Dabbing in the Flow State

Seibo Shen has a lot of ideas. Over lunch earlier this month, a conversation about his new product CannAthlete led to discussions about dementia in the National Football League, jiu-jitsu competitions, and what he learned from sending edibles to cannabis testing labs.

Shen speaks with a youthful energy that belies his immense professional experience and success. Since graduating from college, Shen has seen six start-ups through successful exits, the smallest netting $161 million and the largest coming in at $3.4 billion. While Shen says he isn’t rich, he does emphasize that these dealings afford him the comfort to run his current enterprises as he sees fit, prioritizing customer satisfaction over the bottom line.

When VapeXhale hit the market in 2013, Shen brought to consumers the bong-vaporizer hybrid he saw missing in the marketplace. Called the “Cadillac of vaporizers” by Crave Online, VapeXhale provided Shen an entry point into the cannabis industry. Now he’s back again with CannAthlete, a three-product line designed to enhance each facet of the workout regime (before, during, and after) by incorporating controlled amounts of cannabinoids into the process.

I spoke with Shen over fruit and cheese plates at San Francisco’s New West Summit in early October, where he was in attendance to launch CannAthlete.

[This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.]

How did the use of cannabis by athletes first get on your radar?

I never knew how big of a problem it was until I met Eugene Monroe. He played for the Baltimore Ravens and then decided to retire. Now he’s an investor in our company. When I met him, he was telling me that some of his retired teammates have such crazy dementia that their wife and kids are scared that they might flip out and kill them one day. Originally I just thought that these were athletes who just wanted to get high. I have nothing against that, but I thought that’s all it was.

How did that lead to CannAthlete?

Two years ago, I started noticing how many athletes were getting busted for marijuana. When I Googled them, it turned out many of them were our customers, like Eugene Monroe and Rickey Williams and Jake Shields. I started emailing them to introduce myself, and I learned that the vast majority of them were consuming cannabis before they practiced. It sounded crazy to me.  Then I watched this jiu-jitsu competition, and one of the guys competing in it had a pot leaf on his jersey. It turns out that he’s from San Francisco, and I started training jiu-jitsu at his school. His name is Denny Prokopos, and he’s another guy who consumes cannabis before training. He’s also a three-time world champ.

How does Denny Prokopos feel cannabis enhances his ability to compete better?

Are you familiar with flow state? It’s a state of peak performance. Once I learned that cannabis can help you reach flow state, Denny and I started thinking about how various strains tend to work differently for different people. We wanted to figure out how to achieve a consistent experience. What we found out is that a lot of doctors and researchers believe cannabis can actually promote a state of homeostasis in your body. If you’re tired, it perks you up. If you’re overly wired, it calms you down.

Did you find that everyone uses the product in the same way?

Some athletes, like Jake Shields, only use it for recovery. Denny, on the other hand, will take a dab before he trains, another in the middle of training, and then three more at the end of training. It’s not one-size-fits-all, as with everything in life, but we do feel like at this point, from what we’ve been able to gather, four out of five people get consistently good results. That’s a lot better than a lot of other workouts that have been out on the market.

How do you combat the idea among athletes that using cannabis somehow is wrong or an impediment?

I receive at least three or four emails a day from random coworkers or people from my past life where they tell me they exercise with cannabis, but thought they were the only ones. I feel pretty good that not only are we helping people with CannAthlete, but we’re also allowing people that have been doing this in private to see there are other people just like them. Actually there are a lot of people just like them. Let’s start the conversation and come out of the green closet.

Tell me about how you developed the product. What was the process like?

In the early stages, we were buying tons of edibles and giving them to our athletes, and just seeing very inconsistent performance. What I did was I sent all of these edibles not just to a single lab but to three different labs: CW Analytical, SC Labs, and Steep Hill. What I saw was that if you put shit in, you’re going to get shit out. The dirty little secret of the industry is that most companies use $5 a gram, food-grade hash in their edibles because no one can see it.

We decided to make a raw, organic agave serum with a distillate that’s purged of all the fats, waxes, and lipids, which makes it easier for your body to absorb. We use a $30-a-gram distillate, and we’re able to make the economics work because the majority of my customers for VapeXhale were growers and extract artists that wanted to promote their flowers or oils through our device. That allowed us to basically be able to cut bro deals with them. Yes, these farmers and extract artists are motivated by money, but they’re even more motivated by awesome products being put out in the market.

What are you motivated by?

Obviously, I want to make money and feed my family, but for me, I feel super-fortunate that the one thing I love most in life is also something that society has demonized, in a way, so I get to battle and fight for it. This may not be what our investors want to hear, but I think that my strategy is that we make more money if we help more people. That’s the ideology I want to use as the ethos of this company. How do we help more people? I’m not rich, but I also don’t have to worry about next month’s mortgage payment, so I feel like I can run this company in a way where revenue isn’t the sole goal, even though it is a big goal. I want to run CannAthlete in a way that satisfies my personal desires to promote the changes I want to see in the industry. I feel lucky that I’m able to have this as my life’s mission.