Women are a driving force in the legal cannabis industry. They’re raising awareness about the medical benefits of the plant as well as creating consumer products and services. Enter Ebony Costain, CEO and founder of Ujamaa Box who saw an opportunity on the tech side of the industry. She and her co-founder Jameson Bennett are the founders of MY THC Guide, a bot that provides users with cannabis resources. Here Ebony discusses the bots purpose and why the time is now to break into the cannabis industry.
What is the intention of MY THC Guide and what audience do you serve?
My THC Guide is an up to date resource that brings the user personalized cannabis news, stocks, laws, medical card info, and events discreetly through messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype and others.
We serve advocates, those interested in investing into the world’s fastest growing industry, and those who want to learn more about the plant in general.
Cannabis regulation and legislation is happening rapidly on a state and local level, but there’s still a long federal road ahead. Jeff Sessions negative views on cannabis may slow down progress for federal legalization, but the undeniable tax revenue and newly formed Congressional Cannabis Caucus can help get serious federal legislation pushed through. It could also help build a stronger case on using cannabis to combat the current opioid epidemic that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was recently appointed to fight.
We want to keep our users informed and deliver content that will help them navigate the vast and rapidly changing landscape of cannabis.
What were you doing before founding MY THC Guide, and how did you pivot into the cannabis industry?
I recently celebrated my one year anniversary of full time entrepreneurship that was made possible through a monthly subscription business I founded in 2014 while juggling a full-time job, two-hour commute, and motherhood. Having this new flexibility allowed me the opportunity to explore other business opportunities and after learning that Black Enterprise was including a panel around the cannabis industry called “The Green Rush” at their 2016 Entrepreneurship Summit, I knew then that it was something I wanted to know more about. After exploring the space with my cofounder we found there was a huge technology void in the industry and from a risk standpoint a technology based business wouldn’t be as risky as a dispensary or some other business that involved touching the plant.
How is being a CEO of a cannabis brand different or similar to your work at Ujamaa Box?
I founded and still run Ujamaa Box as a solopreneur so having a cofounder and additional team support has been a huge welcoming difference. However, the concept of awareness, advocacy and community play a big part in both roles. Also through Ujamaa Box I learned firsthand the importance of partnerships and I’m learning in this industry that the ability to forge trusting relationships is one of the most important things you can do to become successful.
Tell us about your co-founder and how you’re building your team?
I met Jameson Bennett while a guest on the Karen Hunter Show on SiriusXM, a show that he produces. Having experience with building tech startups Party of Lincoln and CEWEBITY.com and being from West Louisville Ky., a state that carries a 5 to 10-year felony charge for growing 5 plants or more, he’s making sure he’s a part of the legalization movement.
We’re building a team that brings experience and insight from their respective fields and tailoring it to the cannabis industry. Having the ability to act quickly in this ever-changing legalization landscape is very important so having a team who is equally excited about the progress that is happening and can move quickly is important.
Technology is a driving force in the cannabis industry, how do you plan to keep MY THC Guide relevant?
I think the cannabis industry is slightly behind in utilizing technology. As more people enter the space with technology solutions those needs will be met over the next few years. But we’re hoping to capitalize and harness on the vast amount of information that exists now, and make it easier to digest and navigate.
What have been some of the exciting aspects of building the bot? What do you know now, that you didn’t?
Trying to humanize artificial intelligence and designing a chatbot that is intuitive to use when it’s such a new platform has been a journey. We’re lucky to have people in the tech industry like Vivian Rosenthal, whose company delivers SMS messaging marketing solutions for brands wanting to connect with millennials, as part of our board helping us design and deliver a strong product. Initially we were building out our bot using a very advanced form of A.I and Vivian stepped in and gave us a better alternative. Taking the village approach to this project and maximizing our resources is what’s going to take us far with development.
Any learning curves, if so how did you overcome them?
I think learning curves are inevitable when dealing with anything in tech. And then working with artificial intelligence through an unfamiliar platform (chatbots) while designing the best user experience can be tricky to navigate. But through trial and error and great coaching you overcome it.
Advice to others wanting to get into the industry?
Think beyond dispensary ownership. The opportunities are extremely vast and the industry is somewhat in its infancy. But the time to invest is now because three years from now the playing field will be much more challenging. Attend conferences and join cannabis related networking groups. You can find more information on My THC Guide.
What’s your favorite aspect of the bot? Is it the news, event listing, advocacy information or something else?
It’s the overall innovation and resourcefulness of My THC Guide that gets me excited. There’s no app to download, no multiple browsers to open to find information, the chatbot delivers personalized information in a discreet single location.
Where do you see the brand in the next 5 years?
We’re working on some added features that will add depth to the bot and will take it beyond a resource tool and include investing capabilities. Also, the great thing about technology is that you’re not limited by geography so we have our sights set internationally as well.