An interview with Phil La Duke

Phil La Duke
Sep 8 · 9 min read

I thought I could change people’s opinions through science and data. I realized that that is the foundation, but it really needs great marketing and then a better understanding of psychology (sales) to make a change in this world — oh and political support too!


As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Benhaim, Founder & CIO of Elixinol. Paul is one of the most respected pioneers in the hemp industry, having been involved for over 25 years. Paul founded Elixinol alongside Gabriel Ettenson, Arthur Jaffee, and David Newman in 2014 with the vision of providing the highest quality products backed by research and delivering a world-class experience to consumers. Paul pioneered the development of many other products made from hemp; including his first commercial endeavor — a nutritional bar made from hemp in the UK, which offered the perfect ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. This led Paul to starting the production of Hemp Foods, including Hemp Foods Australia, an industry-leading brand sold under numerous labels throughout the world. Hemp Foods Australia continues to introduce the highest quality of hemp food products available such as the recent Ground Hemp Burgers — a frozen plant-based protein product. Paul has pioneered the development of many other products made from hemp and has shared many of his findings in the nine books and mini-guides he has authored: Modern Introduction To Hemp, H.E.M.P.- Healthy Eating Made Possible, Growing Hemp For Profit, Building A House From Hemp, Hemp Textile Business, Hemp Fuel Guide, Hemp Paper Guide, Hemp Body Care Guide and Hemp Plastic Industry.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Paul! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I was born in middle-class North London (UK). Overtime, I decided to venture to South East Asia — where in my first week, I discovered meditation. This led me to staying in villages on the Mekong River with no one that spoke English. As well as hiking in nature, I enjoyed helping prepare natural foods. I discovered food was a central hub of their sustainable community and that — despite living in what I had been brought up to believe was dirty and disease-full surroundings — the people were happy and radiant. I chose to study food at this point and found a focus on plant-based products, especially those containing essential fatty acids. This led me to a visit to Canada where I discovered that hemp seeds contain that perfect balance of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. I was then able to meet Dr. Udo Erasmus, a world leader and author on essential fats, and I asked him why he did not support hemp and he said, “because people think it is a drug.” So, I began to advocate for the plant, which led me on my journey to where I am today.

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

The meeting with Dr. Udo that inspired me to study more. During my studies, I found that not all forms of cannabis are intoxicating, and in fact there is a strong historical use of parts of the hemp plant for many benefits. So, knowing hemp foods were not a drug, I chose my mission to dedicate my life to educating and offering others the opportunity to experience the benefits of the non-intoxicating form of the cannabis plant — hemp. That was 26 years ago now!

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

At the start of my journey I was seen as an outcast, and often not taken seriously. During the first years I just studied more, and the more science I learned, the more I gained strength in recognizing the need for everyone to understand the benefits of hemp. I wrote nine books along the way, I created the first hemp plastic since Henry Ford, I helped people start hemp building companies and hemp food businesses, and more. I recognized the best way to help people was to create an experience — and that experience had to be of the best hemp had to offer. That led me to creating Elixinol — the finest whole plant product I could devise with my friends and co-founders of that business. The experience has definitely worked, as we have grown to be one of the largest global companies producing high-quality products from hemp today.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

Never give up!

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

I have never run my hemp business(es) ‘for a living’ because of my desire to lead a relatively frugal lifestyle as close to nature so I could continue to do what I love — follow my passion and my dreams. It has turned into more than a great ‘living’ for me, however that is still a by-product of what I love. I continue to live as close to nature as possible, and invest the resources I have created in what I believe to be sustainable ventures — mainly in hemp, of course!

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

I have enjoyed running my own business, as it is a more positive experience of the future I am trying to create. At the beginning that was an opportunity to be creative, and we now have teams involved running each department. Most recently, I have reached a level of success where I have chosen to step from CEO to CIO to allow my colleagues to run certain parts of the business, so I can focus solely on the parts of the business I really enjoy. This has been a great release for me and allows me to get back to what I love — a key in anyone’s life!

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I am lucky in so much that I chose to make a difference globally and have now created a sustainable model of growth around the world. Most of that growth has come in the last few years, and never has my actual job been boring, or what I thought it might be. Staying open to what I needed to do and learning along the way has been key for my personal growth — and that personal growth of eventually being a Public Company CEO of one of the world’s fastest growing businesses has been reflected within our great team.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?

Yes, this has happened — but only 3 times. I remember them; one was, “It’s too hard, let me work for someone else in hemp,” but then I realized my experience had led to much more growth and vision, so that led me back to my path.

The other times where due to the long, slow road of changing laws. The science, the people all seemed to support, but many politicians have been slow to support hemp. However, I’ve gotten used to it now.

But every time I seriously considered ‘giving up’ I found the universe offered me clear signs to get back on my mission. Sometimes I feel the plant controls me! :)

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?

I thought I could change people’s opinions through science and data. I realized that that is the foundation, but it really needs great marketing and then a better understanding of psychology (sales) to make a change in this world — oh and political support too!

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

Mainly the spiritual and emotional intelligence teachers I have met on my journey. Though, in recent times I do have a lot of respect for Elon Musk. :)

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

Elixinol donates a portion of all online revenues to health and environmental causes, and also uses premium sustainable sourcing. We’re also excited to increase sustainability by planning to use the waste from the hemp plant (after extraction to create our CBD products), to form bio-plastics which I hope will make a difference to our oceans. But really, as well as giving people the opportunity to experience this plant’s essence — it is sharing with people that there are alternative ways of living, thinking that they can easily access from what they have been told is the right way to do things. If it was right, why is the world so full of problems? I am confident that we can, as a human species truly make a difference by making small changes in our lives — like introducing hemp products to our daily routine.

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

  1. Trust your intuition
  2. Think big from the start
  3. Never be afraid to ask others for help
  4. Always come from a place of love, not fear
  5. Whilst important to be cautious, be open — life is too short to think we control everything

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. 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.

That movement has already started. It is based on hemp — eat it, use it as medicine, build with it, use it as an alternative to plastic, the list goes on. Hemp is the movement!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Be the change you want to see in the world. How can we ask others to do something if we don’t live it ourselves?

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Elon Musk to share how hemp can be part of his space missions and the automotive industry

But really, ANYONE who has a reach to millions of people — through music, sports, funds, CPG, etc. — I would be honored to share how they can leverage their influence to be the change they want to see for themselves and their families.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.


About the Author:

Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 400 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrust Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Phil La Duke

Written by

Author of “I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business” and “Lone Gunman. Rewriting the Handbook on Workplace Violence Prevention

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade