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 Andy Wilson, the Founder and Managing Director of CBD Hemporium, a company that sells organic, high-quality and lab-tested CBD products in the UK. Andy started the company with his partner after years of interest in alternative natural therapies and watching his family have great success with cannabis oil. Andy teaches people about the benefits of cannabinoids and CBD for improved health and wellbeing.
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’ve been interested in alternative natural therapies and the organic and vegan movement for a long time. When a close family member became ill it became an intrinsic part of our lives. I had a friend who was involved in making cannabis oils for people with similar problems and we began to research if this was something that could benefit us. From that moment on I was engrossed in all things cannabis. Although I had been interested in cannabis from a social perspective, this new fascination was something different. I read stories of people in similar situations to us using cannabis oil to heal themselves of the most serious conditions. So with the help of a friend we incorporated a strong cannabis oil into our family member’s health regime along with a vegan organic diet with great success. We then added a CBD oil along with the cannabis oil to replace the CBD that was bred out of cannabis strains in favour of THC. In just over 12 months our family member was given a clear bill of health from their doctor. We no longer have a source of unbelievable worry and concern, although we of course remain vigilant and on guard.
This situation was a big eureka moment for me. Why were the benefits of cannabis and CBD oil not more widely known? This was the start of the journey on my current career path. What a career! Knowing that the products my company makes can have huge benefits on people’s lives is something very special.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Although we operate as a business and need to make a living to pay bills and wages, my key driver is helping people experience the benefits I know this miraculous plant can have on their lives. I’ve always wanted to offer people access to CBD oil that may not be in position to afford it. To that end, we have joined the CannaPro CBD Compassionate Access Programme, which was setup by a trade body in the industry to do exactly that. There are many other companies who have joined the programme so it’s motivational to know there are companies in the industry with similar motivations to get this product to as many people as possible, and help those less fortunate who need it most.
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?
Our first 6 months sales projections were pretty laughable (although not for us at the time). We set out to only offer the highest quality products, which for us meant sourcing organic high quality cannabinoids & terpene-rich cannabis extract from Colorado, which you can’t get from the EU. We set up relationship with one of the biggest suppliers in that area. We placed our order of extract, and were excited and ready to make our CBD oils and edibles that same month…that was wildly optimistic. Due in large part to a very poor supplier from consistency of supply stand point (although the quality was 1st class…), red tape, customs and a whole heap of other hurdles we faced in parallel to supply chain issues, suffice to say our revenue for our first 6 months of business was zero. I think many in the cannabis industry will be able to relate to this story in some form. It’s not like running any other business, but we are so glad we stuck with it and are in a great place to flourish going forward.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Although the key and most widely used product in our portfolio is our very high quality CBD oils, we also offer a large selection of CBD products including our CBD infused teas and coffee. We are the only supplier in the EU that offers fully lab-tested bulk bag CBD infused teas and coffee to the coffee shop market at a very competitive price per cup. We are currently working on a deal with 160 chain coffee shop in UK that would see our products consumed by hundreds of thousands of people every year. This is something very exciting for us. Also, you can’t stand still in this industry; we have new product launches planned over the coming weeks and months. So watch this space as we also develop many new exciting products.
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?
Well this is a very interesting story. Before cannabis-based medical products (CBMP’s) were available in the UK and accepted to have wide therapeutic potential, my good friend and a life long advocate of the benefits cannabinoid therapeutics could have, was arrested for growing cannabis plants, which he used to make oil to help people. He was inspiring to me. Not only that he was prepared to go to jail (which thankfully never happened but was very close) for something he strongly believed in, as he had seen the vast benefits cannabis oil could have. His knowledge and passion on the subject was vast and he was an inspiration in helping a close family member overcome an illness with cannabis oil. He remains a close friend and source of knowledge to me, and our customers.
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?
You have to be clever with your marketing strategies in the cannabis industry. Unfortunately until regulators catch up, parts of the industry remain in a grey area whereby normal marketing channels are restricted. This forces you to think outside the box, so we have to adopt a multi-pronged approach including search engine optimisation, which is a personal favourite of ours.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
I saw first hand the absolutely transformational impact cannabis oil can have on a peoples lives, so without doubt the most exciting thing about the cannabis industry is witnessing the multitude of benefits cannabis and CBD oil can have.
As cannabis therapeutics becomes more mainstream and regulators roll back on allowing clinical research, I am looking forward to the science backing up what many of us have seen and known anecdotally.
The stigma attached to being in the cannabis industry is peeling away as more people embrace this new industry. That is something that excites me and I look forward to not having to justify cannabis being an evil drug that we must have a war on.
There are moves by some pharmaceutical companies to try and corner the cannabis market. While I have no problem with pharma companies in itself, this plant has evolved with mankind since time immemorial, and belongs to the people for the benefit of the people. A big concern across the industry is that regulators don’t pave the way for big pharma to monopolise the market, as there is room for both; natural medicine and pharmaceutical.
Although we have seen positive steps forward in recent months with the Farm Bill being passed, the WHO recommending re-classification of cannabinoids and the EU signalling some signs of embracing this new industry, we still operate in the margins. We are at the mercy of government policy, which could take this market away from us in one swoop if they wanted. This is deeply concerning for me as a business owner, and for our, and many hundreds of thousands (if not millions across the EU), of customers who rely on CBD products to maintain wellbeing. This is illustrated by the EFSA who have moved cannabinoids extracts into the novel food catalogue. If enacted this would spell an 18-month ban on the sale of CBD as a food supplement while a safety evaluation is done. While we fully acknowledge regulators concerns about ensuring the safety of CBD products, this should represent an opportunity to work with industry to bring about regulation, not for them to put many businesses, jobs and peoples’ health at risk.
A recent survey of CBD products on one of the world’s largest online marketplaces found that only 1 of 5 products tested actually contained any CBD. These rogue traders are robbing people of the wellness benefits of CBD and giving the industry a bad name.
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. I wish someone had told me how difficult it would to operate in an unregulated / not level playing field market. We as a business work to extremely high standards.
2. Knowing first hand the transformational impact our products can have on peoples lives, for us brings with it a huge responsibility. To that end we focus heavily on providing people with the best quality products that have been fully lab-tested so we can guarantee the quality and safety of our products. This is a huge but fully justifiable business cost, but as the market is unregulated, these are not set standards for all. As a result, we are competing against some unscrupulous companies out to make a quick buck with no quality control (or cannabinoids content for that matter in their products at all, never mind also safety testing for contaminants).
3. I wish someone had told me how difficult it would be to change misconceptions. Several years down the line with legalization of CBD and people still think it will get you high.
4. Although not an easy market to operate in by any means, I wish someone had told me earlier about the benefits of cannabis and just how rewarding an industry this can be.
5. I didn’t know we would have proposed or actual changes to laws and regulations with little or no consultation by the UK government or the EU. This can be pretty scary when your livelihood depends on it.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Nothing new, but lead by example and let your passion shine through as an inspiration for others to follow suit.
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 think some aspects of the cannabis industry are a movement in themselves, where people challenge some of the ideas that society has taught to be gospel. For example, that we must have a war on drugs that benefits no one apart from criminals and in America, the private jail companies. We learn what is good for us through our experience and not what is laid down to us by governments or big corporations. So I guess my motto would be to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible and if you believe in an idea, no matter how socially unaccepted it may be, keep pushing through the barriers and stigma that may come. I think most in this industry are a testament to that.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!