Leah Bailey of Audacious on Courting the Canna-Curious

Plus, bringing a CPG background to the industry

Leah Bailey is a corporate executive with deep experience in marketing, strategy and general management. For over 30 years, she has served as a leader in small, medium and large organizations for private and public companies. Leah is currently the chief business development officer for Audacious, a company that builds and acquires U.S. cannabis businesses and brands. She oversees M&A, marketing and government and regulatory affairs.

Previously, Leah was CEO of Fluresh, a marijuana grower, processor and provisioning center owner in Michigan. She built the operation and organization from a startup, ultimately receiving 16 state licenses. Leah serves on the board of Tikun Olam USA, a global cannabis brand and leader in medical cannabis research and development. She is the chairman of the compensation committee.

We spoke with Leah for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.

Leah, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Waukegan, Illinois, midway between Chicago and Milwaukee. Now I live in Glencoe, just north of Chicago.

Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.

I am currently the chief business development officer for Audacious and I'm based in Chicago. I'm responsible for marketing, M&A and regulatory applications. Audacious is a next-generation cannabis company with a unique business model that's difficult to replicate. With our ALPS partnership, Audacious is able to secure access to low-cost but high-quality biomass to fuel its expansion across the U.S. and internationally.

Our house of brands include Tsunami, Provisions, Loos, Wreck Relief CBD and Mr. Natural. Behind our family of brands is a collaborative team of like-minded individuals who have all seen the challenges in the cannabis industry—and we are trying to do things the right way. In the past six months, we've gone through massive changes, including the installment of an entirely new C-suite, acquisitions and new alliances.

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

Cannabis has had a positive impact on me both personally and professionally. For one thing, it helps me sleep, which is priceless! I'm also grateful that it has led to an exciting and rewarding career in an industry where I have the opportunity to support causes that are important to me, such as social equity. 

My commitment to social equity and diversity goes back to my roots and to the town I grew up in, Waukegan, just outside Chicago. It's a very diverse place. From an early age, we were taught the importance of community and giving back. I have been involved in a number of nonprofits, including Honest Game, that focus on inclusion and diversity. I'm currently on the board of global cannabis brand Tikun Olam.

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

There are so many great products out there like Provisions Salted Tahitian Vanilla Bean Caramels. The texture is between a firm and a chewy caramel. After about 20 seconds in your mouth they have a lovely chew to them. If you let the caramel dissolve and not chew it, you will get a bit of sublingual absorption. I'm also a fan of our Audacious Wreck Relief CBD topicals and proud that Wreck Relief is the first CBD product to be co-branded with a professional sports association—Professional Bull Riders.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

One of the biggest challenges we face is helping canna-curious consumers get comfortable with trying cannabis. Approximately 29 precent of the market accepts cannabis but hasn't tried it. This presents an enormous opportunity. Education about the wellness benefits of cannabis is paramount. Plus, there's the issue of access and making sure consumers are informed throughout the decision-making and buying process. We're working on ways to make trying cannabis less intimidating and ensuring that our customers are educated about cannabis.

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.

I'm really excited about applying my CPG background in branding to cannabis. There's so much more we can do beyond just marketing the percentage of THC in a product. For example, what are the consumer benefits? What is the flavor profile of the strain? What about onset time and delivery method? We need to make it easy and enjoyable for customers to experience all that cannabis has to offer.

Our industry is becoming more and more sophisticated, as are consumers, and it's very exciting to be at the forefront of that evolution. We're very focused on market segmentation and positioning and of course, applying consumer insights and data to everything we do.

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

We're a sponsor of Black CannaBusiness Conference, the only national conference for cannabis founders, professionals and consumers of color. Given all of the social equity issues, we want to make sure we are supporting this effort and others that bring awareness about equity and social justice to the forefront, while at the same time supporting the Black cannabis industry and community.

A recent project you're proud of.

We launched Audacious at MJBizCon and it was epic. It was the culmination of months and months of hard work. It was incredible to bring our team together and to have all of our brands represented in one place. To celebrate our official launch, we hosted a party with Machine Gun Kelly. As I mentioned earlier, we also recently announced Audacious Wreck Relief, the first CBD product to be co-branded with a professional sports association, which further normalizes the use of CBD in recovery-related applications.

Someone else's project you admired recently.

I admire Evelyn Wang, the CEO of Papa & Barkley. It's not always easy being a woman at the top in cannabis. It takes drive and perseverance. We share a CPG beauty background and I love what P&B is doing with sustainability, fair trade and benefit focused positioning. I also appreciate that PharmaCann used baseball legend and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg to attract more consumers to the wellness aspect of the market.

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.

I very much admire Nancy Whiteman, Wana Brands' founder and CEO. She launched Wana in her kitchen in 2010. Since then, she's grown the first national cannabis brand into the No. 1 selling infused cannabis edible in North America without outside funding and without taking on debt. She embodies a true entrepreneurial spirit and is very committed to social equity in the cannabis space and giving back generally. She's also just a really great person.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.

I'd likely still be working in consumer products and probably in the beauty industry, which is where I spent many years prior to coming to cannabis. I have to say that cannabis is more interesting. For example, branding is just beginning to be an important factor in the industry, so I feel that I can make a difference. I also enjoy the regulatory, state-by-state strategies, which make it very challenging.

Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.

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