After nearly three years of planning, building and laying the groundwork, Reginald Stanfield and his JustinCredible Cultivations team have finally reached the end of the startup stage and are ready to begin their journey as an active, revenue-generating piece of Massachusetts’ booming cannabis industry.
The company has gone up and down every obstacle possible to get to this point, finally licensed and ready to begin selling cannabis, and has come out more unified during the challenging process, says Stanfield, the company’s CEO and head horticulturalist.
Beyond getting the operation up and running, he says he’s even prouder of the fact that he didn’t have one person who started the journey with him quit along the way.
“That’s the biggest accomplishment,” he says. “When one door was closed, we opened another door. If I told you some of the challenges we went through, it wouldn’t even sound like I was being honest. It’s just a powerful thing to go through all this and not have anybody give up on me. It makes me, on those dark days, not give up on myself.”
Stanfield says there was a moment, brief but tangible, that almost broke the team’s spirit. It was the day the state of Massachusetts shut down the cannabis industry as a precautionary measure in the spring of 2020, during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak — the same day JustinCredible was set to have its final inspection.
While other states deemed cannabis to be an essential industry, allowing producers and retailers to keep doing business, Massachusetts went the opposite direction, halting adult-use operations at a particularly fragile point for many companies that had endured the Bay State’s chaotically slow licensing rollout. Companies that had finally started to bring in revenue were stopped in their tracks. Businesses awaiting licenses were put on indefinite hold.
For four days leading up to the shutdown, all seven members of the JustinCredible team, including two people that normally work off-site, were frantically making last-minute repairs and changes to the grow facility in the tiny rural town of Cummington. They were patching walls, painting, cleaning, installing the last pieces of cultivation equipment.
“People barely slept,” Stanfield says, “and I’m not talking about getting four hours of sleep as barely sleeping.”
He says team members would take a break for a bite to eat and pass out for half an hour, then return to the grueling task of getting ready for the inspection — and they did that for four days straight. On the morning of the inspection, they were fraught with nervousness and sleep deprivation, but buoyed by the hope that they’d be able to move on to the next phase in their journey.
“I remember getting the call from the licensing people saying, hey, we hate to tell you this, but we’re going to have to postpone your inspection,” Stanfield says.
If there was going to be a breaking point, that was the moment. To work so hard, under so much pressure, with so much on the line.
“I saw people cry that I’ve never seen cry before,” Stanfield says.
But in that moment when people could have panicked or given in to despair, Stanfield noticed a renewed sense of resolve. He knew within a few moments that the company was going to push forward.
“That moment would have broken anybody else,” he says. “That’s when I looked at my team and thought, we might not be perfect — there might be more organized people out there, and some people might be more experienced — but in this moment right here, a lot of other people would have left.”
Three months later, when the lockdown was lifted, the team regrouped and began another countdown to inspection. Stanfield says he remembers thinking there were still “85,000 different deficiencies” with the facility he’d built, but the company finally received its final license in August, becoming the first minority-owned business to successfully complete the state’s general application procedure (Pure Oasis, the state’s Black-owned cannabis business, was a social equity applicant).
JustinCredible is coming online at a crucial stage in the Massachusetts cannabis industry’s growth. Despite the lockdown affecting almost all of Q2, the state surpassed $600 million in cannabis retail sales in 2020. And demand continues to outstrip supply, as wholesale cannabis prices range from $3,000 a pound up to more than $5,000, Stanfield says.
“Once you can grow and you have enough cash to make it through your harvest, at this point, in this market, you’re on a golden goose,” he says.
To get the company up and running, Stanfield raised $1.3 million — much of it from family and friends — and stretched each dollar as far as he could to have a Tier 1 cultivation facility with 5,000 square feet of canopy. Although he says the build-out could have easily cost $30 million, he did it for a fraction of that by doing most of the construction himself. He did his own architectural layout, then sent it to an architect, rather than paying a contractor. He worked with a skeleton crew of committed partners who were all investors of either time, money or both.
This isn’t the first time Stanfield has started a business. The serial entrepreneur launched four businesses before setting his sights on the cannabis industry — but as somebody who has grown accustomed to pushing his body and mind past their limits, building JustinCredible taught him a valuable lesson: business isn’t more important than life.
In 2019, Stanfield suffered a severe asthma attack that almost killed him. Stress, he says, was a likely culprit. Fortunately, it happened at his parents’ house in Maryland and his parents were home. His heart stopped as soon as he made it to the emergency room. A doctor later told him another two minutes and he would have been dead. As it was, he spent two or three days on life support.
“I woke up in the hospital and I knew I was here for a bigger purpose,” he says. “Going through an experience like I went though, it puts the world in a new perspective.”
Stanfield describes himself as a minimalistic person. He says it’s not possessions or money that motivates him in business, but the prospect of creating wealth and opportunities for his family and the people around him.
But hospitalized and recovering from the trauma, he reevaluated the prototypical entrepreneur’s lifestyle — the image of the workaholic, grinding around the clock — and came away with a more grounded, realistic outlook. He says it’s a lesson for other entrepreneurs as well: “Don’t stay up all the time. Don’t work 48 hours a day. Enjoy your family. Don’t miss out on family reunions. It’s okay to miss a business event every now and then.”
And none of that would be possible, he says, without having an incredible supporting cast around him. It’s the people who handle the day-to-day work, the people who allow Stanfield to be creative and innovative, to be messy at times and run around with new ideas.
“I tell my team all the time, ‘All I am is a captain with a vision; you guys are the ones doing the work,’” he says. “Without people who can do the things that aren’t glamorous — the things you don’t want to hear in an interview — there is no me.”