Charles McElroy, Founder, Goldleaf

Thinking Outside The Bud - Charles McElroy

Charles McElroy, Founder, Goldleaf

Charles McElroy is the founder of Goldleaf, a science-forward printing company for cannabis growers, patients and enthusiasts. Goldleaf empowers people by helping them better understand their interactions with the plant, and works to make the subject more approachable to new audiences.

A former volunteer with Marijuana Policy Project, a history supporting veterans education and access to medical marijuana, and several years studying permaculture and organic farming in Ohio and Colorado, McElroy created Goldleaf to benefit the evolving recreational and medical cannabis communities.

Goldleaf products are available worldwide and the company also provides custom design services, now adorning select dispensaries and white-label products across the U.S. Formerly COO at Noble Denim & Victor Athletics, a sustainable and ethical clothing manufacturer, McElroy holds a B.S. in Engineering Technology and Management from Ohio University with an MBA track at Miami University in Business Informatics.


[00:00:01] You're listening to Thinking Outside the Bud where we speak with entrepreneurs investors thought leaders researchers advocates and policymakers who are finding new and exciting ways for cannabis to positively impact business society and culture. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt.

[00:00:30] Are you a CEO looking to scale your company faster and easier. Checkout Thrive Roundtable thrive combines a moderated peer group mastermind expert one on one coaching access to proven growth tools and a 24/7 support community created by Inc. Award winning CEO and certified scaling up business coach Bruce Eckfeldt. Thrive will help you grow your business more quickly and with less drama. For details on the program visit That's E C K F E L D

[00:01:08] Welcome everyone this is Thinking Outside The Bud. I'm Bruce Eckfeldt. I'm your host and our guest today is Charles McElroy and he is founder of Goldleaf which is a printing company for cannabis growers patients and enthusiasts.

[00:01:18] We're gonna find out a little bit more about the really interesting products that he creates and we're gonna learn why he creates them and a little bit as background so with that.

[00:01:26] Charles welcome to the program. Thanks Bruce. Happy to be here. Yeah and I'm excited about this because I was I was going through some of your products and I was formerly an architect before I got into technology and business coaching and all this.

[00:01:39] So this is a fascinating kind of mole skin meets Edward tough D kind of information graphics kind of.

[00:01:45] Thanks I'm really I'm really curious to kind of hear how you give up but that is how you came up the products.

[00:01:50] But before we get into those we'd love to learn a little bit more about you and your background. So what do you tell us a little bit about how you know kind of professional background and how you got into the cannabis business. Sure yeah.

[00:02:00] So my my background is varied like most peoples I assume and I'm I guess classically trained in computer science but I wouldn't say that that's kind of been a passion of mine it's kind of just been something that I've felt my my mind was wired for so. So a lot of it kind of came easy to me but yeah it's never given me a great deal of joy directly although I have used those those teachings and skills in a lot of other ways that have given me joy. So yeah yeah. Beyond that I definitely have kind of been around I studied permaculture a bit. I've you know tried my hand in that side of things and I yeah I kind of have always also been been keeping up with my creative side and I've been a designer or an artist for as long as I can remember and you know that's taken different flavors throughout my life. But I'm I'm really excited that kind of the end piece here which is in my opinion like a perfect melding of the analytical and the creative thinking which which gold leaf is kind of the vehicle for that.

[00:03:05] And yeah. So you know I also spent some time in the entrepreneurial world prior to gold leaf with a an organic clothing company that we helped start. And my part there was kind of running the the online operations and then the sourcing and the product development. I wouldn't call myself a fashionista or anything like that. But I did I did really enjoy the kind of learning the textile world and you know getting to know the the different factory partners and one of the things we did with the clothing company is we focused on sourcing everything as close to home as possible so we were able to find like organic cotton in Georgia get it milled in North Carolina and manufactured in Tennessee. Yeah and yeah. So we've kind of turned over the leaf or whatever the expression is there and we've sold off the company and that was that was kind of what gave me I guess a taste of the entrepreneurial world and given me the confidence and self-reliance to kind of start boldly. So you know from the ashes comes something something else right.

[00:04:12] So exactly. It's all it's all a circle I've worked with many entrepreneurs have cycled through you know various businesses and startups both successful and not so successful so soon.

[00:04:21] You know there's always going to be kind of the next the next venture at the next Star project the next business so I get it I get it. Yeah.

[00:04:29] So you spent some time at marijuana policy project MPP. How did you get involved with them and what did you learn. I guess in your work with with that side of kind of the cannabis space yeah.

[00:04:40] So you know I'm based in Ohio right now and that's kind of where I grew up a little bit you know like I said I'm back here now and so I kind of always thought of this as my all. Even though I've I've hung Manhattan many places in the country. So it was important to me that we had a kind of responsible legislation for for the legalization of cannabis either medical or recreational or however it was going to shake out. And it's kind of been hot and cold in Ohio you know like Ohio is a big swing state. There's I think a lot of clout is held here as far as other Rust Belt Midwest states kind of seeing what we do.

[00:05:16] And let's see I'll probably get the years wrong here but 2014 or something we we had a initiative on the ballot that was a little messy it was going to essentially give it it was like monopoly type. Organization where a few a few high bidders we ought to basically get exclusivity to smile right. Yeah. So a lot of people in the state who were very pro you know a responsible policy balked at that as I think they probably should. You know some people have this sentiment like pass it now and then fix it later. Others were like we only have one chance at this let's do it right. So it obviously did not pass and the next war was when MPP came to Ohio with interest on creating a fresh ballot initiative that was a little bit more you know egalitarian and fair to everybody. And that was kind of cut off by Ohio's conservative government. They they said like OK MPP is basically batting a thousand here.

[00:06:17] They're probably going to get something passed and we have an opportunity to essentially kick them out of our state by passing our own thing. So you see conservative politicians actually passing a a a measure without the ballot. And I think we're still the first state to have done that. So they passed a pre-emptive ballot initiative which strategically made MPP say to themselves Yeah this isn't worth our time anymore you know X state so my my role there was kind of you know getting ready to do some boots on the ground work and just general Grassroots Volunteering until it all fell apart.

[00:06:55] So I kept my ear to the ground went and attended the various discussions that our legislation had with you know with citizens and you know largely they were very very very liberal in those conversations but behind closed doors it was kind of the opposite. So where we're at in Ohio is we do have a medical policy that was rolled out in kind of a intentionally slow as molasses type of way. But that was a while ago and now it's you know we're actually behind all of the legal deadlines they set for themselves. But I don't actually think there's repercussions there. But you know all that to say medical is legal here and has been for over a year. But just just now we're starting to see the first facilities opening up the facilities dispensaries labs and all that. So it's exciting to see those opportunities open up for the people here in the state and I think this sentiment especially what we've experienced with gold leaf has has totally changed since 2012 or 2014 whichever year I can't remember.

[00:08:00] You know having kids really change as it does does something to your memory and your brain cells I think I agree.

[00:08:07] Yeah yeah yeah well it's a good I'm glad you shared that because I think that you know for our listeners you know an understanding kind of the nuances and some of the drama that happen on a state by state basis is important you know everyone kind of hears this. You know this this trend of you know all these states passing legislation and then there's cannabis businesses everywhere. And the fact is is that it is each state is actually quite different. The dynamics are quite different. You know how the sort of interaction between politics and culture and society really is really as unique and creates unique situations and you know the story of how long it's taking just because a measures are passed or a ballot pass legislation is written it doesn't mean that all of a sudden you know there's there's cannabis on every corner you know setting up the you know the licensing the regulation operations the real estate the facilities the testing like all that just takes it takes a while you know so as much as this is you know kind of overnight boom of cannabis it's that there is a delay and there is a process to it. So it's OK. So Ohio right now medically legal limited limited availability which is not you know not uncommon. I think in several of these kind of states that have been adopting the last couple of years but good. So I think that gives us a basis on how you've connected to the cannabis and what's going on Ohio. So tell us about gold leaf so you know from a entrepreneurial point of view it was a phoenix rising from the ashes from a fashion textile company win I guess Win Win did the spark happen when was the idea. Give it give us a sense of what these are because we mentioned they're kind of publishing and we mentioned there's these journals of stuff. Talk to us what the products are and then you know what was the what was the moment of inspiration when do those come to you.

[00:09:47] Yeah well you know honestly I've kind of been been passionate about cannabis for a really long time. That was you know I mentioned kind of having that bad experience out in Colorado with growing a bit and I think the inspiration came. It's been in my head for a while because I noticed that a lot of these these hobbyist growers would always keep journals when I was when I was living out there and dabbling I would do one you know as well obviously larger operations commercial facilities are going to probably either be automated or using something a little bit more robust but that's not that's not a big portion of the grower population like there's a. Individuals who who grow their own medicine or their own their own stuff and it just seemed like that was something that I would enjoy. I've always kept journals for all the work I do and I always really enjoy the user experience and layout. That's those are my favorite components of design and and technology. So it's kind of there's not like a eureka moment I would say it's just kind of something I've always been batting around and even when I was keeping my own journals I would draw. little graphs like blank graphs that I would fill in later so that when I could come back to a page I could I could see the answer I'm looking for really quickly and easily. So it was after the clothing company when some of my colleagues started getting burned out.

[00:11:17] As I was that I kind of just mentally shifted gears and started focusing a little bit more on developing the creative assets for gold leaf. And I really wanted to to do the patient side first. I have a lot of family I mentioned before we got on on the air here that a lot of my family is from Michigan. A lot of them are veterans and they've you know experienced a lot of issues from their service from Agent Orange from cancers PTSD and some of them have used cannabis their whole life very successfully to help combat some of the symptoms so I've seen the medical benefits of it and it's just kind of been been ingrained with with me as I as I grew up and so I wanted to do something that helped that side of things but I wanted to do it right. So the development and the patient side of gold leaf all line took over a year. I passed it through as many experts as I could before we really start first version. So in a nutshell we started with the growers side first which was kind of like our wait to do a proof of concept where we essentially created a template a journal kind of like a in a five size mole skin. We had a pocket size as well except it was it was template ID and guided.

[00:12:30] So if you don't know what you're doing in the growth space there are prompts to indicate what you should be tracking what you should be writing down and how you can repeat your successes in the garden. So each journal was kind of made for one grow. I thought that that would be a good a good way to kind of index your progress instead of having a really long one that would be less likely that you could easily find the answers because that's a big part of the whole point of this is is for it to be a tool for yourself. So that's that was kind of our initial product was was the grow journals and yeah as I mentioned with the patient ones were shortly behind and as as I was kind of developing more content I was working with other experts in the space I brought on some more designers to help with some of the busy work and we started focusing essentially on creating really unique IP of four for the cannabis space. So these are all educationally focused science forward pieces from like art prints and posters that are. you know perfect for like a dispensary or a doctor's office or anybody who basically is just enthusiastic and passionate about the science behind cannabis. So we've we've got a lot of like you know normal normal people who buy our stuff as well as as well as other businesses because that is something that that I learned was very very missing in the cannabis space.

[00:13:56] And as I was developing the journal side this never really changed and it still hasn't. Which is the lack of education in these states and what we were talking about earlier with how every state rules things out differently. That's part of the problem. There's not a unified like system of measurement even or you know as far as potency is and how to how to grade different cannabis products as well as a general education. It's really interesting we at this point we do a lot of B2B type of work like custom custom work custom projects where we're either making a product or we're making education for them and if we have a client in Florida what we're designing for them is so different than if we have a client in California. And the difference is just the the general I guess Zeit Geist of what people know like in Florida. There's a lot of educating folks on the differences between Indica and City VA and how that's really not a great way to think about it anymore. Whereas in California everybody knows that. So so the types of design contracts work we're doing in California are very different. They're you know maybe a little bit more in the weeds you know like a piece focusing squarely on decarbonisation or something.

[00:15:15] Something like that. So it's fascinating the differences there and you know from gold leaf standpoint we try to part of our mission is to make the complex things behind cannabis interesting and approachable. So we cover all these. And we try to make make kind of like a unified I guess menu of information and something that somebody in you know a new stay a brand new state. That's that's new to everything kind of like Ohio vs. a place like Oregon. They would be accessible to both kind of groups. So that's something that's that's real important to what we do at gold leaf and you know I think I've probably talked to way past your question that's fine.

[00:15:57] But I think it's interesting because I think on one hand you know I've been looking to the products and we know on one hand they're highly informational. I mean you're covering some really interesting topics and there's actually quite a bit of content on there and a lot of kind of explanation and education on the other hand they're quite beautiful pieces. They're quite a static do you see these as something that you would hang in kind of a consultation kind of space where someone's in the throes of figuring out what products to use or in the lobby to help add to the kind of the aesthetic appeal of of an environment which which is your primary focus or intent here.

[00:16:28] Yeah that's a really good call out. So I've always found that if a design is is pleasing if it pulls you in then that just makes it that makes the information contained in it that much more pleasing and likely to be retained. So that's kind of been something caught everything we've done which is really make sure everything is kind of kissed with that that is authentically pleasing touch on the first go. So the short answer is both of those avenues are perfectly awesome for us. And we do have had some of our prints in more you know meat and potatoes patient experience type places as well as more you know maybe maybe nicer or upscale dispensaries or or co-ops or something. So I think they're they're not necessarily made for one or the other. We just want to make sure that the design integrity is high because that's another thing that seems to have been missing at least for the most part in the cannabis space is is that that more this style of design I guess that we're using. It's a little modern and minimalist. You know we pull influence from like the Danish Modern Movement and Dollhouse and that kind of stuff and people like that it's it's kind of in right now I guess a lot of other you know other brands not in the Kansas cannabis space we'll use that. And I think it's potentially disarming to people which is what we want.

[00:17:56] Yeah well I think that's a big one.

[00:17:57] I mean I think you're hitting on an issue that's come up in several conversations I've had which is you know as as this space kind of expands and more and more people get kind of into the kind of a space or as a kind of grows you know we kind of struggle with this traditional pop culture you know. I'll call it you know you know I think there's an aesthetic or there's a design power behind it that I think has been there for a long time. And as it comes into kind of more mainstream markets Yeah I think it's been problematic right. I think people have been challenged by it and certainly I think as we as we grow and as we're bringing more more people into the market there's going to be a need for lots of different segmentation and brands and stuff so I mean I guess you know me personally I mean part of its having been an architect and I think having a design background myself. You know there is an immediate draw to it. I mean there was an immediate while this is something quite different and quite well thought out and well considered from a design point of view and not just I mean aesthetically it's quite good. But from an informational design point of view it's just really kind of thinking through you know how to create how to create something that is yes is aesthetically pleasing but also informational be helpful and accurate and insightful. So I'm curious on the journal side and we can geek out on journals here a little bit but I haven't having done various journals you know design personal or otherwise business over the years I've always found there's a couple of different benefits up journals.

[00:19:16] I mean in terms of the once you have here as I kind of look at them and I'll kind of explain for readers.

[00:19:22] You mentioned that their template ties and it's it's fascinating.

[00:19:24] It really is it's kind of a it's a map it's a sort of informational map of what you what you need to capture as you go through your process if you're on the growth side it has a little boxes and charts and diagrams for kind of filling in everything you need I guess as you see this as like a recipe kind of instruction book or is this the kind of the science notebook to go back and review notes post or how do you see this being used by. By function we could talk about the growth side for a little bit just because I was the first one that you did. How did how did that play out for you.

[00:19:56] Yeah I I honestly think the answer would be very different based on the subject you're talking about so. So we covered grow as you mentioned medical uses as well as cooking and culinary and then just general enjoyment where the focus is for each are very different. So the growing I think it's pretty logical you'll you'll use it to track your entire growth cycle you're capturing things like your feeding schedule your custom feeding schedule you're you're either monthly or weekly outlook when you're switching your your nutrients they're open ended enough to. Comedy pretty much any Grosz style from from hydroponics soils or organic or whatever you're doing.

[00:20:36] And then you know the idea being that you'll kind of create a series as you go and then you can look back at what was that. You know what was that grow did two times ago. What was happening in week seven because I'm still getting like these this yellowing of somehow you know. So it's a very simple way to go reference something the medical side is is very different because we did develop that. hand in hand with with physicians so that it follows. It really is from a patient experience not a cannabis for an ear piece. So you know the idea of being there is is there's a few positives to it. One you're creating your own your own log that you can use to be kind of a bridge between you and your your doctor or your caregiver as a conversation piece. They can kind of monitor what you're doing so if you're brand new to it it's perfect. Even if you've been using it for a while it's also very helpful because there are prompts that let you get into things that you maybe haven't thought about or haven't done before. So there are there prompts for things like what other medication are you on. Have you eaten today. Are you dehydrated. All of these little things will play a part in your experience with your therapy. And furthermore people always ask why why we don't do like an app or something especially with when I have a background in development.

[00:21:57] It's a bit of a Luddite approach to this process.

[00:22:00] Well it really is and you know my answer is like why would I do that. I don't see the merit because I'm writing something down with an analog tool has a number of additional benefits especially in the wellness space. So it's it's meditative it forces your mind to re compose thoughts as you're writing which helps memory. It's it generally makes the experience of thinking about yourself as you're going through this experience. It makes you more cognizant of things. There are no distractions. Also you're never going to need to update it or charge any of that stuff. And you know some folks have issues with with vision and in their eyesight you know not blindness but coma or other other types of eye strain especially when you're when you're using cannabis and a screen is really really difficult to want to continue to use when you're doing that. So for all those reasons the more we did focus on on the dependent paper approach. That's also a little more secure. And it's also again more approachable that people everybody knows how to use it. And a big part of gold Leaf's aesthetic why we chose to do this very clean and clinical look to everything we do is like we're talking about earlier to to avoid that polarizing like look of stoner culture. So you know people slightly older than myself will have lots of different connotations with cannabis versus somebody younger than myself.

[00:23:33] I'm in my 30s and I think that the way that we've kind of undertaken this it elevates the whole subject. And it's tough for somebody to kind of just write it off or toss it out the door because you know I wouldn't say we Tigger zones overly seriously but we do we do kind of champion the subject is something that that is worth showing in this kind of more and more clinical way. And so yeah the journals definitely kind of carry that through not only visually but in the voice they guide you as far as what you should think about and put down. But they're not telling you what to do at all. We're we're intentional not to do that because what the science tells us is that there is still so much more to know and there are some some rules of thumb that are starting to kind of bubble up that everybody's accepting now as kind of the fact. But for the most part everybody's different. And the science just shows us that that because of that you can't really say simply that you know this is the dose you should start with or this is the cultivar that is going to give you the best results for Parkinson's or anything like that.

[00:24:42] Yeah I got it. You mentioned a couple times. Having worked with users or experts or in terms of developing these any interesting kind of surprises or epiphanies or experiences that you've had in getting feedback from folks I'm most curious about you know folks that actually sit down and really do customer development I mean really sit down and work with the people that are gonna use this thing and.

[00:25:04] Have them interact with it observe them get insights incorporate those insights into you know future versions. What were some learnings or takeaways that you had from that process.

[00:25:12] Yet again every every kind of subject that we tackle is very different. So again I would say the medical side is the most complex and robust it's the one that has E. we've spent the most time on we've passed through the most hands. We're on the 12th version of our. Patient Journal for example Yeah we do print in small batches for for the reason I mentioned like stuff changes and we want the ability to update it. So we've negotiated pretty great deals with our factory partners to be able to do that. And we're coming out with the new editions about every quarter at every half a year. I'm updating things accordingly. So you with the patient side it's funny. So the initial year I mentioned of developments I was partially searching for for a doctor who would let us publicly use their name. A lot of my connections with doctors were in Texas Tennessee and Ohio and all states that don't have great cannabis policies or at least didn't. And although they were very helpful I was not able to use their names publicly because it would be a danger to their career and their practice and all that. I have since found some that are totally fine with it and they've like Doctor A.T. Poe is is a co-editor of our recent editions and she's kind of vetted everything we'd already developed and signed off on it and added some of her own insights which were very very cool and I'm happy to talk more about one of those. And she had a good point and it's something that we had started doing but didn't do in a in a consistent way. And I'm glad that we've kind of righted that which is always as part of our communication always using the correct vernacular because words matter and so we're not using marijuana. That's no surprise.

[00:26:57] But we're also not using strain that that's something that she said and other doctors have said this that that's for that's specifically for viruses that's for those types of organisms just the proper term would be cultivar for well for a strain you know for a specific piece.

[00:27:16] So that's something that's still not that common. And when I say that word using context clues people get it. But we've sense kind of that's just one example there's there's a handful of terms that we try to you know I wouldn't say popularized but just use correctly if we do have that science forward touch. So I think it's appropriate to always use the you know the scientific vernacular and ensure we're using the correct nomenclature in any of our published works. And you know that was something that was that was pretty cool to have her share even looking through you know at the source medical journals and stuff you'll see these in correct terms correct. Yeah. And really you know you're talking about changing changing like a world view because when a scientific paper is referring to something as marijuana they're not doing it to hearken back to the derogatory history or whatever it's just what they think people know it as Yeah it's only a reference I am what I think you think they are human.

[00:28:18] So yeah it's interesting.

[00:28:21] I like it. I mean I would say that you know the products are quite powerful cool you know very well made and you know they clearly have an intent.

[00:28:28] And I think that you know that that comes from kind of that attention to detail and attention to value and I think your focus on some of these language nuances and you know being clear being precise on that is clearly a value you know comes up on the designs and stuff too it's clear that you're you're taking that kind of attention to detail and all all levels of the product so you know I applaud you for that.

[00:28:49] I think it's some you know I think that having a core value like that and really making sure it's it's threaded through everything that you do is important.

[00:28:56] So we're gonna hit time here if people want to find out more about gold leaf about the products about the journals about the prince. What's the best way to get that information.

[00:29:05] Or our Web site is our beating heart. Online you can find it at Gold Leaf dot org or shop gold leaf dot com. And I'd also say if anybody's interested in seeing some of our. our inspirations or design inspirations since we've been talking a lot about that we've got we keep our our Pinterest account and our Instagram account pretty updated with kind of visual things that we're inspired by or other things that we find neat in the cannabis space. Great. And yeah those are those are the two best places.

[00:29:36] All right I will. I'll make sure that you're all in your handles on Pinterest and then star on the show notes. People can click here and see those. Charles it's been a pleasure. It's really it's great to spend some time with someone who's looking at the design side and the information side and creating some really nice products. So it's been a lot of fun.

[00:29:54] Thank you Bruce. I really appreciate your time and I'm glad that we have an active chat.

[00:29:59] Yes well we'll do it again soon. Thank you.

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