COMMUNITY//May 20, 2021
Stacy Verbiest of WINK CBD:
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Stacy.
Stacy is a native Californian credited with developing WINK, the first CBD company created for women. After searching for medicinal cannabis for a friend with cancer, she found a void in the marketplace of non-intoxicating cannabis products that ease the mental, emotional, and physical side-effects of female-specific conditions. WINK was established in 2015, offering skincare and wellness products to fill this void.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thank you for including me in this series! So, I grew up in a very humble home in Palos Verdes, California. My parents had money but hid that from me and my siblings. I graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in communications and journalism, and one day after college, my dad asked me to look at an accounting ledger he had been working on. I looked at him and asked if there was an extra zero added to the balance. He chuckled and said, “No, honey, that is from all my hard work.” I was raised by an entrepreneur who built his business from the ground up with little help, and he has inspired me every step of the way. He grew up as a Great Depression child in 1935, and his family was dramatically affected. He created his own success and taught me how to do that at a very young age.
I graduated from USC early and went on to work with a New York fashion designer. One thing led to another, and I opened my own fashion business that I owned for 18 years. With four kids in tow, I retired. I was exhausted.
Retirement didn’t last long, because a true entrepreneur can’t sit still. A friend had called me and asked if I wanted to meet her at a football game and tailgate in the parking lot. I showed up with a collection of handmade tailgate accessories that I had made at home for fun occasions like this, and people seemed to really love them. I soon launched a company called the College Artisan, with over 90 universities involved, offering a collection of personalized tailgating accessories.
Then, about 6 years ago, a best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. She inspired me to create my company WINK, a CBD brand designed for women, by women. The first of its kind, WINK is now my sole focus. I am committed to helping women manage their pain. So many of my friends have suffered from breast cancer, and through WINK, I get to give back to them and help so many women heal with the therapeutic benefits of CBD.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Well, I went into a California dispensary for my first time, looking for medicinal marijuana for women, and I picked up on a very masculine vibe. I asked one of the employees, a ‘bud-tender,’ about what he would recommend to women with cancer, and he laughed. He had no clue how to answer my question, or what products to recommend. This moment made me realize that it was my time to enter the cannabis arena and create something for women. The learning curve was absolutely tremendous because I came from a place of zero-knowledge. It’s been an incredible journey.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I was 100% born an entrepreneur. I come from a lineage of entrepreneurs. When I was five years old, my dad took me to work. He owned his own business, selling construction materials and home appliances. I walked up and down the aisles of his warehouse, eyes wide open, looking at all the merchandise. I started dreaming of selling my own merchandise and running my own company from this age on.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
My dad has helped me with my businesses every step of the way. But there’s one woman that inspired WINK, and that’s a best friend Jackie. Jackie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. I’ll probably talk about her more throughout the interview, but when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she struggled to find cannabis products created for women in pain. She made me aware of this massive void in the market that neglects women, so I started making cannabis products out of my kitchen to help her heal, and WINK was soon born.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
WINK is the first for-women, by-women cannabis company, established in 2015. Because we’re the first, we’re at an advantage that enables us to build strong brand recognition and customer loyalty.
When Jackie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, she was self-medicating with THC for anxiety and pain management. She had a hard time running her family and putting on all the different hats that moms do while going through chemo while medicating with THC and feeling drowsy and fatigued all the time. So, I started searching for cannabis products that did not have intoxicating effects. When I was introduced to the hemp plant, a species of cannabis which contains cannabidiol (CBD), a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, I started my company WINK. At the time, I found women were not vocal about their cannabis use. We’ve come a long way since then, but there seemed to be more of a stigma against women who used cannabis. I wanted to create discretion surrounding cannabis for therapeutic use. The term “wink” indicates a secret; WINK, as our company name, would be a secret kept amongst women using cannabis. Our brand is all about solidarity.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Hmm. Perseverance, future-mindedness, and creativity are the most instrumental character traits to my success.
Regarding perseverance, I have always had the ability to push an idea forward, despite facing many challenges — the biggest challenge I have always faced is achieving immediate success. I taught myself to keep moving forward and to forget about the pace. Success is inevitable if I keep moving forward, and there is no set finish line.
When I first introduced the idea of creating a for-women, by-women cannabis company to colleagues, not one single person supported my idea. The culture was different then. There was little discussion about the needs of women. But I persevered, and I strongly believed in my concept even though others didn’t.
One year later, Whoopi Goldberg and her partner Maya started a female-based cannabis company creating products for women. Despite having my first competitor, I knew they would empower women to explore the benefits of cannabis alongside me. Six months later in October 2017, the #MeToo movement gained new standings nationally. Women were finally given a platform, and they began to vocalize their use of cannabis to fight pain.
I persevered through the disproval from men and women as I got started with WINK, and I’m happy I did because the times have changed before our eyes. Women show up for women, in their companies, and in their lives, like never before.
Being future-focused, I have the gift of creating niche companies, first to market, that meet customer demands. Through leadership and building the right teams, I have been successful in driving results and growing my companies. A big part of being future-focused with my company WINK is product development. I continually identify the needs of women by developing new products not currently offered by competitors. Product development and intellectual property are crucial to avoid becoming a commodity.
In 2015 when I entered my first dispensary in search of medicinal cannabis for my friend suffering from breast cancer, the experience was not what I expected. I felt a very masculine vibe on many levels. All of the employees were male. The packaging for various brands was in dark colors with sketches of skulls and crossbones. Brand names included words such as “boys,” “stud,” “brothers,” “man,” and “stoner.” It was clear that these products were more catered to men. When I asked one of the employees what they had for women with cancer, he laughed and said, “I’ve got THC oil that’s 85 percent in potency.” That was hardly what I was looking for. I realized the majority of cannabis users were recreational users, and I needed to create a brand for women looking for medicinal and therapeutic benefits. Being future-focused helped me start my brand, knowing there was a huge gap in the cannabis market for women, and it has kept me present ever since.
Above all, creativity is my most prized trait. As I mentioned before, product development is key to keeping my business current and ahead of competitors. I always build on an idea or concept and see it through to market release and beyond. My creative skills start with the development of a product, then manufacturing, packaging, marketing, promoting, and selling that product.
To date, the best thing I’ve ever done in business was learning how to create vector-based graphics, how to design logos, how to edit images, and how to create a product website. In the past with my previous companies, I paid thousands and thousands of dollars to outside parties that created content for me. Learning how to create and grow WINK on my own, with my own designs, saved me time and money, allowing me to grow at a much faster pace. I have my creativity to thank for that.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
In 2016, I met with an investment team, and as much as they wanted to be a part of my business and loved the concept and story, they advised me to grow it organically and maintain full control. In retrospect, I think if I had taken on investors, my outreach to women would be much grander, and I would be helping so many more women, which has always been my goal.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
The best tip I can give colleagues to keep employees happy is to let your employees know they are instrumental to your business. I do this by working alongside my employees, listening to their ideas, implementing their ideas, asking for their advice and opinions, and giving them more and more responsibility. I then reward my employees with vacation days or bonuses.
My dad is also a businessman. He gave me some amazing advice — never be better than anyone. If your bathroom at work needs cleaning, get on your hands and knees and clean it yourself.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
To build trust with your customers, you must create relationships and show that you are a trusting person and that you sincerely care about them. Focus on customer service and always put your customer first.
To build credibility with your customers, you must have integrity and develop products and services that deliver and meet your customer’s expectations. Test your products and services, and use testimonials to gain trust. Show you are committed to your customer’s experience and outcome.
To manage authority, you must gain respect. If your customer trusts you and you deliver products and services that meet their expectations, you will be in a position to grow your relationship with that customer and present new product and service opportunities.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
One word — COMPETITORS. It is likely your business is against many others that operate in the same industry, make similar products, offer similar services, and target the same customers. The consumer today has many options and will shop around until their needs are met. If you deliver superior service and create brand loyalty, you will gain customer trust and loyalty.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The most common mistake I have seen founders of start-ups make is being underfunded. Credit cards get maxed out, bank accounts are drained, and loans are depleted. Then they start scrambling trying to find money to operate, and they lose sight of what’s important — customers, marketing, PR, social media, and SEO campaigns are all needed to grow a business. Other mistakes include poor concepts, bad business locations, bringing on friends and family without experience, not being able to delegate, and not researching the market they are entering.
My number one recommendation is to devise a thorough business plan and follow it. It should include everything from the concept to products, location, employees, marketing, PR, finances, SEO, social media, future growth, competitors, sales strategy, market analysis, and goals.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Lets now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
I can say the highs are high and the lows are low. Oftentimes, it’s the lows that are out of your control. No matter how successful you are, a business can take a turn for the worse. I have experience building a brand, growing sales, achieving success, all the highs. I have also experienced negative newspaper articles, bad customer reviews, unpaid accounts going bankrupt, employee theft, workplace accidents, new government restrictions, new state laws, a pandemic, and personal family and friend issues. It can take just one bad day of lows for business to drop significantly. The only thing I can say is that it happens to all businesses. It’s about how you react and reinvent yourself that will make or break your business. It’s not easy starting over, but you have the tools to do it.
It’s different from someone with a “regular job” because employees can often go home and leave a job behind. They will never be as invested in a company as an owner. For me, it takes great discipline to switch from business mode to family mode, but I make it happen, or else I would be working 14 hours a day (which I have done many, many times, and it’s tough creating that balance). There is so much unattended work at all times, and I feel the need to constantly catch up, but then I realize as long as my company is in good standing, my family is more important, and they are my priority.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Absolutely. I will never forget the time I was invited to participate in a lounge event at the Academy Awards. I set up a beautiful display of our entire WINK collection, with tons of samples to hand out. We received tremendous press coverage, and everyone loved our product. This was in the earlier stages of WINK when WINK was new. Having a female-based company was well-received and respected by all. It was a night I will never forget. Recognition goes a long way and creates a strong “high” as an entrepreneur.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Of course. When COVID hit in March of 2020, I was in major stores like Bloomingdale’s, PacSun, Urban Outfitters, and hundreds of spas, pharmacies, wellness stores, whole food stores, and boutiques nationwide. This division of business completely ended with the shutdown, and I was devastated. We lost major retailers right at the start of COVID, and it forever changed WINK.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
I had two choices. Either close down the company or ramp up my E-commerce division. Of course, I went with the latter. I seriously watched about 100 hours of YouTube videos on growing web sales, building a customer base, implementing SEO, growing social media, and connecting sales with as many channels as possible. I didn’t sleep for a week and worked around the clock (my kids gave me the thumbs up to go full business mode). E-commerce is now my primary business, and I love it. I get to work directly with my customers, educate them one-on-one about CBD and women’s wellness, and continue to create incredible products. I have never been this hands-on with my customers, and I couldn’t be happier.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
The five things I need to successfully ride the highs and lows are self-care, the ability to shift, vulnerability, fiscal responsibility, and support groups.
Self-care for me reduces stress and helps maintain a positive attitude. Whether it is taking a bath, or going on a long walk, I will only be my best self if I take care of myself first.
I defined myself in life as a mother and wife. When I went through a long and emotional divorce with my ex-husband, ‘wife’ was no longer. I had to redefine myself after years of knowing my identity. I realized through an emotional intelligence program that revolved around group therapy that I was worthy. I had been lacking self-care. Focusing more on myself has allowed me to ride the highs of life.
When something is not going as planned, I have learned to shift fast and cut my losses. I always figure out a way to make adjustments and keep growing.
With COVID and businesses shutting down, I found myself at an all-time low wondering how I would go on. I then realized only a portion of my business was suffering, and it was time to let it go and put my focus on my E-commerce division. This division is growing rapidly, and it’s bringing me so much joy.
I have also learned that vulnerability is a big part of life. Women telling truths about uncomfortable situations brings us together in a special way. I tell business owners ‘tell your story.’ Women relate to each other and help each other by telling our stories and opening up about our lives and our pain.
When I went through my divorce, I suffered from major anxiety and sadness. I had turned to CBD more than ever, utilizing my own products to ease my anxiety. I am now more vulnerable with my customers, opening up to them about the use of my products for my own conditions, and I am able to share my experiences directly. So many of us suffer from anxiety on a daily basis. Women coming together, through vulnerability, sheds light on the lows.
It’s also very important to be on top of your money at all times and practice fiscal responsibility. Whether that’s coding expenses in a finance program, running profit and loss statements, paying bills, or collecting receivables, know where you stand at all times. Keep your finances intact, and always cut spending where needed.
After years of manually entering in everything pertaining to my finances, which took forever and was a dreadful process, I finally switched to an online program. This has alleviated so much stress by saving me time. I always have access to anything I need to know about my business and my spending.
A support group is a must-have in business. Whether it’s family, friends, networking groups, colleagues, or employees, it is important to have open communication and listen to what others have to say and offer.
I did a five-weekend course with a group of 50 on emotional intelligence a couple of years ago. This group has become a major source of support for me due to our strong basis of trust. We are one big family that gets together from time to time and shares our highs and lows. They keep me grounded in my personal and business life, and I ultimately cannot stress the importance of support groups and systems.
So, yeah, those are my 5 tips to ride the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience to me is having the ability to keep moving forward. When I get knocked down, I get up and keep moving forward. It’s all about having the ability to shift, holding your head up high, and being proud of what you are creating.
I think the most important trait of a resilient person is the ability to bounce back from a setback. Other traits include maintaining a positive attitude, preparing for hard work, taking thought-out risks, and communicating effectively.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
I grew up in a household where my dad worked while my mom stayed home to raise the children, both products of the Depression due to their lack of opportunities. I learned early on that if I wanted something in life, I was on my own. From participating in sports in high school to getting myself into college, I created my own path. I started washing cars at 12 years old for money and worked retail jobs all through college, graduating in 3.5 years with honors. I started my first business at 24 years old and have owned 6 companies in my lifetime. My life experiences, combined with not being coddled by my parents, created a tremendous work ethic and a drive to live life to its fullest.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
I think with age and experience I have learned to shift when I hit challenges in order to maintain a positive attitude. I used to let lows affect all areas of my life, often bringing negative energy into my personal life. It wasn’t benefitting anyone, so I decided to be proactive and find solutions to difficult situations instead of wasting energy on things I could not control. My favorite mantra is ‘you can find an excuse or you can find a way. Entrepreneurs always find a way!
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
First and foremost, you have to believe in what you have created. I do not consider myself a salesperson, but I know I can sell my products with ease. I have a great passion for what I have created, and I believe in the results my products create; I just love what I do. This positive energy and my upbeat attitude get my employees excited about what we are doing. By creating content, testimonials, product awareness, and education surrounding my products, customers love the brand. They love what we are doing to help women. They love and trust a for-women, by-women company. They love the free gifts we supply with each order and the marketing materials I include. We have a 40% monthly return customer rate, so we know our customers are benefitting from our products, and it all goes back to having a positive attitude.
A positive attitude goes a long way and often opens new doors. I have two customers who suffer from the same female condition called interstitial cystitis, a chronic condition causing bladder pressure, bladder pain, and sometimes pelvic pain. The pain ranges from mild discomfort to severe pain. Sadly, both of my customers suffer from severe pain. I introduced the two of them to each other so they could share WINK remedies. Staying positive and upbeat has been instrumental to me because the three of us work together monthly to find solutions for pain management. I involve my employees in this process so they can be a part of creating new products for these women, giving them a great sense of productivity.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Being a person of great faith, my favorite quote is by Maya Angelou — “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
The reason I love this quote so much is because to forgive is to let go and release any negative feelings you have been harboring in order to move on.
Behind many women is a story of heartbreak or trauma, and we as women fight through it in the pursuit of greatness. A story relating to Maya’s quote that hits near and dear to my heart was my marriage of 26 years ending abruptly. I have 4 amazing children that I love so deeply, and I was married to my best friend; life was good. One afternoon my second oldest son sat me down and said he had something to tell me. He started off apologizing for not telling me earlier and that he didn’t want to be the one to break up our family because I was so happy. My heart sank. My life flashed before my eyes. I thought I was going to faint or get sick. What could this child of mine be holding onto?
He told me that my husband had been cheating on me for years, and he had proof. I just stared blankly at him. My marriage was over, and my life was over. My husband had been living a double life.
I filed for divorce immediately. My ex-husband took advantage of my kindness and no longer deserved me. I was done. I slowly started to heal and went through several emotions. It was a slow and painful process. I cried for an entire year before deciding that I must move on. I channeled my tremendous self-worth and decided that he doesn’t get to have my energy anymore.
And I knew the biggest part of moving on would be forgiving him. Maya Angelou’s quote had never been clearer.
I learned that forgiving is a choice, and it’s a choice we have to make every day. I carry this quote with me everywhere I go. In order to achieve greatness as an entrepreneur, one must actively forgive.
How can our readers further follow you online?
You can find us on Instagram @loveatfirstwink and at wink-wink.com. We post blog posts about CBD wellness and women’s needs each month on our website, so stay tuned!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you for this amazing opportunity, and I’m wishing you the same!
— Published on May 20, 2021AUTHORITY MAGAZINE