Charles McElroy is the founder of Goldleaf @gldleaf, 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.
We recently invited Charles for a Q&A session to talk about his background and his company, Goldleaf.
Ganjly: What is your background and what inspired you to create thoughtful products like the Goldleaf journal?
Charles McElroy: My background is all over the place. I have a degree in computer science, have worked at big tech companies, the music industry, studied permaculture and worked on farms and helped start a sustainable clothing company. The commonality in all of those is the intersection of analytical thought and creativity. That is my sweet spot, and that is the itch that Goldleaf scratches. Goldleaf journals are all about the UX and the marriage of design and functionality. The same goes for our data visualization prints and other artwork. Beyond that, I’m creating things that I’d want to use and see. Some of our products are for enthusiasts alone but may serve a more functional purpose and I love making tools and items that help people—either with their health, their craft or their passion. This was the main inspiration for me.
Ganjly: How many employees do you have and what kind of traits do you look for when hiring new members?
Charles McElroy: Goldleaf has three partners. We all wear multiple hats, but have our focuses, too. That said, we work with around eight different contract workers regularly for tasks like accounting, legal, and additional art and design. For the creative services, we look for someone who gets the brand, and who has already shown a proclivity for being able to do what we want. I’ve learned that it isn’t wise to hire someone who has never done what you are asking and then expect them to knock it out of the park. The talent might be clearly present, but if they haven’t demonstrated a style you are after, it will likely not turn out like you had hoped. I think finding designers who are ‘within’ the style you need also helps them in their confidence and the overall project communication. We’ve put together a great team of ‘regulars’, but are always looking for other talents. I think a shared vision is the most important thing here—rather than any particular stance on cannabis. I haven’t really met anyone who is opposed to what we do at Goldleaf, even traditional businesses (CPAs, manufacturers, etc.), they all think it is pretty great.
Ganjly: What is the most challenging experience you have had in the cannabis industry so far?
Charles McElroy: The biggest challenge is butting heads with tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest. They may be progressive thinkers in some ways, but in my experience, not when it comes to the subject of cannabis. The tough part is that they are the gatekeepers to the internet and online commerce. Even if you aren’t attempting to run online ads, cannabis brands are handicapped based on the subject of our products, the keywords we’d like to target, etc. I understand the difficulties tech companies face with keeping what they deem as ‘illegal drugs’ out of their platform and their desire to carve out a safe place for their users. However, cannabis is no longer illicit in many states, and I think tech companies need to embrace that. With Goldleaf, our wares are printed materials and educational in nature, so it is frustrating to be blacklisted and painted as though our activities are criminal when we only deal in information and do so in an intentionally science-focused, clinical and mature way. I know much of this challenge is due to algorithms rather than people, but in our experience, even when you get people involved, they don’t always side with logic or freedom of speech. Rather, they are afraid to upset the pre-existing rules put forth by these companies.
Ganjly: What is your proudest moment since you started down this path of being an entrepreneur in the cannabis space?
Charles McElroy: I think we’ve had two—each pulling on different emotions. One was a general resounding affirmation that our brand, aesthetic and approach worked, and was refreshing to many in the space. This affirmation has come steadily in the way of emails, conversations, and articles and it is difficult to pin down an exact instance, but it feels really good to know that the cannabis industry at large appreciates our work, products, and normalizing the subject. The other moment, which is more finite, was a conversation I had with a medical patient from Michigan. She reached out to tell me her story and experience with our Patient Journal. She suffered from fibromyalgia and was new to cannabis—but all other medication had not worked for her (at least in a sustainable way). Like many others, she was prescribed opioids and they wreaked havoc on her digestive system and she was worried that she was too drugged up all the time. She told me that her son had given her our journal, and under the direction of a caregiver, had used it to track her symptoms and identify some key factors to help her cannabis treatment. She figured out the best doses and lab profiles to seek out and was able to taper her opiate pills until they were eventually replaced with cannabis. It was great to talk to her and hear her real experience with one of our products and to see how it could directly help empower someone to improve their therapy and steer clear of more dangerous substances. That was a great moment.
Ganjly: Do you have plans for new products, services or events and would you be willing to drop any hints about what we can expect from your company in the future?
Charles McElroy: We’re working on several pretty great collaborations with some fantastic organizations in the industry. I can’t talk much about them just yet, but we hope to launch a new journal series and new art prints this summer. Beyond that, we plan to continue to grow our B2B offerings. Those have been a big hit, and we love working with other cannabis businesses and dispensaries, outfitting them with unique co-branded and white-label products. We currently offer a variety of customizations, and although we have been able to negotiate low minimums for the print industry with our manufacturer partners—we hope to continue to lower the barrier for custom products. I think our product line is unlike any other right now, and a unique ancillary item for any dispensary. Not only is it practical for users, but it is affordable and gives other businesses an opportunity for more brand awareness and interaction with their audience.
Ganjly: What is your advice for hopeful cannabis entrepreneurs who are considering joining the cannabis industry? What are the positives and negatives they should expect?
Charles McElroy: Whatever you do, do it well. Just like any industry, a rising tide lifts all ships and offering something unique, well made, innovative, etc., is great for everyone, and the industry will support it. Since the cannabis industry takes a certain kind of person to ‘jump in’—there is a kinship and kindness that’s oftentimes present, more so than other industries I have experienced. New entrepreneurs coming to the table with something great, will be met with support. I think the negative is saturation right now—there are tons of new startups, and not all of them are necessarily well conceived. I suppose that is the negative, but you’ll find that with any industry. If you love what you do, and you do it well, you don’t have anything to worry about.
Thank you, Charles, for taking the time out to talk to us!
Goldleaf creates science-forward and thoughtful products for cannabis enthusiasts. Passionate about clean, intuitive design, Goldleaf is making complex information more approachable. Whether producer or end user, Goldleaf provides aesthetically pleasing scientific designs, from portable jotter style notebooks to full-scale guidebooks and educational prints.