This is not your mother’s reefer: it’s good, healthy business

San Diego roommates and entrepreneurs Katarina Maloney and Janell Thompson threw their toxic vaping habit out and turned to hemp to solve their problems. For business reasons, that is.

What inspired you to start Hemp Health?

Katarina Maloney: A mixture of karma and frustration. Six years ago, I posted a Craigslist ad looking for a roommate, and Janell moved in. We were both into e-cigs and bonded over vaping sessions. But the vaping e-liquids were loaded with chemicals that gave us headaches. We believed we could make safer, all-natural vaping products and launched Hookahzz. Hemp Health came later, at a tradeshow, where we learned about cannabidiol (CBD), a compound in cannabis.

Janell Thompson: Thousands of medical papers had explored CBD as an alternative treatment for cancer, multiple sclerosis, epileptic seizures, ADD, Alzheimer’s, and many other conditions. Still, everyone thought that to get the benefits of cannabis, you had to smoke or ingest marijuana. However, that’s not the case. Marijuana is actually low in CBD and high in THC (which gets you stoned), whereas hemp is high in CBD and low in THC. Hemp is the more medicinal strain of cannabis. We extracted CBD from hemp and added it to our e-liquids. But we had a limited market because children, pets, and grandma weren’t about to vape. So, we launched Hemp Health Inc. to provide CBD in friendlier forms.

What do you see for your future?

Katarina: Our future is to make a difference for people who feel that conventional medicine has failed them. I, for one, have suffered from Crohn’s Disease throughout my life, and I found no relief until I tried CBD.

We receive unbelievable letters from customers. In one, a disabled veteran who is allergic to pain meds, told us that CBD is only thing that has alleviated her chronic pain and anxiety. Another customer, who has a traumatic brain injury, had a terrible experience with marijuana and found that CBD reduced his symptoms without fogging his head. A family in Puerto Rico told us that their 9-year-old with non-verbal autism began to speak two days after starting CBD. We want to create more of these stories.

Janell: On a practical level, that means growing our production, operations, and visibility. To accomplish that, we’re working with investors to take Hemp Health Inc. public in Europe. We already source our hemp from generational farms in Europe because hemp farming in the US is either prohibited or a legal nightmare. We’ll be able to produce more CBD at a better price.

Tell us a success story about funding your business?

Katarina: We don’t have any funding yet. We bootstrapped the business with credit cards and our savings—because we had no other choice.

See, as soon as we rebranded Hookahzz to Hemp Hookahzz, and especially after we launched Hemp Health Inc., all hell broke loose. Banks closed our accounts and refused to offer lines of credit. Investors wouldn’t touch us with a ten-foot pole. People thought we were drug dealers.

Janell: Our funding success story is that we’ve launched two businesses and dozens of products without any funding. But bootstrapping is not as romantic as it sounds. Have you ever written $0 on your personal tax return? It’s terrifying.

What do you see as a challenge for you and your business? What are some opportunities?

Katarina: The challenge is cultural. The US has demonized cannabis for over a century. We’re way ahead of the medical and political consensus. It’s only a matter of time before they embrace hemp and CBD, but in the meantime, the FDA practically has a gag order on the CBD industry. We can’t market any scientifically validated benefits of CBD. It’s like selling a magical potion. Still, we cut through the myths and superstition as best we can, mainly through word-of-mouth.

Janell: In spite of that challenge, we’ve created opportunity through product development. Since launching Hemp Health Inc. in 2014, we’ve introduced capsules, raw oils, oral sprays, salves, a pet line, edibles, and suppositories, among other things. Because we have such a diverse line of CBD products, we get on the shelves at health stores, dispensaries, and even veterinarian clinics. Doctors recommend our products and give us feedback on what products they’d like next. As culture and laws shifts, we will be better prepared than any other company to offer CBD on a mass scale.

What do you love about being an entrepreneur?

Katarina: I love creating something new. Product development is unbelievably fun because without the bureaucracy of a big company, we can move at crazy speeds. We can conceptualize a product and put it on the shelves in three months. Where else but a startup can you do that?

I would add that through entrepreneurship, I get to be my true self. In my last job, running a marketing agency, I felt like a zombie. Now, I find spiritual and personal growth through helping others. We connect with people who share our vision of a health culture guided by science, not politics. I feel a sense of love and gratitude when I hear that our products have alleviated suffering.

Janell: Before co-founding Hemp Hookahzz and Hemp Health Inc. with Katarina, I was a business owner. I knew about the ups and downs of being my own boss, 10- to 14-hour work days, sleep deprivation, and so on. The difference is that with Hemp Health Inc., our work became an act of defiance—a mini-revolution, if you will. I feel like I’m living out my most courageous possible life.

In the same way that a great cocktail mixes bitter and sweet tastes, so does entrepreneurship. The contrast makes me feel alive, and I can maintain it because I believe in what we do. When people tell us how CBD has changed their lives, it’s like a shot of spiritual espresso.

Katarina: We just have to believe that the odds are rigged in our favor. Listen to Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary, who says that all of his profitable portfolio companies are run by women. With two women at the helm, as co-founders and co-presidents, don’t we have good odds?

In this article