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An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Be Proactive, Not Reactive: In my market here in Texas, we don’t have recreational access to cannabis yet, so we’re still defining what cannabis looks like in our state from a hemp perspective. As such, I see a lot of brands that wait for the law to change and react when regulation shifts. But what I hope to inspire to see more of are brands that are proactive in helping shape those laws and regulations. I encourage you to call your policy makers, figure out who is setting the parameters, show up to meetings, and involve yourself in the discussion. Help drive the industry in the direction you want it to go instead of passively waiting for change to happen. Be the change!

As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shayda Torabi.

Shayda Torabi is the Co-Founder and CEO of RESTART CBD, Texas’ premier cannabis brand. In addition to founding RESTART CBD with her two sisters in 2018, she is also the host of popular cannabis and marketing podcast To Be Blunt, where she interviews leading brands and marketers on their strategies for success when navigating the cannabis industry.

Shayda also sits on the executive board of the Texas Hemp Coalition, is a Cannabinoids Council member for the Hemp Industries Association, and writes a recurring column for the Texas Hemp Reporter.

Shayda is passionate about helping build great consumer brands in the cannabis industry, and leverages her background in technology and marketing to help navigate the cannabis industry connecting the consumer to high-quality cannabis products and education.

Shayda holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Concordia University in Austin, TX.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

I’ve always been attracted to cannabis. Fortunately for me, I grew up in the “live music capital of the world,” and in my personal opinion, music and cannabis go pretty hand in hand.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that my journey started to course me into professionally working and operating in the industry. When I was twenty-five years old, I was hit by a vehicle as a pedestrian, which fractured my pelvis in two places. That accident pushed me into navigating what would become a life of chronic pain, to which I initially leaned on western medicine (opioids, steroid injections, physical therapy, etc.).

About a year after the accident, my mother actually suggested I try CBD because she heard it could help with inflammation and bone growth. At the time, in 2016, no one was talking about “CBD” so I thought she was a bit insane. But as the first born child, I have an innate reaction to do as my parents say, so I started taking CBD in high doses consistently and within a few weeks noticed a distinct relief in how I was able to manage my pain.

The original products my mother was formulating for me would go on to become the foundation for our product line that we launched as RESTART CBD officially in August of 2018. As a family, we became so familiar with the medicinal properties of this plant that we knew we wanted to help educate others along their journeys and be a resource for high-quality products and education.

We’re about to celebrate four years in business, and I’m proud to say we have grown our business to be one of the leading cannabis brands coming out of Texas.

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?

The most interesting story I can share is the experience we navigated pretty early on in the business. Prior to getting into cannabis, I worked professionally as a technology marketer for a platforms company. I can’t code, but I speak tech and web pretty fluently.

So naturally, when we were setting up our website and payment merchant services, I thought, “Okay, great, I can set up a website, I can apply for a processor.” We originally intended to set RESTART CBD up as an eCommerce-only business. However, that specific dream was deflated pretty quickly. Not only were we one of the first to market in terms of timing (we launched Aug 2018, Hemp was federally legalized Dec 2019, and Texas legalized June 2019), but we quickly realized navigating all of the components mentioned above was going to be extremely challenging for a myriad of reasons!

Customers weren’t familiar enough to have confidence transacting for cannabis online, and they were cautious that CBD was a scam or would get them “high” like THC. Also, without proper industry infrastructure, there was chaos trying to find payment merchant solutions to power our eCommerce. Fortunately, we were able to find a merchant solution willing to take on high-risk businesses in our industry.

We also learned that we had to leverage in-person retail to some capacity and would later open up a small brick and mortar to allow for a more intimate and educational retail experience. The lesson I learned from that initial confrontation was the limited availability of solutions on hand for cannabis-related businesses, whether it’s operations, platforms, commerce, transacting, or marketing.

There were going to be roadblocks, so learning the art of a fast pivot would be an increasingly important skill to master if we were going to continue in the industry. I think we’ve learned from that initial shift and the hundreds of changes we’ve had to make after.

I want people to see opportunity in cannabis, but I also want to be realistic about the hardships ahead. It’s not for the passive entrepreneur; you have to be plugged in daily and prepared to make quick decisions to continue to drive your business forward.

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 already mentioned my mother above, so I just wanted to take an opportunity to reiterate how invaluable she has been on this cannabis journey for us. We are a family-owned brand, so I get to see my sisters daily, and I know not everyone is as fortunate to have an open relationship with their family about cannabis. But I don’t take it for granted and try to leverage our opportunity to inspire and normalize the cannabis consumer journey for the next person looking for education and relief.

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?

It’s a shame that this stat seems to be on the decline instead of the adverse, but as a female in cannabis, I see the disparity all too frequently. From executives to speaking panels, brands on shelves, and business ownership, fewer women are in those positions, and I appreciate any opportunity to advocate for other females.

To me, there are only a handful of tangible resolutions, and that is first, as a consumer, to support women-owned brands and businesses, point-blank. If you want to see more women thriving, then supporting them with your dollar is the best way to do that, and I’ll add the best FREE way to help women-owned businesses is to write them reviews, tag them in social posts, and refer your friends.

As a female-owned business myself, and one that employs a predominantly female team, we have the opportunity to reflect on our hiring decisions and how we can include more diversity to offer opportunities to women. I encourage others in similar positions, not just on your team, but specifically in leadership or decision-making roles that allow females to make a bigger impact.

The final observation is to help bring women up and create space to celebrate. As a podcast host of To Be Blunt, I try to elevate women’s voices above all because I know women are not given as many opportunities as men, especially in our industry. If I can help be someone to shine a light on other women, then maybe we will have more women inspired to see themselves in our shoes and rise to the occasion. Final thought, don’t wait to be invited, show up!

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. Be Proactive, Not Reactive: In my market here in Texas, we don’t have recreational access to cannabis yet, so we’re still defining what cannabis looks like in our state from a hemp perspective. As such, I see a lot of brands that wait for the law to change and react when regulation shifts. But what I hope to inspire to see more of are brands that are proactive in helping shape those laws and regulations. I encourage you to call your policy makers, figure out who is setting the parameters, show up to meetings, and involve yourself in the discussion. Help drive the industry in the direction you want it to go instead of passively waiting for change to happen. Be the change!
  2. Be Comfortable with Chaos: We do not have the luxury of planning ahead. We can do our best, but the puck will always feel like it is moving. You can get frustrated, or you can get motivated, and I think cannabis welcomes the opportunity for creative solutions. So rather than feeling like a door is shut, figure out what is in your control versus reacting to what is out of your control. The sooner you are at peace with the chaos, you will find your flow and rhythm and continue on the course. I believe it will get worse before it gets better, so if you’re getting into cannabis because you think it’s going to be a green rush, then you’ll be waiting for a long time. You have to absolutely love what you’re doing and believe in the power of the plant for the people.
  3. Be a Sponge: There will never be a day where I say “I know it all,” and personally, I don’t know anyone who does. This industry is too new, and we have so much more research to be done, so living in explicits doesn’t help the situation. Be open to new perspectives and ideas, be curious, and ask questions. Most everyone I meet is more than willing to share their thoughts, and you just have to ask and pay attention. It also doesn’t mean you have to subscribe to everything you’re hearing. Do your homework, and then do your homework again. We are still researching this plant, and there is so much more to unpack!
  4. Relationships Matter: I find that the industry is a really small community once you get into it, and how you treat people matters. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be human and operating with kindness will get you farther than making a quick sale on the front end. I mean it with consumers, partnerships, vendors, and every aspect of operating in the industry. Humility will take you far, and treating people like human beings will earn you respect. And remembering that we sell consumables for consumers, the relationship we build with them is what will power this industry towards further adoption!
  5. Remember Who You Are In Business For: For me, we are in business for the consumer at the end of the day, and we are making and selling products for consumption. The quality of those products matters, how you educate and empower consumers matters, and how you navigate the aforementioned matters. Look, cannabis is a brand new industry and it’s not 100% clear what is going to unfold as this industry opens up, but we see it with regulatory changes to things like testing and THC caps, FDA warning letters, and the list goes on. When you’re considerate about the consumer, all of those are easier to navigate and be a guide forward.

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

  1. Giving consumers plant-based alternatives to recreation and wellness.
  2. Making history and seeing laws be re-written and wrongs being righted.
  3. Contributing to building an industry from the ground up and being a leader in an emerging market!

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?

I sit in an interesting position since I professionally work and operate a CBD brand in the hemp industry, but also do business, especially through my podcast, and facilitate conversations about the cannabis industry. I would say there are concerns that overlap both sides of the industry, and at the same time, hemp is federally legal while marijuana is not, so I look at it if we are still having these issues with hemp, how do we tackle them with marijuana and specifically cannabis in general.

  1. No standards for testing: It’s wild when you can send a product to multiple tests and get different results. If we can’t set a standard, then how do we standardize the end product sitting on a shelf for a consumer? I know there are organizations like ASTM worldwide that are helping establish standardizations across the board for our industry, but until we agree on a baseline, we will continuously be chasing our tails and pointing the finger.
  2. Emerging minor cannabinoids and the confusion around cannabis chemistry: The plant has over 100 different naturally occurring cannabinoids, and we’ve been watching them come to market: CBD, THC, but also CBN, CBG, CBC, etc., and now we’re also seeing the market introducing minors and synthesized cannabinoids like Delta 8 and HHC. Is that right, is that wrong, who is regulating that, should someone be regulating that, and where does the line get drawn? I think it comes down to research and education, and we have so much more to do in those areas!
  3. Dosing. How much, how often, is there a limit?: Should we place caps on concentrates? Is 10000mg of THC appropriate to be selling to consumers in a medical market? Again, I defer to research and testing. Yes, everyone’s biochemistry is different, so dosing will always vary from person to person, but we are really flying blind right now with products from a dosing perspective, and we have more work to be done. We always take the approach to do your own research and document how much you are taking and when etc., to help give you some guidance on pursuing this. Still, to me, we throw mg numbers out, and customers are buying based on the highest number of mg present in a product, and that isn’t always what is going to be the most effective for them at the end of the day. I sound like a broken record, but we need more education!

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?

My tune has changed over the years on what “legalization” means to me. On the one hand, we are pushing forward faster than ever before that some sort of amendment to cannabis being a Schedule 1 drug has got to end for so many reasons: the war on drugs, the criminalization of so many people, and especially minorities, and probably the most challenging from a business perspective, the effects it has on securing banking and performing marketing strategies.

However, we have a lot of work to do to open up federal legalization by way of standard testing, regulation, dosing, and on top of it, sorting out licensing. We see the impact these already have on the industry, and it’s heartbreaking watching states like California struggle with over-taxation or states like Florida and my home state of Texas impose limited licensure.

Legalization for who and for what, for consumers, for businesses, well, it’s a bit more delicate these days. It isn’t a “blanket legalization cures all” feeling from me. On top of that, it’s hard to point to any other industry and say, let’s do it like them; pharmaceuticals, alcohol, tobacco, those industries all have their plusses and minuses. Like I said, the ball is in motion, but how we get there and who will benefit the most is still undetermined.

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. 🙂

I feel so completely blessed to be on this path and be doing what I’m doing, and I just want to end on a high note. There are a lot of challenges and concerns, yes, but there are also a lot of opportunities to make an impact. If something is wrong, say something, if you see a way to do something better, then implement it and challenge others.

We only believe what we believe about the industry because it’s what we know, but the reality is that we are just getting started, and a lot of change is happening and will continue to come. Good and bad. Now is the time to ask questions, gain new perspectives, and learn and grow from mistakes. I am not perfect, and I hope you don’t take what I’ve shared as explicit truth but rather feel inspired by it, and continue to do the hard work, continue to show up and make it better for the next person.

I am so passionate about building a better tomorrow today, and when you get into the industry, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Where do you begin? You can’t change everything right now, but you can be conscious of the steps you are taking. I’ll never forget the saying, “how do you eat an elephant?” … “one bite at a time.” So look the elephant head-on, and take it one day at a time, one step at a time. We’ve got this!

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

Wisdom From The Women Leading The Cannabis Industry, With Shayda Torabi of RESTART CBD was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.