5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a CBD Business: “Keep track of customer stories; They can inspire and energize your team” With Jason Neely, President of Stratos
Keep track of customer stories. Over the past 4+ years, our team has been moved to tears by customer stories on a number of occasions. These stories inspire and energize our team, and they can help to center your mind when the waters turn choppy. I wish we had all of those stories in one place.
I had the pleasure to interview Jason Neely, COO, President and Founding Partner of Stratos. Jason has long possessed a desire to help people. As a formulation scientist for 20 years, Jason built medicines to ease people’s suffering. He worked for several large pharmaceutical and nutraceutical companies developing medications under DEA and FDA scrutiny. With his discipline and scientific prowess, he quickly became one of the top formulation scientists in the country. When he learned about the healing potential of cannabis, he decided to put his business and science skills to work creating the best products on the market. Leading a team of scientists, manufacturers, sales people, marketers, and growers, Jason built Stratos — one of the most well respected consumer brands in the Colorado cannabis market — as well as Stratos CBD, a hemp and CBD product line.
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?
Five years ago while chaperoning at my nine-year-old son’s elementary school dance, I struck up a conversation with my neighbor and fellow dad. He was in the cannabis business, and at the time, I was in the pharmaceutical industry, which we both had experience working in. Our conversation eventually turned to the marketwide issue of cannabis-infused products not being consistent in potency and dosage, unreliable for customers, and in need of an upgrade from a quality standpoint. From there, we decided to link up and change the game together.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of our customers had been given some very grave news from his oncologist — he was given two months to live after being diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. After this news, he felt he had nothing left to lose and decided to give cannabis a try, and started taking Stratos tablets after a budtender recommended them. Two months later at a doctor visit, the doctor was surprised to see him and after taking a close look at an x-ray, he asked, “What have you been doing?” The tumor had reduced significantly. Now I’m not saying cannabis is a cure for cancer, but this was the only thing he did differently, and it helped him. Hearing this news made me hopeful that what we were doing truly was helping people.
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?
Many of the mistakes were NOT funny in the moment, but there is one I can laugh about now. When cannabis came up for the vote in Colorado, I voted no. This stemmed from my lack of accurate education around the medical potential of the plant. Even funnier than that vote, now I’m actively advocating for more access.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Since founding Stratos five years ago, we have created tablets, tinctures, and a salve that are infused with THC and CBD. These products quickly won over consumers and patients and you’ll see them on most of the dispensary store shelves in Colorado. This year we added on to that expertise by creating CBD tablets that can be bought online and shipped anywhere in the country. Creating innovative products are always at the top of the list — we have several product ideas in R&D and we’ve done preliminary work with a few lesser known cannabinoids. The more we learn, the more we understand how much potential this plant contains! In the coming months there will be new hemp, CBD, and THC products hitting the market — be sure to check www.stratosthc.com and www.stratoscbd.com for updates.
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?
There are two immensely important figures who continue to aid me on this journey. The first is my dad. He cut his teeth in business and has been incredibly supportive. The other is an executive coach who I’ve worked with for several years, even before undertaking cannabis. These two people help identify my blind spots, encourage me, and provide solid business advice. When we needed to make changes in our finance operations, my dad flew out to give hands on guidance for next steps and helped bridge the gap while we were in transition.
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?
At Stratos, we are built on the foundation of helping people and our brand aims to bridge the gap between playful and serious in the cannabis space. This matches our product positioning, which manifests as informative, visually interesting executions that can appeal both to people looking for an elevated experience and people seeking relief. We also keep our marketing simple, clear, and concise. Our most valuable insight comes when we listen to what consumers, providers, and people say that they need, then create new products to fulfill those needs. From an activation standpoint, we believe education is key. We’ve worked with clinicians to provide education to groups who we understand can benefit from cannabis. Our marketing strategies have ranged from creating Cannabis 101 classes for senior education to starting a special run club for cannabis enthusiasts. All of these initiatives have been well-received and offer new education and lifestyle approaches that the market was craving!
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
- Research — There are many studies that have been done and the results are exciting. We see incredible anecdotal evidence of our products helping people reduce suffering. With expanded research, more people with similar conditions can learn about and access cannabis.
- Consumer Education — People were told so many negative things about cannabis for so long. It’s only natural for some people to show up with a lot of questions and a healthy dose of skepticism. We see this as an opportunity to educate around the plant and inspire a paradigm shift towards cannabis in general.
- Clinician Adoption — When most people are sick, they go to doctors and follow their advice. It is common for patients to turn to cannabis only when they feel they are out of options. While medical training traditionally does not include cannabis medicine, this is very slowly changing. We have partnered with doctors who have done their research and are linking the best of western and non-traditional approaches when treating patients.
- Taxes — Cannabis businesses aren’t able to write off any deductions because of 280E, which can leave tax rates as high as 70%. This limits our ability to pay employees what they could earn working in a different industry. For our team members, it has to be about more than the money. Our employees are committed to the mission, so we’ve been very fortunate in this area.
- Regulatory Uncertainties — Whether it’s a new state adopting (or rejecting) medical or recreational legalization, working through the details of the Farm Bill, and a never-ending stream of regulatory updates, the only constant we can rely upon is change. It’s no mystery that any burgeoning cannabis company is concerned about federal legalization allowing large corporations to usurp the market share of smaller companies that have been here since the beginning.
- Intellectual Property — Our products and marketing approach have been revolutionary in the cannabis space. We know other brands are closely watching what we’re doing. Unfortunately, the ability to legally protect those assets is limited.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a CBD Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Find a great tax person. Working with 280E unwisely has broken some cannabis companies. This is one of the main challenges we face as an industry.
- Expand beyond THC quickly. We introduced some of the first CBD edibles on the Colorado market based on requests that we heard from dispensaries and end users. There appears to be an incredible amount of potential in the other facets of the cannabis plant. Investing in research and developing innovative products that are first-to-market is critical for survival.
- Brace for continual, rapid change. The heat in this kitchen is always on, and you’ll need to prepare yourself to stay focused and keep going. Our team has adapted to this well, and it shows in the way our store environments, customer preferences, and revenue streams continue to evolve. Our team listens and works to pivot quickly when we see the need.
- Keep track of customer stories. Over the past 4+ years, our team has been moved to tears by customer stories on a number of occasions. These stories inspire and energize our team, and they can help to center your mind when the waters turn choppy. I wish we had all of those stories in one place.
- Enjoy it. Our team runs lean, which means we all stay busy. I make a concerted effort to regularly bring the team together to share stories, update them on new developments, and zoom out on what we’re building. It is refreshing to step back, take a bird’s-eye view, and to share laughs with the team.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
This is an industry that moves a mile a minute, and you won’t get anywhere without a good team behind you. No doubt about it, your biggest asset is your team, and people thrive when they are appreciated and given opportunities to grow. Like many others, my previous work environments involved office politics, and individual skill sets were often underutilized and efforts underappreciated. From day one, I vowed that the Stratos culture would be different. It is important that every single team member knows how valuable they are. Every employee has something to offer, and they deserve the opportunity to succeed. We consciously cross train team members to empower them to help each other. This includes the leadership team. We recently had a packaging change and everyone came in on a Saturday to knock it out. We instill more than ‘do your job well’. This is a value system.
Since the start of this company, my habit has been to say “thank you” instead of goodbye to each team member at the end of the day. Now, you’ll find most of our team saying “thank you” to each other before leaving for the day.
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. 🙂
The devastating effects of opioid addiction are well-documented. My previous professional roles revolved around developing opioid drugs only to see them over-prescribed rather than for the acute supervised care for which they were designed. For these reasons, I left the pharmaceutical industry to translate my formulating expertise into developing products that can help people and assist in reversing this crisis. If I could inspire a movement, it would be for people to embrace CBD as an option to help in the opioid crisis. CBD is non-psychoactive and does not alter mental or physical functionality. Studies have shown it can help with opioid withdrawal and that it shows promise as an alternative option for those with chronic pain. Obviously, any patient should follow the instructions of their doctor and I am not advising anyone to stop taking their prescribed medication, but it is nice to know there are other options to consider.
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5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a CBD Business: “Keep track of customer… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.