very important to maintain that passion and tenacity as you pursue your goals and always continue to ask questions and admit what you don’t know instead of boasting about what you do know.
(And for good measure) Honest. I feel that in the past year and a half, one of the reasons why I’ve built a good group of colleagues is because I’ve always been very straight-forward and honest with individuals. If I have a problem with a certain person, I don’t run out to social media or gossip about issues, I go directly to the source and talk to them about it. The world is watching us and it’s of the utmost importance that we take that into consideration and look at all of our avenues of communication. Honesty is very important. This industry is a freight train, and those people who you thought fell off a long time ago, will be people you’re going to run into again. Be very careful of the bridges you burn because this train track has a lot of rivers coming up.
The cannabis industry is very new and I can understand why the existing community is wary of new people coming in, even myself, but that’s how this industry is going to grow and expand. New people are going to have to come in, but that’s why we all need to work every day to prove ourselves to the community. Prove to the industry that you deserve to be here!
Tell me about a time in your career that didn’t go as planned and what you did about that? How did you handle it?
A company I worked for previously produced a conference every 4 years called the Inaugural Conference. We hosted college students and adult learners from all over the world in Washington D.C. for the Inauguration of the President. In 2009, we had over 10,000 participants. As a company, we took our model, which was to produce successful events for 500 students, and we just multiplied it and simply put, failed. There were so many logistical nightmares over the course of those 4 days that left everyone involved low on sleep and high on stress. It was an incredible experience, we rented 3 museums on the National Mall on the morning of President Obama’s Inauguration to stage our event, so there were a lot of wins, but it was not an easy feat. We had 300 buses back to back, which is a mile and a half of buses. When I say we had a lot of wins, I say that because we did it! We pulled it off! But it wasn’t pretty and what I learned from that was that scaling any process cannot be done on a calculator; it has to be done via process testing and refining those processes based on how big you want to go.
What book have you read that you’ve been inspired by? Any particular read we should put on our list?
Absolutely! If you haven’t already, read A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition by Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian, put it on your list! I’m going to be completely honest with you, this is the only book I read in 2014 as part of the Women Grow book club. The year was crazy for me and reading books just wasn’t on my to-do list. It’s really the first book that explores this new landscape; it talks about everyone from Allison Holcomb in Washington to developments here on the ground in Colorado. They reported from every state with a medical cannabis law, had real in-depth interviews with not only business owners, but also patients, growers, and doctors. It’s an analysis of how all these recent milestones have not only made cannabis legal, but have affected the whole war on drugs, both domestically and internationally. So, it’s definitely a must-read!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
You have to believe in yourself if you expect others to believe in you. Do what you think is right and don’t expect anything in return. Practice brevity, everyone’s time is valuable.
How would you advise someone who wants to join the industry?
I would say do your very best in conducting your research on individuals, but know that doing your research on fields in the cannabis industry is much like trying to find a diagnosis on WebMD… you can’t believe everything you read and there is A LOT of information out there. So, while you need to do your research, just remember that when it comes to making big decisions, know that this landscape is changing so quickly and that you need to realize you are your best resource. Going with your gut, being conscious of where your passion lies, choosing who you want to work with, and using your own knowledge and skills will take you far! Identify your areas of weakness and align yourself with trusted colleagues with strengths in those areas.
It can be very daunting at times when you’re surrounded by people who’ve been in the industry even for a few years because they’ve been a part of seeing this industry evolve and are already real-world ‘experts’ and while, yes, their knowledge is crucial, yours is just as important. This industry is new, exciting, sexy, and fun! Don’t get too caught up in the feeling that other’s amount of experience trumps your own because you’re in your time. Your knowledge is very valuable, so make sure that you’re always advocating for yourself professionally. If you’re an employee or a contributing partner in a company where you don’t feel your knowledge and insight is being honored… move on because there are so many other opportunities out there for you.
Identify your areas of weakness and align yourself with trusted colleagues with strengths in those areas.
What is a skill or trait that you think is necessary to make an impact in this industry?
Don’t take things personally. You have to keep your head about you in a professional business sense and you can’t take other people’s business decisions personally. It’s exciting and fun and great and there are a lot of amazing entrepreneurs that you can work with, but you have to realize that when you’re that dedicated to something, it’s really easy to get all wrapped up in it. Ensure that you’re protecting yourself and have a little bit of a thick skin.
If we are sitting across from each other a year from now, how will our conversation about the ‘green rush’ be going?
I don’t know the answer to that and if anyone tells you that they do know the answer to this question, they’re lying to you or they’re lying to themselves because we don’t know. This is one of the things that makes this industry SO exciting! I would say that I hope that we’re still talking about small business versus big fences. The Colorado model for cannabis legalization is based on pre-enterprise; we have over 400 individuals with licenses in the state and if you want to get into this space and throw your hat in the ring, you can! The barrier to entry is not anywhere near to what is being setup in other states and that really concerns me.
It’s small business and small business growers that made the Colorado model successful and I’m very concerned in what I’m seeing evolving in other states. In Connecticut, there are only 4 licenses and in New York, there are 5. In Illinois, you have to have $50,000 to even apply and prove that you have millions in the bank. That makes the cannabis industry no longer accessible to entrepreneurs that don’t traditionally have access to capital and that’s very concerning to me. I truly believe that the success of Colorado’s model is because of its focus on small business owners and I really hope that remains a key component of the industry.
I want to make it very clear that I have no issues with larger corporations, but I want to make sure that if those larger corporations are there, that there are also small businesses. Don’t be fooled by the guise of legislatures saying, “Woah! There can’t be 3 HUNDRED new businesses popping up in the state with the capabilities of distributing cannabis, we need strict regulation and limited licensing!” We need laws, but states are using this guise that’s built on out-dated, uneducated, stereotypes from messaging of the failed War On Drugs. When you finally see why cannabis is safer than alcohol, it will lead you to ask the question, “Why can’t I grow this plant in my yard myself?” Any law that doesn’t allow individuals in their homes being able to grow a small amount of cannabis for personal use… is a law I would be gravely concerned about.
I am incredibly passionate about this industry and I am looking forward to seeing what’s in store for this coming year. I don’t know what we’ll be talking about next year, but I hope it will be about positive progress about creating this industry that we can all have a part in creating!