The stories that I hear EVERY time I say I work in the industry, on how much cannabis has helped them manage arthritis pain, recover from an injury, have better sleep, their dog lose or minimize the pain they were going through with age, manage stress in the difficult times we’re in, reduce their anxiety, move away from opiates, the list goes on… all of that with one ‘side-effect’: Having an amazing night of sleep.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ana Hory of Chil.
Ana Hory, M.B.A. is a business leader at consumer facing Fortune 500 and Startups, currently the C.E.O. of Chil, a startup in the Cannabis industry looking to bring innovation and high-quality products to market.
She’s conducted 2 studies with 1,800 adults across the five largest legal cannabis states in the U.S., where she’s learned that 73% of adults are open to using cannabis. Her studies not only identified the size and what the market segments are, but also what types and product formats consumers prefer, frequency of usage, and how to reach each segment, among other psychographics.
She’s shared her findings at the largest cannabis trade show in Las Vegas, MJBiz Conference in Nov’17 and on a CannaInsider podcast in April’18: https://www.cannainsider.com/219.
Prior to Chil, she led a business unit at Belkin International, responsible for creating award winning tablet keyboards, particularly the Ultimate Pro Keyboard, which was chosen one of ‘The Best Products of 2015 — PC Magazine’, by understanding consumer behavior and by inspiring the team to deliver a seamless experience, no matter what.
She has over 20 years of product, brand and business building experience, with a M.B.A. from Anderson School at UCLA, a certificate in Digital Marketing from the Wharton School of Business, and a B.A. in Business from Escola de Administração de Empresas da Fundação Getúlio Vargas, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
She’s also educating new consumers interested in cannabis on her Instagram channel @theanahory, where she’s sharing her own experience as well as what she’s learned from her studies on how cannabis has helped so many people.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
About 5 years ago, I came across a book called Weed the People by Bruce Barcott, a journalist who became intrigued by the cannabis industry and by the States that had legalized it. My background is in product and brand development, an area which has had my heart for over 20 years. At the time, I was, as I call it, ‘in transition’, looking to find a new and transformative industry. After reading his book, I realized a few things:
The cannabis industry is more than just an industry, it’s a movement. One which is long overdue
Cannabis users are not just ‘pot-heads’. Lots of people have found, in this medicinal herb, an alternative to pharmaceutical remedy, not only for its natural healing properties, but also for its lack of side-effects (well, there’s one: When you use cannabis, you’ll feel relaxed and might want to go to sleep (and sleep like a baby, waking up feeling refreshed)). I could picture it on product labels: ‘Side-effect: It may cause strong relaxation’. So, I thought, wait a minute, (when compared to pharmaceutical remedy) that instead of addiction, minimal risk of overdose and health impairing side effects?
There’s still a lot of misinformation about it. Due to its status of being a Schedule I drug the Federal Government does not fund any research on it, though this is slowly (very slowly) changing, there still not a lot of scientific data on its benefits and any implications
I started by doing my own research on the industry. I reached out to key players (companies) in already legalized markets (a few years ago, adult-use was not legal in California where I reside, though it had been legal for medical use for over 21 years) and started attending cannabis events. What I learned was both exciting and troublesome: The exciting piece was that what Bruce had found was right, cannabis could and was helping many, many people. What a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to combine my consumer product development knowledge to a, not only new (at least from a legal adult-use perspective) industry, but also one which is highly stigmatized and has been wronged for decades in so many levels? I jumped right in.
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?
I’m not sure it’s the most interesting story, but I did learn a lot from it. When starting a business relationship, I usually trust what the other party says, proposes or claims. In other industries, that seemed to be usual practice. What I’ve come to learn, unfortunately, in the cannabis industry is that you shouldn’t always trust what is said. What I’ve learned in this industry is that you ‘trust but verify’, and to always have a financial outcome attached to a requirement. It’s amazing how, when it touches people’s pockets, magic happens! That’s true in any industry.
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?
How to pronounce ‘cannabidiol’. My first language is Portuguese, so the first time I mentioned it in a meeting, I pronounced it like one would read Latin, no one understood what I was trying to say. Well, the lesson here is that no one knows everything and that it’s ok to make a mistake, in this case a very small (and funny) one, what’s important is to be honest, apologize and move on.
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
Just one (LOL)? I get the ‘I didn’t take you for a pot-head’ look all the time, to this day. My parents were visiting me, this was late 2016 before I started at Chil, while I was working on my cannabis study. My dad complained of pain on his legs, he was 72 at the time, therefore not unusual for the elderly to have such symptoms. I gave him a lotion to apply without him knowing what it was (I make my own cannabis lotion to help manage pain and inflammation, with THC). He applied it at night and woke up without any pain the next day. He was amazed. You must understand one thing: My parents are the conservative types, traditional, we (my brother and I) did as we were told and there was zero tolerance for remedy in our family. That was my opportunity to tell him about the lotion, its benefits and that I was getting into the cannabis industry in order to help people, just like I had helped him manage his pain. At first, he and my mom had the ‘huh?’ reaction, but as I explained to them what I had recently learned, that cannabis is an incredible medicinal herb, which helps people with pain, anxiety, sleep and so much more, my mom remembered that her sister, battling cancer found relief in cannabis, both for pain and to help with her (lack of) appetite. Fast-forward 4 years, they’re believers, my mom has a medical card and uses it for pain and sleep — as she says: ‘She’s a new woman, now that she takes it regularly’, she sleeps like a baby, and hasn’t felt any pain (headache, migraine, muscle) since she started taking it (she micro-doses it).
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?
You said it right, ‘some help along the way’ includes different people at different life stages, hard to pick one, but if you’ll indulge me, I’d say:
Citizen — First and foremost, my parents, for ALWAYS, always, believing in, supporting and giving me the tools to succeed, to be a contributing member of society, to take risks, and to expand beyond my comfort zone, with supportive words, advice or just listening.
Leader — My leadership teacher in High School, guided me through becoming VP of the Student Council, my first leadership role. He taught me the importance of listening, understanding the issue at hand and then offering solutions. He also helped build my confidence in public speaking (our school had 2k students, I spoke in front of them weekly) and for using every opportunity as a learning experience. I do believe leaders are born, but I also believe that oftentimes leadership doesn’t surface unless given the opportunity. Mine happened at an early age
Manager — The general manager at the company I was working as its Product Manager right out of college, she inspired me to think outside of the box, to see the opportunity others weren’t seeing, to think strategically, financially and long-term
Executive — The CEO of a tech company I worked at prior to Chil. After nine months with the company he promoted me from Sr. Manager to Head of a Business Unit. He trusted that I could do the job, fix an ailing business with my keen eye for product development, people and global business management. I was able to do and be all that because he trusted and gave me the opportunity.
Most recently, in cannabis, I’d say my investor. He trusted me to run the cannabis company he was founding. Neither of us had previous experience in the industry, but armed with the information I had gathered from my study, enthusiasm and business expertise, we set out to build the company that is now Chil.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! We’ve recently launched the Chil Mixers, a line of powder edibles that solve one big edible drawback: Onset. With the Chil Mixers, you start to feel its effects in :15 — :20 minutes (for most people). Based on my cannabis studies, 67% of non-cannabis users, will choose an edible as its preferred method of consumption (55% of current cannabis users). It’ll help people in two ways: One, it greatly reduces the possibility of consuming too much (therefore having a bad experience, frequently associated with edibles, especially for new users), and two, it puts the consumer in control by giving them the ability to easily and precisely dose.
According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
It takes a village. Women oftentimes share a disproportionate family load, making work-life balance a challenge, causing many to give up working, even if only during child-bearing years, making it hard to ‘make up the lost time’ once (and if) they re-join the workforce. This greatly impacts working women of all levels. It’s critical that we, as a society, provide enough support for women to continue to work, if desired, with flexible schedule, telecommuting and so on, and also to make it easy to go back to work, with child-care for example, and equal pay. Men are no longer the only heads of house-hold, women have been doing this role more so in the last couple of decades and it’s crucial that they’re compensated equitably. This happens not only in cannabis; it affects all industries.
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
In California, the black market is bigger than the legal market. Black market product does not pay taxes therefore their prices are lower to consumers, making it hard to compete
You can’t write off business expenses, therefore the cost of running the business is much higher than in other industries
It costs 3–5x more to get things done in this industry than others, there’s a limited number of suppliers that will do business with you (since you’re a cannabis company) and you’re restricted to doing business within your State
Hard to buy everything with cash. Moving cash around and paying for everything from product, salaries, to taxes with cash is not an easy task
Margins are much smaller than one would expect, especially since business expenses can’t be deducted
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
Cannabis is a medicinal herb which helps many people treat illnesses in a natural way
It’s a new CPG industry. It’s not often that one has the opportunity to be part of a nascent industry and help shape it
The stories that I hear EVERY time I say I work in the industry, on how much cannabis has helped them manage arthritis pain, recover from an injury, have better sleep, their dog lose or minimize the pain they were going through with age, manage stress in the difficult times we’re in, reduce their anxiety, move away from opiates, the list goes on… all of that with one ‘side-effect’: Having an amazing night of sleep
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
The three things that concern me the most about the industry: Over taxation, long licensing process and banking. Some States were a bit too greedy and slapped high taxes to cannabis, both medicinal and recreational, like California which has an average of 35% tax (a combination of taxes that add to around 35% depending on the county and city). Guess what the result of that is: The black market is thriving! The LA Times had an article last year estimating the recreational market in CA to be 3.1Bi dollars in sales, and the black market to be around 8.7Bi dollars (https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-08-14/californias-biggest-legal-marijuana-market). On long licensing process, notably in California, a dual licensing system that requires local municipality authorization before businesses can obtain a state marijuana permit, therefore someone applying for a license, needs to obtain a city license first, which requires the business to be built (properties leased, machines purchased, and so on) before the license is awarded. The State license will only be granted once you have a city license and it takes several months, resulting in high up-front expenses without a clear timing on when they’re able to start operating. And to top it off, my third concern is banking: The large majority of banks do not touch any business operating in cannabis and the very very few that do, usually small credit unions, charge hefty fees, and don’t provide loans. The three things I’d love to implement if I were able to:
In California, reduce the taxes greatly, by at least half, somewhere along sales tax levels, rates that are more compelling to consumers and would greatly help shift much of the black market sales to the legal one
In California, create a simple city licensing temporary permitting process, one that confirms the city agreement to consider a cannabis business at a location, allowing applicants to apply and secure the State license before large capital funding is needed. This would greatly help minority and small business owners since access to large capital is often difficult
Federally, the obvious one is remove Cannabis from Schedule I classification and for the Federal Government to not only support banks to offer their services to the industry, but also create an entity to guide it
These would have great impact at: Getting the best product (tested, reliable, consistent) to consumers at reasonable prices; Allowing small businesses and minorities to participate; and providing banking access like every other industry.
What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
Federal legalization of cannabis is just a matter of time, and it seems, with the upcoming elections, that we’re closer than ever. Why is it a matter of time? Because in the last 5 years, with the increase in the number of legal cannabis states, consumers have become more aware of its benefits, the media started to cover the positive effects it has in so many people, the ripple effect is in motion, people are now talking about it, asking questions and demanding answers. My most persuasive argument would be: We don’t have all the answers. Directionally, we believe that Cannabis helps a lot of people in many ways (to treat many ailments, including serious ones like Parkinson’s, cancer pain, seizures, and so on), but we can only be sure if we have hard data. We can’t have hard data because to do so requires research, which requires funding and currently, marijuana is the only Schedule I drug that the DEA prohibits from being produced by private laboratories for scientific research. Although the DEA has licensed multiple, privately-funded manufacturers of all other Schedule I remedy (such as heroin and LSD), it permits just one facility at the University of Mississippi to produce marijuana for federally-approved research. Federal-approved research is critical for any health study (due to its complexity, cost and in order to have FDA approval). The only way to conduct studies with marijuana is to remove it from Schedule I of controlled substances (which we should do anyway since it has limited potential for abuse, it has established medical uses, and is safe relative to other substances) therefore helping gather hard evidence on its believed medicinal benefits, once and for all.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
Different, hands down, here’s why: Cigarettes may kill you and are addictive. Cannabis will not kill you (I believe there’s no death attributed to cannabis), it’s not addictive (in some cases, one might have an emotional dependence) and one is able to reset their system within 2 weeks of abstinence, for the most part. Cannabis is a medicinal herb, one that alters sensory perceptions, changes in mood and mental state, and creativity. Those vary from person to person, but the beauty of cannabis is that one can micro-dose and therefore avoid or greatly minimize such effects, with all its benefits. With that, cannabis should not be heavily regulated, heavy regulation is for products that are addictive and that may harm you. It should be regulated more like alcohol, where a retail to sell it needs a license, with a minimum consumption age and with consumer warnings on the product. Due to its medicinal benefits, it should also be regulated like supplements with regards to claims, dosage, labeling and testing. This is ultimately, in my opinion, how cannabis should be regulated.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘Don’t do unto others what you don’t want done unto you’ — Confucius
This is such a basic life lesson quote and it can be applied to anything, both personally and professionally. Throughout my life, I’ve come across situations when I wasn’t sure what the right answer or right way to do something was, and this quote has always been helpful at evaluating options.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
Excellent public education for all. It is the most important piece of a strong, democratic society. Every child should have access to excellent, free, public education, with all the technology and learning tools currently available in private and in some affluent area public schools. And great (also free and public) technical schools for after K-12, which prepares a workforce that doesn’t need a college degree to do the level of work required in their profession. Here’s why: Education builds the base of society; it gives everyone a fair chance of succeeding in anything their heart desires. It’s the biggest equalizer. When that happens, discrimination drops, neighborhoods flourish, house prices equalize, and access is truly democratized.