I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly and Michael Bumgarner, co-founder’s of Cannuka. Cannuka is a medically-inspired natural skin care line that combines two unique ingredients; cannabis and Manuka honey. Cannuka officially launched their eCommerce platform late October 2017 and just recently started exploring national retail opportunities. Cannuka is seeing rapid 50% month-to-month growth and is laying the groundwork by working with leaders in manufacturing and logistics to be the first global cannabis beauty brand.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? How did you first get into this business or get interested in the business?
Ihad been a PA-C in dermatology for a couple years at that point and it was actually Michael who came to me one day and said he wanted to start a company in the cannabis space. Let’s just say I was shocked at first. We had just gotten married and my initial reaction was that there is no way I was going to start selling drugs. It took some time for Michael to win me over on his “big ideal” and even more time to fully realize that cannabis was not the scary word I was raised to believe. Once I learned about all the health benefits and specifically how amazing hemp derived CBD is in healing skin…I was all in.
MB: For me, I first got interested in cannabis because I saw first hand the devastation of the “family farm”. I saw the mass cultivation of industrial hemp as the answer to a lot of economic problems hitting rural america. From there I started learning about all the amazing health benefits of the plant outside of the THC element and knew we could create a product to redefine the word cannabis and ultimately create a new industry. Like Kelly mentioned, I then went to her with an idea…which took many months to articulate correctly. But once she was on board we hit the ground running.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
KB: I think Michael and I share similar interesting/ funny stories when we told our families we were getting into this industry. We both come from pretty conservative areas, Michael from rural Ohio, while I was born in raised in Chesapeake, VA. Our family’s reaction when we told them was unforgettable. Both thought we were crazy and could not understand why we wanted to sell drugs. It was pretty funny when I first told my nanna (grandma) — her reaction was priceless.
MB: Luckily for both of us, it is 100% different now and our families are all so supportive. We see the same initial reaction over in over again. The way we have positioned Cannuka though is allowing that conversation to be much easier. Almost everyone is familiar with skincare products and being able to introduce cannabis in a new light is truly a game changer…especially because our products are so effective!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
MB: Well, it starts with the fact that Cannuka is such an effective product. The unique combination of cannabis and Manuka honey is absolutely amazing. The CBD helps with ones skin inflammation and the Manuka honey is such a powerful healer that a lot of hospitals and burn units across the country actually use it to heal burn wounds. If our product was not as effective as it is, we would not be able to get to what we truly believe differentiates us, which is our mission.
KB: From the beginning Michael wanted to get into the cannabis space because of his background living on a small farm in Ohio. He saw first hand the devastation of the “family farm” and set out to create a new industry where small communities could thrive. That is when he discovered cannabis (aka industrial hemp). We believe launching effective beauty and wellness cannabis products will help redefine and de-stigmatize the word cannabis…ultimately improving people’s health, the environment, and igniting a new sustainable industry.
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?
KB: Besides our families, who taught us both so much…I’d say our partner Stephen Letourneau. Without Stephen I do not see how we would even be having this opportunity to speak with you today. First and foremost, Stephen is an amazing person who truly cares about the people he works with. That was so important to us given that Cannuka is very much a family business. Partnering with someone who is not in the family can be scary…luckily we view Stephen and his husband Ian as part of our family and are so grateful they are in our lives. Stephen has a one-in-a-million eye for merchandising and really worked with us to elevate our brand to what you see today. As a cannabis company in the beauty spacem, our brand is extremely important. The conversation about the product can be difficult at times because CBD in beauty is so new, however we have a very easy product to experience. Our thought process was if we can create an effective product and design clean approachable packaging, we can get someone to try Cannuka. Once they try it, odds are they will have an amazing experience and be a loyal ambassador moving forward.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
MB: So many. We have a que of 31 new products that will be launching by the end of 2019.
I am extremely excited to be launching our Cannuka MEDI product line later this year. MEDI is a transdermal which allows our active ingredients to penetrate the skin and into the bloodstream. We have four new products ready to launch between July and September — a Pain Relief Cream, Sleep Aid, Concentrated Healing Cream, and an After Sun Repair Cream.
KB: I would have to say my personal favorite is the Sleep Sid! We have a four year old son and a 20 month old daughter. I miss my sleep and the sleep aid has been a lifesaver.
With my experience in dermatology, I see our Concentrated Healing Cream being able to break into the derm world for patients looking for a natural alternative to some of the other options available. It works wonders on several chronic skin issues as well as scaring.
As for our After Sun Repair Cream, all I can say is I truly regret what I did to my skin with all the sun exposure when I was in my teens and I tend to hide from the sun nowadays. However, like everyone, there are times when I still get burnt. Our After Sun Repair Cream is my go-to when that happens — the CBD immediately takes the red inflamation away and the Manuka honey goes to work healing.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
KB (3 items that excite us): I love that CBD is becoming the trending ingredient of the year and I believe it will have its own category soon. As someone who loves beauty and wellness products, I am so excited for something truly new in this space. I have felt for a long time now that there has not been anything new and innovative — and I believe that CBD is the answer. And finally after the countless hours of conversations with Michael over the past few years, I am a big believer that the cannabis industry as a whole can have a global impact on people’s lives. Starting with personal health through the use and consumption of cannabis products, but also the mass cultivation of hemp could help clean our environment, having the potential to spark a new industry which would allow people of all walks of life to acquire a sustainable living.
MB (3 items that concern us): I personally believe it is just a matter of time before everyone gets onboard with this cannabis movement which has already begun. Our primary concern is when will that be. Companies like Facebook/ Instagram still won’t allow Cannuka to promote our natural skincare line on social media. We are a very new company and we do not have the same ability to promote the effectiveness of our products on social like other natural product lines do. That is a big deal for us. It certainly seems like we are not playing with the same set of rules as others. Again, I think this is a timing concern more than anything. The cat is out of the bag and many people are seeing first hand that CBD is a health and wellness ingredient.
Can you share your top “5 things you need to know in order to succeed in the Cannabis industry”? Please share a story or example for each.
KB: Know your strengths and stick to them.
I LOVE working with patients which is why I am still working full time as a PA-C in dermatology. I learn new things everyday and am able to share them with Michael and the Cannuka team to help create more effective products. This is how I am able to bring value to Cannuka and I believe it has allowed us to create some pretty amazing products.
MB: Have a friend who is a lawyer and focuses on cannabis!
This industry is changing daily. It is extremely important to stay up on all the changes. Working with a smart legal expert in this space is imperative.
MB: Develop the right strategic partnerships.
Adding to what Kelly mentioned earlier about focusing on our strengths and what I mentioned about some of the challenges we face in simply promoting our brand. Working with other businesses, influencers, and strategic partners has allowed us to overcome some of those challenges easier than if we had tried to go it alone.
MB: Control your supply chain.
There is a LOT of bad and outright counterfeit CBD on the market (similar to Manuka honey 10–15 years ago, which is why New Zealand created the Unique Manuka Factor Organization). Our partners own the hemp farms where we get our CBD supply directly. This allows us to source the highest quality CBD on the market and ensures we won’t have a supply issue as the demand for CBD continues to rise.
KB: Staying friends…
While this is probably more specific to our situation…starting any business with your spouse can be difficult. We have two small kids and at times, it’s hard not to talk about Cannuka. While it’s probably a little more difficult for Michael to shut it off than for myself, we are both good about turning our phones off once we get the kids from daycare, eating dinner at the table every night, and just talking about things other than work before we go to bed. At the end of the day, that is what is most important to both of us.
In our experience when people are passionate about what they do they are more successful. Where does you cannabis passion come from?
MB: I certainly believe it helps. If you are truly passionate about what you do, then you really don’t view what you do as job.
Our passion comes from our mission. We believes launching effective beauty and wellness cannabis products will help redefine and de-stigmatize the word cannabis…if we can do this, we will ultimately improve people’s health by introducing an extremely amazing ingredient into one’s routine. The increased demand for these products will simultaneously help improve the environment through the mass cultivation of industrial hemp and create a new sustainable industry. We are attempting to make a global impact. That is why we are doing this.
Where do you see your business going in the next 5 years? Where do you see the cannabis industry going in the next 5 years?
KB: I see Cannuka being a global brand within five years. CBD is trending so quickly and the effectiveness of the products we created by combining CBD with Manuka honey is unmatched.
MB: Cannabis has tremendous growth potential. I think Cannuka and some of the other great brands in this space will help change the conversation surrounding cannabis which will allow this industry to thrive and go mainstream!
Are you able to identify any rising stars at your company or in your industry that people need to keep an eye on?
MB: I could see Kelly having her own show one day…Derm Kelly sounds like it could work. I think she’d love traveling around and helping people…and knowing her like I do, I think that would be some good TV!
What growth sectors should most people be paying attention to that they might not be currently?
KB: Off course beauty & wellness! The bulk of the conversation about cannabis is still on THC. We are just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this sector.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
MB. This one is tough! I’d love to meet Serena and Venus Williams as I see them being the perfect brand partner for the launch of our Cannuka MEDI Pain Relief cream. I believe that product will truly change pain management in the sports world!
Thinking about our mission, I think having a breakfast with the powers that be in our government surrounding the potential of the industrial hemp industry would be amazing. These are smart people and it would be nice getting some insights why as a country we haven’t moved this issue along…and you never know, maybe after that breakfast we could see some change on that!