5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started: “You are not a CEO, you are a fire chief” With Emily O’Brien CEO of Mondo

…Lastly, you are not a CEO, you are a fire chief. As stated above, there will be so many problems. Just put on your fire chief hat and put out the blaze as best you can and lead. Don’t panic at the fire, learn from it and contain.

As a part of my series about “the 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business ”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Emily O’Brien. Emily, is super dog mom, dancing extraordinaire, cannabis industry leader. Emily O’Brien is also the CEO and Founder of Mondo. Emily grew up on a winery in Napa Valley, studied at Evergreen State College, and has found herself operating Mondo for the last 7 years. She and her company have been written up in GQ, Elle UK Magazine, NY Times, and Forbes. Visit us at mondomeds.com or follow @mondomeds on Instagram

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with the ‘backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis space?

My backstory about what brought me to the cannabis space was literally my back. I ruptured my disc in my lower back, and it caused me excruciating pain and a lot of nerve damage. My doctors put me on a cocktail of opiates and ordered a 6 month physical therapy regimen. The preciption pills tore up my body and clouded my mind, so I turned to edibles to counteract the side effects. The only edibles that were available were brownies and cookies, and thus I was eating those sugary “delights” every day for 6 months. It was terrible but it allowed me to get off of the opiates much sooner and without withdrawal symptoms. This experience made me realize that I needed to create “a daily edible for everyone”, and thus Mondo was born.

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

The most amazing thing I witnessed and had a helping hand at, was getting someone successfully off of Prednisone and Percocet. This gentlemen was the husband of a classmate in my permaculture studies program, and she was telling me about his ailments since I was studying the health benefits of cannabis in school. (Love you Evergreen). He had been taking Prednisone for the last 7 years for inflammation, managing pain with Percosets for the last two, and his body was paying dearly for it. I created a daily concoction for him of 100mg of CBD and between 20–50 mg of THC per day. He was then able to ween himself off slowly over time without adverse effects. It was truly amazing to witnesss.

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?

Here’s the lesson: THC will will collect at the bottom of a giant glass of extracted coconut oil if left to solidify at room temperature.

How do I know this? Haha. Well I unknowingly gave my testers around 250 mg of THC when I had intended to give them 75 mg per edible. I painstakingly went through the process of testing extraction methods with a local scientist, and had found the perfect formula to extract all the beneficial compounds without the bitter cannabis taste. I got a little carried away in my excitement and created a 2 liter batch of highly concentrated coconut oil batch, got it tested for mg’s of THC and was ready for product testing. I created many batches with corresponding lot numbers. A few weeks of testing went by and I decided to bring a test batch to my permaculture class. My classmates were ecstatic that I wanted to share my tester edibles, low and behold not 45 minutes later the entire class was keeling over, crawling around in the garden, and experiencing vertigo. Some took it in stride, but others did not hold up so well (oof!). I knew my calculations or titrations weren’t wrong, I love chemistry, so what was it? Well I went to get the oil retested (now a halfway full jar), and low and behold it was almost 4 times as concentrated than the first round. Oh, I guess here’s another lesson.. test, test, and test again!

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Certainly! We are getting ready to launch Mondo in Massachusetts, just in time for the 420 holidays. Additionally, I am working on a few new product partnerships with our CBD line. Our powder is a great platform for people to build products with, and I am looking forward to all the fun creative implementations.

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 would not be here today without the help and support of my family. My father, Bart O’Brien was my first champion in starting this company when most people were concerned about the industry. It took a little while for my mother to come around, but she has turned into a valuable advisor and huge advocate (she’s in love with the CBD version!). Having a family as supportive as mine created a safety net for me to jump into this precarious industry head first.

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 large legacy companies need to adopt creative packaging strategies. Laws require a significant amount of packaging before the product can leave the store, and almost everything is non-recyclable. It would be great if these companies would invest heavily into biodegradable options, and be leaders in eco-consciousness. It is forgotten that the cannabis industry is incredibly resource intensive, water, nutrients, electricity, and now non-recyclable packaging is required.

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

The three things that excite me are:

  1. Greater people have access to medicine that can work for their bodies. From tinctures to patches to inhalers. There are now many options for people to ingest THC or CBD to balance their bodies.
  2. Shifting of the stoner culture to an informed wellness culture.
  3. Opportunities to bring economic boon to impoverished and underserved communities.

The three things that concern me:

  1. Constant shifting of regulations around CBD. There is not a policy in place that states that CBD has medical benefits, and the laws around it are constantly changing.
  2. The number of women and people of color who hold CEO positions in the industry is falling from once higher numbers.
  3. Lack of eco-consciousness. Packaging requirements are quite intense and there are very little environmentally friendly options.

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. Murphy’s law applies to the cannabis industry.Anything that can go wrong will go wrong (testing, regulations, landlords, banking…..). Just know it and keep moving.
  2. Give yourself rest. You will get busy. Beyond busy. Passed out in your clothes on your couch laptop resting on your stomach like a shield kind of busy. Give yourself space and time and my god SLEEP. Create a system and trust in the process, every business will take as much as you will give it. Be kind to yourself on days off, and grind it out every work day.
  3. Contractual Farming. Oof the horror supply stories. I was out of my strain specific supply so I ended up walking around Emerald Cup with a sign that reads “Organic Blue Dream Trim?”. That was a difficult quarter.. Hah.
  4. Know when to pivot. I started making granola bars thinking it would be a “daily edible for everyone”. Well that’s not quite the case, and after 3 years I needed to make the pivot to shut down granola bar production and figure out how to solve that problem I set out for myself. And Voila! Mondo powder was created.
  5. Lastly, you are not a CEO, you are a fire chief. As stated above, there will be so many problems. Just put on your fire chief hat and put out the blaze as best you can and lead. Don’t panic at the fire, learn from it and contain.

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

Employees come first. Always. If you are bringing people on board with your vision you need to make sure you take care of them. Give people opportunity and room to grow and they will turn around and impress you.

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. 🙂

I want to inspire patience. Patience with yourself, patience for others.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Follow us on Instagram @mondomeds or visit our website at www.mondomeds.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started: “You are not a CEO, you are a fire chief” With Emily… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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