landscape portrait of Leah Lakstins, founder of Austin-based hemp tour company

What it Takes to Run a Successful CBD Business

While the CBD industry has grown exponentially in its first few years, many consumers are unaware of CBD basics. Terminology like broad spectrum, full spectrum, isolate, and winterization sounds like dry textbook glossary terms that don’t give any clues to what they mean. 

“I see so many bottles that say CO2-extracted. Literally, nobody cares,” says Leah Lakstins, who has made a career educating consumers and business owners about the fledgling industry.

More serious than understanding vocab words, most cannabidiol consumers don’t know crucial information, like how CBD can potentially interact with other medications or can result in a failed drug test. And entrepreneurs new to the hemp business are just as misinformed. 

It’s why Lakstins launched Higher Ed Hemp Tours out of Austin, Texas where she offers guided excursions for people looking to start a hemp business, as well as party bus tours for bachelorette parties, travelers, and cannabis fans.

Before Higher Ed Hemp, Lakstins was in the commercial roofing industry. Like many others, she was inspired by CBD’s potential. She and her smoking buddy Cynthia Morales got into manufacturing before soon discovering just how much CBD education was lacking. 

a portrait of Leah Lakstins, founder of Austin-based hemp tour company“We realized consumers did not understand CBD. Retailers were struggling, and their employees didn’t understand much about it,” she says.

Depending on the group and the tour’s purpose, Lakstins will take attendees to retail stores and other cannabis-focused events and landmarks, like the yearly Eeyore’s Birthday drum circle or cannabis and country icon, Willy Nelson’s statue.

“We call it Edutainment,” she says. “Education, but not too much. We gotta keep it fun.”

For newbies looking to get into the business, they’ll stop at more farms and manufacturing facilities to show the nitty-gritty side of production.

“We joke that we should be called Don’t Grow Hemp Tours because people come in and go, ‘I’m going to grow 10,000 acres [of hemp],’ and we’re just like, ‘But why? Let’s look at this whole process.’”

Lakstins isn’t trying to crush big ambitions, just bring people down to earth. The CBD business is lucrative, attracting entrepreneurs with little cannabis experience from far and wide. Literally. She says 80 percent Higher Ed attendees last year were international. The Philippines, Thailand, Mexico, and South Korea just recently legalized CBD, and Lakstins shows them what owning a CBD business really entails. 

“It’s no longer throw up a sign that says CBD and you’re going to make money,” she says. “…Vertical integration is where most of it will go in the future. It’s the cheapest and the and the most consistent.”

Vertical integration keeps the cost down and allows more control over the end product, which is crucial. People come to rely on particular results, and if that fluctuates, a brand risks damaging their reputation. Lakstins also encourages those looking to break into the hemp world to find a broad niche like lifestyle, sports, pets, food and beverage, or health and wellness. It will allow brands to hone their identity without alienating too large of a customer base. 

But first things first, Lakstins stresses the importance of hemp employees having a good grasp of the industry— the language, the science, the process. 

“Keeping the team trained is such a huge part of success for the consumer. We’ve got to be really clear with our team because they are the ones on the front line educating the consumer and guiding that experience,” she says. “Be the captain of your ship, and make sure you’re operating to the benefit of the consumer, so we can all learn and grow together.” 

Lakstins says hemp-derived D9 edibles will push the hemp industry to the next level, especially in states where marijuana remains illegal, like Texas. Hemp-derived D9 edibles come from plants with less than 0.3 percent THC. 

While it may be a legal loophole, Lakstins says,” There is no debate, like with Delta 8, if it’s synthetic or not. It’s very clearly naturally extracted, naturally exists in the plant, and gives you a very similar, if not the same effect, of what you would get in an adult-use state.” 

Finally, she says brands need to position themselves for the next phase: federal legalization. Legalization will allow access into big box stores. Other than drinks or the occasional topical,  Target, Walmart, and other large-scale stores have been hesitant to embrace CBD products due to lack of FDA approval. 

“Once this really gets opened up and the FDA is like, “Fine, you’re cool,” the Colgates, the Johnsons and Johnsons, the Proctor and Gambles are sitting there.”

Meaning, ready to acquire already brands that already exist. It’s a new tactic, Lakstins says. Major pharmaceutical companies typically stomp out the competition. Instead, these large companies have teams dedicated to acquiring cannabis brands. 

“So stand out head and shoulders above the crowd, get your revenue up and get ready to get acquired,” she says. “It’s wild times. The wild west, so welcome to the party.”


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