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Craig Henderson of Extract Labs: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business

Be ready to evolve quickly. The second you get comfortable, you will lose everything you have worked so hard for. Things can change at a moment’s notice. Things can go horribly wrong. Problems can seem insurmountable. They never are. Hustle through it and do what you have to do.

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 Craig Henderson.

Craig Henderson is the founder and CEO of Boulder, CO-based Extract Labs, and one of the country’s top experts on CO2 extraction, cannabis, and CBD. Under his leadership, Extract Labs offers a proprietary line of boutique industrial hemp-based products, and serves as a one-stop resource for all things CBD.

Before founding Extract Labs, Henderson was the Senior Sales Engineer for Apeks Supercritical — an Ohio-based CO2 extraction technology industry leader. There, he performed technical sales, and managed all training and service on Apeks’ extraction systems — both domestically and internationally. He also conducted cannabis-related research and development, and taught classes specifically on advanced CO2 extraction and processing techniques.

He holds both Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Louisville, with a concentration in thermal sciences and renewable energy.

Henderson spent most of his childhood on a Marine Corps base in 29 Palms, California. Immediately after finishing high school in Southern Indiana, Henderson entered into military service, serving as an infantryman and Team Leader in the US Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2002 to 2006. Over the course of his military career, he was twice nominated for a Bronze Star and received an ARCOM with Valor award while serving in Iraq. Henderson attributes the leadership skills he brings to Extract Labs to his experiences in Hawaii as part of Alpha company, 1 Battalion 27th Infantry — at the time regarded as one of the hardest, most skilled units in the military.

Henderson has spoken at more than a dozen industry trade shows, and appeared on the CNBC documentary “Marijuana in America.” He has also taught numerous large successful marijuana companies across the U.S. how to extract their own oil and formulate their own product lines.

Outside of work, Henderson enjoys hiking, running, CrossFit, scuba diving, mountain biking, traveling, the beach and spending time with his two children (a 5-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter).

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?

After returning from the Iraq war, several guys I was on tour with were using marijuana to help treat symptoms related to combat. Things like joint pain, anxiety, insomnia and PTSD. This is not something I believed in and tried to convince them to stop, insisting that weed would ruin their lives. When they resisted, I began doing research online, looking for evidence to back my opinions– something to show them “here are the facts, here’s why you should quit smoking weed.” I quickly found out that I was the one who was totally wrong.

Research supporting the medicinal use of cannabis proved far more compelling than I had imagined, and made me question everything I was taught. I ended up going back to school to get my engineering degree so I could get into the marijuana industry, I figured it was something that could help me get my foot in the door. I received a Master’s in Engineering from the University of Louisville and began working for an extraction company called Apeks Supercritical right out of college. During my time there, I traveled the country teaching people how to use CO2 to extract marijuana and how to process it into a winterized oil.

Since Colorado does not allow marijuana companies to touch hemp, I immediately recognized an enormous opportunity. I thought to myself “hey, I could make some money doing basic processing as a little side hustle” and that side hustle quickly took off, and soon thereafter, Extract Labs was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Looking back, it’s just incredible to think how I got my start. A guy I loosely knew from my Apeks days, Brandon, called to ask about hemp processing, he had a small hemp grow and was looking for an extractor. I let him know I had just started my own extraction business and I would be happy to work his material in.

So we met at a gas station parking lot where he handed me a five pound bag of hemp. Through some trial and error, I was able to extract it and get it turned into distillate. He was so impressed that the next bag was 20 pounds, then 100 pounds. Next thing I know, he’s asking for an address so he can have a semi-truck drop off a few thousand pounds.

I never imagined that what began as a favor to someone I barely knew, would quickly become a flourishing business for us both. Brandon now grows a million pounds of hemp per year and remains a crucial source to supply the demand our business generates. It just goes to show that when you put yourself out there, the universe responds by turning a seemingly random connection into something life-changing.

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?

The funniest mistake I made was underestimating the potential of the CBD industry. In the early days, I truly believed that hemp would always be a small niche industry, while marijuana would continue to dominate as more states went legal. I was not prepared for the rapid exponential growth that was about to take place.

To better illustrate this point, Brandon had been dropping his material off at my house, assuming I was loading it into my truck and taking it to a facility for processing. But there was no facility. Extraction, distillation, isolation; it was all happening from my garage. I didn’t even have a chiller for the rotovap I was using. I kept its condenser coils cool by rigging up an aquarium pump to circulate through a Rubbermaid tub that I was shoveling snow into from my driveway.

After that first truckload of hemp arrived, I quickly began searching for an actual facility where I could set up operations. Eventually I found one, and soon thereafter, acquired our first CO2 machine, an actual chiller for our rotovaps, and began hiring.

From that point on, I remained open to the possibilities and prepared for the best case scenarios. We are constantly reinvesting in ourselves; upgrading equipment, buying new machines, and preparing for anything that could come our way.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We always have new projects going on in our labs! Our scientists mostly focus on the development of processes to refine new cannabinoids. We view the future of the industry as being much more diverse than it is today. More consumers are trying CBD all the time; however, CBD is one small piece of the cannabis puzzle. There are 120+ minor cannabinoids, many of which we know little to nothing about. By refining them and producing products, we are aiming to give the consumer more specific choices when choosing a perfect product. Currently, we offer products like CBN for sleep, CBC for pain relief, and CBG for cognitive support.

Think about the last time you were in the vitamin aisle of a grocery store, there are not just 50 bottles of the same thing on the shelves. There are dozens of different supplements for very different conditions. In the same way a consumer can browse a myriad of plant extracts to find the one that could provide them with some real relief, our product line will continue to give the consumer some real options based on their personal needs.

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?

I owe everything I have today to our oldest employees in the company. I can share many stories that involve laughing, crying, and problem solving. I cannot thank everyone enough for standing with me through the hardest times the company has ever seen. Through it all, they have never slowed down and never given up. They know what we are capable of together.

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?

Social media platforms, Amazon and Google all prohibit advertising that directly mentions CBD or links to CBD products. As you might imagine, many companies have developed clever workarounds in order to skirt these rules, but we have taken a different approach. Rather than searching for the tiniest of cracks to slip through in order to serve up a Facebook ad, we focus more on organic SEO and educational content. In this way, we provide value by offering up what is relevant to our customers.

With that said, I definitely think legacy companies can benefit from thinking like a startup. Established companies with large budgets tend to go with established solutions be it in marketing, tech or other areas. While safe, and more often than not, effective, these solutions typically cost a premium, and tend to keep the responsibility for their success or failure away from the decision makers. Essentially, they are outsourcing responsibility by making it someone else’s problem, and this is the first step in a longer chain that puts distance between the company and its customers.

In no way does this mean that certain areas of expertise aren’t better outsourced, but we simply do not have the luxury or inclination to buy the most expensive solution and make decisions based on performance reports alone. We prefer to “get our hands dirty,” figure out what’s working and what’s not, and nurture our programs to see them grow. In the end, it’s less about a new innovation than it is about not losing touch with what matters most.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the CBD industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?

The biggest thing that excites me about the industry is our customers. The feedback we receive from them, sharing their stories of how our products have transformed their lives gives all of us this amazing energy. It really reaffirms that all the long hours and sleepless nights are having such an amazing impact on people’s lives. I am also excited about the fact that we are actively helping to shape the industry. This industry is still in its infancy and there is no set formula for success. The quality of our products, the diversity of our cannabinoid and the array of consumption methods that we offer sets the bar for what a hemp company is capable of. Lastly, I would say the thrill of the lab. This company was founded based on a scientific curiosity as to what the hemp plant can do for humans. Every time I step into our lab, the hum of machines and sight of dripping oils just reminds me of the magic that sparked my passion for the process in the early days of Extract Labs.

My biggest concern is the pharmaceutical industry’s involvement in the hemp industry. We are proud that our products contain minimally processed ingredients. So far, the only prescription medicine that includes CBD is Epidiolex

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a CBD Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be ready for problems. I used to tell myself that if I could just solve this one problem, everything would get easier. Then another and then another. There will always be problems, get used to solving them.
  2. Stay humble.
  3. Trust your gut. It’s easy to take people’s advice on what the right moves are in business. There’s an infinite pool of people you can consult with, agencies you can hire, people who will tell you what the right thing to do is. That’s easy to do from the outside looking in. If I had taken every piece of advice I’ve received, the company would not be where it is today.
  4. Have your process. Everyone’s process is different. I certainly feel like mine is unique. The process can be extremely painful, but you have to have it and you have to trust it.
  5. Be ready to evolve quickly. The second you get comfortable, you will lose everything you have worked so hard for. Things can change at a moment’s notice. Things can go horribly wrong. Problems can seem insurmountable. They never are. Hustle through it and do what you have to do.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Start off by hiring good people. Hire people that are as passionate about your vision as you are. It makes you want them to succeed as much as you want your company to succeed. You will want to love them, care for them and do good things for them. This, in turn, makes them love their jobs all the more and creates a strong morale within your company. They will come into work every day ready to take over the world and do whatever it takes to get the job done.

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. :-)

I would say stop feeling sorry for yourself and pick yourself up. Go out into the world and make change happen. I have been in bad places, and in the end, pushing through it is the only reason I am where I am today. I think far too many people base their ideas of how their lives should be from the polished and artificial moments they see the people around them posting on social media. They base their lives, their goals and their ideals on what other people tell them is right or wrong, especially in today’s world. Put the phone down. Turn off the news. Go out into the world and make the change happen.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

They can follow us on Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter at @extractlabs

Thank you so much for joining us!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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