Startup Stories – I Heart Jane <3 CEO Socrates Rosenfeld
We took a look inside the mind and vision of Socrates, CEO of Jane Technologies, the company behind the cannabis e-commerce site I Heart Jane. We talked leadership, challenges of cannabis business, and the importance of sustainable and socially responsible business practices.
Because, one day we’ll all look back on cannabis business startup stories, and say “remember when…?”
Socrates! Thank you so much for joining us to tell your story and the startup story of Jane Technologies and I Heart Jane. We want to get an understanding of what your company does, and get an understanding of who you are—the man leading the mission. Then we’ll look at how those two things, your company and you, go together to create a successful cannabis venture.
Socrates: Sounds like a plan, brother.
Starting with your company, what is your company’s goal or mission?
Socrates: Jane Technologies, is a tech company, largely founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) alumni.
Our mission is to build powerful retail technology to help shoppers find exactly what they’re looking for while helping brick-and-mortar sellers easily sell online what they do in their local communities.
In the context of cannabis, what we’ve built is the first and fastest online marketplace. iHeartJane.com allows consumers in the space to shop for their cannabis with the same level of simplicity, the same level of sophistication as they shop for just about everything else in this world. And on the flip side of that, we provide a fully automated, very easy to use, fully integrated ecommerce solution for local brick-and-mortar stores. That allows them to sell any product sitting on their store shelves, to online to consumers in the local area, looking to shop for those products.
Wow. How did you decide to create this platform?
Socrates: It originally came from my own personal need. I was a medical cannabis patient who found himself in Silicon Valley, the land of technology. I could get a stranger to pick me up in the early morning and drop me off at the airport with Uber or Lyft. Any Thai food or Mexican food in my area and could be delivered to my doorstep anytime I wanted with Grubhub.
I could find any movie, any track, any retail item on Netflix or Spotify or Amazon. When it comes to getting my medicine, when it comes to getting cannabis, it almost seems like the inverse of that. It wasn’t easily accessible. We said, “Let’s fix that problem.” We want to make the best ecommerce experience happen here in the cannabis industry.
Now that you have set out to create the best e-commerce experience in cannabis, what about your company are you most proud of?
Socrates: The team.
Great answer. Why are you proud of the team?
Socrates: I come from the military and know that militaries tend to do challenging stuff, and the only reason any of it gets done is because of the people.We are a small company in this industry. It is tempting, and you see it a lot in the industry, to go after that short-term dollar, rather than invest in the vision of the product, or really in the vision of this industry.
Every single member of our (I Heart Jane) team is here, not to make a short-term dollar, but to revolutionize the way ecommerce is done and move this industry forward in the right direction.
Really cool. What about your team are you most proud of?
Socrates: It boils down to three things.
First, discipline. The discipline to hold ourselves accountable to not just create a “good enough” product. We see it time and time again in this industry. People say, “Ah it’s good enough for the cannabis industry.” NO, we hold ourselves accountable and say, “It’s good enough for any industry, in fact it’s the best there is and it’s here in the cannabis industry.”
Second, consistency. To stay focused on the mission. Everything we build, everything we sell, everything we do is geared towards providing a more beautiful shopping experience for the consumers and for the dispensaries as well. Day in, day out whether that’s how we interact with our end-users, how we interact with our dispensary partners, and most importantly how we interact with ourselves; we pride ourselves on consistent production and championship output.
Third, love. I know this might sound a little cliché but it’s true. Everybody here loves something about this industry. Whether it’s the patients, the plant, the product, or the fact that small businesses are trying to make a name for themselves. There’s an element of love here and it comes through in our product and service.
Love doesn’t sound cliche at all. the platform is ‘i♥Jane’ after all. Tell me, why are discipline, consistency and love important to you and your team?
Socrates: We think there should be no consumer feeling left out of this industry. We feel it is our responsibility to:
- Figure out creative ways through technology to connect this medicine to those who need it most—and in a way that’s curated, personalized, safe, simple and straight forward, just like shopping online for just about everything else.
- Provide a tool, whereby consumers can educate themselves on this very quickly moving market.
This market does move extremely quickly. A dispensary carrying someone’s favorite strain one day may sell out the next and then have no plans to have it in stock for the next few months! You said you want people to have a tool to educate themselves. In what sense are you referring to education?
Socrates: Education on ‘which’ products can do ‘what’ for you. For example, I have veteran friends who have never consumed cannabis. They’ll say, “Hey I need help getting to sleep,” or “I need help with pain.” We have over 70,000 products on iHeartJane, and our search function’s algorithmic mapping tool allows you to type “sleep” or “pain” or “CBD only” or “anti-inflammatory” or even “gluten free”—anything. Consumers can find the products which serve their exact needs. That is what I mean when I say “cannabis education.”
That’s awesome, education is incredibly important. We have covered a good basis of the company. Now I’d like to focus on you as a leader. First, WHO are you?
Socrates: Who am I? That’s a very interesting question, I have never been asked that question in an interview.
I am someone who is very curious. I’m curious about this product, how it can help people. About how we’ve been operating for the past 30 years under this environment where you have to go to Amazon to buy what you want and it’s killing small local businesses. I’m curious if there’s a better way about that. So, yes, I’d say one thing I am is curious.
I have an absolute obsession with fear, because I feel like we operate in an industry where fear is a consistent theme. When I was an early consumer, out of the military, a student at MIT, a West Pointer; I was afraid to take a step in the dark and say, “I consume cannabis.” Once I faced my fear and was open to the truth, beautiful things started to happen. Other people started to raise their hand and say, “Hey, I’m a veteran too, and I consume cannabis and it really helps me too.”
That was a huge lesson for me. It taught me to never be afraid to do what I believe is right in pursuit of the truth.
Lastly, I really love to help people. Whether that’s leading employees to achieve their full potential, or standing up in front of a group and raising my hand as a representative of the veteran population that appreciates and loves this plant. Or, leading an organization like Jane Technologies, to be the standard bearers in this industry.
Those are three main tenants that make me who I am.
So, you are a guy who is extremely curious. One thing you’re curious about is fear. When you experience fear and do what you’re afraid to do anyways, then you end up with love and creating community. You’ve done this through iHeartJane, through Jane Technologies, as a veteran, and as someone who really likes to help.
Socrates: I’ll take that. That’s about right.
I think it was some powerful stuff. Now that we have some understanding of WHO you are, what are your top three values in life currently?
Socrates: Number one, Absolute commitment. Just absolute, absolute commitment. What I mean by that is my team and I, we are absolutely committed to Jane Technologies and what it can do—and what it is doing.
Absolute commitment is important. Because it’s too hard to start your own company in the cannabis industry for you to have one foot in and one foot out.
My team and I are committed to the end.
The second thing I would say in terms of values is integrity. I hold myself accountable. Once you lose the trust of others, you’ve kind of lost everything and it’s very hard to get that back.
The third value, is courage. Courage to continue to explore, to remain curious, to understand when I need to refine and improve myself. Courage to have the ability to say, “Hey, everybody’s telling me that this is impossible, but I have the courage and the passion to at least pursue it as far as I can take it, and let’s see what happens.” Every time I’ve done that in my life, it has paid off, and I’ve grown in ways I couldn’t have originally imagined.
You’re getting me fired up over here! That was powerful stuff. If there was one skill that you could have developed five years ago had you known that you would want it now, what skill would that be?
Socrates: These are really good questions. That’s a tough one. I’m a big believer in process, I don’t know if I would have done anything differently even if I could have. I think you can make the argument that five years ago I was more of a military style leader. What I’ve learned since then is the ability to lead the process—to lead my peers. I’m no longer “Captain Rosenfeld” who has authority over everyone by the US Government. Since leaving the military I have had to earn the trust, respect, and ability for my peers and my fellow employees to work with me towards this vision.
Without going through the process of getting there, I don’t think I would have grown into the leader I am now, and I’m grateful for the whole process. Sometimes you look back and you’re like, “Man, that would have been really awesome to have X, Y, or Z.” But, if I already had that skill five years ago I wouldn’t be who I am today. I like who I am today.
I’m embracing the process all the way through. I haven’t had this much fun in a long time and a large part of that is learning my own leadership style outside the Army. I’m grateful for it.
Yes, gratitude is key. This next one I’m really looking forward to asking you specifically. How would you define the word ‘respect’ and what role do you think it plays in leadership, if any?
Socrates: Whew, how would I define the word ‘respect’? Respect is the earned ability to have others truly listen to what you have to say and take action on what you have to say. And I can’t over emphasize that respect is earned.
Have you ever heard of the phrase, “Lead from the front”?
Yes, I have heard that.
Socrates: That’s it. That’s what was taught to me in the Army:
To lead well, is to earn the respect of those around you. And the way you do that is you don’t ask anybody to do anything you, yourself, haven’t done before or aren’t willing to do alongside them.
That lesson has stuck with me from the beginning, and that’s how I try to lead here at Jane Technologies. I respect my employees enough to earn their respect. And do that by working as hard as they do, day in and day out. I respect our dispensary partners enough to provide them a product that is best in class and done with the upmost integrity and honesty. I respect the plant enough and this industry enough and the industry’s consumers enough not to chase small-time, short-term value, but instead invest in a long-term sustainable solution.
In your time with the company, whether on a companywide level or on a personal level, what has been your single greatest challenge as a leader?
Socrates: Every challenge is an opportunity. For us it has been to do something no one else has done. I know every entrepreneur says that, but that’s really the truth. Sometimes people say to me, “You’re kinda like the Amazon of cannabis.” It would be very easy for us to build our business to look a lot like Amazon, right?
Yes. And by the way, there are a good number of companies in the cannabis industry that are striving for that; striving to say, “We are the Starbucks of the cannabis industry.”
Socrates: Exactly. Amazon has the blueprint. We could have said, “Cool. Amazon makes a lot of money, let’s go and basically do the same thing.” That is NOT what we do.
We see the challenge to be original as an opportunity.
Amazon has done an unbelievable job doing some great things. But the byproduct of Amazon has been the downfall of small businesses. And now they’re buying grocery stores, opening up their own department stores, and want to take over everything! For us, we don’t really think that’s the best way, it’s just a way.
Here in the cannabis industry, where there is no Amazon, we have the opportunity to build out an online marketplace supported by small businesses.
You probably shop on Amazon, right?
Because I know they have every product I might want, I’ll find exactly what I’m looking for, can base my decision off reviews, and I can search using metadata. Plus, they deliver to my door in two days saving me a trip to possibly many stores.
Socrates: Well what if you could do all that: find all your products, compare by prices, search using metadata, and read reviews? Except the products aren’t sitting in a warehouse 2,000 miles away, being onboarded onto a plane by a robot. They’re sitting on a store shelf somewhere local to you. Our grand vision at Jane Technologies and with I Heart Jane is to enable small businesses to connect with their local consumer base. Accomplishing that is our biggest challenge and it is what we work towards every day.
What do you think is the most important thing to keep in mind when facing such challenges?
Socrates: You must love something about what you are doing and why you are facing that challenge. Some people love the team they’re working on, or love the vision they’re working toward, or love the plant.
Some people love money, fine, that’s okay. If you don’t have the passion and the love driving you—you’re going to give up along the way. Eventually you’ll take the easy way out.
I had this time when I just loved my fellow Army guys, my unit. We did some very challenging, scary things. But when you have love there, you can pretty much do anything.
To any young entrepreneur or CEO, or some person with an idea, the way you don’t stop is, you love it.
The second thing, to keep in mind is the word iterate. Constant refinement and iteration of the process. You can’t build it in a day. It takes many days of being as disciplined and as consistent as possible in your craft to build toward a very challenging vision.
When we run into a really big problem, we cut it up into tiny little pieces and start solving one tiny piece at a time.
Socrates: Some people call it the grind, others call it work, we call it the process, the craft. If you can love that, you will move mountains, and you will make the impossible, possible.
Wow, Socrates, that was wonderful. Any final thoughts you would like to touch on?
Socrates: Yes. One thing I’d really like to highlight is that we have an opportunity in the cannabis industry, as a whole … I’m talking to consumers, retailers, other tech players in the space, cultivators, lawmakers; to learn from other industries things we might want to do better. Let’s have tactical patience, thoughtfulness, and foresight. Let’s say, “What can we do now to make sure this next great American industry is done right?”
Do we want to really create a zero-sum game where there’s online versus offline? Because we know how that’s going to work out. Just look at any other industry and see what online business has done to offline business. Let’s use this as an opportunity to make those two worlds marry. Let’s use online technology to power your offline local shopping experience. That for us, is paramount.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to make things better for future generations. We can prove it here in the cannabis industry.”
Let’s continue to make the cannabis industry one where if you do good, treat customers right, treat employees right, etc., you’re going to do well here. That’s what we want to preserve for as long as we possibly can.
If we can prove to the rest of the world that you can do business this way, the right way, perhaps an even better way than the way people have been doing it; what does that mean for other industries for years to come?
That idea is exciting for us, and I’m glad we can be on this side of the history books. Thanks for your time. I Appreciate it.
It was genuinely nice talking with you. Keep in touch as you and the company continue to progress with your vision for the cannabis industry. Have a great week.
Socrates: Take care.