I sat down with James Bennett of We Are Well, to talk about CBD, mental health, and how giving back to the community and having a positive impact is baked in the DNA of his company.
For James Bennett, shifting his awareness from THC to CBD was a pivotal moment in realizing his life’s purpose.
Bennett is the founder of We Are Well, a cannabis company focused on promoting mental health through their CBD gummy line, Feel Good Gummies.
He is my favorite kind of entrepreneur to talk to- someone for whom cannabis has made such an impact that it is their mission and purpose to share its healing power with the world, in an ethical and conscious way.
Bennett is a lifelong entrepreneur, fondly recalling his first business selling elastic bracelets on the school playground at age 6. And perhaps it was all in preparation of this- the launch of We Are Well and Feel Good Gummies. He calls it the realization of his mission, and says his work here will carry him through the rest of his life.
Bennett came to CBD by way of THC; he started smoking in high school and found cannabis to be a sustainable alternative to a pharmaceutical cocktail prescribed to treat his anxiety and depression. When he realized that THC didn’t provide him with a functional high, he began to explore other cannabinoids and found CBD.
It was his own struggle with depression and anxiety that drives him to use his business to make an impact today. Bennett believes that without a positive impact, there’s no reason for a business to operate, and social equity isn’t a mission statement- it’s something that’s baked into the DNA of a company.
He puts his money where his mouth is; every purchase of Feel Good Gummies donates 5% of the purchase price to one of three charitable organizations, picked by the customer at check out. And these are not your run-of-the-mill non-profit organizations. Each one was handpicked by the We Are Well team for meeting a list of criteria, including using 95% or more of the proceeds directly toward the cause.
Still a daily CBD user, Bennett is excited about what the future holds for We Are Well. And they’ve got big plans. He plans to create a foundation at We Are Well that provides grants and subsidies for people seeking treatment for mental health issues, as well as a platform that connects you directly to a professional whenever you need one, for free or at a low cost.
How does social equity factor into your business?
JB: We contribute 5% of every purchase to one of three causes and we give the consumer the choice of which cause best aligns with their values. The cause that aligns closest to myself is mental health. The other two causes we’ve aligned with is Feeding America, which helps upcycle wasted food from restaurants and grocery stores. Take3 is ocean clean up, so they clean up plastic from the ocean and the beaches.
This is the core of our business- the impact is built into the DNA of what we’re doing. Without making a positive social impact, there’s really no point in operating a business. We’re able to extend outside the walls of what we’re working on and help people that we may never see. That helps people feel good about what they’re purchasing and it helps them resonate with the brand more. It helps them want to share it and tell their friends. That’s a supplemental benefit to what we’re doing, is that it helps our brand and the more people share and talk about our brand the more impact we’re able to make.
We spent a few months researching and auditing different charities. We were shocked to find out that a lot of the major charities that people know about, over 40% of proceeds are going to admin and marketing fees. Foundations like Red Cross, a lot of the money goes to admin and marketing and lines the executive’s profits. For us, the key thing in choosing our charities was at least 95% of the proceeds had to go to the cause. We needed to make sure we were able to tangibly extract every contribution to an exact impact. One purchase provides 7 meals to the hungry, picks up 17 pieces of trash or connects 17 people with an online mental health support.
The long term goal is to have our own foundation where we can provide grants and subsidies to these organization. The larger scale will be our own platform where people can connect directly with therapists and counselors and psychiatrist for a subsidized cost or free.
How does sustainability factor into your business?
JB: It was a conscious effort to make our packaging as sustainable as possible.
We were dead set on having a fully biodegradable package before we launched and we spent months and months trying to make it happen, but finances got in the way. It’s very expensive to have eco-friendly packaging unfortunately.
Our next best option was recyclable and made from consumer recyclable materials, which is a step in the right direction but we’re always looking to improve. We made sure the packaging wouldn’t have waste; measured it out exactly for the number of gummies inside. We also made sure we could fit as many packages as we could on the raw material to make sure there was no trim left over; there was so much that went into all of the packaging decisions. We don’t mail it in this big box that takes up space- it comes in a fully compostable bag.
One of our core goals as we scale into our vision for We Are Well is that we can bring together conscious brands and use purchasing power to our advantage to bring down the cost of eco-friendly packaging. We’re going to make it make sense for all of us to use hemp bio-packaging. Right now, you end up paying up 5 times more to have a sustainable package and for most companies that doesn’t make sense.
So many companies are focused on making as much profit as possible. The way I like to do business is to focus on our impact on people and the planet first and profit will come. The core of being a sustainable, long term, impactful business is seeing how much you can delight people’s lives and how much of a positive impact you can make on the planet. If you focus on those two things, profit will come.
What’s one thing in the industry that needs to change?
JB: A lot of brands operate without ethics. There’s a lot of products that are posed as these health supplement that are actually full of crap. Like gummies- that was why we decided to go into gummies. There’s so many gummy brands, but there’s something wrong with all of them. They say they’re vegan but they have gelatin. They say they’re perfectly natural but they’re loaded with corn syrup and artificial flavors and colors and they’re loaded with sugar. It frustrates us- me and my team.
Also, the efficacy of the products. There’s a lot of poorly made products out there that have little to no CBD or THC content and they’re posing as having a strong dose. That’s ruining it for the rest of us because people try CBD for the first time and they buy the flashing branding with the poor-quality product. They think that all products are that poor and they write off the industry like CBD doesn’t work for me, but it’s just the product you tried wasn’t good.
What are you excited to see in the industry right now?
JB: The innovation is very exciting. We play a role in that by using nanoCBD and combing CBD with other nutraceuticals like adaptogens. The wrapping up of a lot of clinical trials and studies that are going to be coming out over the next couple years will open up a lot people’s minds to see the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and cannabinoids. More wide spread adoption; more people switching from a toxic pharmaceutical pill to a natural compound. A better understanding of the plant- we’re just scratching the surface right now. There’s so much to be uncovered.
Where do you see the future of the industry?
JB: There’s going to be massive consolidation. These major hedge funds that are coming in with so much money are really finding which companies are working and the major players like Canopy have been clearly shown that they don’t know how to operate really well.
[The industry] is bringing in executives who know nothing about cannabis to run these massive conglomerates and they’re not doing a great job they’re not profitable, they’re not focused enough on the customer, they’re just trying to make money and paying themselves. Just like big sugar and big pharma, they’re really just focusing way too much on the money and losing site of the initial focus of the industry to bring benefits to the consumer and they’re overshooting that.
Another frustrating part about this industry is it’s starting to be taken over by these capital markets people who are strictly in it because they see the financial opportunity rather than the opportunity to help people.
There’s a lot of people on LinkedIn like Brett (Puffenbarger) who are very transparent about how they see the industry, and I align with their views quite strongly.