Growing a Hemp Oil Business to $70,000/mo in the First Year

Channing Thanks for taking the time to do a joint interview! Mind letting us know about your backgrounds and what you do at Populum?

My name is Gunhee Park, and I'm a co-founder of Populum. My background is in operations. I worked at a tech company in Austin, TX, for a couple years before teaming up with Ola to start Populum. I currently lead operations, sales, and customer service.

My name is Ola Olusoga, and I'm also a co-founder of Populum. My background is in design and marketing, and those are the areas I lead at Populum.

To briefly introduce who we are — Populum is a premium hemp oil brand. Hemp extract supplements have gained a lot of spotlight in the past couple years as the chemical compounds in hemp have been found to be essential to our bodies. By using high-quality ingredients and working with US farmers and certified PhDs, we're delivering a transparent and premium product to customers seeking the benefits of hemp.

We officially started selling earlier this year, and we quickly experienced some major growth. We've gone from a thousand dollars in monthly sales to $70K in monthly revenue in July. Here's a snapshot of our sales growth in 2017.

Populum sales

Channing What motivated you to get started with Populum?

After a couple years working corporate, I really wanted to quit my job. I knew I wasn't going to be happy climbing up the ladder, and I was getting sick of the bureaucratic nightmare that comes along with working in a big corporation.

It was a scary thought to quit — cutting off your bi-weekly paychecks and constantly fearing the "what if I fail" scenarios. But after learning about the hemp industry, and with the opportunity to team up with Ola, I decided to give it a try. We bootstrapped the company with our combined savings, and we grew our business by continuing to reinvest our profits.

We got passionate about starting Populum after learning more about hemp. We were fascinated to discover why so few people actually know about this plant, even though it's one of human history's oldest cultivated crops. It's because in recent history, hemp has been stigmatized and suppressed by the government, often being portrayed as the same thing as marijuana. (It's not.) So we wanted to do something about this — not only to disrupt the hemp industry, but also to help expand the hemp market to more customers.

Before we even had the vision for Populum, we did months of research on the benefits of the hemp plant. What we found was that hemp extracts, mainly known for cannabidiol (CBD), have amazing benefits that most of the public is completely unaware of. But even with such potential, we found there to be a complete lack of information and transparency regarding these products.

Eventually, we decided to go against the conventional wisdom of our industry… This is when we started winning.


This poses a big challenge for customers, a large portion of whom are looking to buy hemp oil as a supplement for themselves or for their loved ones — spouses, children, and even their pets. So it's critical that they can trust the quality of the ingredients and have confidence that the company stands behind its products.

We started Populum with these things in mind. Our primary goal was to create a high-quality hemp oil sourced and made right here in the USA.

Channing What went into building the initial product?

Getting our first product out the door wasn't an easy task. We benchmarked other hemp, cannabis, and even mainstream supplement brands to give us an idea of what was out there. This also helped us figure out how to differentiate ourselves.

While Gunhee was working with manufacturing and operations partners, I was diving into the branding of Populum. We didn't know it'd be called "Populum" yet, but we spent a good week texting names back and forth until we landed on something we felt sounded right. This was all around the start of December. We gave ourselves a month to complete everything — the branding, product images, product development, copywriting, etc.

Once we settled on the name Populum, we set off on sprints to get our website and product done.

The first sprint was deciding the brand voice. That is, the color palette, typography, imagery, logo, etc. We started with a few options and felt great about where we finally landed by the end of the week.

Week two focused on the product images. Once we had the prototype from the manufacturer, we created a super crappy light booth using an online tutorial, and started taking pictures.

Week three focused on the website design. Before diving into the front-end code, we used Sketch to create the pages of the website so that we could iterate on the designs and have conversations about them.

In week four we put it all together. We'd already purchased the domain and set up hosting. We chose to use WordPress as the base CMS, since it's easy to manipulate and does 90% of the engineering work for you. We chose a theme called Kalium and went to town on building the site.

All together it took a good four weeks to launch, while managing the manufacturing aspect of the business in parallel. We were able to get all the product images, branding, fulfillment infrastructure, website, emails, etc. all in place before New Year's Day.

Populum IRL

For the truly curious, here's a quick rundown of most of the products that helped us get through the sprint:

Channing How have you attracted users and grown Populum?

Having a background in design, one thing we aimed to do was stand out through our branding. We knew that having a quality product wasn't enough. In today's marketplace it's not enough for you to have good customer service, a quality product, and be fairly priced. You also have to look great.

A huge competitive advantage lies in the perception derived from a quality brand, so we made sure we nailed that. Today people expect visual quality. You can see that in brands like Airbnb, Facebook, and Apple. They evoke a feeling and have personality. That's what we tried to focus on — using visuals to show trust and quality.

Parallel to design, another area we put a lot of emphasis on was customer service. We knew that hemp oil is a relatively new and foreign product for a lot of people. Many of them have simply never heard of it or used it before, which can make them that much more hesitant to try it out. We help customers overcome this uneasiness through a 30-day risk-free trial — a first in this industry.

Through this policy, we're letting our customers know how much we believe in our products, and how much we care about the user's experience with our brand.

Referrals were another big area of growth for us. We realized that after customers used our products and shopped with us, they enjoyed sharing their experience with friends and family. We wanted to encourage our customers to continue to do so and to also thank them for letting others know about us. So we started a referral program that's simple and straightforward. And this word-of-mouth marketing has really helped us capitalize on organic growth.

Channing What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

We're a direct-to-consumer brand, selling directly on our website and also through Amazon. Being in such a controversial industry, starting the company and growing the business forced us to think more outside of the box.

There are still a lot of regulations and stigma around this plant. Payment processors like Stripe refused to work with us. Facebook rejects promotions and ads that focus on hemp. Google also blacklists accounts that use adwords to promote. So from the beginning, we've had to find unorthodox and alternative ways of getting our products out there.

What helped us the most early on was using organic traction strategies, such as word-of-mouth and reviews. We worked with review sites to get our product tested, engaged with online forums, such as Reddit, by being active on their discussion boards, and also did free giveaways to get people to experience the supplement.

At first, all these methods were painstakingly manual and non-scalable. But our goal was to gain an initial set of true fans and let the product speak for itself. Overall, these manual traction strategies paid off for us. To this day, we have no ads that direct traffic to our website, but we have seen continuous growth in our traffic. Here's a snapshot of total sessions on our site (per month) over the course of this year:

User sessions

Eventually, we also got approved to sell on Amazon, and that's really helped our sales to take off. Amazon's unbiased reviews have helped customers trust our product, and we've been able to utilize their platform to spread awareness about hemp oil to a wider range of customers.

Today, our sales are split almost exactly 50/50 between our site and Amazon, with our monthly revenue at $70K.

Channing What are your goals for the future?

We've gotten some amazing feedback on our products, and it's been gratifying to see our hemp oil help a lot of people. One of our main goals is to accelerate the awareness of hemp oil among the mainstream by becoming the market leader in the industry. In order to effectively do this and to make it easier for customers to try hemp oil, we realize that our product selection needs to improve.

Taking a supplement as a tincture, where you place drops of liquid under your tongue, isn't the ideal method for all our customers. Quite a few potential customers who get turned off by it. So our goal is to be an innovator and develop more varieties of the oil, like topicals that you can apply like lotion, or capsules, or even oil-infused candy.

As a bootstrapped company, our goal is to manage our growth and to reinvest our profits to continuously improve our quality, our operations, and our product offerings. We plan to soon diversify our distribution by working with retail outlets, such as health stores and clinics.

Channing What would you say is the biggest roadblock in front of you?

The biggest roadblock for everyone in the hemp industry is government regulation. In the past, hemp extracts were categorized in the same pool as marijuana. This confusion still exists today.

There's actually an ongoing lawsuit right now where stakeholders in the hemp industry are seeking to get some clarification, because the DEA has come out with statements that have caused more uncertainty. How this case gets resolved will have a huge implication for us and for everyone in the industry.

Channing If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Starting off in a taboo industry, a mistake we made early on was being overly cautious in our approach. We were really conservative in validating markets and distribution channels. We would constantly doubt whether something was allowed or if we should go ask "industry experts". Throughout the past year, I've learned that this thinking was wrong.

For example, we've been told we can't sell on Amazon. We've been told there's no way to market our product, since platforms like Google and Facebook prohibit it. We've been encouraged to "consult" with the hemp industry experts, as they know best.

Eventually, we decided to go against the conventional wisdom of our industry — and this is when we started winning. I think that's a valuable lesson for entrepreneurs entering any industry. We created Populum to make a positive difference in this industry and accelerate its growth. With that in mind, everything we do should be to challenge the status quo and change it.

Populum branding

Channing Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Having backgrounds in tech helped tremendously. But there was a lot we had to figure out and learn as we went. Both Gunhee and I are avid readers, so we took these opportunities to dig into areas we weren't familiar with.

For instance, when we first got started, we weren't really adept at digital marketing, so we googled "Best books on marketing", and ordered the books that kept reoccurring in the results.

Here are some books that we learned a lot from:

You name a book and we've either read it or placed it on our to-read list. We strongly believe in digging deep into books to learn via other people's experiences, and then applying those learnings to what we're doing. This way we know the terrain and aren't caught off guard.

I'd also say the biggest habit/skill we have is being open minded, quick learners, and adaptable. We're comfortable with uncertainty and know nothing is guaranteed, so when something goes wrong, we're able to take a step back, analyze the situation, and change course.

Some books that have helped with that include:

Channing Where can we go to learn more?

Please visit us at to learn more about our hemp oils. You can also read customer reviews about our products on Amazon.

If you have any questions or feedback about Populum, please leave us a note in the comment section below, and we'll respond as soon as we can. Thanks!

Gunhee Park , Creator of Populum

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  1. 2

    Awesome interview guys, your product looks great and your business growth has blown my mind.

    How did you get the manufacturing side of the business set up?

    Was it case of approaching lots of different ones and seeing how you gelled on initial impressions?

    Or were there specific things you were looking for in a manufacturer?

    1. 2

      Finding a good manufacturing partner was a lot of ground work & luck. First, we really took our time to dig into the industry to figure out what's going on (research, network, etc.). This allowed us to figure out what we don't like about the existing products in the market & how we could do better. This research phase also helps you learn more about what type of qualities matter & what you want to prioritize. I also mention luck because even with all the searching, we did get lucky in how we met our partners.

      1. 2

        Cool, you guys definitely did your groud work right!

        What drew you to the hemp industry to start with ?

        How did you intially build connections and contacts in the industry?

        It will be interesting to hear how you went from being outsiders to now firmly established.

        I think a lot of people struggle with this when pursuing a business idea/industry to enter. Making those important industry connections to bring your idea to life.

        I know I personally have trouble with this.

        1. 2

          It's a niche industry at its infancy (although hemp itself has been around forever) and a product category we truly believe in.

          In the beginning, you just have to get involved in as much as you can even if it seems trivial and annoying. We went to conferences, took part in different associations, interviewed people that were involved in the industry, etc. This is tough in the beginning, as you'll get a lot of rejections, condescending comments, etc. A lot of this could seem pointless at the time, but the insights you'll form from doing these things are huge.

          1. 2

            I see, so it was case of getting stuck in and meeting industry people any which way you could in the begining.

            Yeah I bet it felt a lot like the new kid trying to make freinds at school. You showed tenacity though and like you said insights you gained were golden.

            It really does seem thorough research and and having a solid understanding of how you are going to approach business before you start has a lot of bearing on your initial success.

            Thank you for your time and very helpful answers, much appreciated.

            I'll be sure to keep an eye on the progess of your company, I'm very intrigued by your product and the hemp industry at large. It really is a wonder plant with so many beneficial uses.

            It's a shame it got wrongfully demonized in the past but it looks like thats all thankfully going to change moving foward. Especially with companies like yours out there.

            I noticed you have a location in England too. Awesome, England is my home Country. I'm happy to help in any way I can if you are ever seeking personell out here. My background is in sales/marketing/copywriting.

            All the very best for the future, I'm sure you guys are going to become giants.

            1. 2

              Puvan, thanks a lot and really appreciate your support.

              I would say that this initial phase helped us pivot accordingly as we learned more about the industry. The initial stage of just digging in helped us realize what works, what doesn't, and how things could be better.

              Would love to keep in touch. Please reach out to us at [email protected]!

        2. 1

          In fact, these are huge numbers for the first month of cultivation. I know how easy it may seem, but in life it is a hell of a job that can result in the application of the right knowledge, for example, buy online from dispensary a good and high-quality product, then plant this plant at home in special boxes for growing marijuana at home. That's when you will be able to get close to these figures of earnings for the year. I understand that this is just the beginning, so I wish you success

  2. 2

    Great job on the design of the website. One question I had was about using Sketch in conjunction with WordPress themes. How did you use Sketch to design a theme that you already purchased?

    1. 2

      Thanks, and good question. We use WordPress, and the theme we selected more as the foundational structure, and build our pages on top of it. We used sketch to design what we wanted the pages to look like, and then used the tools within the theme (slider revolution, visual composer, custom css, e.t.c) to get the customized output we wanted.

  3. 2

    Guys, thanks for sharing your story. Could you tell what's your average profit margin ?

    1. 2

      Thanks for reading! We don't disclose exact numbers, but it's been sustainable for us to continue to reinvest in our growth.

  4. 2

    Very cool product and website. Not sure if design is that important, but definitely helps against the negative view towards hemp... You forgot to mention Shopify in the products you use ;) Best!

    1. 3

      Thanks! We've found that design has actually been a key factor in helping us break away from the stigma around hemp. And wow, yea we did forget about Shopify. Thanks for pointing that out!

  5. 2

    Why have you not started selling in Amazon UK?

    1. 2

      We look forward to continuing to grow on Amazon. Right now, we're focused on growing our presence in the US market and building out a more robust supply chain.

  6. 2

    Are you taking advantage of Amazon Marketing Services? What are the legalities involved with this?

    1. 2

      We aren't doing AMS just yet, mainly because I don't think we're big enough to quality for Vendor Central.

      1. 2

        I don't know what Vendor Central is exactly, but I know that a few AMS campaigns have been immediately-profitable for my eBook.

        1. 2

          We'll have to further look into this - thanks for the recommendation!

  7. 1

    I think this is a pretty tricky business because weed is illegal in most of the countries in the world. Although I'm not very versed in this topic. I would rather have my own CBD store like this one because I really like this supplement. So far, these are just dreams, but I constantly use various CBD products and see an amazing effect.

  8. 1

    Is hemp oil a CBD oil? If so, it is a very profitable business. However, it has its own difficulties. If you are going to sell hemp oil in countries or states where marijuana is not legalized, it will not be easy. If you follow the legal path, then here, too, you will have to do something difficult. You need to get a lot of permits for such a business. In any case, I wish you good luck.
    I have only recently become interested in marijuana and this topic. I bought myself a THC Vape pen on I wanted to try it for a long time. Of course, there are significant differences from smoking regular marijuana, but I like it.

  9. 1

    Hey! I've come across an article saying that CBD may one day replace antibiotics. I think this is a good sign to start a business in this industry.

  10. 1

    I am also interested in starting a business in the cannabis industry. As i see many successful companies have raised on this market and business was booming and there’s the potential to make huge profits as this sector continues to grow . Here you can find more information about how to make be best products and which are the most popular on the market

  11. 1


    I heard a lot of good news here about hemp seed oil. I would also like to ask if it's legalized already on all states in the USA? Will this affect the business?

  12. 1

    Quite interesting. But I always was more interested in the other side of this bubsiness like detox drinks and stuff - . Such things are also in demand and I think that such things is a bit easier to handle.

  13. 1

    Where can we buy it?. And know we are getting real product

  14. 1

    Though it's been already some months, got to thank you for sharing your journey! impressive job. I will follow up on your development, worth tracking giving the industry and challenge you undertook. One question, however, would you elaborate on the logistics (warehousing, shipping) and fulfillment side beyond working with Amazon FBA? Did you rent space? How did you guys started? All the best!

    1. 1

      Yes, we built out our own fulfillment and supply chain. We now have an in-house team that packs and fulfills all orders.

      This definitely helped with quality control compared to outsourcing to a fulfillment company. Mainly because our products are so small and we do a lot of customization depending on product & order type.

      1. 1

        Hello guys i am here again and today i would like to recommend you [url=]cbd oil UK[/url] this oil is very best for your pets if your pet is suffering from any diseases or injured you can use this oil for pain removal of your pet !!

  15. 1

    How much money to start? Amazing interview

  16. 1

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