Founder Focus: Melanie Goldsmith of POLLEN
Founded by Melanie Goldsmith – the co-founder and Managing Director of alcoholic confectionary company, Smith & Sinclair, POLLEN launched nationwide on 7th November with their three flavours of CBD Gummies, and Botanical Soft Drinks (with Drink Drops expected to launch later this year). Created with the aim of being one of the highest quality brands on the market, POLLEN only use CBD derived from broad-spectrum hemp oil, and pride themselves on their use of natural flavourings from grapefruit, raspberry, turmeric and lemon.
We got the low-down from Melanie on the processes that went into POLLEN, and what we can expect to see from this new kid on the CBD scene, in the near-future.
What was your eureka moment?
I didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur, in fact I founded my first company at 24 (almost by accident) and subsequently found myself engulfed in a new world with lots of new pressures. It was the most exciting time of my life, and I loved it, but it also challenged me.
Navigating the pressures that came with growing a successful business and attempting to live my ‘best life’ started to feel incredibly overwhelming. At the same time many of my close friends were diagnosed with anxiety or depression. The landscape for how to cope with this ranges dramatically from pharmaceuticals to meditation, neither of which seemed to fit what I was looking for, so I reached out to friends for any solutions, and time and time again they mentioned the same thing – why don’t I try CBD?
As a result, I began to research CBD products to look for an alternative but found it hard to navigate. What is hemp vs CBD extracted from hemp? What is the difference between 10mg potency and 10%? Could you get flavoured products that disguised the after taste? What should I look out for from a traceability perspective? I wanted quality CBD products that could easily fit into my daily routine, tasted amazing, and felt more like a treat than a supplement, but I couldn’t seem to find anything that ticked all those boxes.
By that time my first business, Smith & Sinclair, was a successful start-up so I decided to take what I had already learned about developing products and create an innovative CBD brand that people could trust. I also wanted a safe space for this community of caring, curious people to talk openly and feel supported. And so, POLLEN was born.
How did you first start off testing your idea?
Aside from early buyer conversations, I knew it was important to involve focus groups from the get-go, not only to test the products but also to test our potential brand mission.
I wanted to understand what pressures people in their early 20s were under, particularly with the slash culture being so prevalent, student debt increasing and a whole adolescence consumed by social media. As expected, the day to day pressures of work, life and money felt by the majority was prevalent but they also seemed crippled by an awareness that they weren’t ‘giving themselves time’. It was this repeated self-assessment that trying to make time for themselves was almost as anxiety fuelling as getting on with life itself.
I’m fully supportive of all types of wellness but it can feel a little elitist at times. I just wanted to create something that could slide into life as easily as making tea in the morning, rather than requiring a two-week yoga retreat. With POLLEN the ambition for the brand was to make it easy for consumers to form habits that can support a longer term and lasting lifestyle gain.
I know POLLEN isn’t a catch-all solution, but these focus groups made me realise that there was a space in the market for a CBD brand that was brave enough to talk about the modern lifestyle rather than focussing on the product alone.
What was your elevator pitch?
In a nutshell, my elevator pitch would be “I’m on a mission to demystify the conversation around CBD, to create incredible products you can trust, that help you feel your kind of good.’
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a business on their own?
Firstly, make sure your products have been tested for real money and not just by friends and family. In my experience, it’s impossible to get impartial feedback, even from those you consider to be shrewd businesswomen/men. Until someone that doesn’t know you is willing to hand over cold hard cash in exchange for your product or services – it’s not had a real test yet. Of course, it’s scary asking people you don’t know about something so close to your heart, but comforting words from loved ones don’t stand up in front of hard-nosed buyers, and they don’t sell products!
Secondly, I’d say make sure you’re ready to get a lot wrong. It takes a strong stomach to keep going because it’s a hard and fast learning curve which is both an absolute rush some days and a huge crash on others. You’ll put all your sweat and tears (there are a lot of these) into your business and there are times when you’ll keep coming up against a brick wall. You need thick skin and a good network of people around you to help you navigate this.
Do you have a mentor, or are you one?
I am so lucky to have the most incredible mentor for many years, Paul Spencer, who was Head of Operations for InterContinental Hotels Group Hotels when we met back in 2015. We were at a conference and were both wearing pink trousers (!) which obviously meant we would embark on a lifelong friendship. Paul and I spoke every week for two years and I owe him more than I’ll ever be able to repay – so much of my confidence, skill and sanity was down to having such an unwavering support. Having a mentor not only helped me to navigate the weekly challenges but gave me a wider perspective, enabling me to view my business more objectively. As mentioned, it’s important to have those impartial people in your life when starting a business. They aren’t afraid to tell you when you’re getting lost in your own madness or if your products taste terrible!
What’s your plan B?
There are a lot of plan B’s. I will forever want to run a jazz club (that’s been a constant since I was 10) or maybe even shake up the funeral home business to celebrate life rather than mourn the dead.
What is the most worthwhile investment (time, energy, money) that you have made?
Recruitment and team building, definitely. As my first company grew, and now with the launch of POLLEN, I’ve increasingly needed to delegate a lot to ensure we achieve our very ambitious goals. I was far from an ideal manager when I first started so it’s taken a lot of work to develop my skills to ensure the right support and communication is there to help the team work to their best ability. I am now so proud of the team we’ve built. They’re a passionate and diverse bunch who are totally aligned to our vision. Whilst there are often long days in the office they make sure the chit chat is solidly entertaining, our WhatsApp group is buzzing with banter and they also know when to be there to support each other – which is key. Building a business is an emotional rollercoaster.
What’s coming up next for POLLEN?
Well we only launched a couple of weeks ago, so I can’t give too much away, but product innovations are being worked on for 2020 which is very exciting. We are also working hard to establish our community offline via a series of events and activations in the new year.
The whole premise behind POLLEN was about creating a movement and a safe space for curious people to talk openly about life’s pressures and feel supported by a community. Our products are only meant to be part of the solution to making those small changes – not the solution as a whole – and I’m passionate that this intention does not exist as a marketing tagline or CSR programme. It’s integral to the brand itself.
What is the book you would recommend that everyone reads – or podcast/TED Talk that everyone should listen to – and why?
I would recommend ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz. He describes the highs and lows of business in a really recognisable and empathetic way. Reading this helped me to feel less isolated when things weren’t necessarily going my way.
On a personal note, I would also seriously recommend a good serial killer podcast – *don’t judge me*. ‘The Shrink Next Door’ is a great podcast too as it is a fascinating look into psychological manipulation. It shouldn’t always be about business!
Launching a CBD brand whilst also running another company must be intense at times. How do you find balance?
I’m still working on that one! Obviously, I have my daily POLLEN ritual, which helps me focus for the day, but more recently I’m reminding myself to spend real time with the people I love around me, rather than constantly being on my phone. It’s so easy to get home from work and spend the entire evening answering calls and emails from both sides of the world and forgetting to catch up with my husband who is sitting right next to me. So now I get home, and when possible, I turn my phone off and put my laptop away. Simple but very effective!