Nancy Whiteman might sound quite similar to the fictional pot dealer Nancy Botwin from HBO’s “Weeds,” but she is an actual 60-year-old woman who sells more legal marijuana edibles than anyone else in Colorado. Some may believe her life could be similar to the fictional character, meth maker Walter White from “Breaking Bad,” however, Whiteman met with CNBC Make It to discuss and share that her life “isn’t nearly as exciting.”
“I’m always joking with people that I really have to come up with a better back story,” she laughs. Unlike the two fictional TV characters, Botwin and White, Whiteman does not interfere poorly with the law, although the U.S. federal government may believe otherwise.
Nancy Whiteman in the co-founder and CEO of Wana Brands, a manufacturer of cannabis-infused edibles, which is based in Boulder, Colorado. Fun fact: Wana is actually short for “marijuana.” The company specializes in gummies and no, the candies do not look like gummy bears or worms – that is actually illegal in Colorado due to it being “too appealing to kids.”
Wana candies are shaped in either small squares or circles and are dusted in sugar. The product is vegan and according to the CNBC Make It reporter, “delicious.”
“Unlike many other people who I admire and respect in this industry, I didn’t come to the industry from an advocacy background,” Whiteman says. “I really was mostly intrigued with it as a business opportunity.”
Nancy Whiteman began her career with an MBA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and spent years as the vice president of marketing for a large financial services company in the Northeast. Whiteman moved to Colorado nearly 20 years ago, where she ran her own marketing consultancy company. Then, when the state began legalizing cannabis, she joined the marijuana industry.
“I like to say I went from the most traditional industry to the least traditional industry,” Whiteman says. “I wanted to make something, I wanted a business where I could build value, and it didn’t depend on me,” she says. “I also love to cook.”
They gathered around $50,000 to $60,000 to form Wana Brands. “We bootstrapped it ourselves.” Although making pot brownies has been around forever, the edibles market in 2010 wasn’t huge in Colorado yet. Whiteman estimates that cannabis-infused treats only made up about 10 to 15 percent of a dispensary’s sales.
“When we first started the company, and I would walk into dispensaries and talk to people, ‘Oh, we’re starting a new line of edibles,'” Whiteman says, “and people would practically be yawning in my face. They could [not] care less.”Times in the edibles market were tight for Whiteman. “We had many payrolls where we were writing personal checks to cover the payroll.”
Then, things began to change in 2014 when legalization of recreational marijuana emerged in Colorado, meaning pot was no longer legal for only medicinal purposes. Anyone over the age of 21 could now purchase marijuana products for any reason. Edible began to become vastly popular, especially with people who didn’t want to particularly smoke cannabis. Edibles also became a discreet way to consume marijuana, as it is illegal to use weed publicly. “You can eat a gummy and nobody knows you’re consuming cannabis,” Whiteman says.
Sales skyrocketed, from around $100,000 the first year to $14.5 million in 2017, according to Whiteman. The company is on track to top $16 million, making Wana the most successful edibles manufacturer in the state. Wana’s recreational sales are roughly three to four times higher than compared to its medical products.
“We didn’t spend any money initially on market research,” she says. “My market research was making things, putting it out in the marketplace and seeing what the market liked and didn’t like.” She continued, “I know there would be lots of people that would say, ‘Sit down and put together a business plan, and plan it all out for five years.'” Nancy Whiteman believes in a new industry, that’s a waste of time. “I’m more of a ‘one step forward’ philosophy. Try it. See what happens.”