Alex Valley is the founder and CEO of UNITY Wellness Co. Having previously co-founded one of the leading CBD beverage companyes in the US, Alex has the category knowledge and expertise to penetrate the CBD market for a second time. Alex has personal connections to over 500 social influencers in the health and wellness space — some with millions of followers. He is also a certified nutritionist and personal trainer.
Check out more interviews with entrepreneurs here.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET FEATURED?
All interviews are 100% FREE OF CHARGE
Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Alex Valley: Thanks for having me! My name is Alex Valley and I am the founder of UNITY, the number one CBD beverage company in the US.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Alex Valley: I’m from the Midwest and, like many others, landed in LA to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. While on set one day, I heard about a trendy grocery store called Erewhon (go figure) and decided to go and check out their famed cauliflower buffalo wings for myself. They were delicious, but what really drew me in was Erewhon’s CBD selection. I hadn’t really tried CBD before and first thought “there’s no way this stuff works.”
But when I tried it for myself and realized how wrong I was, I knew I had to bring this incredible ingredient to others. If it could help me with my stress and anxiety, maybe it could help the masses.
I started researching the market’s current CBD offerings and there simply wasn’t anything that looked, worked, and tasted good–so I decided to create my own. There weren’t really any beverage options on the market, so I decided to go for that. Funny enough, my idea at the beginning was to create CBD shots but that quickly evolved to 14 oz. beverages, adding protein bars thereafter.
Once I knew what I wanted to do, I went full steam ahead. A few other CBD brands were popping up in 2018 while we perfected our flavor and effect. It seemed that most other brands rushed to the market and forgot about taste, branding, and effect, resulting in negative sentiments from consumers.
We took our time and launched in 2019, bringing something to market that looks as good as it tastes—something for good and good for you. Fast forward two years, and we are the fastest growing CBD beverage in the US. Needless to say, going to a grocery store hungry can be a good thing!
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Alex Valley: Being self-made is a total myth. I would not be the CEO of a successful CPG company if it weren’t for the team at UNITY. Ideas are useless without execution, so you need to find a team that sees and believes in your vision and knows how to execute on it. UNITY’s founding team consistently makes ideas come to fruition because of their tenacity, relentless passion, and adaptability. I am truly lucky to have every single person on my team.
A few people have been monumental figures in UNITY by providing advice and inspiration–Charlie and Louise Wardlaw, Richard Bernsley, Zak Cosman, and many others have helped me navigate through the tough times. It always makes things easier (and less lonely) when you have great people to share challenges with!
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Alex Valley: Never trust an entrepreneur that says all has been smooth. My journey as CEO has been a bumpy road. We have had entire runs of inventory that were made unsellable, suppliers that made errors and left us with bills we could not afford to pay, vendors that wouldn’t pay us, ruthless competitors that saw us as a threat, and the list goes on. We have had a thousand dollars in the bank and $50,000 in debt, then been hit with a $40,000 bill. In difficult times like these, most people would quit, but I decided to double down, invest every penny that I had, and truly see things through.
I am so passionate about the product that I am blinded and rarely see any other option. Logically it may not always make sense, but I am all-in. Challenges are inevitable when you are a CEO at a young company, but once you get over the hump, the feelings of pride will be well worth it.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Alex Valley: UNITY is a food and beverage company with a line of 6 light and refreshing CBD beverages and two protein bar variations. While we are known for our great-tasting and effective CBD beverages and protein bars, we are also known for our giant red “U” that is front and center on our packaging!
As CEO, I strive to do things right and champion the cannabis industry as a whole. My goal is to eliminate the stigmas and misconceptions around the cannabis space. If we can do that well, we can put cannabis in the hands of those that need it most. The more mass-market appeal there is, the more medical research there will be that goes into all things cannabis. There is still a lot to be researched on a plethora of diseases and ailments that some cannabinoids may potentially be able to help with. That excites me.
I genuinely want to help people and started UNITY to do just that. We have stayed true to that, even after raising millions of dollars, hiring many teammates, and evolving so much as a company.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Alex Valley: Technically speaking, CEO stands for Chief Executive Officer, which is traditionally understood as the person in charge or the decision-maker. My experience as a CEO encompasses much more. While I do make tons of decisions and am forced to navigate constant judgment calls, I would say my main role as CEO is the “visionary”. I have a big vision for UNITY and can see where we are headed. In all, a CEO should do their best in leading their team to success, whatever that means for them. One of the ways I lead the team is by empowering each person to make their own judgment calls and learn from them, enabling each of them to trust their gut even more and grow as individuals.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Alex Valley: I have owned my own businesses since 14 so it was never something I thought about. Titles are pretty irrelevant in a startup. What is relevant is the evolution of responsibilities and daily workload as you go from doing things yourself to hiring a full team. The biggest challenge for me was not being involved in every decision when the team was young. Relinquishing power is a common pitfall of startup founders. UNITY was my baby and it was really hard not to be a hover-dad! That said, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my management style is to hire the best people out there, educate them, and let them manage themselves.
I supply the tools to succeed, but their individual success is in their hands. It’s okay if they make mistakes. I make mistakes, too. Although delegation is not easy, by evaluating my team on their crisis management skills, I am able to better understand what they can handle individually. This didn’t necessarily surprise me about becoming a CEO, but I am constantly in awe of my team’s talents. Each of them brings so much to the table and I’m grateful to be surrounded by inspiring human beings each day.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Alex Valley: I think most CEOs will intuitively know what they should focus on for their specific brand or company, whether that be sales, marketing, operations, etc. At the end of the day, CEOs need to be the visionaries for the brand. They need to have big ideas, overarching goals, and help lead each team (marketing, PR, sales, etc.) to success.
Personally, I started by doing everything in the business, mainly out of necessity. Because I did this, I had a deep understanding of every role. When hiring it is much easier to pick the best of the best if you have first-hand knowledge of what’s required and how to do it. From there, you can transition to being the problem-solving visionary that most great CEOs end up becoming!
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Alex Valley: I am going through a few right now. One of the largest was dropping our CBD supplier when their quality fell. They are one of the biggest and most cost-effective out there but we hold ourselves to a very high standard. When we dropped them we did not have a solution. As a CBD beverage company, that’s a huge risk. It ended up working out as we now have an incredibly high-quality supplier, but it wasn’t easy in the slightest!
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Alex Valley: The definition of success is, without a doubt, different for everyone. For business, success means building a community and cultivating genuine fans of the brand. Facebook and Instagram advertising is off the table for CBD companies, so UNITY has had to utilize influencers and industry tastemakers to scale and build credibility and community amongst GenZennial consumers. Through our community, we hope to find happy consumers – people who really enjoy our products.
Personally, success means being able to do whatever I want, when I want to. Having the freedom to command your own schedule is liberating. Having the money to do whatever (within reason) that you want makes for more comfort and enjoyment in life.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Alex Valley: Just like with any job at any management level, there are soft skills and hard skills. Hard skills may include knowing Excel or Photoshop, while soft skills include adaptability or conflict resolution. Cultivating a toolbox of soft skills is an important part of being a good CEO because it’s essential you learn how to effectively communicate with your team, investors, customers, and the like. I’ve always been a pretty sociable guy and know how to speak persuasively about products I’m passionate about, but one thing I struggled with at first was overseeing and managing my team. I never wanted to be a micromanager, but I, naturally, wanted to make sure things were getting done quickly and well.
Through trial-and-error, I learned how to stay involved with each team’s projects while putting my trust in my teammates. Being a strong, compassionate, and involved leader, without micromanaging, is incredibly effective at moving the needle for your business – and at the end of the day, that’s what I want!
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Alex Valley: Being a pandemic-era brand breeds many consequences. Traditionally, brands would use sampling (think Redbull or Costco) to generate awareness of their products and, in turn, drive sales. During the pandemic, sampling in a way was simply not feasible. How can a beverage and food brand generate awareness, trial, and sales without sampling? UNITY decided to bet on influencer marketing.
Other brands were using influencer marketing to drive awareness and sales for their companies, but they were using macro-influencers with millions of followers. We wanted to take a different approach and target micro-influencers in the 20,000-100,000 follower range. Ultimately our goal was to partner with people who will talk about UNITY with their friends—not because they are paid to but because they truly do appreciate the product. That word of mouth is important.
As a team of millennial consumers ourselves, we understand the purchasing influences of our target demographic and so we decided to focus on these niche influencers in a very grassroots effort. As a result, UNITY has seen a huge increase in our eCommerce sales since March of 2020 and was recently signed by Republic National Distributing Company, the nation’s second-biggest wholesale beverage and alcohol distributor. In RNDC’s latest roll-out, UNITY is one of six CBD beverage brands to be carried in stores across the U.S. We are thrilled!
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting out on their journey?
Alex Valley: Create a product or service that you truly believe in and find a team that supports your vision. With a team to support your vision, you can achieve anything and keep pushing toward your goals, together. Creating a product or service that you believe in will inspire you to continue on the journey even when the going gets tough – and it will. UNITY is a team of misfits trying to do good in the world and provide good products.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Alex Valley: The ability to speak another language, specifically Spanish! I am confident that I could learn but I have never given myself the time to do it. Maybe somebody out there reading can help teach me!
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Alex Valley: “Work Smarter AND Harder”! The only reason that I am here doing this interview is that I have done both. I have gone up against more experienced founders with more funding and been able to prevail through perseverance and strategy. You can, too!
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Alex Valley for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Alex Valley or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.