Female Founders: Erin Gore of Garden Society On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
It is a hard lonely road, and there are many biases in the world for why women founded businesses won’t succeed. If you need to get your confidence from someone else, it will be hard to be a founder. Don’t be afraid to take risks, to dream bigger, to ask for that introduction to a potential partner, or to ask for that check from that investor.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Gore.
Erin Gore is founder and CEO of Garden Society, a California wine country cannabis company crafting high quality, low dose artisanal confections and sun-grown pre-rolls. Erin is an active member of the Northern California cannabis community and has been recognized by Forbes as a powerful and innovative woman in cannabis.She’s a fearless advocate for women-owned cannabis businesses, and equally dedicated to breaking the stigma and rewriting the script around the plant.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
After I received my degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering, I went to work for Henkel, a German CPG company for over a decade. My career path at Henkle was exciting, however it was as stressful as it was steep. During this time, I leaned on cannabis to help me manage my chronic pain from college basketball injuries, and then to help me manage my stress from a demanding job. I was also struggling with fertility like so many women in the same stage of life. After starting to really understand the benefits of cannabis within my own life, I planned a “high holiday” baking party and invited some friends, mostly women, who were struggling with the same issues of work-life balance. Some were new to marijuana, and up for experimenting. All of us shared similar struggles with juggling the expectations of ourselves as modern women. This was a fun and safe space, and an opportunity to learn, connect, and find joy on an intimate level when we realized that none of us were alone in our struggles.
As I kept turning back to cannabis, I realized there weren’t really any products for me in the market — It was at that point that I started Garden Society out of self need. In 2015, I started tincturing and creating the type of products aimed at bringing myself and my friends joy in our daily life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I have a cannabis company — every day in my life is interesting! We’re building a business and an industry at the same time! One of the more interesting parts of this journey has been fundraising. I would assume most people out there know the stats around women raising money — Only 2% of all funding goes to women. As a female founded cannabis company, our investor pool is even more limited due to the federal status of cannabis. The biggest lesson I have learned, and honestly continue to learn, is to trust my instinct. My instinct has usually been spot on every time. If someone seems too good to be true, they are. If someone seems worth the fight, they are. If an investor gives bad energy, stay away. It’s reaffirming to have found investors who believe in our vision and the potential that we have as leaders to build a world class business. It’s about falling off and continuing to get back on the bike, and at the end of the day, I am grateful to have found those investors to help fund us to build our dream.
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?
As I first began to build Garden Society, before it was even launched, I was networking with industry veterans in the Emerald Triangle (a region in Northern California, named for being the largest cannabis-producing region in the U.S.) for research. I booked a meeting with a fellow to whom I had been introduced, and set about on my way to the address provided. I ended up on a lot in what was essentially the middle of nowhere, wondering where I had made a wrong turn. Just as I was preparing to get back on the road, an RV pulled up. THAT was my meeting. I quickly learned this was the reality of the earliest phases of the cannabis industry and in some cases it continues that way even today.
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 about that?
Garden Society Co-Founder Karli Warner and I have worked very hard to identify mentors and advisers to help us build businesses. We once heard that every founder needs a pillow and a mirror. This can be your co-founder, but this can also be your adviser. As we were hitting challenges in fundraising, and being accused by men of not being authentic enough since we didn’t have any female investors, we decided to intentionally build an incredible slate of female angel investors. We know first hand how incredibly powerful women allies can be, and set out to build this intentionally with Garden Society. Heather Molloy, Wendy Berger, Carm Lyman, and Janna Meyrowitz Turner plus so many others are some of our key advisors on this slate. We now have so many women who have invested in us and advise us, which has resulted in support in day-to-day, key introductions to partners, advantageous expansion opportunities, our lead investor for our Series A, key hires, and helping build impactful programs and initiatives within the company.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I think there are two main reasons more women don’t launch companies. Its lack of time and lack of capital. Especially through the pandemic, it has become obvious women bore the burden of managing their children, their home responsibilities, their community responsibilities and their career. Competing priorities makes it very difficult for women to find the time to found new companies. In addition, I have found women are much less comfortable talking about big ideas and being confident in their vision. This is usually from lack of confidence with financials and fundraising. Through the many peer-to-peer mentor groups I participate in and through my own personal journey, it’s become clear that one of the reasons women fail to bring a great product to market is simply because they don’t know how to raise the capital. As I dug in for years to learn the ropes of fundraising and how to find the right investors, I have since made it my mission to help create more investible women and more women investing — if we can help share wisdom to accelerate the rate of the women in cannabis succeeding, it’s not only going to accelerate Garden Society, but also women businesses in cannabis as a whole.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
As individuals, the most important thing we can do is support the businesses and founders we want to see thrive with our dollars. Shop women owned, black owned, intentionally. Choose to do business with those who share your values, not corporations that drive your values out the door. As leaders and society, we need to be away from bias in funding and programs that prevent women from being able to access capital. This can include policies at banks, SBA programs, and private funding. I would challenge every investor to ensure that 50% of their potential deals are from women and 30% of their deals are from women of color.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Building a business has been an incredible challenge but the most rewarding way I could ever imagine spending time away from my family. I love building products that people enjoy and find relief with, but more importantly, I love building a company that provides quality jobs to my team members and empowering our staff to reach potentials they never thought possible. I couldn’t do what I do without my cofounder and business partner Karli Warner.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
The main myth I want to dispel is that it’s not all glamour and press! I think the media does an incredible job glamorizing entrepreneur life. It is harder than you could ever imagine and I wasn’t prepared for the amount of grit that would be required to keep pushing through the roadblocks and barriers that would come up (and keep coming!). Also, it’s VERY hard to take a vacation and literally not work. It’s more about just finding balance and time to unplug.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
I don’t think everyone should be an entrepreneur, and that’s OK! I had the ability to be an entrepreneur because I have the privilege of my husband having a steady corporate job with great benefits. In addition to just your personal financial position, I think it takes specific skills to be a successful founder. More than anything, you have to have the ability to find belief in yourself in even the darkest hours and the grit to push through the mountains of tedious tasks and non-enjoyable chores that will be required of you to grow your business. It’s rare to go from founding to millions in funding. Usually it takes years of hard work to get there, and this is the time when you really need to have the mental muscle to push through and see the vision.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Self Confidence — It is a hard lonely road, and there are many biases in the world for why women founded businesses won’t succeed. If you need to get your confidence from someone else, it will be hard to be a founder. Don’t be afraid to take risks, to dream bigger, to ask for that introduction to a potential partner, or to ask for that check from that investor.
- Grit — The road is long and bumpy and you need to be able to physically and mentally grind through it.
- Self Awareness — My co-founder Karli and I have an incredible relationship because we work to be very self aware of ourselves and each other. We also understand our strengths and weaknesses as individuals and combine as a team and work hard to utilize each other’s strengths and respect our lanes for each other. This also is relevant for how to start your business by thinking about your strengths and who you need around you to build the business.
- Champions — I meet many women who won’t share their business idea because it’s not ready, it’s confidential, etc… I talk about Garden Society with anyone who will listen at any time. I do this because I’m proud, but also because I’ve learned that the more champions we can have for our success, the more we will succeed! These champions will help extend your payment terms when times are tough because they believe in you, they will introduce you to their network of investors, they will write you checks, they will help you find deals, they will show up for you when you need it most. We are blessed to have incredible champions as other women and men who believe in our vision.
- Integrity — Your values will be tested again and again. Having integrity to come back to is what you can anchor on in all the hard decisions you will have to make as a founder launching your business. There are so many hard decisions like how much equity to give early employees, how to terminate team members, how to deal with bad partners. Confidence in your integrity and values will give you peace in the hard decisions.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I try to pay it forward through mentoring other women founders in cannabis and bringing together different peer groups of women to be a connector, whether that’s women investors, founders, or operators. I also am on the board of our local Healthcare district to ensure equitable access to healthcare and bilingual mental health services in our local community. Finally I believe in empowering our team with skills to reach higher levels of their professional growth. I’m proud that our team is 82% POC, 68% women, with many first generation americans.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to inspire more consumer consciousness around cannabis purchases. We’re at such a unique and fragile opportunity, where consumers can directly impact the success of cannabis businesses. I would love to activate consumers to purchase based on values (of course the quality must be good!). Do you support women owned companies? Do you support companies that have a philanthropic purpose to veterans, lgbtq, or compassion programs? Do you support equity brands to enable the communities most impacted by the war on drugs to realize success with regulation? None of this will happen without consumers’ intentional awareness. With the flow of capital into the market, it’s getting much harder for small brands and businesses to thrive. Consumers can change that by demanding that retailers have products and businesses that align to the values they want to support.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to smoke a Garden Society hash infused Rosette with Rihanna and have a long lunch with Bozoma Saint John. These women are so incredibly fierce, confident, and have incredible lessons to share.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.