When Gunhee Park hears the skepticism facing the powers of hemp oil, the founder and owner of Populum, a CBD hemp oil company, understands the doubters well.
When Park was weighing whether to add it to his core regimen of supplements, online research led him to far-fetched claims and mom-and-pop shops promising suspicious miracles. As a college student, he wasnâ€™t quick to believe any of it.
â€śItâ€™s easy to get skeptical, and I was the same way,â€ť said Park, a 2014 graduate of the W.P. Carey School of Business and Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University.
But Park decided to give CBD oil a try. After several weeks of daily doses, he noticed an overall improvement in his well-being that included better focus during the day, more sound sleep at night and a sense of calmness through moments of anxiety as he worked in the business world.
His mother provided another convincing case. An avid hiker her whole life, Parkâ€™s mother developed inflammation in her knees and ankles that eventually prevented her from doing what she loved. After taking a tincture and a topical application of CBD oil for several months, she was able to get back on the trails.
While at ASU, Park learned about hempâ€™s use for health benefits. But his personal results sparked a professional venture. As Park was about to graduate, hemp was getting deregulated. Timing appeared to be on the budding entrepreneurâ€™s side.
â€śWith the experience of it benefiting myself and my family, I believed people would benefit as well and that this was a good opportunity,â€ť said Park, who started the Tempe-based Populum in 2016.
Populumâ€™s inventory is composed of oral tinctures â€”Â the most popular item â€” a topical cold-therapy rub and a pet version. Populum is primarily an e-commerce business with the majority of sales coming through its website.
Customers seek relief from conditions ranging from insomnia and anxiety to chronic pain and joint-related issues like arthritis, Park said. Pet owners give it to their furry family members to help with anxiety due to separation or outside conditions like storms, or joint issues for their aging pets.
Because CBD, or cannabidiol, is derived from hemp, common public opinion categorizes CBD and marijuana as the same. Much of Parkâ€™s job consists of explaining the differences: Hemp is a strain of cannabis that has minimal traces of THC,Â the ingredient that creates the â€śhighâ€ť; hemp is grown in open fields and not a controlled environment that ensures the concentration of THC; it does not induce psychoactive effects; and its components, from the fibers to seeds, can be used as food, supplements and clothing.
â€śThereâ€™sÂ a lot of misconceptions and stigma with hemp due to its ties with marijuana,â€ť Park said. â€śWe wanted to start a brand thatâ€™s modern and approachable so that it helps break the stigma associated with hemp and can introduced it to mainstream market.â€ť
These ties have also prevented Park from doing conventional marketing through formats that reach a bulk of what would be his target audience, as social media and online venues group hemp with marijuana and have cracked down on these ads.
Despite these challenges, Parkâ€™s startup generated $500,000 in its first full year of operation, he said. This year, itâ€™s projected to more than double that with a revenue of nearly $1.4 million. His subscriber base that started with fewer than 50 now has 400 active monthly subscribers that get Populum products shipped to their doors.
The Tempe headquarters is supported by an operations office in Omaha and team members in New York, Austin and Chicago. All hemp is grown in Colorado.
Park utilized industry blogs, review forms and other similar venues to get the word out.Â Thereâ€™s also a referral program.
The tincture version ranges from $70Â to $200 a bottle. Offering a no-strings, risk-free 30-day trial that gives unsatisfied customers a full refund was huge in attracting first-timers, Park said. The policy also made it easier for repeat customers to recommend it to friends.
The online access that doesnâ€™t require the regulation of medical marijuana also helps, Park said. Anecdotal testimonies through health-care professionalsâ€™ articles, studies and online contributions have reached a population that is open to the benefits of cannabis without the high.
Populum subscriber Maia Costello is one of them. In 2017, Costello sought non-side-effect-inducing options to deal with her severe anxiety and depression. Her research led to CBD formulas and ultimately Populum. Like Park, Costello wasnâ€™t readily convinced.
â€śI thought it sounded like snake oil. But, I was willing to try anything that would be an alternative to prescription drugs and the side effects,â€ť said Costello, who lives in Atlanta.
She ordered Populumâ€™s tincture and after five once-a-day doses, she noticed a difference in her mood. But when she gave it to a hospitalized friendÂ whose immunity was compromised and near death, the results sealed it.
â€śWe were expecting that person to go soon and my friend started eating again, the pain decreased and my friend was sleeping better. They came back to life, in a way,â€ť Costello said. â€śThen, I was a full-fledged believer.â€ť
Costello said she had been on prescription medication for depression for more than half her life. She is no longer on any of them. Understanding that she wasnâ€™t going to get high or experience any side effects helped her take the plunge with CBD oil. Those same reasons keep her on it today.
â€śI didnâ€™t get the munchies. I didnâ€™t fall on my sofa and not want to do anything with my life. I honestly feel better taking Populum thanÂ I ever felt on any drug. I felt blah on those drugs. On Populum, I feel I can be me,â€ť she said.
Once, one of Costelloâ€™s shipments was missing a bottle. Within an hour after contacting Populum about the error, she received a notice that a new bottle was being shipped to her.
â€śThey provide customer service that you donâ€™t find a lot these days. Thatâ€™s another reason Iâ€™ve been so loyal to them,â€ť she said. Â
Park was a high school freshman when he emigrated to the U.S. from South Korea. He settled in Omaha and later attended Arizona State University.
While working to introduce and destigmatize the benefits of hemp oil, Park has created a company that is part of a CBD market thatâ€™s estimated to reach $2.1 billion market in consumer sales by 2020, according to the Hemp Business Journal. In 2015, the market for consumer sales of hemp-derived CBD products was $90 million.
Populum donates to several local charities, including Empowerment Systems, an Apache Junction-based non-profit organization that has health education and wellness programs. Populum offers military veterans a 25 percent discount through the Veterans Assistance Program.
His first memories of the CBD oil industry and merchantsâ€™ sketchy claims stick with Park today as he tries to combat them.
â€śThat first impression is what drives me. I do not want to add on to that reputation, stigma or that itâ€™s a magic pill,â€ť Park said.
When asked, Park is careful not to take liberties with paraphrasing positive customer feedback. He doesnâ€™t want to come off as a brand thatâ€™s making outrageous claims or that it can replace prescription drugs, which isnâ€™t his goal.
But that doesnâ€™t mean his customers arenâ€™t experiencing those results.
â€śThe most heartfelt testimonials are from customers that canâ€™t sleep due to pain-related issues and hemp CBD oil helps them get a good nightâ€™s sleep. Some customers are able to wean off a lot of pharmaceuticals,â€ť Park said. â€śThatâ€™s what drives us to keep going with any challenges we face. Knowing there are customers with who weâ€™ve made significant difference in their lives.â€ť
INTERESTING STAT: The worldwide market for CBD hemp oil is expected to experience a compound annual growth rate of nearly 31 over the next five years, reaching $760 million by 2023, according to a Global Info Research study.
DETAILS: 855-872-2772, populum.com
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