Lifestyle

“I Think People Need to Return to the Basics That Make us Human.” with Kat Donatello and Len Giancola

"I’ve seen so much measurable positivity in taking time out for the simple things: our families, our pets, cooking, working out (it can be anything)! I think people need to return to the basics that make us human. When we’re sated in that way, magical things start to happen as we strive to make a better world for everyone else."

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kat Donatello. When Kat’s aging dog was suffering, she knew there had to be a holistic and natural alternative to pharmaceuticals. After a bit of research, Kat found this alternative in hemp derived CBD. What started out as labor of love to help her own pets, inspired Kat to become a passionate advocate for helping all pets with the use of CBD. Austin and Kat was founded in 2014, and launched nationally in 2016, and internationally in the spring of 2018. Prior to founding Austin and Kat, Kat was the one the top national woman race directors and event producers in USA Triathlon. Having founded Maine’s first half ironman event in 2006, Kat went on to produce the northeast’s largest privately owned two day triathlon festival until 2017. Kat’s married to Botanica Global’s Tim Moxey (founder of nuun and blueseventy), both avid adventure seekers, and is mom to Mia (22), Lydie (20), and stepmom the Harriet (16) and Imogen (13). And of course, Kat is the proud owner of Austin, the four year old lab, who is chief taste tester.

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?

I started this company in the fall of 2014. Brady, my aging Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever dog, had turned 12 and I understood that creaking and moving slowly was one thing, but completely foregoing our morning walk altogether was another — and I knew I needed to do something. I’d been hearing about this naturally occurring component of hemp called cannabidiol (CBD) and after much late-night research and lots of trial and error, I was able to bake up a biscuit good enough to serve to dogs (and that dogs would want to eat).

It was amazing to see his changed outlook, after CBD, and I’m not exaggerating when I say Brady markedly became more active, more affectionate, and mobile. In one fell swoop! So I started sharing my treats with my friends and word began to spread and literally I became known as the treat lady in my small town. Another pup named Austin entered the picture (and you might imagine where that went). I began a business. Since then it’s been the journey of a lifetime.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The feedback I receive from customers is why I get up everyday. When I started Austin and Kat, my soul mission was to help pets who were suffering. What I never expected was how much the families of these pets would be impacted when their pet found relief in using my products.

One such customer, Henry, reached out to me and shared this incredible story about his family pup:

My family’s dog is an absolute angel and a rock of our family. She is a 12 (almost 13) year old Weimaraner named, Gemma. Within the past year she started to struggle more with inflammation, trouble walking/getting up, pain, etc. (she has always had separation-anxiety). Being that I have used CBD for my own anxiety and Cerebral Palsy, I had a feeling CBD could help my girl. I did not want to give her any dosage myself (although human doses are easy) so I did a quick google search for CBD dog treats and there it is (LEAFLY). Leafly does great work and I trust their staff, your product and company was on their list and I had to go with the best:) Also the PNW connection! I read your bio, loved your story and felt a connection to your character!

Our girl Gemma has been my best friend, especially through difficult times. She has always been our sister (my brothers and I) and we absolutely adore and spoil her. Long story short, my mom passed away four years ago and Gemma was really close to her. As time moved on, Gemma became much closer to my Dad and really showed him that she is an incredible family member, capable of only giving love. My dad now loves our girl more than ever and so has been on top of her medical needs. She’s currently on two pain meds including a steroid but I introduced my dad to CBD himself and our girl. All we want to do is make her comfortable and happy….so thank you for this!

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?

Once I decided I was going to do this for real, I had to come up with a bakery as my kitchen wasn’t going to be able to make the number of biscuits I needed to make daily. I found a “closed for the winter” bakery in Presque Isle, Maine (4 hours from where I was living at the time), that had four large commercial ovens (perfect for my needs), so I decided, while a crazy long commute, the price was right and I rented the place. Little did I know it would get so cold that pipes would burst. The floor also decided to cave in on me, because the fifty pound oatmeal bags were stacked four high. Needless to say, it didn’t work. I had to scramble to find a replacement, which I eventually did a mere two miles from my home.

The lesson it taught me? Planning. I thought finding the perfect place would be the hard part, and everything else would fall into place. I know now to actively plan down to the most minute of details to make sure nothing gets missed. Some elements can still fall through the cracks, but when they do we learn from it and move on. And plan better next time. Fail and fail fast, then get on with business.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

I am! And I can’t give away too much at this time — but this is my most exciting project to date. I’m launching a total of FOUR new biscuits in June. Though the recipes are top-secret until then, all I can say is that we’ve really been answering our customer’s requests. They’re everything to us! We’ll unveil our new products at key retailers this summer, so stay tuned.

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 am fortunate to have two mentors, Tim Moxey and Chris Abbott, the founders of Botanica Investment Group. Their guidance and knowledge as entrepreneurs has taught me so much, but it’s their work ethic that has been my guiding light. These two never rest, and they always have time. When I signed my first distributor in 2018, I wasn’t entirely prepared for the production forecasting. As in, I didn’t have nearly enough biscuits and oils. It was a mess. Tim and Chris worked with my team closely to set up good practices, ensuring success. I’m proud to say that we’re growing by leaps and bounds to this day! Also, I married one of them (Tim Moxey).

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?

Grassroots marketing, where you’re literally out in the field (or dog park) sampling, getting people chatting, and just generating some buzz around your company, is what grows the successful brands in this industry. And nothing beats one-on-one consumer interaction. Since Facebook, Instagram and even Google don’t allow for advertising in my realm of business, my team has to be extremely creative to ensure we spread the word. Brand ambassadors, social media influencer programs, demo days, and pop-up retail shops drive educational opportunities and one-on-one meeting with our customer base.

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

Number one would be the 2018 Farm Bill — with the removal of CBD from the schedule 1 list, we are seeing banking opening up domestically and fewer restrictions being applied to CBD business.

Number two are the the conversations that are now happening in our communities across the country. They’re encouraging. Here in Seattle we’re a bit insulated because of our already legal status, but I hope that as states legalize, they’ll look towards Washington state as a leader that accomplished this successfully.

Finally, it’s also very exciting to see the emerging brands that have come out of legalization, and knowing that brands are what will be successful as more states become legal.

Of course there are a few things that concern me, and it begins with the Farm Bill. Even with the removal of CBD from the schedule 1 list, we’ve yet to hear how the FDA will respond to it. That could truly rock the entire CBD industry, so being able to pivot and change quickly if necessary is going to be a game changer if the FDA involvement is detrimental to the industry.

I’m also concerned about the sheer number of players that come into the space everyday. I’ve chatted with customers, who purchased other products they “found on the internet,” that felt they were duped and sold products that didn’t contain the stated amount of CBD, or contained trace amounts of THC. The lack of transparency in this industry is disheartening, and I’m out here campaigning to change that.

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

1. That I’d meet some really interesting people, many of whom I’d have never crossed paths with otherwise (for that, I’m eternally grateful).

2. Telling your 88 year-old father that you’re going into the cannabis industry is, well, a bit uncomfortable.

3. Testing products can be really fun when you’re the creator. When you’re testing other companies, however…be ready for anything.

4. Being an entrepreneur and starting a living, breathing business is harder than you might think. There will be roadblocks, especially in this ever-changing landscape, be it regulation, packaging redesign, or legalities of banking/credit card processing. There will be times when it’s difficult to stay motivated. There will be mistakes — many, many mistakes. Keep going.

5. You are a veritable product of the company you keep. Invest in the right people for your team, surround yourself with ultimate positivity, and above all, stay true to yourself in this ever-changing landscape.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

I think when you humanize yourself, you become accessible to them, so I try to be as “real” as possible when dealing with my staff. Lead by example — I try to readily own up to my own mistakes, so I expect them to do the same. And always make time for everyone with an open-door policy; no exceptions.

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. :-)

I see a trend in my wellness sector as an awakening, of sorts — people want to feel good, do good, and see good. With the prevalence of social media and the influence of the internet, I think we can get bogged down with information overload. It’s amazing to be able to have access to so much knowledge, sure. But there’s a kind of fatigue that tends to creep in after 15 minutes catching up on your news feed (at least it does for me).

I’ve seen so much measurable positivity in taking time out for the simple things: our families, our pets, cooking, working out (it can be anything)! I think people need to return to the basics that make us human. When we’re sated in that way, magical things start to happen as we strive to make a better world for everyone else.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Follow us @austinandkat on our Insta. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn too.

Thank you for joining us!

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