“I Find It Exciting and Effective to Empower the Team to Move Forward on Their Own, Allowing Autonomy and Letting Each Individual Carve Their Own Path.” with Gabe Kennedy, Hudson Gaines-Ross and Len Giancola
"The most impactful ideas that I have assumed as a young leader is to lead from the back, like a shepherd. I find it exciting and effective to empower the team to move forward on their own, allowing autonomy and letting each individual carve their own path. My role is to support and keep us pointed in the right direction."
I had the pleasure of interviewing Gabe Kennedy and Hudson Gaines-Ross. Gabe is a wellness-minded chef, hospitality consultant, and entrepreneur. Born in Colorado in a household of healers, he began his culinary career as a teenager working in local restaurants, eventually expanding to some of NYC’s premier dining establishments. Gabe went on to win Anthony Bourdain’s cooking competition The Taste on ABC and became the Visiting Executive Chef of Bon Appetit Magazine. Hudson is a New York based serial entrepreneur, having started multiple brands in the CPG and e-commerce industries. A graduate of Brown University, Hudson is a co-founder of RISE, a rapidly growing nitro cold brew coffee company and the founder of CROSBY, a branding and business strategy firm, which has worked with notable clients like Chobani, Adidas, Prose, Playboy, and Ritual. Prior to these ventures, Hudson served as a founding team member and COO at ALOHA, a venture-backed eCommerce CPG wellness brand. Gabe and Hudson, both still feeling the impact of previous intensive spinal surgeries and absorbed by demanding jobs, looked for natural remedies instead of resorting to traditional pharmaceuticals to help with pain and stress. While Gabe and Hudson had tried CBD over the years, it wasn’t until they combined CBD with powerful herbal ingredients that they knew they had discovered healing products for people in need of pain-relieving, stress-reducing solutions. That’s when Plant People was born.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Gabe: It was a roller coaster of personal injuries, and finding solutions through alternative medicine, herbalism and cannabis. I grew up in Boulder, Colorado — my parents are in alternative medicine, so I have always been surrounded by healing modalities. At a young age I fractured my back ski racing and found so much help with alternative solutions. Throughout my life, I couldn’t stay away from the idea of creating a business that has true impact on people and the planet. I’m so grateful that one day Hudson and I went on a hike and discovered this shared story of recovery and a mission of healing people through the power of plant.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Gabe: The most interesting story for me is the personal evolution of assuming responsibility as a “real” business owner. Plant People is my first legit venture of my own. I am fortunate, but this was simply a little pet project that turned into a business, almost over night. I went through a period of time where I was facing some intense anxiety, which I had never experienced before. The newfound responsibility made me revisit my habits and shift my lifestyle — I decided to regiment with our Be Calm capsules and dive into meditation again, and my life changed back to the cool, calm, collected self I always knew.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Hudson: We’re a very agile company and we make decisions quickly, as long as whatever the decision we make is aligned with our values, mission, and overall on-brand guidelines. Unfortunately, we approved our designer’s sell sheet (for selling products into client locations) very quickly. After we received ~2,000 sheets from the printer, we hit the streets with them. It was the first time we had sell sheets — we felt real and legit. We dropped them off at a client, left the meeting with high fives, and then shortly after, the client called us to tell us we had misspelled “Plant People”. It was so embarrassing, but all we could do was laugh about it!
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Gabe: We are always working on exciting projects, partnerships, innovations, products and events. We are finding ways to go deeper into the tenants of our brand, which include research for efficacy, advocacy for social justice, and an equitable industry. I’m very excited about a new dinner series we’re working on where we explore one ingredient for the entire CBD-infused meal. I love creating community and joy around the table, while also expressing myself through culinary arts.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Hudson: My first boss, Crystal Caligiuri at Gilt Groupe, got me on the right tracks to help me build my professional foundation. I learned so much from Crystal — how to manage people, think through problems analytically and, most importantly, see the forest through the trees. In operations (specifically, supply chain), understanding how 1 variable can impact the other 19 variables of a 20 variable equation is crucial to one’s success. When you’re young and new in business, you’re very much in the weeds. My experience under Crystal was incredible and I’m so grateful!
Gabe: Allen Lim of Skratch labs has always been an inspiration, mentor, and friend. I have learned so much about what business means, and exploring what it actually means to me. He taught me the ability to balance life and creating personal and professional lines. He has taught me the importance of dreaming big, but also that of providing tangible value and being a resource for things that surround the business — not just selling product. It’s these valuable additions that make a business meaningful and ultimately successful.
This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
Hudson: The overarching marketing strategy is to lead with our tenants — efficacy, education, and regeneration. We then build out our dynamic and creative operations to communicate those tenants. Our brand may bring all the people to the yard, but our yard really speaks to people… and so people stay in the yard.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
I’m most excited by the opportunity that this crop is changing the face of agriculture, textiles, fuel and beyond. I’m also excited about healing those in need. Cannabis has a tremendous power, and we are only just discovering what it can do for people’s health and wellness. I can’t wait to witness and participate in the evolution of this industry and how it can create good.
I’m most concerned by large corporations dominating the market and building an industry that cuts out the little guys, lack of regulation and shortcuts that are putting some consumers at risk, and too rapid of growth and misinformation.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
Gabe: Everyone has “the dankest” stuff — no matter who we speak to, they always have the best. It’s a full-time job to vet every potential source. Unfortunately, there are a ton of companies that have very poor quality and are misleading and taking advantage of consumers looking for a real solution to their ailments.
People are still afraid and misinformed. Believe it or not, a lot of people are still very concerned about anything relating to cannabis, even CBD. Education and advocacy are both things that we do on a daily basis in order to win the hearts and minds of people and consumers. Even banks still don’t like cannabis; payment processing has been a journey to say the least — something we definitely wish we knew beforehand.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Gabe: The most impactful ideas that I have assumed as a young leader is to lead from the back, like a shepherd. I find it exciting and effective to empower the team to move forward on their own, allowing autonomy and letting each individual carve their own path. My role is to support and keep us pointed in the right direction.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Gabe: I would support an aggressive version of the Green Deal — a solution for systemic change and the preservation of our planet. The time is now to take action and assume responsibility of actions and how they are affecting the future of this planet and all of the life that inhabits it.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Check us out @plantpeople!