A Female Navy Vet Has Success In Vapes
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Although one in every three Americans lives in a state where cannabis is legal, the brave soldiers who risk their lives are still forbidden from even the slightest bit of cannabis consumption.
Access to cannabis has never been easy for veterans, even those who need the plant's benefits to relieve PTSD or severe pain. But the government's ban on weed for veterans has not stopped them from breaking into the industry. Not only are organizations like Veterans Cannabis Group advocating for soldiers seeking alternative medicine, but several entrepreneurs are bringing their unique skills to the cannabis space.
Take Navy Veteran-Turned-Entrepreneur Dana E. Shoched. Dana is the founder, president, and CEO of O2VAPE, a vaping product manufacturer for consumers and wholesalers. Her company makes the patented Flip Ultra pen. A proud veteran, Dana served in the United States Navy, where she learned the value of service and strong leadership. She has held numerous roles in the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare, and sales in the private sector, where she was often one of the only women in the room. Dana left the corporate world to blaze her trail when she founded O2VAPE out of her garage in 2012. This is her story.
What brought you into the cannabis industry?
What I saw working in pharmaceuticals made me realize the power of more natural medicines. When I learned that Michigan had a caregiver program for cannabis, I became a registered grower to help patients. While I was doing that, I took on a side gig selling vape pens and realized the vaping industry's potential to reach more people. Eventually, I realized I could do it on my own, so I bought the name O2VAPE. It was my first solo entrepreneurial endeavor.
What was your most successful professional accomplishment before cannabis?
I've worked hard at everything I've tried, but I realize that in my heart I'm an entrepreneur. Everything I did in the past was basic training for what I’m doing today. I found a good fit in cannabis. I can make a difference by advocating for safety standards, pushing for good business practices, helping my staff excel, and never sacrificing on quality.
What obstacles and challenges have you experienced in operating within this industry?
I learned a lot of tough lessons as a woman in male-dominated fields. When I began O2VAPE, I did it the scrappy way, out of my house. Nobody was knocking on my door offering me start-up funding, and I’ve still never taken a dime from anyone. Managing cash flow against orders was a real challenge in the beginning. I think we had $100 in sales at one point. But I knew I could do this if I just stuck it out. Now that we’re established, the competition is stiff and expanding. Since this industry is still young and defining itself, any edge you may have makes you a target. That's why I'm choosy about who I do business with and put the customer first.
How have you overcome these obstacles?
Surround yourself with good people. I consider my team my family. They know I've got their back for anything, and together we focus on delivering quality products and service to our customers. Also, look for opportunities to serve your community. Service is pretty ingrained in me as a Navy veteran, and I just feel like if you're helping someone, you're doing the right thing. And if you are doing the right thing, business success will follow. That's part of what motivates me to work with the American Society for Testing and Materials, creating all the standards so that my end customers can trust they've got the safest possible product when they buy from O2VAPE. It’s why we added PPE to our offerings this year and are now helping thousands of doctors, nurses, and others to keep them safe during the pandemic. We overcome challenges by working through them and keeping our eyes on the right goals. Those goals are both driven by product targets and community needs.
As a woman in cannabis, do you feel that you are at an advantage or a disadvantage (or both) and why?
I'm here to run a great business. I care about the quality of my product and treat people fairly and expect the same, so if I don't see that from you, you're not going to have my business. Compared to industries I worked in earlier in my career, I find there's much more of a community feeling in cannabis, and it's encouraging to see more people working together than not. There's so much to build in this industry: quality standards, financial regulation, consumer education, I could go on, but the only way to get there is to work together and create healthy competition, not cut each other down. So, for me, it’s not about what advantages or disadvantages there are. It’s about taking what is and making it grow regardless of any obstacles.
What is an accomplishment you have achieved in this industry that you are most proud of?
I’m most proud of my relationships with our customers and our manufacturing partners, including several partners in China whom I’ve gotten to know very well. At the very end of 2019, they started to talk to me about Covid-19, what was happening with the spread of this disease, and how much PPE was needed. I realized we could help by shifting into supplying PPE so I turned to my Chinese partners. Through them, I was able to pivot into supplying tons of PPE (I think I lived on the phone for a few weeks), and together we have brought in tons of PPE. It’s making a huge difference for the first responder community in Michigan, Ohio, and other parts of the country. Sometimes the best accomplishments aren’t solely in product sales but how you use your skills to bring people together to help those in times of need.
What was your greatest lesson learned?
Before I started O2VAPE, I didn’t know I could be a CEO, but I knew I could hustle and that my work ethic would keep me going no matter what. I learned I’m never going to work for anyone else again; I want to do it my way. In so many ways, I'm a survivor. I know I can trust my own internal strength and the strength of my team. I’m using that to build a good company that does business the right way and it’s paying off.
What trait do you rely on most when making business decisions and why is this useful for you?
I need to know who I can trust, so I spend time getting to know the people we do business with. I bring a “high touch” approach to sales. I often answer customer calls and people have no idea they’re talking to the CEO! So this gives me a lot of intel, and I take that same approach to getting to know our partners along the supply chain. I’ve traveled to China to understand who our manufacturers are, and even hosted them in my own home in Michigan. Now we call each other “Brother” and “Sister.” Same thing with my team at the office. They’re practically my adopted family. I’ve recruited some of my top sales reps away from retail when I walked in as a customer. If you can sell me your products, I know you could absolutely sell what we have at O2Vape.