Build a good team with people whose skill sets are complementary. Too many CEOs think they can go it alone, but growing a company requires more than one person alone can provide — and it’s only getting more competitive. From your sales team to a good controller to SEO and social media experts etc, you need every piece of the puzzle to be successful.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dana E. Shoched.
Dana is the founder, president, and CEO of O2VAPE, a vaping product manufacturer for consumers and wholesalers. Her company makes the patented Flip Ultra pen. A proud veteran, Dana served in the United States Navy, where she learned the value of service and strong leadership. She has held numerous roles in the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare, and sales in the private sector, where she was often one of the only women in the room. Dana left the corporate world to blaze her trail when she founded O2VAPE out of her garage in 2013.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
One of my previous careers was in pharmaceuticals, and that opened my eyes to the power of more natural medicines. When I learned that Michigan had a caregiver program for cannabis, I became a registered grower to help patients. While I was doing that, I took on a side gig selling vape pens and realized the vaping industry’s potential to reach more people. Eventually, I realized I could do it on my own, so I bought the name O2VAPE. It was my first solo entrepreneurial endeavor. I didn’t know I could be a CEO, but I knew I could hustle and that I could bring together some great people to do business the right way. I’m so proud to say it’s paying off and we’re a multi-million-dollar company now.
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?
When I first started O2VAPE, I’d bend over backwards trying to please anyone I thought was a potential customer, just hoping I’d get some business. Even if the person was being a complete pain in the you-know-what. And I used to beat myself up trying to keep those clients and make them happy. Eventually I realized I was banging my head against the wall for someone who didn’t respect me, my business or my staff, and instead I needed to be able to let them go. So now we gently put the concept out there when we go over proposals to new clients whether big or small, letting them know that if they’re not ready or don’t feel good about our proposal, just let us know and we can part ways, no hard feelings. It’s so much better to work with people who respect the business relationship.
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?
My first foray into cannabis (besides smoking it) was growing as a registered caregiver in Michigan. One day our indoor cooling system for the hydroponic grow facility bit the dust in the middle of a polar vortex and the tech couldn’t fix it for a few days. So, even though it was frigid outside, inside we had a heat problem. But hey, I’m an entrepreneur, it’s Michigan, and we have snow and lots of it. There I was, all bundled up, shoveling one bucket at a time and hefting those things inside. Every bucket that was cooling our plants ensured our business and plants didn’t die, ironically all because it was too hot in a Michigan winter!
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
I am not and never have been in the “cannabis closet” — I will tell anyone who will listen to me about how powerful this plant can be and how it can help people. One time I struck up a conversation with a perfect stranger in Costco discussing Ohio’s ballot initiative about decriminalizing marijuana. Next thing I know, it’s 45 minutes later and my ice cream is melting!
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?
I started O2VAPE from my garage, and I didn’t have much more than my own grit. There were times I think we had just 100 dollars in sales, but I always had a few close friends and family who I trusted and who believed in me. More than once I found myself sitting in my financial consultant’s office when it seemed like nothing was working, wondering if it was all worth it. He told me, “You’re the hardest working person I know. If anyone can do this, you can.” Hearing that from someone I admire and respect, and from a few other family members and close friends, really meant something, and it helped me keep going.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m always a fan of partnerships that are a win-win-win, so I’m excited about a vape battery we’re co-branding with Redemption and Driven Grow, two more great brands out of Michigan where a percentage of proceeds go directly to the Last Prisoner Project. I’m very proud of how O2VAPE is working to lead the way in ensuring that community impact and social issues stay front of mind.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. 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?
This is an area where we can all broaden our minds about the biases and perceptions we all have that we might not know about. Three things I think we could all challenge ourselves on are:
- Are we supporting the bias that “sex sells”, or can we work outside that outdated box?
- Are we subconsciously keeping women in gendered roles? Today, women are growers, women are lab directors, security directors, and obviously, CEOs, but we need more parity in all areas. Let’s check our unconscious biases.
- And even for women’s advocacy groups, are we welcoming people who aren’t like us, or are we leaving allies out?
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.
- Be part of your broader community. Because this industry is growing and evolving so quickly, business leaders should get involved. Policy makers who are creating regulations and standards need to hear from us. I work with the American Society for Testing and Materials because I want to have a say about the standards set for the products I sell, and it’s important to me that my customers know how much I care about what they’re buying.
- Think outside the box for how you can help other people. I believe in the idea of Corporate Social Responsibility, so we support The Last Prisoner Project as much as we can. And when the pandemic hit, I turned to my overseas partners and together we have brought in tons of PPE. It’s making a huge difference for the healthcare workers and first responder communities in Michigan, Ohio, and many other parts of the country.
- Be mentally ready to pivot. From regulatory changes to supply chain interruptions, this industry keeps throwing hurdles at you and you might have no idea how to plan six months out, let alone for the next year. Just accept that and save yourself some time to get to the solution faster.
- Build a good team with people whose skill sets are complementary. Too many CEOs think they can go it alone, but growing a company requires more than one person alone can provide — and it’s only getting more competitive. From your sales team to a good controller to SEO and social media experts etc, you need every piece of the puzzle to be successful.
- And if you’re developing a product or idea, get your intellectual property protected with a good lawyer from the very beginning, well before you go to market. That also includes doing your research when it comes to naming your company, so you don’t accidentally commit to a name that’s already being used.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
As a Navy veteran, it really matters to me that cannabis is something which can help veterans heal from PTSD and cope with everyday life. It’s also pretty motivating to be able to shape how an emerging industry is evolving and have a say in the regulations and standards that get developed. And as a business owner, the growth opportunity to reach new customers is really exciting.
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?
I really admire the advocacy work that’s been done to get us to this point where cannabis is on the verge of being federally legal, especially the work by groups like the Last Prisoner Project to see restorative justice carried out. Now I would call for financial reform and business protection. It’s been tough for many folks to make money just because banks can close accounts on a whim even if you’re an ancillary operation. There’s so little recourse or even insurance options, and that really impacts people’s livelihoods. I’d also like to see more cooperation among businesses and less “tit for tat” stuff that’s just totally counterproductive to building a legitimate industry. Collectively we have a lot to offer the economy, so let’s get out of our own way and play nice.
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?
At the end of the day, cannabis is a plant, it’s natural. It needs to be regulated, but it wasn’t put here to harm us, and we have a responsibility to do the research and tap into the many, many ways it can help people who are suffering — and let those who want to have fun to be safe about it. We need to get our act together to create safety standards for consumer products, ensure reliable access to business banking and insurance, enforcement of contracts, etc. These things support job creation. And we need to protect opportunities for small and mid-size businesses — don’t let Big Pharma completely take over this industry.
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?
Cannabis is very different from cigarettes and should be treated as such, simply because cigarettes do no good and cannabis does no harm. On the medical side, we need to be thinking therapeutically and ensure people have access to something that can help them. In terms of the vaping industry, the consumer base is much more (but not solely) recreational, and I look more to the alcohol industry for a model but really cannabis needs its own parameters. Just look at how liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries were deemed “essential services” that should remain open during the covid-19 lockdowns.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Zig Ziglar said, “Doing your best is more important than being the best.” At the end of the day, even if I didn’t win that contract or I’ve got customers who insist on being upset, if I know I did my best, I can go to sleep at night, then get up and do it all again tomorrow.
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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
There is this notion in the business world that the only way to achieve success is by “beating” everyone. I don’t believe that. I’m as competitive as the next person, but if there is one thing we need more of in our industry, and frankly our world, it’s the idea that there’s enough room for everyone at the table. Helping others to build a better place will benefit each of us. Even small actions working in collaboration from many individuals make a difference. Inspiring other cannabis professionals not to be in the “cannabis closet” but instead find ways to show the positive impact we can make each day in our own communities, and that there can be enough for all of us — that would be something great to inspire.
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!