Rachael Rapinoe Wants Athletes to Treat Their Pain With Cannabis

She and her World Cup-winning sister, Megan Rapinoe, are debuting a CBD brand: Mendi.

Rachael Rapinoe (Sam Gehrke)

Some athletes celebrate a championship with a trip to Disney World. The Rapinoe sisters are debuting a cannabis company.

In June, Megan Rapinoe led the U.S. Women's Soccer Team to a World Cup title, and took home the Golden Boot for scoring the most goals in the tournament. Now she and her twin sister, Rachael Rapinoe, hope to score in a field: the rapidly growing CBD industry.

Megan and Rachael were both star players at the University of Portland. For the past two years, they've run a company—part sports training business, part apparel line—called Rapinoe SC, which grossed $1 million last year.

Next month, they are unveiling a second company, called Mendi. Designed to provide athletes with CBD products they can trust to treat pain and sustain recovery, Mendi is soft-launching this month. The Portland company projects complete sellout of all products in the first month.

In April, Mendi was one of more than 140 competitors at TechfestNW's startup competition, PitchfestNW. Between business calls and futsal games, we caught up with Rachael Rapinoe to ask her about Mendi's big launch this fall.

Watch video of her presentation at TechfestNW here.

WW: Do you use CBD?

Rachael Rapinoe: Yes, definitely. I take 25 milligrams of CBD probably two or three times a day, every day. I have for the past three years. It's always in my system.

I would say my relationship with cannabis in general has been very organic. It just wasn't spoken about when I was growing up, especially when I was playing at UP. I started taking opiates when I was 21 years old, when I got my first major knee surgery, and I wish at the time someone would have told me about cannabis for pain management instead of opiates.

Cannabis was so stigmatized in sports—and has been for a really long time. Obviously, now, some of these bans are lifting, but I didn't really come to learn much about cannabis and how it pertains to performance and recovery until just five years ago, when I started seeing other athletes using it and talking about it for pain management, inflammation, insomnia.

There's not a whole lot of research about the medical benefits of CBD.

The NFL, the NHL, Major League Baseball, they're all conducting their own studies right now with different cultivators that they partner with. For CBD, especially for hemp CBD, there's not the bank of scientific research that has been done for marijuana. But I think, in the next 18 to 24 months, you're going to see a lot of those studies come out.

I think there's definitely enough science [regarding] the endocannabinoid system: the function of it, and what we know that it does, and what cannabidiol can do. But I guess I agree with you, there's not a ton of research on specific data points or case studies and how it relates to performance.

It's difficult in the extraction process to always guarantee that there's no THC in CBD—which I would imagine is a problem if you're a professional athlete and you're being tested.

We're going to market with our pro line, which is our isolate CBD line. It's third party tested, and it goes through so many different checkpoints before it even enters the mouth or the hands of the athletes. It takes a little bit more effort and a little bit more money, but you can definitely isolate the [CBD]. I think the bigger issue is that [athletes] just don't have a trusted brand. So that's where we've come into play.

So what's your sister's CBD use? Does the majority of her team use CBD?

[She's used it] for three or four years, for pain, for sleep…for traveling. Most of the veteran players use it, too. The younger ones still don't know that much about it, so we would love to educate them as quickly as possible. [Also,] I've talked to a ton of nutritionists, athletic trainers, performance coaches. They've all bought into it.

Where is Mendi aiming its product right now? How are you launching?

Anywhere selling aspirin and Band-Aids—we want to be on those shelves. Because of my network and relationships with athletes, my sister being one of them, we're going to do a soft launch [online] when we open our CBD store, and then we'll do our big PR marketing push in September or October using athlete influencers. We've carved out enough budget to give every single women's pro soccer player in the National Women's Soccer League an athlete kit with all three of our products. We've also been talking to a lot of other athletes in other spaces; I can't name names yet.

Is anybody doing this yet—getting a CBD company and trying to get athletes?

Yeah, there are some copycats out there. But no one holds a candle to the brand that we're building. It's very easy to throw up a website and to sell product and to shove it into the marketplace. Anyone can do that—we could have done that three months ago. What we're doing here is building a brand.

What does the U.S. women's team's victory—and Megan's spectacular performance—do for brands like Mendi?

I mean, whatever they touch is going to turn to gold, probably. I think before the World Cup, they were superstars. Now, they're total rock stars.

And I think that says a couple things: that the world, specifically the U.S., is ready to champion a greater cause, and that consumers in the U.S. are savvy and they're smart and they don't want to just buy a shallow brand. You're seeing this now, especially on social media: People want a story, and people want to be able to relate to your brand.

Tell us about Mendi's team.

There are four co-founders: Two, Kendra Freeman and Britt Price, own a cannabis farm in southern Medford called Oso Verde. I met Kendra two years ago, through a buddy that I coach with—most of this stuff is linked to the soccer space. She was like, "CBD is the future. We could create and sell CBD products tailored specifically toward athletes and active people."
We named ourselves Mendi because we wanted to [avoid] cliché and not have, like, "restore" or "rejuvenate" in our name, but we wanted to play off the idea of recovery. So "mend."

You participated in Amy Margolis' business accelerator program, right? For all the startups out there wondering whether or not to join an accelerator, would you recommend it?

Definitely. We started at the Initiative [accelerator program] in January, and we graduated May 10. The venture capital world is a very specific world with a very specific language, and they want specific deliverables, and we felt like this [was] a great opportunity to refine our skill sets as entrepreneurs.

The Initiative is really meant to empower women in weed and to create a more level playing field for all types of people. Kendra and I are female, and Britt and Kendra and I all identify as LGBTQ, and Kendra's Korean, so we have a really uniquely diverse group.

When you join an accelerator, in some cases you have to give up equity.

You have to give up equity for sure.

So you get like three months of office space, plus some cash. What do they take, 10 percent?

Six. Everyone's different, but yeah, this one takes six. I would say, though, above everything else, the accelerator program should help you raise money. That's usually the reason why you go into it. You need to raise money to scale. And they will teach you how to do that. Venture capital is a very specific world. And it's a very specific language.

What will you do with the money you've raised?

We've raised $150,000 so far. Our target amount is $500,000. We definitely want a diverse bunch [of investors], people who align with our core values and really champion equality and want to build a brighter future for sports.
But let's say we raise $500,000. About 45 percent of that is going to go back into production, so back into our supply chain. An additional 30 percent will go into marketing and PR—our athlete budget comes out of marketing. And then the leftover would be legal [costs] and labor.

Could you have predicted something like Mendi?

I think I've always had an entrepreneurial mind. Even when I was little, I was always…very opportunistic, whether it was the lemonade stand or the babysitting business or the cleaning business. And I've always been a networker: I'm very good at finding the right people and putting them in the right places, and kind of getting out of the way and letting them do their thing.

But did I think I was going to own a cannabis sports brand 10 years ago? Probably not. I was a biology major. And then I got my master's in exercise science. And my sister and I started a brand, built a performance training business here in Portland, did a ton of consulting in the NCAA for women-specific training. So in a way, it's all connected, because essentially all I'm trying to do is create healthier, more sustainable recovery tools for athletes and active people.

That's at the high level. But as an entrepreneur, you're also worrying about cash flow, employees, legal issues.

Yeah, well, I think that's why entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Because the reality is, when you have a startup, 90 percent of it is not fun What I just told you is the sexy part about Mendi and about Rapinoe SC, but my day to day is everything opposite of that. You have to learn different skill sets, and you have to be resourceful, and you just have to step up and do whatever it takes to make sure the business is running.

What are the most important things you've learned so far?

I would say the two most important things I've learned in my two businesses are: One, you can't do everything alone. You have to get help, you have to trust people, you have to get the right people to come in. Two, it's not going to be perfect. You have to be OK with having a loose plan, because the reality is that we live in a very fluid market. Nothing is ever perfect. You definitely have to just be OK with the ups and downs.

What do you want the world to know about Mendi?

I think it's very easy to talk about our brand, because we're doing something different, and we're female-founded and female-run, and that's great. But what I want people to also understand is, we have great products, too. Proprietary blends, all-natural ingredients. We're also starting at very high dosages—quite a bit higher than most other products on the market—but especially because we're using athletes, if this stuff doesn't work, they're not going to deem this as credible. And their validity is at the center of everything we're doing.

You're very chill for someone whose world could change pretty radically in the next couple of months. But maybe that's the CBD?

[Laughs] Well, I don't know! I feel in my gut that we're onto something very big, but you always kind of cross your fingers, you know? So I'm just trying to be thoughtful and pay attention to the details. But yes, we're very excited.

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