Entrepreneur and longtime marijuana advocate and grower, Alexa Divett is no stranger to the cannabis world. From a young age, she was aware of the power of the cannabis plant. A self-declared black sheep of her family, Alexa was not afraid to march to the beat of her own drum. While she always stayed trued to her alternative roots, Alexa also went on to complete her degree in public relations. In fact, Alexa even headed back to school to complete courses in digital marketing where she received her business coaching certificate. Meanwhile, she also happened to be growing medically in Oregon. As fate would have it, during this time, Oregon was moving to become a recreational marijuana state. A lightbulb went off for Alexa – now was time to blend her passion and expertise. Today Alexa is the founder of Alexa Divett LLC, a business coaching and consulting company helping cannabis business owners achieve success through the implementation of sound business practices and time-tested marketing techniques. Alexa is also the author of Marijuana Millions: The Foundation For Success, which The Weed Blog called the best marijuana branding book to date. When she isn't speaking at local and national events about marketing and branding cannabis companies, Alexa enjoys yoga and jamming out to Beyonce. We are so honored that Alexa took the time out of her busy entrepreneurial schedule to chat with us and share her wisdom!
In the beginning, what inspired you to first get involved with cannabis?
Well, I would say that I’ve been in it longer than I would tell my parents. When I was younger, it was just one of those things where I smoked with my friends and thought it was cool. It was kind of a lifestyle choice for me back then. About eight years ago, I started having stomach problems, so I’ve had my own medical card forever because I just didn’t want to take a bunch of pills. I even tried changing my diet but I would still get these weird stomach aches. I mean, nothing where I had to go to a hospital or anything too serious. However, I found that smoking really me with these stomach issues.
I also knew pretty early on, just because I happen to be that kind of person, that there was something really powerful with this plant. I was not buying into everything that Big Pharma or the TV was telling me. I was just kind of born with that DNA. That was just who I was from the beginning, the black sheep of the family. Then, also about eight years ago, I had a friend approach me and ask me to be a caregiver for another friend who was very sick. During that time I realized once again that there was something really powerful going on here.
Later, I went to college and got a degree in public relations. I worked in the nonprofit sector for years. I then went back to school for digital marketing where I did online courses and got my business-coaching certificate. All of that was happening while I was growing medically, and while I was puffing, and while I was in this alternative lifestyle.
So, a few years ago, when it got really clear that we were going to be moving from medical to recreational in Oregon, I saw that as the opportunity to blend my careers and really be honest about what I’ve been doing in my basement for so many years. I remember thinking, “You know what? I’m a really good marketer and I’m a really good digital strategist. I also happen to be a pretty darn good business coach, and I’m an above average weed grower. Why don’t I make this my career?”
Anyone who’s ever had the opportunity to blend their passion and their area of expertise into one career is lucky. Being able to have such a stake in the cannabis industry – I can’t imagine any other time in our lives that we will get to create an industry from the ground up and bring that renegade spirit and that vibe of “we’re going to do things a little differently”, it is such a blessing. A tremendous opportunity.
I felt like I would’ve been a fool to pass that over. Look at these kids that are dying of cancer or suffering through epilepsy. I don’t have kids but a lot of my friends do. To hear about the struggle of the parents and mothers who are leaving states like Texas, moving to Colorado, and taking their kids from a hundred seizures a day to five seizures a day is so moving. When every doctor has said your kid is going to die of cancer and they find another way, it’s so inspiring, and it’s something that keeps me going every day.
What are your thoughts on the relationship between patients and profits for cannabis entrepreneurs?
Everything I do is about the spirit of uplift and the spirit of abundance. It’s something that has helped me attract my tribe. There’s going to be Monsanto, Philip Morris, and Anheuser-Busch. If they’re not in it already, they’re coming. That’s just the capitalist society we live in. There’s also a tremendous amount of people, including people like Willie Nelson, who are an authentic cannabis brand, who have gone to jail for this, and who deserve every success in the world in this industry.
So I think that there is an incredible opportunity for us to make money. Yes, I have to pay my rent, and I like really expensive yoga pants because I’m a woman in 2016. Yes, I need to live but there is also a way to have a spirited business and a business that believes in the spirit of abundance, that keeps being, what I like to call, the pioneers and the patients. At the forefront of what we’re doing, it’s really patients over profits. Money will change us, I agree. One of the visions I coach on is knowing your why, and having a why that’s greater than money.
Cannabis is an industry that was built on the backs of people like Jack Herer and all these pioneers who’ve gone to jail for this plant, who’ve suffered for it, and who have risked their lives to bring us to where we are today. We’re not going to stop Monsanto and we’re not going to stop Philip Morris, and there’s always going to be room on the shelf for Budweiser or whatever, but there’s also going to be room, especially in places like Oregon, for these boutique cannabis shops that have a story and grow with heart. That’s my mission – to level the playing field for these small boutique cannabis entrepreneurs so they can compete with somebody like Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, and Bob Marley, who are authentic cannabis brands. It’s not like they’re like,“Oh, I want to get into cannabis all of the sudden.” It’s like, “No, you guys have been in cannabis.” They have budget, and they know their why and they know their target audience, and they have lawyers that can deal with 280E and who can help them with their thinking.
So how, then, do mom and pop businesses or growers who’ve been crushing it for 20 years and living this renegade life come to the forefront? Well, amazing product is important but if they don’t know who they’re speaking to in their marketing messages, they’re going to get lost. If they don’t have a spirit of abundance and they don’t believe in a collaborative experience and creating an industry together that also serves minorities while also remembering that we didn’t just get here without people risking their lives for this – they’re not a good fit for my business.
So, figure out who your audience is and what your greatest passion is. You’ve got to tap into that because cannabis is a hard industry and you’ve got to find a way to get out of bed every morning. You can have bros nights in your basement or your warehouse, or on your land, you could have kids who are sick who need to get to school, you could be going through a divorce, your dog could be dying, the war could be coming, the world could be ending. I mean, there’s so many things going on in this world but we have to get up and we have to work. Ask yourself, what is driving me every day? Is it just money? Because that shit is not going to last. When you have all the money in the world, then what are you going to wake up for?
So really keeping that spirit alive is something that’s really important to me. It’s super important to my former business partner that I founded my former company with. It’s super important to a lot of us in Oregon, I think a lot of us in California, Washington, and Colorado. All my homies and crew on the West Coast, we’ve all lived here forever. We all love music. We travel. We do all these things together. We didn’t just choose this lifestyle because we wanted to be like everyone else. We did it for a reason, and now we have an opportunity to take that higher reasoning and make something awesome out of it.
Name the biggest mistake you see cannabis companies making?
I’ve noticed that there tends to be two kinds of people. There are people who have no cannabis experience who are now entering the industry. There’s so many amazing chefs who are like, “I can do edibles.” Or, people who are in bigger distributing companies who are like, “Oh, I can do this.” There are a lot of mom and pops who are coming in who have no cannabis experience. There’s also Wall Street guys with no cannabis experience and assume, “I can raise funds. I can raise capital.” There’s all this no cannabis experience coming in, and some of them have no business experience, really. The Wall Street guys obviously do. But mom and pop who maybe ran a hardware store under the basic profit; they’ve probably written a business plan but they may not understand that this is cannabis and we’ve got to do things differently because we’re weird and we’re awesome.
Then, there are my homies in cannabis who’ve never been to college, don’t know anything about business but they grow the best weed in the whole state. They’re so heady, they’re so awesome, but they don’t understand that this is 2016 and it takes a lot more than just having the kindest nug or the best product. I love that crew. I moved out to Oregon in 1997 because I wanted to be the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia died when I was in high school, so there goes that dream. We were part of that generation where it was like we went from schwag weed to really good weed. It was like, “Holy shit. What happened?” What we’re growing now, what Oregonians and Californians are growing now in 2016, is so strong, so amazing. But you need more than that.
So, the people coming from cannabis, I think the biggest challenge for them is just finding their unique selling proposition, which I call their unique awesomeness because unique selling proposition is freaking boring and everybody glazes over when I speak at events when I’m like, “You need a selling proposition.” They’re like, “Shut up.” So, unique awesomeness, and they need to define that. It can’t be, “Oh, I have the headiest product.” Well, guess what? You live in Oregon. If you don’t have that, you’re totally screwed. What if there’s an audience out there that cannot smoke flowers that has 35% THC? They’re going to have a panic attack. There is a need for basic business skills. Defining your unique selling proposition, defining your audience, understanding that you need to speak to this audience in a specific way that resonates with them, understanding that you need to speak to them in a place where they hear you. The billboards might not be reaching your audience, and you need to know that. You can’t just cast your net so wide and hope that every single person walks into your dispensary and buys your product. Why? When you do that, you get no one. That’s basic marketing that’s been around for hundreds of years – defining your audience and knowing your messaging.
Then, from the non-cannabis side, everything you learned in business school, everything you got in your MBA and everything you learned in marketing needs to have a twist because it’s for cannabis. We’re not like everyone else. You can sort of throw away your Harvard education and come hit the ground running and hangout with us. Talk to patients who are sick. Talk to people who’ve been growing forever. Talk to people who are weary of your big business corporate thing. Come meet us. Come to our expos. Come to our festivals. Come to our dispensaries. Come hangout with us and see what we know, or see what we see and learn what we know and share. Don’t bring your business competition, “We can’t mastermind because then you might steal my clients,” because we’re not into that.
This is a new industry, and, yes, there’s always going to be somebody who’s going to not be in the spirit of collaboration. Right now though we have such an amazing opportunity to create an industry together. When we learn from each other – we serve more patients, we serve more customers, and help more people. People who help people generally attract a hot vibe, and there’s that trust factor when it comes to sales. So if you have a dispensary and people just roll in and you’re throwing used car salesman shit at them, are they going to come back? Maybe but probably not. It’s like, “Hey, Susie Q, how’s your arthritis? We’ve got a new product. Let me give you a sample. Did you know that I just read that cannabinoids can do this and that? It can help your kids.” This is cannabis. This is not corporate bullshit yet. It will be, probably, but right now you need to create relationships. As more and more noise happens – TV, texting, Facebook, billboards – we’re getting bombarded. Create relationships. Send someone a thank you note in the mail. They’re going to remember that and come back and buy your product, or sign up for your coaching program, or go to you for their taxes.
Any tips for maintaining a work/life balance?
One of the greatest things I started to do was divide my week into separate days. I used to be like a pinball. You would pull back the little lever and watch me go, and I would be like an insane person. My boyfriend was like, “I can’t be around you. You’re ADD.” So what I did was, I divided my week into days. Also, because I own my own business and I want a life, I allow time for personal stuff. I’m actually looking to have a chart on my wall. Every morning I try to either sit in meditation or get some exercise in. Usually it’s meditation and then exercise. So I’m not like, “Oh, my God. The first thing I need to do is check emails.” Obviously I check my emails every day, twice a day. I check it at nine in the morning and five at night, and that’s it.
Everybody knows I have to because I won’t get anything done. I do not respond to emails on Saturdays and Sundays, because then you set a precedent that your clients can reach you on the weekends and then you never have a life, and you really end up working for someone else. I own my own business for a reason. I work on Saturdays and Sundays but I do not respond to emails because I need to educate my clients that they can’t call me. Saturdays and Sundays are for me. Every morning I check my email. Every evening I check my email, because, of course, I always want to be available for my people. My eBook purchasers and subscribers for my newsletter, they know that if they need me they can text me or whatever. My day is all about education, webinars, podcasts, and trainings. That’s what I do for me.
On Mondays, I do all the stuff I need to do to keep my skills up, my saw sharp. All the podcasts I want to hear, all the trainings I want to do, and if I’m on deadlines, I will also do client work on Mondays. On Tuesdays I do all my PR and publicity. I do that all myself, which is why I reached out to you. I brainstorm content for my newsletter and articles I write for publications, and I research events that I can speak at. Wednesdays, it’s content all day – no stopping. I create my webinars, I write my newsletter, I write articles for other publications. I create all my content, all my modules, and all my coaching. Thursdays, it’s the same thing. It’s all content and all building me, and then in the afternoon it’s clients. Fridays, it’s PR, clients, and then the afternoon is off to go to the river, to go snowboarding, to go to happy hour, or to do whatever.
I have gotten so much more done by breaking my week up and setting boundaries. Then I don’t feel bad. It’s really easy to be like, “Sure, I can go to the yoga retreat with you at noon” or, “I can go to happy hour.” But it's a slippery slope. When I started diving my weeks into days it made me not so much of a pinball and it made me not feel bad when friends are doing stuff and I have to say no. However, there is always room for flexibility. You don’t want to be so hard on yourself that you don’t get any fun in. Burnout is the number one way to lose any momentum and get off your game. There has to be a balance with everything you do.
If you could offer an aspiring cannabis entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would, firstly, offer people the advice to really check in with yourself. This might sound a little cheesy and hippie, but really check in with your greatest heart’s desire, and understand why – your big why – why do you want to do this? Do you want to do this because you just want to make money? Do you want to do this because you think it’s cool? Are you being pressured into this by your parents? I doubt that but you never know. Is this really what you want? Because it’s not easy.
If it is what you really want to do, it feels light when you’re meditating about it. Your heart is calling. You can visualize it. You know this is what you want. Never stop believing in yourself, even when the shit hits the fan, even when you don’t want to get out of bed, even when you get your first really mean comment on social media or on your blog. Dust your shoulders off, and know that if you are in the right place for your spirit and your heart, the only thing that will stop you is you. If you are clear on your big why and your big vision, then everything else will fall into place.
Yes, you have to work your ass off. Yes, you have to learn but embrace the journey. Everyone has a coach and/or mentor. I have two therapists, three coaches, a mentor, and I have an imaginary board of directors. I have a team. I have like a make-up artist, I have a best friend. This takes a village to get me off the ground. You have to have that. Before you can afford all that, you have to just tap into the webinars and tap into the people who can inspire you. This is really, really hard. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s not easy. You’re going to be pulled in a million directions. But if this is your truest heart’s calling and you’re willing to work your ass off, then there’s no reason why you won’t be successful.
The other piece of that is that you have to be willing to fail because that’s how you learn. I have made so many mistakes and done such stupid shit in business. I’ve owned businesses for the last 12 years. Some were super successful. I’ve made a ton of money. Some were such huge flops that it’s embarrassing. Guess what I did with those total fails? I learned and learned and learned. So I’m now better and smarter. If you are afraid to skin your knee, you’re never going to learn how to ride a bike. Don't let fear hold you back. You’re definitely going to fuck up at some point. Be humble, apologize, learn, and move on. That’s business. Richard Branson talks about that. He’s like, “I screwed up so badly.” Of course, he has, because we’re not superhuman. We’re humans. I think especially coming back from that vibe of the family of cannabis, we can smell your fake ass shit from a mile away. If you cannot own your shit and be like, “I spoke out of turn. I dropped the ball. How can I make this up to you? I’ll slash the price on this. I’ll give you extra hours.” It’s understanding that relationship with your customers. Say you’re sorry if you made a mistake. Own it. Don’t spin it. Be like, “I screwed up. Oops. I’m learning how I can make this right.” Your customers will love you for it because they’re going to go through the same thing.
So tap into your heart, know that this is what you want, and get really clear on why you want this. Make sure your why is bigger than money. Make sure you’re motivated. Stay the course through the shit because the only way to be successful is through consistent action, day in and day out. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Own it, move on, and learn.