Celebrating Ten Years of Bluebird - A Conversation with Founder Brandon Beatty
Boy, does time fly! We're so thrilled to celebrate Bluebird's tenth birthday on July 11, 2022.
In honor of the occasion, we sat down for a conversation with Bluebird founder and chairman Brandon Beatty to chat about the history of Bluebird and where we hope to go in the future.
What inspired the founding of Bluebird?
Brandon: I’ve always been interested in herbal medicine and dietary supplements, and it was only natural that I ventured into the natural products industry. After working at a Boulder-based apothecary for several years in my early twenties, I branched off and started Bluebird during the nighttime and weekends.
It was originally founded as a rare herbs company selling pine pollen, shilajit, and other lesser known supplements, but in 2013 I discovered that CBD could be obtained from hemp rather than marijuana, which completely changed the trajectory of the company and my life.
What did Bluebird look like as a brand new company in 2012?
Brandon: The original name of Bluebird was actually Gaia Botanicals, and before we sold CBD, there were just two of us on the team: herbalist Fionn Masterson and myself. We sold some products at local house parties and to friends - very minimalistic - and we were running the business out of our townhouse in Boulder, also known around town as The Dragon House. We didn’t get much traction and, I think in late 2012, Fionn moved back to Oregon.
In early 2013 I met my next partner, Dr. Rick Potts, and we reignited the Gaia fire during a tea ceremony at The Dragon House. I committed to staying in Colorado to work on Bluebird instead of moving to Hawaii, where I had plans to move onto a permaculture farm and write a book. In fact, Rick and I also began writing a book about nature and health, but once Bluebird took off there was no more time for that.
When we first started selling CBD in October of 2013, there were only a handful of other hemp-CBD companies that were already established. The 2014 Farm Bill hadn’t been signed yet by former President Obama, and American farmers hadn’t legally grown hemp in decades. It was a time full of uncertainty and potential. We had to find suppliers from outside the U.S., which meant physically visiting hemp farms in numerous countries.
Image of Brandon Beatty touring a European hemp farm in October 2014
Our first employee was a good friend of mine named Brian, who we hired in late 2013, and by April 2014, we’d moved into our first official office and hired another five or so people. We were gaining significant momentum online with Google ads, Facebook ads, and Amazon - this wasn't long before most major institutions and online marketplaces closed their doors to CBD. Nonetheless, we continued to grow by word-of-mouth and other digital marketing channels outside of the ones just mentioned.
What was an unexpected challenge Bluebird has faced over the years, and how did the company solve the problem?
Brandon: While there have been numerous challenges the industry has faced over the last ten years (I think there’s been a new one every month), one that sticks out is when our only credit card processing company closed our account. I think this was in early 2015, before I learned the lesson to always have three if not more active merchant accounts with different companies. Imagine an online company that can’t accept credit cards.
Incredibly, our revenue only fell 50% during the following period. I personally emailed all of our customers and essentially begged them to go through the hassle of paying us with physical checks rather than moving onto another company, which clearly was the easier thing to do.
To my surprise, hundreds and hundreds of checks started showing up, and they kept flowing until we could get a new merchant account established.
What are the biggest changes you've seen in the hemp industry in the past ten years?
Brandon: The whole trajectory of the industry has been incredible. To see, in a matter of years, this industry go from a handful to literally thousands of companies has been amazing. Few people knew what CBD was when we started selling it, which was about the same time CNN ran a report on CBD... then a gold-rush ensued, and now there is too much capacity and, frankly, there are too many brands.
CBD was once an obscure chemical compound, and even though I knew it was going to happen, its emergence into the limelight still astounds me sometimes.
Image of the Bluebird team visiting a Colorado hemp farm in 2017
What are some of the biggest innovations that Bluebird has brought to the industry?
Brandon: Something that’s become almost standard now, but was rather unique to Bluebird for many years, was mixing other herbs with CBD. Other companies are now doing this to increase the functionality of their CBD products, but this isn’t new to us. We also have several pending patents related to some of our products and processes, thanks to our acquisition of Precision Botanical in 2021.
Besides product innovations, what also set us apart at the beginning was that we offered more CBD per serving and lower pricing than our peers. Back in the day, the standard CBD serving was just a fraction of what it now typically is, and we helped CBD to become more accessible for consumers.
What are you most proud of when you look back on the past ten years of Bluebird?
Brandon: Several things come to mind. Some years ago, the President of the American Herbal Products Association said that the two happiest places of work he’s ever visited - judged by smiles per person - are Coca-Cola and Bluebird. This man knows a hell-of-a-lot-of companies, and this compliment still delights my soul.
Of course, winning Best Hemp Company at the Cannabis Business Awards and Best CBD Company at the Denver Post’s Cannabist Awards were extremely rewarding experiences.
Image of Bluebird staff at the 2018 Cannabis Business Awards
I’m also very proud of my work on state and federal laws and regulations. From New York to California, I’ve helped shape this special industry, and that is priceless.
Most importantly, I’m so happy to have genuinely helped people and families through our work at Bluebird.
What’s one of your favorite memories of Bluebird?
Brandon: Thinking back, my fondest memories are connecting with all the Bluebird employees, all the relationships that were developed and amazing people I got to meet. We had some epic parties, including a Halloween party where we had a fantastic light display in our yet-to-be-filled warehouse, a hammock hangout room, a live DJ and tear-inducing laughs.
I also fondly remember the industry get-togethers like the quarterly meetings for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable. The concerts, dinners, and sunset cruises with other industry leaders... I cherish those memories.
Is there one customer success story you’ve heard that has really stuck with you?
Brandon: One of the toughest parts about running Bluebird is that I can’t even share my favorite success stories because of the strict regulations on what we can say about CBD.
Let’s put it this way: Our products have clearly been life changing for thousands of people, and I’m so humbled to have played a small part in that process.
Where do you see Bluebird going in the future?
Brandon: I expect Bluebird to retain its leading position in the industry for years to come, and I hope that means decades. I hope that our products will help millions of more people, continuing this health revolution that is the CBD industry.