Ever wondered why women raise only 2% of venture dollars despite owning more than 40% of businesses in the U.S.? In today’s show, we discuss the challenges facing women entrepreneurs, particularly in the cannabis industry. We hear from Lisa Hurwitz, President and co-founder of Happi, a cannabis sparkling beverage company, and Wendy Berger, an angel investor and CEO of WBS Equities, as they discuss the gender gap in funding decisions and the importance of women supporting women-run businesses. We also highlight inspiring stories of women breaking barriers in the cannabis industry. Join us for this insightful conversation as we explore the world of women in cannabis!
Ellen Scanlon (00:00):
This podcast discusses cannabis and is intended for audiences 21 and over.
Wendy Berger (00:06):
I now talk about to every group of women, I am an investor. I do this because I believe in myself. I believe in my own ability to assess risk. I believe in the power of women to make money. I believe in sharing opportunities between women.
Ellen Scanlon (00:29):
Welcome to How to Do the Pot, a podcast helping you feel confident about cannabis for health, wellbeing, and for fun. I’m Ellen Scanlon. You just heard from Wendy Berger, the Illinois-based CEO of WBS Equities, an industrial real estate firm, and a board director of Green Thumb Industries, a publicly traded cannabis company. You may know some of the stats about women entrepreneurs, and that women raise only 2% of venture capital dollars. This is despite women owning more than 40% of the businesses in the US. And since venture funding is about $2 trillion, trillion with a T, 2% is not nothing. But this means that 98% of funding for early-stage ideas across the entire spectrum of industries, 98% of that goes to male-founded companies. The frustration I feel about this can be summed up in this quote from a Fast Company article by Lisa Wang.
She writes, “So much venture funding is ill-spent in repeatedly backing a homogenous subset of entrepreneurs to build underwhelming solutions. Basically, always funding the same people leads to producing the same kinds of solutions.” You just heard a big sigh from me. Around the end of 2022, I felt very fired up about the collapse of the crypto company FTX and the press around its founder, who had raised $2 billion from some very well-known investors. Now FTX, the company, is worth $0. A little background on why I care about this. I started my career working for an investment bank. I have an MBA, and I spent the first 15 years of my career in the investment industry. I loved it, and especially loved learning about companies selling things directly to consumers. I was also fired up, in a good way, after reading When Women Lead, a book by Julia Boorstin, a very experienced financial reporter who is on air for CNBC. Julia and I have a close friend in common, Stephanie Langhoff.
So I have followed Julia’s career for years, and was thrilled when she wrote this book. The gist of it is that the skills that women entrepreneurs have had to acquire because the odds are stacked against them, have created measurably better companies. I know this is a podcast about cannabis, and I hope this episode will inspire you to consider why talking about women and money and power is relevant to you. Cannabis is one of the fastest-growing industries in the US right now. More than half a million people work in weed in the US, and there are more cannabis workers than there are dentists. So if you know a dentist, you probably know someone working in cannabis. And we have an opportunity in this new industry to take what maybe hasn’t worked so well in other industries and to make it better. And my view is that more women leaders make companies and industries better, which leads to better products, better services, and to better outcomes for us all. I am lucky to count several amazing entrepreneurs as friends.
And recently, I was catching up with Lisa Hurwitz, whose cannabis sparkling beverage business, Happi, that’s Happi with an I at the end, recently celebrated a huge milestone. When Lisa shared the innovative way that Happi is raising money, I was intrigued. Spoiler alert, it’s crowdfunding. Then she said that one of her most supportive investors, also a woman, would be excited to talk about investing in women-run cannabis businesses. I jumped at the chance to talk to both of them about one of my favorite topics, how to help women make more money, and therefore get more power. So, today I’m very Happi to have Lisa Hurwitz, the president and co-founder of Happi, and Wendy Berger, who you heard from at the beginning of the show. Wendy is a successful entrepreneur and an angel investor. Women only make up about 30% of people on corporate boards of directors, and Wendy is one of them.
Today, we’re going to talk about women and investing, how that relates to running a cannabis business, and how Happi, Lisa’s company, is trying to democratize investing in cannabis and create an opportunity for its biggest fans to benefit from Happi’s growth and to participate in their success. I want to start today’s episode with the findings from a 2014 Harvard study that asked whether investors prefer to fund businesses run by men or run by women. The researchers used the exact same business plan for the pitch, the same business, and nearly 70% of the men who pitched were chosen to be funded. Want to guess how many women? Only 30% of the women got a yes. The Harvard researchers’ findings show that there is a, “Profound and consistent gender gap,” and that investors do make funding decisions based on the gender of the entrepreneur. Wendy Berger points out another big challenge for women trying to raise money.
Wendy Berger (07:24):
I think the other fascinating thing about that study, and troubling thing about that study, was what they found was that when men go into a pitch, men are asked about the trajectory for success. And when women pitch their businesses, they’re asked about downside protection. I’m paraphrasing from this study. That in itself is deeply troubling.
Ellen Scanlon (07:48):
This is where I’m going to point out that 90% of venture investors are men. And actually, 40% of them went to only two schools, Harvard and Stanford. So if you’re a woman pitching to investors to raise money, you’re likely to be talking to only men about your business. And the investors you are pitching to, they probably know each other. Informal networks are the lifeblood of funding small businesses, and those networks often don’t include women or women investors. Wendy Berger is so beloved by women in the cannabis industry, because she has made it a point to champion and invest in women-run businesses, to get on what’s called the cap table. Translation, it’s a list of the company’s owners. The name of the legal entity, which is an LLC that Wendy uses to invest, is Women Investing in Women. So anyone who looks up the ownership in a company can see it loud and proud.
Wendy Berger (09:00):
I now talk about to every group of women, I am an investor. I do this because I believe in myself. I believe in my own ability to assess risk. I believe in the power of women to make money. I believe in sharing opportunities between women. I realized that one of the things that was happening that wasn’t showing women that you can do this, was when we look at cap tables, right? We’re all buried behind LLCs, right? So we’re doing it for protection. It’ll be some unintelligible LLC or something. You could never figure it out, who it was. And I realized, if women don’t see other women on cap tables, it’s yet another thing that holds us back, “Oh, there’s no one else I know on that cap table.” So I created an entity to do all of my investing, called Woman Backing Women. I’m not certain how much more clear I could be about my intent. We need women to see other women not just investing, right? So the writing the check is one thing, but what did it take me to write these checks that I write? It took me believing in myself, right? And I think, I’m generalizing about many of us, we do not have the confidence in our own ability.
Ellen Scanlon (10:26):
Investment opportunities are much more frequently shared casually among male friends than among female friends. I want to try to change that, and so does Wendy. She talks about receiving deal books, the pitch deck for a business, and why she makes a point to share them with other women.
Wendy Berger (10:51):
I think it’s also important that we support each other in some very different ways than traditionally are talked about. What happens when we or men get a deal book in our email? Generalizing again, the guys get a deal book in their email and they forward it to a bunch of their buddies. And they type the short email. It says, “Hey, I’m looking at this deal. Take a look. I think it’s really interesting.” They don’t ever think about it again. Or they invest and they’re out one night with their friends, like, “Oh, I invested in that.” “Oh, I did too.” That’s what happens with most men. With women, we get the deal book in our email and we do not forward it to other women. And we say to ourselves, “What if she invests and she loses money? It will affect our friendship.” And, “Oh, I don’t think she’s going to invest in cannabis.”
We need to send deal books out, and we need to encourage the men, “Don’t just think of your five male buddies, think of five women in your life. It doesn’t matter if they say no or if they’re not interested. Forward the deal books.” And I think part of this is momentum. We need more women to look at more deals. The more deals we all look at, the more courage we have in ourselves to say, “I like this deal. This story resonates. This one doesn’t.” So we have to think about getting more deal books in the hands of more women.
Ellen Scanlon (12:23):
You can probably imagine that trying to raise money for a cannabis business is extra complicated because of the simple fact that cannabis is not federally legal. Many people are either restricted from investing or consider these businesses too risky, but higher risk often results in higher reward. So let’s talk to Lisa Hurwitz, who started out with a pretty traditional career path. She graduated from an Ivy League school, went to work for huge brands in the consumer goods space. And then, like so many women entrepreneurs in cannabis, she had her life changed for the better when her years of sleep issues were solved by cannabis. Lisa left her job, joined a multi-state operator in cannabis, people call them MSOs, and watched a lot of men make a lot of money.
Lisa Hurwitz (13:28):
Very early on, the wealth creation in cannabis was largely men. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if 95% of the people that benefited from those initial sales of companies, going public offerings, all that that happened over the past five to seven years, were men. And so the pot of money that was available to be reinvested into cannabis companies perpetuated much of what Wendy’s already shared around these kind of networks. Men made a phone call, they’re out on the golf course, they’re having a beer together and they said, “All right. Well, what do you think about investing in this deal?” And they had already made a pot of money from an exit of another company, and then they reinvested it. And so when I talk to people outside the category, they’re like, “What do you mean you guys can’t get funding? What do you mean this is difficult?” The problem is, that money is just cycling around. And it’s moving from typically the men who made a lot of money over the past five years and are now reinvesting it into other male-founded companies. I’ve had conversations with some of the same investors for Happi that male colleagues who have gone off to start other businesses have had, and I think their businesses are far less viable, but they’re getting funded.
Ellen Scanlon (14:45):
When women do raise venture capital money, they often raise way less than men. For example, Stitch Fix, the fashion company founded by Katrina Lake, was profitable just three years after it launched. In the book, When Women Lead, Katrina has a great quote. She says, “It was never my intention to be famous for building a company with not much money. I would have happily built a big company with a lot of money, but that was not a path that was available to me.” I asked Lisa Hurwitz about how raising smaller amounts of money compared to her male peers has affected Happi’s business, and what she’s learned from fundraising over the past two years.
Lisa Hurwitz (15:37):
Now, we’ve spent our money extremely wisely. We’ve been very prudent, but it takes money to continue to run a business. And we need marketing dollars and we need manufacturing dollars, really. And we’ve had to make some difficult decisions, including things like not taking a paycheck for several months as founders. Looking at, “How do we get creative with vendor partnerships?” right? “Okay. Well, if we can’t pay you this month, what can we do in terms of quid pro quo to help you guys? You guys help me.” Get very creative with a lot of our relationships. And I do think it’s because in the early days of running this business, I wasn’t asked what I need and I didn’t ask for what I needed.
Ellen Scanlon (16:21):
For a lot of people, it can be hard to talk about money. But asking investors for money can be key to building a company. Wendy shares some very good advice for how to do it.
Wendy Berger (16:36):
I think a lot about human behavior and how we as women, again generalizing, naturally respond to things, and it is very difficult to ask people for money. One of my favorite mantras is, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” There are opportunities to learn how to get more comfortable with fundraising. I serve on the board of three different charitable organizations. We’re fundraising all the time. The most important lesson I ever learned from that about asking people to make donations to non-for-profits? People want to be asked. They’re waiting to be asked. Now, that is not everyone, but people want to be asked. And I believe it’s that same way in the investment world and in cannabis. Those that are curious are open to the conversations. And it may take two years for people to start to get comfortable, but people are dancing around this industry, looking for opportunity. And if we don’t ask, we get nothing. I’m not saying any of this is easy. I make deals with myself all the time, like, “If you make these three calls, then you can go do this.” It’s a numbers game. It’s a momentum game. You’ve got to ask a lot of people for money. You get more comfortable each time. You’re going to get a lot of nos, but each time you make progress, just like that basketball player who’s standing up to that three-point line. They’ve taken that shot a thousand times.
Ellen Scanlon (18:19):
So in the spirit of giving women entrepreneurs a shot, Lisa is going to tell us about the innovative and community-led way that Happi is funding its growth. It’s called crowdfunding. Maybe you’ve heard of GoFundMe. That is an example of crowdfunding.
Lisa Hurwitz (18:39):
One of the things I noticed in cannabis investing is typical minimums, and this was true of Happi early on, when we were raising money from private sources, is $50,000. And I never really questioned it, because everybody’s deck says, “Minimum $50,000.” And there were a number of people that, when we were doing these private investment rounds, said, “Oh, I would love to come in, but 50,000 is too much for me.” And I completely understand that. It would be too much for me as well. Crowdfunding is a way to really open up investment opportunities. And one of the things I’ve seen now in the cannabis category for the past five years is too often, especially in the early days, you couldn’t invest in cannabis companies. You had to know someone. You had to be on the inner circle. You had to get into a network. And unfortunately, I think a lot of women were excluded from those networks in the early days, and crowdfunding is a way to really open up cannabis investing to the public.
You don’t have to be an accredited investor. You don’t have to know a lot about the category. You could just be passionate about the product. And when we designed Happi from the get-go, we really wanted our passionate Happi consumers to be part of our success. So if we grow as a company, we want them to be able to partake in our financial success. So we started a crowdfunding campaign recently on the Wefunder platform, really designed to just open it up to all of our Happi consumers.
Ellen Scanlon (20:04):
One of the most exciting developments in the cannabis industry has had a very positive effect on Happi’s business. When I heard about this, I literally got goosebumps. I’ll let Lisa explain.
Lisa Hurwitz (20:20):
Minnesota really turned the cannabis beverage category on its head a bit. What they did was pass some legislation over the summer, which allowed cannabis beverages under five milligrams of THC, if derived from hemp, to be sold at bars and restaurants and in establishments that you would expect out of a beverage.
Ellen Scanlon (20:39):
I really want to emphasize this point. This means that for the first time, cannabis beverage companies can ship their low-dose THC-infused drinks to 32 US states. It’s a huge opportunity to reach a much larger market than ever before. Back to Lisa.
Lisa Hurwitz (21:02):
And I think one of the challenges in the adult use space right now is, dispensaries are not where people go to buy beverages. They go to grocery stores. They go to convenience stores. They go to liquor stores. They go to bars and restaurants, and it’s a social experience. It’s something that they want to partake in with friends, with family. And once that opened up in Minnesota, you started to see consumer behavior change around cannabis beverages. And it is really proven out the point that beverages are meant to be in broader channels than just dispensaries, and they’re meant to be consumed in ways that other cannabis products are not, right? Cigarettes are a thing of the past, so pot smoke and cannabis smoke in those same environments are not particularly well-received. And edibles, the challenge with edibles is it’s not social. There’s nothing for you to sip while your friends are having a glass of wine or a beverage. It takes an hour to kick in, so you don’t know what your tolerance might be. And cannabis beverages solved for all of that, which I think is really exciting.
I mean, the onset is 12 to 15 minutes. It’s much more like a glass of wine or a beer in terms of how it affects you. And then you’re able to really socialize and participate, and engage in that kind of moment with friends and family. And that’s why we developed Happi. And think about how our culture has been built around this socialization of the alcohol moment. There’s sporting events. There’s concerts. There’s festivals. I mean, all of those are places where a beverage would be so much more natural, as part of what you would want to do, than any of the other formats of cannabis.
Ellen Scanlon (22:45):
Wendy is really excited about companies focused on customizing the cannabis experience for each person, and she really believes in beverages. I do too. I’ve been a little surprised by how quickly I’ve swapped a Saturday night joint for a refreshing sparkling cannabis drink. It fits into my lifestyle. It’s discrete, and it feels social.
Wendy Berger (23:10):
One of the things that I find so exciting about this industry right now is we really are getting to the point where we can customize your experience to what you are looking for. This is not the Skunk weed of my youth, right? The Skunk weed of my youth was, take one bong hit and you’re effectively comatose on the couch and antisocial. Provoked anxiety in many of us. But that was it. It was sitting around a room, passing around a bong or a joint. And today, we can say, “In the evening, I want to relax, so I’m going to have a Happi Glow.” And I love the ability in the beverage category, to shop for the experience I’m looking for. And that’s part of getting rid of the stigma, is teaching people to be open to the experimentation that’s required to find your lane or to find your lanes, but these products layer onto that. What Lisa said about how fast they’re acting, I don’t want to wait an hour. First of all, I’m an incredibly impatient person, but if I’m waiting an hour, there are things that work faster than this and I’m not going to be patient.
Ellen Scanlon (24:26):
The weed-versus-alcohol conversation is a big one. You’ve probably heard of California Sober. Maybe you’ve listened to our Episode 14 about it, or maybe you’re sober-curious. Stay tuned, because we are working on a series all about cannabis beverages. Weed-infused drinks can be alcohol replacements, but they can also bring the positive benefits of cannabis, relaxation, sleep, lower stress, to a ritual that you already have, which is drinking something. Alcoholic or not. Lisa calls them beverage rituals.
Lisa Hurwitz (25:06):
The difference between cannabis and alcohol is that, yes, it is an alcohol replacement, THC beverages, but they also can be consumed for other beverage occasions. We all have beverage rituals. We have morning coffee. Some of us have an afternoon pick-me-up, a matcha or a Diet Coke. My husband’s ritual in the evening is that wind-down scotch or bourbon, just to take the edge off.
Ellen Scanlon (25:38):
If you want to learn more about Happi’s crowdfunding campaign, Lisa shares the details, which I’ll also add to the show notes.
Lisa Hurwitz (25:47):
Next steps are www.wefunder, W-E, like we, funder.com/happi. Also, go to Happihourdrink, and that’s Happi with an I. Happihourdrink, and backslash, Happi with an I. And you can also find me, Lisa Hurwitz, on LinkedIn. Would love to answer any of your questions or chat, or set up a one-on-one.
Ellen Scanlon (26:11):
I hope this episode has encouraged you to think of yourself as an investor, as someone who is capable of evaluating opportunities, weighing information to decide if you want to invest and become an owner in something that could grow and make money. Whether it’s investing in cannabis, in publicly traded stocks or bonds, or other types of things, like real estate. Thank you for listening to How to Do the Pot. For lots more information and past episodes, visit dothepot.com. Thanks to our producers, Madi Fair and Nick Patri. I’m Ellen Scanlon, and we’ll be back soon with more of How to Do the Pot.