Jeanne M. Sullivan – Investor, Speaker, Advisor – is a fierce advocate for the regulation and legalization of the Cannabis industry. Jeanne is a co-founder of a venture capital firm in NYC and long- time tech investor and now advising, building fund platforms and investing in companies in cannabis for The Arcview Group – www.arcviewgroup.com
Sullivan is a sought-after industry speaker on the subject of “investing in the tech and cannabis sector and how to win investors” Named by Business Insider as one of the “rising stars” in the cannabis investing landscape, Sullivan is leveraging her tech investing experience in this fast growing cannabis sector about science, wellness, social justice issues and wealth creation.
Jeanne has served for several years as a member of the Women’s Leadership Board at the Harvard Kennedy School and is an Athena Entrepreneur Fellow for Barnard College. She also serves as advisor for many women-focused organizations that work to “fund and fuel” entrepreneurs and is on the Global Board of Trustees of Astia, an organization that invests in high-growth women entrepreneurs. Forbes cited Sullivan as “one of the women VCs changing the world – grooming the next generation of female entrepreneurs”. The New York Angels organization honored Jeanne as the OPEL award winner – Outstanding Professionals for Entrepreneurial Leadership. The New York Hall of Science honored Jeanne for her work inspiring girls and women in science, technology (STEM) sectors. Jeanne also serves on the Board of Trustees of the New York Hall of Science – a museum that introduces people of all ages to STEM learning with hands-on exhibitions.
Jeanne holds a BS from the University of Illinois and a JD (law) from Creighton University. She is married, lives in New York City and has two adult children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
Investing in and being “all in” focused on the cannabis industry is accidental but fortunate. I like sharing my misinformed views: I thought the “War on Drugs” was a good thing. I have now learned that this War is a War on Science, on Research and on People. This revelation changed my view once I understood the grave social injustices. I learned the early history of why cannabis became a Schedule I drug – meaning “No Health Benefits” and rooted in deep racial issues having nothing to do with the science or issues related to the plant. Having been a long-time investor in technology companies, I saw the economic upside. I “rode” the internet and technology “wave” – I see this as a powerful new business opportunity that produces new health benefits, much needed technology improvements in the Agri-Business sector and can help change the draconian social justice wrongs.
New York passed the Compassionate Care Act in 2014 and I became an investor and advisor in some of the first license owners in New York. I started to participate in the conferences and read voraciously, meeting with companies and investors, visiting cultivators, labs, dispensaries to learn the business.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I have the opportunity to speak all over the world on cannabis – how to invest, the hot sectors, the issues. I addressed a non-cannabis crowd filled with C-Suite executives. They “bore down” on me related to the issues around abuse, children using, the dangers of cannabis, driving while high, effect of smoke on the lungs, and more. The stigma lives for sure and it was hard to manage the negative thinking in a large group. The lesson – continue to arm oneself with the best scientific counter arguments and prepare for the worst naysayers.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The sector is complex and confusing. It is important to demystify the regulations and science in order to participate. My stories are not around “funny mistakes” but being able to “walk the talk” and to say ENDO-CANNABINOID and let it roll off my tongue! I can do that!
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
I get two questions all the time: “Jeanne, why are YOU doing “THIS”? and everyone has to know, “Jeanne, do you use, do you smoke, are you high right now?” These questions make me laugh out loud. Sometimes I do tell people what I “use”!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
To learn the business, I started attending the big conferences and I met Troy Dayton, the co-founder and CEO of The Arcview Group. Troy invited me into the Company to help build investment platforms and source great deal flow. He recognized that my multi-year experience with several large funds as a General Partner in technology would be additive to building new platforms for the Arcview members.
I am very grateful for many years of meeting investors, meeting companies and participating in the many conferences of Arcview and appreciate Troy’s recognition that I would be value add. Troy saw before most that many people would want to come together and fight to “free the plant” on the social justice issues, regulatory issues and make investments in cannabis companies.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes – The Arcview Group is scaling, and investors seek a trusted source for investment opportunities. I am building those investment platforms under the Arcview umbrella and working with a team of people to source, diligence and invest in great cannabis companies in many sectors of the cannabis business. I am using my 30 years of investing experience to seek CEOs and teams that know how to execute and scale. This will bring quality companies to the market that will help growers and operators with efficient new technology, create successful exits for investors, help business owners by investing so that they may build their businesses.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b)
companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
- Individuals – Women have a different “lens” for products and services that would serve women or are built and founded by women. Women are also a large cohort of consumers in the cannabis industry, so products, services and retailers have an opportunity to acquire more customers, create dispensaries and products with a lens that serve women and a diverse market.
- Companies: The research has been done: To achieve gender parity, there needs to be a commitment to more women in the Executive Committee, on company’s Boards of Directors and in the C-Suite. Women make 85-90% of all household decisions but women are not serving in decision-making roles in companies and that would change the game.
- Society: The research also shows that often when men who are running companies actually realize there is an imbalance in pay for women, an imbalance in upward mobility to the executive suite, they often act and remediate the issue. The education, the data helps tell the story and these issues need to be openly discussed in the media, in our companies and sponsorship and action taken to create opportunities to support women in the workplace – to learn, to make mistakes, to grow and to succeed.
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
Business owners and entrepreneurs – here are my best words of wisdom for getting funding – cannabis or other:
- Valuation Expectation: Entrepreneurs who are raising a financing round are often “tone deaf” when it comes to their valuation aspirations for pricing their investment rounds. Especially during a “downturn” which is going on right now in 2019. I see this every day when I meet with companies – very thin or non-existent revenues and valuations of $40 million dollars or more based on some other brand that was acquired for a high multiple that may have had strong top line and quarter over quarter growth. The CEO has often not adjusted to the climate outside his or her walls.
- Understand the numbers: inside and out. Many dynamic entrepreneurs may be scientists or founders without the business savvy. That is no excuse as you still need to understand and know the numbers. Get a smart CFO person at one’s side to delve into, organize and teach you and the team the numbers that investors may seek. This is critical for financing success.
I often meet with a CEO who does not understand margins or cannot explain the financial drivers to the business. This keeps a CEO back from financing.
- Investor follow through: Learn how to follow up with investors: Investors want to hear about on-going traction, customer wins, product releases or new features and functionality, new team members. Often CEOs just “go away” rather than include the investor that may have met with in their updates.
- Financing terms: Terms sheets and financing negotiations are sometimes difficult and tricky. An entrepreneur needs an experienced lawyer at one’s side in order to navigate the complex waters. I have seen many entrepreneurs struggle because they did not understand the meaning of a term or have hired their brother who is a real estate attorney and may not be up to date with current financing terms or geographic differences.
- Understand the CEO Role: Bring Esprit d’corps to the team: The CEO sets the standards and the culture – focus – financing and forward motion. Hiring: Recruit “A” players – move people to the “right seats” on the bus.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
- The cannabis industry is the “next big thing” and it is here today.
- Major disruption in many industries – how fun to be part of this vibrant and fast-paced industry as a pioneer.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
- Take THC off of Schedule I – it does not belong there anyway.
- Allow interstate shipment of goods from California to New York and U.S. border restrictions – just like any great product in alcohol, food or pharma drugs.
- Accelerate the research and clinical trials so that people understand the efficacy and health benefits of the plant.
What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
Federal Legalization of cannabis would take the U.S. from laggard to a leader in the industry and globally. We could produce the critically needed clinical research with our great scientists. We could create wealth and opportunity for business owners, entrepreneurs and investors creating jobs and opening the door to new businesses. We could produce products targeted to improve specific health issues like Crohns, Sleep issues, Chronic pain, Opioid abuse and more.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
I am for the regulation and taxation of cannabis products. However, I would hope to see “fast-tracking” of the FDA process, not multi-year regulatory processes. These products that are tested, trusted and sold legally should not be taxed at unduly high rates, making them too costly to afford and forcing the illicit market to stay alive and in business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You keep getting the lessons until you learn them”.
This means that you may keep learning things the hard way – then you realize there might be a “better” way to tackle something. Ahhh – now the problem is gone.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Convince everyone in the House and the Senate that cannabis reform, safe banking and legalization is a bi-partisan issue. Let’s take new look – “IT’S JUST A PLANT” is the motto.