Whitney Beatty of Josephine & Billie’s: “A trusted circle”

Entrepreneurship is lonely. Especially for solo founders. Build a community of entrepreneurs around yourself that you can talk to. You have to have people that you can vent to, bounce ideas off of, people who you trust and whose opinions you value. There’s a danger of working in a silo, your ideas may very well […]

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Entrepreneurship is lonely. Especially for solo founders. Build a community of entrepreneurs around yourself that you can talk to. You have to have people that you can vent to, bounce ideas off of, people who you trust and whose opinions you value. There’s a danger of working in a silo, your ideas may very well be brilliant — or you can be hyping up your own trash. Make sure you have people around who you trust.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Whitney Beatty.

Whitney Beatty is a dynamic former reality television development exec turned cannabis entrepreneur. After a 15 year career that saw her rise from an assistant at the iconic William Morris Agency to a Senior Vice President of Development at Warner Brothers / Telepictures, she transitioned to use her knowledge of brand and niche markets in the cannabis space.

Inspired by a lack of stylish, safe cannabis storage systems and a disdain for storing medicine in a shoebox, Whitney’s first company Apothecarry Brands, Inc. was selected for the first cohort of Canopy San Diego cannabis business accelerator. Whitney subsequently pitched and won the ArcView Groups 2017 Los Angeles pitch prize and was selected at the Fall 2017 Pipeline LA portfolio company. Whitney’s newest endeavor in the cannabis space is Josephine & Billie’s, the first dispensary focused on the recreational and medicinal needs of women of color.

Whitney is an advocate for women and women of color in the cannabis space, and has spoken extensively on her experiences bootstrapping to MVP, females fundraisers in the cannabis space and cannabis social equity and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, LA times, NYT, SXSW, Dope, TIME and Entrepreneur.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I never imagined myself working in the cannabis industry. To be honest I did not use cannabis when I was younger. I didn’t use it in high school and I tried it a couple times in college but I wasn’t wasn’t impressed — besides, Nancy Reagan told me to say no to drugs and I believed her! I had worked in the entertainment industry for 15 years — but a couple of things changed my trajectory. I was diagnosed with anxiety. It was life-altering. One day, I was sitting at my desk with shortness of breath and heart palpitations. I drove myself to the emergency room, parked between two ambulances and was pretty sure that I was going to die. What actually scared me the most was the fact that the medicine prescribed to treat my anxiety did not work. And I tried a lot of them. In an offhand comment, my doctor suggested I look into cannabis. She may as well have suggested I start a crack rock regime.

That forced me to do my research, both on cannabis and the ways it could help me. I also explored why I felt so negatively about it — the stigma most of society carries around cannabis: that it’s “bad.”

I was able to find a CBD THC regimen that works for me. I weaned out all the prescription drugs my doctor had put me on. I was able to do the research on the plant and learn how misinformed I was. I learned that from the 1920s until today People of Color have been using plant medicine — and have been largely demonized for it, and left out of the conversation as the industry grew in our neighborhoods. I wanted to change that.

Josephine and Billie’s is the first dispensary focused on the recreational and medicinal needs of Women of Color. From the Tea Pads of the early 20’s until today, People of Color have leaned on the healing properties of cannabis. Today, these communities still feel the effects of the war on drugs without seeing the larger benefits of legalization. Social factors play a large role in Women of Color’s perception and use of cannabis. As communities of color were disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs many have apprehension, and little experience using the plant. This lack of education and information about the medicinal benefits of cannabis coupled with a lack of trusted sources of information becomes a barrier to usage. Most cannabis retailers in Communities of Color are unlicensed and provide little information, insight or programming and generally, feel unsafe. There is no dispensary focused on this demographic in Los Angeles. Until now.

Josephine & Billie’s seeks to become a thought leader in this space for the 1.3 million Women of Color in the City of Los Angeles and for millions more around the world with a multi-prong approach. We believe that we can fill a large hole in the retail market by becoming not just a dispensary, but a destination; bolstered by our connection to the community and authentic POC voice. Education is at the forefront of everything we do, as a part of our holistic approach to consumption. From the infographics on the walls that describe how to read cannabis labels to the breakdown on why sativa and indica aren’t the best way to predict how a strain will make you feel, we make sure our customer base knows what they are buying. Our staff is educated not only on the product lines, but the history of cannabis on a whole, and can talk about Harry Anslinger just as quickly as they discuss the benefits of the entourage effect. Whether it is dosage help, and potency questions or bio-availability concerns, our product knowledge helps empower our customer base to make informed purchases — and to become loyal customers. Finally, the store seeks to be an important community partner, hosting senior groups from nearby churches for cannabis education, supporting local movements and advocating for community reinvestment.

Josephine and Billie isn’t just a social equity business, nor is it just a dispensary. Ultimately, it’s an opportunity to bring cannabis home to a community that for far too long has gotten the short end of the stick in retail options, in a way that honors the contributions the community has already made to the industry. Full circle.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Jay-Z invested in our company. Like… THAT Jay-Z.

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?

The first time I reached out to an investor they requested an executive summary, and I had no idea what one was so I sent them a bio with my picture attached! It hurt me that I really needed to do my research even with situations that felt familiar. Nuance is everything, especially in fundraising.

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 about that?

I think that no CEO gets where they are without building a team of like-minded people around them, and I’m particularly lucky to have a team of amazing Women of Color who so strongly believe in the vision and ethos of J&B. I’m especially grateful to my COO Ebony Andersen who came in to Josephine and Billie’s from the Urban Planning sector with a wealth of experience on the licensure side of cannabis and was able to really help us streamline the process of getting through licensing and plan check.

Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

Funding becomes a huge issue for young companies. You’re looking at numbers with a woman co-founder, and if we’re looking at sole woman founders getting VC funding, that number drops down to 3%. If we’re talking about Women of Color, the latest numbers are looking at .0006%. Add that to the fact that the average Black-woman-led-company raise is 36,000 dollars compared to the average white man raising 1.3 million dollars and you see why it’s so difficult for Women of Color to be founders (https://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/17/black-women-are-the-fastest-growing-group-of-entrepreneurs-so-where-are-the-investors.html). And yet, what we know for sure is Black women are prolific Entrepreneurs. But the failure rate is extremely high, and access to capital and opportunities for growth are hard to come by.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

I think there’s a lot of ways to tackle these issues. We see things like the fund that invested in our company, The Parent Company (TPCO)’s social equity fund that was focused on giving money to Black and Brown entrepreneurs in the space. It’s important that the funding body acknowledge the implicit and explicit bias in the ways that they seek, attract and engage entrepreneurs so they give opportunities outside of their small circles. The founders of companies are not asking for handouts, they’re asking for the same opportunities as other entrepreneurs. They have amazing ideas, they just need funding to get off the ground.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

If you want to change corporate culture — become the corporation. It’s amazing to be able to run a company where the C Suites are all moms with children, where we bring our children to play in the park as we have meetings. Where we don’t have to delineate between being mothers and being completely able-bodied capable and committed executives. We all acknowledge that we can be both.

Within the cannabis industry, it’s also amazing to be able to be the change that we want to see. People of Color have been disproportionately disenfranchised by the War on Drugs for years and since legalization, we have not had the opportunity to participate in this industry as we should. Josephine and Billie’s has the opportunity to be an endpoint of an inclusive supply chain. We have the ability to focus on cannabis education in a community that has a lack of access to healthcare, and to give back to communities who have lost so much in the War on Drugs.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

I think people believe that to be a founder or a CEO you have to know everything. I don’t even think that is possible. The key to being able to be a successful entrepreneur is not necessarily to know everything — but to be able to to gain access to the people you need to fill your knowledge gaps. In an industry that’s changing as quickly as the cannabis space is, that can prove to be very difficult. The industry is so nascent that there are no track records, case studies and best practices. The rules change everyday and a lot of people don’t like to share information to keep their competitive advantage. You have to innovate and be nimble. I believe that my job is to know enough to have an intelligent conversation with the people on my team — but really my job is to be the bus driver, and to get the best, most skilled people for every role onto the bus and drive them in the same direction towards a mutual goal.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Everybody is not cut out to be a founder. If you think that quitting your day job and becoming a founder is going to be in any way, shape or form easy — this is not for you. You’re going from a 9-to-5 to a 24/7/365. Going from a place where someone is going to pat you on the back and say good job — to a position where you’ll pat everyone on the back, and go to bed exhausted and unappreciated with a list of everyone’s complaints. The weight of the world will rest on your shoulders and 9 times out of 10 you’ll have no one to talk to you about it because those are problems for you to solve and no one else. But, if you can hear all of that, and still have a vision of something that you want to build, a problem that you want to solve, and you know in your heart that the sacrifice is worth it. If it’s something that you’re willing to eat, drink, sleep and live with for the next 2 to 5 years, then it’ll be the best thing you’ve ever done.

Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. A trusted circle

Entrepreneurship is lonely. Especially for solo founders. Build a community of entrepreneurs around yourself that you can talk to. You have to have people that you can vent to, bounce ideas off of, people who you trust and whose opinions you value. There’s a danger of working in a silo, your ideas may very well be brilliant — or you can be hyping up your own trash. Make sure you have people around who you trust.

2. A plan of attack

You can’t build anything without a game plan. Before you jump off the cliff of entrepreneurship, make sure that you have a plan. What is your ultimate goal? Are you going to bootstrap your way to MVP? What KPI’s are you looking for before you go out for investment? How are you going to measure your success? What is it gonna take to get you there? Do you have the skills to get you there or do you need to bring on a cofounder and if so, what are you willing to give up in order to bring someone onto your team? What are the signs that you’re ready to quit your job to do your side hustle full time? Then sit down and write out your business plan.

3. A commitment to success

I’m a single mother with a small child who quit a well-paying job to join this industry. I sold my house and liquidated my 401k to start the business so I definitely sacrificed our comfort and security. I drove to San Diego to participate in a business accelerator for 16 weeks, which isn’t the most fun drive to make in LA traffic. I stayed up late to do deals with China and woke early to do calls with NYC. I don’t regret a thing — I believe in this space, this brand, and in my team to get this done. If you don’t believe in yourself you can’t expect others to do so — I wanted to put my money where my mouth was, to have skin in the game. Failure is not an option. I’m open about this because I want other moms to feel comfortable becoming stakeholders in this space, running companies and building products that will change the industry.

4. A “can’t stop, won’t stop attitude”

My favorite quote is “women who seek to be equal to men lack ambition.” It’s something I’ve taken to heart both as a woman and a Woman of Color. It has served me well as an executive in the uber-competitive entertainment industry and also, in cannabis. The odds are always against you as an entrepreneur, but you have to trust in your ability and capabilities. You have to shake off anything you hear that consciously or subconsciously limits what you can achieve. That’s also the joy of working in such a new and booming market — I can’t compare what Josephine & Billie’s can do with anyone else because this space didn’t exist 10 years ago. You get to blaze a new trail. YOU CAN DO THIS!!

5. A self-care routine

Because entrepreneurship is unforgiving. It’s all day, all night, all weekend long and you have to be able to carve out time for yourself and your family. You have to remember why you’re doing this. You can’t say you want to be an entrepreneur to spend more time with your kids, and then realize every moment you’re with your child that you have your phone in your hand. Set healthy boundaries. Schedule “me” time. Hire a housekeeper without the mom-guilt. Put your workouts on your calendar. Learn to say “No” with some bass in your voice.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I currently serve as VP of Supernova Women. Supernova Women works to lower barriers of entry in the cannabis industry for Black and Brown communities, those most harmed by the War on Drugs. We are groundbreaking because we were the first organization to work directly with this community, to train operators to run effective business. We worked with the city of Oakland to develop and implement the country’s first Cannabis Social Equity Program, which was a huge victory and changed the trajectory of cannabis legalization. We also worked with Senator Steven Bradford’s office to develop and establish SB 1294, the State of California’s social equity grant program that funds local municipalities’ social equity programs. Since then, our organization has worked on a number of campaigns and initiatives, like lowering cannabis business taxes in the City of Oakland for social equity and small businesses.

My work with Supernova focused on educational initiatives and Los Angeles-based advocacy. I developed and implemented the first mastermind group for Women of Color in cannabis that included syllabi development and professor-led workshops in LA. I’ve written white papers on the importance of social equity, spoke on panels, and been a mentor to new business owners. I am deeply committed to creating a more equitable playing field and lowering barriers of entry for people of color in this space.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If I could inspire movement, it would be to require that CEO’s mentor entrepreneurs that were diametrically different from themselves. I think one of the issues we have in the spread of wealth, and knowledge is that for many of us, in particular founders of color, we don’t have access to this type of human capital. If more people took someone underneath their wing, exposed them to a new circle, access to new opportunities, networking, something so simple could make such a difference.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Oprah. Because….. Oprah. Her approach, her branding, her ability to relate, is second to none. She’s one of the people whose success showed me I had the ability to be whatever I wanted to be when I was growing up.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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