Q&A with Entrepreneur Heather Vanek

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Heather Vanek is the owner of Hot Mess Kushmetics, a company that makes cannabis-infused topicals for people looking to get natural pain relief without the high from marijuana. She lives in Las Vegas with her husband and two children.

Can you tell our readers about your background?

For 13 years I owned and operated a high-end photography studio that catered to new families. In 2017, I closed the doors to my studio to pursue something completely different – cannabis-infused topicals. It was time for a change and I love being challenged. Having to learn about a totally different industry and create something new was just what I needed!

What inspired you to start your business?

My mom. She suffers from migraines so when I first read about cannabis-infused bath bombs I decided to make some for her. I really just thought it was going to be a fun DIY project and didn’t think much of it until she used one for the first time and it broke a 3 day migraine streak. I was shocked that it worked so well. I have to admit, I used to be one of those non-believers that would roll my eyes when people talked about the medicinal benefits of cannabis, but when I saw the results of my homemade bath bombs I started researching the way cannabis interacts with our bodies. There is actually a lot of evidence that shows the positive effects cannabis has on a wide range of ailments. While the cannabis industry is booming, I found that the topical niche was lacking. Which meant there was a huge opening for me!

Where is your business based?

Las Vegas, NV

How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

Research, research, research! I did months of researching just to make sure my idea was viable. I researched the competition, the local laws, the industry itself and the science of topicals. Then I had to go through months of testing different product recipes before I settled on the right ones. It took me about 6 months before I was confident enough to move forward and actually launch the product. While that seems like a really long time when you’re in the midst of getting something off the ground, it’s actually quite fast. Launching something new takes so much time and effort, which can be nerve-racking when you’re filled with excitement to release your baby.

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?

Social media is a game changer for advertising. Not only can you be extremely targeted and specific in who sees your ads, but your ads don’t have to look like ads. They can be incredibly informative if you want them to, and you can have a conversation with your audience. Social media has created a space where brands can have a dialogue with their customers, as opposed to shouting at them.

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

My biggest challenge is always patience. I want things to happen fast, but in business, it just doesn’t work that way. After being a business owner for 14 years now it’s easier for me to see that now, and when I find myself getting impatient I just remind myself of the quote “Grow fast or grow far”. I would rather grow far, so when things aren’t moving at the pace I want I tell myself it’s for the best. 

How do you stay focused?

I like to schedule every single task I do on the calendar. There are so many tasks that need to be completed when you’re a business owner, it’s easy to get sidetracked and lose focus. But if my calendar says I need to be blogging from 10 am to noon, then I’ll stick to that. So every Sunday night I plan out my week and schedule everything I need to accomplish.

How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

Because I am offering a physical product rather than a service, the packaging was extremely important to me. I wanted it to look completely different than anything that was out there. I also wanted to speak to a customer that I felt wasn’t being targeted. The other products that were on the market when I created my brand were very earthy and “stoner-like”. There’s nothing wrong with that, but some of us like to sparkle and smell like cotton-candy, so that’s where I got my inspiration. Cannabis isn’t just for stoners and I wanted my product to reflect that. Whether you offer a product or a service, it’s important to be authentic and not try to duplicate anything that anyone else is doing, or what you think customers want.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?

Giving out samples has helped me tremendously. People want to know for sure that a product will work before they buy it, so I offer free samples on my website and hold pop-ups at local dispensaries. Even if you are offering a service, you can give away free information to prospective clients. It’s an incredibly effective way to build a relationship and earn trust.

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?

Hire people that are smarter than you. It can be tempting to do everything yourself in the beginning when funds are tight. And entrepreneurs are notorious for having “Superman Syndrome” (wanting to do everything yourself).

But your talents lie in building the foundation of your business, not installing some plugin on your website. You can outsource just about anything and you don’t even have to have employees do it for you. Fiverr and Upwork are both great places to find freelancers (that are smarter than you) to complete tasks and projects. This frees you up to focus on the big picture.

What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

Favorite app right now is Remember the Milk. It’s a great list-making app that keeps all of my “to-do’s” organized.

Favorite blog is not business related at all, but I have adored Jenny Lawson who writes theblogess.com for almost a decade now. She’s wickedly funny and reminds me that I’m not the only one who gets anxious or depressed.

Favorite book is Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. It’s a great lesson on how your business is about so much more than what you are selling.

What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

This is a new one for me, but my current favorite business tool is Airtable. (www.airtable.com) I was looking for a program that would help me keep track of the progress my sales reps were making and found this little gem. You can use it to create anything you want by combining the features of spreadsheets and databases in a customizable format – it seriously gets my little nerd heart glowing!

Who is your business role model? Why?

I have so many, and most of them you’ve probably read about too. But my newest biz crush is on P.T. Barnum. Of all the business books I’ve read, I don’t think he’s ever come up, and I’m not sure why because he really was a marketing genius.

After seeing the movie “The Greatest Showman” I was inspired to read about him and I’ve been fascinated by his accomplishments. He organized an American tour for a Swedish singer, Jenny Lind, and met her very high financial demands all before ever hearing her sing. The tour was a huge success that would not have been possible without Barnum’s incredible promoting skills. This serves as a great reminder that a business’s success is largely the result of what happens behind the scenes.

What do you have planned for the next six months?

My plan for the next six months is to expand into California dispensaries as well as move into a larger facility that can accommodate the growing business.

How can our readers connect with you?

I always love talking with other business owners. Feel free to message me on Facebook and Instagram @hotmesskushmetics.com


Kristin Marquet