In the cannabis industry there are 2 kinds of people: the people that are in it for the money, and the people that see the benefits the plant can offer and actually want to help the world. It’s crucial to surround yourself with those who share your vision, and are just as passionate about achieving it.
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 interviewingJames Bennett.
James had an innate sense to build businesses and help others from an extremely early age. From clothing drives and mentorship programs to food delivery and event companies, as a young child, James’ entrepreneurial spirit inspired him to take the initiative in solving the problems he observed around him. His first venture was in grade 2 when he started wholesaling silly bandz bracelets online and selling them on the playground for 50 cents, from then on, he knew that he loved entrepreneurship. James is a visionary thinker and optimist, he always dreams big and is relentless in finding ways to achieve his goals, no matter how ‘out-there’ they may be. James’ life goal is to leave a lasting positive impact on the planet and on humanity, his vision is to create ethical and sustainable solutions to every business model, Kickstart economies and entrepreneurship in third world countries, and help humanity thrive like it should have been all along.
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?
Growing up I was bullied quite badly. I developed anxiety and depression as a result. When I went to my doctor, I was given a quick and simple solution. As I’m sure you could’ve guessed — it was a pill. I tried taking these pills for a few weeks. Then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t sleeping. I didn’t feel like eating. I found no enjoyment from the things I used to love. So, I went back to my doctor, and instead of a different treatment, I was just given a different pill. And guess what happened? The same thing.
After years of doctors and family members presenting only one “solution,” I decided to take my health into my own hands. I started researching alternatives to pharmaceuticals. I learned about natural remedies for combatting anxiety and have not stopped learning about them since.
Millions of people from my generation, including close friends, have battled anxiety and mental health problems. I don’t want other people to deal with the challenges of being carelessly prescribed many different medications. changed my well-being and my entire life. It’s now my mission to share the benefits of natural treatment with as many people as possible.
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?
We got a really, really interesting opportunity when we were asked to fill in as the lead sponsor of an entrepreneurship conference held at Queen’s University just 24 hours before the event started. This meant we had little to no time to put together an entire case competition for the delegates at the conference. But that’s not really the important part, What is important was the other company sponsoring the event… Canopy Growth. Yeah, turns out this last minute sponsorship got us a seat at the big boy table with Bruce Linton and the CEO of Canopy Rivers.
Obviously, we spent the entire night picking their brain. The advice they gave us ended up changing the entire trajectory of our business. What stood out to us the most was when they told us that the industry leaders are spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to get into our heads — or at least the heads of people our age. Right then, we realized that the people we knew how to help best, were our peers, the people we’re around every day. The people who share similar values, struggles, and goals in their own lives. And that’s really how we are well turned into what it is today…a company that’s helping people just like us, live healthier, happier lives.
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?
Wanna hear something hilarious? The company was originally going to be in Juul pods. It was positioned as a health and wellness company providing a healthier alternative to and nicotine products. So we created a great product, built a killer brand, ordered all the inventory — the entire company was ready to go. Then, the day before we were set to launch our health and wellness, the CDC released a statement saying that smoking is detrimental to your health. Beautiful irony, but at the time, a devastating blow to our company. This was an amazing lesson because it helped us embrace a mindset that was open to failure. Even though the initial idea didn’t work, we learned so much about being able to pivot quickly; it gave us an opportunity to reevaluate our business model and actually played a big role in where we are today. We now look at every mistake, mis-step, and failure as an opportunity to patch the holes, and come back even stronger than we were before.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Honestly, I feel like the entire we are wellcompany is an exciting project that can really help a lot of people. We are creating a movement towards natural treatment, better business, and healthier, happier lives. In regards to our products, we’re giving people natural, effective alternatives to dangerous pharmaceuticals so people can take back control of their own lives. But it’s so much more than just a product. We really believe in this mission and know there’s more to health and happiness than just. That’s why we give people a ton of free resources on other natural ways to improve their wellness. In terms of better business, we place a large emphasis on being honest with the people who buy our products. We tell them exactly what’s in our products, why those ingredients are there, and where they came from. We also ensure all of our materials are 100% sustainable, and with each sale we donate meals to the hungry, provide discounted mental health services, and fund ocean clean ups. It’s so much more than a product, it’s a movement.
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’d have to say my co-founders are a large part of the success this company has been able to achieve. What’s cool is that not only are we business partners, but we also happened to be best friends far before this venture ever started. To some people this might be a red-flag, but for us, it was our saving grace. Running a company comes with a lot of its own unique struggles, but knowing that I always have support, whether in business or personal matters really helps. It makes it that much easier to work 14 hours a day when the people you’re doing it with are the people you’d be hanging out with anyways. When I think about it, it’s really crazy that the people I’m in the trenches with are the same people I can kick back and smoke a joint with. A lot of the time, the moments we “stop” working, are actually the times when we get some of our best ideas to come forward; some of them are actually at the very core of the company’s overall strategy today. But above all, I really understand the people that I work with more than anyone else. It’s a crazy dynamic where within a split second I can tell if my partners are having an off day, or if they’re on the verge of a breakthrough. It really takes the idea of the “human resources” to the next level.
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?
I think what really sets us apart is the way we look at the people who buy our products. We actually try to refrain from using the word “customer”, because it takes away from what they really are: people. People with passions, beliefs, and values. People, like us, who want to feel happy, considered and respected. By looking at the business this way, it really encourages us to connect with people and build relationships, rather than just trying to sell products.
We actually have a group chat where people can talk directly with the founders of the company. Yes, of course, they can talk about products they like and don’t like, or the designs they love, or hate. But more importantly, they can talk to our team about stuff outside of business, and really get to know us as people, rather than some suits behind closed doors.
I think looking at the people that support your business in this way elevates your relationship from transactional to integrative. Now the people that buy your product are not just a means to fuel your bottom line. We’re really trying to build a community of like-minded people and organizations that all support the same mission of a better planet and healthier, happier people.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
The cannabis industry as a whole is just a super exciting industry.
- The first thing that excites me is the massive potential. It’s only just the beginning of the cannabis industry. Overtime, as more research comes out, who knows the problems cannabis may be able to solve. We’ve seen the benefits of THC and . Now rare cannabinoids like CBG, CBN and CBC are demonstrating their own therapeutic potential. These are just 5 of the 113+ cannabinoids in the plant. I’m really excited to explore some of the other compounds in cannabis and see how they can elevate the power of plant treatment.
- The second thing is that the cannabis industry acts as a platform to reintroduce natural treatment back into the mainstream so it’s no longer considered ‘alternative’. There are so many synthetic chemicals and remedy, even prescribed pharmaceutical options, that do so much damage to our bodies and to the world overall. I really believe that putting natural treatment back into the medical industry will give people some safer, healthier alternatives. We’ve already seen the power of cannabis and what it’s done for those with forms of epilepsy, anxiety, and chronic pain. I can’t wait to see how many other life-changing benefits it can bring to the world.
- The third thing that excites me — and something we are well will be leading — is the shift towards more honest and ethical companies. In some other industries, the information on what goes into the product and where they come from is somewhat of a black book. The availability of seed-to-sale trackers and 3rd party testing really gives people the information they need about the products they’re putting into their body. It’s something that I really hope sets a standard for the level of transparency that businesses offer to the people that buy their products.
With every excitement comes some worries as well.
- The first is the pharmaceutical industry, which has a history of putting profits over people. I’m worried as cannabis starts to take over a larger share of the medical market, pharmaceutical companies will get more and more involved, potentially leading to cheaper, synthetic cannabinoids which could potentially do more harm than good.
- Another worry is industry dynamics. With so many brands in the cannabis space, the industry is sure to see mass consolidation in the coming years. This will give a concentrated number of companies a lot of power and influence over the future of the industry. We are worried these publicly traded conglomerates might prioritize profits over people, and omit some of the therapeutic potential of the cannabis plant.
- Another worry is the extent of government regulations. We’re all for regulation, but too much regulation creates inefficiencies. It really puts a limitation on the potential of this wonderful plant.
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.
- You’ve gotta do something to be different. There are a ton of brands in this industry, so it’s easy to fall into the crowd and be drowned out by the noise. Focus on using your strengths to bring something new to the market. Whether that be a new technology, a new formulation, or a new approach to business — get creative.
- Running a successful company pretty much puts your personal life on hold. Be ready to make some big changes to your lifestyle if this is something you really want to do. Be warned, it takes a lot of hard work.
- Build your personal brand and a team as soon as possible. Do your research and position yourself as a thought leader in your niche. Your personal brand will be a key to recruitment. You can show people how awesome you are to work with and find people whose values align closely with yours.
- In the cannabis industry there are 2 kinds of people: the people that are in it for the money, and the people that see the benefits the plant can offer and actually want to help the world. It’s crucial to surround yourself with those who share your vision, and are just as passionate about achieving it.
- Don’t boil the ocean. I think cannabis is a unique industry because there are so many different kinds of people who buy cannabis products for so many different reasons. If you try to reach them all, you will not reach any of them. Focus on a narrow group of customers, and meet their needs better than anyone else.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
First thing, do not consider them as “employees.” Similar to our philosophy towards customers, our team members are people. People that have families and interests; good days and bad days. If you impose too much structure on a species that is naturally unpredictable, you’ll find yourself with unrealized human potential. You’d be surprised what people can do when you give them the freedom to think and act on their own.
For example, we let our team work when they want, where they want, and how they want. People are different, so when you give them the freedom to customize their work experience, they not only produce better results, but they’re actually just happier overall.At the same time, we recognize there’s more to life than just work. So something that’s really brought our team closer together is the idea of incentivising and rewarding non-work behaviours. For example, our team uses a cool habit tracking system that rewards our employees for taking care of themselves, others and the planet. At the end of each month we recognize and reward the person that had the largest contribution across all 3 dimensions. It’s a simple system, but it reminds our team that we value them as people, not just workers.
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. 🙂
If we start a movement? We are starting a movement!
When we were creating the brand, we were adamant on having the word “we” in the name… because we’re much more than a company that simply sells products. The “we” in we are well represents a collective movement towards a happier and healthier planet overall.
Specifically, with the brand we are well, we want to create a world where the most successful companies are also the most ethical. It is our mission to set a standard for the level of profitability that can be achieved while still deploying fair trade practises, contributing to charitable causes, and being radically transparent with our customers. Setting a standard means that companies either adopt, or get left behind. As more companies begin to adopt a conscious approach to business, the closer we get to a world where: brands that do not use environmentally friendly packaging are the ones that go up in flames; Where the ones that do not disclose their business operations are the ones that can’t find anyone to trust; Where the companies that do not contribute to a larger cause are the ones left looking for money. Ultimately, where standing for something greater than profit will be the expectation, rather than the gold standard.
In conjunction with this movement, we are hoping to pioneer what we call “sustainable supply chains.” How great would it be if we stored our products in warehouses that are run with exclusively green energy…and shipped our products exclusively in Electric vehicles. This would be absolutely amazing, but it would also be extremely expensive.
But… the more brands that are stored under those solar powered roofs… and the more products are shipped in those electric powered trucks… the more that expense starts to decrease at a marginal scale. So our vision, as we launch subsequent brands in different product categories, industries and countries, is for these brands to use a common network of compostable packaging suppliers, electric trucking fleets and energy efficient warehousing to reduce the cost of sustainable production via economies of scale.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you so much . It was a pleasure speaking with you and contributing to this series, i truly hope my words of encouragement will light the fire in an entrepreneur on the verge of taking the plunge into the cannabis industry.