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“Sticking with it and learning.” with Alex Rullo and Len Giancola

It’s going to take a lot more time than you think. Any business founder will tell you that you will need to estimate how many hours it’ll take per week to get going and then double that number. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve pulled 16–18-hour days, seven days a week for multiple weeks […]

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It’s going to take a lot more time than you think. Any business founder will tell you that you will need to estimate how many hours it’ll take per week to get going and then double that number. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve pulled 16–18-hour days, seven days a week for multiple weeks in a row. A lot of people say they are tired after a hard day’s work but starting your own business will bring this feeling to a whole new level. However, though it is hard work with long hours, it is the most rewarding thing an entrepreneur can do. Sticking with it and learning from your failures will ultimately bring you success. Don’t give up.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Rullo, Executive Vice President, Strength of Hope Pure Hemp Extract. Alex and his wife Carolyn are co-founders of Strength of Hope. Based in Portland, OR, their line of Hemp Extract (CBD) products is recognized for scientifically formulated and tested quality, with all-natural Hemp ingredients. Prior to founding Strength of Hope, Alex served as a digital media director for 10 years and for seven years as a financial advisor. Strength of Hope was founded two years ago, when it became clear that CBD was an amazing emerging opportunity with great likelihood for local, national, and international success. He and his team developed highly effective, yet naturally simple products that are mainstream and sold in holistic clinics and markets, grocery retailers, and pharmaceutical retailers. Alex believes that Hemp Products should not be classified as drugs, except in certain circumstances. Hemp Extract’s effects on the body are as natural as the benefits we receive from the vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables. CBD from Hemp works with our bodies to restore its natural balance, and scientific research into the results and ultimate safety of CBD is of paramount importance. This is especially true if CBD is to be taken in massive dosages (possibly qualifying it as a drug), as with the recently FDA-approved Epidiolex for certain types of epilepsy. Alex works closely with a team of pharmacists, scientists, and physicians in development of Strength of Hope products. His company responsibilities also include distributor/retail relations and development, oversight of project management for national sales, and product manufacturing and fulfillment.


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’ve been in business for the last 10 years as an entrepreneur in both digital media and finance. Though it was an incredibly challenging and rewarding experience, I felt I hadn’t quite found my true path yet. My wife Carolyn and I were both in car accidents a couple of years ago, and through extensive physical therapy and chiropractic care, we’ve been mostly able to recover. Unfortunately, however, we may have to live with the pain for the rest of our lives.

As I was transitioning my career, I was introduced to the possibility of starting a CBD/Hemp Extract company. After careful consideration, and with both Carolyn and I interested in learning more, we decided this was a great opportunity to do something we love and to help other people along the way. On our journey of discovery in the new Hemp Industry, we often found it difficult to find quality CBD products that were well founded in science and had appropriate testing. Most of the time, we couldn’t even figure out the true amount of CBD in a given product.

It became clear that there was a real opportunity for a company that made transparency and reliability its priorities. We wanted people to know what they were getting in each product — and to be able to trust them all.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The Hemp industry is unlike any other. Many of the original people in the industry were former marijuana growers, who then adapted their businesses when the legal status changed. However they didn’t have the same business background that I have. Many of them are great people with solid cannabis and hemp knowledge, and do have sensible business practices, but there are quite a few that don’t.

When searching for information from people with industry experience, you have to really understand the basis of their experience. This is true in every aspect of the business, from growth to extraction, formulation to manufacturing, and to business practices and sales. It really was an eye-opener for me. I learned that you have to be thorough in evaluating business relationships in every facet of this 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?

We have a pharmacist on our staff that developed a proprietary, powerful Hemorrhoid Ointment infused with Hemp Extract. It is made with all-natural ingredients and is incredibly effective. The problem with such a product is the dilemma of how we would test the product. Let’s just say that we had quite a laugh in trying to figure out how we would ask people to undertake that task for us!

At the same time, nearly 50% of people over the age of 50 have experienced or are experiencing the painful effects of hemorrhoids, so it’s worth the awkwardness of asking such a question. You have to go above and beyond to be able to help people the right way!

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Everything we are doing is exciting! We are really getting into more specialized products, such as the Hemorrhoid Ointment. There are many different types of Hemp Extract products on the market today, but we are especially interested in products that can effectively target specific needs. We encourage customers to tell us what they are looking for, so that we can research their ideas as to the formulation and feasibility of new products. We are about to introduce two new Hemp Extract products that I believe will not only help a lot of people, but will revolutionize the industry.

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 hesitate to mention just one, as so many people helped guide us along the way. The people who you surround yourself with — both in business and in your personal life — matter. The collective sum of these individuals will help shape your future.

If I had to pick just one person, though, I would pick my wife Carolyn. She has been totally supportive of my mission from day one, and she could often see the vision clearer than I could. She has helped ground me when my ideas are off the mark, but has also helped build me up when I was on to something big. I’m incredibly grateful for her every day!

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 just completing a rebranding of our identity as Strength of Hope. We hired a reputable and experienced marketing company to help us accomplish this. The Hemp Extract business has many market distinctions that differ from other industries. Of course, we have the millennial market (about 40%) and social and online sales, and with CBD becoming mainstream, the boomer market (also about 40%) is a significant entity, with entirely different needs. A company in our position can either make a choice between the two ends of the spectrum, or have a strategy that can encompass both. We have campaigns launching in the social and influencer markets, as well as more traditional television, radio, and retail markets. We are planning sponsorships and product placement in both traditional and nontraditional arenas. The key is to have a solid message that can adapt to many different audiences and venues.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Hemp industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?

I believe the future of the Hemp industry is going to be much bigger than we’ve predicted (which is saying a lot.) Hemp Extract is just one of more than 250 known Hemp byproducts with a variety of health and wellness benefits. When the United States government removed Hemp from the list of controlled substances, it ultimately changed so much more than policy. A new generation of farmers is joining the existing contingent in cultivating hemp on a scale we’ve yet to fully comprehend, which will result in the most massive expansion of an industry we’ve seen in decades.

As this new industry expands, scientific research and technology will ultimately grow with it, allowing for new and exciting products that can help people in more ways than we’ve imagined. As we dive deeper into the study of the endocannabinoid system and the spectrum of cannabinoids in the hemp plant, we will also learn more about their interactions. This will lead to exciting advancements in the health and wellness community.

Any new industry can bring a lot to the table, including inspiration and motivation for entrepreneurs who dream of making the world a better place. Children who grow up dreaming of changing lives and making a difference will be inspired to do just that. A new industry brings new opportunities for people who may need just one chance to succeed.

Though this industry is incredibly promising, there are certainly red flags and cautionary tales that the Hemp world needs to heed. We still don’t know what the FDA and USDA are going to do, which is not necessarily alarming, but certainly disappointing and frustrating. As with any industry, regulation needs to be prominent to ensure the safety of consumers. I expect that rules and regulations will be implemented on a federal level by early next year in some capacity.

Quality control is not standardized across the country, since the FDA and USDA haven’t finalized their decisions. This is leading to a lot of problems, even within heavily regulated states. Having consistent regulation standards to facilitate the manufacturing of Hemp products is critical to weeding out ineffective, inferior and misleading products and companies. Too many “Hemp” brands are still using Hemp Seed Oil with no CBD or Hemp Extract infusion, and are still getting away with calling it “Hemp Oil.” Without regulation, this will continue to become a problem and more people will suffer without solid education.

Education is lacking in this industry, which needs to change dramatically if the CBD industry is going to be sustainable. Companies need to create distinctive and accurate education for their customers, backed by science and data. Too many vague hemp products are on the market, failing to showcase how much Hemp Extract or CBD is utilized, let alone how or why you would use it. If the industry can modernize standard education practices at the company, retail chain, clinic, and pharmacy level, then consumers will be able to make the appropriate choices for their needs.

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Hemp Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

Hire the experts who can help you understand how to grow and thrive in a new industry. Though we have been lucky in finding these partners, it was not always easy going. We have all worked long hard hours to get our company well-known and successful, but it took grit and determination (and a little luck) to make it happen.

It’s going to cost you a lot more money than you think. We started the company with a fair but reasonable capital raise — or so we thought. As we grew and found success, we had to carefully budget and maneuver to make sure we could sustain product development and manufacturing without bankrupting the company.

It’s going to take a lot more time than you think. Any business founder will tell you that you will need to estimate how many hours it’ll take per week to get going and then double that number. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve pulled 16–18-hour days, seven days a week for multiple weeks in a row. A lot of people say they are tired after a hard day’s work but starting your own business will bring this feeling to a whole new level. However, though it is hard work with long hours, it is the most rewarding thing an entrepreneur can do. Sticking with it and learning from your failures will ultimately bring you success. Don’t give up.

Surround yourself with the best team of like-minded people with areas of differing expertise. It starts at home — make sure your family is prepared for what you are about to do. They need to be supportive, encouraging, and even involved, if possible.

Make a decision as to how you are going to grow your business. Are you going to stay local and create a loyal homegrown base of customers, or are you thinking of reaching a global customer base? Both can be highly successful but require entirely different approaches in your business plan. Do you want to develop an online presence, or do you want to focus on retail? Consider your exit strategy: Do you want to keep the business in your family and develop a legacy for your grandkids, or would you prefer to sell the company and make a sizable profit? Different strategies work better for different business plans.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

First, you need to have employees. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Hire the right people for the right jobs and let them do their jobs. Don’t try to micromanage, but make sure communication is crystal clear. Have proper reporting systems in place and grow your processes as you scale your business. If your employees feel they’re partially responsible for the success of your business, they will be more inclined to stay. And if they are responsible, reward them! That’s what keeps them loyal.

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. 🙂

Give back. Your business should mean more to you than just a paycheck, and your customers will watch you carefully. Make them feel they’re a part of something bigger, instead of just a customer buying a commodity. If they see you making a difference, regardless of how big or small, they will notice. Make it a point to treat each customer as if they are your most valuable customer, because in this industry, if you are truly out to help people, then that’s the truth. So give back and be the inspiration they need.

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