Jane West, CEO, JaneWest.com
Jane West, Colorado-based CEO of the eponymous cannabis lifestyle brand Jane West, has emerged as a central figure in mainstream cannabis culture. When West lost her job as a corporate event planner in 2014 after her employer spotted her with a vape pen on CNBC, the working mother dove headfirst into the cannabis industry. She launched Edible Events, Colorado’s premiere cannabis event production company, one whose breakthrough “On a High Note” collaboration with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra captured international media attention. She also founded Women Grow, the cannabis industry’s largest professional networking organization, an operation dedicated to changing the perception of women in cannabis, both as consumers and business leaders.
Now, as CEO of Jane West, she’s developing accessories, home goods and lifestyle content that invite mainstream women to experience all the benefits of the new legal lifestyle. Designed for longtime enthusiasts and first-timers alike, her sophisticated, user-friendly products are intended to elevate the cannabis consumer experience and lead to broader social change.
[00:00:01] You're listening to Thinking Outside the Bud where we speak with entrepreneurs investors thought leaders researchers advocates and policymakers who are finding new and exciting ways for cannabis to positively impact business society and culture. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt.
[00:00:30] Welcome everyone this is Thinking Outside the Bud, I’m Bruce Eckfeldt. I'm your host and today our guest is Jane West. And Jane is CEO of Jane West. She's also founder of Women Grow. Jane welcome to the program.
[00:00:41] Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
[00:00:44] So Jane and I actually had a chance to connect in person in Denver not long ago. So we had a nice conversation and some fascinating history a fascinating background. Jane what usually what I do is have guests just talk a little bit about their professional background and then how they got into cannabis because there's always an interesting story. And yours is particularly interesting. So tell us a little bit about the background because there's there's a history there.
[00:01:06] Certainly. So I had spent most my career as an event planner in the nonprofit sector. And most men by as cannabis user. And so when it became clear that adult use recreational cannabis sales were would be legal after January 1st 2014 I decided to leverage my previous professional experience and start a business called edible events as event planner Jane west where I would produce high end events in art galleries with private chefs and live music and also allow for cannabis consumption on premises to really start to push social use into the forefront. I mean as a cannabis user I would much rather be able to go out and patio and smoke a joint and just enjoy non-alcoholic beverages all night long. And you know my husband likes to just have a beer. So I just wanted to post the type of parties where both of us could attend and I could also like where a cocktail dress on a Friday night.
[00:02:05] And this was this was Colorado specifically Denver right.
[00:02:08] Correct. In Denver Colorado a little trip over a decade.
[00:02:12] So when was this. This was what year.
[00:02:14] So I started the companies in the fall of 2013. I actually had gone out to dinner with a friend who had one of the more like modern edibles being produced at the time and it had such a great night. I mean I it was the first time I had kind of dipped my toe into the like modern or the more contemporary infused products that were being made and really just like had such a positive experience. And it kind of led to the thoughts about creating this immense company. And so I kind of started setting the groundwork in the fall of 2013 and then waited until her adult use was legal and we held our first event January 24th 2014 here in Denver Colorado.
[00:02:55] Yeah that was pretty early in the whole process. You were one of the first ones out of the gate doing this.
[00:03:01] Yes definitely definitely. And that's why I mean it was so notable what I was doing and the fact that there was a place you could go and people would be consuming it and you could take pictures and they're all going to be dressed up it's crazy. That was like how I ended up making a name for myself. So very quickly I got so much press. Yeah. To me as a at the time that was and that you know sadly it's still pretty much a new story in some probation states to be like this mom uses marijuana. And that was like the story back then. So and we were just you know I was shamelessly talking openly about my cannabis consumption because I live in a state and I think it benefits my life. And so I just kind of took that platform and ran with it.
[00:03:48] So and no such thing as bad press or does a couple of days in and out.
[00:03:54] So yeah things got. 2014 was a very very challenging year and I really did start the events series as like a fun additional small business idea. You know based on the population of Denver and the newness of this market I mean the events company was not meant to be like a full company or a full time gig it was more like a fun boutique thing I was doing when I got to implement really great creative event ideas that I'd had over the past over my career but never actually got to like put into place a really fun way with artists and chefs and live music and it was great. But it was definitely more of just a little hobby. You know most of the bands I just threw to like break even and how the fun of throwing them and I was starting to tap into this whole other network of chefs and artists and gallery owners in Denver by putting the events together and just that was a fun addition to my professional life. So it was definitely just something I was doing for fun but as a result after only hosting two events I was asked to resign from my job in corporate America after this news story. So that was not something I expected would occur in any way but it really kind of thrust me into the space with like renewed determined I had to figure out what what to do here in a really short amount of time because I had a full time job since I was in high school and that was the first time I'd ever been fired from anything and the first time I really kind of set out to do my own.
[00:05:30] Yeah it's kind of a necessity is the mother of invention here.
[00:05:33] So given given the strength of it it certainly you know it's an interesting story because it's it's both somewhat tragic series of events in terms of what happen to you professionally but it also put you on a stage you know whether you wanted to be there or not.
[00:05:50] So talk to us a little bit how you got from from there to the women growing up how you went from this mom entrepreneur or event person dabbling in the kind of a space to also becoming really one of the figureheads of the industry or the figureheads of the movement really and how you got to that point of really organizing it and putting some purpose and drive to it.
[00:06:10] Well so the events I spent the quarter one into 2014 trying to really push also use for thinking that we might be able to really make some efforts there. And so I formed a partnership with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and we held a series of summer events and even held a concert at Red Rocks. But in doing that and taking them more into the spotlight the city really started to crack down on any type of cannabis consumption of at all and it became clear that it was not a safe enough space to be able to build a business. At that time.
[00:06:42] So by the summer of 2014 even though I was hosting these amazing symphony events under the classically cannabis series I knew that they were coming to an end until we could actually have laws on the books of black and white about what social uses. So what was I going to do now. Well as a result of all the news stories and the different things that had occurred with my professional endeavors we're contacting me on a daily basis specifically women from all over the world about how do I get in the cannabis industry. I want to do what you're doing. I want to work for you. I want to do this I wanna do that. I want to get a license. How do I do this. And I you know I didn't know. I started an event Lenny business from before that but in 2015 I did not know a single person that worked in the candidates and it is a requirement. So I mean I was like Don't laugh at me. I was like I got fired from a job. The thing I'm trying to do is not work late like I'm the best person for you but in trying to help a few of the who reached out to me it became clear that it was at the end of the day.
[00:07:50] Marijuana legalization is a local issue like it's going to unfold on a state by state basis and then a county by county basis and the regulators and politicians are going to be the ones deciding what regulations look like and who has access to licenses and what it takes to get a license and you know in Colorado Amendment 64 is just such an incredibly well-written set of regulations that really support small business. There's thousands of small business owners in Colorado that own cannabis businesses and you know in other states where politicians and money and power got involved really early on and there's really just not access to the market at all unless you have a lot of lawyers and millions of dollars to prove an astro which the necessary but I couldn't provide advice to anyone about how to start a business in the space because every single state so different. But what I've said in Colorado was that a lot of the women and and their business networks were like what they attested or like the reason for their success and that on a local level if you connect with other individuals trying to legalize you'll start to build that important coalition necessary to really effect change.
[00:09:04] And so by organizing women on the local level on a monthly basis we can start to build that network that's necessary in order to be in the right place at the right time when regulations do get put in place in your geographical area. And so that was the premise of starting a business women grow.
[00:09:23] So the purpose is really kind of helping helping the industry develop helping connect caring community. How did it play out in terms of organizing the actual movement. Because it's one thing to create the purpose and say Okay look this is what we're gonna do. But how do you organize this. I mean you were getting calls daily with people who want to be involved like how do you plug them in plug them into the effort and actually activate them.
[00:09:46] So I visualized like what the company would look like and then modeled that after an existing entity called Women 2.0 which is trying to change the gender disparity in the tech industry and Women 2.0 gathers people together on a monthly basis and cities all over the world and so that was kind of the framework. And then I launched the first chapter myself so I held the first women grow event in Denver Colorado in August of 2014. I documented everything I did. Send out your email update your Eventbrite. Put this list in. Set up the signage get your volunteers like everything I was doing I just like tried to organize in some type of peace so that I could share it with other people. And then my co-founder Jasmine Hawk was much much more digitally skilled than I was would make videos of about what we're doing and about how to do some of the things that we needed the women do online. We started to like very very basic application process. If you want to start a women's chapter. We started getting inquiries from all over the world. And so yeah. So we just kind of started building it out building out a database and a list of women from all over the world interested in starting chapters and then providing them with the resources they needed to kind of get started.
[00:10:54] And I love what I love about the story. It's a great kind of example of someone who has no history experience skill set in one area event planning you know how to pull off events flawlessly and comes into the kind of space and basically applies all of their knowledge to create a new thing in the canvas space because I mean even hearing you talk about you know creating the recipes and stuff like that it's clear like you know what you're running it and you know what a great way to apply.
[00:11:20] So how has women grow kind of unfolded for you and how is it set you up for kind of the next thing that you're doing professionally.
[00:11:27] Well it only took me like a month of working on women grow to know that we were going to find a whole nother generation of incredible eaters to run it like. I just I knew from the very beginning that I just needed to like build something that had a structure and a framework and that I knew I could hold successful market leader events and if I could do that for three months then I knew I could teach others how to and as soon as we got to that point that I'd have this whole because I just met the most incredible motivated grounded and like people coming from like for all the right reasons to enter this space around building women grow and so I knew that I could leave in great hands. And so I built up a team and by the summer 2016 I was no longer like employee or staff number or working directly on women grow. The next generation had kind of taken over. It's taken into the future. That's impressive.
[00:12:24] You know I think a lot of a lot of people it would be natural or easy for them to want to kind of stay in.
[00:12:31] I think it's you know there was a big you know it's definitely takes a big picture and it takes a bigger purpose to say hey look the best thing I can do is actually step out of a key critical operational role. Focus more on advising and kind of guiding it and letting the next generation who are highly capable have also to my skills and ideas.
[00:12:50] Let them drive it forward a way Margarita like there is the people will come to us with that they wanted to do or just like Sergeant. A great application of of what we had build it is just so exciting. And you know I really wanted to try to do something different and me I had such a clear idea of the types of products I wanted to make. And I wasn't seeing anything when I come into the market and and so and also like you know women grows. I just feel like it is really egalitarian and it's about like everyone involved.
[00:13:22] So I definitely wanted to kind of take a step back and let them run with it and we're just give us a sense whereas women grow now give us give us an outline of.
[00:13:32] So we have market leaders all over the country and in Canada that run women grow events every month. They think about 15 cities right now. And we've got a lot of great applicants.
[00:13:44] Every year we have a national conference and for the past four years it's been in Denver because it was just like a great like fully developed market for other people to come and be able to step into like we would do dispensary tours and grow tourist. But this spring in 2019 the National Congress will be in Washington D.C. and looking forward to that. The new chairwoman of boredom in the growers Dr. Sharma Macias is a dispensary owner circle nationalistic and so we're going to travel to DC. We've always had such a strong chapter there that was really very politically involved and we've had representatives come to the events there. So yeah. So that's what's up next for William Graham.
[00:14:21] Perfect. And now that you're out of the operational role and not taking up quite so much time What are you doing with your with your spare hours that you now have.
[00:14:30] I am trying to like build a global empire of awesome cannabis products that allow people to think differently about cannabis consumption and how I proudly showcase all these items in their homes and in their purse and be there as I think. I think a lot of my current customers don't realize how much they're going to enjoy incorporating cannabis into their lives yet and so I'm trying to help them do that.
[00:14:59] And into what. Who is your kind of target or your core customer. Who are you. Who were you specifically trying to serve with the new brand.
[00:15:06] Well I am a dedicated flower user so for all my home goods and accessories I specifically designed products that are best for use with flower.
[00:15:17] And then secondly I choose to incorporate CBD into my life in the form of my morning coffee and then like a dry capsule that I take in the morning and at night. And so those are the other products that we're bringing to market and so you know in general a female led owned and operated brand and company got are a lot of our customers aren't just new users who are looking for thoughtful sophisticated ways to incorporate cannabis in their lives.
[00:15:45] What do you think in terms of where the industry's been and where you see it doing. How is your brand pun playing into those like what do you what aspect or what angle of the market are you most interested in.
[00:15:56] I just try to adopt or trying to go after strategically Well I do think that CBD is a great first step in to you know starting to like understand cannabis for wellness. And so our consumables line with the coffee and capsules I think is a really good first step. And then additionally in order to start using more flour in your life I think you you just need the right products in order to do that and have it be something that is just a natural new healthy habit. So we partner with licensed growers on a state by state basis and we're making little mini joints don't come in five packs and 10 packs.
[00:16:38] I think it's a really great way to have new users kind of start like it's like 100 percent pure but it's fine the ground already rolled teeny tiny little joint for you and it's just the perfect size. So just try this. Just try this know and let's see how it goes. Yeah we've kind of really broken it down. We sell them in day and night. So it's very simple and it's a great way to just like incorporate the products now life you know in whose product can be scary for new users who are worried about the effects of cannabis on them and like consuming flowers and great like it's a great quick uptake and then just like kind of remembering what it's like what the psychoactive effects of cannabis are enjoying and then like having it fades fairly quickly especially when you're like consuming a reasonable dosage. So yeah it's just a good way to start dipping your chosen again.
[00:17:28] So I was love hearing and to the extent that you're willing to share what are some of the challenges that you've had you know as you kind of design the products figure out the strategy go to manufacture or distribute wherever you seen you know just as an entrepreneur in a business business owner what has worked particularly well and then what hasn't what are what do people need to know about getting into this space and trying to build brands and build products.
[00:17:50] Ok well I'm going to divide it into two into boring part and the exciting part. The biggest challenges and the boring part are importing customs Merchant Services and fulfillment.
[00:18:04] And then ultimately fulfillment goes back to issues with insurance liability storage and all the things that are involved with this just like brand new market where people don't know and and ultimately they don't want to operate in a gray zone and so you're looking for all these services in order to scale your business up and you need to know that you can rely on trusted vendors. And so it takes a lot of education to help people understand OK.
[00:18:30] There's no lead in here. And this is amazing. But then you know it's also really complicated this isn't a simple this is this or it's not that. So like full spectrum CBD oil has trace amounts of THC in it. And that point alone is kind of really hard for people who are not familiar with with this substance to understand. So on the business side those have been some of the biggest issues in what I've been doing. And then on the more like fun consumer education and focus group side there's really not a very good a boxer gone or like dictionary of what we're talking about here. And so like for instance just the word vape alone people think it people think it's those people especially in the center of the country think vape is just that juice e juice filled with nicotine. And now I understand why they think X is the vape shops are filled with this stuff. And and but then there's also vape pens. But then like we're vaping like flower vapes which are great like I think one of the healthiest ways to consume and also like flower baking specifically really I find like is a great like upper.
[00:19:40] Like I like to do that before like exercising. Mm hmm. And so just try to explain hey use a bar vaporizer for before exercising is not so simple. There's all these you have to say all the things it's not and kind of like it is. And everyone's kind of using the same words and and so yeah.
[00:19:58] So interesting as we go into more consumer research and feedback how like the very words are using matter in terms of like one header and taster and like the different types of ways we're explaining even what these products are new customers are holding are serious because I think I think it's been one of the challenges or one of the kind of interesting dynamics is coming out of this we'll call it kind of a pop culture historical pop culture that that it intentionally has created a lot of so a lot of inside term you know kind of inside baseball kind of things to actually differentiate itself to make it kind of exclusives or make it tough to enter.
[00:20:36] Like if you're in the club kind of thing that we trademark drops and now that's what they're called lube about now that we're now this is you know this is becoming you know if not mass market at least you know a common market kind of set of products and how do we kind of rewrite the scripts rewrite the playbooks rewrite the lexicon do not work so you know in some of it because it's complicated.
[00:21:02] You like the official culture is kind of a complicated one but it's also it's laden with history and you know a certain stigma. So I guess where are you seeing actually what was the middlemen just just trying to brand what it was they went to court and try to try to trademark something but did but is this game right now that everyone's everyone's trying to land grab terms and yeah thanks. How do you see this playing out. I mean is it going to be you know people kind of grabbing these super names trying to own them and then they become kind of just general interest returns or what's the strategy.
[00:21:37] I think at the end of the day like high quality products and what people are going to be drawn to because these these are like consumables that we're using on a regular basis. So I think the leaders in defining the terminology will be the leaders in the industry who are selling great products and so we're neat as a company talking w we're just being extremely thoughtful about what words we use and then sticking to them. And then like whenever we're asked for definition of then we provide it and hope others kind of follow the same.
[00:22:06] And additionally like Look I'm really going for like global domination here. So we are like at positioning ourselves as a global cannabis brand and we have investors from over 17 countries and I have a lot of feature articles in other countries. And so there's a whole other level of this to work with because it's how the journalists and also translates what you're telling them. Yeah but the stuff is there is like a German article about women bro back in the day where really they kept using a word that would most likely be translated as addicts because we were we were really we were we were like we were pretty strict about being open that we use cannabis like almost every day. Right. So the word they used to describe us now is adequate.
[00:22:55] And and do you hate that it's a German speaking friend was like reading it to us and they were like laughing and they're like it sounds like you guys are like OK it's fine it's all good.
[00:23:09] And so and that's just because we didn't know what words. So So anyways that's just like a whole nother level to it. That's pretty interesting how this keeps expanding.
[00:23:20] Know do you see. You know I haven't really done the mapping but it is sort of the pop culture historically different by different country.
[00:23:28] I mean certainly we're familiar with the kind of the California US California one but what is the when you start looking globally what is the differences.
[00:23:35] Oh my gosh. I mean it's just like night and day everywhere it's so fascinating. It's just so. Last fall I spent a weekend prog and really kind of learning like the European market a bit and that's just that's super joint like homeworld individually rolled joints many times roll of tobacco I'm like very old product very little equipment like the no dating at all no hands are built on the seed The seed and bridle is just like very different market but it's kind of what my understanding like they took the rules was that they could get away with and made them the most they cut out of a market and it's based on like the seeds that the campus has grown from but yeah no it's very interesting. And the most fascinating part is how quickly everything is changing and that like just when I started my first business in the space it was exactly five years ago and I couldn't even find a picture of a woman in it that was like this like tits and ass shot like not not one picture that exists on the Internet.
[00:24:44] When I started my an account I could type in the word cannabis too linked in and there were less than 10 pages that people willing to put that porn in their job description. So like those two things alone like seeing how much that's changed that like I can now like there's like all these different competing media companies going for like the young millennial we use our I mean that's what got me so amazing. So I just think like it's just going to change all these images that we just we had such like outdated uneducated stereotypical imagery about cannabis use for so long that like there's just such people have like such fixed thoughts about it. And so by like having so much more accessible to so many more people and people not being ashamed of talking about how much it's benefited their lives. It's really really that changes all the visuals and who is speaking out about it and who's hearing it. Here was hearing really hearing what they're saying too. And so everything's just changing so rapidly.
[00:25:47] Yeah well looking kind of beyond or bigger than the business. I mean what what do you think. We're just going to look at a policy or a social point of view.
[00:25:54] What do you think needs to be on the agenda in terms of the sort of the cannabis community and policy making. What are the important factors are the important issues that you want to make sure people are discussing or focusing on.
[00:26:07] Well for me the question that I asked most. There's like very very important social justice issues that are not discussed in any way shape or form especially regarding expungement which should like expungement law within the laws of states like policies that should be defined before you can sell cannabis and that state they should no actually be part of this. And so that it hasn't been and but we still have you know states to go that maybe they can change the path there and then. And so that that's important. And secondly at least for me because so often the question people are asking me is about starting a business in the industry you know at the end of the day whether or not I'm going to start a business in the industry have to be directly correlated with the opportunity available to you. And what I watched of all in Colorado with Amendment 64 which is like a somewhat unlimited licensing model that really has the support of small business in the state was incredible and wonderful. And and candidly like a knife this is probably me being my knife OK. But at the time but like I couldn't imagine that additional states that came on would have a more restrictive law. I mean my God first one's doing this.
[00:27:21] How could how could these other seats on an end be so much more restrictive that only like 10 people get this and all of those 10 people are like that there's no diversity there's no diversity in what is like it so that's not what I pictured. And I guess I want to pick the way I pictured it evolving. And so I think it's just people who are interested in and starting businesses and especially people are interested and start entering in to the cannabis space especially in prohibition states should really take a look at then 64 and the way Colorado legalized because it's it's inevitable that the legalization of cannabis is now inevitable. Sure. Maybe they'll be like places that never had it just like those strike deals but like this is inevitable. And so now we have this side of the fence you're on what you should be asking how is this going to happen. Who is going to get from this. Who is going to own these businesses. Who is going to control this sector because it's going to be part of all these different states. But what I've seen happen in Colorado is inspiring and exciting. And what I'm seeing happen in other states around the country looks more like just like Monopoly structures.
[00:28:40] And I think that's that's something that is now I think coming on people's radar as more and more as as we see these days playing out and the impact the policy guys over who who actually benefits and who gets involved who has a seat at the table is becoming more of a concern. So if people want to find out more about Jane West a brand.
[00:28:59] And Jane West the person. What's the best way to get more information.
[00:29:04] They should go to James dot com. That's kind of our portal for all things Jane West. That'll direct you to places where you can learn more about our glass line which is basically black homeless flower. And I have a travel collection that's for on the go portable use. And then this holiday we're bringing to market our CBD line in the form of a coffee and a capsule. So all the information about the products are there and we can direct you to them through chain must dot com.
[00:29:33] You can follow us shop chain West.
[00:29:36] You can follow me at PJM West and you just watch and watch us grow and we love feedback so you can always send that along on the website. And we'd like to hear what you think.
[00:29:48] Perfect. Jane thank you so much for taking the time. Great conversation. It's really a pleasure to have you on the program. I really appreciate it.
[00:29:54] Thank you for having me.
[00:33:3 You've been listening to Thinking Outside the Bud with Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt to find a full list of podcast episodes. Download the tools and worksheets and access other great content. Visit the Web site at thinkingoutsidethebud.com. And don't forget to sign up for the free newsletter at thinkingoutsidethebud.com/newsletter.