Be very cautious about entering into long term contracts. Ask for a trial period. If it’s working you would most likely stay. Negotiate services/ contracted work. When you are a start-up, if you don’t have unlimited funds, you have to be creative and figure out how to create a team that is invested in your success and willing to contribute towards future success. They have to believe in you, your vision, and your loyalty to them to take care of them once you are more successful. We have an amazing team that has helped us for far less compensation than they could have required and we are extremely appreciative of this. We hope and believe they know our integrity and commitment to them will stand the test of time.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Kerr, co-founder of wellness brand Imaginal Biotech, Inc. She is a practicing attorney who founded The Advocacy Group, a law firm focused on advocacy for consumer rights, with an emphasis on accessibility and equality for persons with disabilities. Along with life partner, Da’vid Abellard Jr., she founded Imaginal to create and share the products she trusts to promote a healthy work-life balance. Kerr resides in Miami with Da’vid and her two daughters Bella and Jada, who she considers her greatest gifts.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
We have always been interested in alternative and natural remedies for health concerns or issues and for overall better health. In 2010, I was diagnosed with chronic Epstein-Barr syndrome, which is essentially a condition resulting in chronic fatigue. I had been struggling with symptoms since as early as high school. Apparently, I unknowingly contracted mono at some point in my childhood. I had a history of throat infections throughout my childhood that resulted in an overuse of antibiotics. This combined with amalgam fillings, and inflammatory allergies from childhood put me at a huge disadvantage.
When Da’vid and I became a couple in 2011 he began helping me find alternative remedies right from the start. In the beginning years, I remember having to spend many holiday parties or events homesick while my family went to events without me. At that time, I used cannabis to help deal with the chronic pain associated with my illnesses. As we found natural remedies such as CBD, intravenous nutrition, and amalgam removal among other remedies, we have tried to share these options with others.
Creating our own Imaginal brand is an extension of our desire and efforts to live the best life possible and help others do the same. A huge part of our company is also the social impact cause we call “Imaginal Impact.” We hope to promote others who are making a difference in, especially with people groups who have been marginalized.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
COVID-19 happened. We had an entirely different product line and plan for our business which centered around partnerships with bars and restaurants. When all the bars and restaurants shut down, we had to regroup and move forward with a different product line. We love the products we were able to create with our manufacturers and are very thankful we were able to regroup and redirect seamlessly. Now, we are looking forward to launching on our original concept. Lesson learned: You have to be ready to drop products or projects that are not going to work for one reason or another and redirect your efforts to something else that can be productive.
I think no one could have expected the complications of COVID-19. Launching in the midst of the pandemic has not been easy, but it has allowed us the time to learn and grow with our team. We have been able to provide income to those in need including a homeless contractor. We did not know when we hired this person that they were facing homelessness. Over time, they felt safe enough to share this with us. Our hearts were gripped by the difficult life experience someone so close to us was experiencing. Homelessness is one of the causes Imaginal seeks to reduce through the Imaginal Impact projects, so we’re very appreciative that we could help someone with income and purpose during a difficult time.
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?
When we were first starting our company we were invited to an amazing event held by Ricky Williams and Montel Williams in South Beach. It was an inspiring event and there was great food and drinks offered full of CBD. There was also a local wine offered that was low in alcohol but had terpenes to especially pair with CBD. By the end of the event, I was feeling extremely good and I thought I must have accidentally had some THC. I did not feel intoxicated or negative, but I definitely felt the effects in a way I never had before. I learned about the entourage effect firsthand; it was not a bad experience.
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
Our pastor warned us that many Christians may not approve of our new business. I do not think he meant this as a negative warning, just more so to prepare us. We were not worried about this either way. We believe Cannabis is a gift from the earth and from God.
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?
I could not do this without my life partner, Da’vid Abellard Jr. This is a shared dream and we are blessed to be working on this together. His enthusiasm and positive outlook motivate me to push forward as we grow our startup. As I stated earlier, when we first started, our other business partner decided he did not want to work with me specifically, but did not state why. It felt as if it was because I was a woman, but we really do not know. He stated I could be a silent partner. David could have chosen to work with him instead; he had much to offer with his notoriety and financial backing, but we chose to make this a family business and I am thankful for the support and belief Da’vid has in me.
We also have an amazing team of people who work with us either as vendors, contractors, or collaborators. Our copywriter Wilfred Waimiri, who is from Kenya, is super talented and encouraging. He truly believes in our cause to help improve people’s lives and in the ability of Cannabis to do this. Our graphic designer, Darren Brent Ghouralal, who is from Trinidad, is another amazing team member who has been with us from the beginning helping us create designs that coincide with our vision. Marty Seinamets, who lives in Estonia, is our UX Designer and our Website Developer, Jason Shaw founder and CEO of RTM Group, along with his projector manager Joyce Mealey, and their entire team, have been the glue that has brought our vision together. We love having an international team and we are so appreciative of each contributor.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are super excited about our water-soluble single serves. This was actually supposed to be our first product. We were building relationships with local restaurants and bars to provide these as optional add-ons to drinks, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic options, but then Covid happened. We worked with Jordan Schlosser from Cannabinoid Labs who is local here in Wynwood Miami to develop a special formulation to provide the best. Jordan has been developing formulations for over 11 years and is a wealth of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. We are also looking forward to an Imaginal Recipe Book for 2021. More to come on that!
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite the great progress that has been made, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
For the same reason minorities and women are underrepresented in mainstream companies, we need to be intentional about seeking out women and minorities to lead and run businesses, cannabis businesses included. Since companies are seeking out male executives to lead companies, there also needs to be intentional efforts to do the same for women. (1) Recruitment of women at colleges and universities for internships and leadership positions, (2) funding offered to women to give them entry into the industry, (3) networking for women within the industry including mentorship programs.
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 nonintuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
1) There is no rest for the weary. Make sure you are passionate about the business and the industry because it takes a lot of work to create a successful company.
2) Be intentional about who you partner with. We initially partnered with a third partner, who after creating our corporation and connecting him to our contacts, decided he did not want to partner with me specifically, but would not give a reason why. He then went to all of our contacts and tried to do business without us.
3) Many claim to be experts. Appreciate those that know they don’t always have all the right answers. Be careful of promises made by marketing companies. It is difficult or nearly impossible to market Cannabis on Facebook, IG, and Amazon. Most companies don’t work unless they have a comprehensive approach like Round Table Marketing (RTM) Group. RTM handles, PR, branding, brand management, brand development, and business development.
4) Be courageous and reach out to other people in the industry for insight, connections and help. Many people in the industry are happy to help and want to share what has helped them succeed. You cannot open a closed door unless you knock or try. For example, we reached out to Craig Clemens, the CEO of Golden Hippo and he immediately responded and provided insight and connections to try to help us figure out how to do Facebook marketing. When his initial instructions did not work and we went back to him, he took time to get us the right information. That is exceptional.
5) Be very cautious about entering into long term contracts. Ask for a trial period. If it’s working you would most likely stay. Negotiate services/ contracted work. When you are a start-up, if you don’t have unlimited funds, you have to be creative and figure out how to create a team that is invested in your success and willing to contribute towards future success. They have to believe in you, your vision, and your loyalty to them to take care of them once you are more successful. We have an amazing team that has helped us for far less compensation than they could have required and we are extremely appreciative of this. We hope and believe they know our integrity and commitment to them will stand the test of time.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
1) Even though it is somewhat saturated at this point, it is only the beginning and I believe quality products will stand the test of time.
2) I love helping people, so it is an opportunity to improve the wellbeing of people physically, socially, mentally, and financially.
3) Opportunity to innovate and combine cannabis with other products for a synergistic effect.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
1) The number of products that do not have quality ingredients. Enforce processes and procedures for compliance and lab testing.
2) The cost of good products. I would love to know the answer to this one. If marketing on social media was not prohibited, this would help lower the overall cost of production.
3) The inability to market on social media unless you have unlimited funds and an inside account manager at the respective platforms to pay separately. The solution I simple. Remove all barriers to marketing on social media.
What are your thoughts about the federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
Legalization promotes regulation to ensure quality and safe products are available for distribution. It reduces the need or opportunity for illegal drug sales and trafficking. Instead, the tax revenues from legalized sales could contribute to rebuilding the communities that have been deteriorated or destroyed as a result of disproportionate enforcement of drug-related offenses against minorities thereby empowering people groups who have been marginalized.
Reducing the incarceration rates while increasing tax revenues from cannabis sales can drastically improve our economy. According to Aaron Smith from CNN Money, if made federally legal, cannabis sales could pass 100 billion dollars per year. https://money.cnn.com/2016/11/09/news/economy/marijuana-legalization-sales/.
Criminalization has been used for years at disproportionate rates to incarcerate and debilitate minorities who became criminals using and selling a product that is now acknowledged to be medicinal and harmless. These people have been prevented from obtaining many employment opportunities as a result of their record. We have allowed businesses to profit off of alcohol which has very few beneficial effects, but many known harmful effects.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the daily cost of incarceration for federal inmates in 2018 was 102.60 dollars per day in Bureau facilities and 94.50 dollars per day in Community Corrections Centers. This does not consider other costs to the family and the government that likely result from the absence of the family member including reduced income, child care difficulties, and the related need for government assistance for childcare, food, insurance, and cash benefits.
Removing the stigma of prior convictions for cannabis-related offenses can also open doors for hundreds of thousands of citizens to increase income for families which in turn will increase spending and ultimately increase the GDP.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain it?
Cannabis in its natural form is not toxic as opposed to cigarettes and it should not be highly taxed in its natural state. To the extent any manufacturing of cannabis alters its state to make it toxic, it should be regulated and taxed in the same way. With regards to consumption by minors, it should be regulated similar to medicine or alcohol. It should not be freely provided to minors for recreational purposes, and any medicinal use by minors should be heavily regulated, but not prohibited. Cannabis has been known to help children with seizures and other special needs in effective ways that other medications either cannot or cannot without many negative side effects.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Love better, live better. Another similar phrase is the instructions by the flight attendant when you are preparing to take off for a flight that you must place the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others. You have to love yourself, truly, and take care of yourself, to really be able to help others.
As a woman, this is especially hard because we are born and raised to be caregivers and nurturers. I have had to learn (and I don’t always get it right), that I have to love myself and care for myself first to be able to truly love others. This involves carving out time each day to exercise and perform other self-care rituals. This may involve making healthy food for myself and my family, creating a positive healthy working environment, shutting down at the end of the day. I am much better at helping others when I have taken time to meditate or pray, focus my day, exercise, eat healthily, and take pauses throughout the day.
During COVID, this became especially challenging with everyone trying to work and live together under the same roof 24–7. The challenges to business revenue added increased stress and my anxiety levels were extremely high. By increasing my daily intake of CBD and taking time for meditation, prayer, and yoga, I was able to curb my anxiety levels and take care of myself and my family through the process.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Promote the right mindset. We like to say “Have an Imaginal mindset.” For us, that means gratitude combined with hope and faith. These combined create the greatest amount of change in individual perspective and in overall wellbeing. When I am at my best, I am even thankful for the hard things because I know those things are helping me grow, or are happening for a reason, or because there is something better that I need to wait for. We all have something to be thankful for. Others may have more or less than us, but we have something.
When we focus on the negative and worry about the potential negative outcomes, we limit the possibilities available to us. When we are thankful and hopeful, we look for good things to happen. If we expect good, we open ourselves up to opportunities and possibilities that we would not otherwise have the vision for. It is then that we can inspire others. Say thank you for five things each day and speak affirmations over your life each day that you will improve, you will be blessed, and that you will be a blessing to others.
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!