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Friday, October 7, 2022

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Dabbing in the Flow State

Seibo Shen has many ideas. Over lunch earlier this month, a conversation about his new product CannAthlete sparked discussions about dementia in the National Football League, jiu-jitsu competitions, and what he learned by sending edibles to cannabis testing labs.

Shen speaks with a youthful energy that belies his immense professional experience and success. Since graduating from college, Shen has seen six start-ups that ended successfully, with the smallest bringing in $161 million and the largest taking in $3.4 billion. While Shen says he isn’t wealthy, he emphasizes that these transactions provide him with the comfort to run his current businesses as he pleases, with customer satisfaction more important than the bottom line.

When VapeXhale launched in 2013, Shen brought the bong-vaporizer hybrid to the consumer that he saw missing in the market. Called the “Cadillac of Vaporizers” by Crave Online, VapeXhale provided Shen with a gateway to the cannabis industry. Now he’s back with CannAthlete, a three-product line designed to enhance every facet of the workout regimen (before, during, and after) by incorporating controlled amounts of cannabinoids into the process.

I spoke to Shen about fruit and cheese platters at the New West Summit in San Francisco in early October, where he attended to launch CannAthlete.

[This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.]

How did cannabis use by athletes first get on your radar?

I never knew how big the problem was until I met Eugene Monroe. He played for the Baltimore Ravens and then decided to retire. Now he is an investor in our company. When I met him, he told me that some of his retired teammates have such insane dementia that their wives and children are afraid they would flip and kill them one day. Originally I just thought these were athletes who just wanted to get high. I have nothing against that, but I thought that was all.

How did that lead to CannAthlete?

Two years ago, I started noticing how many athletes were getting busted for marijuana. When I googled them, a lot of them turned out to be our clients, like Eugene Monroe and Rickey Williams and Jake Shields. I started emailing them to introduce myself, and I learned that the vast majority of them consuuse cannabis before exercising. It sounded crazy to me. Then I watched this jiu-jitsu competition and one of the guys in it had a weed leaf on his jersey. It turns out he’s from San Francisco, and I started training jiu-jitsu at his school. His name is Denny Prokopos and he is another man who consumes cannabis before training. He is also a three-time world champion.

How does Denny Prokopos think cannabis improves his ability to compete better?

Are you familiar with the power status? It is a state of peak performance. Once I discovered that cannabis can help you achieve a flow, Denny and I started thinking about how different strains tend to work differently for different people. We wanted to figure out how to achieve a consistent experience. What we found is that many doctors and researchers believe that cannabis can actually promote a state of homeostasis in your body. If you’re tired, it makes you happy. If you are overly wired, it will calm you down.

Have you noticed that everyone uses the product in the same way?

Some athletes, like Jake Shields, only use it for recovery. Denny, on the other hand, will take a dab before training, another one in the middle of training and then three more at the end of training. It’s not one-size-fits-all, as with everything in life, but we feel like at this point, from what we’ve been able to collect, four out of five people are consistently getting good results. That’s a lot better than many other workouts that have been on the market.

How do you combat the idea among athletes that cannabis use is somehow wrong or a hindrance?

I receive at least three or four emails a day from random co-workers or people from my past life telling me that they exercise with cannabis but thought they were the only ones. I feel pretty good that not only are we helping people with CannAthlete, but we’re also showing people who’ve done this privately that there are other people like them. Actually there are very much from people like them. Let’s start the conversation and come out of the green closet.

Tell me how you developed the product. How was the process?

In the early stages, we bought tons of ediblaze and give them to our athletes, and only see very inconsistent performance. What I did was I sent all these edibles not just to a single lab, but to three different labs: CW Analytical, SC Labs, and Steep Hill. What I saw was that if you put shit in, you get shit out. The dirty little secret of the industry is that most companies use $5 per gram of food-grade hashish in their edibles because no one can see it.

We decided to make a raw, organic agave serum with a distillate that has been stripped of all fats, waxes and lipids, making it easier for your body to absorb. We use a $30 per gram distillate and we are able to make the economy work because the majority of my VapeXhale customers were growers and extraction artists who wanted to promote their flowers or oils through our device. That allowed us to basically do bro deals with them. Yes, these farmers and extraction artists are motivated by money, but they are even more motivated by great products being marketed.

What are you motivated by?

Obviously I want to make money and feed my family but for me I feel super happy that the one thing I love most in life is also something that society has demonized in some way so I’m going to fight and fight for it. This may not be what our investors want to hear, but I think my strategy is we make more money when we help more people. That’s the ideology I want to use as the ethos of this company. How do we help more people? I’m not rich, but I don’t have to worry about next month’s mortgage payments either, so I feel like I can run this business in a way where income isn’t the only goal, even if it’s a big goal . I want to run CannAthlete in a way that meets my personal needs to promote the changes I want to see in the industry. I feel lucky to have this as my life mission.

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