Today we’d like to introduce you to Donnell Jackson.
Donnell, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Before I ever thought of becoming a business owner or founding non-profits, I was just a kid from Texas that loved sports. I’ve gotten the opportunity to live and work in eight states across the country but most recently lived around Lake Tahoe then moved to Phoenix in late 2016. But I was born in Dallas and spent most of my youth in Texas. I’ve worked in retail, restaurants, government, non-profits, financial sector, and in hospitality. I have a great variety of experience that in turn set me up for my current companies and non-profits that I have founded today.
I’ve had a very interesting life, I would say. Way too much to dig into here but it’s had its ups and downs as most do. But for the quick version; grew up in Texas, moved away for college on a soccer scholarship and been on the move since then. I realized when I was young that people get stuck in a situation or get conditioned and I knew I didn’t want that for myself. I felt if I ever got comfortable staying in the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) area that my growth would be restricted. Getting out of your comfort zone with no support system anywhere you went was a challenge but one I always approached with confidence. I needed to know what else was out here.
At a point, I was homeless about a year; due to a series of events, some in, some out of my control. Which caused me to live out of my car for six months of and a variety of temporary living situation in between. It was a rough year of instability for me; one I vowed to never repeat. I pulled myself out of that rut and initially worked in the non-profit sector for about a year with a youth program designed to assist “at-risk youth” with getting an education, finding employment, or just difficult life situations that I even I had personally experienced. Soon after that, I landed in the financial world as a Financial Adviser. I never thought about how weird it was from going to being homeless to the next career of suggesting to people how to properly protect and invest their money. Especially when I didn’t even have half the money any of my clients did. The financial sector was profitable but I didn’t really enjoy it much. That was the first time I actually started to believe the money doesn’t buy happiness mantra… but let’s be honest, it definitely helps. I moved to hospitality soon after; which is where most of my traveling across the country occurred. I opened hotels and restaurants across the US and it was probably one of my the best benefits to the job. Being single with no kids, gave me freedom to move and hop from place to place with no limitations. However, the hours of a corporation such as the one I was in are just brutal and draining if you’re not in a great situation.
I got fed up corporate life and knew it was time to make a change. Which began with the founding of Black Cannabis Culture, a non-profit focused on educating minorities about the benefits of cannabis, history with the “War on Drugs”, and how to enter the cannabis industry as a business, primarily as an ancillary company. I’ve gotten to help with some cool business dealings, ideas, and gotten the opportunity to promote cannabis to a community that has been persecuted and lied to for years.
I also began working in dispensaries and cultivation to understand the internal workings of the cannabis industry during this time. I knew the underground market but dealing with a legal market is was a new concept that I felt was important to learn. After quickly moving up, I realized I was falling into a similar corporate culture that I had previously left and I refused to be apart of again. I then put my focus on opening a cannabis-friendly coffee shop here in Arizona since we have nothing like it.
During this time, my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis which had recently taken a family member away from us less than a year previous. When that moment hit, it caused me to start digging deep into the CBD side of the cannabis plant. Being a devout Christian and the lack of education about cannabis in the south, she had her reservation about taking any cannabis product and she was not open to many forms and I knew she was against “getting high”. This sparked the thought of presenting it to her in a form of something that she was used to consuming daily and wouldn’t have to adjust a regime. After months of R&D (and a few near fire situations) I found the blend of CBD and coffee to the product we have today.
As far as the coffee shop, I want it to be more than a coffee shop for consumption; but also offers a space providing education to help erase the negative stigma and provide factual knowledge. Another major proponent we want to focus on is being a supportive part of the community and small businesses as well by offering meeting and event space at a reasonable cost. The fees with some of these events are staggering and almost impossible for small businesses.
This industry is quickly becoming suffocated with corporate entities. I want to create an environment where the dollar is not the bottom line, and we can help the communities that need support to thrive.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I’ll just say, it’s been a process. As with many small businesses, I didn’t start with a lot of money but working multiple jobs along with running my business full time has kept it afloat. Growing up in a lower-income household I didn’t have a trust fund or saving waiting for me so my business journey has always been squarely on my shoulders. My primary focus has to always be my business and how to continue to grow it. I had a corporate job that provided financial comfort and benefits; but it was destroying me mentally which spills over to the physical. I could have tried to save more before I started my business but my mental happiness was, and is, more important than worrying about a financial struggle. Being financially broke is easier to recover from then being mentally broken.
As much as we like to feel that we live in a country of equality, the fact is, being a black male has some disadvantages in attempting to build a business. With the added value of being in a heavily dominate the white male industry, you’re gonna have a few extra tasks to get in the door. Not that I’ve ever let any of these be an excuse; I’m still here grinding everyday.
But the fact is, we are less likely to get business loans than most other groups and I’ve experienced it firsthand. I’ve had great conversation over the phone with potential lenders and investors, but when they meet in person; the interest changes afterward. And they can no longer pursue the opportunity for one reason or another. Or on the other side when I have gotten to the contract phase it’s been an predatory offer that I wouldn’t even realistically consider.
When I was visiting dispensaries, smoke shops, etc.; I had an owner of a CBD store lock the door on me when I stopped by. He was standing outside his store with another man, I pulled up and waved as I was parking. They walked inside as I was getting out of the car and locked the door. It was just funny to me cause I said in my head that I wouldn’t be surprised if he locked when I saw them go in the store. It not like I was hard selling; I was just giving away coffee and spreading the word. I didn’t even carry price sheets on me then, I was literally just giving away coffee. But as well all know, not everyone is going to be respected and some people might just be disrespectful. But hey, that’s how life goes, you run into shitty people sometimes.
Navigating the legal side of things has been tricky as well. We are still currently in the development stages of the CBD and cannabis legalization, so the ever-changing laws have, and will continue, to be something we have to quickly adjust to in our industry. It makes it even more difficult when you add the fact that we are a coffee shop that also has to balance laws dealing with food & beverage as well.
The biggest lesson every entrepreneur will quickly find out is everybody’s there for you, it isn’t there for you. I’ve made some deals and partnerships that in hindsight, I should have passed on. But it’s those errors that bring about a distinctive growth. It’s a learning experience that the entrepreneur has and will feel. You say you won’t, you’ve read and seen it all. FOOLS!
Challenges are gonna happen and will continue to occur. I have a business that has a solid plan, no true competition in Arizona, and an obvious need; but can’t quite find the type of financial backing; and it got frustrating for a bit. Don’t get me wrong, It’s great to continue to hear that you have such a great idea but it’s bittersweet when you don’t have to capital to make it what it should be. But if I gotta continue to work two part-time jobs on top of running my business, so be it. Working hard has never been a problem and I will continue to do so until I get the shop opened.
I’ll be putting out my crowdfunding campaign out soon and see if we can get some community support.
Best believe this shit is happening though! Everything will come together real soon; it’s taking longer than I wanted to, but I promise you… we coming!
We’d love to hear more about your business.
The Coughee Company is a CBD and cannabis-friendly coffee shop. We are similar to your traditional coffee shop when it comes to having standard coffee, teas, pastries; however, you have the option of having your purchases CBD infused if you so choose. What sets us apart for almost all coffee shops is not only do we have CBD options, but we infuse our coffee beans during the roasting process. It’s not an after additive that creates an oily layer on your coffee or alters the taste as most CBD oils do.
We are known for our CBD infused coffee. We produce Colombian, South American Blend, and Ethiopian infused coffees. Our coffee was created so you have a high quality, great-tasting coffee with the additional health benefits but it never alters the taste. Unless you told someone our coffee was CBD infused; they would never know.
Our stand-alone coffee shop (when built) will be eco-friendly and have space for cannabis consumption. It will be two levels built from shipping containers. Something no coffee shop in Arizona has to offer is the option to services the public and the cannabis community.
I mentioned Black Cannabis Culture (BCC), a non-profit focused on educating minorities about the benefits of cannabis, history with the “War on Drugs”, and how to enter the cannabis industry as a business, primarily as an ancillary company. I’ve gotten to help with some cool business dealings, ideas, and gotten the opportunity to promote cannabis to a community that has been lied to for years. I got tired of seeing all these millions (now billions) of dollars from cannabis sales flowing through America which one major problem. The people who are getting to reap the benefits are not the same people who have been persecuted for it. While the industry continues to be dominated by whites who refuse to acknowledge the injustice through this country and industry their needed to be a way for minorities to connect and gain the information they lack and find ways to get into the industry. One of my other non-profits.
In-Root, I began with my co-founder, Zhara Negrete, essentially promotes the same concept of Black Cannabis Culture but it’s for focused for all minorities that experience this continued cultural bias. BCC is open to all people, but we created In-Root so no minority group feels that they are left out. We have some great plans coming up this year and plan to be very active in representing minorities to make our place within this cannabis industry. Many minorities have been to these so-called “cannabis community events” but for the most part, you’re treated like an outsider if you’re not in the right group. It’ls like high school cliques all over again. So, we decided we’ll just build the support needed for people of color. This year will be a great year of prosperous endeavors for us.
What were you like growing up?
Growing up in Texas, I was heavy into sports. If it was a sport offered in Texas, I probably played at least one season. As a kid my interest was being outside all day, every day; no matter the weather. Sports year-round was how I kept out of trouble I guess most would say. I was good at sports so that was my particular interest and focus.
I was shorter than most kids until around 8th / 9th grade. My family would call me a little bully but I was more a protector. I wasn’t necessarily picked on but people use to try to test me more than most. It usually didn’t end up well for them, but I’ll leave that at that.
I was a bit of the class clown. But it was more out of boredom. I was pretty good on the academic side so I was persistently making jokes and talking when I shouldn’t have been; mostly because school came easy to me. I was different in that, I didn’t hang around any particular groups or cliques in school. I was a popular kid who wasn’t popular. I talked and knew people from all of the groups; jocks, freaks, geeks, goths, drama kids; I was cool with everybody. I wouldn’t call myself a loner but I definitely stayed to myself but was social at the same time. I volunteered to help Special Education in them in junior high and high school which was one of my favorite memories. I had the same core of friends since literally either 6th grade or earlier; I usually just refer them as the family. And I didn’t even hang out with them as often as I should. I started working before most kids and from there with school and sports didn’t leave much time for kicking it often. I worked so much I even had a class in my junior and senior years that allowed me to have half days at school to go to work. And I got school credit for it! I thought that was the greatest thing in the world up to that point. I’ve always been a workaholic so that took precedent. I never wanted to have to ask anyone for anything. My mom was a reason behind most of that drive to be independent.
Home life wasn’t perfect but you can imagine how difficult it was to be a single mother of three. My mom did a great job despite all the setbacks we encountered growing up. I saw how hard my mom worked for us so to ease some of the burdens on her I started working at the young age of 11 and never really stopped since. Like a lot of kids of single parents; all I wanted to do is stop seeing my mom struggle. It was amazing cause she did everything in her power to try to make sure we were happy and didn’t know we were struggling. I didn’t realize it as much then but I still knew. I pretty much started paying for most things in life myself at 16 years old. I didn’t have much time for the party life in my teens and early 20’s but then again I wasn’t interested. I didn’t have my first drink or smoke marihuana until I was 21 or very close to it. Even though I had consistently around it since the age of 12. I guess you can say I had a strong will and work ethic from a young age. I definitely saw and experienced some things that most kids don’t and/or shouldn’t go through. It wasn’t the life of participation trophies and sensitivity to every little situation that you see today. But it all helped me be the person I am today.