I had the pleasure of interviewing Shauna Blanch. Based in Colorado, Blanch is the COO, Co-owner & Co-founder of Color Up Therapeutics. This cruelty-free, all-natural CBD company is led by a team focused on putting products into service and educating the community. Blanch is also a Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Reiki Master and a yoga teacher.
Prior to co-creating Color Up Therapeutics, Blanch spent over a decade in the pharmaceutical industry where she focused on Dermatology and Internal Medicine. In 2006, this New Jersey native moved to the West Coast and, eventually, left the pharmaceutical industry on a mission to share a more natural, compassionate lifestyle.
During this time, her relationship with cannabis became one of health and healing, so she moved to Colorado to become more intimately involved with hemp, herbalism and plant spirit medicine. Blanch consulted for several cannabis companies, grew her own medicine and became deeply involved in the industry.
Can you share with us the story of what first introduced you into this business or helped you get interested in the business?
I’d been a recreational cannabis user since high school. For many years after college, I found myself working in the pharmaceutical industry. After connecting with some friends who were addicted to opioids and heroin, and having my life drastically changed while trying to help them, I left the pharmaceutical industry and moved to Colorado to immerse myself in the cannabis industry.
It was then that I knew there was another answer to health and healing, but it wasn’t until our dog Kali was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer that I began to understand the true medicinal value. We started her treatments with high-THC, low-CBD consumables and we began growing our own plants so that we could make her medicine right in our own kitchen.
Though it was helping, the THC continued to intoxicate her, and it became a question of whether that was fair to put her through. We began researching ways to treat her symptoms without the associated high, which was when we found CBD (Cannabidiol). We immediately switched our high THC marijuana plants over to high CBD hemp plants and noticed that she was receiving many of the same benefits, but without the associated high.
The results were amazing, to include a decrease in overall inflammation, reduction in tremors, and increase in appetite, all without side effects. Cannabis allowed us a lot more quality time with her despite being given short-term diagnoses by several Oncologists.
As a result of this experience, my two best friends and I started making pet products at home and gave them out to friends and family. We began experimenting with dosing and percentages for ourselves as well and couldn’t deny the benefits. After receiving nonstop positive feedback, we signed our names on a business partnership, put our heads down, and learned everything we needed to know about starting a company in this industry. We haven’t looked back since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
This industry is always offering up interesting experiences! After opening our first brick and mortar location in Denver in 2017, we started offering hemp-CBD-infused yoga, meditation, and educational classes. After the first few classes went off without a hitch, we received a note on our door from the Denver Police Dept. that classes infused with marijuana were not legal. The note went on to say if we wanted to offer classes, we could apply for a consumption license and pay the fees. We read the notice and called the police department to explain that we were not using CBD from marijuana, it was CBD from hemp and, therefore, legal to use at our space.
We moved forward with our classes and felt good about our choice, until the DPD came knocking on the door during one of our neighbors’ classes! We spent a bit of time explaining what we were doing at the events, how the products were being incorporated via topicals and not smoked, and how the laws in Colorado allow us to use hemp CBD in our workshops. It was at that point when we realized that, with the industry being so new, even our own law enforcement agents had a hard time making the distinction between Marijuana and Hemp laws. Fortunately, we could continue our classes and have since moved into a much larger space without any legal troubles.
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?
After a couple of months at our first CBD Wellness Center, we had a moment of panic and worried that we wouldn’t be able to pay rent on both spaces we had rented; one for our lab and store, and one for our healing room that would offer CBD massage and esthetics services. We spoke to a friend who said she’d love to be a part of the healing room and would go 50/50 on build out and overhead costs.
Because the three of us had always stood by our word and had always confronted situations no matter how difficult they were, we just assumed everyone else would be like that too. Boy, were we wrong! We went into the partnership without signing any contracts or securing any funds. A few weeks after construction on the space ended, we never heard from her again. We stored her things and waited for her to return, but she was never to be seen or heard from.
While lots of people might not find that funny, we laughed and learned. It was a great opportunity for us, as new business owners, to realize that as much as we believe we attract what we need in life, we also need to do business as business must be done; contracts and signatures in place. It was a great lesson and, fortunately, it didn’t put us out or cause any major setbacks, so we can only look back and shine gratitude on the whole situation.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Yes! We are moving into a 12k sq. ft. location where we will launch our official Color Up Cannabis Educational School. We are currently working with our local regulatory agencies and the NCBTMB to get our classes approved so that practitioners can be awarded CE credits for their time.
Over the last two years, we have offered certification classes to professionals and to our community. However, being able to offer these credits will really ramp it up and put us at the forefront of education in this industry. We will begin to offer multiple-day workshops that include hands-on training for Estheticians and Massage Therapists, retreats, cooking events, and everything health and wellness. We are looking to obtain our consumption license at this space as well so that we can infuse our events and classes with real hands-on and practical experience.
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?
The owner of the massage school I attended in 2016, Hillary Olsen Hilliard, was the first person to believe in our products enough to carry them at her space and offer us a platform to educate on. She was a mentor to me during my time at the school, and, shortly after I graduated, she asked me to come on board at the school as her Director of Marketing.
After learning about Color Up Therapeutics and loving the products, she encouraged us to start selling our products on a larger scale. In April 2017 she began carrying our topical products at her school, and within a few months, she brought on the internals as well. This was the break we needed, and the one that gave us the courage to move our production space from our house, to our first CBD Wellness Center location on S. Broadway in Denver in July 2017.
Hillary noticed how well the CBD products and education were doing at her massage school and clinic, so she asked us about designing a skin care line that could be incorporated into her aesthetics school. Fortunately, we already had several facial care products in R&D, so it was easy to shift focus on creating a comprehensive, full facial line for the students to learn and use during their program. We launched our skin care line on March 1, 2018 and we have been able to help more people, touch more lives, and get the healing benefits of the cannabis plant out on a larger scale due to her encouragement, support, and love.
As part of incorporating the products into the schools, Hillary required us to create curriculum around the products. We began presenting several classes on CBD, hemp, cannabis, and how to properly integrate it into professional services and a healthy lifestyle. It was due to these education classes that we moved to our second location in June of 2018 where we began ramping up our own educational program. Now we offer workshops and classes on everything from “The Endocannabinoid System 101” and “Practical Applications of Cannabis,” to “CBD in Skincare” and “Cannabis in the Treatment Room.”
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?
We are part of our community. That’s the most clever and innovative marketing strategy there is! My partners and I go to events, we host events, we show up places to educate, and we interact with our employees and our affiliates daily. We go to our CBD Wellness Center every day to meet with customers and clients, we talk to everyone, and we truly believe that we are all in this together.
Our community is the best marketing we have! They tell their friends, family, and everyone they talk to about our products and services. They do this because we care about them and we recognize that without them, the people who support us, we would not be able to reach as many people as we do or grow as quickly as we have.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
Consumption licensing is the thing that excites us the most. In part because we are working on obtaining ours, and in part because we believe our community will benefit from having a space where they can go to comfortably and responsibly consume. Other topics that excite me are the changes at the federal level — from the new Farm Bill Act of 2018, to the potential changes of marijuana laws federally. Even more exciting is the fact that these reclassifications will allow for more research to be done on the Cannabis plant.
Something that concerns us are the banking regulations. The fact that most banks won’t deal with Cannabis companies even if they are from Hemp, is always concerning on many levels. This limits POS system availability, marketing efforts, and advertising, to name a few. Another concern is the idea of pharmaceutical companies coming in and monetizing, commercializing, and monopolizing an otherwise organic industry. Furthermore, states that allow unregulated products are a concern because, as frustrating as it can be to have to keep up with regulations, we do see the value in being sure that companies are following SOP’s, using regulated hemp, participating in 3rd party testing, etc.
Can you share your top “5 Things You Need to Know In Order To Run a Successful Cannabis Ancillary Company”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Follow the rules. Get all your licenses and stay up-to-date on the changing regulations. We’ve seen companies get shut down for not following the laws that have been put into place over the last few years. Products are being pulled off the shelves by law enforcement if the company is not on the approved DPHE’s list. Don’t slack and let it happen to you. We may not love all the laws and regulations, but not following them just brings negative attention to the industry. If you don’t like it, change it. Which brings me to number 2…
2. Be a voice in the industry. If you don’t think something works, bring awareness to it and create change around it. With the cannabis industry being in its infancy, there is a lot that still must be done. As cannabis business owners we need to make our voices heard, rather than just complain or resist. Go to neighborhood meetings, townhall meetings, and write to your local representatives. We offer several classes a year at our space that surround advocacy for cannabis, we write to our reps, and we hit social media with fun advocacy tips.
3. Be part of your community. We have learned so much from ours. From all the questions and concerns, to trials and tribulations, we pay attention to what we are attracting back to us and we tailor our formulations to what our customers need. We have people come in all the time letting us know what works and doesn’t work for them, and we get the opportunity to help them find the right vehicle and dosage specific to their needs. There is still a lot of research to be done, but being involved in the community, knowing the experiences people are having, and learning what’s needed to help them, is crucial to being successful in this industry.
4. Educate yourself, educate your staff, and educate your customers. Education is key right now, so you must know what you’re talking about, and, if you don’t, you must be humble enough to admit that. There are a lot of great marketing companies out there that can spin anything to make it sound attractive. Unfortunately, that’s causing false perception and mis-information to be spread. Do your research, go to Cannabis conventions, talk to practitioners, listen to podcasts, and then cross check with science.
5. Stay focused. There is a lot of opportunity in this industry right now and it’s easy to get pulled in different directions. You can’t help but see what other companies are doing and want to do that too. Don’t. Stay focused and learn to be the best at what you are good at. There is enough opportunity out there for everyone; specialize in what you excel in.
And if I could add a number 6, I’d say, lose your ego. That goes for business owners everywhere. Our company continues to grow rapidly, and we attest that a lot to our ability to hear what our customers and employees are saying, and to accept criticism with grace. We are all fighting the good fight, let’s do it together!
Aside from your particular vertical, which other cannabis ancillary industries to you think have very strong potential in the next few years? Can you explain why?
Hemp biomass, specifically the non-aerial parts. With the CBD market taking flight, the amount of waste potential is high. We know that hemp fibers are great to make hempcrete, clothes, papers, etc. Everything left over after the phytocannabinoids are extracted can be beneficial for other industries. The potential for the remaining parts of the plant to reduce waste and revolutionize other manufacturing industries is inevitable in the future.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Lead with your heart forward and don’t forget why we are doing this, which is because we care about bringing health and healing to our world. Extend that care to your employees and they will care the same about you. How do you show them that you care? Arm them with education and all the tools necessary to be a force in this industry. Allow your employees to use their strengths and listen to them when they communicate and have an opinion. Lift them up, support them, and build a team that wants to be there and wants to give their best to every one of your consumers.
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! We’re doing it by opening a CBD Wellness Center where we incorporate cannabis into a normal healthy lifestyle. We provide a safe space for everyone, even the most novice of cannabis users, to come and ask all their questions. A space where we formulate products that resonate with our customers, where we manufacture everything in small batches, and where our therapists put our products into service through esthetics and massages, infused events, yoga classes, art and education.
Our community ranges from children, to great grandparents, and we save a space for all of them to incorporate cannabis into their lifestyle at a pace that makes sense for them. Our mission has always been to create products that we can put into service in our community and we have been able to do that in a massive way at our wellness center. As we move into a larger space, we look forward to reaching more people and adding more families to our cannabis tribe!
Jilea Hemmings is the CEO & Co-Founder of Leaf Tyme. She is running a series on Leaders In The Cannabis Industry.