Profiles in Partnership: Jill St. Thomas of Mad Hatter Coffee & Tea Company
Keeping with the theme of #CannabisWorksForWomen, our second installment of our Profiles in Partnership blog series features a pioneering woman in the cannabis industry; Jill St. Thomas, the president and founder of Mad Hatter Coffee & Tea Company. I first met Jill at The Cannabis Global Economy event in NYC back in February of 2015. This event was a closed-door (no press), invitation only, thought leadership summit; a collaboration of non-profit & for profit organizations to move the global cannabis industry forward. Approximately 150 cannabis entrepreneurs and regulators were in attendance, including: the Directors of Marijuana Policy from Israel, Netherlands, Uruguay & the Colorado Governor’s Office, as well as executives from burgeoning cannabis brands Dixie Elixirs, Apothecanna, Bhang Chocolate, Auntie Delores and Mad Hatter Coffee & Tea. Jill stood out from the crowd, both as a female entrepreneur and because of her trademark, oversized, sparkly spectacles. The event featured moderated panels, intimate roundtable discussions and a “speed dating” exercise in which you could sign up for 15 minute slots to get to know a fellow attendee. Jill was my first date. As an herbalist, I was wooed by her tea and coffee blends, all of which are made with the highest quality ingredients and put together with such thoughtfulness and dedication to health and wellness. Each of Mad Hatter’s tea blends are medicinal in their own right, even without the addition of cannabinoids. They also offer a healthy alternative to smoking and to many of the high sugar, high calorie edibles in the market.
Jill exudes a creative passion and flair, a joyfulness that comes through in her brand. We wanted to bring this joy and playfulness into our dispensaries because it is part of the healing process; it is necessary to find joy in our day to day lives in order for healing to flourish. We signed a contract to license the Mad Hatter Coffee & Tea product line in June of that year and we launched 11 of the blends that December. These products were the first in the Vermont medical cannabis space that offered multiple dose levels for the same product, for example 20mg, 80mg and 160mg (THC) versions of TranquiliTea, so that patients could have both flexibility in potency and consistency in product. Jill traveled to Vermont with her husband Thomas, to train us on how to infuse each of the blends with CO2 extracts that we create using cannabis from our own gardens. It was a great learning experience and the beginning of both a strong professional relationship as well as an enduring friendship.
We are excited to announce that Jill has just released her first novel, A Walk in the Park, A Cannabis Chronicle Thriller, that draws from her experience developing a brand in the dynamic cannabis industry. Copies of the book will be available for browsing at each of our dispensaries by mid March and they will be offered for sale at our flagship Ceres Natural Remedies store in Burlington. One lucky woman who attends our MYMM Women’s Edition on March 19th, will leave with an autographed copy that will be awarded by raffle. We had the opportunity to catch up with Jill recently to ask her a few questions about her cannabis journey….Sip and Circumnavigate! – Bridget Conry
Year MHC&T was created: 2007 in Colorado
Number of employees: 4
Number of state licenses (Medical and Adult Use): We have licensed our products in 7 states.
Number of SKUs: 22 skus for Mad Hatter/ New brands under Mad Hatter Chong’s Choice, Hendrix, Evolve all with multiple SKUs
Top three best sellers: Third Eye Chai, Army Intelligence, SereniTea
Your favorite MHC&T product: God’s Eye Chai, hot or cold – can’t get enough. Love the LongeviTea cocoa mushroom Elixir – it’s the osha that does it for me.
What inspired you to create Mad Hatter Coffee & Tea Co.? What were/are your goals for the company?
Mad Hatter was inspired by our experience as being my mother’s caregiver while she battled stomach and bone cancer at 52. At the time, medical marijuana was not available for her, and yet it was the only product of a long list of pharma drugs she was prescribed that enabled her to combat nausea. Unable to swallow her own digestive saliva, marijuana gave her great comfort at the end of her life. My husband Thomas, co founder of Mad Hatter, is 1 of 10 children in his family, our house is the holiday house. 20 years ago he began infusing coffee, the tonic of his family roots with cannabis at family get togethers for discretion. In 2006 a friend’s son was a caregiver in Colorado, the thought came to us to offer this infused coffee to his patients. That was the beginning.
Our mission was and has always been to offer a healthy alternative to smoking for our patient clientele. By sourcing the finest organic products available and integrating sustainable practices for procuring products, manufacturing, packaging, and overall business choices we believe our approach to the cannabis industry not only creates a compassionate place for humans, but also for the world in which we are a part of.
What have been the major challenges along the way in bringing your goals to life?
Like any pioneering industry, holding the line and staying our course against the majority has been a great challenge. Whether it relates to lack of banking access for funding and/or maintaining financial activities, or your Great Aunt B that calls you a pot dealer at your cousin’s wedding. Holding on to what we believe in has made me a better person, lover, mother and executive.
I also believe that having to streamline our business model in the face of gray laws and certainly in the earlier days the threat of DEA intervention. We learned every aspect of running our business because we had to do it ourselves. Although this was at times overwhelming, it made me a better business owner.
Did you find that being a woman helped or hindered the development of your business?
In 2007 the majority of dispensary owners in Colorado were women, as well as their staff. I found it comforting to speak with so many women, and found myself getting to know my clients personally on the phone, sharing stories when time allotted. It wasn’t until 2 years later that I started appearing at conferences that I was able to meet my female clients in person. I remember it was the Denver High Times Cannabis Cup, our first booth and it was like being with family; it was a wonderful feeling.
I personally have found that being a woman in the cannabis industry has been a positive. Only recently in the past 3 years have I felt a shift, and it’s not necessarily a female/ male shift as much as it seems to be a cultural shift, from Mom and Pop to big biz. This concept is a major instigator in my book. It will be interesting to see what we can learn from one another.
Looking back, would you have done anything differently? Why?
Looking back there are several things I would definitely do differently given the chance today. This comes with experience and the wisdom age and learning curves afford us. The one thing I deem as the most important characteristic to survive and thrive in the cannabis world is flexibility. Staying open to new information, new circumstances and out of the box thinking.
Was there a moment in time when you felt, “we did it, we are going to make it!” What was the turning point?
I have felt that many times! I have also been humbled many times by [the] shoe dropping on the other foot 2 days later! We have had several turning points – Colorado legislating Recreational cannabis was a huge turning point, it meant the light at the end of the tunnel was not just New Jersey. At the time, edibles were less than 10% of the cannabis medical market in CO and there was a lot of competition for heavily dosed inexpensive sugary sweets. Our Organic CO2 extraction infused products had to compete in their price market. We understood at that point that we needed to branch out into other states in order for our brand to succeed. So we licensed our products in CO and focused on opening new markets in 2010. Once CO legislated Recreational retail in 2012 edibles took on 50% of the edible market overnight. It was at that point we knew – This is going to work! Whew!
What words of wisdom can you share with women looking to build a business in the cannabis space?
Create your business model around your life choices, don’t wait for one to create the other. It is still a long haul, we are still seeing between 1 – 2 years after signing a license contract before our products are being made consistently in a market. Enjoy the process, write a book about it – eviscerate the pirates in eternal damnation! This is a nascent industry, there are no rules – other than the obvious. Make it work for you.
What are your thoughts on how Cannabis Works for Women…how would you advise a woman trying cannabis for the first time for health and wellness?
For first time lady cannabis explorers, I like to state the obvious first:
- Start small, 10 mg. Try a little first, wait to see how you feel.
- If you are high strung (like me), try Indica-based products first as they tend to relax us and relieve our stress from being the masters of multi- tasking!
- I personally feel that by naturally lowering my anxiety with cannabis, I become a better mom, with the patience my child deserves.
- Make a list of either conditions physically and or mentally you would like to approach for treatment and talk to your bud tender openly about these goals.
I like to say at Mad Hatter we offer our consumers a healthy alternative to smoking and an opportunity to manifest their own health and wellness. Cannabis is not just a drug, it is an herb that has been used for thousands of years to heal and manifest a life’s journey.
As a cannabis pioneer, what is the funniest/craziest situation you have found yourself in during this wild ride, that is the release of Cannabis from prohibition and the birth of an industry?
In my fictional romantic suspense novel -A Walk in The Park, a cannabis chronicle thriller I share many situations I have experienced in the cannabis industry that people would only think were fiction! You can’t make this stuff up. For the sequel Class 7, I share a story that did actually happen, but of course it is fictionalized into the world of Stephanie Beroe.
You tell me: fact or fiction?
Flying into town to run a week of pop ups for a licensee that was producing our products, I was also going to be picking up about fifty thousand dollars in cash as owed payment for license fees and sales of goods that they were running about 6 months behind on our agreed payment schedule. Since neither of us had bank accounts at the time due to B of A shutting down all of our accounts including our personal accounts, and their bank shutting them down, cash was our only other alternative at the time. Unable to rent a rental car because my bank card had been terminated via B of A as well, I would rely on the wonderful sales staff to run me all over town and handle two pop-ups a day for 3 days as I met their largest dispensary clients.
Now pop-ups are all about sales, immediate sales, you have giveaways and samples (when allowed) with the intent to shift the consumer clientele into such a frenzy they feel compelled to purchase your products right then and there!
I arrived at the glorious stainless steel temple of a commercial kitchen designed just for Mad Hatter and our manufacturing needs, and met all of the wonderful kitchen staff that greeted me with smiles and genuine star dust. It felt good, I felt good, warm all over.
But that warm all over feeling started to smell funny – there were no sample products in stock, not one. How was I going to host 9 pop-ups without product? By rolling up my sleeves and making it, that’s how. Which is what I did with the help of a lovely gal on staff.
Finally packed into a sales rep’s car, we head off to the first location, 1 of 5 stores owned by one the largest companies in the state. The manager is wonderful, she is smart, sweet and happy to have me there. She loves our products, loves the shirt and hat I give her, and there is that warm all over feeling again.
I set up my table and it looks amazing. A Mad Hatter tea party with silver tea pots and cut flowers everywhere and un-infused samples galore to hand out, when the manager comes over to me and whispers “Oh My God! We have no Mad Hatter in stock!”
Really? So I am set up giving out un-infused samples with literally thousands of patients lining up around the block for their patient appreciation discount day and now find they can’t even buy our products?
The sales rep has disappeared, I call the kitchen – tell them the manager wants a HUGE order sent over IMMEDIATELY. No problem the lovely gal tells me, assuring me, it will be alright, someone will be there in 20 minutes. I hang up, and continue to efficiently beam the organization and confidence I am striving to believe in.
Ten minutes later, the kitchen calls – they don’t have any Mad Hatter infused products in stock, an error must have occurred in the inventory tracking system and the online ordering system. What’s worse is they won’t be able to produce any until tomorrow. So I muster on like I haven’t been up since 4 am to catch my flight, and 2 hours later pack up my tea party and head out to the next pop up with my reappearing sales rep.
By the end of 3 days, we have product placed where It needs to go, and I have just turned this state on to Mad Hatter and am feeling like a rock star. I have an appointment to meet the accountant of the licensee at the home office and pick up the cash before heading out to the airport. I arrive and am ushered into the conference room as the sweet dispositioned receptionist asks if I would like anything while I wait and that Jimbo, the accountant, will be right with me, as she is subtly closing the blinds, to the windows that look out to the lobby. She leaves closing the door, something is not right. Always follow your instincts.
I get up from the Camelot inspired behemoth of a conference table and open the door, looking out I see the accountant Jimbo, sneaking out the front door of the building as the receptionist looks on in horror. I say, Whoa whoa whoa, what are you doing?” I ask incredulously, not believing my own eyes. Jimbo turns to face me and pretends he didn’t know I was there. “Don’t move.” I order him as I whip out my phone and call the CEO, who’s office is two doors down.
They reconvene me in the medieval conference room, the CEO, the accountant, and the head of sales – all men. After laying a story about a miscommunication about payment on me, the CEO then goes on to say, you know you are one of the most difficult licensors we have to deal with.
“I will take that as a compliment.” I replied and then went on to say with the coolest calm I could afford, “If my husband were here instead of me, this would have never have happened, you would have never have treated him this way. And one more thing, if you were in my house, I would never have treated you like this.” Then I walked out the door.