She Was Bedridden With A Nerve Injury. Then She Discovered Cannabis And A New Business Idea.
In 2010, Andrea Brooks, who is a serial entrepreneur and lobbyist for social change with a passion for health, wellness, and design, was hit with debilitating nerve damage on the right side of her body. What she thought was a minor injury that might require a few sicks days transpired into a chronic condition that left her bedbound for over a year.
After cannabis played a crucial role in her recovery, Brooks was inspired to enter the space as an entrepreneur. Building on her previous experience working with NGOs around the world on program development, she now applies her expertise to her latest venture – Sava, a digital platform providing e-commerce solutions for curated, high-quality cannabis goods.
This is her story.
Tell us about the injury that changed your life.
I was bed-bound for a year and a half. I stopped working and stopped all of my volunteer work. I needed help from friends to cook and to do the most basic tasks, like washing my hair. It was a bleak, dark time, and I couldn’t see a way out. Deep depression set in.
My doctors prescribed medications for the pain that left me unable to function—the drugs significantly hindered my ability to enjoy life. I had a friend who was a grower, and he made me tinctures and topicals to experiment with. Pretty quickly, I was able to stop pain meds and use cannabis instead, and my life began to improve dramatically. I finally had a way to deal with the pain that left me with the energy and motivation to exercise (lightly, of course), cook healthy food, and do all of the things that nurtured me back to health.
Cannabis became my new passion and curiosity. I wondered why I hadn’t come to it sooner, and how many other people like me were suffering from chronic pain or other ailments. While I had smoked a little recreationally in high school and college, it was never my thing—it even bored me. But this was an eye-opener. It was a very medical entry point of use, but I also started seeing the pleasurable benefits as well.
What inspired you to get into the business?
I met other people with chronic pain who had turned successfully to cannabis. I found plenty of artisanal products but no actual marketplace for them. I also realized that while I had done extensive research, most people didn’t understand cannabis, and the myriad ways it worked. I saw a need for a safe place to educate consumers before purchasing cannabis: why wouldn’t someone want to know how it’s grown, who is growing it, and what’s in it? These were all of the same requirements I applied to my vegan lifestyle. The missing pieces were clear. I knew this was my calling.
An idea was born out of the realization that so many other people could perhaps reap the same benefits of cannabis as me. I linked up with my co-founders, Amanda Denz and Meaghan Zore, and we established Sava, an online platform that brings California’s highest-quality cannabis topicals, tinctures, edibles, concentrates and flowers to your doorstep.
How is Sava different than other online marketplaces?
The company is based on my personal cannabis experience. I realized that not everyone has a trusted friend to guide them in finding their perfect products for whatever outcomes they want, whether that is pain, pleasure, stress relief, or sleep. Sava aims to be that guide.
We want to be the trusted source in a crowded landscape that can be hard to navigate. Everything on our platform meets specific quality standards, so if you want to shop without doing research you know everything we sell is top-notch. However, if you want to know where your cannabis comes from, we also do our best to provide transparency—having brand pages for every product that tells you about the manufacturer’s values, its founders, its process and standards.
We’ve set up an excellent customer service department so real people are always available to answer questions and steer you in the right direction.
We’ve also built a community. We have regular events, both social and educational, and I love seeing our existing community gather around this shared passion while also meeting people who are new to cannabis.
I truly believe this plant has much to offer anyone with a body. Bodies hurt, they get stressed, and cannabis can help in so many ways. I feel great satisfaction in connecting people with their perfect version of this plant.
As a woman in cannabis, do you feel that you are at an advantage or a disadvantage (or both) and why?
Both. My two co-founders (also both women) and I are the target audience. We're the ones being underserved by the industry, so we were at a unique advantage to curate a particular product selection and build a brand that appeals to women. In addition, women (including me) have very different leadership styles, and I believe that has been really beneficial to us. We are mission-driven and we are extremely supportive of one another.
On the other hand, as a woman trying to fundraise for a growing business, I have a unique set of challenges. At first, we bootstrapped the company until I could demonstrate that we were profitable. We then started raising and thinking about scaling. In general, I think men feel less of a need to prove themselves in that way and will often come in and ask for money sooner, and they’ll ask for more of it.
I mentor a lot of women who are raising and often speak at conferences about it. I encourage women to consider raising early and to ask for what they actually need to achieve their full vision - not what they can get by on.
What's your best business advice?
Have a solid team around you! Having two amazing co-founders, an excellent set of advisors, and a rockstar staff is what's made this company survive through the many challenges of both a growing business and the unpredictability of the cannabis industry. Find great people, and take care of them well.
What trait do you rely on most when making business decisions and why is this useful for you?
Don’t rush, and trust your gut. It’s important to let things sink in, to take time for an idea to ruminate and grow before moving forward. If something feels off, listen to that and take your time even more so with those decisions.