Entrepreneurs Amy Poinsette and Jessica Billingsley are capitalizing on one of the fastest-growing businesses in the US, marijuana. Co-founders of MJ Freeway, they share what it takes to scale, raise capital and build a great team culture.
Melinda Wittstock: Welcome to Wings ladies.
Amy Poinsett: Thank you so much. Happy to be here. This is Amy.
Melinda Wittstock: Hey Amy. And we have Jessica with us too.
Jessica Billingsley: Pleasure to be here. Thank you Melinda.
Melinda Wittstock: I am so excited to talk to you because you are innovating in a fascinating and fast growing space. What is your big inspiration for the year ahead?
Amy Poinsett: This is Amy speaking. We have rolled out our new product and have a good portion of our customers using it. We’ll be transitioning everybody over in the coming weeks and I’m really excited to see our clients become raving fans, over the company and our new product. It’s a goal of mine to make sure that they love it and I know that they will. So I’m excited about the challenge ahead.
Melinda Wittstock: That is awesome. And Jessica, What’s next for the company?
Jessica Billingsley: Gosh, we have just risen to a new level every single year since inception and I think that’s been almost a requirement in our industry. We are in the marijuana industry. And the growth of that industry has really compelled that type of growth in us and in our company as well. So I am very excited about the professional growth that Amy and I will have in the business that everyone who works with us will have. And also that the industry itself will have … we’re just seeing it … leaps and bounds of professionalism and innovation in marijuana industry right now. And I’m very excited about where the end of the year will leave us after the 2018 election cycle, particularly in terms of new markets and new opportunities.
Melinda Wittstock: I was going to ask about that. Because you guys are somewhat and your industry is somewhat dependent on legislation. And where we are in American politics right now, is interesting. There are certain folks in the Justice Department that aren’t that big fans of marijuana, right? What are some of the challenges that you see on the horizon or do you think the train really has left the station on this now and you’re home free?
Jessica Billingsley: So this is Jessica speaking again. I will take that. I serve on the Board of the National Cannabis Industry Association, which is a trade association for our industry that interacts and lobbies for change at the federal level. And we … as a result of that board membership and working with that association, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to speak to Congress members directly, to speak with Senators directly. And to meet with various members of the Administration. And although there are, and of course, most notably, most vocally our AG, Jeff Sessions opponents to marijuana in today’s administration and in today’s Congress. I do believe that the tide has turned.
And I say that, I tell a little story that the very first time I went to lobby in D.C., we met with the Ways and Means committee, and at that time we had clients in 13 states. I believe this was in 2013. And I remember saying to the committee, “We represent clients in 13 states.” And they didn’t want to hear us. They laughed us out of the room and pretty much jokingly said, ha ha ha, come back when you have 30 states. Well, we … medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states and I met with that same committee, the same leader of that committee last fall for another lobbying, lobby day set up by the trade organization. And he … and I said, “Do you remember me?” And he said, “Yes. Yes I do.”
If you’re dealing with the same problems year over year, you’re obviously stuck. #WingsPodcast #WomeninBusiness @MJFreewayClick to tweet
And so, I think there’s a … that when you see, see change like that happen it feels like it’s not happening but year over year, at the legislative level, at the federal level, we are seeing market change. And I think that at the end of the day, this administration … they’re business people. And they’re going to see the tax dollars. And it’s … you have to look at Florida, which Trump won in the 2016 election, however medical marijuana also passed by over 70%. And …
Melinda Wittstock: A bigger margin than he had.
Jessica Billingsley: Exactly so they’re not going to be … they’re not going to … Southern expression, they’re not going to cut of their nose to spite their face.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah that’s true. It’s interesting where the market really moves politicians now and not the other way around. I mean, I’d take it further, I think that most of society’s problems are being solved increasingly by entrepreneurs.
Amy Poinsette: This is Amy speaking. I completely agree with you. I think that there’s a really exciting shift in our, in our culture that’s happened in the last few years where entrepreneurs really do feel empowered and able to solve really big problems. And to move ahead, whether that’s solving really big problems through a non-profit effort or a research effort or something like that. Or simply through the benefit that their company brings, their commercial solution brings to the market. That’s not limited to cannabis by any means, in my view. I think it’s a really exciting time. That entrepreneurs can look at the problems we face as a culture, and say, yeah I think we can fix that.
Melinda Wittstock: So tell me a little bit more about MJ Freeway and how you came to found it and it’s big mission.
Jessica Billingsley: I’ll take that one. This is Jessica speaking. So, I guess I’ll start really quickly with who we are. We are a business solution company for the cannabis industry. And we provide solutions in three main areas: technology solutions, consulting solutions and data analytics solutions. And in the technology solutions division, we have two main product lines. One that serves the cannabis operators. So the licensees, the ones who are growing or manufacturing or selling marijuana. And we also have a product for government agencies to oversee their regulatory programs. And, for instance, the state of Pennsylvania, the state of Washington, are our clients.
And we got started because back in 2009, I had an IT company and Amy had a web development firm and we knew each other just because we were women in Colorado who owned tech companies and there’s like not many of us.
Melinda Wittstock: Right, right.
Jessica Billingsley: So we knew each other by virtue of that and I had invested in one of the very first legal license holders, medical cannabis license holders in Colorado. And as the owner with an IT company, they asked me to pick what software to run. I couldn’t find anything that really would suit the needs and I approached Amy. And what was it you said, Amy?
Amy Poinsett: I believe I said something like, “Oh how hard can that be? Let’s do that.”
Melinda Wittstock: Every entrepreneur I know, whether they’re a man or a woman, somewhere has uttered that, “How hard could this be?”
Amy Poinsette: Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: Famous last words. Always.
Jessica Billingsley: Turns out it’s hard so eight years later …
Melinda Wittstock: Yep. And so, like tell me your … so what were some of the specific problems that all of these different stakeholders, all these folks that you serve were having? Because it seems to me that you guys are positioned to really be the infrastructure, the backbone of this really growing industry, which is a lovely position to be in. And what are the problems? What are some of the things that you are solving for all these folks?
Amy Poinsett: This is Amy speaking. I’ll take that one. You’re right. We really do view ourselves as the backbone of our clients’ business, on the software side, we’re providing an ERP system, really, a supply chain management system that touches every aspect of their business. On the consulting side, we’re helping them develop standard operating procedures and understand the compliance requirements that they have to abide by. So we’re really trying to be in every aspect of what they’re doing and add value. And it really goes back to our core values. We have three core values as a company. The first one is ‘Be part of the solution.’ The next one is ‘Do the right thing.’ And the third one is ‘Show people that you care.’
So starting with ‘Be part of the solution’, that was really, you know, a great first example of that was looking at this as a business opportunity and seeing there’s
a problem that needs to be solved. There are businesses out here who need help and we can provide that help. So we’ve always looked at this as a way to really look at what struggles our clients are facing, whether they’re just small business struggles, that any small business would face. Or whether they’re unique cannabis struggles such as understanding compliance and making sure you’ve got accurate labeling that meets the state requirements and that type of thing. We’ve always had that as a key piece of what we believe is our key value preposition.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s wonderful. I love that you mention … I mean the core values are wonderful because I think businesses who have those core values very clearly … frankly just do better, right? It makes decision making easier. It makes hiring easier. It makes, oh the marketing easier. It makes the ‘who’ you take on as a client easier. Did you always have those core principles right from the start or did they evolve with you?
Jessica Billingsley: Can I answer this?
Amy Poinsett: Of course.
Jessica Billingsley: So this is Jessica here. I, when we first started, I was much more of the mindset of why don’t we get a little money in and then we’ll think about things like core values for the employees we don’t have. And I really have to give Amy all of the credit that these are before we really ever truly started the company. After we had done our market research but before we had really done day one of work, she felt that this was very important that we spend the time; that we agree on what they are and really be thoughtful about that exercise. And I am ever so grateful to you, Amy, for having us do that because it has been truly … those three core values have not changed since inception and they’ve been really our guiding star.
Melinda Wittstock: So, it’s really lovely that you did take the time to do that. Because I think a lot of us get so caught up in just the one foot in front of the other that we can go, if we don’t make those decisions, we will go in a direction but it may not be the right one. So understanding like why you’re in business, what you’re hoping to achieve, who you want to be, who you want to work with. That’s the sort of thing that … that’s the whole reason, you know what you can do as an entrepreneur. Is you can have power over your own life, create a business that actually is consistent with your own personal values even.
Amy Poinsett: I absolutely agree. This is Amy speaking. The other place where it’s been really critical to us is as we’ve grown we’ve had really aggressive and accelerated growth the last three years, particularly. And as we’ve grown and done a lot of hiring … you know when we first started that curve, we found that we brought in a lot of people and they brought in whatever culture they had at their previous employer. And Jessica and I both became aware of that and kind of had to double down on communicating our values and enforcing our culture and making sure that we’re building the kind of company that we still want to work at, 5, 10, 15, 20 years into the future. Because everybody brings their stuff in from the outside. And when you’ve got a lot of hiring happening, a lot of new influences, it can really change the feeling that the company had in the early days when it was just a handful of us.
So we’ve worked hard at that. And I think we’ve done a really good job. I feel good about where the company is in terms of culture and values and communication.
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Melinda Wittstock: Yeah that’s awesome because you really need that in place to be able to scale, to scale your company. How many employees do you have now?
Jessica Billingsley: We’re at about 85.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s really interesting I find to talk to entrepreneurs who are in the scaling and growth phase of their company because sometimes when those cultural things or when you’re not clear about your values, by the time you get up to 85 employees, you feel like you’ve lost your company, or it’s not even your company anymore. But I don’t get that vibe from you two at all.
Jessica Billingsley: No. Jessica speaking. I’m very proud of how, really how hard we’ve … because you can say it’s luck or you can say this. But the truth is it’s always work and intention. And the work and intention that we have put into our culture and our culture particularly as our company has grown, I think has really borne fruit. We have one thing that we have confronted as we’ve grown is the velocity at which you can make decisions and you can turn the ship. So we talk a lot about things that move the needle and I, for one, have no desire to go back to the days of worrying about making payroll or whether we’re still going to be in business six months from now. And I’m really happy to be where we are but there are … it is true that there are, there are new problems at every stage. And I think there’s some phrase that as long as you’re solving new problems, and you’re not solving the same problems, you’re moving in the right direction, you’re growing.
And so, for us, one of our new challenges has been really to address this question of velocity and how can you turn this much bigger ship, 85 people, how can you still be nimble? How can you still be agile? How can you still pivot? And we’re not doing giant pivots but how can you, how can you still be adaptive?
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah how can you still innovate within that? I mean, we all know the lessons on Kodak, right? Where you have this big company and you have all this innovation going on but the innovation isn’t being noticed. And Kodak doesn’t really exist anymore. They missed the opportunity to do digital photography, which is like a massive disruption. So, how to stay innovative when you’re onto a good thing and then someone, maybe in your company, may have a great idea that doesn’t quite fit. This is a really interesting dilemma at this stage or at really frankly any stage of a company. Because when you slow down the market, then the disruptive forces in the market are so extreme. And there are so many entrepreneurs out there. And the rate and the pace of innovation and change is faster and faster and faster. So it’s like a different challenge, I suppose. How do you look at that in terms of the where your industry is going to be over the next 10 years and what that pace of change is going to be for you? And how quickly you guys need to adapt?
Jessica Billingsley: So, Jessica speaking. I want to speak to the first part of your question and then I want to pivot to Amy for the forward-looking outlook. She really heads our product division of the company. But I’d like to speak to the question around innovation and how we foster innovation within and how that then adapts and how you use it.
We have, ever since we were teeny tiny, and just a handful of folks, we have made sure that we had some portion of our employees’ time that … it’s not exactly free time the way you see these famous stories of like Google gives people, I forget, like 20% of their time, they can work whenever they want to work on. It’s not that, per se, but we’ve always had this concept of special projects. Where do you want to grow professionally in the company? What do you want to work on? And we’ve always made sure that we have set up our company and our structure, in terms of our workforce and people so that everyone has the opportunity to really pursue these special projects. And it’s not willy-nilly for us. We have some approval over whether they get to pursue the projects or not but we’re pretty open to projects that our folks want to pursue. And I think that that has really helped us to be able to continue to adapt, to continue to be nimble but also to retain really great employees and talent by offering them professional growth.
Melinda Wittstock: Ah, that’s beautiful.
Jessica Billingsley: Yeah and Amy, I think you probably would have the best point of view on the future of the industry over the next 10 years.
Amy Poinsett: Yeah I’d love to speak to that. So, we spend quite a bit of time on this … on looking ahead and we try to structure it in a few ways. One is that we have a team that’s looking ahead at new states and at what new regulation is happening in those states. Because you start to see the way that regulatory structure will shape the industry. So, for example, a new state decides that they’re going to move ahead and they’re not going to allow … they’re going to move ahead with the marijuana program but they’re not going to allow any smokeable product. So that tells us that the uptick of extracted products and topicals and things of that nature in that state will be significant.
So we kind of … we kind of do like a far horizon news scan and regulatory scan to think about how that’s going to impact the commercial markets. We also have a customer drives report that we work with, which is made up of several key clients and they … we talk to them about what are your problems, what are your challenges, what are your challenges that are unrelated to anything we do for you now but you would be interested in having us help solve or integrate to a solution or something like that. So we get really great feedback from them. And then, finally, with the largest data set in the cannabis industry from our eight years in the cannabis business, we have some really tremendous data analytics. So we can apply those looking forward and see where the challenges are for our clients and then start brainstorming about ways that we can really work towards solutions for them.
Melinda Wittstock: I love this business model. It’s awesome. No, really. And so, I’m curious, you guys came together because you were both kind of like the only women in the room in technology (sort of a feeling that I know all too well myself) and found each other and built this business together. What’s it like to have another woman as a business partner? Is it very different? How does that work? I think God…that would be awesome to have a female co-founder.
Jessica Billingsley: Well, Jessica speaking. I’ve never had a male co-founder so my prior business, I was the sole founder so this is the first business that I have had where I’ve had any co-founder at all. I cannot imagine having a better business partner than Amy. It’s been really a fantastic experience working together.
Melinda Wittstock: Aww.
Amy Poinsett: I would agree with that 100%.
Melinda Wittstock: You too are so nice. I love it. I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy. It’s awesome.
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Jessica Billingsley: You know, it’s interesting though. There are things that we do. For instance, we have had retreat days where you do your strategic planning retreat and we’ll make a decision to go to a spa for a couple of hours and that’s something that, I suppose, if you had a male co-founder, you wouldn’t do, where we’re not going to play golf together generally.
Melinda Wittstock: Well now that’s interesting too because you know, on this podcast we talk a lot of self-care and making time for ourselves. And all those … I guess ways in which women, sometimes we can get in our own way and put ourselves last. So, when you’re working with another female co-founder, do you both help each other make sure that you have those moments for self-care and reflection? I love the idea of like spa time … sort of meetings in the spa. That sounds like a wonderful thing to be doing. But how does that work? Does it change the culture in that sense?
Amy Poinsett: This is Amy speaking. I … you know, I think we both make an effort to encourage each other to do self-care and I think it’s something we both struggle with. As you note, entrepreneurs and perhaps particularly women entrepreneurs, tend to just go, go, go and keep going until it’s done. I’m making air quotes. Or you know, until you’re successful. None of which really happens in business, right? We just keep going and progressing and there are new challenges and you know, if you’re dealing with the same problems year over year, you’re obviously stuck. So you want to have new challenges. But I think both Jess and I are achievers and drivers and the self-care piece is something we try to encourage in ourselves and each other, but it can be a bit of a challenge.
Melinda Wittstock: It can be hard, yeah. [crosstalk 00:24:58
Right, well it can be a challenge because there’s so much … you know, our work is never done, right? There’s always something. There’s always more, more, more, more, more. And yet I’ve found that my best ideas happen when I can figure out a way to quiet my mind or like, just when I’m doing something different. Like literally I’d be in the shower or walking the dog or doing my yoga or actually meditating or yes, going to the spa, having a massage. And I have my best inspirations in those moments. And so, knowing when to balance that self-care or having time for solitude or just thinking or inspiration. And when to be on that task treadmill. Is that something that you talk about with each other?
Amy Poinsett: This is Amy speaking. So we do. We absolutely do. We always … we have a goal of having some time away from the office, an afternoon away from the office where we can really rise up to a more strategic level. And we have a goal of doing that once a month and I would say we probably achieve it once a quarter. But we do try to really encourage each other to do that. And I would echo your comments 100%. I mean every great idea without exception, I think came from one of those times when we were away from the office, whether it was taking a walk or a spa day or just having some downtime away from the day-to-day. That’s been the source of all the great ideas, I think.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah it’s true. So what are some of the ways in just observing how you work with each other, how women work? Like looking back on your career, what are some of the ways where we get in our own way as female entrepreneurs as opposed to just like entrepreneurs? Are there are things that women do differently that we could be doing better? And conversely, are there some things where we’re just like rock stars like men would be lucky to have our mojo?
Jessica Billingsley: So, of course it’s always easier to speak to the negative. Jessica, here. I think that one thing that we constantly do as women that gets in our way, particularly, and when you look at the statistics it’s, it’s ridiculous so there are so few women founded venture backed companies and as a venture backed company, one thing we’ve learned a lot about this. One thing that women do that gets in our way is we air on the side of being conservative and we are not arrogant enough or confident enough, however you want to put it, about our accomplishments, or abilities and we are not aggressive enough in our predictions. And when you put a woman founded company up against a male founded company, which is by the statistics more likely to be more aggressive, more confident, more arrogant, it’s not that the woman founded company doesn’t have perhaps a … even a better chance of success, it’s that we didn’t present ourselves the same way. And so we’re being measured against a yardstick that … you know, we’re not playing in the same arena. And I think we really get in our own way in that way.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s interesting because VCs will look at your numbers and they will discount them automatically, I mean I think they think mostly how men think is that if it were them in the room doing the pitch, they’d have the hockey stick numbers and the really aggressive numbers. And so, when women walk in the room with less than numbers they apply the same deductions, like the same formulas to the numbers. And so, if your numbers have been accurate or conservative, you get dinged and like suddenly you don’t have a scalable business.
Jessica Billingsley: Exactly.
Melinda Wittstock: So I think sometimes we don’t really understand how we’re being evaluated. There was some interesting research done too though about the … I think it was Harvard Business Review monitored loads of male and female pitches to VCs over a period of time and it was fascinating because they found in the question bias of the VCs that women were being evaluated on results and men on promise. And that women tended to be asked questions to defend their numbers whereas men were asked questions much more about how big the opportunity was going to be. So even, it wasn’t just us and how we walked into the meeting, and our … and being, perhaps, more limited and being, thinking we were being accurate and conservative and responsible and all those things, which we are. But it was just the very questions and the very setting that, that, that was created that tends to put a lot of women on the defensive.
When you guys went out to raise money, did you feel that kind of question bias? Or what was it like for you?
Amy Poinsett: This is Amy speaking. You know, gosh I don’t know. I don’t know that I thought of that at the time. But I think what we certainly did notice was that gender was a thing. And whether that worked for us or against us in every situation, it could be different. I know that some of our investors particularly wanted, specifically wanted to invest in a female founded, led technology company and they really wanted to make that investment specifically for gender reasons. Now, you know, I certainly don’t think that we got a free pass on financials or anything else because of that, but in that case, it was to our benefit that they saw that as an asset.
In other cases, you have a slightly different experience. There’s no doubt that in technology, in general, there is a boys’ club of certainly in cannabis and cannabis tech, there is a boys’ club. And we’re not in it. And don’t particularly want to be but there’s, there are connections and relationships that happen whether through investors or through business relationships that are absolutely gender biased. I have no doubt about that.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah it’s interesting because when you go a little bit further into the trajectory and you look at Fortune 500 companies or companies are on the … listed on the DOW, or Nasdaq, if they have female executives, if they have more than three women on the board, you know, they tend to outperform the companies that are totally male dominated. There are some other stats too that are really interesting is that we may sort of come with sort of lower numbers or more conservative projections and yet, the companies that are female founded or have a female founder on the founding team, survive. They have a much bigger chance of surviving so there’s a whole bunch of these guys who’ve gone with the hockey stick and like, you know, the classic sort of team of three to five male founders. And like a lot of them don’t exist after 18 months. They get the money, they spend the money, they don’t create a business necessarily and they fail. Whereas the women that do get funded, really do tend to still be around and be in the position that you guys are in, a really growing and scaling.
Is that your experience? I mean are there other women in your ecosystem or just at least in the technology space that you talk with and that you kind of share these experiences or the comparatives or the a-has where this resonates in any way?
Jessica Billingsley: Jessica speaking. We do have some other women business owners with whom we have formed relationships and with whom we interact and it is really nice to have that opportunity to speak to another woman because there are these small systemic things that happen and it’s just really nice to have a chance sometimes to acknowledge that sometimes with someone else. But I love what you said earlier about women being survivors.
And it reminded me, my daughter was born prematurely and I remember learning when she was in the NICU that, and they were like, no your daughter’s going to be fine, she’s a girl. And apparently, girl babies have significantly better long-term outcomes when they’re born prematurely than boys, which is just a very interesting thing. We, on the positive note, we, women, are survivors. And we are fighters. And when something challenging happens to us and we had a very challenging event earlier this year. We suffered a major cyber attack that impacted all of our product lines and business but we rallied, we worked through it and our team stuck with us and we grew substantially this year, even having started with that very challenging episode. So I think it’s a … I think it’s a wonderful thing to speak to just that survivor instinct that we as women have.
Melinda Wittstock: You mentioned going through this with your daughter and was this all happening as you were founding the company as well?
Jessica Billingsley: So we actually founded the company when my daughter was three years old, however she … we were founding the company as she was suffering from a major medical condition. She has a demyelinating condition and it was just being diagnosed and she had her first event actually the year that we founded the company. And for the first couple of years, we were in the hospital an awful lot with her demyelinating condition and it really … that could have really gone one of two ways. I could have felt that starting a company was a really bad idea for a single mom with a child that had a serious illness and gone and gotten a stable job but demyelinating illnesses are one of the illnesses that are … cannabis has been shown to be most efficacious in treating.
And it really just gave me additional grit to want to do what we were doing and it gave me something, honestly, to look forward to and to do and to pay attention to in the time that I wasn’t being a mom to a sick child. And I’m very happy to report that she has been in remission now for five years and is very healthy and doing well. But it was a very challenging time as we were starting the business and Amy, I’m very grateful to your support during that time. Without your support, and encouragement, I don’t think we would have done it.
Melinda Wittstock: So thank you so much for sharing that. I can only imagine. I mean it’s hard enough for women entrepreneurs with small kids to launch businesses, I know that. My daughter was six weeks old when I launched Capitol News Connection and that was three businesses ago for me. But to combine that with a health challenge, I am in awe. Really.
Amy Poinsett: This is Amy speaking and I agree. I am also in awe of Jessica’s strength and focus and ability to put that focus exactly where it needs to be and when it needed to be on her daughter, it was 100% on her daughter. And when that situation stabilized then she was 100% in business. And I think that’s a tremendous strength that Jess has but I think it’s also a strength of women in general to some degree. To be able to say, okay what can I impact and control right now? What do I need to do in order to make this situation successful? And to perhaps work more towards a less successful outcome and be less tied to the method. And I think sometimes men are a little bit more like I have a vision of how something’s going to happen and it has to be my way and if it’s not what I envisioned, then I’m perhaps not as effective at shifting gears.
I think women are a little bit more flexible to say this isn’t shaking out how I thought but I’m still progressing towards my end goal and I don’t care how I get there. I’m moving towards the goal that I want.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes, we do tend to be more flexible in our thinking and also more integrative. Like we can balance or juggle a lot of different component parts. Or see the connections between things.
And what’s lovely is being able to create a business around you that supports the life that you want to live. And really rather than this idea of work, life balance, I guess its work, life integration. And what you said, Amy, about Jessica being able to be like 100% with her daughter when she needed to be but 100% with the business when she needed to be is really important.
And I think when women get into overwhelm it provides or suggests a pathway for a lot of us to be able to learn how to balance or juggle. Not drop any balls or at least too many balls. Be forgiving to ourselves but also as entrepreneurs, create the businesses that really fit our own lives and what we want out of our lives.
Amy Poinsett: Yeah this is Amy speaking. I agree with that 100%. I think that … Jess and I have joked from time to time that we’re completely unemployable now if we should ever decide not to be with MJ Freeway anymore, I can’t imagine going to work for a large corporation because the ability to shape and control your own destiny as an entrepreneur is really appealing.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my goodness, it surely is. I think I gave some interview that comes up in like Google rankings, if you search me, where the first line of it is, “I’m not employable.” Great job ad for me right up there: I was like at a tech cocktail or somewhere, it’s pretty funny.
So as we wind up the interview, I always love to ask what your top three go-to pieces of advice are for women who are entrepreneurs already or thinking of becoming entrepreneurs. What would be the top three?
Jessica Billingsley: I, Jessica speaking, I’ll take this first. Something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately … my daughter’s 11 now and we’re looking at school paths already. That’s apparently it starts when they’re too young in my opinion these days. But one thing that really applies to entrepreneurs but also to young women who may be considering school paths, two pieces. First, I don’t think that we teach young women enough that technology is one of the most creative fields there is. And all these young women want to go to art school or want to go to a school for performing arts. And women, many women really love to create. And I think that we are doing a disservice by not teaching how much creativity and innovative opportunity there is in technology.
Melinda Wittstock: I think that’s so true. It’s where girls say things like, oh I’m not good at math, when coding is actually a language.
Jessica Billingsley: Correct, exactly.
Melinda Wittstock: So really there’s a supermodel who’s actually partnered up with Sara Blakely at Spanx, to make coding for girls like not only super cool but like really fashionable. Karlie Kloss. And I think it’s awesome that a supermodel is saying hey girls, don’t be a supermodel, learn to code. So it does provide you with so much freedom to be able to go and just create your own products and have such mastery and control over your own life.
So what would be advice number two?
Jessica Billingsley: So advice number two is to take more risks. I think we should teach our young women to be conservative and not to take risks and the damn truth of it is, in entrepreneurship, those who take the biggest risks get the biggest rewards.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s right. And to risk you’ve got to be willing to fail. And I really would love to be able to take the stigma out of failure, because it’s not. It’s learning. It’s growing. It’s developing. I don’t know how many people could stand in a room and with a straight face, claim that they learned anything from a success. It all comes from where you take a risk and it like fails, right? But like learning how not to take it personally when that happens and just pick up and keep going. It’s just data.
Jessica Billingsley: It’s hard but it’s the truth.
Melinda Wittstock: It is hard and that’s why it’s so good for all of us to talk with each other and sometimes share those fail moments and really de-stigmatize them so that we get better at taking risks and moreover big moon shots, right? Like let’s go for some billion dollar unicorns. Why not? I had a guest on, J.J. Virgin, who said when she’s comfortable, she feels like she’s playing too small. And I think that’s just a lovely way of saying that. So how do we get to … sorry I’m just going to pick up here.
And so, what about advice number three?
Amy Poinsett: This is Amy. I will jump in. I think the biggest piece is something we touched on earlier today. The biggest piece of advice I would give is don’t be afraid to brag. And I think that is … means a number of things to me. It’s important for your team to understand the successes that the team and the company have had to really recognize that and feel that and take a moment to celebrate it. I think it’s important for entrepreneurs especially women entrepreneurs to be able to brag about their own accomplishments as well as the company accomplishments. And kind of internalize that, right? If you’re comfortable being able to stand up and brag and say, I achieved this, you’ve internalized it in a way that gives you a self-confidence you don’t get from anything else. So I think we tend to maybe not take enough time to celebrate and if we are going to take the time, we make it a team effort, a group effort, which is fantastic but we all achieve a lot independently as well and I think you should take time to brag about it.
Melinda Wittstock: What wonderful advice. And so how can all of our listeners find you? They may have a cannabis business. Or they just are inspired by you. How can they find you on social media and anywhere else if they want to do business with you or support you in any way?
Jessica Billingsley: Please check us out at mjfreeway.com. You can also follow our Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, also MJ Freeway.
Melinda Wittstock: Okay and I’ll make sure that I have all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much Jessica and Amy. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation on Wings today.
Jessica Billingsley: Thank you for having us. It was a pleasure.
Amy Poinsett: Thanks very much.