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The CULTA Blog

Interview with Gina Dubbé, Co-Founder of Blissiva and Greenhouse Wellness

CULTA blog interview with Blissiva Co-Founder Gina Dubbe

In January 2023, CULTA announced a partnership with Blissiva, a company founded in Maryland by women for women. CULTA will produce Blissiva's vape products at its laboratory in Cambridge, Maryland, and will distribute the brand at finer dispensaries. Renier Fee, our head of marketing, reached out to Ms. Dubbé to learn more about her background and how that led to her decision to enter the cannabis industry and introduce a new line specially formulated for women called Blissiva. 

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Hello Gina and welcome to the CULTA family!
 
Thank you so much! I am so delighted to be part of the CULTA family. We are so pleased to have CULTA as the manufacturing and distribution partner for Blissiva in Maryland. 
 
We're delighted too! We've met but I don't know much about your background. Where did you grow up and go to school? 
 
I grew up in West Virginia; the daughter of a brick mason and home maker in a traditional Italian house. I followed my instincts to get out of West Virginia, but to do that I needed an education—more than shorthand (which is all my family thought I needed as a woman that would likely marry a coal miner). My parents were not thrilled by the idea of me going to college. In our traditional Italian home, the emphasis was on men getting an education and supporting their family. 
 
I went to college planning to study interior design, but I switched to engineering within the first week. Interior design required serious aesthetic skill, and I didn’t have it. What I did have were strong logic skills and grit, so engineering it was! I loved it from the first minute. I graduated with a BS degree in Industrial Engineering from WVU and a MS in Engineering from George Washington. I am also a licensed Professional Engineer.
 
Our CEO Allison Siegel is also an industrial engineer. Did you two bond over that? 
 
Absolutely! We are kindred spirits. We both love the optimization of process and doing things efficiently. I so respect Allison because she is so totally logical about every decision! Gotta love an engineer!
 
You've been described as a "serial entrepreneur." When did that start? Tell me about the first company you founded.
 
I love watching companies grow. One of my earliest experiences was making the transition from engineering to sales. I joined Trusted Information Systems as the VP of Sales. We took the revenues from $1M to $15M in a year. I was part of the IPO team to take the company public. 
 
After the sale, I was a partner in Walker Investment Funds, a $220M venture fund for early-stage companies. Absolutely fascinating work with entrepreneurs. After that, I founded TheraPearl, an ice pack company that handled both hot and cold healing. After selling 5 million packs, we sold the company to BioFreeze. I was a founder of Private Digital Networks (which did the cloud computing for the USA Today), which we sold to Agile Data Systems. Most recently, I was co-founder of Greenhouse Wellness and Blissiva, both in the cannabis space.
 
Looking back at all the businesses you were involved in, what advice would you give your younger self?
 
Don’t wait. Set reasonable goals. Don’t second guess. When you have that idea in the shower, towel off and see if it will work. Not all ideas do work but thinking it through and giving it a chance is key. My goal for TheraPearl was to sell enough to purchase a Chanel handbag. I never thought we would sell 5 million packs and be in Walmart and most all the big box stores. It still makes me smile when I walk in and see TheraPearls on the aisle. And that business was started with $5,000. We never took venture investment. 
 
You can do the same. We hope that our story will serve as an inspiration and love letter for other women who are forging their own ways in their career and lives. It is certainly the mantra that we go to bed with, and we hope it’ll be the fight song other women wake up to, or the pat on the back when they are doubting themselves.
 
That is great free advice. Switching gears, how did cannabis first enter your life?
 
After I retired (after the sale of TheraPearl), I was investing in companies. A gentleman approached me and asked if I would be interested in investing in his proposal for a cultivation and dispensary. I asked what the return profile would be (a normal question in the venture world) and he told me I wouldn’t understand the math. Seriously? I got aggravated and wrote the proposal. We won. He didn’t. Karma. Truthfully, I had never tried cannabis until we started the dispensary. I always had a security clearance, so I couldn’t. After winning the dispensary license, I used cannabis to manage my ulcer and gummies really helped address sleep issues. 
 
That's proof that what they say about karma is true! You are the co-founder and Managing Director of Greenhouse Wellness since it opened in 2017. After working in a long string in traditional businesses, especially more conservative industries like finance and IT, did you have any trepidation about working in the cannabis?
 
Absolutely.  I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t get mansplained as discussed above. If I had to share the 5 thing that I learned in cannabis:
 
1. You will lose friends. Some folks cannot accept cannabis as an alternative healing method. I hope, with the tincture of time, their opinions will change as more data becomes available.
2. You will lose your banking relationships. When I won, my bank ‘invited’ me to leave. Few banks can take money generated from cannabis. You can’t get a mortgage or checking account.
3. It is harder than any other business I have done. Regulations, inventory, taxation, cash…just all harder than a normal business.
4. Cannabis is really impactful medicine. Had I known, I would have wanted to jump in sooner.
5. Big business would come in and snatch everything up. It is becoming more apparent that smaller businesses are being edged out.
 
In November 2022, Maryland voters approved a referendum to legalize adult-use cannabis, starting as early as July 2023. How are you preparing your dispensary to change with legalization?
 
While the logistics and taxes may change with recreational, we will continue to serve our patients with their health as top of mind. We have had a curb side operation since the beginning of COVID. That will continue as well as seeing patients in the dispensary. I believe that in both adult use and medical, education is key.
 
In 2018, you co-founded Blissiva with obstetrician gynecologist Dr. Leslie Apgar. How did you two meet and decide to create a cannabis brand?
 
Leslie and I should not be friends in the traditional sense. There is hardly any common ground between us. We came from disparate backgrounds, with wildly different upbringings, education and experience. Yet the synchronicity of us meeting (back door neighbors) and becoming best friends, then partners in a federally illegal enterprise has been an absolutely wild ride. Leslie, being an OBGYN for 20 or more years, made the perfect person for insight into the ills of women. Anxiety and sleep! We wanted a discreet brand that women could use and not need to hide from children, husbands, etc.
 
On the East Coast, you were ahead of the curve on female-focused medical cannabis product line. Were there any brands you looked to for inspiration or guidance?
 
We originally looked at Foria, Whoopy and Maia and Sexy Pot. I think that perhaps one of the three is still around. And most were CBD only and didn’t properly address the issues that we found most important.
 
What were your reasons for focusing on distillate and what was the R&D process like for Blissiva?                       
 
We wanted the cleanest and safest product for our patients. Since research is still illegal in the US, we looked to Israel and their research, for the formulation of Blissiva. We wanted a product that was high in CBD. And while there was THC, it was just to take the edge off anxiety. The proper terpene formulation and smell were key.
 
What was the early customer feedback to Blissiva? Did any of the learnings surprise you?
 
We were absolutely shocked with the customer feedback. People were coming in and purchasing 10 at a time because they said they could medicate without significant psychoactive effects. We were surprised at the number of men (about 40% of our sales) that loved the product for the same reasons.
 
CULTA recently entered into a partnership with Blissiva to distribute it throughout dispensaries in Maryland. The first product to be offered will be the Blissiva Balance 0.5g vape cartridge in vanilla flavor. Why did CULTA makes sense as a partner?
 
The biggest factor for us was quality. CULTA has always had a reputation for quality products that are reproduceable and reliable. 
 
One of our core values is to take pride in our work, never settling for mediocrity, so its great to hear from another cannabis thought leader that our reputation is known for quality. What are your aspirations for the future of the Blissiva brand?
 
We plan to begin producing Soothe, our formula designed for pain, after the rollout of Vanilla Chilla Balance. We have a healing product, a product for sex and for appetite suppression.
 
Where can Maryland medical patients learn more about Blissiva? 
 
You can learn more about Blissiva at www.Blissiva.com. Or come and see us at Greenhouse Wellness.
 
Thank you Gina for sharing your experience with our readers!
 
Thank you Renier!