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Female Founders: Dafna Revah of CBD Kratom On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

There is a myth that founders are unique, irreplaceable, and that no one can understand the business the way the founders do. The truth is that you do have to be brave and take a risk based on your vision, but the vision grows and changes over time as the company and team evolves. There is a drive and energy that comes out of this vision but it must be shared in order to succeed; if it stays bottled up in the founder the vision will never reach its potential.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dafna Revah, Co-Owner, CBD Kratom.

As co-owner of CBD Kratom, the largest privately owned cannabis and kratom retail chain in the United States, Dafna Revah delivers dynamic leadership for a successful family- and woman-owned company operating in a highly competitive industry.

Under Dafna’s leadership and vision, St. Louis-based CBD Kratom has grown from a single Chicago store five years ago to 48 locations in six major cities: Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York City, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Since opening its first Chicago store, the company has grown to over 380 employees nationwide.

Dafna has helped solidify CBD Kratom’s values while fostering and encouraging diversity. Because of this welcoming environment, CBD Kratom employs diverse teams across all markets.

Advocacy and education is important to CBD Kratom. Dafna’s strong business values and ethics, and extensive knowledge of cannabis exemplifies this approach. She helped institute a rigorous training course for employees to further educate them about CBD and kratom. Dafna is also a member of the American Kratom Association, a consumer advocacy group. In 2018, she worked to pass Proposition 2, an amendment legalizing medical marijuana in Missouri.

Active in the community, Dafna serves as board chair of the Ben-Gurion Society, which provides financial donations to the St. Louis Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ Annual Campaign. She is also a member of ACCESS Leadership, a Jewish Federation development program.

Dafna holds a bachelor’s in Human Rights from Columbia University, and a bachelor’s in Human Rights and Modern Jewish Studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary. She lives in Olivette with David, and their two children.

Can you tell us a bit about your backstory? What led you to this particular career path?

In 2012, I met my future husband, David Palatnik during a Friday night dinner at Next Dor STL. It was right next to the Central Reform Congregation. A year later, David opened a Mr. Nice Guy head shop that became the genesis for our CBD Kratom stores. I was still working at the St. Louis Business Journal and working evenings and weekends at Mr. Nice Guy while assisting in the launch of our first CBD Kratom store in Chicago. During this time, we attended some trade shows that really opened our eyes about how cannabis and kratom can positively change lives. The fact that cannabis and kratom can help people live more fulfilling lives was a powerful revelation for me. I decided to educate and help people thrive. My passion increased from the knowledge I had gained and I wanted to share. My career path became clear knowing we could make a big difference in people’s lives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I think the most interesting part of our story is the growth of the company. We have had the ability to join in so many vibrant communities and meet so many interesting people. The most interesting part of the CBD Kratom story is not about us, it is about all of the amazing things people have been able to do because we were able to help them. On a more personal level, my grandmother was very hesitant about our products. She maybe took one sip of wine her entire life. My grandmother had some aches and pains and eventually tried some of our offerings. From that point on, she became a real evangelist for our growing company, even recommending our products to many family members and friends. Like a lot of people trying our products for the first time, her perspective changed on cannabis in a very positive way. It proves you’re never too old to try new things.

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?

There are so many things we have learned along the way! One thing that sticks out in my head is that we used to personally answer the phone for all of our stores so we could stay connected with our customers. There was a point where it just wasn’t sustainable any more so the doyens at the stores began answering the phones and they did fantastic, the customers loved it. As you grow you learn to trust, let go, and appreciate what others bring to the business as well. We learned how important and capable our team was.

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 about that?

You are right, having a strong support team that is moving in the same direction is critical to business success. I am so grateful for my husband and business partner, David. He is such a supportive partner, we work really well together because we have two really different perspectives. Basically, everything is a blend of our perspectives. I think some people assume we think exactly the same way. We actually do not. I think that is one of the reasons why our business has been so successful. CBD Kratom is a family owned business and I am also thankful to be working with our family who care about the business as much as we do. We have also had so many amazing team members who have been on this incredible journey with us. All of these people have played an integral role in making CBD Kratom the success it is today.

According to this EY report, only 20 percent of founded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

Women are outstanding business leaders and are successful even with challenges such as not always having access to capital and unequal pay. A recent study shows, despite a disparity in funding, startups founded and co-founded by women performed better over time. I think this speaks to the resilience and resourcefulness of women. Many of the women I work with are strong problem solvers who really value diversity and creating inclusive teams. Though we have seen women’s equality advance in recent history, there is still room for improvement. According to the McKinsey and Company report “Women in the Workplace 2020” women account for 45 percent of the workforce yet only hold 38% of manager level roles and only 33% of senior leadership positions. At CBD Kratom, we run counter to those statistics. Forty-seven percent of our leadership positions are held by women and I am proud of that number.

Women will continue to carve out a name for themselves in the business world. We have made it a point to hire diversely in all areas of our business, we need everyone pushing forward. All oars need to be in the water. This is an everyone issue.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

In the long run, society benefits from everyone having equal opportunities to found and lead companies. We have to acknowledge that obstacles remain and we need to work together to remove them. It starts at home by questioning the idea of stereotypes and how they influence people. We need to clear the way for people to be the best version of themselves. I would like to see all kinds of role models and trailblazers highlighted by the media, for the next generations, and celebrate the success of individuals who are brave enough to be themselves. As a society, we need to invest in diversity and inclusivity to find value in our differences.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women bring their own lens to business because of the expectations placed on them by society and due to the experiences women have encountered. These perspectives, blended with other perspectives, create a depth of well-rounded experience that is valuable to business. Diversity in the workplace at all levels is critical to being able to empathize with our customers, diverse leaders are needed throughout commerce and businesses today, and in the future. If you can see it, you know it can be done. I hope that today we can inspire and motivate a whole generation of diverse entrepreneurs; everybody benefits. Being a founder of a company is fun, exciting, and personally satisfying. I know I have made a difference in the world when I see the team succeed, when I hear customer testimonials, and when we drive business growth by helping others thrive. As a whole, society needs more diverse leaders and founders. There are many different identities, perspectives, and backgrounds that can make us stronger.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?

There is a myth that founders are unique, irreplaceable, and that no one can understand the business the way the founders do. The truth is that you do have to be brave and take a risk based on your vision, but the vision grows and changes over time as the company and team evolves. There is a drive and energy that comes out of this vision but it must be shared in order to succeed; if it stays bottled up in the founder the vision will never reach its potential.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean.

I think anyone who has a vision and is willing to take a risk has the potential to be a founder, but that does not mean that everyone would want to be. The one specific trait a founder has to have is being comfortable with risk. For me, I believed in the vision of the company and understood what it would take to bring the vision to life so the reward easily outweighed the risk. It is a personal decision of what level of risk you are comfortable with. I agree with IBM CEO Ginni Rometty who said, “I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist.” I value personal growth and understand it may not always be easy but the challenge is worth it to me.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).

I am fortunate to have received some great advice from my mother, especially early on when doubt can creep into your mind. She always told me one decision is just one decision. It’s not your whole life. Decisions lead you down a certain path but it is generally more than one path. You can become so afraid of making a decision. Not making a decision is a decision. I also learned from her not to be penny wise and a pound foolish. I have also learned to be humble, we are also in a highly competitive business and there’s always someone who does something better than you. Acknowledge that fact and compete to the best of your abilities, and always compete with yourself to challenge yourself to grow. I also learned that being different is not a bad thing, differences can be quite good. Finally, don’t be afraid of working hard, embrace your work, and find satisfaction in it. Remember: Work is the definition of drive. I am a big believer that you are the one who controls your drive. You have to have the drive to succeed.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I am committed to helping people lead healthy and fulfilling lives. Through our products, we help people sleep well, wake well, and live well. We are engaging in our communities, and helping our customers thrive. There is a chain reaction, when people start feeling better they start doing better. For example, I know I am so much more productive with a good night’s sleep. Almost from the start, I began hearing and seeing first-hand how the right product could help customers, which is why education is a critical part of the service CBD Kratom provides. We want the customer to find the right high-quality product to best fit their needs. The options continue to grow and we are here to help navigate a wellness journey. We are making a difference one customer at a time, and that motivates me every single day.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greater number of people, what would that be?

After years of negative stigmas stemming from fear, I would like to see both the cannabis and kratom industries become more accepted, normalized, and fully legalized. We need to shift our focus, as well as the conversation, to educating people on these products and how they can help them safely and responsibly. These products have the capacity to provide relief and allow people to thrive in their everyday lives.

We also need to be mindful of social equity. Let’s face it. Marijuana prohibition has disproportionately and negatively affected people of color. We are in a growing industry and they should be given meaningful opportunities to fully participate. On the legislative side, our industry has overcome many challenges and setbacks. We have also won some hard-fought ground but there is more territory to cover. The 2018 Farm Bill was a big victory. But we cannot afford to get complacent or apathetic. We need to be strong advocates and educators. I would encourage people to get involved at the community, state and federal levels on issues that matter to them and our industry. Let your voice be heard!

We are blessed that some very prominent names in business, VC funding, sports, and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would have to say I would love to have breakfast with “The Points Guy” Brian Kelly to get all sorts of tips and tricks about travel and even pick his brain on how we could build a strong rewards program for our customers. Plus, he always seems so approachable and has a great sense of humor. I am sure it would be a fun breakfast.

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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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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