I had the pleasure to interview Chris Roth, CEO + Founder of Highline Wellness. Chris spent the last 6 years at Cowen and Co, an investment bank in NYC. He spent a majority of his early time studying the shift from brick and mortar to e-commerce, which eventually shifted to studying the cannabis market. The last two years he spent 75% of his time on cannabis and was the deal-captain on a company called Tilray’s IPO. He was introducing investors to Tilray’s CEO two years ago and they laughed at him for pitching a cannabis company. This past July, Tilray went public at $17 ($3b valuation) and traded to $300. Chris saw the industry come full circle and thought there was an opportunity to do the same thing in the US. Chris personally started using CBD after hearing about it at Cowen’s cannabis conference out in LA, last spring. He found that not only was it great for sleeping but that it served many other benefits throughout his day, including decreased anxiety and increased focus. He came back to NY and started talking to his friends about it, and NO ONE knew what it was. He was immediately intrigued about the opportunity to start a business and started studying the market. What he found was that CBD is misunderstood, there is real science behind it, and NY is several years behind LA in terms of adoption and awareness. After taking the temperature of the market for months and seeing what people did NOT like about CBD, he and his friend Chris D’Alberti created Highline Wellness to address those problems.
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 worked in finance for 6 years and for the last two years I spent a majority of my time studying the cannabis market. I was introduced to CBD last spring at a cannabis conference. I tried it, and I found that it significantly improved my quality of life. When I came back to NY, I found that very few people here were familiar with CBD. I was immediately intrigued with the thought of starting a CBD business. After telling Chris D., our Co-founder about the idea, we leveraged his background in digital marketing and created a direct to consumer e-commerce company.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting part of this journey so far, has been of a broader theme; the evolution of acceptance from family and friends. Specifically, the process from initially introducing them to CBD, getting looks of confusion and surprise, to them being accepting and excited after learning more. I enjoy monitoring that process and providing education about CBD and it’s benefits.
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?
There are a million. It’s tough to choose one! The one that sticks out the most, is having to return our very first batch of labels because they were done incorrectly, which then pushed back our launch date.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Yes, a brand ambassador program. We are in the process of recruiting a team of brand ambassadors that we feel will enhance and drive our vision for the future.
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?
Yes, my dad. My dad has helped me and Chris D. since day one and he played a vital role in our launch being successful. His mentorship has been invaluable, and we learn more each day from him.
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?
Yes, but we will not share them here 😉
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
1) The start of research within the US. Before the farm bill, it was illegal to run studies on hemp derived CBD. It was considered a level 1 drug, more serious than heroin and cocaine.
2) The end of the negative stigma. A recent study estimated cannabis to be 115 times less toxic than alcohol. It’s only a matter of time before public perception shifts towards the facts.
3) The shift away from opioids and prescription drugs towards natural treatment and healing.
1) Bad actors — brands that don’t have the consumer’s best interest in mind.
2) Untrusted quality — negative media coverage highlighting brands that aren’t producing CBD the right way, thereby turning off consumers who could benefit from it.
3) Delayed changes to legislation to put the proper regulations in place for a safe market place.
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) Your advertising must be creative: CBD companies are not allowed to do paid advertising on common platforms like Google, Facebook, and Instagram. If you are going to start an e-commerce company you must find creative ways to reach your audience.
2) Not everyone will understand your vision: As much as perception has shifted in favor of cannabis, there are still many people that think of it as “the devil’s lettuce”. Don’t expect everyone to understand, and that’s OK.
3) Uncertainty is constant: With all of the changes in regulations occurring, headlines around the legalities and regulations are a constant and you need to learn to roll with the punches and adjust on the go.
4) The banking system is not your friend: Although it has improved since the farm bill passed, banks still consider CBD sales as a “high risk transaction” which means not all banks accept your business, and rates are higher than normal.
5) You need to be the most educated in the room: With so many false presumptions around cannabis, it’s important to know the facts and to represent cannabis in a sophisticated, fact driven manner. If every company does a good job of educating their consumers and presenting cannabis in a good light, perception will catch up to reality.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Make sure your employees know and understand your vision. In order for employees to buy in and perform at the highest level, it is imperative that they understand the bigger picture. Understanding the five and ten year view makes it much easier to understand the importance of the day to day projects.
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. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to people, it would be the education and acceptance around cannabis as a replacement for prescription drugs, particularly opioids. With cannabis being considered a level 1 drug by the DEA, it is illegal to perform studies within the US. I would change the laws and promote research on THC, CBD and all of the other cannabinoids. I am confident that once the scientific process run’s it course, many people that consume THC and CBD as medicine and swear by it, will be validated with scientific evidence. The opioid crisis has never been worse, and it is imperative that we change the laws and provide Americans with a more natural, less toxic alternative to manage pain.