From lobbying and running political campaigns in Texas to launching one of the first experience-based cannabis companies in her 20’s, Chelsea Johnson is breaking the “grass” ceiling for women entrepreneurs in the cannabis space. Prior to launching HUXTON in 2014, Chelsea’s career began as a political consultant in Texas, but she made the decision to put her career and law school attendance on hold to launch HUXTON with her brother, Dustin. Since then she has been elevating the industry with cannabis lifestyle products, and changing perceptions one day at a time.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
With a degree in political science from Southern Methodist University, I was running numerous political campaigns and lobbying on various issues locally and nationally while living in Texas. Meanwhile my brother was living in our home state of Arizona when voters were preparing to vote on Prop 203 in November 2010, which would legalize medical marijuana, and he kept asking whether or not I thought it would pass. When it did, he secured one of the vertically integrated licenses allocated to open up a medical marijuana operation in Arizona, which allowed for a dispensary, a farm, and kitchen.
In 2013, I made the decision to put my political career and law school attendance on hold to move back to Arizona and launch HUXTON with my brother. Moving home and switching careers from conservative politics to cannabis was daunting, but I found inspiration in my mother. When we were younger she was in a boating accident, and as a result developed a chronic nerve disorder called RSD. She tried everything and the only thing that seemed to help with her pain management was prescription drugs. Before the accident she was the most active person I knew, but after not so much. As a result of Prop 203 passing, we were able to get her a medical marijuana card and within six months she was off pharmaceutical drugs and back to enjoying her life. Seeing the transformation firsthand was truly inspirational and reaffirmed my decision to dive in head first.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company
I am passionate about educating people about cannabis, so I spend a lot of time evangelizing and trying to change people’s perceptions of the industry to a more well rounded perspective. As a part of this, I frequently give tours at HUXTON’s cultivation facility (where our marijuana is grown). On one such occasion, I was giving a tour to a local gardening club who were hesitant to be near marijuana (to say the least). However, midway through the tour I mentioned that all the cannabis plants were female, and the giggles from the women was incredible…and one of the women said, “You hear that girls? They’re all lovely ladies just like us.”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
In the eyes of a cannabis buyer, HUXTON stands out for a few key reasons. The core reason is that HUXTON solves a common need out there, that we observed first hand in running a dispensary and listening to consumers ask questions. A common question that tied all buyers together was a need to know “how something was going to make them feel.” Rather than educate on common effects of strain-type (indica, sativa, hybrid) when those strain-type effects vary from dispensary to dispensary, we labeled our products by the exact experience a consumer would get. We felt strongly in simplifying the purchasing process for our consumers, and putting them in control of their final destination.
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 mother. She was my brother and I’s inspiration to enter the cannabis space after we saw the radical transformation cannabis had on her life. I’m grateful for her strength that provided me the power and the possibility of cannabis. Without my mother’s empowerment, I wouldn’t have taken the leap of faith that I did.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We are! We’re taking HUXTON to the great state of Washington, and hoping to add a few additional markets by end of year. We also recently launched an ecommerce platform for the cannabis lifestyle. We discovered that we had fans from around the world, and although they can not purchase our cannabis product we wanted to build a place to purchase accessories and apparel to Enjoy Proudly with the rest of the HUXTON tribe.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The bulk of this decade of my life has been spent in the cannabis space and my passion comes from the positive impact taking shape. You see it everyday and as an added bonus it’s something that directly impacts lives. Being able to change lives and perceptions is something that HUXTON has aimed to do since day one, and having a job where I can do that everyday is something I never thought imaginable. On top of changing perceptions HUXTON is involved with forest rehabilitation, yoga and wellness events, recycling programs and more.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
The Fountainhead has been my favorite book since I can remember. The first time I read it, I read it for fun. The second time I read it, I dug deeper and since then it has had a profound impact on my life. It taught me the importance of self-worth and to never overlook that voice in your head that is telling you to pursue your dream. As an entrepreneur there are many times that self doubt can creep in, but The Fountainhead taught me the importance of knowing my value and to stay true to myself.
It also resonates with me because I see a lot of similar themes between the book and the cannabis sector: innovation, transcending the current status quo, and overcoming perceptions in society. But more importantly, it illustrates the battles entrepreneurs and creative thinkers go through to develop their new ideas and methods; it is a tale that every entrepreneur can relate to.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
(1) You are going to make mistakes — so make them quickly and most importantly, learn from them.
(2) Listen, and surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
(3) You are going to have to do a lot of problem solving- so save the time spent complaining or being frustrated, and use that energy on finding a solution.
(4) It’s going to be hard.
(5) If someone asks you, “what do you do?” be prepared to not have an answer to that ‘simple’ question. Being an entrepreneur means wearing a hundred different hats and doing a hundred different things all at once.
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. :-)
Sheryl Sandberg. Entering the cannabis space in 2011 was a daunting proposition. It wasn’t nearly as accepted as it is today and there was no certainty in it. Only a few states had passed medical at that point, and many operators were being raided and arrested not to mention career suicide going from right wing politics to cannabis. I was reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book and in it she shares advice that she received from Eric Schmidt — “if you’re offered a seat on the rocket ship, get on, don’t ask what seat.” If it hadn’t been for reading that book at that time in my life, I might not be where I am today.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!