I had the pleasure of interviewing rising star and woman entrepreneur, Amy Duncan, Founder + CEO of Mowellens, a conscious CBD wellness company. Amy has experienced the industry of healthcare from many angles, medical device, biotechnology and clinical laboratory, and a caregiver for her World Series champion husband after he was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor in 2012, a year after they were married. She now brings her career knowledge in all things health and wellness into the industry of cannabis.
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?
I grew up in a very traditional Midwest family. My parents have been married for 38 years, three sisters, all married with kids. I was the rebel child, always beating to my own drum. The list of “traditional” career path runs deep….my dad — Engineer, mom — principal of a Catholic school, sister(s) — Engineer, accountant, HR. Originally I wanted to be a pharmacist and that was gladly an acceptable choice. But when that path changed and my aspirations to be an entrepreneur and in “sales”….my parents looked at me like I had three eyes. And when that entrepreneurial drive turned into the start of a cannabis company, you can imagine the energy push-back I received from them.
The evolution to start a cannabis company came rather naturally, a culmination of my life, careers, and studies thus far. I’ve always wanted to work, had a drive I couldn’t put to rest, and held a job from the day I turned 16. Every position I’ve held, even at the bottle of the totem pole, I’ve made an effort to take a strategic look at the business and figure out how it operated, how it made money, how it fit into the ecosystem. I spent four years as a pharmacy technician and graduated college with a Bachelors in Business & Marketing and minor in Chemistry. It’s always been a balance of science and marketing for me. I have the capability of distilling down very complicated topics and making them simple, something the general community can understand.
Dancing to the cupid shuffle in 2007 I met my now husband, Chris Duncan. He was a professional baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals at the time. After graduating from college, I traveled around with him while he played baseball. We called it the Summer of Love Tour, travelling to nearly every major league stadium, cheering him on, and seeing 60,000 fans rise to greet him as he stepped to the plate. It made me proud of him. Looking back I see that I probably wasn’t the best girlfriend during that time. At the age of 24, most women are very much in discovery mode, learning who they are, who they want to become, and how they are going to get there. Chris had just won a World Series in 2006 and was comfortable in his skin and I was very much the opposite. The ambition in me was festering and I felt like a caged animal. This feeling was short lived as his body started to deteriorate and surgery after surgery put an end to his career. In 2010, I found myself back in St. Louis finding my first job in “sales” selling copiers and printers. It was my time to hustle…and I was ready.
I took a job for Ricoh making $27,000 a year base salary. My first year I made $62k, proving to myself that I could sell. After two years at the top of the stack rankings the recruiters in healthcare started calling. Making the transition into medical device was not an easy leap. After a rigorous three month interview process, they passed on me, only to be called back four months later and asked to restart the interview process. I remember flying to Denver for the interview, the setting, a hotel lobby with the VP of Sales. When he met me in the lobby I stood up and shook his hand. In the most stern and steady voice I said, “I understand you have apprehensions about hiring me for the position as this would be my first in the field of healthcare. I am confident in my ability to succeed. My objective for this meeting is for you to leave this table without any doubts, knowing that I am the right person for the job.” He looked across the table and said “The job is yours. That is all I needed to hear.” It’s this mindset and the ability to step in at the right time that has catapulted my career forward. We all have it in us, but whether we tap into our potential at the opportune moments is what can make or break our journey. In due time it will happen, but how quickly it happens is predicated by these moments of execution.
In the midst of selling physiological patient monitoring bedside monitors and telemetry, I dove deep into the business of healthcare. Studying healthcare allowed me to position the products to each stakeholder with everything from value based reimbursement and HCAHPS to invasive pressures and O2 sat to alarm fatigue.
And just when things were settling into a groove, my world was uprooted. My husband started having petit mal seizures combined with numbness and speech arrest. We weren’t 100% sure what they were at first but after a quick google search we knew what we had to rule out, brain tumor. Everything else would have been okay. But unfortunately, ruling out this one diagnosis would prove to be a bit more challenging when his mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor just a year prior, a glioblastoma. We knew what we were in for and it wasn’t going to be easy.
After a seven hour awake craniotomy, relearning to walk and talk, radiation, and a year of chemotherapy things started to seem somewhat normal again. The MRIs happened every four weeks and we lived our best lives in between then. Chris went back to work for the radio station, 101 ESPN, and I returned to work. We took a year of clean MRIs as our queue to get out of the cold winters and we moved to California when a promotion with my company presented itself.
Genetics had always been intriguing for me with Chris and his mother both being diagnosed with glioblastoma brain tumors. We sequenced their exomes, performed hereditary cancer germline mutation testing, and tumor profiling only to find….well not much. But regardless, this field of study was calling me, and I took a position as the Director of Sales & Marketing at a genetics laboratory specializing in pharmacogenetics. After the COO resigned I moved into the role and launched four new product lines in Hereditary Cancer testing, Carrier Screening, Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing, and Toxicology. Genetics was very personal to me and I was able to, once again, take something very complex and make it digestible for the masses.
In the summer of 2016 the laboratory started exploring cannabis testing and I began the due diligence of exploring methodologies and equipment necessary for testing “clean” cannabis. In 2016 regulations for testing were just beginning and learning about products on the market that weren’t being tested created an unrest inside of me. I knew that if the product wasn’t tested it wasn’t safe for my family to use and I wouldn’t want anyone using it. It really ignited something in me. That and the fact that navigating the cannabis market for someone new to the space was rather challenging. Do you go to a dispensary? Do you buy on Amazon? What is hemp vs hemp oil vs hemp seed oil vs hemp extract vs CBD vs marijuana? A lot of information was overlapping and misconstrued. So I was dabbling in the plant at a pretty deep scientific level and was definitely interested in its potential.
Then the worst happened….again. In October of 2016 my husband’s brain tumor returned. When we saw the regrowth on the MRI it brought back even more fear, anger, confusion, and sadness then the first time. When cancer returns it REALLY makes you question your life. I remember the many days…years really… when I rolled out of bed before my husband, left the house before the sun rose, and returned after dark. I wasn’t well, I never saw Chris, and this was my chance to make a change. I walked away from my position at the laboratory and decided to see if the wings I had been growing all these years could fly.
To say Chris was shocked is an understatement. I remember his exact words, “What are you doing?” I’ve always been someone who doesn’t make big decisions big decisions. I don’t dwell on it or write out the pros and cons, I just wait until the decision that needs to be made comes to me. I’m very spiritual in that regard where I wait for this intuition to really say that’s what you need to be doing. It was a big decision in the grand scheme of life, but it didn’t weigh heavily on me. I thought, I made it this far in my career, I can make it wherever I want in the future, so let’s go. And what is better than betting on yourself? It wasn’t someone else’s money. I doubled down with the earnings from my career. It felt good that way.
I saw an opportunity for someone like myself, with my background in healthcare and biotech, my experience as a caregiver, and being a normal female into health and wellness to pave that path and create a trust with the community by delivering products that are pure, clean, and have a purpose. And I could see that hemp-derived CBD was the path of least resistance when it came to providing access to the cannabis plant. So I converged all my experiences, collaborated with some of the greatest cannabis researchers and cultivators, fragrance alchemists, food and formulation scientists, and design experts….and Mowellens was borne.
I use these products. I love these products. Infused with high vibrations (no pun intended as they don’t get you high), this company is my operation freedom, my passion project, my soul. It’s living my best life. And I hope it inspires others to live theirs.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company.
The serendipitous encounters, I guess you can call it a combination of hustle, action, and fate that have happened since Mowellens launched have really contributed to our exponential growth. My girlfriend and I had been grabbing coffee, our Fika moment, on Wednesdays. She recommend we go to this new coffee shop that was opening fairly close our house. So on the day they opened we went there and she looks down at the menu to order their Mary Jane, a CBD latte. The owner was behind the counter standing in as barista that day and responds, “oh, this is actually our first day being open and we don’t have a CBD supplier yet.” Needless to say, we ended up partnering with them to supply them our products and they ended up being a social media sensation. People were travelling from fifty miles away just to visit the shop. That was our first month of business and I’m still grateful for where we were on that day to make that relationship happen.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As a conscious CBD wellness company, it is a combination of the core values and the community that make Mowellens, Mowellens. The connections to people and their families, products going to mom, dad, siblings, grandmother, aunts….everyone in the family. Our ability to be the bridge to pure, clean products that are universal and versatile in people’s lives. It’s really special. Of course people love the brand design but when they hear about our mission, our Grown for Good contribution, and my background it adds a layer of credibility to what we produce and why we do what we do.
We are truly committed to pure, clean products and the ethical and sometimes costly decisions to stay true to this are apparent. Sometimes this commitment puts us on backorder, causes delays in production, and impacts our bottom line. But in the long run, this is a core value that we don’t comprise and it’s why we have such a loyal following.
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?
My husband has always been supportive of me and my ambitions and without him I wouldn’t approach my life — personal and in business — as I do. We’ve been together for 11 years and married for nearly 8. He has seen me evolve into the person I am today, and that can be challenging as my opinions and voice have also gotten stronger over the years. Having him by my side has taught me so many lessons in balance and life that I bring into business. Some of my partners have told me how kind and patient I am and that is attributed to my husband. Watching someone be at a peak in their life, winning a World Series, and then struggle with something such as cancer, and having that so close to me as I traverse my life and entrepreneurial journey, brings a unique element into my days running the company. Life is so precious and when life is at stake you value other things differently, decisions are made differently. Everyone associated with Mowellens, every employee, contractor, supplier, you name it….has the same core values. And if they don’t then I don’t do business with them. Our relationship and his strength has reinforced the principles in my life and enabled me to step into the women I have always envisioned myself being.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
I’m always working on exciting projects. I always say you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in the small moments of your life. My mind doesn’t shut off and I like it this way.
Just a little sneak peak because I don’t want to give too much away here…..I’m working on a behind the scenes series, an alter ego music brand, and a deeper dive into the science of cannabis. I’ll leave it at that.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
The women in the cannabis industry excite me! It’s about time we dominate an industry and have our voices heard. The support, collaboration, and encouragement from the female community has been overwhelming and continues to amaze me. We can be so judging and critical of ourselves and the last thing we need is another female passing negativity along to us. Business can be cut throat and playing nice in the sandbox isn’t easy, especially in a budding industry, but I stand side by side fellow women (and men) entrepreneurs in this march to continue to gain clarity on a very powerful plant with so much potential to help people live optimal lives.
The application of innovative technologies being utilized in the cannabis space is both exciting and concerning. CRISPR was a topic of conversation when I was at the lab and its application in the editing of the human genome was extremely controversial, with repercussions unknown. We have traversed the path of GMOs since the 1970s in agriculture and pharma and it’s already finding a way into the cannabis space.
The connections we have created in this industry and the people we have helped excite me. They are the fuel that keep us going on a daily basis. When we receive testimonials and feedback about the products, customer service, and company it means more than people really know. It gets shared with the whole team. With the digital age, it seems our heads are down in our phones and computers so often, and when people let us into their lives by sharing a personal story it lights us up inside. We all crave connection and openness, and when people open their minds to trying something new, like CBD, we do our best to create a personal and memorable connection with them. More than anything THIS excites me! This is my soul.
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.
- Be adaptable and ready to make changes quickly.
- Be relentless in your pursuit.
- Continue to educate yourself as the industry evolves.
- Remind yourself often why you’re in the industry.
- Differentiate. Differentiate. Differentiate.
In our experience when people are passionate about what they do they are more successful. Where does your passion come from?
My interest in cannabis stems from a long-time passion for self-care as the greatest form of healthcare. I believe that fueling the body and mind with simple, plant-based, natural ingredients creates an organic restoration and return to homeostasis. Habitually, I turn to organic foods, holistic remedies, and alternative medicine as an adjunct to traditional pharmaceuticals. I believe in the beneficial properties of the cannabis plant to optimize our overall health and wellness. As a conscious CBD wellness company, our ability to not only make clean cannabis products but connect and educate on all topics of wellness will ultimately help people to minimize stress and live healthier, longer lives.
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?
Mowellens will navigate two parallel paths in the cannabis space. We want to be prepared when regulations shift and be ready to take a true medical path. We’ve all been surrounded by various illnesses and I want to lead to company in the direction of clinical studies to target illnesses that have impacted my life personally. We also want to stay true to those committed to self care and wellness and embark on true wellness in the ecotourism space.
Are you able to identify any rising stars at your company or in your industry that people need to keep an eye on?
I hope people will keep an eye on Mowellens.
What growth sectors should most people be paying attention to that they might not be currently?
I like to keep a pulse of the transition of our current sick care healthcare system to a true healthcare system. This movement is fueled from numerous channels including social media wellness influence, the new healthcare initiative by Bezos, Buffett, and Dimon, healthcare technology, payers, and more. I’d like to get more involved in the movements associated with this shift as coverage of non-traditional healthcare — chiropractic, energy/spiritual healing, plant-medicine and nutrition, functional medicine approaches — and the importance of holistic remedies gains ground. Cannabis my small piece of this puzzle at present.
I’m also closely following the movements in robotics, augmented and virtual reality and their applications in healthcare and general business.
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. :-)
I’m always keen on a delicious breakfast and breakfast with Gary Vaynerchuk (@GaryVee) would be pretty incredible. Kindness, empathy, and optimism are core values that we share combined with a relentless pursuit enjoying every step of the journey. It has been refreshing to see someone spread this consistent message and inspire millions around the world to chase their dreams, take action, and execute.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!