What CBD Oils Offer: Improving And Innovating The CBD Industry With Irfan Sadiq
Others run from their failures. The best of us learn lessons and come back stronger, ready to improve and innovate. Join Mitch Russo as he engages the CEO of Blue Gem Hemp, the man himself, Irfan Sadiq. Irfan talks about how his father inspired him to become a technologist, sharing his early efforts at starting a business. Learn the lessons Irfan got to know in starting up Blue Gem Hemp and turning it into the success story it is today. Find out as well what CBD oils offer and how you can improve what it provides now so you can innovate the entire industry.
Listen to the podcast here:
What CBD Oils Offer: Improving And Innovating The CBD Industry With Irfan Sadiq
I have something special for all of my coaches in the audience. As a coach myself, I realized that I had been spending 30 to 40 minutes per session on admin. I had five applications open at the same time. One for notetaking, calendar, spreadsheet, Zoom, browser and all past session history scattered over two huge screens. At the end of each session, I spent all this time combining all of what I had collected during my session into a single email to send to my client as a client report in homework.Once you can establish trust between you and your end consumer, things line up. Click To Tweet
I decided that this was ridiculous. I started looking for some professional coach management software and what I found was overpriced and overly complicated. I didn’t like any of it. I decided to create my own. I began this project and I’m happy to announce that for only $20 a month, you can try it for free. What that means is that now you could administer all your sessions in ClientFolio easily and be done in 5 to 7 minutes because everything is on one screen. How would you like to take a look at that? Go to ClientFol.io and test drive it free. Let me know what you think. Now, on to our guest and his incredible story.
Readers, picture this. It’s 1995 and the scene is set. The Egyptian Jihad attacks the Egyptian Embassy and that became the deadliest attack against the Egyptian government in years, thrusting Islamabad, Pakistan, onto the world stage. For many, this will be the first time of many times that this city and country would be on TV and in the news. Meanwhile, the people of Pakistan are busy living their lives, planning their future and working to support their families. At this time, my guest was sixteen years old and passionately involved with the new business of personal computers.
He studied at the center hub of Islamabad to the USA in 2001 at the University of Central Oklahoma to further his education and realize his dream of being an IT infrastructure engineer. Unfortunately, he hit a snag and the business tanked, teaching him many powerful lessons about overseas teams and managing from a distance. His entrepreneurial mind brought him an opportunity to become involved in the cannabis industry with a powerful innovation.
He had figured out how to extract CBD from hemp in a completely organic and holistic way, delivering a purer, more powerful CBD product than anyone else had ever derived. Driven by his desire to make his way in this world, he started his own company to launch his organic full-spectrum CBD oil to the world. One year and 30,000 bottles later, he’s found a way to build and scale his company in a unique and powerful way. He’s here to share that process with us. Welcome, Irfan Sadiq, to the show.
Thanks, Mitch. I’m excited and flattered to be here. Thanks for having me.
My pleasure, Irfan. It’s great to have you. I admire what you’ve done, coming to this country, starting a business, growing it and then now pivoting into something new. Let’s go back to the beginning. Tell us a little bit about getting here, your origin and growing up in what to most of our readers would be considered a foreign country.
I was born and raised in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. I started my first venture when my father was building out Pakistan’s National Database & Registration Authority, also known as NADRA. It’s similar to how we have Social Security numbers assigned to individuals in the United States. It’s the same way. In Pakistan, we were in the process of registering what’s called the National Identity card numbers. He worked with IBM and I was impressed with the mainframes and the entire nine yards.
Me, being a tenth grader, he goes, “The future is in IT.” My dad’s background was in Electrical and Construction Engineer. He said, “I see a bright future for you in there.” He got me interested in IT. After computers, which were an unknown brand in the UK and still is. I did my hardware and CompTIA diploma from there. For some readers, this might be, in particular, the new generation. They go, “People built personal computers and sold them.” I saw an opportunity that why not have something not at the scale of Dell and HP but a little private computer retail shop. That’s how I got into business or entrepreneurship, in other words.
That was a tender age, unfortunately. Being a rookie entrepreneur, there were several mistakes that I made. When I look back at that time, I realize, “What could have been done better?” That got me interested in taking that career to the next level. I did some research and there are two options that I explored. Number one was, “Let’s go to Oxford, University of London, Cambridge or any other good IT school in England because I had done my first certification from England.”
The second option was that my uncle was alumni and my younger brother was a student at the University of Central Oklahoma. When I weighed in my options, that sounded a lot better. In 2000, I applied for a student visa and then migrated from Islamabad to Oklahoma, from a capital to a country area. There was quite a bit of a change and a bit of shock culture. Not too much, however, that’s where I started what’s called the American Dream. I started my education in IT in particular and got into the IT infrastructure career back in 2003. I had worked my way for several Fortune 50 to 500 clients.
Fast forward to 2010. There was something that wasn’t sitting well. I was still feeling that something is missing. The entrepreneur had been put to sleep because of a lot of other priorities. For the same client that I had worked for, I started my own independent consulting company to see how can I navigate the waters and see what can I do. Three years later, it led to open an outsourcing company. I had a successful start. Unfortunately, it got a little cumbersome where I had some real challenges of managing people across the globe. That taught me some life lessons on how to effectively manage your global resources across the globe. Unfortunately, that business only ran for about 1 or 1.5-year. It’s not that long. As we all know, we learn the best from our mistakes. Life doesn’t come with a manual. We have to figure a few things out.
Without the mistakes, tragedies, suffering, there’d be no progress. Sometimes you wish it didn’t have to be that way. Ultimately, it couldn’t be any other way. If there was none of that then what a boring life this would be. You wouldn’t know joy if there was nothing to compare it to. You wouldn’t understand happiness if you weren’t sad sometimes. We all need to go through this. That’s partially why I decided to create this show is to showcase the fact that we’re all human and that we all make mistakes. If we persevere and pivot from where we were instead of quitting and failing, we will continue our journey forward. You’ve done that. Here you are and you are doing all this stuff. It looks like, unfortunately, the business did fail. What made you or brought you to the CBD opportunity? After all, that’s pretty far removed from what you were doing in the IT world.
At the core, I always answered that I’m a technologist. I’m a big believer in digital transformation or other transformational technologies. I had firsthand experience during a research study back in 2007 where I was given CBD as an alternative to my migraine prescription drugs. That had drastically changed how I was managing my ailments. It’s not that all of a sudden it started. I was not actively pursuing it. It was more of passive research.We learn the best from our mistakes. Life doesn’t come with a manual. We have to figure a few things out. Click To Tweet
In 2014, when for the first time the legislators were talking about legalizing hemp and removing it from a controlled substance drug like its cousin, marijuana. That sparked and I was like, “This is where I can leverage a lot of digital transformation technology or that technological background and be able to help improve other people’s life like it had changed my life.” That was the driving factor behind that. What pivoted was that. It was a 360 turn. You go from an IT or digital technology into a medicinal plant.
During our research, what I figured out was that there were a lot of gaps in terms of technologies and the extraction methods that were being leveraged. It’s unfortunate to say that years later, I have not seen a single company innovating anything. From 2014 up until now, if you look around and do your research, you’ll find out that there are three extraction methods that people were still leveraging. That’s truly what sparked this thing and I was like, “We could do better.” There’s always room for improvement. I’m a big believer that the more we learn, the less we know.
Let’s take this revelation or this realization that you had and translate it into action. You had some direct experience with CBD. It was helpful with migraines. You then had this realization that there was an extraction method that you could use. Somehow, the universe lined up to bring you the people you needed to help you with this. Let’s think of this as an idea. How do we turn that idea into an operating and running business? What happened for you to take that next step? What did you do?
I partnered up and collaborated with those wonderful people. I started learning a little bit about, “How can we turn this idea into a business?” I’m not going to it’s great or complete because there’s no completion in my opinion. We always strive to optimize. How can I have a better business plan together? Keep in mind, at that time, no financial institution was giving you any type of loan, line of credits or anything because of the young hemp industry. It was and still is not fully regulated, unfortunately.
What I learned from those mistakes is what helped me to put together this plan. It all started with we acquired the machines, did our proof of concepts and then had our research and development lab. Those were the basic fundamentals that we did. I’m not going to call it clinical trials. You get to know people, family and friends. You give them something and say, “Take it and let us know what difference you feel in your daily lives.” Anecdotal evidence in other words and not scientific clinical trials.
When I saw that there was a good response and amazing feedback from every single user with the exception that 90% of them said, “This is yucky. It doesn’t taste good.” However, it works. It helped us with a lot of stuff. I tried pivoting into a little different spectrum. I noticed that in the industry, everyone went for flavoring. I was like, “Are we toddlers that we need all those chemicals to be introduced or this wonderful specimen that I was trying to preserve its purity and potency that I had to expose it to chemicals?” I was baffled a little bit between those thoughts.
If I were reading this, one of the questions in my mind might be, “You had this idea then you went out and bought all this equipment and then you set up a lab.” That’s great. That sounds like it wasn’t free. Where did the money come from? Did you have to dig into your own savings? Did you get investors? Tell us the story of that.
Initially, I tried the investment route. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out well for a simple reason and I’ll keep it brief. When you have too many cooks in the kitchen, there are many recipes. One recipe is definitely for disaster. I ended up investing my life savings.
You’ve built the lab, experimented with the formulation until you felt you got it right. You got it out to family and friends. At this point, what is the difference between a lab where you do the research and development in effect and production where you’re creating a system to extract in mass and bottle? How did that step take place?
Being in technology, in particular, cloud computing, that’s where I got all that idea that, “Let’s start at a minute or minimum scale and then scale it up.” The business model I had created was based on the number of years within that industry. That helped me tremendously to have something that could have been scaled like how you can have a single server deployed in any of the cloud environments. All of a sudden, now you know, “My proof of concept went well and I have the capability to scale it up to a level in a matter of minutes.” In the same way, this PLC that I did in our lab was developed on the same fundamentals. I had the capability to scale it up for mass production.
Did you use contractors? In other words, did you buy a factory, build a factory or simply find formulators who could take your recipe, in effect, and mass–produce and bottle it?
We do everything. We are a fully, vertically, integrated company. We do everything from seed to bottle in–house. That was massive growth. Once you have a little bit of planning and some lessons learned, there are no more obstacles. It’s like putting one foot in front of another and then, “Here you go.” We did not build and we still don’t own a facility. We are leasing. The facility I leased is also based on the same model as cloud computing. This company is known for that reason. We started out with a tiny little 500 square feet of a lab and scaled it up to 50,000 square feet of what our capacity for production and environment is.
That’s impressive. As a person reading this story, the questions keep popping into my mind. If I had never done this before, scaling from 500 square feet to 50,000 square feet seems like a massive undertaking. You cite your experience as the reason why you are capable of doing that. That is key to the process. For somebody who might be your next competitor, if they, for example, had this brilliant idea for a formulation that was different than all the others, would you advise them to take the route you did? Would you advise them to try and find a partner to help them get to that point, particularly if they’ve never done anything like this before?
My brutally honest answer to that is if they have not done this before, I would definitely recommend them to have someone who’s done this before as a partner, as an investor. If they’ve been there and done that then start out at a minimum level, at that little scale and then see what the response is. Everything that I did, personally, was based on the response that we got.
Your experience was in IT. When it came to the planning of building out your electronic infrastructure, I’m sure you instantly visualized that in your mind. You saw the whole thing and knew exactly what to do based on your deep experience in the IT world.
That is correct. This is why we went to this building. It’s Innovation Parkway, for those who are interested to know. It’s over millions of square feet of the infrastructure that they built. It’s built for companies like us. We start out small and they make it super easy. I’ll give them a big shout-out. They helped me tremendously scaling up our business.
You have what you would think of as the perfect formulation. You have your packaging designed, a source for your raw materials and a facility by which you can create this. How do you go about selling this beyond friends and family? Tell us the story of how you scaled this to 30,000 bottles in one year?
This is where I’m still learning a lot. I’ve learned a few hard lessons. Being in IT, one thing that I learned a long time ago as I started my first business selling personal computers. Meaning convincing people why they need it which brings me to the point that I was reading one of your earlier shows, Finding Your Why Behind Everything. It connected. It was like I was reading my life story. This is important because I sold every single bottle on the value without sugarcoating it and without the scales of what I call selling water to the whales.Once you have a little bit of planning and some lessons learned, there are no more obstacles. Click To Tweet
Keeping honest, being honest, telling people what the quality of the product is, how it was created and keeping it transparent. We can proudly say that we are the only company that if you go to our website, we have posted out our extraction methods out there, showing people how transparently the product has been made. That’s what truly got people’s interest and their trust. Building trust. Once you can establish trust between your end consumer, things align up. Is the time does a factor that takes? Trust is earned. That’s the formula that worked out for me going from the initial 1,500 to 3,000 bottles that were given away as an anecdotal trial, not clinical. Word of mouth had a lot to do with it. That was my recipe that worked out.
What is the website that people would go to take a look at your product?
Readers, we’re talking to the incredible Irfan Sadiq who has built a company in one year that is taking the CBD world by storm. Much of what he shared is unique and interesting, as you’ve probably noticed yourself. Irfan, if you did this through word of mouth, that alone would be shocking and surprising but you have employed some other marketing methodologies. Talk a little bit about that.
You can’t scale up just based on word of mouth unless you are the only sheriff in the town and everyone gets to know you. That’s the only way you can accomplish something. We had search engine optimization work done from a digital perspective or digital marketing standpoint. Up until we had the liberty to leverage some of the social media platforms in particular to do some commercial advertisement, which we did. Unfortunately, it was a short span because a majority of the social media platforms including the known search engines under FDA’s guidance had to put a temporary ban on CBD products. I’m not going to give them a credit that social media is what got us where it is. However, building a digital community across the country is the key that worked out.
What is it that you’re building?
I’m educating the users with the real, true, scientific–proven facts and the therapeutic benefits of hemp as a medicinal plant, which has been consumed around the globe for as far as we can validate the recording of about 40,000 plus years. It’s a sustainable crop itself. Prior to its ban in the United States, it’s not a stranger to a whole lot of people here. The key for me was to educate people and the consumer about what it is.
There were a lot of myths, false claims and statements made, unfortunately, by a lot of individuals in the industry that portrayed CBD as a magical mythical thing. Whereas I had to educate our consumer that it works with two of our internal human anatomy systems known as serotonin and endocannabinoid systems. The more I conducted and still conduct live sessions on Facebook and on Instagram where I do live Q&A from our consumers or new consumers where they have a lot of questions.
A difference between a whole bunch of other people and myself is that I always cite validated scientific resources to them. I always post. If I am posting an article, I cite that it’s not just my work. As an example, Dr. Piomelli and Dr. Russo are the sources that I cite over and over again because those two individuals have done a tremendous amount of work. I wish if I would have the opportunity or resources, I would love to do those but there’s a lot to learn from their experience. That’s what I educate people, our users and our potential customers.
I’m going to reveal to everyone who is reading our words. In order for this show to take place, I had asked Irfan if I could try the product. He was kind enough to send me one. What I didn’t tell him is I didn’t disclose the fact that I have tried many different CBD products in the past. I found them virtually ineffective at everything. I never ever had any benefit at all from CBD. I know my mom has had great luck with it and other people have.
It never did anything for me at all, ever. I couldn’t quite understand why. When this little blue bottle arrived and I tried it, I tried it for two nights in a row. I say nights because I’d like help sleeping if I can get it. I found that I slept more deeply because of this product than I did before. To make sure it wasn’t the placebo effect, I stopped taking it to see if my body would notice that. It did. This for me is a solution, at least when it comes to getting a better night’s sleep. I don’t have anxiety issues but it sounds like it would probably help with anxiety as well. From my perspective, it feels and tastes real. It doesn’t taste like a chemical. It tastes like a plant. It’s not pleasant tasting but at the same time, it’s natural and organic tasting.
The goal that I had in mind from the beginning when I got into this thing was why hinder the natural bounty of this magnificent plant? There’s a debate and it’s a debatable question. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. Some people that I had the opportunity or liberty to work with including our taste chemist who is a certified Doctor of Pharmacology, sometimes do not agree with my philosophy. They challenge me and we do the same way. Their thing was that pharmacology is all about reduction. “Why can’t we just do this system and that?”
My humble answer to that was, “If you have compelling evidence that you can prove it to me or simply help me understand that, why should we?” Unfortunately, until this point, they failed to get me that answer. That’s the reason why. That initial crude oil is better than what the end product is. However, to your point, the more we hinder is when we start losing its medicinal and therapeutic effect. Dr. Ethan Russo, I’m going to cite him, has a good article that you can Google regarding that. When we start playing around with any medicinal plant, not just hemp in particular, we start extracting and isolating its therapeutic sources. That’s where we start creating what I call this domino effect. You take one little thing out of there and off it goes.
I feel like I could talk to you all day about this because it’s incredibly interesting as to how you built this and frankly, the incredibly bright future that your company has. We are going to move to the next section of the show where I’m going to ask you a couple of fun questions. These are questions I ask all my guests. They’re designed to help us get to know you a little bit better. Here’s the first question. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?
Tell me why.
There are few similarities between us. I’m not trying to blow my own horn but this magnificent gentleman has extraordinary talents. He has changed how we look at that technology nowadays and what it was years ago. He continues to keep evolving. That’s fascinating to me. That’s the sole reason. There are a few names but when I do apples-to-apples comparisons, by far, he stands out.
People have cited him before. When people do, I have to tell my little story about Bill Gates. Here I am at the Massachusetts Software Council meeting of which Bill Gates is attending. I’m in the process of growing my own little software company. We’re operating in the accounting space. It worries me that big companies might come into my space and take away my market. I walked over to him and I said, “Bill, I want to ask you a question. Do you have any plans to take Microsoft into the accounting arena with accounting software?” It was like he went off on a diatribe. He couldn’t stop talking.
“No, that’s too small a market. We have no need for that. We have no desire to go in that direction,” and on and on he went. He then turned around and walked away from me. Six weeks later, he announces that they are going into the accounting business with a product that they had acquired. I don’t know much about Bill’s personal life but I’m going to make the assumption that at the time I’m sure he was on top of virtually every element of his company.
I even remember the fact that he had personally reviewed all of the code that created Microsoft Word. I know he’s a detail person but when that happened to me and when I heard him say, “No,” and then it happened six weeks later, I lost my respect for him in that regard. Maybe he didn’t know, he didn’t realize or he was lying. I don’t know. From that point on, I didn’t have the respect they did before.
First off, sorry to hear about that part. Secondly, my inspiration from him is purely technological. Unfortunately, what I also call them and I haven’t seen you use the word so you’re better than myself, these gimmicks that we do in the business. I’m against that part. Navision is the company that they acquired originally. It was a Norwegian company and they turned that into Microsoft Dynamics, what we know nowadays. I know because, at that point, I was implementing Navision for a large private alternative energy client here in Illinois. If you ask in the next follow-up question, what’s the difference between you and Bill Gates, I will say transparency.
It was a great experience to have met him and a story I now have to tell over and over again. Everybody has their own reason why they’d want to spend an hour with somebody. You shared yours and I appreciate that. Here’s the second and last question. This is what we call the grand finale, that changed the world question. Are you ready?
What is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to change the world?
Once we fully solidified the basic understanding of the medicinal therapeutic effects of hemp, that it’s a major substantial component of our human anatomy. The endocannabinoid system controls all of our physiological activities to keep it in homeostasis, which is known as a balanced state. Another thing that has been cited is that, “Every breath we take is towards that goal.” I would like to, if I could, spend a lot of time and a lot of resources to fully understand. We barely, unfortunately within the last many years, have scratched the surface of what the endocannabinoid system is. How it truly controls our systems.
We do know that there are sources like hemp as an example that has a majority of the cannabinoid or cannabidiol known as CBD are naturally produced but we know little about what the endocannabinoid is in its entirety. I would like to spend a lot of resources and research to learn about it. How is that going to transform people’s lives? It’s not like a magical pill, however, based on what I’ve learned so far about what endocannabinoids can do. It’s significant. It can help us with a whole bunch of different ailments. If we all can live a happy healthy life, that would be something that I can be proud of that, “We accomplished something.”
I certainly believe that you are and will accomplish much, now that you have this formulation, that you are in a position to make a ripple effect in the world and that’s wonderful. Before we let you go, tell us what you have for our readers.When you have too many cooks in the kitchen, there are many recipes. One recipe is definitely for disaster. Click To Tweet
We will be giving away 100 free bottles of our best-seller, the 1,200-milligram CDB oil, to 100 few lucky readers.
For anybody who has not tried the product, I can attest that it’s different. It’s a great product. I think you can enjoy it. How could they get their free bottle? You had said something I thought was quite extraordinary. You offered to do something that is a little bit unprecedented in the history of my show. You had offered to give away 100 free bottles of your strongest formulation, the same one you sent me. These bottles are $80 each, which is already a good value. Irfan is going to give 100 away for free to readers of this show. If you’re a reader of the show then potentially you can have a bottle for yourself for free. How would one go about getting their free bottle?
If they go to our website and click the Contact Us page, there are three fields in there. They will just put in their name, email and in the message box they can just put, “(Mitch Russo’s Show).” This would be the unique identifier. We’ll select 100 luck winners and send them the free coupon that they can redeem in order to get a free bottle.
We take great advantage of this incredible offer. I also want to say thank you for coming on. We interview a lot of different people from different walks of life in different businesses. I find it fascinating. A lot of what I learned about building businesses comes from many different industries. Learning a little bit about you and the CBD industry has helped me as well understand more about how a manufacturing business can be ramped up, started and grown. Thank you for appearing, Irfan. Thank you for all of your insights.
Thank you for having me. The pleasure is all mine.
We will talk again soon.
- Irfan Sadiq – LinkedIn
- Finding Your Why Behind Everything – past episode
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!