As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chelsea Rivera.  Chelsea Rivera co-founded Honest Paws and currently serves as Head of Content for the brand. Chelsea graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Radio-Television-Film & Advertising. Her role at Honest Paws stems from a love of digital content the adoration she has for her CBD-loving pup, Baby Rose.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
I am not a business-minded person; however, my love (obsession) with my dog catapulted me into the cannabis industry. I’ve had my dog for 13 years and a few years back she developed seizures. 
Unfortunately, the veterinarians I spoke to couldn’t guarantee that conventional medication would solve the problem. The only thing they could guarantee was that it would have major side effects, including lethargy. 
I think I speak for a lot of other millennial women when I say that my dog is like my child. Needless to say, for me, this just wasn’t a viable option. So instead, I turned my focus on holistic remedies. Within weeks of starting Baby Rose on CBD oil, her seizures disappeared. No side effects. No downside. I was amazed.
While the industry is changing for the better, at the time, there was a massive lack of transparency when it came to CBD products. There was the opportunity. Luckily, my brother, Erik, is an entrepreneur with years of internet business experience. Not to mention, he had a fantastic network of business-minded people around him. Once they were on board, we started working on what would become the #1 CBD pet company in the USA, Honest Paws.
Female Entrepreneur Growing a Cannabis Business - CBD - Chelsea Rivera, Honest Paws
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?
My background is in growing audiences using SEO. However, I have never done it for a product, just for content. A hard lesson that I had to swallow was that traffic doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t convert. You can have tens of thousands of people coming to your website per day. But, if they aren’t making a purchase, or at the very least, giving you their email, then that big, impressive number is just a vanity metric. 
We have changed our strategy to go after high intent traffic. So, while overall we have less visitors, a higher percentage of the visitors we do have are converting which is a win!

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?
When you start a company, you are wearing all the hats. So while I am a Co-Founder & Head of Content, in the beginning, I was posting on social, running the blog, trying to create buzz, working with our product development team, among many other things. Needless to say, there was plenty to be done.
When we first launched, I was working on my first email campaign. I had created a rather large list of journalists and I was going to sell them on Honest Paws. It was going to be personal, heartfelt, amazing. There was NO way they would be able to read my gorgeously crafted poetry and not reply. Or at least – that is what I thought.
Unfortunately, I messed up the personalization fields when setting up the campaign and everyone received an email that led with the greeting, “Hey [S]!”. Now, there are ways that journalists like to be contacted and ways they do not. This would definitely go in the “do not” column. 
I can look back on it and laugh because that was some time ago but at the time, I was mortified. Luckily for us, we’ve seen the light and have since moved on from massive pitches and replaced them with (truly) personalized, small batch lists of journalists and publications who would actually be interested in what we have to say.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry? \
You know – cannabis is such a loaded word. It carries a lot of significance and that significance can change depending on a) your personality and value system and b) your region. 
I was living in Los Angeles when we launched Honest Paws but I am originally from a small town in Texas. When we launched, I got a lot of applause and interest from my LA friends. After all, cannabis is perceived in a more positive light there.
I did, however, have a few people I grew up with that looked at my move into cannabis with concern. It was less judgement and more “are you sure you want to move into this space”. It just goes to show how much misinformation is out there. 
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?
Honest Paws would not be at the level it is without my brother. My brother, Erik, is brilliant and I’ve been able to absorb so much from him throughout this whole process. By nature, I am a person who never feels “ready” to take the leap so it has been really good to be around him. Erik is definitely a “figure it out as you go along” person which I admire very much. I think with his business sense and my flair for creativity, we make a phenomenal team. 

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people? 
Absolutely! We are working on expanding our product line to better serve our customers. We have noticed that customers have a lot of confusion about which product is best. 
So, to make it easier, we are rolling out ailment-specific oils. We already have ailment-specific treats (Calming Bites, Relief Bites, etc.) and those have been very well-received so we are extending that approach to our other of products.
Female Entrepreneur Growing a Cannabis Business - CBD - Chelsea Rivera, Honest Paws
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview.  Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry.  According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
Gender inequality definitely plagues the vast majority of industries, across the board. I think in order to achieve gender parity, we have to be willing to invest in woman-run businesses. Additionally, from my perspective, if you are in a position of power in the cannabis industry and you are not hiring women, you are doing yourself a GREAT disservice. 
At Honest Paws, we are a mostly female team which means that more traditionally female traits like openness, empathy, and willingness to collaborate is not only common but encouraged. And I would be lying if I said our customers have not benefited from this. 
In fact, if I’m being honest, the working moms in our company have made a world of difference. I will be struggling to get through one project and then I’ll talk to our PR director, Haley, who has already completed 90% of her tasks for the day. The working mom’s time management skill level and ability to multi-task is just next level. That’s all there is to it.

You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each. 

  1. Cannabis is still heavily stigmatized – not just by customers, but also banks, processing centers, business partners. When you join the cannabis industry, be prepared to fight the good fight by becoming an educator as well.
  2. You cannot make claims about what your CBD product can or cannot do. I think that was the biggest shock when getting into cannabis. Obviously, there is much more research to be done. But, you would think based on the amazing studies done so far that we could say that CBD has a positive effect on arthritis. However, it is not allowed.
  3. Third party lab testing is everything. People are wary (and for good reason). Therefore, in order to gain your customer’s trust, it is vital to be transparent about what is in your product.
  4. Advertising is a no go. Google and social media have strict guidelines about what you can say in your ads. For instance, you cannot say CBD. Which means that you have to use other methods to connect with your audience. Whether it is content marketing or influencer marketing, it is vital to get creative.
  5. Invest in regulatory affairs. We brought on a person who is an expert in compliance and she has been so incredibly helpful. As I’ve mentioned, CBD is a tricky industry so you really want to invest in someone who can make sure that you are compliant from a regulatory standpoint.

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

  1. The research. Because of the 2018 Hemp Bill, research on hemp has increased tenfold. I am excited to learn more about what this magnificent plant can offer – not just in the form of CBD but all the other rich compounds as well.
  2. It has put the spotlight on holistic health. I have noticed a HUGE shift toward holistic healing. I think the explosion that is CBD has contributed to this. People hear about CBD and how effective it is and then they start to look into other holistic remedies too.
  3. CBD pushes innovation. It has been incredibly interesting to see the industry form. CBD is now available in a WIDE variety of different delivery methods – from gummies to oil to toothpicks. While I don’t endorse all the products out there, it sure does keep you on your toes. The sky seems to be the limit!

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? 

  1. Snake oil. Now, this happens in multiple industries but the number of companies selling low-quality or even faux products is obscene. I may find the increased regulations frustrating from time to time but overall, I have to admit, it is absolutely for the best.
  2. False claims. I am overwhelmed (in the best way possible) about CBD. There are a few things we know it can do quite well and we are learning more and more every day. However, there is so much misinformation out there, it can be frustrating. If you look at our website, we do not make outrageous medical claims about the potential of CBD. However, there are websites out there saying their CBD can help your dog’s cancer.
  3. Lack of education. If we can educate consumers on not only on the science and benefits of CBD but also how to navigate the market and choose the best product, then the industry will be a much better place for it. That is why our blog features a lot of CBD topics, in an effort to empower the consumer with knowledge.

What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
I am absolutely pro-legalization of cannabis. Medically speaking, cannabis offers far more benefits than alcohol. Additionally, the imprisonment of people for the use of cannabis is downright wrong and frankly, embarrassing. Our resources should be used to effect positive change. No one wins when you imprison someone for cannabis use. 

Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
I generally don’t like to comment or speculate about the political side of cannabis. However, I will say that there is growing evidence that cannabis can help to alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with health conditions, while cigarettes seem to do nothing but cause harm. 
Regulations would hopefully, therefore, follow suit with science and factual evidence in mind. If they are able to see the difference in the long-term effects of both products and how different they are, then it could lead to continued growth in the cannabis industry.
Female Entrepreneur Growing a Cannabis Business - CBD - Chelsea Rivera, Honest Paws
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? 
“Those who are certain of the outcome can afford to wait, and wait without anxiety.” 
This is from the metaphysical text, A Course in Miracles, and it serves as an invitation to let go of what you don’t have control over and focus on what you know to be true: that success is inevitable. When I’m feeling anxious or experience the need to control, this helps me to surrender.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement  that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My biggest mission is to educate. There are so many people who continue to operate under pre-conceived notions that were instilled by a society that was largely uneducated about cannabis. If I can be a part of the movement that fights the aged stigma with knowledge, then that is a win in my book.
Additionally, I am a big advocate for holistic health. Cannabis can help those struggling with a wide variety of ailments. The way I see it, the more I set out to influence and educate, the more people I am empowering to heal themselves.
That is why I serve as Head of Content at Honest Paws. I believe I can accomplish these goals by creating educational, engaging content (whether it be on our blog, a video series, etc). I look forward to witnessing continued growth in not only cannabis but holistic health as a whole.

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!