Solving a personal need may be the top reason for launching a business. I’ve interviewed many such entrepreneurs. Allison Ellsworth’s abdominal pain gave rise to Poppi, her prebiotic soft-drink company. Sarah Moret, a competitive athlete, couldn’t find suitable deodorant. She made her own and then sold it to others via Curie, her now-thriving lifestyle brand.
Mike Lee had a need, too. His professional boxing career resulted in a slew of injuries and disorders, including anxiety. His search for a cure led him to cannabidiol, the non-addictive, non-impairing marijuana extract. It changed his life and career. Soul, the CBD brand he co-founded, is now flourishing.
He and I recently discussed his journey. The entire audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is condensed and edited for clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us your story.
Mike Lee: In 2018 my sister Angie and I founded an online CBD wellness company called Soul. We just opened a physical retail store here in Austin, Texas. Before Soul, I was a professional boxer for ten years. I fought in Madison Square Garden and on HBO. My last fight was at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for a world title.
I was punched in the face for years, causing a ton of pain, injury, and illness. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and, with all my injuries, was put on eight medications. I started searching for all-natural solutions to help me with anxiety, pain, and sleep.
I discovered CBD and a whole array of remedies outside of surgeries and prescription meds. It was a complete lifestyle change and became the genesis of the company. I stopped all eight medications in 2017 after years of using them. Prescription medication has a place and a time. It’s been helpful for me in certain scenarios, but relying on it wasn’t the answer.
My journey taught me that most autoimmune diseases are undiagnosed because doctors don’t know what to look for. I was in and out of hospitals and desperate for answers. So I read books and researched.
I started hearing about others changing their diets and mindsets and healing naturally. Once I started getting into functional medicine and holistic healing, I began to improve.
After my autoimmune diagnosis, I was out of the ring for almost two years. I was 12-0 at the time, undefeated, and on a roll. Then my immune system started shutting down. I ended up having nine more fights, finishing my career.
Bandholz: How did you encounter CBD?
Lee: A friend worked for a large hemp manufacturer in Kentucky. He told me about the health benefits. My first thought was the required drug tests to be a pro boxer. He told me medical CBD does not violate those tests. So I tried it. My anxiety levels went down, which in turn helped my inflammation. CBD helped me get off of Lorazepam, an anti-anxiety prescription.
Soon after, the World Anti-Doping Agency (part of the International Olympic Committee) approved it. I could then discuss CBD publicly. I wanted to help others with similar symptoms. Initially, Soul was a side hustle for Angie and me. Then it started growing. We’ve since hired operators to manage it.
Bandholz: How does CBD help with anxiety?
Lee: Anxiety feels like you’re drowning. I’ve always had a high level of anxiety. The symptoms include shortness of breath. It’s a scary, out-of-body feeling and can be tough to describe. Getting relief means everything is better. That’s what’s incredible about CBD.
Bandholz: What are the legal restrictions to selling CBD?
Lee: It’s much better now versus when we launched. We couldn’t obtain a credit card merchant account, for example. Facebook and Google wouldn’t let us run ads. It’s easier now, although we remain closely monitored. We stick to education-based marketing versus assertions. We’re still operating with one hand tied behind our backs.
A lot of our success is because Angie is a popular marketer, book author, and keynote speaker. She has a big social media following. Her marketing podcast, “The Angie Lee Show,” has millions of downloads. We started with a community first, the brand second, and built an awesome affiliate program. That gave us an organic push. We didn’t spend anything on ads for the first two-plus years of the business, which increased profits.
We now spend about 25% of our marketing budget on Facebook and 25% on affiliates. We anticipate those percentages increasing. Facebook’s analytics report higher ROIs than what we actually receive. We’re aware of that and use different attribution tools. We use Triple Whale and a handful of platforms, including Grin for influencer marketing.
A good landing page is critical. Our team can spin up great pages. Search engine optimization is massively important with CBD. It’s a hot topic. Folks are searching for it. Plus, a quality product can result in mentions in top media outlets, such as Forbes, Healthline, and WebMD.
Influencers have been a big channel for us, although the regulatory issues are tricky. For example, affiliates can say, “I love these CBD gummies,” but they cannot mention Soul or show bottles of our product. So getting UGC-compliant content is a challenge.
Bandholz: Where can folks support you and reach out?