As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview Ashley Kingsley, a strategic, multidisciplinary marketing executive who partners with CEOs and entrepreneurs to grow companies, brands, and profits. She has in-depth experience with DIY channels, kids’ apps, small business geo-location, and marketing to the cannabis industry. Kingsley has worked with multimillion dollar brands and lean startups and understands growth, engagement, conversions and product launches.
Noted as one of the “100 Most Important Women in Cannabis” by Green Market Report, Ashley is a co-founder of Ellementa, a global women’s wellness company with a cannabis focus. Her ability to lead, speak the truth, and create change while connecting and building relationships is invaluable to the company, as is her presence in Denver, the heart of the legal cannabis industry.
Ashley’s earliest startup, Daily Deals for Moms, launched in 2010 and expanded into 27 markets before it sold. Ashley knows how to bootstrap and leverage strategic partnerships while building, connecting, and targeting the right audiences.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us? Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?
Alcohol was a family member. We celebrated and commiserated with her. She was the girl who brought me to the party and represented herself as a beautiful seductress. It was our norm — it became my norm. I started drinking in the sixth grade, and it became problematic by the time I was sixteen. Though, I didn’t know it at the time. We had a long, devastating romance, and at the age of 25, I realized I had a real problem — blacking out wasn’t normal.
What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?
I was born into fear. I am often told I came out of the womb afraid. I carried a ton of fear and anxiety around with me about everything. I also had very little self-esteem and like I said, alcohol brought me to the party. She also left me there in a blackout for half my life. I was in chronic pain most of my life due to undiagnosed endometriosis. It would take me out of my life for a week at a time. Doctors handed me pain pills and muscle relaxers like they were candy. I went until the age of 29 until I was diagnosed with endometriosis. I soon developed anxiety, but it went untreated. I self-medicated with alcohol and then “marijuana” in the ’90s. When I was in college I was finally diagnosed with panic disorder and I was put on Benzodiazepines, and soon they would add in Prozac and Wellbutrin because of my depression.
Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?
I developed a very bad addiction on the heels of family illness that indicated I needed to care for kids, work full-time, and manage much more than any one person could. Percocet made me superMOM! I didn’t need to sleep, eat, stop. I was able to cope. I would pop about 150 mgs. of Percocet a day. To put this into perspective: A woman will receive 5mgs after a C-section. It became severe. I knew I might not wake up. At the age of forty,I developed a dependence on opiates. When I got caught — I was standing in a pharmacy knowing it was the end of that journey — I knew it was time to get healthy. I have kids and an amazing family. The cycle of addiction stops with me.
Can you tell us the story about how were you able to overcome your addiction?
As soon as I detoxed from opiates, the addict in me went seeking again. This time, I thought, “Why not try cannabis? If nothing else, I’ll just be a stoner.” I started to get involved in the cannabis industry in 2012. I knew it had medicinal properties. I thought being a stoner would at least give me something to have as an outlet, right? Addicts always need something. I started to learn about microdosing and cannabis and CBD for health and wellness. Soon, the seeking went away. The desire for excess stopped. My body was being fed something it was obviously missing. I have been sober without a second thought for almost three years now. I am a daily cannabis consumer, and I have spent a large part of the last five years really learning about cannabis. If I am working in the cannabis and addiction space now, I will push for change in how we approach addiction in America. I am out of pain and I am almost off my Benzodiazepines! 25 years later, cannabis is the only thing that has been able to help me through the detox of benzos.
How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?
Honestly, the person that suffered the most was me. I kept it well hidden and never let my family see me suffer. I was a great actress. I have been taking great care of my mind, body, and soul. I needed to do this in order to break free from all the chains. There are many in my life still being seduced by her on the regular.
When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?
I never had additional time to fill. I was high-achieving and functional. What I have found is now I am present. I am not seeking. I am able to sit still and meditate. I am at peace with my path, and it feels incredible. I tried sitting in the rooms of AA, reading every book known to man, therapy, hypnosis, yoga, but nothing else has ever worked — until cannabis.
What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?
I have lost 25 lbs., and I wake up early and I am in bed early. I treat my body so much kinder, and I am trying to get stronger and more fit so I can keep up with my kids! I consume cannabis daily and it gives me a beautiful starting place for my day.
Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?
I was 32. I was tired of the nonprofit world where I had spent my young career. I wanted to be part of the PR and marketing world outside of a 501(c)(3). I applied and interviewed with 11 Agencies. During the 11th interview, they said to me, “You have all the skills and experience, but you don’t have agency experience.” I left that interview and decided I would create my own agency. I started ASHER SOLUTIONS, a boutique agency catering to small businesses. I brought growth and digital marketing to my clients. I had my second kiddo, and when he was seven-weeks-old I saw an ad for Groupon for Skydiving and Drinking. I thought to myself, “This is great — if you are 20.”
I was a mom of two working full-time and trying to function in the worst economic downturn of our lifetime. I thought, “Why not create a site just for moms and families who need help all while supporting local businesses?” I created Daily Deals for Moms and grew the company into 27 markets where daily deals and products were launching every 24 hours. It was an incredible business model and a win-win for everyone. I grew the company for two years and sold it in 2012. I kept my boutique agency and have been consulting in growth and digital marketing, PR, and more. In 2012, I started getting interested in the cannabis space and started to make some moves early on. As soon as I saw some of the blatant gaps in the cannabis market, I began sketching out my next company. In the midst of this, I reconnected with an old friend and colleague and we were building an almost identical company. I jumped on with my business partners, and we have created Ellementa, a global women’s wellness company with a cannabis focus. We educate around the globe about cannabis and CBD for health and wellness. I know this won’t be my last startup — I love the excitement too much. I love to create.
What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship? Please share both the positive and negative.
The unquenchable thirst for more is real for addicts, and I have the thirst. I like the hustle and grind, the highs and lows, and the opportunity to always go BIG. It is in my DNA, and I won’t be the first or last to say it: Having addictions and beating them helped me to be a stronger, more well-rounded, and thoughtful entrepreneur.
Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?
Shame. People are so filled with shame. Also, if anyone has an addiction, AA or NA seems to be the first course of action to get help. In the rooms of AA/NA, we are told we are ANONYMOUS. We are taught to keep our stories hidden. The moment I let go of my shame, I started to heal. I started telling my story and realized I am a WARRIOR and I am here to change the narrative. We must speak out.
Can you share three pieces of advice that you would give to the entrepreneur who is struggling with some sort of addiction but ashamed to speak about it or get help?
Ensure, no matter what, you have a support system. Being an entrepreneur can be very isolating and lonely. There were days I would bring my laptop to a bar and “work.” Hook into your local entrepreneurial community and show up. Keep showing up. Be a mentor. Get a mentor. Don’t try to do it in a silo.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram & Facebook @theashleykingsley
Twitter & LinkedIn @ashleykingsley.