Bi-coastal cannabis chain Elev8’s secret weapon is its inclusive, scrappy executive team
It may seem like it’s just branding for stoners, but for the team at Elev8, with stores in Oregon and Massachusetts, the motto “Stay Elev8ed” means so much more.
It’s not just about the quality of the store or its product, or even about the customers or the employees, but the industry as a whole and the opportunities it presents.
“‘Stay Elevated’ is having the ability to see your imperfections and continue to elevate and know that you are willing to get 1% more elevated every single day,” says founder and CEO Seun Adedeji. “Our goal is to challenge people, push them, treat people like gold and to really tap into the humanity of people and say, ‘Look, just don’t give up.’”
Elev8 has stores open in Eugene, Oregon, and Athol, Massachusetts, two more Massachusetts shops set to open in early 2022 and recently purchased a cultivation facility in the state as well. The company’s rapid growth and positive, inclusive philosophy has attracted a diverse and scrappy executive team from all across the country, all focused on creating the best experience possible for customers and its 20 employees.
“We want to create an elevated space where you come in and just feel like you’re the only one in the room, and we’re making genuine connections,” says chief operating officer Cassandra Michaud. “It’s not a transactional occurrence in our stores. We really want to have meaningful conversations.”
It’s all worked together to help create a rags-to-riches story that mirrors its founder’s journey from Lagos, Nigeria, to the corporate board room. Elev8 has grown from a single store in Oregon that Adedeji started with $50,000 to a rapidly growing chain and luxury cannabis brand, designed to be a “beacon of hope” for underdogs in the industry and everywhere else.
“The whole premise is to make sure that everyone and everything around you are being elevated,” says Naomi Granger, chief financial officer, citing the company’s vision statement. “We empower individuals to live their best lives, and our mission is to love, awaken, and elevate the human spirit by treating everyone like gold.”
Aside from “Stay Elevated,” the phrase that resonates the most with the Elev8 team is “treat people like gold.” It’s not just part of the company’s vision, but a part of its core value of inclusion and a north star on how the employees interact with each other and the public.
“We want people to come in and feel like they’re family,” says director of operations Pierce Ellison.
It’s a notion that goes back to Adedeji’s youth in Nigeria and his experiences as part of the Nigerian immigrant community outside Chicago, where his family moved when he was 5.
“Nigeria really made me,” he says. “Even though we were poor, we were always happy and that was love. Whether you were white, black or purple, we were not judgmental. We treated you like gold, with respect.”
But growing up poor, Adedeji learned to hustle, raking leaves, shoveling snow, mowing lawns; whatever he could to get ahead. He likes to say he started his first business at 13, selling candy. But Adedeji says he was “the kid who got in trouble a lot” and soon after was arrested for possession of marijuana. He moved to Texas to live with an aunt and says he learned to stay out of trouble and developed his drive to not only build generational wealth for himself and his family, but to help others achieve their dreams as well, something he built into Elev8’s core values — love, inclusion, authenticity, empathy, generosity, growth, ownership and hustle — each one of which he can relate back to his life and experiences.
“We’re not going to let your mistakes define you, and we will not define you by your mistakes because I’ve made mistakes in my life, and I would have hated if people defined me because of that,” Adedeji says. “Because even though I was getting arrested at 13, I was really a good kid, I just did whatever I had to do to survive, to provide for myself at the time with the limited information that I had.”
Adedeji started Elev8 in Oregon at age 23 with just $50,000 to his name. He slept on the floor in the store and did every job, slowly building the store and the brand and learning the value of bringing the right team around you.
When the opportunity arose to get a license in Massachusetts, Adedeji jumped, opening an Elev8 in Athol, the first Black-owned dispensary licensed in the state without going through the social equity program. The company has now grown to 20 employees, with more growth on the horizon.
“I tell people I transition from being the COE — chief of everything — to CEO — chief executive officer — because now I have team members,” he says. “I understand that it doesn’t take one person to drive a company forward. It really takes a community, it takes a village of individuals that you believe in and understanding your strengths, utilizing your strengths and then bringing people along with you that can complement your weaknesses.”
With the vision and values in place, Adedeji began to assemble an executive team that could complement his abilities and take Elev8 to the next level.
The Elev8 executive team. From the top, chief operating officer Cassandra Michaud, CEO Seun Adedeji and chief financial officer Naomi Granger. Not pictured: director of operations Pierce Ellison.
With 3,000 miles separating the company’s two shops, which each have their own state regulations and customer base, the diverse executive team is spread all across the country, but focused on the same goal and embodying the same scrappy resolve as their CEO.
Michaud, the COO, graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in public relations and previously worked in the beauty industry, but had no experience in cannabis prior to joining Elev8. Based in Portland, Oregon, Michaud says she “thrives in chaos” and sees her role, partially, as elevating others who, like her may not have had the cannabis experience, but just need the opportunity to succeed. Finding and hiring those people, she says, has helped Elev8 stand out.
“People don’t just come in for their eighth and leave. They stick around and they’re drawn to our people,” she says.
Granger, based in Las Vegas, is a 15-year accounting vet with cannabis-specific experience. She met Adedeji as part of a conference panel in 2019 and reached out to offer him pro-bono accounting. He eventually persuaded her to join the company full time as the CFO.
“I saw the vision,” Granger says. “We’re trying to build a next-generation brand. So we want to build more than a company. We want it to be like a movement, a brand that speaks to everybody’s individual need for connection and the capacity to elevate themselves.”
Ellison, the director of operations, is based in Massachusetts and works most closely with store managers as part of the “boots on the ground.” He also helps shepherd the new stores through design and compliance as they prepare to open. Prior to joining Elev8, Ellison worked in the cultivation side of the industry but wanted to be on “the people side of it,” which led him to Adedeji, his story and his company, where he started as a budtender. Ellison says the company’s focus on creating relationships instead of just transactions really sets it apart from other businesses and stores.
“I think we’re building something really special in the cannabis industry,” he says, reiterating the company’s devotion to inclusivity. “We want to be a safe space for everyone.”
Elevating the future
As Elev8 continues to expand, Adedeji says the company is actively seeking partnerships in other jurisdictions, particularly in New Jersey, New York and Illinois.
“We got to this point by ourselves, but we want to get connected to a capital partner that really sees our vision,” he says. “And we can show proof of concept, because we’ve got stores open, we’ve got more licenses, and we’ve done this before, but now we want to partner up with the right capital partner that can really help us build as we continue to grow.”
The company is also looking to expand by applying for liquor licenses in Massachusetts with plans to open a beer garden next to its shops to provide a place for the community to gather, even if it’s not with cannabis yet, though Ellison says they hope for that option in the future as well.
“I think it can be a huge thing for us and really help us stand out against the rest,” he says. “We’ll hopefully work with breweries to bring CBD-infused beer and things like that.”
While Michaud says she too is excited about the present, she is always thinking “five years in the future” and sees nothing but possibilities for the idealistic company she helps lead.
“I think what I’m most excited for is what we’re going to do next,” Michaud says. “What blueprint are we going to create together?”
Adedeji is also focused on the future of the company, the industry and the larger goal of helping elevate the communities in which the stores are located through giving back, as well as helping others get into and learn the business.
“We’re just working day in and day out, and it’s not about money for us, it’s more about purpose and working with great individuals and that what really drives me and excites me,” he says.