5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a CBD Business: “There are very few women who run CBD companies, and yet, women are the main buyers of CBD products.” with Lisa Hannah and Fotis Georgiadis
There are very few women who run CBD companies, and yet, women are the main buyers of CBD products. I’ve worked in the Cannabis industry for several years and it continually astounds me how often I’m still the only women in the room at high-level meetings. I have hope that this will rapidly change, and I’m very excited to see more women enter into the category and likely dominate it in a few years.
As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Hannah, President and co-founder of Cultivating Wellness, a full-service CBD marketing research, logistics, and brand innovation consultancy that helps best-in-class, hemp-based cannabidiol products to enter, innovate, and thrive in the emerging marketplace. With a background serving Wall Street investors with data-driven business analysis, Lisa helped to expand and establish a proprietary, systematic equity research firm, OTR/Off The Record Research. Her ability to uniquely vet business models and companies, and provide deep market intelligence for brand leaders and investors, has helped companies across consumer sectors grow, launch, and scale. Lisa is a graduate of the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and a founding member of Women Leaders In Cannabis, based in San Francisco. She lives in the Bay Area with her three daughters.
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?
I think to answer that fully I have to trace it back to my work on Wall Street. I helped build out a very successful research firm serving investors with deep market intelligence. I spent most of my career vetting the health of businesses and industries for investment opportunities. I made a choice to step back from the always-on nature of the financial sector to raise my daughters and pursue new avenues of interest and meaning. Doing so opened new doors in business consulting and entrepreneurship. I began advising consumer companies on how to launch and scale, and started a few ventures of my own.
Originally, cannabis as a viable or even credible industry never occurred to me; I went to school at U.C. Berkeley, and the city had a celebrated “stoner” culture, which was looked down upon at the time. Then, I was confronted with the power of cannabis and CBD head-on. One of the businesses I founded was centered on enhancing salons and spa centers in Senior communities. Over time, I witnessed caregivers sneaking in medical marijuana to senior patients to alleviate everything from pain and anxiety to symptoms of dementia, as well as a replacement for harmful pharmaceuticals. Witnessing the impact of what we now know to be the CBD compound was totally mind-blowing to me.
As a research nerd, I dove in head first and what I uncovered was an undervalued and misunderstood commodity that was truly helping people. As a mother, dedicating myself to the discovery of what CBD could do felt like a meaningful venture I could not walk away from, and an outlook towards business I wanted to pass on to my daughters. I’m so energized to be apart of a movement to remove the stigma and to shape a credible industry, which starts by setting the highest bar for companies that are creating CBD brands.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
This is such a dynamic space, everyday feels interesting! There are moments that stick when you’re working in a series of firsts. One of the first products we developed at Cultivating Wellness was CBD bottled spring water from a supplier that had formulated THC and wanted to pivot to CBD. It took months to get to a level of quality and compliance that met our Total Quality Assurance standards.
The day finally arrived where we ordered a big rig to truck ten pallets from Northern California to Washington. That was a big deal; it was one of the first CBD products to move across state lines. Operating in a wishy-washy regulatory environment to develop not just a new product, but also a new category that didn’t exist before felt really significant.
Cannabis and CBD research is in its infancy, but it’s an exciting time to help champion
the best standards possible and to create an entry for new product innovation.
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?
Oh yes. This has to be when we were developing ChrgD+ with Lexaria Biosciences, a tasteless and odorless fine white powder that can be added to any drink, hot or cold. You might see where this is going. There were samples out all the time at my home, in the office, spilling out of boxes. New people would walk into meetings and think something seriously illicit was taking place. Even in a progressive state like California, there are a ton of hurdles we face for consumer education. We were so deep in the process we were totally oblivious. It was a real lesson in perceptions and about the dangers of being too casual. It’s our job to counteract those negative associations for CBD at every turn and elevate it as a healing compound. We had a lot of explaining to do, especially to some very confused delivery people. That experience was good practice on educating all types of people on what CBD is, what it does, and why it’s valuable.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We’re really thrilled to be launching ChrgD+, which is totally innovative and versatile as a tasteless, odorless additive for any beverage. It was created to showcase DehydraTech, a proprietary technology from Lexaria Biosciences, which increases the bioavailability and absorption of CBD into the bloodstream. We also have some exciting launches on the horizon with Stanley Brothers (creators of Charlotte’s Web) and we’re currently consulting with a range of CPG companies interested in creating high-end CBD topicals and more in the food and beverage category.
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?
This comes back to the senior community, who first exposed me and ignited this passion for championing CBD as truly beneficial and healing form of medicine.
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?
This may sound counterintuitive, but our major strategy right now is to say no. We reject more brands and businesses than we work with, because frankly there are just a lot of bad players out there right now, and many of them don’t pass our assessments and stringent vetting process. There’s a lot of motivation to move fast in and ask forgiveness later, and that’s going to screw up the entire industry and really harm consumers in the long run. There are ways to be nimble and competitive without sacrificing integrity. Marketing strategies for CBD product entry have to be cutting-edge and borrow across categories. At the end of the day, our strategies have to think ten steps ahead to withstand the most stringent regulatory climate or scientific advances for compliance and application. In the current landscape, the smartest strategy is industry-wide and about giving the real, credible players a bigger runway for advancement.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
There is so much that excites me; mostly learning more about what the compound can do on so many levels, from an efficacy standpoint and the diversity of applications. When they open up research there will be so many rapid advancements to learn more about the science and the way CBD interacts with individual chemistries. More real research is needed to guide best practices based on science.
There’s a lot that concerns me, too; mostly the bad players that can really undercut consumer trust, and that goes back to the lack of industry standards. I’m concerned about the lack of education that could sway regulatory powers at play. Then there’s the influence of lobbies and big pharma. It’s important that every person entering into CBD maintain a level of professionalism that’s necessary to make this industry succeed and thrive.
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.
1) There are very few women who run CBD companies, and yet, women are the main buyers of CBD products. I’ve worked in the Cannabis industry for several years and it continually astounds me how often I’m still the only women in the room at high-level meetings. I have hope that this will rapidly change, and I’m very excited to see more women enter into the category and likely dominate it in a few years.
2) That the general public has no idea about the difference between CBD and THC and what the affects are on the body. I don’t fault anyone for not knowing these differences; the classifications and scheduling of these substances and the constant interfacing with regulatory agencies dominates so much of this business landscape. This isn’t a race, it’s a marathon.
3) The regulatory powers that be are very confused and conflicted as to how to play the hemp-derived CBD issues. The FDA has frustratingly waffled for many years and caused havoc in an industry that is so beneficial to consumers seeking relief from pain, anxiety, sleep issues, and more progressive diseases such as Parkinson’s.
4) That there would be so many CBD products trying to enter the market — all unregulated, and that is very scary. There are daily reports about brands and operations that have to be shutdown, and that kind of policing is necessary. The void for standards is getting wider by the minute. It’s not easy rejecting money where brands want in, but if we’re not vigilant about it, then who will be?
5) That this is the best industry in the world to be in. We are just scratching the surface with CBD, and the industry is full of promise and unfound medicinal jewels that can truly help and heal the human body.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Get into this industry only if you truly believe and champion CBD in its entirety. Surround yourself with people who feel the exact same way. A team that is unified in its meaning and direction will come together with creative, breakthrough, and interesting ways you never thought possible.
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. :-)
As with any major movement, there needs to be a fearlessness around funding and advancing research in CBD. More clinical trials across a variety of applications are needed so doctors can justifiably prescribe CBD and provide accurate dosing standards.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Connect with me on Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisahannah
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!