Bluebird Botanicals CEO and founder Brandon Beatty has always been interested in the power of plant-based supplements. He developed a fascination with cannabis and herbs from a young age, and actually used to wander through the aisles of vitamin and supplement stores as a teenager, writing down the names of products on a pad and paper to research later. He had a transformative experience as a teenager, which is what really ignited his passion for herbal supplements.
Prior to starting Bluebird, Brandon worked at an apothecary in Boulder, Colorado that sold a variety of essential oils and extracts. These products contained many of the same compounds that hemp extracts do - like terpenes - and often even used the same extraction methods than can be utilized to obtain CBD. When he first discovered CBD around 2010, it was through his employer at the apothecary who used it for his personal health. This discovery piqued Brandon’s interest in the endocannabinoid system and the phytocannabinoids present in the hemp plant.
Bluebird’s early days
Fast forward to 2012. Brandon used his years of research and experience at the apothecary to launch his own company. Gaia Botanicals, which would become Bluebird Botanicals just a year later, sold various supplements like pine pollen, ant extract, and shilajit. It was in 2013 that he released the company’s first hemp-derived CBD products - and promptly set off on the adventure of a lifetime.
At the beginning of Bluebird, there was only a handful of employees and very little funding to get off the ground. Brandon himself was one of the main customer service representatives at the beginning. He would answer phone calls, fill bottles, and ship packages in addition to exploring new opportunities for growth, which mostly lie in uncharted waters at that time. Bluebird was essentially a ragtag team of talented individuals wearing every hat they possibly could in order to get quality products to people that needed them.
“We were one of the early pioneers,” explains Brandon. However, despite his passion for the hemp plant and its emerging industry, Brandon quickly realized what a risky business he had just started. As Bluebird was selling hemp CBD nationally and globally in 2013, the legal status of hemp-derived CBD was a bit murky, which led to constant fear that sudden federal intervention could leave the business scrambling. Even after the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, which allowed the hemp industry to stand on solid, federally legal ground, the industry was still shrouded in uncertainty.
Challenges - and perseverance
Brandon and crew faced trial after trial in the early stages of Bluebird, including limited access to necessary business services like banking and credit card processing. Most credit card processors were unwilling to work with Bluebird and other CBD companies until after the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. This left the company dealing with untrustworthy vendors who often charged egregious prices for their services only to pull the rug out unexpectedly - like when Bluebird’s sole credit card processor cut ties with the company. This forced the team to use only checks/cash and ACH bank transfers for its e-commerce business for several months, resulting in a 50% drop in sales almost overnight.
However, Brandon and the team persevered through this challenge and many others - without any layoffs or permanent damage to the company. The flock’s endurance during this time is a clear testament to the resilience and dedication of Brandon and the company he built. And the hard work paid off, soon stimulating organic growth that Bluebird continues to experience today.
What kept the team going during these trying times? Ultimately, it was the positive response from early Bluebird customers. “From day one, we saw this was really supporting people’s health in a positive way.”
Bluebird’s bootstrap business success was guided by a ready, lucrative market and a strong industry reputation earned from exemplary customer service. The company’s reputation spread quickly online and more and more customers began finding success with Bluebird CBD.
“It meant so much to me to see how many people were benefiting from our products,” reminisces Brandon.
However, the challenges increased alongside the growing attention on CBD. The 2014 Farm Bill resulted in a lot of contradictory policies and statements from local and federal legislative bodies. Cannabis was (and still is) fighting to dig its way out from under decades of stigma and blanket restrictions across the globe. Brandon recognized the need for more leaders from the hemp industry to step forward and lead the charge towards legalization. He volunteered for the job.
After joining the Roundtable’s efforts, Brandon helped in the drafting of the language that got passed in the 2018 Farm Bill. This language removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and made it fully federally legal.
New growth for the CBD industry
Brandon and other hemp leaders are now working on one of the biggest projects yet - trying to solidify CBD’s place as a federally approved ingredient in dietary supplements. And, they’ve just been able to take a major step forward with the Hemp and Hemp-Derived CBD Consumer Protection and Market Stabilization Act of 2020. This bill, which was just introduced to Congress late last week, proposes to explicitly make CBD and other hemp-derived compounds lawful for use in dietary supplements under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. This bill would also require CBD products and hemp extract product manufacturers to comply with the entire existing comprehensive regulatory framework for dietary supplements.
This important piece of legislation could not come sooner. Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp and CBD have been legal yet not fully approved for use in dietary supplements by the FDA. The FDA has been investigating a regulatory path forward for the nascent industry, yet this process has been extremely slow - and in that time, shady "fly-by-night" CBD companies have been able to proliferate and market unsafe or improperly labeled CBD products to the detriment of consumers and other CBD companies. The industry simply cannot wait any longer for regulation, and this bill allows Congress to step in and mandate the FDA to finish its work in a more timely manner.
This plays into one of Brandon’s biggest remaining concerns about the industry – untrustworthy companies. There are unfortunately a lot of companies making bad products with bad business practices and questionable marketing tactics. This includes making disease-related claims about their products, which is against FDA regulations and creates a safety concern. However, Brandon and other reputable hemp leaders are hopeful that their years of effort and work leading up to this bill will finally put an end to these damaging companies.
Read more about H.R. 8179 and how you can help.
In the meantime, Brandon continues to use his wit and innovation to take Bluebird and the hemp industry to new heights. His work has earned him recognition over the years, including his most recent inclusion in Marijuana Venture’s 40 Under 40 awards. While his feats as a true hemp champion over the past seven years have been remarkable, his journey is really still just getting started.