She Created the First Matchmaking Service for Cannabis Enthusiasts
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How did you get into the cannabis business?
Growing up in the Midwest, it never occurred to me that being in the cannabis industry was an option. That all changed when a courageous member of my family unexpectedly become a cannabis advocate, fighting to treat her young son’s seizures. I'd read about cannabis’ healing properties, but to see its power up close changed me forever. I always thought I just used cannabis to relax and connect, but after reflecting I began to pinpoint just how many ways I used cannabis as a healing tool, too.
Timing is everything because just as I was starting to walk down this path, Colorado and Washington were voting to legalize cannabis. I knew I wouldn’t be fulfilled unless I found a way to become involved in the cannabis industry, and that’s when I left my cushy mainstream matchmaking gig and started Highly Devoted in 2015.
What was your vision for the company?
When I founded Highly Devoted, the only other businesses related to connecting over cannabis were a few stoner dating sites. I had a vision for creating a service and brand for smart, savvy, successful, well-respected people who used cannabis responsibly. Unfortunately, the stoner stigma runs deep, so pushing back against reefer madness is a constant battle. Most people have never given thought to the idea that cannabis can be a positive tool in a romantic relationship, so we’ve been forced to build an industry from scratch.
What obstacles and challenges have you experienced in operating within this industry?
Google and Facebook are not welcoming to cannabis-centric brands, so digital advertising on mainstream platforms has been nearly impossible. Utilizing social media to build the brand is a huge gamble -- the larger your following, the more of a target you become. Instagram and Youtube have shut down hundreds of cannabis accounts without any warning or rationale, so that is always in the back of our minds when creating social posts.
How have you overcome these obstacles?
I’m very passionate about the mission of Highly Devoted, so I take every chance I get to speak with others about using cannabis as a tool for connection and disrupting the stoner stigma. My best bet for getting the word out has been pitching stories to the media. I was interviewed on VICE.com a couple months after starting Highly Devoted, and that helped me land my first group of clients as well as gain more media mentions. The media has been a foundational part of our marketing strategy ever since.
Networking is also essential. In order to allow Highly Devoted to reach its potential, I had to move to a much more cannabis-friendly market. My husband and I moved to Los Angeles in 2016, and from that point on I was able to fully immerse myself in the cannabis community. The connections I made lead to lots of new clients, as well as strategic partners, friends, and many others who just wanted to help because our message resonated with them. My partners are now helping me scale this business from a bootstrapped startup to national brand that creates jobs and helps millions of people live happier lives with the use of plant medicine.
I’ve realized that the best way to fight the stigma is by putting myself out there. I take every opportunity I can to speak clearly and concisely on the truth about cannabis and its applications in relationships. I’m launching an informational platform later this year that will amplify the message while not being beholden to any other social site. I’m also developing workshops and other content to support that mission.
As a woman in cannabis, do you feel that you are at an advantage or a disadvantage?
Like most industries, cannabis is a boys club and the overwhelming majority of investor groups and brands are run by men. I’m heartened by the fact that there are more female executives in cannabis than any other industry, but we are still vastly underrepresented at the C level. I’ll happily take the opportunity to stand out as a strong woman in an industry filled with men, and I only choose to work with partners and clients who treat me with respect.
As a coach, matchmaker and relationship expert, I have a keen understanding of how men think and communicate compared to women. I use that to my advantage as much as possible, although I am still constantly underestimated and mansplained by the men in cannabis. My focus is to keep my head down, work hard, and provide as much value as possible without intimidating either sex. I get a lot of joy out of upending expectations, and I can do that every day with male entrepreneurs.
The best part about being a woman in cannabis is the community. I have met the most amazing female entrepreneurs and made friends whom I will cherish for the rest of my days. Although there can be some drama, I find much more teamwork and collaboration than competition with these women. There’s enough business to go around for everyone, and I have never felt more accepted by a group in my life.
What's been your greatest lesson learned?
Talk is cheap. Be wary of people who promise you the world without any action to back it up. I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy on people and projects who didn’t live up to their promises or responsibilities because I’m an optimist and I want to take others at their word. I’ve ignored red flags in the past in the hope that I was just being overly cautious and everything would work out great. Now that I’m more in tune with my gut instinct and inner voice, I have a much easier time saying no if something doesn’t feel right. Having concrete goals and priorities has allowed me to quickly analyze whether or not something deserves my time and energy.
What trait do you rely on most when making business decisions?
I am an empathetic person, and that ability to put myself in other's shoes has broadened my perspective outside of the tunnel vision where I spend most of my time building my brand. Entrepreneurship is not a vacuum, and in order to grow and expand, you need to bring in outsiders. I’m very curious about people’s motivations and intentions, and when I can pinpoint their goals and why they want to achieve them, it’s much easier for me to feel comfortable making big moves that will take Highly Devoted to the next level.