Weed Queen: Aliza Sherman
I had the incredible opportunity to interview the one and only, Aliza Sherman. Aliza is the CEO and founder of Ellementa, a women’s wellness company focused on educating and inspiring women to take charge of their health and to explore alternatives to standard conventional medicine.
Check out our interview below, where Aliza talks about how she started her business, her entrepreneurial journey in an industry dominated by men and shares some really helpful advice on how to jump into the cannabis industry.
How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I’m a writer, first and foremost. I also describe myself as a teacher – I openly share lessons I’ve learned in life by telling my story in hopes of helping others. I think I teach through storytelling – telling my own and telling other people’s stories as well, through my books, magazine articles, blog posts and my podcast, “The Ellementa Show.” I produce content in any form I can.
My books range from business and Internet to women’s issues and wellness, including Cannabis and CBD for Health and Wellness and The Healthy, Happy Nonprofit.
What is your company about? What do you guys do?
Ellementa is a women’s wellness company focused on educating and inspiring women to take charge of their health and to explore alternatives to standard conventional medicine. Our core offerings include a live, weekly podcast taping where people can attend and connect with experts and authors on topics ranging from cannabis and CBD to homeopathy, Aryuvedic nutrition, psychedelics, and so much more.
We also consult wellness brands on creative and effective ways to reach female consumers, provide market research services, and offer advertising and promotional opportunities to engage our Ellementa community.
Before the pandemic, we regularly gathered women in over 75 cities across North America – in-person – to learn about cannabis and CBD for health and wellness. Now we gather virtually, and a lot of the knowledge sharing is done through “The Ellementa Show.”
What makes Ellementa unique?
Ellementa was the first major mainstream resource for women to learn about cannabis and CBD for female health and the fastest growing network of women’s in-person meet-ups for cannabis instruction. We were first in a lot of areas and were on an incredible growth trajectory until the pandemic hit. Today, we’re exploring deeper aspects of wellness for women and helping normalize the conversations around ancient and alternative forms of healing and medicine.
What’s your favorite part about your job? Least favorite?
My favorite part of Ellementa is the connection to women who are seeking wellness. I love to be of service, and even in my day job (communications position with a nonprofit organization focused on gluten-free certification and education), I spend my days looking for ways to empower consumers with better health and wellness information.
My least favorite part? Not enough time in the day or space in my brain to do enough and learn fast enough.
What inspired you to start your company and how did you get started?
Starting Ellementa came out of my own epiphany that everything we were told about cannabis growing up was a lie. For being a part-time investigative journalist, I was floored at how I bought into the misinformation for decades. Once I learned about the traditions of healing using the cannabis plant, and how effective it could be in its various forms to relieve menopause symptoms, I wanted to share that knowledge with other women. I told my dear friend, Melissa Pierce – a documentary filmmaker and curious creative, like me – all about my experiences and how I wanted to build a business around educating and empowering women. Ellementa sprang from both our curiosity and our deep desire to help others in meaningful ways. Plus she saw the business opportunity and helped turn a passion into a company.
What is your vision and mission for Ellementa?
All we want to do all day is create content and build community, to make Ellementa a catalyst for connection. We’re partnering with some amazing brands with the same ethos and are excited about the future of the company. Our hope is to merge with another company or be purchased by a larger company that understands the vision and respects what we’ve built.
What were you doing before you started Ellementa?
Before Ellementa, I was freelancing and running my own digital marketing agency – and writing and publishing books every few years which meant going on book tours when travel was possible. My earlier career was in the music business, working for bands like Metallica, Def Leppard and the Rolling Stones as well as musical artists such as Bruce Hornsby. Fun fact from my past. I left the music business to run a nonprofit on domestic violence awareness then founded the first woman-owned Internet company and first global organization for women to learn about the Internet – Cybergrrl, Inc. and Webgrrls International.
How did that influence what you do?
I’ve been writing since kindergarten so my writing has been an integral part of everything I’ve done in my career. Each career move I’ve made has been an opportunity to learn something new and to share knowledge – or in the case of my music business career, help musical artists reach more people with their music. I’m constantly seeking new ways to learn and to share what I learn.
How did you learn the skills to start and run a successful business?
I learned how to run a business through the well-known School of Hard Knocks. I ran some of my early businesses like a crazy person, unsure how to handle the growth and pressure, and losing it all after a breakup. Over time, I learned some tough lessons about myself – namely that I suffer from depression as did my mother and her mother. My depression came out in cycles and left damage in its wake. Today, I try to give myself grace for not understanding my illness and for not seeking help sooner and more consistently. I also have an incredible business partner who understands this, and we make space for each other’s emotions. That’s a rare find in business. I am also blessed with a steady job with an incredibly supportive organization.
Running a successful business first takes a lot of courage to examine oneself and to make sure, as a business leader, you are healthy. Then it takes building a company that makes room for human beings. We’re all suffering at some level, in some way. A job or a business should not cause more suffering.
What factors have contributed towards your path of success?
Part of my ability to continue in any aspect of business is that I connect with mentors. I also get incredible energy and inspiration from mentoring others. Keeping an open mind helps me be in constant learning mode. Being able to write quickly and effectively helps me share what I’ve learned with others.
Did you ever expect a career in the cannabis space?
I’m a product of the 1980s “Just Say No” generation – full of visceral fear of cannabis and what it might do to me. So I never expected to start a cannabis education company. I’m so glad I got over my fear – mostly – so I could share more factual, science-based information about cannabis for wellness with others.
Were your family and friends supportive of your venture?
My family has been supportive – the main worry was “will you get arrested?” And I always have said, what Ellementa does is legal anywhere freedom of speech is legal and anywhere educating women is legal – which does leave out a few countries, but in general, what I do is all legal.
I do have two teenagers so have had “The Talk” with them about waiting until they are 25 to try cannabis because of what it does to teen brains versus fully developed adult brains. I am under no illusions that they will heed my advice, but I’d rather than smoke pot than drink alcohol if it came down to it.
What has your personal experience with cannabis been?
Exploring cannabis as a wellness alternative wasn’t simple, even for me, a woman who has embraced alternative medicines, herbs, homeopathy, applied kinesiology, chiropractic and the like since the 1980s. When I first mustered the courage to try cannabis for wellness in my early 50s, I took a few puffs off a vaporizer at bedtime after my kids were asleep. After over a year of menopause-induced insomnia, I was able to finally sleep through the night.
After over a year of chronic and debilitating neck pain, I did not wake up in pain, I didn’t have night sweats, and I woke up clear headed and rested. That first morning, I literally woke up and cried with relief because I felt good for the first time in a long time.
Did you ever feel like you weren’t taken seriously because you are a woman?
While the cannabis industry is certainly male-dominated, I haven’t felt I wasn’t being taken seriously because I’m a woman, although we did have a terrible experience with a male venture capitalist that reminded me of my early days seeking funding for my Internet company. We are women educating women and partnering with female experts and women-led companies so we are part of a very positive business landscape.
How/do you think your involvement in this industry is going to positively impact your community?
I’ve been involved in the cannabis industry and in wellness education since 2016, and I’ve witnessed the positive impact my efforts – and Ellementa’s work – has had, not only on women but on their loved ones as well. I’ll continue to create, connect, educate and inspire – it is what I do – and hope to make a positive impact every step of the way.
What has been your greatest obstacle in this industry to date – and how have you overcome it?
Going for funding was challenging because we kept hearing investors either question the need to educate women about cannabis (are they really going to use it?) and because we were so focused on education and women’s health which are not “sexy” to investors even though we were proving our business model was working and our expansion was exponential. Men still hold the majority of the investment “purse strings,” and the women investors at the time we were fundraising were worried about the legality of cannabis so shied away.
Today, we’re happy with where we are at and love what we are doing. That is the place we need to be right now.
What’s the biggest change you want to see in the cannabis industry?
What I want for the cannabis industry is the same for many other industries – to see more people of color and more women at the helm. Like attracts like, like supports like, like funds like. As long as those with the money and power look a certain way and think a certain, close-minded way, things in business – and in our society – can’t change.
Now that cannabis is legal, what excites you most and what worries you the most?
Legal cannabis is helping a lot of people in the states where it is actually legal. Cannabis is not legal federally so that has to change.
As a woman, what challenges did you encounter (if any) building your business in a male-dominated industry and how do you plan to create change and inclusiveness for future WOC joining the industry?
I think I already answered this – starting and building the company was not hard – trying to get funded was the challenge. We are very mindful about inclusion with every project we develop and launch. We make sure WOC are represented on “The Ellementa Show” and on HerCannaLife.com, an online publication I started in early 2016 to showcase women in the cannabis industry. The key is to be aware, to be open to learning, and to never use the excuse “I can’t find a WOC for this” but to instead reach out to all contacts and ask for introductions. I’ve been on many conference panels as the only female or only Latina, and when I’ve asked why they didn’t book more people of color, the answer is almost always “we couldn’t find them.” That’s a bunch of B.S. – they didn’t try.
What would be your best piece of advice for fellow women looking to pursue the cannabis industry?
Find a mentor. Ask questions. Open your mind to learning new things. Build something that makes you proud and excited to get up every morning.
What would you consider to be the most effective way or initial steps of breaking down barriers and ceilings to pave this path for women in the industry?
Hire more WOC. Partner with more WOC. Feature more WOC. Acknowledge when you’re being short sighted and open your mind, be open to change. Be part of the solution, not the problem.
There’s still a perception or stigma attached to the people involved in the cannabis industry or just consumers that partake in recreational or medical use, as being stoners- if you have encountered this kind of close minded perspective, what would your argument be to shift the conversation to one of the importance of the weed market and why it should be celebrated/normalized?
I have not encountered close-mindedness about cannabis in a long time. There is still a stoner culture out there which is real and should not be vilified. There is also a wellness culture out there that is embracing cannabis and that’s where I work and create.
Do you have any suggestions on how we can help normalize cannabis?
Keep talking about it as an ancient healing plant, a medicinal herb. Keep sharing the science-based information. Talk about cannabis as part of wellness.
Where can we reach you? (IG/ Twitter handle and or email)
Name 4 of your favorite women in weed that you’d like to give a shout out too. What do they do and where can we reach them?
You can find links to them in the profiles I wrote:
Dr. June Chin – https://hercannalife.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/dr-junella-chin-medleafrx/
MsKindness B Ramirez – https://hercannalife.wordpress.com/2020/06/12/her-canna-qa-with-mskindness-b-ramirez-club-kindness-inc-elixirs-by-kindness/
Dr. Jessica Knox – https://hercannalife.wordpress.com/2020/05/20/template-her-canna-qa-with-jessica-knox-md-mba-mph-doctors-knox-american-cannabinoid-clinics-and-advent-academy/
And Dr. Swathi – http://doctorswathi.com
Key Takeaways from Aliza Sherman:
- Find a mentor.
- Ask questions.
- Open your mind to learning new things.
- Build something that makes you proud and excited to get up every morning.
- Hire more WOC. Partner with more WOC. Feature more WOC. Acknowledge when you’re being short sighted and open your mind, be open to change. Be part of the solution, not the problem.
Huge shout out and big thank you to Aliza Sherman and Ellementa for taking the time to chat about her experiences as a female entrepreneur and executive in a male dominated industry, for giving us great advice and tips on how to be successful in the weed world and for shouting out other dope Weed Queens!
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