Every industry has a cut-throat component. After all, business is business. But the cannabis and hemp industries are swimming with shady characters and con artists looking to take advantage of unsuspecting rubes. If something seems too good to be true, check it out. Always do your homework on who you’re doing business with.
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 Jim Higdon, Co-Founder, Cornbread Hemp.
Jim Higdon is the co-founder and chief communications officer at Cornbread Hemp. A native of Kentucky, he graduated from Brown University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism before starting his first career as a journalist and book writer. He is the author of The Cornbread Mafia, the nonfiction account of the largest domestic marijuana syndicate in American history. In 2018, he partnered with Eric Zipperle to create Cornbread Hemp, the first CBD brand from Kentucky to offer USDA certified organic CBD products.
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 began my career by writing a book about The Cornbread Mafia, which was published in hardcover in 2012. The book became a best-seller and was re-released in paperback in 2019. I turned the success of the book into a journalism career, writing for POLITICO, Entrepreneur, Esquire, and the Washington Post. While reporting on hemp legalization in the Farm Bill in late 2018, I found an opportunity to start my own company. I partnered with my cousin, Eric Zipperle, who has an MBA and an e-commerce background, and together we went to work to create Cornbread Hemp.
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?
In December 2019, our website was hacked. We discovered all our search traffic was getting diverted to sell auto parts from China. It killed our analytics. In repairing the damage caused by the hack, our team learned a ton about SEO. Getting hacked forced us to learn set us on a path to begin crushing our SEO.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We just rolled out double-strength formulations of our USDA certified organic CBD oils, in Whole Plant and Distilled formulas. These 1500 mg CBD oils are some of the strongest CBD products on the market to be USDA certified organic. The THC level of the Whole Plant formula clocks in at 0.234%, very close to the 0.3% legal limit. Our products help people overcome their skepticism of CBD with the USDA organic seal. CBD products are new to many people, but they trust the USDA organic seal and understand what it means.
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?
I’m not in the business of giving our larger competition ideas on how to continuing being our larger competition. However, everyone in the CBD industry is bound by the same marketing restrictions. Like football, we all play in the same weather, and the trick to winning a football game in bad weather is to enjoy the bad weather.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
1) The fact that hemp-derived cannabinoid products have access to the USDA’s to organic certification program is revolutionary! An office of the federal government is now approving hemp products that meet its standards after nearly a century of federal prohibition.
2) CBD topicals are changing the game in skincare, and our paraben-free full spectrum CBD lotions with a sativa terpene profile are unique in the marketplace.
3) Pet owners becoming CBD evangelists after seeing how our CBD oil for pets works with their dogs and cats. There’s no placebo effect with pets!
Three concerning things about the hemp industry
1) The lack of FDA regulations.
2) The lack of FDA regulations.
3) The lack of FDA regulations.
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) The basic rules of e-commerce don’t apply to CBD businesses. Marketing avenues that regular businesses take for granted are blocked for CBD companies.
2) Social media platforms are not your friend. Facebook ads, Instagram swipe-to-shop, promoted tweets — all things you cannot access as a CBD brand.
3) Amazon is not your friend. Just because it’s now legal in the USA to sell CBD products does not mean that Amazon plays by those rules. In fact, Amazon does not allow any products labeled “CBD” on its platform, but it *DOES* allow products with “hemp” on the label. Consequently, shady characters are selling bottles of “hemp oil” on Amazon that look like CBD products, which damages the reputation of the whole industry.
4) Every industry has a cut-throat component. After all, business is business. But the cannabis and hemp industries are swimming with shady characters and con artists looking to take advantage of unsuspecting rubes. If something seems too good to be true, check it out. Always do your homework on who you’re doing business with.
5) Surviving and advancing in the CBD industry is a game of creative problem solving. All the problems that face the CBD industry are challenges that every company faces, big and small. There are no tried-and-true methods because everyone is learning the rules together as they change in real time.
What advice would you give to other founders to help their employees to thrive?
Communication is key. Navigating the changing regulatory and legal landscape of the hemp-derived CBD industry requires constant re-adjustments. As your team is working towards one goal, another goal may take immediate priority, or the goal you were working towards may shift considerably. Communicating to your team about the grand vision beyond their role is vital as you work to solve a complex problem like succeeding in a fledgling industry like the hemp-derived CBD market.
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 would use my influence to help end the Drug War. By ending the War on Drugs, more Americans will come to realize that the War on Drugs has been an extension of Jim Crow-era segregation (which was itself an extension of slavery) by waging a war on Black communities under false pretenses. We would use our influence to ensure that Breonna Taylor was the last Kentuckian to be shot dead by police officers serving as soldiers in a senseless Drug War.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
We have lots of great ways to interact with people on social media!