5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business, with Lindsey Holthaus and Fotis Georgiadis
Know how to adapt quickly: suppliers take longer than expected, farmers run low on flower and raise prices, payment processing is near impossible to get. It’s a new industry, regulations change, there isn’t a set price on the product, banks are hesitant to lend. We’ve had accounts shut down, we’ve paid ridiculous fees for payment processing. It’s all about being nimble and having a backup plan (2 bank accounts in this case) to keep it moving.
As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Lindsey Holthaus, CEO and Co-Founder of Plain Jane, a CBD company that provides non-addictive alternatives to tobacco. Lindsey holds an MPP from American University and has previously worked as a public health policy analyst for the Maryland General Assembly. She is from Baltimore, Maryland.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I quit my job to travel for a few months and met some friends that were trying to start a business. They were 2 young MIT grads that used to grow weed out of the basement of their fraternity. They were trying to decide between a tech company and a weed company. When they decided on weed, I convinced them to do CBD instead.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The guys were bootstrapping the company and decided to move to Oregon to live on a hemp farm so they could be closer to the product and save money on rent. They paid a guy for an RV with literal gold. By the time I came up to the farm to join them a few months later there were 3 of us living in a 250 square foot RV on this farm with no bathroom or hot water. It was like being back in our college dorm rooms with a weird Farmer twist.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Once we paid $1,000 to a farmer for flower and it was a complete scam (sort of funny, sort of sad). We learned to (almost) never pay before actually seeing what we are getting.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We really like to be in tune with our customers and listen to what they want. We’re working on a few new product roll-outs in the next month or two. We’re also talking with UFC fighters, rappers, veteran organizations. CBD really cuts across society. Many people are interested in seeing how they can be part of the industry and benefit from it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Debby Goldsberry runs a free class at Magnolia (a cannabis dispensary in Oakland, CA) for cannabis entrepreneurs. She’s a wonderful person and gives a lot back to the community. She met with us on a few occasions to help introduce us to the industry and understand what it was like to be an entrepreneur. We’re grateful for her advice and example.
Similarly, there are many other business owners that worked with us before we had any sort of significant sales and went out of their way to help us.
Johnny, Dawn, Jay, Mark, Austin and many others, we’re truly grateful for your continued support.
This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
Working with hemp, all of our marketing strategies have to be creative because we are left out of some of the traditional marketing industries. We got Evan’s girlfriend’s facebook ad account shutdown twice, while she was an employee at facebook.
We’re a small company, so we tend to run small tests and scale up what works instead of spending a lot of time or money on something that isn’t a sure thing. Being small actually really helps us in a way that big companies cannot really compete with. For us, since we’re handling customer interactions, social media accounts, manufacturing and production, and product development, things come together much faster. We can talk with customers, learn what they want, and create new products much faster than any large company. I think larger companies have yet to realize the advantage of having employees wear multiple hats and thoroughly integrate with the entire business.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
1. Passing of the 2018 Farm Bill. It’s now completely in the clear to ship CBD products. We bring donuts to our postal office.
2 All of the new and unique products coming to the market. No one knows what’s going to happen but everyone knows it’s going to be a large market.
3. The rebirth of cannabis science. Research being done on the potential benefits of cannabis including other cannabinoids like CBN and CBG. We’re just at the tip of the iceberg.
1. Bad actors. The industry is still in its infancy and because of this it’s still lightly regulated. It’s really easy for companies to be dishonest. I’ve heard of people using fake lab results or of products containing virtually no CBD. It’s really easy for those companies that are dishonest to take advantage of consumers.
2. Regulations. Regulations can be great (refer to concern #1)..but sometimes regulations can be too strict, squeezing out the honest actors with good intentions. I hope we can find a good balance between keeping consumers safe/holding bad actors accountable and allowing enough flexibility in the market for the rest of us.
3. Overcoming the legacy of marijuana prohibition. So many people use the products and need the products, they are vital to them..but they don’t like the association, it’s a real fear. They could be arrested on suspicion that it’s “marijuana”. It’s overcoming .a long and damaging history, not as bad as cannabis but there is still stigma.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. It’s going to be difficult finding a place that will rent you space: Before the farm bill passed, we couldn’t find one place to rent to us because we sold hemp. I even offered to pay double the asking price for monthly rent and I still couldn’t secure us a place (mind you this is in Oregon of all places)
2. Assume no-one yet knows what CBD is. I thought because I knew what CBD was before the company started, it’s a relatively known thing. This is definitely not the case. I’m constantly explaining what CBD is anytime I tell people what I do because they hear Hemp and think it’s THC.
3. There is still a lot of stigma around Hemp, domestically and Globally. We’ve had US customers ask for delivery to a different name or address because they were scared someone would think they were buying THC. Internationally, even though CBD was just legalized in Japan, I asked a friend to find out the regulations for me and he wouldn’t even let me talk about it because someone might think we were talking about THC (which carries a minimum of 5 years in prison for using). You have to be okay with people thinking you are a “Drug dealer”. Our friends are either like “what are you they doing?” or they think it’s kind of cool.
4. You’re going to have to get creative with marketing: Many of the “traditional” marketing tools like facebook and instagram don’t allow promotions from hemp companies, making it difficult to compete, so you have to find ways to get creative without getting your accounts flagged and shutdown
5. Know how to adapt quickly: suppliers take longer than expected, farmers run low on flower and raise prices, payment processing is near impossible to get. It’s a new industry, regulations change, there isn’t a set price on the product, banks are hesitant to lend. We’ve had accounts shut down, we’ve paid ridiculous fees for payment processing. It’s all about being nimble and having a backup plan (2 bank accounts in this case) to keep it moving.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
We’ve been truly blessed to have some great people working with us. I’d say allow your employees plenty of autonomy. I always promised that when I ran a business, I would never micromanage the people that I hire. Hire good people, that you can trust, and you’ll (almost) never have to worry about managing them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We started our company to provide a non-addictive alternative to tobacco and provide an affordable alternative to some pharmaceutical drugs. People use our products to relieve stress and anxiety, the same reason they use addictive drugs like nicotine or drugs with harmful side effects like pharmaceuticals. Making products accessible and affordable can go a long way in improving the quality of lives for many people. Unfortunately I think mental health, including anxiety and depression which cause people to need products, goes unaddressed way too often in our Country (and globally). Stress, anxiety, and depression can be caused by a myriad of things, from pesticides in our produce to violence and trauma in neighborhoods. The way we live our lives, treat our planet and each other has to change before we can make real strides in global mental health.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Our Insta @tryplainjane
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business, with Lindsey… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.