I sat with Kim Rael for a few minutes at the Seed to Sale Show, held up in Boston, a couple days ago. I could immediately see the potential of her company, in between talking about everything else but her company. And then I forgot to give Kim my business card. That’s not like me, sorry Kim! At any rate, I was conversing with Tom Weihmayr of the Toronto Drink Factory about flavors, the potential for flavor driven products like cannabis in beverages and the like. A flash of inspiration put a light bulb into my head, and it led me back into my recent chat with Kim Rael. Why not take this thing called cannabis and spread the philosophy and medicinal benefits around the globe? Why not indeed? Which brings me back to the conversation that enjoyed with Kim. She’s whip smart, that’s immediately obvious, and I saw her mind working, always thinking of the next sentence carefully before putting the words into the air. Kim is a studied business-minded visionary. A deeply pragmatic, highly talented business woman who is a force for change. Becoming CEO of a major corporation in the cannabis field is not usually the role that someone aspires to, especially when it’s so risk filled. After all, there are certain regulations in every state, and of course the Federal Government as a bureaucracy to contend with. And of course the ‘stigma’ which is, quite simply the 900 pound gorilla in the room. That gorilla comes in many formats, be it regulatory, or more simply, the law of the land, or even a disapproving family member. It takes guts to be a success in the cannabis world and Kim Rael is, for all intents and purposes making a massive dent in the veneer of the traditional business model. She is living the experience of a metric-driven entrepreneur, but the successes are far more vital when you are using someone else’s money. Sure it’s cannabis, and this CEO role, running the top of the house is no less important than a Forbes Fifty list member in traditional business. Because traditional business is about to be overtaken by intellectual superiority and women like Kim Rael, who is going to be very well known. I have every anticipation that Azuca and Inventive CBD will become household names before long. They offer the finest culinary products,that are unlike anything else on the market. Culinarians should be equally charmed with Chef Ron Silver involved in the Culinary equation. Certainly, he is someone who knows his way around flavor, quality, and most importantly, class. These full flavored products that certainly, ‘Raise the Bar’ in the form of fun, intriguing flavors, and the simplicity of execution. I’m honored to share Kim’s story, and her entrepreneurial style, based in real, old-fashioned business-sense. The kind that you find in rational thinkers, and in working entrepreneurs. Real hard workers.
Kim is just the right fit for my column, and I’m honored to share her story with my readers. Thank you Kim, you absolutely made my day, even if I did forget to give you my business card.
And for the record, it does say that I make you, hungry and thirsty.
This is something that I know you have experienced first hand. For success.
WB: Warren Bobrow
KR: Kim Rael
WB: Where are you from? Why cannabis? Where do you see your company in six months? One year?
KR: I grew up in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. I’ve lived on both coasts and abroad, and happily returned to the Land of Enchantment after finishing my MBA. I now live in Albuquerque, and commute to NYC where Azuca is headquartered. I would have never imagined myself in the cannabis industry. In fact, I often call myself the “accidental cannabis entrepreneur.” After a long career in tech, I decided to make a pivot. I was looking for a new challenge that would allow me to leverage my startup expertise in the sector that I am most passionate about, and that is wellness. While I was looking in the other direction, cannabis came knocking on my door. A former classmate and long-time colleague in the entrepreneurial world introduced me to Chef Ron Silver, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Azuca. I was a skeptic at first, but after doing my due diligence and conducting thorough research on the industry, I came to understand the healing and wellness power of the cannabis plant. I knew that I was destined be a part of this new venture, and the cannabis wellness movement in general. Since then, Azuca has taken off, with hemp-derived CBD products available nationwide, and THC products available in Massachusetts, through our licensee, Mayflower Medicinals which is an iAnthus company. We are currently expanding our licensee footprint to multiple states. Six months from now, we will have launched our next product line expansion (Sneak Preview:culinary inspired tinctures and Stevia drops.) We will have grown our THC licensing business to multiple states and partners. A year from now, I anticipate we will be one of the fastest growing cannabis brands in the United States, with an emerging footprint overseas.
WB: I see you are an accomplished business leader. I used to support (as an executive assistant for twenty years…really) a series of C-level, mostly female executives on their way up the C-Level and above ladder. How do you manage your company? Top down? Bottom up? Business school?
KR: It’s all about the team, or as Jim Collins taught us in his classic book, Good to Great, it’s about getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats on the bus. I like to surround myself with people who are smart, fun, ethical, self-motivated and hard working. We have a highly virtual team so we rely on a everyone to “self manage” and exhibit strong personal maturity and “assumed ownership” of the business challenges at hand.
(Editor’s note: Well said, Kim…)
WB: Do you cook? If so, and if you have time. What would be your favorite kind of cooking? Who taught you? Mother? Father? Television cooking shows? Do you have a favorite restaurant? Why?
KR: I have loved to cook since I was a little girl. My mother used to laugh because I would fall asleep at night reading the old red and white Better Homes and Gardens cook book. (I knew I was going to get along with Ron the first time I walked into his office and saw that same beloved cookbook on his shelf.) Mom did not like to cook, so she happily let me run the kitchen at home, and I enthusiastically experimented on my brothers with all kinds of crazy recipes growing up. Now I am very interested in tasty, whole food cooking inspired by the likes of Canyon Ranch and love to keep a fresh herb garden. Hands down, one of my favorite restaurants is Ron Silver’s restaurant, Bubby’s – but I’m not saying that because he’s my business partner! It’s truly the best comfort food around, with a successful 30-year track record in New York City’s competitive restaurant scene to prove it (not to mention seven locations in Japan!). I like to say that Ron’s fried chicken is worth the calories! (Funny story: I learned after the fact that our lead investor ordered fried chicken from Bubby’s five times as part of his due diligence to see if it really was that good and consistent before investing in Azuca.)
WB: Tell me about your company? What is your core customer? How has your company evolved in the leader it is today?
KR: Azuca is a technology-driven, culinary-inspired cannabis company. Ron developed what we believe is the best cannabis edibles delivery system available. Around that innovation, we have launched a line of fast-acting cannabis and hemp-infused edibles, sweeteners and ingredients. We have both THC and full spectrum hemp products based on our three-patent-pending technology that emulsifies the Full Spectrum/CBD and T#@ molecules in order to make them more water-friendly and therefore more easily absorbed. The end result is a consistent, predictable effect that takes the fear and guesswork out of edibles. Right now, our Hemp line consists of infused simple syrup, sugar and chocolate coins. Our THC line consists of pâte de fruits (aka an exceptional gummie), shortbread cookies, fruit syrups, sugars and chocolate coins. The idea behind the brand is to provide extremely precise dosing, with unique, delicious ingredients and flavor options that allow consumers to customize to their unique needs, palates and preferences. This makes our brand broadly appealing, but in particular, we built our brand to accommodate novice CBD and cannabis consumers, who want to dip their toes into the water by micro-dosing and trying products that are in familiar, approachable form factors. After all, who isn’t accustomed to putting a spoonful of sugar in their coffee, tea or lemonade? As a result, we have garnered widespread interest in our brand very quickly- because it’s fun, original and it truly works fast. Think 2-15 minutes, versus 1-4 hours with traditional infused products.
WB: If you could be anywhere in the world, right now- where would that be? Doing what? With whom?
KR: I would be hiking with my family, anywhere we could be trekking yet see the ocean, like the Pacific Coast Trail or Hawaii. (Or Acadia National Park, but it’s the wrong time of year for that one!)
Thank you ever so much, Kim for your time in a busy moment of your amazing story and of your success-driven life!