Benjamin Witte is the Founder & CEO at Recess, a recreational wellness brand creating products and experiences designed to help people feel balanced, centered and inspired so they can be their most productive and creative selves — despite an increasingly stressful world. Prior to Recess, Witte served as a Partner at Life Capital and Head of Mobile at AdRoll. He serves on the Board of Directors for the US Hemp Roundtable, the main industry coalition pushing the hemp industry forward.
On the first hour of his day. I wake up, immediately get dressed, and walk to a coffee shop on my block in the East Village called The Coffee Project. I get an iced coffee, come back to my apartment, take a shower, and put some music on. Most mornings I’m cooking breakfast tacos at home or I like to have breakfast meetings at Lafayette in Noho. After breakfast, I’ll walk to the Recess office a few blocks away and start my day. Once I get to the office, I try to take a few minutes to map out my priorities for the day.
More than a beverage. From day one, I've never viewed Recess as a CBD company or just a beverage company. Recess is a consumer wellness brand creating products (like our sparkling water) and experiences (like our Instagram and Recess IRL) designed to help people feel balanced, centered, and inspired so we can be our most productive and creative selves. The big idea of Recess is the idea of recess itself - taking a moment to reset and rebalance.
Taking a Recess means deliberately ceasing to produce for a moment so that we can actually create. We’re using a CBD infused sparkling water to establish a new consumption occasion and use case of ‘taking a Recess’ - but over time we feel there are many, many more Recess experiences we can create. There are Recess products you consume in your body and Recess experiences you consume in your mind, both digital and physical experiences, and they are all of equal importance to our mission to improve people’s mentality.
On the origins of Recess. I was attracted to the idea of Recess because I've always been a wired, hyper, and somewhat anxious person who found it difficult to focus. I tried many things throughout the years to try and feel calmer, but nothing ever worked well or stuck with me. About two years ago, I started to see CBD pop up in a few places and began to experiment with the compound myself throughout my days. Once I started using CBD oil regularly, I felt much more balanced and even-keeled. As a result, I was more productive, more creative, and less stressed out and anxious.
I had a number of insights from that experience. First, I’m not the only one that feels this way – the rise of anxiety is one of the biggest issues of the 21st century. Second, CBD oil was effective but the experience of using CBD oil was not great. Third, the right way to think about CBD was as merely a compound similar to caffeine or whey protein – a functional ingredient that is ultimately a commodity and would be added to everything. I believe CBD is the caffeine of the 21st century.
Fourth, the opportunity and value creation would be in developing the right applications and formulations to deliver the functional ingredients and then most importantly, to build the brand on top of the ingredient. Fifth, the largest opportunity and a great entry point into this emerging CBD and wellness space would be creating a functional beverage infused with CBD and adaptogens. Finally, for a number of reasons, the beverage and CPG space was ripe for a completely new approach to launching and building a brand.
We canned a feeling. When developing the Recess brand, we knew we wanted to lead with marketing the solution and establishing a new use case. We didn’t want to lead with marketing the ingredient (like coconut water). Red Bull did not market caffeine and taurine; it marketed ‘Red Bull gives you wings.’ We don’t call it the caffeine category – we call it the energy category.
CBD and adaptogens unlocked a feeling for me – feeling calm, balanced, more productive, and creative. Importantly, we don’t focus on the idea of relaxation. I don’t believe people aspire to feel relaxed. People aspire to feel balanced, centered, and able to adapt to stress in order to be productive, creative and in a state of flow. The Recess brand is designed to be uplifting and inspiring.
By creatives for creatives. Recess is a ‘by creatives for creatives' brand. Just like Red Bull focused on the action sports community to create the association with having a Red Bull and getting stimulated, and Gatorade focused on professional athletes, Recess is focused on the creative communities — music, fashion, art, design, and internet culture.
The Recess brand in many ways is about the creative process itself. I believe we are all creative and that creativity and creating is the solution to much of our anxiety. We are spending too much time consuming and not enough time creating, which gets us out of our own head. Most things in the world will eventually become automated, except for creativity.
On launching Recess IRL. The inspiration to create Recess IRL partially came out of necessity. Until January, just 5 months ago, the company was based out of my tiny 1-BR apartment in the East Village. It was time to get an office. Simultaneously, the only other marketing we had really been doing was a single organic Instagram post per day. I wanted to create a space in the heart of NYC that was designed to convey the emotion of the brand IRL (in real life). When you walked inside, I wanted it to feel like you were walking into our Instagram or the feeling we want you to feel when you drink a Recess.
We wanted to provide an opportunity for people to come take a recess from the craziness of NYC, and most importantly, we wanted to create a place that would serve as a gathering place for the creative community in NYC where we could host events. The original idea was to put our office in the back of the space and to have a retail space in the front. But things started moving too fast and we concluded that we should just turn the entire space into Recess IRL and get a real office.
On making meditation personal. Meditation and mindfulness have always been something I’ve explored and experimented with. I’ve tried to meditate off and on for a number of years, but it never really stuck with me. I don’t have a formal meditation practice, but I have a personal 'thinking' practice. Meditation for me is sitting on my couch listening to music and thinking. It’s important to me to have a few hours a day to be by myself and just think.
I love to wander the streets of New York listening to music. I like to use other sensory experiences like browsing photos and videos and getting inspired by ideas. That, to me, is meditation. This has actually driven a lot of our Instagram strategy. Each post in itself is meant to be a mini-meditation. It’s meant to capture you and make you think for a moment.
On his nightly ritual. I wish I was better about not using my phone. I typically go to bed listening to a Youtube interview, even though that may sound odd. I’ve always been an information junkie with a lot of different interests — politics, tech, art, design, and fashion. Every night I consume a range of topics via Twitter, Instagram, or Youtube for inspiration. It’s really incredible how empowering it to be able to access so much inspiring content today.
— Benjamin Witte, Founder & CEO at Recess