Read the original Medium interview here
Use the things you learned about business (from books and school) as a guide, not as a rule: I’m a Pharmacist by trade, I don’t have any formal business training but my first few months of this business, I just started doing things. I had no idea what I was doing, but whatever it was, it was working. I knew long term it wouldn’t be sustainable and I needed help but I never let that stop me. When Lisa and I started working together, I was looking for her to “do the right MBA-trained” thing. I still remember her telling me that she has the tools and background to guide us but what works for one company doesn’t mean it will work for the other. She showed me what it looks like when brands followed too closely to what books tells us is “the right way” — this taught me that sometimes when you play by the books too closely, you can become inauthentic. I’m not saying go off the rails but I think it’s best to have guidance and then determine if it’s the right thing for your company.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Min An. Min graduated from Northeastern University in 2012 with a Doctorate of Pharmacy. He has spent the last seven years as a licensed, active pharmacist working in a variety of healthcare settings from small independent pharmacies, large fortune 10 companies and most recently an HIV clinic. In 2016, Min launched Urban Wag, a dog walking service in Brooklyn, NY. Through Urban Wag, Min worked closely with many rescue dogs, including Korean K9 Rescue group, a non-profit organization that saves dogs from dog meat farms in Korea and helps find them a ‘furever’ home in NYC. While working with dogs who have been through a lot of trauma, he discovered the benefits of using CBD oil in rescue dogs’ diets as a mood stabilizer. This discovery led Min to launch buzzn, a CBD wellness company, in February 2019. buzzn is a line of organic CBD oil supplements for people and pets offering the most absorbable CBD in the industry. buzzn’s pharmaceutical-grade products utilize an intensive CO2 extraction process. buzzn CBD is derived from 100% organic, industrial, Colorado-grown hemp plants focusing on the natural compounds of phytocannabinoid-rich hemp oil to promote healing, while creating an extremely potent yet safe and regulated hemp oil with zero THC to align your body and mind. Learn more about buzzn at getbuzzn.com, @getbuzzn, facebook.com/GetBuzznDotCom.
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 was a patient before I became a Pharmacist. Like many, I was diagnosed with anxiety and prescribed Xanax (drug class called benzodiazepines), a controlled-substance prescription to treat generalized anxiety disorder. I found immediate relief with Xanax and came to rely on the immediate relief that it brought me.
Going through my Doctorate of Pharmacology program, one would assume that I would understand the chemistry behind the drug and could resist becoming reliant on the effects. Lucky for me, I knew this treatment option was not sustainable, or healthy for me long-term because of its highly habit-forming properties (Xanax is classified as a narcotic in the state of New York because of this reason).
I started my CBD journey back in 2015 as I was searching for a more natural solution for anxiety. I wanted something that was NOT addictive but effective. Using CBD on a regular basis has helped manage my baseline anxiety and stress levels. Being a Pharmacist, I’d like to think I understand medication better than most consumers. It’s ingrained in me to pay attention to active ingredients and how medications can interact with each other. As the market grew, I started to notice a lack of transparency in CBD products and also the lack of education around cannabis (specifically the most well-known organic compound, CBD). As a healthcare professional, I wanted to help shed some light on this unregulated market and destigmatize cannabis so I set out to launch high-quality, transparent products along with providing education.
From my experience working with patients in various healthcare settings, I’ve noticed far too many situations where habit-forming prescription medications are handed out without considering other sustainable treatment alternatives. I think it’s time for more healthcare professionals to stand behind the benefits of the cannabis plant and stop hiding behind the stigma. It certainly was a wake-up call for me — personally, and it should be for other healthcare professionals. Patients are now demanding more than just a pill to band-aid their problems. Self-care has taken a whole new meaning, and people are looking for healthier, sustainable solutions.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Starting any business can have its moments but starting a company in a new and ever-changing industry makes for an even greater of a rollercoaster ride. Having faced so many limitations along the way and also the grey area on legalization, we surprised even ourselves by being so adaptable and resilient in the face of roadblocks. I would say that the most interesting and still continues to be an on-going question for our company (as well as other CBD companies) is how e-commerce will be handled and when will this issue be settled amongst lawmakers and financial institutions.
Any business that deals with CBD is categorized as high-risk and therefore requires a high-risk merchant processor for e-commerce sales. In December of 2018, the Farm Bill passed legalizing hemp products in the U.S. It removed any hemp derived products with <0.3% THC from the controlled substance list. Many CBD companies rejoiced at this because it opened the industry up to being able to sell online. Up until this point, we were not allowed to sell on any major third party platforms (Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, etc.). We were also not allowed to use any major processors with reasonable fees (Stripe). After the bill passed, we secured a merchant processor to prepare for our February 2019 online launch. Everything was fabulous for a month until we got a letter in late March stating that the merchant processor will no longer be servicing CBD accounts starting in May and that we should prepare to sell merchandise in other ways.
Imagine if someone told you that the world was ending in two months and you should prepare for it. Dramatic, we know, but that’s exactly how it felt in the CBD industry. Every CBD company was left scrambling to find a solution. The only solution left for smaller CBD companies like us is called “e-wallet” — think Venmo, but with very high processing and transfer fees. We decided to go with this option because we wanted to keep the brand momentum going. But for others, they couldn’t justify the fees and it crippled their business and had to shut down.
This continues to be very interesting because the environment is constantly changing. For most of us, it’s a waiting game and we’re hoping there will be more merchant processors in the near future that will allow for CBD sales. There are lots of rumors and speculations on what’s to come so our seat belts are buckled for this wild ride as we remain optimistic about the industry and the future of cannabis!
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?
Starting a company is one of the most humbling experiences anyone can go through and it’s best to go through the experience with a sense of humor. As we look back at some of our mishaps, we can laugh in hindsight because we are so proud of how far we have come as a company. Of course, while going through the process, it wasn’t so funny.
About a month after we launched (in March), we were hacked. With a handful of sales, we were surprised that out of all the places, this hacker wanted to hack into our system. Afterall, there wasn’t much to our site.
After spending a day kicking ourselves for not getting the most advanced security system, we just had to laugh at ourselves (and the hacker). We were a start-up of one month, with a WordPress website, we joked that this was a student hacker. With that said, while we had to laugh at this rather frustrating experience, we respect everyone’s privacy and data. We take that very seriously which is why we have since stopped being naive and have upgraded to the best and most advanced security system.
To all the student hackers out there, we dare you to try now 😉
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Yes, we have many exciting things planned for Q4, 2019. We also have the groundwork laid out for 2020! We can’t say too much yet, but we’re working on launching new products in different verticals. Stay tuned!
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?
Since the conception of this company, there are many people that have helped me along the way and I couldn’t be more grateful for all the love and support.
Being a healthcare professional and a pharmacist, I knew that one of my roadblocks of launching Buzzn was going to be on the business side. At first, I did most of the legwork alone but it quickly became apparent that I was going to need some help. I was hesitant on bringing just anyone on board. I wanted people on this team that would not only know business, but also shared my vision and passion for alternative health and wellness solutions and CBD education.
As they say, things happen when you are not looking. I met my (now) partner, Lisa, while we were both walking our dogs. It didn’t take us long to start chatting about our careers and we soon realized that even though our professional backgrounds were incredibly different, we had very similar stance on CBD and alternative healthcare. Fresh off the heels of her MBA and having worked for several major beauty brands, Lisa was working on a formula for a CBD lotion that could leverage the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD oil to help alleviate the symptoms of eczema. Lisa shared her story with me about her own battle with eczema and topical steroid use and dependency. She told me about not just the physical impact of her skin condition but the impact it had on her confidence and social life. After years of being on topical steroids, it really affected her skin (skin discoloration and thinning) and she was self-conscious all the time and even going to the gym became an internal struggle because of the flare-up from sweat. Luckily for her, she comes from a family of physicians who still believed in natural healing. Her father told her about the health benefits of the cannabis plant and CBD and set her on the path to develop her lotion.
At the time that we met, she was searching for a partner that could help her from a healthcare perspective because she felt that it was important to educate consumers. She also wanted to develop a well-rounded line that can help address skin and overall health from the inside-out. She explained to me that eczema and multiple other skin issues are more than what you see on the surface and taking care of yourself holistically and caring for your body on the inside matters as well. At the time that we met, she was testing out her formula and had been topical steroid free for almost 6 months.
From sharing our stories with each other, we realized that if we joined forces, we could create a brand that not only give people the tools to take care of themselves but give us a platform to educate on alternative healthcare and being there to guide them to the best products.
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 think one of the best things about being a start-up in an up-and-coming industry means that we can be clever, innovative and most of all nimble with our marketing strategies.
Our marketing strategies are very closely aligned with our vision and our passion. We have tapped into our network of healthcare professionals to engage with our customers. We don’t believe in just launching a product and throwing it on a shelf. Our touch points include: site visits, panel engagements and pop-up events. All of this has definitely generated a “buzz.” As we grow, we plan on maintaining that side of ourselves and reinventing the strategy along with our growth.
These are all marketing strategies that large, legacy companies have been using. Our advantage at this time is that we are able to offer it on a more personal level.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? And can you share 3 things that most concern you?
The 3 things that excite me the most are:
- Cannabis legalization: cannabis laws are changing at a rapidly in all states in the U.S., with some states allowing for medical use, recreational use, and/or anything in between.
- Social shift: I love that there’s so much going on in this industry that’s changing the stigma around hemp and cannabis. With prohibition the benefits of cannabis have really been overlooked and now we have the chance to turn that around! This is a huge step in changing social norms!
- Alternative Healthcare Options: Consumer have other options other than pharmaceutical drugs to address other various issues. There is a holistic, sustainable alternative for those looking for natural pain relief and mood enhancers.
The 3 things that most concern me are:
- Unregulated market: There is no FDA oversight or any compliance on cannabis and hemp extract. Currently, it’s a free-for-all market so the buying customer could potentially be purchasing snake oil.
- Drug interactions: CBD can interact with common prescription drugs (i.e. antidepressants like Zoloft). It’s important to speak to a healthcare professional if you’re looking to use CBD to treat certain medical conditions. That’s why at Buzzn, we have Pharmacists and Doctors who are able to do a medication check for you, counsel on side-effects, and answer any questions you may have about CBD.
- Lack of High-quality, transparent products: As a consumer, it’s so important to research the brand you’re buying from. Always ask for lab tests, and where the hemp is being sourced.
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.
- Use the things you learned about business (from books and school) as a guide, not as a rule: I’m a Pharmacist by trade, I don’t have any formal business training but my first few months of this business, I just started doing things. I had no idea what I was doing, but whatever it was, it was working. I knew long term it wouldn’t be sustainable and I needed help but I never let that stop me. When Lisa and I started working together, I was looking for her to “do the right MBA-trained” thing. I still remember her telling me that she has the tools and background to guide us but what works for one company doesn’t mean it will work for the other. She showed me what it looks like when brands followed too closely to what books tells us is “the right way” — this taught me that sometimes when you play by the books too closely, you can become inauthentic. I’m not saying go off the rails but I think it’s best to have guidance and then determine if it’s the right thing for your company.
- Be ok with change — always: The pros and cons of being a recovering perfectionist is that there’s an ideal way of getting things done and then there is reality. Those have to be able to coexist in the same space. One of the biggest lessons for us is playing the long game. We know where we want to go and we have a preferred outcome but we are ok if the journey to get there doesn’t look exactly like our plan. What’s that saying? — “It’s about the journey, not the destination?” I think our merchant processor situation was a big wake up call for this
- Don’t dwell on mistakes or you won’t make it: We have made many mistakes since we started (even before we launched)! It’s cliche but we don’t dwell on our mistakes, we learn from it and move on. If you dwell on your mistakes too much, you may become too scared to take another step and become your own worst enemy
- You have to have thick skin: We have seen success because we’re not afraid of people saying “no” to us. We always ask the questions. We have created retail partnerships and built so many relationships in this industry because we are not afraid of the other person’s answer
- Do your research: People don’t do their research, especially for a new and unregulated industry. They think they can get away with anything. You can see it in a lot of products on the market. I think it will catch up to you so better to be safe than sorry.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I believe that every founder has a different way of leading their team. There’s no right way to lead a team to success, there’s just the way that works for you. Too often, we all try to fit into a mold of what we think we should be. My advice is to create your own mold. The thing that worked for us at Buzzn is being adaptable and having a team that also shares that ability.
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. 🙂
Obviously, I’m very excited to be a part of the cannabis movement. I know it may sound strange coming from a traditionally trained pharmacist but it’s awesome to see this social shift for younger generations to approach health and self-care in a way more natural way. I’m excited for people to really take control of their own health and seek alternative ways to address mental and physical issues. People are not afraid of raising questions on doctor’s authorities and getting second opinions on treatment alternatives.
I really believe that this isn’t just a trend, it’s a movement that will change lives for the better in the long term. It’s truly inspiring to see more people turn to cannabis (THC and CBD) as a way to relieve stress and anxiety. As the cannabis industry becomes mainstream and more research and clinical studies becomes available, I foresee many more options for personalized treatments for specific conditions.
Medically, we still have a lot more to learn about the other cannabinoids, besides CBD, there’s CBG (cannabigerol) and CBN (cannabinol) — which have different potential health benefits. It will be fascinating to see how these different cannabinoids will play a role in helping with specific disease states. The future is sustainable self-care, and cannabis as a treatment option is finally being brought to the forefront.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Instagram @getbuzzn. Feel free to DM us any questions you may have about CBD. One of the highlights of my day is to answer questions and provide education around cannabis. It’s cool to see so many “canna-curious” people reach out to us through DM on instagram.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!