Chris Becker’s job at a cannabis testing lab ended when the company went broke – but that wasn’t his first frustrating experience in the industry. He had been working in cannabis for three years and was already distressed by what he saw: talented people weren’t getting promoted because of nepotism, companies were making products without considering what consumers wanted, and workers were making minimum wage while the business brought in record profits.
“I knew there had to be a better way and that something had to change,” he said. So, he sent out an email to 12 people from his professional and personal life and invited them to consider the idea of starting their own cannabis company together.
“Many of us seem to be at transitional phases in our careers and professional lives. I would like to start a social justice and equity mission-driven company with people that I find to be exceptionally talented and enjoyable to be around. You all meet those requirements (and then some) so you are the first people I’m coming to with this idea,” the email read, before going into more detail about his ideas and inviting his network to Zoom or conduct a socially distanced meet up.
The Colorado-based group committed to being a consumer-centric company that would build in collaboration with the community. They sent out several surveys to gauge consumer interest in a values-oriented brand and narrow down exactly what values the community cared about.
“We’ve now done two market research surveys and we’re committed to performing one per quarter to ensure that we are in constant communication with our consumers and community,” said Sholeh Mirzai, one of Honeybee Collective’s founders. Their surveys provide key insight, such as 60% of respondents think a trustworthy company comes from prioritizing employee wellbeing, and that a “commitment to living wages” is more important for sustainable businesses than eco-friendly packaging or products.
“When we first started The Honeybee Collective, the only thing we were sure of was that we wanted to have a positive impact on the world,” said Kate Myers, another Honeybee Collective founder. Initial meetings were spent discussing several social causes, like freeing cannabis prisoners and expunging records. Ultimately they decided to check in with the community and see what mattered the most to them. “Wealth inequality was identified by our consumers as being one of the top three issues affecting society – so we crafted our mission to create solutions to that problem.”
In their short time operating, the collective has created The Honeybee Fund, which receives 10% of the company’s profits. Community members can join the fund’s advisory board and vote on how the funds are distributed. In the collective’s first funding round, they raised over $107,000 in just four days.
The employee-owned collective has narrowed its focus to partnering with greenhouse and outdoor producers who utilize low-waste and regenerative practices. They help licensed growers and producers sell more products at better margins, offering a product line designed for daily cannabis consumers. They produce pre-packaged flower, pre-rolls, and concentrates with eye-catching packaging that highlights their community-driven ethos.
“We handle the sales and marketing of our products, allowing growers to do what they do best: grow great cannabis,” said Mirzai.
Honeybee Collective looks for growing partners who grow cannabis in living soil and in greenhouses or outdoors. For processors, they seek solventless extracts from low-waste facilities.
“Our vetting process first involves meeting with a grower or processor to determine if our values are aligned – and if The Honeybee Collective’s brand can add value to their operation,” said Erin Parkins, the fourth founder of the company. “We then evaluate potential partners on the quality of their production and whether or not they’re enjoyable to work with. Finally, we negotiate a production and royalty contract to get our products to market.”
Currently a small team of four founders, the collective anticipates hiring salespeople as they grow. They hope to expand into five to seven more states in the coming few years, pushing toward their vision of a more equitable and sustainable future.
As Becker puts it, their “goal is to be the leading sustainable cannabis brand nationwide.”