Karina Karassev, COO & Co-founder of Stori

Today’s Weed Queen is Karina Karassev, COO & Co-founder of Stori. What is Stori you ask? Stori is an awesome purpose built cannabis storage which aims to help normalize cannabis at home. Not only do they promote normalizing cannabis at home but also focus on providing online resources for individuals and employers alike through Stori’s parent company RCU – Responsible Cannabis Use. Karina Karassev is a true Weed Queen and is doing amazing work through Stori.

Check out our interview below, where Karina Karassev talks more in depth about Stori, her career, 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 am currently the COO & Co-founder of Stori, the purpose built cannabis storage. I look after product development, sourcing, logistics and the financials for the company. 

What is your company about? What do you guys do? 

Stori, the purpose built cannabis storage is a product by our parent company, RCU – Responsible Cannabis Use, a cannabis education company. Through our products and services, RCU’s mission is to normalize cannabis in the community, at work and at home. 

We help to normalize cannabis at home with Stori. Stori was developed with a mission to normalize cannabis through education and conversation. Afterall, consumers (and patients) won’t talk about cannabis if it’s still hidden in their sock drawer. 

We help to normalize cannabis in the community by providing a free online resource, Cann I Know (CiK) [canniknow.com]. Think of it like the Trip Advisor for cannabis laws. Whether you’re looking for medical or recreational laws, you should be able to easily access them all in one place – for example look at the laws for Toronto, Calgary or San Francisco.

We help to normalize cannabis in the workplace with our cannabis e-learning course for employers CannEd [CannEdCourse.com]. The course has been accredited by HR professional associations, insurance professional associations, and Canadian Police Knowledge Network as well as other organizations.

What’s your favorite part about your job? Least favorite?

My favorite part is definitely bringing a product to life. Stori started just as an idea that was inspired by a messy counter of cannabis containers and is now organizing messy counters all over the world. My least favorite part is all the administrative work that comes with running your own business. 

What inspired you to start your company and how did you get started? 

Cannabis stigma causes many consumers and patients to hide their cannabis consumption. Imagine if you had to hide your medicine or your wine, so that you don’t get judged. This is a huge problem and a lot of it has to do with lack of credible education about cannabis. So we set out on our mission to normalize cannabis by building Stori so that cannabis consumers and patients could celebrate their happy moments with style and pride. It’s time to stop hiding cannabis. 

What is your vision and mission for Stori?

Our vision is to help recreational and medicinal consumers celebrate their cannabis lifestyle. Our mission is to provide them with products and insights that help elevate and personalize their experiences.

What were you doing before you started Stori ? 

I am a CPA (Certified Professional Accountant) and for the past 10 years led the strategic sourcing and corporate travel team at Sun Life Financial, one of Canada’s largest financial institutions. 

How did that influence what you do?

Sun Life was the first Canadian insurer to provide coverage for medical cannabis under their group benefits plans which inspired me to learn more about the plant and the industry. Understanding that federal cannabis legalization in Canada was a once in a lifetime opportunity propelled me to leave my current career and embark in the world of entrepreneurship.

How did you learn the skills to start and run a successful business?

I am still learning and will continue to learn as we go. I definitely rely on my formal education and my experience at Sun Life which involved closely working with product development teams and various service providers to bring products to market but I think the skill I rely on the most is the ability to be resourceful. As a founder of a startup, you wear many hats every day and have to just figure things out and keep moving forward. 

What factors have contributed towards your path of success?

At Stori, we are really lucky to have really engaged customers. We listened to our customers’ feedback and have implemented a number of their suggestions in production. This is a tremendous advantage in launching with pre-orders while the product is in production. This allowed us to pivot and deliver on consumer needs and wants. This has led to Stori to win a number of awards including 2021 Muse Design Awards, LOOP design awardsCLIO Cannabis Awards, International Design Awards (IDA) Awards and GOOD Design Awards.

We are following the same process when it comes to our Stori App development. We are engaging with our customers to get feedback and input into the Stori App. This approach has led us to win the distinctive 2021 Red Dot Award. After all, we are making the product for the consumer and are very fortunate to have such engaging customers.Our goal is to continue to build a community around the product and ensure we keep up the personal touch within our community.

Did you ever expect a career in the cannabis space?

I never thought I would work in the cannabis industry but did realize that being part of the legal cannabis industry in the first G7 country was a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

Were your family and friends supportive of your venture?

Of course. My co-founder and I are lucky to have supportive family and friends. Many of them are our investors. 

What has your personal experience with cannabis been?

Like many others I tried cannabis in high school and continued to consume it occasionally with friends. I was often frustrated that my experiences were unpredictable. Following legalization I was on a mission to solve this puzzle for myself and understand which products worked best for me and when. To be honest I was expecting this to all be solved when I walked into a store where I can read product labels, but I quickly realized this was far from what information was available. I realized that keeping track and understanding which products worked was a difficult problem to solve. This was the inspiration behind Stori. We want to encourage people to keep track of which products work for them, so we developed a colour coded, organized system partnered with our Stori App to help other consumers personalize their cannabis experience. 

Did you ever feel like you weren’t taken seriously because you are a woman? 

At times, although the cannabis industry continues to be male dominated, I also feel it is the industry that stands up and fights for inclusivity. 

How/do you think your involvement in this industry is going to positively impact your community?

I hope to have a positive impact in the community by simply continuing to talk about cannabis in different settings. I truly think conversation is the first step to breaking down the stigma around cannabis.

What has been your greatest obstacle in this industry to date – and how have you overcome it?

The biggest challenge for the industry is not being treated like the legal industry it is. There are countless times where we have run into issues with banks, logistics carriers, advertising platforms and many more just because we are in the cannabis industry. We know we are not alone in this, the industry is pushing back on this unjustified stigma.

What’s the biggest change you want to see in the cannabis industry?

Advertising and marketing laws. When it comes to advertising, cannabis brands should not be treated any differently than alcohol brands.

Now that cannabis is legal, what excites you most and what worries you the most? 

I’m excited for consumers to get re-introduced to cannabis so they can understand which products work for them best and when vs basing their opinion about cannabis on what I call pre-legalization “mystery weed”.

What worries me is that consumers still don’t truly understand how to distinguish between legal and illegal brands and retailers.

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?

Our approach is and will continue to be to have a balanced and inclusive team at the start up stage we are at to the global contributor we hope to be. 

What would be your best piece of advice for fellow women looking to pursue the cannabis industry?

Go for it! Always remember the industry is still in its infancy and everyone is still learning about the industry, regulations and the plant. 

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? 

Recognizing that these barriers will not magically go away, my advice would be to get started knowing that there will be many barriers. The reality is that we cannot control everything, but we can control when we start, how much effort we put in, how we validate ideas, and how we celebrate our successes and failures. So, the most effective way to break down barriers is to get started, make some noise, and take up space!

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?

The question I typically pose when facing stigmatizing comments about cannabis is “ What makes alcohol so different that it is celebrated ?” “Why do parents feel comfortable leaving their beer in the fridge but feel their cannabis must be under lock and key?” The reality is alcohol has been normalized because it has been talked about for decades including with kids. Kids know that the beer in the fridge is not for them, we encourage parents to have the same conversation and explain what’s stored in Stori is not for them. 

More than that, for many, cannabis is medicine. We don’t judge someone for taking an Advil, so why would we judge them for taking cannabis. 

Do you have any suggestions on how we can help normalize cannabis?

Talk about it! We can talk about the new Rosé we discovered and loved. We should talk about a cannabis strain the same way. The only way to eliminate the stigma and normalize cannabis is to talk about cannabis. 

Where can we reach you? (IG/ Twitter handle and or email)

@ itsyourstori on Instagram, Facebook & Tik Tok

@ Stori on LinkedIn

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?

  1. Emily (Erickson) Standbrook, Boveda 
  2. Anne Forkutza, Dutchie 
  3. Blaine Pearson, Business of Cannabis 
  4. Alyssen @the.antisocial.stoner 

Key takeaways from Karina Karassev:

  • Get started knowing that there will be many barriers
  • We cannot control everything, but we can control when we start, how much effort we put in, how we validate ideas, and how we celebrate our successes and failures
  • Break down barriers is to get started, make some noise, and take up space.
  • Go for it!

Huge shout out and big thank you to Karina Karassev for taking the time to chat about her experiences in the cannabis space, 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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