Each week we highlight entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry for our viewers to learn more about the leading cannabis executives of our time. This week, we highlight Laurel Friesen of Heylo.
Meet Laurel Friesen
Laurel (Lo) Friesen is the founder, CEO and Chief Extractor of Heylo. Upon obtaining a degree in Environmental Chemistry from Northwestern University, Lo followed a passion for medicine to work in a renown gastroenterology lab in Chicago, IL. The experience inspired her to explore cannabis as medicine and to enter the emerging industry.
Lo joined Eden Labs, a leading CO2 extraction equipment manufacturer, to build a Research and Development department. Leading a team of 5 people she managed the development of Eden Labs’ newest system, the FX2 Supercritical CO2 Extractor.
After working with two other cannabis processors, Lo launched Heylo in 2017 with a mission to provide clean and great tasting oil with production transparency.
Lo and the Heylo team are committed to education and facilitate community engagement by hosting educational events, a concert series, public tours, American Chemical Society meetings, CANN-STEM events, and Heylo Sessions events. Her personal mission is to provide cannabis users with as much information as possible and to enable active and engaged lifestyles with cannabis.
In our interview with Laurel, we asked a variety of questions to learn more about Heylo, and what it takes to build a startup in the cannabis industry!
DCN: Laurel, congratulations on being featured as this week’s entrepreneur of the week and for all that you do! Can you please share with our readers your elevator pitch for Heylo?
Laurel Friesen: Heylo is a cannabis company built on education and transparency. We aspire to create full-spectrum extracts rich in terpenes with rare cannabinoids for wellness and recreation.
DCN: What ignited the spark in you to launch your business?
Laurel Friesen: My decision to enter cannabis and eventually start my own business was inspired in large part by my father. As a retired physician, he stayed current on medical literature and was quick to recognize the emerging science and business potential of cannabis as states began loosening their laws around 2012. We began having conversations around what it would like if I changed my career path from medical school to the cannabis industry around 2013/2014.
I was inspired to enter medicine out of a desire to serve a vulnerable population and help people. Over time, I realized I could have a similar impact on the wellbeing of others through cannabis.
DCN: When you finally decided that you wanted to launch a business in the cannabis industry, what was your experience like when telling your family and friends? Were they supportive?
Laurel Friesen: Although I took the plunge and started this business, I can’t stress enough the support I’ve received from my family and friends. My parents’ direct support and involvement accelerated my journey into cannabis and starting Heylo. I would not be where I am with this business without the two of them and look to them for advice and counsel almost daily.
My siblings have been supportive in so many ways throughout my journey. They have been quick to champion the company, offer advice, necessary distraction. We’re hoping to expand to other states as a family.
Although I had to learn the extraction ropes myself, my husband Daniel has helped me and continues to be a huge part of helping me grow Heylo. Daniel is a marketing guru and truly is my other half in this business. I am grateful every day to be able to work with my husband 24/7, my weaknesses are his strengths. This rollercoaster is far more possible, and fun, with Daniel by my side.
DCN: What is unique about your business?
Laurel Friesen: I am proud of so much from this past year, but two highlights stand out. First, the growth and success of our educational events and programming in and around Seattle. We started hosting events in our lab in 2017 and were thrilled by the reception and growth of these events throughout 2018. The community feels stronger than ever and we can’t wait to see what 2019 brings!
DCN: What are some challenges you faced early on and how’d you beat them?
Laurel Friesen: Early on it felt like we faced every challenge imaginable. Obtaining a license and getting our operation up-and-going was a tremendous hurdle in itself. We hit the shelves in Washington in March 2017 with a different brand name. In May 2017 we received a cease-and-desist for our mark, which we decided not to fight. This sent us back to the drawing board with our brand.
This legal challenge, which felt like a death blow, was a blessing in disguise. We were forced to rethink our DNA and what value we would bring to market in Washington. In the end, we re-launched as “Heylo” in August 2017. The reception of the new brand has been tremendous and I am proud of the way we recovered from this challenge through perseverance, creativity, and grit.
DCN: How did you come up with the name of your company?
Laurel Friesen: I was able to bootstrap Heylo without funding by relying on my own savings and avoiding capital investments in equipment. I rent a majority of the equipment I use, which was a creative way to avoid a significant initial investment on my part.
DCN: What did you give up to get where you are today?
Laurel Friesen: I sacrificed a tremendous amount of time and effort, as well as the comforts of a regular paycheck or the security of academia. For several stretches of time, I was working 12 to 14 hour days, 7 days a week. The only day in the past several years when I haven’t done any work was my wedding day this year.
DCN: What is the best piece of advice you can give to others looking to launch a company in the cannabis industry?
Laurel Friesen: Following the pack and wherever the money is today is a recipe for disaster. Think creatively about what value you can bring to the market, execute with as little outside investment as possible, and play on whatever strengths you have that are uniquely yours. Recognize your weaknesses and rely on your network to fill in these gaps.
DCN: What’s the hardest part of founding and running a startup?
Laurel Friesen: The uncertainty and unpredictability. It’s inherent to any startup.
DCN: Is there anything that surprised you about being an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry?
Laurel Friesen: I am excited that so many women have leading roles in this new industry, although I am surprised the trend has not continued. I hope to see a resurgence in female leaders in cannabis in the years to come.
DCN: How do you stay balanced?
Laurel Friesen: I love to play golf. It was a passion of mine instilled by my parents and something I enjoy doing with my husband on nice days in Seattle, although it has been hard the past several years to make time to hit the greens.
We enjoy yoga and make sure to stay physically active on most days of the week. We prioritize date nights and non-working evenings at home.
DCN: What book has inspired you the most?
Laurel Friesen: The E-Myth has been my book of choice for quite some time, I re-read it frequently to make sure I’m always thinking of ways to improve our operation and be a better leader for my team.
DCN: Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Laurel Friesen: The list is endless. I find inspiration in local businesses in West Seattle where I live, as well as national companies that are putting a mission and the people behind the product first.
DCN: How can we as an industry continue to make a positive difference in society?
Laurel Friesen: Recognizing that this industry is a global movement is the first major step. This is a shift in perspective from most modern industries. We believe this plant has the capability to change the world and right many wrongs in our society. When we recognize the inherent values of the plant we can build products and organizations that reflect abundance, community, and wellness.
DCN: Thank you, Laurel, for sharing your story and offering such real and insightful advice to DCN readers!
For those looking to learn more about Heylo please check out, www.heylocannabis.com and on Instagram at @heylocannabis