Back when Colorado prepared to roll out its recreational cannabis program, a career woman and suburban mom began incorporating the substance she enjoyed into the dinner parties she hosted for her friends. In a matter of months, Jane West was hosting sold out cannabis events that put the plant in a sophisticated, social setting — and receiving international media attention.
Today, in a new and ever-evolving cannabis industry, Jane has teamed up with co-founder Jesse Meighan to create well-designed cannabis products with that same sophisticated sensibility. Through their brand Jane West, these awesome female entrepreneurs are committed to elevating the cannabis experience for all. We recently had a chance to catch up with Jesse and learn more about how she seized the opportunity within an emerging industry to create her dream job.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING 5-10 YEARS AGO, BEFORE JANE WEST?
JM: Before I met Jane, I was COO of A Peace Treaty, an independent fashion brand based in NYC. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with women founders and entrepreneurs for most of my career.
IS JANE WEST YOUR DREAM JOB?
JM: Someone recently asked playfully what I’d like to be when I grow up, and without thinking I answered “I think I’m already doing it.” The cannabis industry is full of the most passionate, thoughtful, welcoming humans I’ve ever met. Dream job for sure.
WHEN DID YOU HAVE YOUR “AH HA” MOMENT OF JANE WEST?
JM: When I first thought about entering the cannabis industry and working with Jane, I knew I had to make it personally meaningful to me. Like a lot of people I know, I had explored pot as a young adult but spent most of my twenties drinking tequila shots and cheap beer. I really wanted to get familiar with cannabis again but I didn’t know where to start. My “ah ha” moment came when I decided to replace alcohol with cannabis for 30 days as an experiment. The change was monumental, and I really started to view cannabis as a wellness tool and a healthy alternative to other substances. Sharing that experience and providing guidance to other “canna-curious” people has become my passion.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS BUSINESS CONCEPT AND DID YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE IN IT PRIOR?
JM: Jane had a pretty clear vision for the brand when we met. She was steeped in the world of newly legal cannabis, but saw a lack of products that captured the aesthetic and met the needs of her tribe. Her concept really resonated with me, and together we worked to boil it down to the essentials of who we were and what we believed as a brand.
I built on my previous startup experience, which allowed me to avoid some rookie mistakes. When you manage operations you become a Swiss Army knife, tackling high-level strategic decisions while also being your own intern. I became comfortable shifting between skill sets several times in a day, which definitely prepared me for the uncharted and somewhat unpredictable world of legal cannabis. I also owe a lot to my time spent in the CFDA Fashion Incubator and the mentorship I received there. At the end of the day, Jane West is a lifestyle brand and not unlike a fashion brand. Our job is to create products that are meaningful to us and that embody the sensibilities of our audience, all while filling a need.
HOW DID YOU FUND JANE WEST?
JM: For our first round, we raised money from private investors. We spent a year pitching to individuals and organizations. In my experience, fundraising always takes longer than anyone wants or expects. But finding the right investor is a lot like finding love: You have to put yourself out there if you want to meet the right one!
We’re now raising our second round through an equity crowdfunding campaign. This is incredibly meaningful to both me and Jane. From day one, we’ve envisioned a company whose ownership reflects our audience. Through crowdfunding, we’re able to democratize this incredible movement and shift the status quo. The majority of Americans support legalization, but very few people beyond institutional investors and very wealthy individuals have opportunities to participate financially. We want everyone, regardless of their resources or background, to be part of the most important new industry to emerge in our lifetime.
NAME 3 OF THE SCARIEST MOMENTS YOU HAD WHEN DOING THIS.
JM: The first time I was in a room with investors I felt so out of my element. I was nervous they would throw “gotcha” questions at us like Shark Tank, and I wouldn’t know the right answer. But over time I learned that investors need entrepreneurs just as much as we need them. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and like any good relationship, the goal is to support each other.
With any startup, you wonder about job security since there’s so much risk involved. But when you’re working in an industry that is still federally illegal, that insecurity grows exponentially. This is less of a “moment” and more of a near constant sense of subtle doom. (I’m only half kidding.)
I also think it’s really normal to have a lot of moments when you ask, “Is this going to work?” The key is to use these moments as opportunities for a gut-check and continually fine-tune your strategy. If you’re staying connected to your intuition, you will always find the best path forward.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF WORKING IN THE (RELATIVELY NEW) CANNABIS INDUSTRY?
JM: Cannabis is an incredibly exciting opportunity, but it comes with a ton of unique challenges. The most effective marketing tools are unavailable to us. Facebook, Instagram and Google all restrict cannabis content, even if a business, like ours, doesn’t “touch the plant.”
Many cannabis consumers are still in the closet, so connecting with our audience can also be tricky. There’s a lack of customer data. The limitations have forced us to get really creative in our approach to marketing, but I truly believe that has led to a deeper and more authentic relationship with our community.
The one challenge that has not been a catalyst for creative problem-solving is the lack of banks and payment processors willing to work with a cannabis-adjacent businesses. I’m eager for that tide to change, and for a financial institution to be the first to step up.
AND, WHAT’S THE BIGGEST REWARD?
JM: The reward is the community. There are too many beautiful stories to tell: People healing themselves with plants, connecting deeper with the ones they love, getting creative, getting silly, getting free, all while building an ethical and righteous industry. I’m incredibly lucky to be among them.
WHAT IS YOUR PIECE OF ADVICE TO ANYONE WHO WANTS TO STOP WHAT THEY’RE DOING AND CREATE THEIR “DREAM JOB”?
JM: Start before you’re “ready.” It will never feel like the right time. Surround yourself with people who inspire you. Adopt mentors, even if they don’t know they’re your mentor. And most importantly, ask every question, even if you think you should already know the answer. I spent six months in a startup accelerator pretending to know what “EBITDA” meant before I was brave enough to ask. Don’t waste time when it comes to building your dreams.