As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Antonio Castellanos.
Antonio Castellanos III has worked in the Biotechnology and MedTech industries for the past 20 years, leading sales, commercial & clinical innovation, and patient empowerment & advocacy. From direct one-on-one patient service to the securement of multi million contracts with top healthcare systems, Antonio has committed himself to the advancement of modern science and the implementation of it into everyday medicine. He has done so in the fields of regenerative medicine, MedTech, targeted drug delivery and now medical cannabis.
Antonio attributes many of his past accomplishments to be the stepping blocks to the present development and execution of Alethiah, a vertically integrated research-focused phyto-cannabinoid company. Evident in his everyday work, he and a select group of medical and research proactivists recognized the urgency for alternatives to addictive pain medicines, such as opioids. On an intimate level, Antonio also has a close family member who suffers from debilitating migraines. He saw first-hand how unpredicted pain and general weakness affected her. Phyto-cannabinoid hemp oil transformed her life and brought a new stage of revitalization to their families as well.
The field of cannabis has long been misunderstood. Antonio’s mission is to break stereotypes, bringing the alternative wellness of cannabis to be accepted socially and legally among the general public and the medical community. With Antonio’s understanding of the medical arena and his own personal experience, Alethiah is pushing the modernization of hemp cannabis by designing safe, effective, consistent and transparent products.
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?
My ex-wife, Natalie, suffered from debilitating chronic migraines for 18 years. We tried everything known and available and even traveled to other countries seeking treatment until I was led to a special oil blend of hemp-based phyto-cannabinoids. The medicinal benefits literally changed her life, drastically reducing her number of migraines, as well as their intensity level. It was like a miracle to our family. I had been in the medical field for almost twenty years and when I was introduced to the healing powers of CBD, I truly felt like I had found my calling to share this with others suffering. My love for science, my experience as a seasoned clinical and commercial executive, and my relentless passion about this mission — to build a company that has the consumer and their wellness journey at the heart of everything — has turned into what I feel like is my life’s ultimate career path.
When I began the search for the best products to treat Natalie’s migraines, what I actually found was an unregulated market with even the “top,” well-known brands being inconsistent. The ingredients, formulas, farming practices, and lab certificates were all questionable. Enthralled by the science behind CBD oil, I learned that “one size does not fit all.” Another troubling fact was that none of the companies were actually teaching their customers this or even about the real science behind the oil and how to properly use it. THAT is when my mission was clear — I decided then, that the next chapter in my life was going to change all of this. I gathered a group of like-minded medical brains from throughout the country. Together, we are on the cusp of clinical trials and have already begun producing products with specific formulations to better meet the needs of their customers. You see, much different than other companies, Alethiah’s products will never be stagnant; instead, they are ever evolving as data and clinical conclusions are gathered. There are over 100 phyto-cannabinoids in the hemp plant, and most of the research, even though there isn’t near enough of it, has been done solely on two molecules, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Alethiah decided to take the plunge. We’ve produced a product that undoubtedly works and continually plan on customizing it, making it better and better. stands by three pillars — research, transparency and individualization.
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?
We were doing great! Our customers loved our products and our physicians felt comfortable ordering from Alethiah. All of a sudden, within a week, we were presented with three monumental challenges.
1. Our credit card processing partner decided to stop processing our credit card orders
2. Our business bank account was frozen
3. Our web hosting company was reevaluating supporting our website and e-commerce operations
This is not something we anticipated. Although the 2018 Farm Bill gave legal status to sellers of hemp derivatives, we were still unfairly and foolishly associated with TCH and marijuana products. We were incredibly transparent with all business partners about the origin of our products but still it did not help. Eventually, we were able to find partners that took the time to understand how different Alethiah was, but it took some time and a significant loss of revenue. What helped us eventually was our commitment to transparency, consistency and science.
The Cannabis Industry comes with tremendous stigmas and lack of understanding. However, it is also the most exciting time for both the industry, and for Alethiah. When you jump into a new & booming industry, no matter what your intentions, there will be unforeseen roadblocks as the laws, regulations, and competition adapt. These deterrents will test your inner strength, determination, and creativity. This has been such a passionate and exciting ride for our team — never a dull day, we are committed to serving our purpose which is serving others who need CBD in their wellness journey.
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?
There are a lot of funny stories in our journey, I immediately think of our initial hiring days. We were bright-eyed and passionate, and hired a few people based on their past sales experience and certain medical qualifications. For instance, they were great medical device reps, but unfortunately they were horrible cannabis consultants and made Alethiah look like the opposite of what our mission was. What we realized was the fact that it took a very different type of personality and skills to succeed in this industry. You can’t always go on what qualifications and track record somebody has when you’re hiring. You have to keep in mind the company culture when you’re building a team — if you get everybody on the same page with the mission — you’ll do a lot better when it comes to increasing sales.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes. We’re all about technology, medical research and personalized medicine. On the technology front, we’re developing automation tools and apps that will allow us to keep track of all product efficacy. On the medical research front, we’re designing and implementing the right medical protocols and study designs in order to validate product dosing, concentration, ratios, volumes, etc. Finally, each one of our customers takes our products for different reasons and their wellness needs are consequently different. We’re in the process of launching several programs that will allow for us to provide our customer with complete guidance when it comes to selecting the right cannabis product and/or service.
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 got a call from Joe, a former client. He had a colleague, Louis, who was walking the streets trying to get marijuana for his cancer pain. He knew that we were in the cannabis space and asked if we could help Louis. After meeting with Louis several times and understanding better the degree of his needs, we were able to customize a product that not only helped; but drastically changed his life. This was our first significant win!!!
Helping change the current path of health treatments is a great goal but is also a challenging one. At Alethiah, we deal with stories everyday of people that teach us and motivate us to do things better, faster, work harder, fight relentlessly and advocate for those in need.
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?
Stay true to your core and never forget about your vision and mission!!! Find ways to share that you’re your target audiences.
In our case, we knew our customers needed more reliable everyday wellness. No more of this unregulated “Wild West” market — even the most popular hemp oil brands were inconsistent in their formulas and potency. Never give false information or less information than the bone needed. Ultimately, be transparent and consistent on all you do.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
- More states continue to legalize cannabis and are becoming much more knowledgeable on its benefits and applications.
- We’re writing the rules for this industry. This is a time of empowerment and inclusion for the right companies.
- Higher quality of products, less side effects, better efficacy, different delivery mechanisms, etc. This is a true medical product!!!
- Lack of product standardization and consistency
- Unrealistic expectations for products and services. CBD is no panacea!!!
- The over-glamorizing use of cannabis products by minors
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.
- Pick your angle
- Capitalize your efforts
- Get the best lawyer
- Know yours & your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
- Be relentless
Note: Please loot the following question for examples
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
The cannabis/CBD industry is much more than gummies and oils. Pick your angle! The one that you’re truly interested in and committed to. Is it the science behind cannabis? Perhaps the agricultural side of it? How about the regulatory portion? It could the be consummation side? Again, what ever you pick, the possibilities are literally endless. However, be prepared for some crazy, unpredictable and unexpected twists & turns.
Get the best accountant. Make sure he has the stomach for what you’re about to embark into. You don’t want to be alone. Get the best lawyer and/or lawyers, not the one you can only afford; but the one that’s going to save your neck once you need it. Trust me, it will happen!
Develop your brand and start networking and partnering with all sorts of people in the industry and out of the industry. You never know where your brake is going to come from.
Finally, once you have done all of this and feel that you have a legitimate business, be prepared to reinvent yourself or company once more. Laws in this industry change frequently. The feds and state authorities change their mind regularly. So do banks, suppliers and business partners. We’re now also dealing with Big Pharma, Tobacco empires and Food monopolies trying to crush all cannabis small businesses.
This is a once in a generation opportunity. However, it takes complete commitment to make this work. Retreat is easy when you have the option!
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. 🙂
It’s our responsibility to empower children. To guide them and make them feel valued. Help them understand that they play important roles and have control and power over their lives and futures.
We must help them learn to work within the rules set by society, parents, teachers, etc. Children should have the ability to engage their world in a meaningful and profound way.
Try to do this with all children around you. Their responses will blow you away.
Provide them with the consistency and security that will facilitate for confidence and self-esteem to be formed.
Let them make mistakes. Let them independently do things. The ability to be independent will impact all aspects of their life.
Life is not easy. It’s painful sometimes. It’s ok to fail sometimes. The question is how do you bounce back from what ever life throws at you. Children must learn how to be relentless.
When children understand the importance behind respecting themselves, that will enable them to respect others and add value to their actions.
Learning is cool. Asking questions is even better. A secure and happy child has a better chance at being a good learner and providing a strong foundation for their future.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!