Andrea Brooks, Co-Founder and CEO at Sava
Andrea is a cannabis advocate, lobbyist for social change, and entrepreneur with a passion for health and wellness. Following a disabling injury in which cannabis played a crucial role in her recovery, she was inspired to enter the cannabis space. Building on a non-profit career that focused on strengthening human and social services agencies, she applies her expertise in conducting needs assessments, developing strategic partnerships, and creating community to Sava all while leading the growing team.
[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.
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[00:01:06] Welcome, everyone. This is Thinking Outside the Bud. I'm Bruce Eckfeldt, I'm your host.
[00:01:10] And our guest today is Andrea Brooks and she is founder and CEO of Sava.
[00:01:15] We're going to talk a little bit about her role as entrepreneur. The work that she's doing in the cannabis space, her business, what's going on, the industry with that? Andrea, welcome to the program. Thanks. I'm excited to be here. Yeah. So do we start a little bit with background, I guess, professionally? What what is your history? How did you get it? Cannabis. Tell us a little bit of that story.
[00:01:35] Yeah. Well, you know what I did before Sava was completely different than what I'm currently doing. I used to work in the NGO and non-profit sector as a consultant, but I had a major injury in 2010 and had to stop working, which was, you know, I thought I would just be recovering maybe in a few weeks or a few months. And what happened is the injury that I had left me pretty disabled with my doctors telling me that they didn't think I was going to be returning to work again full time. Well, maybe ever. Mean definitely not at a desk type of job. So this major thing happened. It resulted in me being bed bound for about a year and a half. Just not really able to function taking pain medications. And, you know, after a long period of darkness and bleakness, I decided to try cannabis and try and cannabis was this I wish I came to it sooner, which is why I started to harbor.
[00:02:35] Did you have any experience with cannabis before that or this was your first real drug?
[00:02:38] I had some experience, but really light, you know, smoked a couple of, you know, tried it in high school, tried it in my 20s. It didn't you know, I was like, yeah, this is OK. But it didn't do anything transformative or magical for me for sure at that time. And but this, you know, entry point was completely different. One, I had someone who is a very knowledgeable grower explaining everything to me so that, you know, that was it, getting that education and understanding how the plant was grown and what it is, and then learning about different tinctures and understand, you know, starting to dive into that. That was really what opened the door for me. And obviously, there are many people that have realized the amazing medicinal properties way before me generations. But for me, it felt, you know, it was a light bulb moment. Like, I just never thought it never occurred to me. And then I think of how many people are that are out there like me that never occurred to this, to use this for their life, whether, you know, day to day wellness or more serious or even more pleasure.
[00:03:45] So you had this experience in terms of how cannabis impacted your recovery and inspired by the by the product or by, you know, by the by the plant. How did you come up with Sava and how did you go from, hey, I want to do something in the space, too. Here's the idea that I want to build a business.
[00:04:02] Yeah, well, I was you know, I was going back to my experience and wish, you know, wishing there had been a way for me to have my transformative experience earlier. So I was, you know, in creating it was building something that I didn't see at the time, which was, you know, a different type of purchasing experience that showcased the type of products that I was interested in that really broke down the education around them. Are that information or how this product was grown? Like what is the full life of this product? You know, and even if this product is on other people's shelves as well. Lake, I want to know all the details. You know, I want to know everything about it before I put it in my body. And I didn't find that that was out there for me other than my direct connections to friends. So creating Sava is something I wish I had had for myself, where I could be exploring something with the products that spoke to me as a woman in her mid 30s at the time dealing with chronic pain. I didn't really feel, you know, when I was going into some shops, I I was having a hard time finding people that could speak to me and you know what I was going through. So this you know, it was really just creating. I'm like, maybe there's, you know, there's something missing in the space at that time. And still to date. And is that the answer to that?
[00:05:18] And so so talk to us more specific about Sara is what it does. What is the experience like? What are our you sort of solving this problem? What's the solution that you've developed?
[00:05:26] Yeah. So we are a delivery and discovery plot. Form So by discovery, I mean that we showcase a very unique array of products in a very wide array of products. So we carry about 46 companies right now. Over half of them are women founded brands and we're always bringing new products to market. So by Discovery, we do a lot around. So you again, see you can learn about the products, you can see how to take them, who made them, the company information, all of those things is there. And very easy to navigate. And then delivery for me was really important because I was someone who really couldn't go out very much. And it was very unpredictable for me, even as I started to recover. And I still get flare ups to this day. And what I realized for someone with disabilities or invisible disabilities, the unpredictability of how it's going to affect you doesn't ever really go away. And so, you know, there could be the day, you know, as I was brainstorming, where I was fine to go out and about. But then the next day, maybe, you know, still I was on my road to recovery, but I couldn't function. And having something come to my home had a lot of new meaning to me. It wasn't just like the convenience of having groceries delivered. It was this is what I need.
[00:06:41] It's not an option. Are you? There's really very other limited options for people that are in that situation.
[00:06:46] Yeah. And so the origin was you know, I did. I definitely had quite a medicinal focus in the beginning. But it has brought into delivery is huge. And people are pushed to the max and stressed in big cities and elsewhere. And delivery is just becoming more and more a part of our daily routine. So I see it both as, you know, a smart business model and very convenient, but also really still necessary for a lot of people.
[00:07:13] So two questions or at least two initial questions are you think over. But one on the on the product side, how do you go about you mentioned women own products, products where you can really tell the whole story. But how do you choose what products to bring on? What does a process look like? Is there a strategy or a theme that you try to bring to the product selection? How long do product stay on? Give us a sense of that.
[00:07:37] Yeah. So we have a pretty robust process for this. We we use focus groups of our target demographics and then we do a deep dive with each company before. And so that includes talking with the owner, understanding the mission of the company. We will you know, I love learning the origin stories of companies, especially when I'm meeting other founders that I came to this space through similar means as myself. It's like an amazing way to connect with someone and build a really strong foundation from the start. So we really want to make sure that there is alignment all the way through with any company that we work with. So that includes, again, like what they're about. Just generally as well as where they're sourcing their product, what's their intentions, how they want to be perceived in the industry, their abilities to be a partner with someone like us whose very mission driven, making sure that they get what we're about. And so we're looking really at the full picture. And then also with the focus groups, you know, we want to make sure that we're getting positive feedback from a product and keep it in a way a little bit agnostic. You know, it's not just about me like this looks good. I like that. You know, let's put on the menu. You know, we really want that feedback. And that's really important to us.
[00:08:50] Yeah, but how do you collect the feedback? Are you doing literally focus groups or bringing people in in person? Are you doing events or are you as a service?
[00:08:58] Yeah, we have the like it's our focus group. It's like part in-person part and survey and that there is a certain rating system that they use.
[00:09:06] So that includes evaluating of packaging as well. So we are all in the industry right now constricted by the child resistance packaging. It is bulky and challenging. But aside from that, what we look for is, you know, is there excess plastic packaging? Is this packaging recyclable? It is kind of been crushing our souls how much waste that we are forced to make while doing this business. So something for us to come. You know, what we want to come out in front of is making sure that we are supporting the brands that are trying to be the most responsible as possible.
[00:09:40] It's important that I guess, why doesn't our product make it? Are there other typical things that end up making it so that our product is not a good fit for your platform?
[00:09:47] Yeah. Well, like I said, you know, again, if we hear, you know, let's say a product is five milligrams and then people try it and they're like, whoa, this is a really strong five milligrams. You know, it's like that.
[00:09:59] That might be something that we consider with regards to onboarding a product, something where it's there feels like in the vape cartridges there, the flavor feels artificial and unnatural or learning about how that, you know, there's sometimes a vape, you know, we'll have just like such a strong tasting like this is I don't really then feel comfortable that I fully understand what's in it and what the implications of that are. So we really that is a big thing for us as well as like really bulky packaging that can't be recycled. That could be done. Okay. Yeah. Those are those things for sure.
[00:10:31] Yeah. So that my other kind of initial question was around the delivery side. How so? Talk us through the logistics. However, you've kind of figured this out. I mean, both from a process point of view, but also from a business model and experience point of view, like how do you create a great experience around the delivery?
[00:10:48] I think, again, there's a lot of different things.
[00:10:51] And I'll go back to something that I think is important that I take with me from my non-profit background, which is being mission driven and really making sure that everyone that works for us feels like they are an integral part of the team. So our drivers are employees. That's part of the regulations. I think that is a great thing. I want them to be employees. They are you know, they are just as valid as an employee as anyone else on our team. So for me, that is I think that helps us stand apart. We include them in educational trainings and just making sure that our our drivers are connected to our mission and understand what we're about just the same way anyone else on the team. And we get positive feedback all the time about our drivers, which is one of for me, a huge sign of success, like we'll get emails from our customers just that they liked their driver. So that's very important to me. And then there's, of course, being clear about the expectations of delivery. So we have you know, there's a lot of different delivery companies out there. We have more of the scheduled models so that when people are purchasing with us, they choose the date and time, which is like a two hour window, so they can schedule deliveries out and in select cities, they can get it same day. The quickest turnaround is in about an hour and a half or sometimes an hour, depending on location. But it's not it's not an on demand type of like a like a true on demand words like you order and it's there in 20 minutes.
[00:12:17] That's our focus. Our focus is on best product and best experience and strong customer support so that the whole experience is enjoyable as opposed to just getting something quickly.
[00:12:29] Anything, I guess anything that you found as being key to the actual sort of delivery experience from customers that the either you under you, underappreciated or worse, was surprising for you?
[00:12:42] That is an excellent question. I mean, I think we prepared for it just again. You know, the customer service component and making sure that is not on there to answer emails, but also someone to answer the phone. Yeah, I think it's really hard to reach like in a general sense. It's hard to reach an actual human on the business side of things. I now get it. It can feel way more efficient to be doing the chat box or email. But having having people in the office that can call back, that understand that are walking people through things, if they're confused about signing up or confused about a product, again, that's really important to us. And we do extra training with our staff just to make to make sure that they're quite knowledgeable, both in terms of just like how to be dealing with challenging situations, but as well as, you know, having a strong knowledge about the plant.
[00:13:33] Yeah, I guess which when you look at bringing in folks that are gonna be primarily customer service focused or a customer service role to focus on people that know the products or people that are just good intuitive customer service folks or both. What's your like what's your talent strategy?
[00:13:52] My focus. We focus more on who's gonna be the right fit, you know, in terms of demeanor and knowledge around customer service. And then, of course, they need to understand what we're doing and then we can do it. If it turns out that they are not familiar with cannabis, then we will put in the resources to get them trained and up to speed. So a working knowledge is, of course, super helpful. But I'm I'm really looking for someone, you know, that has the right tone and that, you know, the right approach and understands, you know, the ups and downs of customer support, you know, and that we're really here, though, to support our customers and, you know, someone who's patient and a great communicator, that's going to come a little bit before the cannabis knowledge, because I think we can fill in that gap with our training.
[00:14:40] So in terms of recruiting and finding talent of you, I guess if you found people coming over from other industries or people coming out of cannabis or their particular industries, that that you seem to be finding people in. I mean, what's your frame of finding talent, point of view? What have you noticed?
[00:14:55] So we just hired some folks and we're hiring again.
[00:14:59] I definitely am seeing people come in from other industries and I think you know it all.
[00:15:04] Of course, it always comes down to the candidate. And I think there are a lot of important transferable skills, especially for, you know, mom and pop deliveries or mom and pop distribution or all these companies that are, you know, have a lot of logistics incorporated in their operations to be looking to outside the industry to make sure they have the right people. Having also industry knowledge. You need both, and you may not always get both in the same person, but then you might, you know, someone really get cannabis compliant. You might need to hire a consultant then to fill in some other gaps. And that that is part I think would create some of the challenges is because the compliance is so top heavy right now. Having someone coming into it, let's say a mid or managerial level of operations, having someone who already gets the regulations and the compliance is pretty important because it's a huge learning curve. It is not like other things that people are dealing with, but they also have to be systems driven. And as I said, that's where I see people kind of coming in and getting up to speed. I think there will be more people coming from, you know, similar industry, you know, like people that have knowledge of inventory. And so from that from that end and know rotating stock appropriately, how you're dealing with your expiration dates, you know, how you're using the different volume to predict your orders.
[00:16:24] Like those are all things that a lot of industries outside of cannabis. There's great skill sets and those need to be, you know, brought in as needed.
[00:16:33] Yeah. What do you think? I'm curious if you if you've seen enough people coming into the industry that you've you've kind of see a pattern yet or not. But what what do you think makes a successful transplant into cannabis? And who do you think is not as ready or as able to pivot from an adjacent industry into the cannabis industry? Is there any things that you you noticed that make it successful?
[00:16:56] I mean, I think it's a personality issue. You need to have a lot of flexibility because things you know, it's it's settled.
[00:17:03] It's not like last year where there is major changes, but it's not easy. And there's a lot of things. There's you know, it's all the challenges of running a normal business. And then you have this brand building in real time. And those changes happen.
[00:17:19] And so things like now where people's licenses are expiring, you know, having someone who can, you know, deal with a big picture and like and be able to manage their stress well.
[00:17:30] But, you know, it's the patients and flexibility because you do kind of sometimes just need to drop and refocus. And that's kind of a part of it. You know, it's you can get an email that like, you know, you need to change something in your S.O. piece or change something in your application. And, you know, it's being able to manage five top priorities at the same time and keep your sanity. So that's where I come back to like someone who can be patient and flexible if someone needs something that is like really clear and well-defined. This may not be the right industry for you.
[00:18:01] I'm curious, as CEO, what have you sort of had to learn or to learn and change or adapt or develop as a leader, as the company has kind of grown and as the business has grown? What are what are your kind of learnings or insights about your own about yourself and your role?
[00:18:16] You know, it is a there's things that you relearned. I think time and time again.
[00:18:20] And having the right people around you is always what's crucial and going with your gut, you know, you know, and when something doesn't feel right, that's cut it loose and keep moving.
[00:18:33] That is something that is a constant thing that I make sure that I'm checking in with myself about in terms of the business, because especially, you know, if you're a mission driven business, you know, you're caring about all the people that work for you.
[00:18:46] You're wanting to build a strong team and a strong culture. But those are types of things, both both in terms of the team itself, but also in terms of our business partnerships, that if something is starting to feel off, just move on. There's another opportunity out there just around the corner. And, you know, I always think in my head, you know, movement begets more movement. I don't like that stagnation and feeling stuck.
[00:19:07] It's only that's just going to leave me stuck. So I think about it a lot just in terms of all of the different pieces that are moving all the time and that I just need to keep on moving.
[00:19:17] I'm curious, what is your kind of day to day or week to week like and what are your key priorities now at this stage of the company? I see.
[00:19:24] Oh, well, right now we are raising. So that is a big part of my job. And I don't know, I enjoy it. I love telling people about what we've accomplished and where we're going. So for me, this is a really exciting time. So going into that right now is a big focus of mine as well as working on our big picture growth strategies. So really where we're at now with this raise is getting ready to scale into more areas of California. We have an additional license already and then working on some other licensing agreements. So this this raise is really to get us to the next step, to just dig deeper into our existing area and then to start scaling and getting routed into some other key areas where we are getting lots of emails from customers wishing that they had us down there and had our breadth of selection down there.
[00:20:13] So that's that's the focus. That's what the raise is about. And that's pretty much what I'm thinking about day in and day out. That and making sure that our licensing is all tied up in a neat bow. Those are the big things for me.
[00:20:25] Yeah. I'm curious on the riverside. I mean, I. But just maybe two facets. Feel free to comment on either one is just as account of US company. What are you seeing in terms of the opportunities in the market? I mean, I know everyone is talking about kind of more money from more institutional investors starting to come in. Are you seeing that or not seeing that then also as a woman, as a woman on business or how does how does that impact things? I mean, is is does it impact things? Do you notice? What are the opportunities? What are the constraints?
[00:20:56] Oh, my goodness. We could just do a lot here. And I want to be really careful because who knows who is listening. I'll say I do think there is more institutional money coming in. I see. I think it goes in waves. I think people get excited and it comes in. And then, you know, someone might read something else about someone stock. And, you know, I think it goes in waves.
[00:21:19] But I do think it is moving overall in the direction that more institutional money is coming in. And I think you're going to also just see, like a lot of, you know, new partnerships, consolidations, all of those things unfolding increasingly quickly over the next couple of years.
[00:21:33] As a female founder, I think there are still unique challenges that I deal with. I have just so much to say about it. I you know, I think being a woman is been a huge part of what I of it is and how it got created in my specific lens. So to that end, my gender is intertwined with the company and the mission and the vision. And there are so still challenges. I think that I cease and the types of questions that I might get compared to someone else might get. That's giving the same type of presentation. So really, though, I tried to just I don't know, I I thought has tried to make sure I'm solid in my numbers and just kind of keep on moving and making sure that I also have support systems where I can be talking to outside of those meetings. I think, you know, there's also more interest in female led companies these days, and I think that's excellent.
[00:22:34] We also focused on getting in female investors and we had six female investors in our last seed round and that felt really important to me. And I do think, you know, it can be a different type of connection, but we also have a lot of men, investors, and I don't think that they are looking at me and thinking of me differently because of my gender.
[00:22:54] And so, you know, I am so synonymous with Saba. It's kind of all part of the same thing.
[00:23:00] You're very integrated. So maybe four other female founders who are thinking about raising or are looking to raise any.
[00:23:09] Any thoughts, any advice, any suggestions that you might give them in terms of how to navigate this process will be successful.
[00:23:15] Yeah. I mean, I think having, you know, having mentors is key and having people that are kind of in the same phase as you is key.
[00:23:24] So I think I've built different types of support. So I have, you know, fellow female CEOs that I can call and commiserate with that are, you know, kind of lockstep with me directly. They get it. You know, it's I have a lot of amazing friends, but they you know, some of the experiences that I'm dealing with right now, only someone else in my position can really relate to. So really having someone that you trust that you can just let it out to is really important, but also making sure you have the right advisors and mentors around you because it is hard and you might need someone to help lift you back up. No matter how strong you are, it gets hard. You know, you're going to have tough calls. People are going to, you know, bust your chops on a call and question all of your decisions. And, you know, you might hold it up throughout the entire call, but then afterwards, it's like, what about it? You know, that's intense and it's going to happen time and again. And you need people that you trust, that believe in you, around you to keep you moving. So I think in that and those mentors and advisers may change, but, you know, so you they'll probably be a variety of them that cycle through. So being aware of what you're going to need, at what stage of growth and making sure that your advisor meets those needs is really important.
[00:24:33] No, no. There's good advice in terms of where you see the industry going at this point. I mean, what do you think of the big thing is on your strategic plan and looking at your map for the next 12 to 24 months? What what do you think kind of coming down the pike or the people in the space, entrepreneurs, business leaders in the space need to be prepared for or take advantage of, you know, just in terms of what's going on in this industry right now?
[00:24:58] Well, I think it is really, you know, last year was the year of survival for all of us that were legacy. And this is the year to kind of go hard. You know, it's if you've made it, you need to be staking your claim and pushing forward as fast as you can, because there is going to be more and more people coming into this space for us that pushes to get into the other parts of California where we know there's a demand for our service. And then once we continue to solidify in California, you know, starting to identify which stage we can. Grow into outside of that. So you have to be thinking, of course. You know, and I think this is what's hard about startups in general. You have to be going hard both in the short term and in the long term.
[00:25:40] But being clear about when your own company's roadmap and how you're going to get there obviously is really important. And I think the competitive landscape is changing. Things are getting slicker. There's more people coming in. There's going to be more direct technology solutions to this industry. But again, evaluating really who these people are and what they're about is still going to be important making still making sure you're making the right partnerships. But for us, again, it's, you know, digging into California and then we know we're identifying which states we want to move into from here.
[00:26:13] Now, I'm curious where you get your kind of insights or information in terms of the industry and, you know, collaborators, competitors, whether it's, you know, the market or regulation.
[00:26:25] Are there any sources that you've found particularly helpful that have given you that insight that you check in on a regular basis? If this is conferences, if this is data sources, what have you found helpful?
[00:26:37] Yeah, I mean, there are definitely some regular data sources that our go to for us in terms of just making sure that we're aware of trends. So that's been that's something that's continual for us. I don't go to as many conferences these days, although when I was getting into the industry, going to those conferences regularly was like a great, you know, quick immersion to get in and start checking things out.
[00:27:01] My next question is really thinking out in the future. So you're putting yourself out, you know, a couple of years, three, four or five years. What do you where do you hope to be? What sort of all what do you what do you imagine the company kind of achieving? You know, what is the impact you're having? What does the future look like?
[00:27:17] I mean, I see Sava growing and being ubiquitous all throughout California and then quite a few states and that we are really helping to continue to change the conversation around cannabis. You know, it's for us it is much more than a business. We want people to understand that cannabis can be a really healthy alternative to a lot of other components that someone's using. You know, whether it's an alternative to Advil or an alternative to taking a drink or using a bomb after running a marathon. For us, this is a really critical point that we are trying to work with, which is really changing the perception of cannabis and then doing it with the right products and the rabid support all the way through.
[00:27:58] Now, those are the people to find out more about you and about Savo, what's the best way to get that information?
[00:28:04] Sure. So visiting our website would be a perfect start. It's w w w dot get sava dot com.
[00:28:11] Right. I'll make sure that the link is in the show notes. This has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time. A fascinating facet of the business. Clearly you've got a meaningful story and you're passionate about this, which I love.
[00:28:23] I love talking to people who are not only have a great business model, but are passionate about it. So I appreciate you spend time with us today. Fantastic at a great time. Thank you so much.
[00:28:34] 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.