Episode 179: Michael Bumgarner, Founder of Cannuka

Growing up on a farm, Michael Bumgarner always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. He had no idea that would someday lead him to the beauty industry. The Founder at Cannuka walks me through his journey into skincare and cannabis, and how he believes this incredible plant can change the future of American farming for the better.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty®, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey everybody. It's Jodi Katz, your host of Where Brains Meet Beauty® podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in. This week's episode features Michael Bumgarner. He's the founder of Cannuka. And if you missed last week's episode, it featured the entrepreneur actress and founder of Suzanne Organics, Suzanne Somers. Thanks for tuning in. Hey everybody. Welcome back to the show. I am so excited to be here with Michael Bumgarner. He is the founder of Cannuka. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty®.
Michael BumgarnerExcited to be here. Thanks so much Jodi for having me.
Jodi KatzMichael, we had a really nice fun getting to know you conversation, but before we jump into your history and what inspired you to create your brand, I want to ask what my favorite question is on the show. If you channel back to your childhood, when you're a little kid, and you think about the future, what did you want to be when you grow up?
Michael BumgarnerIt's tough. I've always known I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I'd never in a million years thought I was going to be in beauty. I thought I was going to be more on the farming space, actually.
Jodi KatzHow does a little kid know they want to be an entrepreneur?
Michael BumgarnerThat's the time I've had that question asked to me. And I honestly don't know. I think you're just kind of born with this desire to create whatever that might be. And I've always had it. And I've always wanted to create and build things.
Jodi KatzAnd why would it have been farming?
Michael BumgarnerWell, that is my background. I grew up on a farm, a small cattle farm outside of Columbus, Ohio. It was a lot of hard work growing up, but as I got older I really got into it and saw a need to continue to innovate and ultimately create a sustainable farming environment.
Jodi KatzAnd have you done that?
Michael BumgarnerWe're working on it. We're definitely working on it. And it's interesting because I'm now in to the beauty space. So Cannuka is a combination of cannabis and Manuka honey. And I actually got into beauty from the farming aspect. Cannabis also known as hemp is a commodity in my opinion. And it was one of the first billion dollar crops in America, in the 1920s and 30s. So I really saw an opportunity to bring a new commodity to our local community and help our smaller medium-sized farmer put their land back to work for them. That's exactly what we're doing. But to get there, we needed to change that stigma of what is cannabis. And ultimately I wanted to create a brand to help re-educate people on what cannabis really is and what it's not.

It's not just the THC, the marijuana side, there's so many more uses for cannabis and industrial hemp. So I wanted to start with something that was easy for people to understand. Skincare, people know what lotions, soaps, foams, et cetera are. So we were able to really create a really effective skincare using a part of the cannabis plant, hemp seed oil and CBD, and then we combine that with Manuka honey. And I was a big believer if we can show people the benefit, if I can get this on someone's skin and they can see a benefit, they'll want to learn more about why this is an effective product and really learn more about the cannabis plant. And ultimately from there, we can change legislation and be able to cultivate it on a farming level.
Jodi KatzSo let's go back in time to what it's like to grow up on a farm. Did you have jobs on the farm as a teenager?
Michael BumgarnerOh yeah. It started way before being a teenager, Jodi. Very early in my life as part of the Forage and FFA I showed all the animals you can think of at the county fair up until I was 18 and graduated high school. And it was one of those things when you're growing up, you're like this isn't fun. This is a lot of work. But as I've aged and ultimately I've gotten married now and we have three kids, as I've gotten older, I'm gravitating back to that lifestyle of hopefully raising my kids on the farm and showing them that hard work. Things just don't come easy. You have to put in the effort to get to where you want to be in life.

And I think farming, if you think as an entrepreneur, in my mind, the American farmer and farmer in general, that's the true definition of an entrepreneurial. It's a lot of risk. A lot of things are out of your control with the weather, your soil. And if you can problem solve, because that's all entrepreneurs are, we want to be problem solvers. And if you can problem solve and the things go right, you can have a successful crop. Or if you're in the cattle industry, raise a lot of cattle, et cetera.
Jodi KatzI've wanted to picture how the movie opens of Michael on the farm as a teenager. Did you wake up at 5:00 AM to go tend to the cattle, then go to school, then come back? Is it what I've seen in the movies?
Michael BumgarnerIt's pretty similar. I was raised on an Angus, a cattle, a beef farm. I would say the dairy farmers have it a little bit harder than the Angus farmers. But again, both of my parents, they had corporate jobs. It was more of a hobby farm. At one time we maybe had 60 or 70 head of cattle, but we would still have to get up, get the work done and then go to school and come back and do it again.
Jodi KatzSo the cows were the side hustle for the family?
Michael BumgarnerThat's right. That's right. You always have to have a side hustle. No matter what.
Jodi KatzRight. I actually think about that a lot as an entrepreneur now. My work is never done. And I'm laughing as I'm saying that because I just so wish it would be. When I think, things make sense, things feel right, it's time to innovate, reinvent, refresh and in my head was thinking it's just a reflection of our economy in our times. But my guess is I guess side hustles were around for way longer than our digital technology time period.
Michael BumgarnerI would agree. I think ultimately, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I'm guessing you love what you do, just like I do. And when you genuinely love what you do, even in the hardest days, you're constantly trying to innovate and just create and solve problems. So truthfully, I don't know what I would do if I didn't work for myself and try to create these different brands and businesses. I know my wife would probably be very upset with me all the time because I would bug heck out of her and if I wasn't as busy as I am, but I genuinely like it.
Jodi KatzSo let's talk about the journey to figuring out that cannabis is the opportunity for rural America to grow. What were the steps that led up to that light bulb moment for you?
Michael BumgarnerWell, it was a number of things. I saw as I was growing less and less people in my small community of Mechanicsburg, Ohio were able to put their land to work for them. And I didn't really understand why that was, because to be successful in agriculture, you need a lot of land or a lot of cattle or a lot of pork or lambs, et cetera. And not everyone has that. And then as I was getting older, I'm kind of taken on a downward spin right here, but as you get into high school and in college, you start seeing people in my hometown were ODing on drugs and getting into a lot of bad things. And I started to think, why is this? And I believe a lot of that has to do with just lack of opportunity.

And when you don't have anything to do, you tend to make different decisions than you would if you were extremely busy and you constantly had a job and you were focused on some of the other more productive things. So it started with what could I do and what could I bring to the community to help bring new opportunities to pull people back to me. And then I started researching different things people could grow, whether that's more sustainable, vegetable farming, et cetera. But ultimately industrial hemp jumped out at me as this, wait, this was a billion dollar crop back in the 30s. This commodity can be used for thousands of different things from textiles to supplements the food and beverage, et cetera.

Why is this illegal? Just because part of the plant, you can get high on the marijuana side with the THC. So I really wanted to figure out how we could reeducate people what that is. So I really identified a number of different categories, but beauty really spoke to me for a number of reasons. Number one, there was a lot of white space at the time. That was probably five or six years ago now. But five or six years ago, no one was talking cannabis and beauty. No one was talking cannabis skincare. And I thought, well, why? Because through our research, we know hemp seed oil in general is an amazing ingredient, not only to ingest, but topically it really, and that's a perfect balance of the Omega's and it's really great for your skin.

But a lot more research was starting to be done on CBD. And we really found that some people would say it's a very powerful anti-inflammatory oil. Being with Cannuka, we have to be careful by any claims that we make saying anti inflammation, et cetera. But what we have found is it does in a lot of people. It help soothe and calm their skin. Indeed I had zero background in beauty. Zero background in skincare. I really leaned on my amazing wife, Kelly, who happened to be in dermatology. I Was really able to learn from her that 99% of skincare issues, it really is a form of inflammation when you get to the root cause. So we were able to very quickly start testing the different components of the cannabis plants, CBD, hemp seed oil on some of our family friends.

I'm not going to say we didn't test on our kids either. And we saw really good results. And that was really the first light bulb moment. The second light bulb moment came when I didn't just want to launch a skincare brand with one pillar of an ingredient, CBD or hemp seed. Those are two different things. We needed to create a really effective product that had more than just that one staple ingredient, because I was very confident once mainstream caught up, that a lot of the bigger brands would just put CBD in everything. And I think we can look at it today and that's exactly what happened.

And we were having a family dinner or a family reunion or something. And my cousin, she was working in a burn unit in Knoxville, Tennessee. And she said she started using Manuka honey to naturally heal burn wounds. That's when that second light bulb came off. We were like, man, Manuka honey. I knew about it. I started researching it. It's a medical grade honey used in hospitals all across the world to heal burn wounds. And I've really felt if this ingredient is so good, it can heal burn wounds, what could I just do as a regular topically used to natural humectant. It really holds that moisture. And it's an amazing ingredient.

And that's really where we came up with combining cannabis, Manuka honey and we came up with the name Cannuka. Came out with several initial skews, got to market to test it out. Again, I have no background in beauty or anything like this. So for the first year, this was my side hustle and I would just travel the country, meeting beauty experts and going in and say, listen, I'm not trying to sell you today, rip me apart. Tell me every single thing that's wrong with this brand, with this ingredient profile, et cetera. I'm getting long-winded, Jodi, but I want to finish it on this.

There was one meeting I had with a buyer at the detox market when I was out in LA at one point. And I remember sitting down with her, she's like, "We never do this." And I was like, "Well, just tell me everything that's wrong with it." And she's like, "Number one, no one has ever came in and just asked me for my opinion on this." I left with a notebook filled with notes. I said, hey, we're onto something here. I paused sales, went back, raised some capital, because I really felt good about the trajectory. I learned from that meeting, made the changes we needed to, and then relaunched it out as an elevated brand with the Cannuka that you see today.
Jodi KatzOkay Michael. I took so many notes during this. And so I want to go back to a few things. Number one, you said something about hemp being grown in the 1930s. So this was a plant that we were growing in this country for a long time and then we stopped growing it.
Michael BumgarnerYeah. Correct. Correct. It was actually the first billion dollar crop in America, or one of the first billion dollar crops. And there was a lot of reasons for prohibition. There was a lot of, I would say, racism around it. There was also a couple of senators who owned some forest trees and the cotton field and wanted the textiles to be from their endeavors. I don't know if you've ever heard of this, going back to more the racism side, they created a campaign called Reefer Madness to scare a lot of people that, Oh my goodness!

Because a lot of minorities at the time couldn't afford alcohol and things like that, so they would use marijuana. And they really created this marketing campaign to scare people. But ultimately, I believe it had to do more with the money behind it getting people or getting different textiles off of hemp and into the forest tree and into the cotton fields. So yeah. So since the 1930s there's been prohibition and just in the past couple of decades or decade and a half, we've seen a change back to the way it should've always been.
Jodi KatzFascinating. The second thing I wrote down was you alluded to it when you were talking about when you met Manuka honey through your family member. But this idea of CBD washing, I think is what you were alluding to like how we have greenwashing in our business. It sounded like you were saying there's going to be so many browns in the market and they could probably have a minuscule amount of CBD and say that this is an effective product. So have you seen a lot of, I guess, we'll call it CBD washing?
Michael BumgarnerWell, to put it in perspective, in 2018 and 19 and then the start of 2020, there was over, I believe, 2,500 new CBD brands hit the market. That's unheard of. That is probably the definition of the greenwashing, the CBD washing. Now I love competition. I'm all for it. But I actually think that's why I love the strategy that we set out of the gates and that we just didn't want to be a CBD brand. That's not really who we are. CBD is a component. It's a great ingredient, but I have a lot of great ingredients. And we really had to have a strong differentiator in this field. And I do believe one of the things that allowed Cannuka to have the success that we have had is yes, we were early. I'm biased. I think our branding is really good. But ultimately we have an effective product that's based off more than just one ingredient. And I think that Manuka honey is a great secondary pillar, but again, we have more ingredients than just those two as well.
Jodi KatzOkay, cool. And then the third thing that I thought was so interesting is that you were patient in the process of building the brand, because I hardly ever see patients these days. And you said that you went around to beauty experts, the beauty buyers and said, "I'm not selling you something. I just want your opinion." That's so refreshing. And I'm really glad that you mentioned that because I think a lot of founders or entrepreneurs to be could learn a lot from this. So can you walk us through the process of saying like, okay, let me just slow the wheels and get feedback before I try any hard sells.
Michael BumgarnerYeah. And I I'm going to give my parents a shout out because one of the things they've always told me and I'm very, very close with them. So this feedback might sound harsh to some people, but they've always told me whether it was sports or anything, there's always someone working harder and probably better than you, and in all aspects. So if you think you're this best, if you think you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong realm. So there really wasn't an ego and that it had to be my formula or it had to be my specific idea. The ego was ultimately get to the win.

How do we get this brand to market? Scale the heck out of it. Increase demand for this ingredient so then we can ultimately create new farming opportunities and new opportunities starting with the farming community up through the vertical. So that's my way, how do I get to that goal? And then going back, kind of get sideways on some of these questions, one of the things that I've learned is my beauty routine growing up, Jodi, was a bar of Dial soap. And I think I told you, it was a of bar Dial soap and maybe one of those big pop bottles of Vaseline lotion or whatever lotion sometimes.

So I started at zero on my knowledge in the beauty space. So the fact I'm on Where Brains Meet Beauty right now, it's pretty amazing because I never, in a million years, would've thought that it would have happened. But ultimately you learn from people smarter than you. I'm a big believer in that. So instead of me trying to figure it out, why don't I just go build a relationship and ask people that I really respect and that have been in this space way longer than me.

Because you can get an experience two ways. You either put the gears in that it takes to get the experience or you find someone that has already put the legwork in and learn from. And that's the route that I decided to take and I really learned from a lot of people. But it was that one specific meeting at the detox market that really changed my perspective. And they really were very great with me and gave me a huge list of things that I could improve on and took away. So yeah.
Jodi KatzIt takes a certain type of personality to be able to accept and take in criticism. Not everybody is talented and accepting that. So it sounds like you went into these meetings really with a very open mind and a desire to learn. What makes you somebody that doesn't take that feedback and criticism personally?
Michael BumgarnerI don't know the answer to that. I would say it's not always been like that. I think growing up, you'd get really hard-headed and you'd get angry about the constructive feedback. But ultimately, as I've gotten older, you learn that nothing comes easy. And if it does come easy, it's a one in a million chance and it takes a lot of hard, hard work. So the more open-minded you can be the better, in my opinion. And I think I've learned I don't get discouraged on the word no. Kelly, my wife would tell you that. No, not now. That's what I hear. No. What needs to change. It takes several nos before I actually stop. And I don't know if I really ever stop. So you just have to be fixed in and realize for me, it's nothing personal. You either have a good brand or you don't. You either have a good product or you don't. And if you don't learn from it and adapt it's going to fail and start over and build again.
Jodi KatzSo with our remaining time, I want to talk about how a small business based in Mechanicsburg, Ohio can lift rural America up. So I know this is step-by-step, little by little, but what can you do or what are you doing right now that is putting this vision into practice?
Michael BumgarnerWell, it's multiple steps. I would say it's like a 10 point step and we're still, maybe at one and a half right now. Surely. Maybe at two. Maybe I'll give myself a little credit. Maybe we're at step two. But ultimately, it's a slow grind. This isn't a get rich quick scheme. Excuse me. It takes a lot of time to educate the people on what cannabis is. Now, I think we're doing that. I think we're pretty far into that process. But ultimately, we need the different states by states to create different laws that allow the farmer to cultivate industrial hemp. Ohio just passed this past year.

But ultimately, the vision is, starting with Cannuka, and there could be a number of brands within this category, get them out there, scale and increase demand for this ingredient. From there, we'll need more supply to help drive that cost down. So we'll need more people to grow it. And ultimately I think the idea is, and I think what we're seeing because of COVID, I think that you're going to see a lot more people trying to source from America, trying to do different things here locally. Because it's tough to try to build something when you're sourcing a component from a number of different countries and all of a sudden tariffs hit or whatever happens, COVID hits. So I think what we try to do is increase demand, build a model that we can replicate.

And what we've done is we've actually partnered with a fantastic hemp farm called Prospect Farms. So now we source directly from them for our CBD and we're using them as a model to really understand exactly what we need to do to really create that perfect, in our opinion, CBD for for our product. And then ultimately take that template and then bring it to our local community here in Ohio. So that's our goal for 2021, is to bring that first Mechanicsburg farm and then continue just to do that in different cities, different towns across America starting here locally, but then build out.

If you build that right market, if we can create enough brands where I can go to a farmer and say, "Hey, you have five acres? If you follow this plan, I will give you your first PO for your product." So that allows them to have less risk to take that chance, to put that land to work. And that's ultimately what I want to do is be able to one by one, continue to go to different local farmers and say, "Hey, here's your first PO in advance. Follow this template. I will help. But ultimately let's get that land back to work for you." And I think we can replicate that across the country over time.
Jodi KatzAnd how much time Michael, do you need to spend at the State Capitol talking to lawmakers to be able to move this forward in Ohio?
Michael BumgarnerWell, fortunately it is done in Ohio. So we're able to cultivate it in Ohio now. I don't have the answer because that was really never an option for me. I really looked at this as an opportunity. So you can be that more of the activist to go talk to your local community and Congress person. But we already had a lot of people doing that. And I really felt my calling was on the brand side, on the business side. So if we have good people doing it on more of the activism side, having the conversation and then you're creating brands at the same time that are educating people and building demand, there's going to be that moment where they connect where then the law maker will hopefully change the laws so then we can put people back to work, ultimately. And I think that's exactly what happened in Ohio.
Jodi KatzAnd through this process, have you met other types of entrepreneurs out of beauty who would use the other parts of the plants in there? Are there other, I guess, industries like fashion or, I don't know, something else where they're on the same path as you using different parts of the plant with the goal of creating new work for farms?
Michael BumgarnerI've not found a lot of people that have the exact same background on the farming side, but I have found several brands that are being innovative on the different uses of the industrial hemp. So the fiber can be used and first fabric in the clothing industry. But where I really see it going in the beauty space is more on the sustainable packaging route. So I would love to ultimately one day, once the infrastructure is in place, all of our secondary packaging, the boxes, we use industrial hemp. So we use a hemp-based paper. Same thing with the plastics. It's not there yet, but the technology is getting closer where people will start to be able to use this kind of biodegradable plant-based plastic as well. So I think that ultimately once the technology is there, that's the bigger play. Cannuka is really step one, really a high level introduction of what this plant is. And from there, you can take it thousands in different ways the number of products that you can use with industrial hemp.
Jodi KatzMichael, I love this conversation. I'm so grateful that you shared your wisdom. I feel like I have additional reading I want to do on this category of industrial hemp so I can be more informed about the history of it and what's happening now. So thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with our listeners today.
Michael BumgarnerI enjoyed every second of it. Thanks so much Jodi.
Jodi KatzAnd for our listeners, I hope you enjoy this interview with Michael. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes. And for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram @wherebrainsmeetbeautypodcast.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty® with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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