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Founder Friday: Destigmatizing an Industry, with Sagely Naturals Co-Founder Kerrigan Behrens

As a #ByWomenForWomen company, we love celebrating brands that are led by fellow female founders. Our new series, Founder Friday, is a chance to get to know some of these standout women, including our very own Heidi Zak!

Aches and pains. Sore joints. Stress-induced headaches. We’ve been there, waiting for an over-the-counter pain reliever to kick in and help alleviate our symptoms. When that wasn’t enough for Kerrigan Behrens, one of her friends suggested she try CBD. CBD is one of the active ingredients in the hemp plant and has been long regarded as a safe alternative to Western medication for pain, stress, and other everyday ailments. She had felt better than she had in years, and knew there was an opportunity to destigmatize the product while helping people live better lives. So, she founded Sagely Naturals in 2015. We caught up with this pioneer to learn more about her groundbreaking company.

Why did you start your company?

The first time I tried CBD, it literally changed my life. I have been dealing with chronic back pain for years and a friend recommended that I try it to help to alleviate the pain. Someone gave me some CBD to try and about an hour after I used it, my back felt better than I could remember in years. I also felt a lot more calm! In that moment, I really felt like CBD had the potential to change a lot of peoples’ lives for the better.

The mission for Sagely was born very early on out of a desire to create products that bring the familiar, everyday form of objects we use in our daily lives into the cannabis industry. After all, the majority of Americans aren’t comfortable getting high and the beauty of CBD is that it has all of these incredible health benefits with no psychoactive effects.

Tell us about yourself.

Nearly a decade before founding Sagely, I began my professional journey at Duke University. Following graduation, I worked on Wall Street at UBS Securities from 2008 until 2013, handling hedge fund prime brokerage sales, capital introduction, and the alignment of West Coast investors and hedge funds. Drawing on a lifelong passion for food, I transitioned to the restaurant industry, spearheading marketing initiatives for brands spanning Wolfgang Puck and Taco Bell.

What’s something most people might not assume about you at first glance?

It’s not a way I would have described myself until recently but someone called me a “destigmatizer” recently and it really rang true as something I never knew I strive to be. I believe cannabis is the next stigma that needs to be broken and I believe the time is now. While I love Bob Marley’s music, putting his face on pre-rolled joints only serves to reinforce the stereotypes people have about who is actually using cannabis products. Kaley and I revel in the way we stand out in this industry. There are very few brands out there made to appeal to women and make them feel safe. That’s what Kaley and I set out to do when we created Sagely.

When and where are you happiest?

I’ve loved cooking for people since I was a kid (I would literally hold dinner parties with my friends and their parents when I was a sophomore in high school!) because I love to eat but more so because I love providing people with a moment of happiness and indulgence. Cooking for people makes them feel cared for.

What are the advantages or benefits of being a founder that many people may not realize or know about?

Being able to actualize your vision is so powerful. Especially when that vision involves helping people in a fundamental way. I can’t imagine a better motivator than that!

Why is it important to understand both the challenges and benefits of being a founder?

Before I started the business, I thought being my own boss would afford me this incredible flexibility. What I didn’t realize is that I’m actually my own worst boss! While I can make a doctor’s appointment whenever I need to, I actually feel more pressure than ever to be on all the time. In the last three years, I’ve probably taken three weeks of actual vacation (i.e. not looking at my emails) and it took so much resolve during those weeks to stop working!

Do you think founders should take time to reflect on the pros, even if they're constantly putting out fires?

My co-founder and I talk all the time about how we need to pause to really celebrate wins. It’s a little cheesy but we have a small gong in our office and we encourage our employees to ring it every time they have a win. Now the two of us just need to work on ringing it ourselves! I think it’s a lot easier as founders to celebrate the wins of your employees than it is to celebrate your own wins.

Thinking about your time as an entrepreneur, what do you believe is one of the most challenging hurdles women entrepreneurs have to overcome?

My co-founder and I started with the definition of a bootstrapped startup. We self-funded the business with our savings, didn’t take a salary and didn’t hire our first employee for two years. While I’m incredibly proud of the progress we made during that time, I wish we had raised money and started hiring sooner. We were set on having this incredible growth story that we could show to investors. We felt like the business needed to be a certain size before we were comfortable asking for investment. What I realize now is that we could have accelerated our growth even more early on if we had outside investment and more help. It reminds me of this article I read about how many women won’t apply to jobs in which there are requirements that they don’t fulfill, whereas men will apply even if they only fulfill something like half the requirements. As women, I think we’re tempted to default to wanting to have the perfect answer before we act but being an entrepreneur is all about embracing the fact that you always have incomplete information and don’t know what to do.

What are your favorite ways to practice self-care?

Any kind of high impact workouts still irritate my lower back pain, so I’ve had to find practices of self-care that don’t require me to go to the gym or studio. There are three things I focus on--sleep, my diet, and acupuncture. My biggest priority is getting at least eight hours of sleep every night. It seems impractical but ever since I made this a priority, I’ve noticed my energy levels are better, I get sick less often, and I’m in a better mood. Although I love to indulge over the weekends, my weeknight meals are all home cooked with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and very little red meat. Burgers are my favorite food but I find that once I’ve indulged over the weekend, I’m looking forward to my healthy weeknight meals. Finally, I go to an acupuncturist once a week. While I’m resting, I do a stress relief meditation. I treasure this time during the week when I’m not allowed to look at my phone and instead focus on the present moment.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Entrepreneurship is the commandeering of resources you don’t own. This was a concept I learned in an entrepreneurship class at UCLA Anderson, where I went to business school. Before starting Sagely, I worked at really large companies — UBS and Taco Bell. The resources there were so robust! But starting a company means you have virtually no resources. Even though we’ve grown quite a bit since we started the business in 2015, we still constantly have to think of people we don’t employ or resources we don’t own that might be able to help us solve a problem or grow. Your ability to influence these people and resources is critical to your startup’s success.

What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?

I am humbled and bowled over every time someone stops us or sends us an email or calls us to tell them how the products have changed their lives. My first reaction is always “wow, did we really create that product?” Kaley and I aren’t scientists so when we were formulating our first product, we relied heavily on the expertise of a Ph.D. chemist to ensure that the product would work. But of course, we still had doubts! Like “What if this doesn’t help people?” so to hear these types of stories that people tell us about the effects our products have had on their lives reaffirms my purpose to help people feel better.

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