Getting to know Lindsey Holthaus, CEO of Plain Jane.
What do you do on a typical day at the office?
Most of my days are spent either creating, or solving problems. I start in the morning from home answering calls and emails and getting as much creative work and organizing as I can before I go into the “office”. My office is actually a small room in our production facility in Medford Oregon where all of our products are manufactured and shipped. Once I get in I’m usually talking with employees, making sure everything runs smoothly and dealing with any problems or fires that arise. Anything from a supplier being out of a certain product to making sure the right dessert is ordered for an employee’s birthday.
How long have you been in business for?
We’re going on almost our 3rd year in business.
What do you expect from your employees?
I have the same expectation for my employees that I do for myself. I’ve been working since I was 14. My first job was as a housekeeper at the Best Western and then a family owned restaurant for 4 years. I always learned to show up on time and stay busy because in a small business there is always something to do. If I was asked to do something, I never saw it as beneath me whether it was cleaning the toilet or handing out pamphlets to get new customers. I expect my employees to have the same mindset. I’m not allowed to give up. If I give up and sales don’t come in, they don’t have jobs so I hope the people working for me put in that same effort.
What are you most proud of regarding Plain Jane?
On a personal level, that I’ve helped create something. I helped create tangible jobs and opportunities for people while also helping thousands of people have access to something they need. For the company, I was on an airplane about a year ago and my friend texted me from another seat telling me that the guy next to her knew our company. That’s the first time it felt really real.
What is the one thing you would change about Plain Jane?
I love everything about Plain Jane. The one thing I wish we had at the beginning is money. We started with nothing and because of that we couldn’t always spend the time or money on things we wanted to like brand design or packaging. We also always had to make cutthroat decisions for our survival like firing employees that just weren’t catching on fast enough. When you build it from scratch and you have to survive you don’t have the luxury of making the most compassionate decisions.
What is one of the most helpful technological platform and tool you have used to help elevate Plain Jane?
From an influencing perspective, 100% instagram. I never in my life thought part of my job would be judging and deciding what each influencer post was worth but instagram definitely helped grow our following. On the sales side our SEO rockstar, Max is a genius.
What was one of the toughest decisions you had to make for Plain Jane?
Every time we have to fire an employee I feel emotionally distraught for a few days but firing a really good friend was definitely the hardest.
What do you do when you are outside the office?
I met my cofounders while I was traveling abroad for 6 months. I love immersing myself in new cultures and learning as much as possible whether it’s from traveling, books, or documentaries. I feel like the more I learn, the more data points I have that can help me try to figure out the world a little better. I also try to get in alot of yoga and meditation because it’s hard to slow down and find balance when you run a business and I’m trying to become a more patient person. When I’m not traveling I try to spend as much time with my friends and family, especially my 7 year old niece, she’s a true joy.
What city did you start?
The company was started out of My Co-founder Evan’s parents house in Berkeley, Ca but now we are in medford, Oregon.
How many employees and how big is your office?
It fluctuates but we usually have around 20 employees.
What is your office culture like?
Anyone that doesn’t work in production has always worked remote. We’re not one for meetings or micromanaging, if there’s a problem we address it but other than that as long as you’re doing your job well there’s a lot of freedom. On the production side It’s definitely more like a warehouse than a cannabis company. I’ve seen cannabis companies where everyone is super chill, just trimming and smoking weed. CBD is much more competitive than cannabis so I’m definitely more strict with the employees. I have everyone learn every job in production from manufacturing the moonrocks to shipping orders so that there’s always something to do. Employees can take off any days they want and/or need but when they’re here we really want them to care about the product and give it their all.
Is there a lot of travel involved for work?
Most of the best hemp farms are in southern oregon and northern california so we located there to be close to them. Outside of that we travel to the CBD expos but with covid everything has gone virtual.
How did your company begin – story and influence behind it?
In 2017 I was working on healthcare policy for the legislature in Maryland. I got diagnosed with a stomach autoimmune disorder the same year and had my friend buy me 1:1 CBD:THC (1:1 because I hate being paranoid from THC) from the DC dispensary to help. My friend actually worked for a CBD company in Cali at the time and introduced me to CBD. I also decided to quit my job to travel for a few months to try to reduce the amount of stress I had. Through one of my travel friends I met my co-founders. Two guys from MIT that were smart, confident, and ready to start a business. For personal reasons, I wanted access to cheaper CBD flower because it worked and I was sick of paying $60 for an eighth at a dispensary. I explained to them CBD was a better option for a business than THC and they decided to go with it.
Any interesting stories?
When I first started working here I was doing the accounting and I couldn’t find the payment for the RV that we bought. I asked Evan about it and he said oh that’s because the guy asked me to buy it in gold. So the first couple of months there were three of us, living in the middle of nowhere in Oregon on a farm in a tiny RV with no hot water that Evan bought with gold from his bitcoin.
What’s in store for the future of your company?
For us we always try to listen to what our customers want or need. We put out CBD gummies and people needed vegan so we switched within a month to make sure people had access to what they needed. Now we are just trying to focus on the quality by sourcing more indoor strains and making it easier for people to understand by categorizing things based on terpene profiles and how other people have said they felt while using a particular strain. Sort of like Indica and Sativa but for CBD.
Where do you see the industry heading?
I think the industry will become bifurcated, and in alot ways we are already seeing that. On one side you’ll see it mass produced into cbd capsules and gummies that will be available everywhere just like vitamin C. This side will be monopolized by those with the most connections and money. On our side, smokeables will get much more competitive and companies will have to find a way to stand out, whether it’s with price, quality, interesting packaging or big celeb names (this doesn’t always work out). With more growers the quality is getting better which is great for consumers. Price is going down too but this means all of those original CBD companies can’t keep making a quick profit. Fortunately our strategy was always long term. The highest quality, at the most affordable prices ( oh and cool packaging too).
How did your company get its name?
We had to decide between a couple of names and it was the best option at the time because the first cigarettes were low odor, and CBD isn’t necessarily “Mary Jane”. It was a bit of a play on Mary Jane.
Who designed the packaging?
The very first pack of cigarettes the guys came up with the design for. Most of the rest of the packaging I’ve designed myself or come up with the ideas for and worked with artists on Fiver/upwork to make it come to life. We just recently had enough money to bring a designer on and start working with other designers to help us have a more cohesive brand.
List 3 challenges in the industry:
How are you dealing with these challenges?
As restrictions ease more cbd companies come on the market. It makes it hard for smaller companies to thrive or even survive. For us, it keeps us on our toes and pushes us to constantly be better. We’ve always expected competition from the beginning. CBD oil was the first to become competitive so we decided not to start with a CBD oil company and make a name for ourselves in a more niche part of the market.
Transparency has always been a challenge. Overall there is just a lack of testing standards for the industry. Products go from broker to broker by the time you get it you could have no idea where it came from. Some things have tests with it and some don’t. We always get things retested but many of the companies selling products could literally be selling snake oil and no one would know. There are also some sketchy actors known among the industry. Fake websites, fake farms. On multiple occasions we’ve had money stolen from us by “farmers” that were supposed to send us flower and disappeared.
On Talent, most of the best growers only grow weed because it sells at a higher price and they are passionate about the plant. While there are a few, overall , it’s hard to find the same craft farmers for hemp. Most of the farms are large mass produced outdoor flower and they all grow the same strains. We’re trying to work with farmers to have them product new hemp genetics and higher quality indoor hemp flower.
List 3 great amazing things about this industry.
Why do you love these things?
I know I talked about transparency being a challenge because of the lack of standards and regulations. Well, the good thing about fewer regulations is fewer barriers so better access and at lower cost to consumers. I think the THC side is so highly regulated that it’s hard to sell it at a lower cost when it can even be sold at all. There should be some balance between regulation and affordability but for now CBD is definitely the lower cost option. It’s also more accessible to small businesses. A THC license in most places is an expensive, convoluted rarity that shuts many people with lower incomes out.
I think competition is a challenge but it’s also what makes the industry great. It keeps prices down for consumers, gives them the best options and overall brings the industry up a notch.
What jobs and experiences have led you to your present position?
In Grad School I studied public policy because I thought that would be the most effective way to try to at least change the US for the better. I did the marketing and organizing for different political campaigns and tried to influence healthcare through policy making. When I see a problem I can’t help but want to fix. That could be giving people access to a better political candidate or educating lawmakers to make better policy decisions. Ultimately, I couldn’t make healthcare more affordable, but I could give people access to more affordable “medicine”.
Are there busy and slow times or is the work activity fairly constant?
For Evan and I the work never ends. For the staff, even though we consistently grow, work does ebb and flow based on the time of year or a sale or new product.
How does your company differ from its competitors?
In the beginning our goal was not to make money quick. Our goal was to provide people a more affordable option, earn their trust, and grow our brand. We never had a farm in the beginning so we didn’t have to worry about making the margins to cover the harvest and we didn’t expect to make money or even pay ourselves right away. We just wanted to make a living working for ourselves and supply a solution for a problem we saw in the market. We had cheap packaging in the beginning, our product wasn’t always perfect but we just focused on the goal and got better little by little. We built the company and the brand around our cus. Our goal is still the same. We don’t raise our prices even when other companies buy the same flower and sell it at twice as much. We pass off savings to our customers when we get cheaper products.
How does your company make use of technology for internal communication and outside marketing?
We mostly use slack and skype for the teams and for outside marketing we use Klaviyo for marketing
What is your favorite social media outlet? Why?
I like to get my news, humor, and overall entertainment from twitter. I feel like people with the darkest sense of humor use twitter more than any other outlet (aside from reddit) and I’m drawn to that. For my creativity, inspiration and overall customer communication I like Instagram because most of the time pictures are worth 1000 words anyway.
What is your company’s greatest success/achievements?
I’m not sure how I would define success. From a business perspective, when we broke even and started profiting it was a relief, like “okay we can keep doing this”. It never feels real, I’m not sure what number it would take to make it seem real. It’s always scary and always feels like it could all be gone tomorrow so I’m not sure we ever really have time to stop and feel like we succeeded. We just have to keep moving forward and stay humble because the more you have, the more you have to lose.
What are some of your current goals?
We’re working on higher quality products and higher quality packaging. New cannabinoids are coming out every year so we want to stay up to date with the newest products that come out while making sure that the ones we have are the highest quality. We’re also looking into branching out into the THC side.
What advice would you like to give people entering the industry?
Don’t view it as a get rich quick scheme and don’t give all your money to expensive “consultants”. Most of the real “experts” that actually deal with the plant are probably busy on a farm somewhere and you’ll have to travel to a more remote place to find them.
Do you have any special words of encouragement or warning as a result of your experience?
A good idea alone won’t make a successful company. All the confidence in the world , alone, won’t make a successful company. The team truly makes the company. I have a great business partner, I couldn’t have dreamed of a better one. Find someone who has strengths that offset your weaknesses and vice versa. My warning would be that running a for profit company , in a capitalist society is brutal. I constantly worry that it makes me a more cold, less compassionate person. Try to find your balance and not let it shake you. You’re going to make mistakes, just try to forgive yourself and quickly learn from them.
What is your perspective on this industry being affected by the economy? (Were you affected by Corona?)
I’m not sure if CBD is necessarily “Recession proof” like tobacco or alcohol but I do think that a product that may help people with stress is less likely to take a hit during a stressful time. We tried our best to keep our employees safe as we were considered an essential business and stayed open the entire time. We were short staffed often because if someone felt sick or was exposed to covid they had to wait the specified time to come back to work.
What inspires your company today?
I’m inspired by stories from my customers. I’m inspired when someone tells me that this product has genuinely helped them. I’m inspired by my employees when they take advantage of opportunities created by the company. It keeps me going every day to know that those people are what we are doing this for.
What are some of the Plain Jane employee’s favorite ways of smoking? Anything In Particular?
In Oregon you’re allowed to have your own personal grow and honestly many of my employees are extremely talented growers. A majority of them love using their bongs to smoke.
Is there anything else you would like to share that we haven’t asked about?
Companies aren’t built by one person. They are built in an ecosystem. I’m grateful to everyone that ever worked for us or with us. To anyone that ever gave us advice or helped shaped us into the business and the people that we are.