The coronavirus pandemic has seen a lot of industrial businesses pivot to hand sanitizer production as demand for these products increased exponentially. Among these is Helios Sanitizer Company, a newly-founded hand sanitizer business which – believe it or not – was repurposed from a white label CBD production facility owned by cannabis entrepreneur, Axie Blundon. Seeing a need for the product in the market, as well as an opportunity to simultaneously attract customers to his cannabis business, Axie took a shot and started on the new business with passion. What does the business look like six months after its inception? What’s coming up next for Axie and Helios? Listen as he shares all about these, as well as his new company’s vision, mission and core values, in this conversation with Tony Frischknecht.
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Helios Sanitizer Company – 6 Months Since Startup And Beyond With Axie Blundon
In this episode, I’m going to be talking to somebody that we’ve had an interview with a few months ago. This gentleman has been in cannabis for quite some time now. He first started when he was campaigning for legalization in Colorado. He transitioned to a vaporizer company of one of the larger vaporizer companies here in the state, O.penVAPE. He was a Director of Sponsorship there. He wanted to do some bigger stuff. He wanted to create some of his own stuff. He started a company with a couple of business partners called Straight Hemp. He grew that business for a little over a year. He’s on to his fourth position in what is not necessarily the cannabis industry, however, he has transitioned to work on both sides which is the CBD and the THC side. Now, an ancillary company that he’s fallen into.
This was provided by his Brandstracts processing company. In our last episode with this gentleman, he had a processing company that they started that was doing white labeling and creating products for a lot of the CBD industry and people out there that are trying to build their first product and come out. Lots of things have happened. I have Axie Blundon with Brandstracts and his new product has been out called Helios. There’s been so much happening. Axie, thank you so much for joining us. How are you doing?
I’m doing great, Tony. It’s great to be here with you. Things are good. Things are crazy. It feels like it’s been many years since I spoke to you last but it’s only been a few months.
That’s what tends to happen especially when you’re building a business in this crazy industry. You’ve come up with this new product, Helios. We started talking about this in the lockdown period. It was unknown. Back here in April of 2020, we had a discussion. What I’d like to talk to you about is this natural transition from starting, up and running, catching your breath, figuring out where the direction of the product is going, where you’re going, and potentially your business partner. This is the first time I brought somebody else back. For you that are reading, this guy is in the middle of it right now.
We’re going to be talking to you about some of the strategies that he’s taken place and seeing where he started, where he thought he was going and where he is now. This change is along the way. As the interviewee, it’s exciting for me to see some of the things he’s learned and as we move forward, you’ll see. If you go back to his earlier episodes, you can also find the differences of what he’s feeling to what he’s feeling now. We’re doing an update of what is happening with his new product and the progression of his company. Wouldn’t you say, Axie?
What Tony wants is to be authentic and authenticity is one of the core values at Helios. We’ve taken pause at this time to engineer the vision, mission, core values and the strategy for this company and distill that down to a ten-year plan, a three-year vision, one-year goals, your rocks and then what our issues are. That has been a process. It’s been a journey since we began. When we last spoke, we had got into the business, going from producing it for our friends and family and those in need to giving it away to frontline healthcare workers. We had a 40-store location that we do the CBD private label for place and account. That got us going and got us into the business. We separated companies so we had a non-cannabis touching CBD company.
You were in the pandemic. We were all in the lockdown and you guys came up with an idea of a product. What was that product?
It’s a sanitizer product. It became clear that it was going to be in great need for people to stay safe during this unknown time of threats. It was quickly in short supply to the point that you couldn’t get it anywhere. Since we had a cannabis extraction facility using ethanol to extract cannabis, we were able to repurpose that to make a sanitizer product and turn it around overnight. At that time, I thought we will give it away. It’ll be marketing. We’ll do good in the world and give it away for free. We did that and that worked well. As I was saying, a large 40-store account came knocking and said, “We want to place an order. We can’t get this stuff anywhere. We want to get it from you.” That got us kickstarted the engines of this operation. We’re now pushing 100 stores across the country. We are producing at scale.
What does that mean by producing at scale for the readers? That’s relative to the person speaking about it. Could you go a little more in-depth about what scale you’re talking about?
I would say we’re producing in a way that we can scale up. We are consistently looking at our projections, where we’re going, and what we’re going to need to do to meet that demand. At the same time, improving our operations and our systems to be more efficient. When we were the only shop in town, so to speak, you couldn’t find sanitizer anywhere. We never were charging more than any sanitizer would be, then you saw a lot of companies pop up charging a little to nothing. The ingredients aren’t expensive.
It’s a matter of being able to assemble them and get them to market that becomes a value-added product. That’s what we’ve been focusing on while a lot of other companies went straight to make the cheapest product and get the most out there. You saw them pop up as quickly as you’re seeing them disappear. We have decided not to focus on price. We’ve decided to focus on quality, authenticity and creating a product that helps you live your best life. The vision of Helios is a clean, happy, healthy world. The mission of Helios is to provide plant-based wellness products at an accessible price while still providing to those in need at no cost.
This is your starter product to that line. Am I correct?
Yeah. There are going to be some cool developments coming with the brand, not just having sanitizer products but having other personal and home wellness products available.Passion comes from matching your key abilities with your core values. Click To Tweet
Let’s take this product for the audience. I want you guys to know that I don’t have Axie here straight up to talk about plugging his product. He’s a passionate entrepreneur about this. He wants to discuss this, but what I want to get to is seeing where he started this thing very quickly. We talked back in March 2020 and the lockdown as was happening. How long did it take you to come from idea to launch? How long was it for you to pull Helios together?
To make the actual product, it was an overnight situation because we had a lab with all the ingredients and containers and things like that. We were able to blend it up, put it in a bottle, test it out and it’s effective. Assigning the brand to it was a little bit more of a process. That was a brand I had kicking around for some time. It was perfect because Helios is the God of the Sun. The God of Sun is the best disinfectant. We put the brand behind it, then that was born. Since then, we’ve got in front of a lot of people. We were awarded a grant from Venture Asheville and the Chamber of Commerce here since we spoke, which propelled us into the mainstream business community. It gave us a lot of local visibility.
I would like to point out that you’re in North Carolina. Going back to your history in cannabis, how welcoming did North Carolina used to be about cannabis and THC? Were they welcoming to the product at all? Were there a lot of reservations in North Carolina with CBD and other products?
Western North Carolina particularly Asheville and the surrounding area here is very progressive as a booming CBD and hemp seeing is poised to be a center for cannabis and THC in general. It was very welcoming and very happy to have us. We’re able to overcome that and be understood because we created this sanitizer company and made this sanitizer product. We’re getting it out there. We’ve partnered with local and nonprofits to give it away on an ongoing long-term basis. We were awarded this grant by the Chamber of Commerce and they all know that we have this other side of the business that is cannabis, the CBD business. They liked that story.
The fact that we’re making sanitizer and we created another entity, brand and business to do that is only supporting the cannabis business we have and they’re rising together. We talked about last time that I never thought I would do anything outside of cannabis and then here we are making sanitizer and it’s a whole non-cannabis touching business. The Chamber of Commerce is like, “Right this way.” Now, there are all these wonderful, amazing professionals that are in our network and supporting us. It has been a cathartic experience of overcoming the stigma of working in cannabis.
What’s been incredible is that you’re starting to find stories like yours. One of the other things that I’d like to point out is that had you not started this direction or pathway, at the beginning of 2020, did you think you would be creating a hand sanitizer?
Had you not been pushing the direction you had or let’s say starting the process? I know people out there are like, “It’s hard.” Sometimes you’re like, “I don’t know what it’s going to look here. I want to be a grower.” You can start getting bogged down with all these different details. All these different details as a business owner, you’re like, “I’m going to do something.” You don’t do it because you’re trying to find all the answers?
Where I’m going with this is pointing out the fact that you didn’t know the answers at the beginning of the year. The pandemic hit then you had to adjust. What was the reason you adjusted for at that time? What was the main reason?
I’m calling to help others with what we had the resources to do and make. On the radio, I remember traveling to see my brother in early March of 2020. Before then hearing news about this and I thought, “We have these things.” I ordered a few things and got back.
Is it the news about the pandemic? Is that what you’re talking about?
Yes, and there was this intuitive sense of like, “We’re going to need this. We can make this stuff.” Sure enough, there was a huge shortage. There was a calling for us that we have oodles of the active ingredient for sanitizer products sitting in 270-gallon totes in our extraction facility. People need this. We can make it. It did become a calling almost like a spiritual moment where it’s like, “You can do this. We need you.”
You sound very passionate about it.
Yes. It was started by a calling to give back and provide something that we had that others couldn’t find. Now, we’ve memorialized that with these long-term partnerships so we’re giving sanitizer. It went from hospital workers, homeless shelters, frontline healthcare workers, anybody that could get our attention, or we could link up with, we sent them free sanitizer while still selling it at a fair price to the public. While giving it away with friends, family and our team members. Now fast forward around six months, 100 stores and tens of thousands of units later, we are giving it away still on a long-term ongoing basis to nonprofits such as A Lot of Homes, which is a home for disadvantaged youth or Homeward Bound, which is a local program that helps people find long-term housing solutions and support them through that. That’s our Here To Help campaign and that’s part of our mission.
Mission and culture, you talked about that. I want to go back to that because there are some positive things there. Talking to a lot of business owners, there are a lot of people that are trying to understand how to find their passion in business. Is there a formula where you can say look out for or how do other people find their passion? Do you have any way of adding to that? How people can keep their eyes open for something that might turn them on or spark them?
It’s a combination of finding something you’d love to do and finding a way that could bring some value to you specifically to make money on it. It can be tough. I was a musician, I still am a musician and I don’t make money doing that. I did for some time. That’s such a creative process for me trying to make money on that. It was so much work on something that was so creative that it ruined it. Now, I enjoy that as a passion and I put that creative energy towards business. For me, people in relationships and being of service is the passion that fuels this.
All of us have a core quality within us that we’re good at and discover that thing whether it’s relating to people, being detailed-oriented, being a great communicator, or working with your hands fine. It doesn’t have to be like, “I like this one specific task or I like making this one thing.” I like to cook. I must be a cook. I love to cook. I don’t want to be a cook. I love to play music. I don’t want to play music as a living. It’s more than financing you love and find a way to make money doing that. Find a core skill or focus that makes you happy whether that’s researching or whatever it may be and then match that with something that matches your values.Clean, happy, healthy, authentic. #HeliosSanitizer Click To Tweet
What do you value in life? What type of people would you do work with? Who wouldn’t you do work with? Out of those things, that limits your options to align yourself with people and organizations of similar values and then find your key ability that makes you happy doing the work. You match your key ability with those core values and then you’re going to have this passion. It’s going to fill you with energy instead of taking your energy to do this work.
It’s not easy to explain to people. It’s one of those things you almost have to experience once or twice to understand where that comes from. I appreciate your answer. I know that wasn’t an easy one. I didn’t know that was going to come out but you’re right. The new business owner or the guy that’s got the idea is thinking I got the idea. These are some of the things that I hope help you transition into what you’re passionate about and what you want to be happy doing. I’ve been watching a lot of social media and this whole being happy thing is a big deal. It’s a major deal especially when you’re working like you’re working right now. Pulling it back to your passion values, you were talking about the core principles of your company. I want to talk about that next. What are the core principles and how did you work through that with your business partners?
The core values of Helios and this is still a bit of a work in progress are clean, happy, healthy and authentic.
Why are these important?
Clean, we’re making sanitizer, we want to have a clean planet and a clean mind. The opposite of clean is dirty and that’s not a good thing. We also want a pure product. Happy, as you said, is such a thing these days. Happy isn’t fun. Fun makes you happy but happiness is a state of mind where it’s cheesy things like choose happy and it’s not always that easy. Happiness is surrendering and being happy with what you have. Instead of always looking at what’s missing or what’s wrong, it’s being happy. That’s what we want to create. We want people to be happy and safe with this product. Healthy is, of course, we need to be healthier people and we needed to have a healthier planet. That’s why that’s so important. Authentic or authenticity, we’re born between that and accountability. We’re going to be true to our word. We’re going to have a real product that is what it says it is, it’s going to be functional, and we’re going to stand behind it because we’re not just accountable, but we’re authentic.
For the other companies that you started or worked in with the hemp company, the vape company, the campaign, did you learn a lot from the direction those companies were taking and you put this into your core values for your company? Why are these important to a business in general?
I’ll answer your first question. Yes, I learned a lot about not what to do but what not to do. I saw some of these things either happen too late or never happened at all where you have a leadership team or the partners and owners that are doing this thing that in their head, they know what they’re doing. They have this vision but it’s in their head and it isn’t in a place that can be accessed by the leadership team, by the managers and everybody in the organization because they’re too busy doing the day-to-day stuff. They don’t take the time to distill what’s in their head down onto paper and share with people, get feedback and refine it until you have your vision organized.
The reason that it’s important is because as a leader in an organization, as the owners or partners, you determined the whole flow of the organization. If it’s unclear what’s going on right here then it’s going to be murky on what goes on down below. That goes from your behavior as an owner to the way you communicated. A big part of my job is constantly articulating the vision, the mission, the core values, marketing plan and the timelines of how we’re going to accomplish these things. From there, it attracts the right people and we have values. As we were saying earlier, if you’re aligned with these values and you have a core ability then you’re going to be very happy. That’s why it’s important because it’s like a clock tower on the wall that says this is what time it is. This is where we’re going.
That’s well said. I’ve heard people refer to it as your true north. You stick to that pathway. I’m going to change gears here a little bit. Did you guys have a well-planned strategy when you started this new product?
The short answer is no. It was in such high demand and we had the ability to make it so we didn’t think twice, we started making it and then larger orders came in. A lot of this did develop quickly, intuitively, was in our heads, we were talking about it, and sharing it. It’s only now that we’re putting this on paper in a way that we can share with our team members or stakeholders and show them what we’re about. I’ve watched the companies go on for much longer without the owners and partners being able to articulate why they’re doing what they’re doing, how they’re going to do it, and putting it in a place where everyone could see.
That, to me, is the difference that I mentioned about clock towers. The difference between being a clock tower and a timekeeper is if you build a clock tower, anybody can see the time. If you’re stuck being a timekeeper, you are the one with the time to give when somebody asks, you’re going to be stuck telling people the time all the time because you want to feel special because you’re holding that knowledge to you instead of putting it in a place where everybody can see.
Making it clear for all the individuals that are involved in either corporation, business or LLC, whatever you have set up. It sounds like to me, your strategies changed quite a bit from when you started at the beginning. Am I correct in saying that?
Yes, it changed. It evolved. It’s right where it needs to be. It changed for a couple of reasons. One, when we started making it, you couldn’t find this stuff anywhere. We were in an emergency manufacturing mode. We were deemed essential. We were making it for our accounts and also giving it away. The supplies came back up, you had gone from having nothing on the shelves to having ten different sanitizers, all with these weird brands, weird ingredients and all these things out there for next to nothing. Since then, some of those have been recalled, there have been warning letters about them containing dangerous things like methanol or these chemicals from plants outside of the United States. Some of them were potent enough and they’re still out there. It’s still a high demand good.
A heck of a lot cheaper than it was when there was a supply previously because there’s such an oversupply right now. The main way that we have shifted is we are taking Helios into a little bit of a higher-end value-added market where we’ve done our Here To Help campaign. We’re giving away product based on the revenue with every sale like a Toms’ shoes model. We also launched a new scented line that is all plant-based. It’s the type of thing where these days everybody uses sanitizer so there’s going to be those people that want to give back with every purchase or want a plant-based sanitizer scented with lavender, spearmint, eucalyptus, Rosemary or geranium. Those are all products we’re making. It has shifted and that’s the only way to survive in this type of market. We’re talking something that was in the short-term, more high growth and more volatile than cannabis markets. At the end of the day, there was no other option but to pivot or persevere.
It sounds like you’ve had some challenges and learned some lessons?
Why don’t you share a couple of those with us?
The consistent pivot and persevere have some notes of these. We went in the market, no supply to oversupply and it happened very fast. There was no supply overnight and then that continued for less than two months. Within a month after that, it was everywhere. We dropped the price, we had to lose money on some large orders because they were about to cancel them, and they’d already been packaged on pallets to go out the door and they say, “We got cheaper.” People trying to play the price game so we stopped playing that game and are making a better higher-end product and building a brand. The compliance journey has been something else because there were these temporary restrictions around producing sanitizer that was implemented at the beginning of the crisis. Those have lifted. Now, we’re getting all regulated and making sure we’re staying in compliance.
People knew that would be coming at some point, right?
Yes. We were prepared for that. Another thing is being in a high-growth, a high-risk environment having to deal with all of the legal, financial and insurance. All of these needs so quickly when it’s such a new company, a new product and a brand have been a challenge.
You built the product but then you had to figure it out along the way on how to make sure that you were complying with everything as well as fight off the competitors. You had to make sure that you could still run a business and make enough money at that time?
Keep up with sales and have operations be able to deliver orders. The journey that you would take in six years in six months easily.Sometimes, you need to put plans into action before you have every piece of the puzzle. Click To Tweet
You were learning daily, it sounds like.
Every day is a week. Every week is a month. It’s been a lot.
Spending so much time in the cannabis and hemp world, what types of strategies are you applying from cannabis and hemp into this new product?
One of the first things that came to mind is a cautiously, optimistic, appetite for risk while still keeping safe. The THC world is still technically operating in a federally illegal landscape. When I went to make sanitizer, the first thing I did was make a product and send it to people. It wasn’t researched the compliance, licenses and regulatory nature of sanitizer. I knew that people need this. We’re helping them and we’re giving it away. We’re not selling it so we’re safe. Now, we’re selling it and that’s when the FDA temporary guidelines came into place. We’re navigating that in the compliance journey.
If you’re going to be in a high-risk industry, you’re already operating in a gray area. It’s not for the faint of heart. I’m not telling anyone to go out there and do anything illegal. When there are laws that are evolving and things that change quickly overnight, for example, the DEA regulations on hemp for processors and products that are in process that came out. That makes me think they’re saying this is now illegal again. I’m only saying that because compliance and safety are our primary concerns and having a brand and company with great integrity is at the top of the list.
That being said, when you’re called to serve and get people whether it’s plant medicine or a sanitizer product, there might be a situation where forgiveness is easier than permission. You have to plow forward and say, “We’re doing this,” and go do it. Once you get to a point to say, “If we’re going to keep doing this, what licenses, certifications and regulation support do we need?” That’s why we now have a fully comprehensive, general liability, and product liability insurance package because we are doing those things. Was I going to wait to get this in people’s hands until I had insurance? No. We’re going to get it in people’s hands. If it grows, we’re going to get the necessary things we need to continue to grow.
What points did you take into account when you were making those decisions? When you’re thinking, “If I follow this to the T, there’s no way I’m going to get to production, there’s no way I’m going to get into somebody’s hands.” You’ve got a risk versus reward. You had to think about a few things like, “These are all the reasons why I shouldn’t do it but these are all reasons why.” As an entrepreneur, how do you say, “I need to push the envelope in?”
This was made particularly easy because it was in such dire need to help people be safe, protect themselves, and potentially prevent the spread of a deadly disease. The regulatory nature at that time, everyone has a lot of bigger things to focus on. I felt comfortable getting it out there without seeing me like corny, hippy-dippy, or something. Sometimes, there’s a sense of intuition where my gut is saying, “Go make this. Go do this. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to get what you need as far as protection, certifications, and insurance” and those are all things that we have now. If I sat there and I said, “I need X, Y, Z, B, A, C, D to start doing this,” I wouldn’t have done it. I wouldn’t have been here because somebody else would have done it. We’re still a small high-growth startup. It means that we don’t have millions of dollars in reserve to go pay a compliance team and a team of attorneys to get us all the things right away. We had to take a little risk. I’m okay saying that because we didn’t do anything wrong and we’re now in full compliance.
What would you tell somebody that wants to make sure they have everything at row before they start a company or a business such as yourself?
Make sure none of those things are going to have you end up in jail, have your assets seized or frozen. Those things end up with a slap on the wrist, you get a cease and desist, or things like that. I’m in no way advocating any illegal activity or endangering any people. What I am saying is sometimes you need to put plans into action before you have every piece of the puzzle. I always think of building a company and we might have said this last time, but of it as driving a car as opposed to building a rocket ship. If you try to build a rocket ship, it takes a long time, a lot of money and you get one chance. If anything fucks up, it goes down and you lose everything.
If you think of it more as driving a car, you might get a used car. You build the car, get a new car. You get in the car. You start driving. You pick up passengers and partners. Those are the people in the back seat, load the tank, you pull over, get more gas, you’ve got to change a tire, make a wrong turn, get back on the road and keep going. You can always keep going. At the same time, we all drove a car before we had our license. That was with mom or dad’s need, on the dirt road, in the country, in the field, or with a friend who had a license. Were they bad people doing terrible things? No. Were they technically driving a car without a license? Yes. Did that ruin their fate or prevent them from getting their driver’s license? No. As long as your heart is in the right place and you’re not putting anybody at risk including yourself then sometimes you go for it and then everything will fall into place.
I appreciate you coming on the show and showing somebody that’s in the trenches, digging through this has going on in his mind. It’s hard to explain sometimes all the different pieces of the puzzle that somebody like you and your position has to do on a daily basis. It comes with compliance and it comes with, “Am I staying? Am I hurting anybody?” You’ve got to ask yourself these questions each time you have to make a decision. Thank you for joining us. If you’re interested in following up with Axie, he has his hand sanitizer. It’s one of his first products that he’s putting out there to help others. He’s going to be building a brand. I hope to see more products of yours hit the market.
You sure will. I don’t want to tell anything public yet, but I’ll send some your way. It was great, Tony. I’m thrilled to be here chatting with you and be able to share this with the community and to your readers. It’s an honor.
Thanks a lot. Come check me out here at PlantProblem.com if you’re in looking at some more podcasts. I’ve got several different episodes. I’ve got some cool ones coming up. I’ve been working hard to bring those to you. Some unique stuff that will save you on some taxes, which is always a problem in cannabis. Thanks so much for joining me. I’ll see you next time.Sometimes you just have to go for it then everything will fall into place. Click To Tweet
- Interview – previous episode
- Straight Hemp
About Axie Blundon
Axie is an entrepreneur and marketer who loves building and launching brands and businesses. With a passion for progressive and disruptive business strategy, he is at the front lines of new industries spanning cannabis ventures from recreational marijuana markets and cannabis tourism to new uses of hemp.
As Co-Founder & CMO of Straight Hemp, Axie activated and achieved his mission as a young entrepreneur to build a company in an emerging industry on a mission to the heal the through the power of nature.
Previously, Axie was the Director Of Sponsorship for My 420 Tours, the first cannabis tourism agency in North America, where he connected brands with cannabis consumers and built bold new experiences in modern cannabis.
Prior to My 420 Tours, Axie Blundon was Director of Events and Sponsorship for Organa Brands, one of the largest cannabis firms in the world, which houses iconic brands such as O.penVAPE.
Axie has a strong marketing background in music, media and events. He has curated concerts, produced festivals and organized demonstrations from New York to London. Working in a B2B and B2C environment, Axie knows the importance strong marketing relationships and consistent brand strategy.