Breaking Barriers: Caitlyn Krebs on Leading Cannabis Biotech and Balancing Family Life

Episode 243

Show Notes

Cannabis Innovation with Caitlyn Krebs

Did you know that men make up 92% of CEOs of S&P 500 companies? Embracing the spirit of “if you can see it, you can be it,” we continue our Women in Business series with Caitlyn Krebs, CEO and co-founder of Nalu Bio, a pioneering startup immersed in the cutting-edge world of cannabis biotech. Caitlyn shares how tagging endangered turtles in Hawaii as a kid ignited her love for science, how she balances the demands of running a company with two young children, and why she believes in “no-high” cannabinoids. Discover how Nalu Bio’s innovative approach is transforming cannabis into a vital everyday supplement, much like vitamins.

“I believe cannabinoids are the next big thing, much like vitamins were 70 years ago. Back then, no one knew what vitamins did or what they were for, but now everyone takes them.”

If you enjoyed this episode, we’d recommend Episode 241, Kiva’s Kristi Palmer on Building a Cannabis Empire.

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[00:00:00] Ellen Scanlon: This podcast discusses cannabis and is intended for audiences 21 and over.

[00:00:12] Ellen Scanlon: Support for How to Do the Pot comes from Cann. Instead of a glass of wine, have you tried a cannabis beverage yet? Drinkable, delicious cannabis that’s as refreshing and sociable as your favorite drink, but hold the alcohol. Use promo code DOTHEPOT for 20 percent off when you visit drinkcan. com. That’s drink C A N N.

[00:00:36] Ellen Scanlon: Try a can today and relax at the end of the day without worrying about a hangover.

[00:00:48] Caitlyn Krebs: I just love being on the cutting edge of science and technology, and I believe cannabinoids are the next thing. They were like vitamins 70 years ago. Nobody knew what vitamins did or what they were for, but now everyone takes them and we’ve got, you know, vitamin E and D and K. So I, I think cannabinoids are exactly the same as vitamins.

[00:01:09] Ellen Scanlon: Welcome to How To Do The Pod, a podcast helping you feel confident about cannabis. I’m your host, Ellen Skamlan.

[00:01:23] Ellen Scanlon: You just heard from Caitlin Krebs, the California based CEO and co founder of NaluBio, a cannabis biotech company. Today’s show is part of our ongoing Women in Business series, all about women, power, and money in the cannabis industry. Thanks Kaitlin is a woman and a CEO, which is kind of shockingly rare.

[00:01:50] Ellen Scanlon: Listen to this stat. In 2023, 10 new female CEOs joined companies in the S& P 500 index. So now women CEOs finally outnumber CEOs with the first name, John. True story. It turns out that only 8 percent of CEO positions in the S and P 500 are held by women. Only 8 percent the stats track in cannabis too.

[00:02:26] Ellen Scanlon: According to a report by MJ biz daily, only 8 percent of all cannabis CEOs are women. To be very clear, women make up 50 percent of the population. So why are 92 percent of CEOs men? I did some research and found that there are three explanations that are frequently cited. They’re a little tough to hear.

[00:02:54] Ellen Scanlon: So bear with me. Here goes. The first reason is the potential difference in skills between male and female CEOs with an idea that women excel in soft skills like teamwork and communication while men thrive in hard skills like analysis, strategy, and execution. Another explanation is that family responsibilities can hold back women’s career advancement.

[00:03:24] Ellen Scanlon: The last common reason is sadly, just plain discrimination against promoting women into leadership positions. The takeaway is that nearly all CEOs of companies are men, which has wide ranging implications for women’s professional success. So in the spirit of, if you can see it, you can be it. I’m very happy to introduce you to Caitlin Krebs.

[00:03:52] Ellen Scanlon: A founder and CEO and a mother of two young boys. In today’s show, we’ll hear how Caitlin’s early years growing up in Hawaii led to her love of science. Why her company’s bold bet that no high cannabinoids are the next frontier in the cannabis industry is sparking debate. And how career advice she heard nearly 20 years ago has helped her to forge her own personal and professional path.

[00:04:29] Ellen Scanlon: Want to keep the conversation with us going? Sign up for our twice monthly newsletter and have a direct line into my inbox. The newsletter is full of resources that will help you feel confident about cannabis for health, well being, and for fun. And you can hit reply and let me know what you’d like to hear more of on the show.

[00:04:52] Ellen Scanlon: To join the thousands of subscribers already receiving it, head to DoThePot. com to sign up. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do this without you.

[00:05:11] Ellen Scanlon: Caitlin grew up in Hawaii, the child of hippie parents from the East Coast who moved there and never looked back. Her love of nature and the outdoors led her to science and marine biology.

[00:05:25] Caitlyn Krebs: I love the outdoors. I love to swim. I love to hike. I love the ocean. My parents used to call me a fish. Like, I would just spend, you know, hours in the ocean.

[00:05:34] Caitlyn Krebs: And it made me love biology, marine biology. I’m a biologist by training. It impacted, you know, who I am today and what I’m doing today as well. I spent my elementary school days outside all the time. playing outdoors. And so I’d always loved to be out in nature. And it was probably Mr. Rice, my marine biology teacher, where I really fell in love with science.

[00:06:02] Caitlyn Krebs: And I had a marine biology class in high school, and we would tag turtles. And so you would go into this brackish water, Lagoon and at night you dive down, free dive, you grab the turtles, you bring them up and there was a University of Hawaii researcher and we would measure them and weigh them and tag them because at that time they’re threatened and I just absolutely love that.

[00:06:26] Caitlyn Krebs: That really, I think, started my love of science and biology. I still go back to that bay with my kids. It’s called Keholo Bay on the Big Island. I take them there and I show them all the turtles. There used to be like one or two and now there are like 20 or 30 turtles in the bay.

[00:06:41] Ellen Scanlon: I asked Kaitlin if marine biology was a common path for women.

[00:06:45] Caitlyn Krebs: There was one other woman. She and I were the outliers for sure. It was mostly men or boys at the time, right? Who didn’t mind camp. Yeah, I didn’t mind camping. I didn’t mind sleeping outside. I wasn’t scared of the ocean at night. My friends thought it was crazy. We had something called the headmaster holiday.

[00:07:03] Caitlyn Krebs: So in high school, the headmaster would call just a random day. It was like a snow day, but you know, we don’t have snow days in Hawaii. And I decided I wanted to go turtle tagging on my day off. And they’re like, why would you ever do that? Like, it’s a free day.

[00:07:18] Ellen Scanlon: Kaitlin left Hawaii and moved to the East Coast for college at Brown.

[00:07:22] Ellen Scanlon: After graduating, she found a job at a startup in San Francisco in 1999, just in time to experience the first dot com boom.

[00:07:33] Caitlyn Krebs: So it was 1999, and I found an entrepreneur who was starting an internet advertising company. I applied for a job and he offered me the job because I had coded one website in college.

[00:07:48] Caitlyn Krebs: I was the third employee of this little startup here in San Francisco and we were making a technology for banner ads, you know what you see on on websites. He and I really hit it off and I realized, you know, we were pitching to like Redpoint Ventures for 15 million with just a PowerPoint presentation.

[00:08:09] Caitlyn Krebs: I mean, like no prototype, nothing. And I was like, wow, this is really fun. I loved it. I love kind of the rush of it. And I love the networking and I got the entrepreneurial bug. And then I just went from kind of startup to startup and it, I knew I wanted to found a company. I knew I wanted to be kind of leading a company and I had a few other ideas before Nalu, but founding Nalu was really kind of the culmination of a lot of hard work at startups and, and I knew what I was getting into.

[00:08:38] Ellen Scanlon: Kaitlin loves being on the cutting edge of science and technology. When she started seeing CBD everywhere, without a lot of data explaining why or how it was helping people, she recognized a big opportunity.

[00:08:55] Caitlyn Krebs: The reason why I got into this is because this is four or five years ago, you know, CBD was everywhere, right?

[00:09:02] Caitlyn Krebs: It was in, it was in coffee, it was in chocolate, mostly CBD, obviously THC depending on where you are in the country as well. You People were using it. It was a huge market, but there was really no science and data behind it. That’s really the issue. But when consumers are pulling for things, right? You don’t have to push it on them.

[00:09:22] Caitlyn Krebs: Back pain, you know, elbow pain, maybe cramps, right? There are so many different use cases for cannabinoids. And so I just love being on the cutting edge of science and technology. And I believe cannabinoids are the next thing. They’re like vitamins 70 years ago. Nobody knew what vitamins did or what they were for.

[00:09:43] Caitlyn Krebs: But now everyone takes them and we’ve got, you know, vitamin E and D and K. So I think cannabinoids are exactly the same as vitamins. The reason why I think the time is now is from a regulatory perspective, you know, things are changing, the stigma is going away from cannabinoids. We’re proving the health benefits of them.

[00:10:04] Caitlyn Krebs: We also have a part of our business where we’re creating therapeutics that will go through the FDA, but that is a much longer road. But today there’s great opportunity for just naturally occurring cannabinoids. When I say naturally occurring, we actually do everything through chemistry. Back to the vitamins analogy.

[00:10:23] Caitlyn Krebs: The vitamin C that you take today doesn’t come from an orange, doesn’t come from citrus. They’re all synthesized. They’re all made in the lab. And so they’re pure, they’re consistent. They’re cost effective. And so we’re doing the same thing for cannabinoids. We’re mimicking nature through chemistry. So everything that we do is actually a chemical synthesis or chemistry derived.

[00:10:46] Ellen Scanlon: Chemistry is driving Nalubio’s products. And Caitlin explains how the process is similar to baking a cake.

[00:10:54] Caitlyn Krebs: We have a bunch of very talented chemists. I’m a biologist, and we said we want to recreate CBD, but we don’t want to take it from the plant. We don’t want to extract it. We want to make it through chemistry.

[00:11:08] Caitlyn Krebs: And basically what you do is you take two chemicals, you put them together in a four step process. It’s like baking a cake, really. Like if you bake, you’ve got your flour, your sugar, you put it together, maybe you’ve got eggs, right, to bind it. and you bake it and you get a cake. If you follow the directions, you get the same thing every time.

[00:11:28] Caitlyn Krebs: And that’s the same thing with chemistry. If you do the exact same thing every time, it’s consistent, it’s pure, it’s reliable.

[00:11:34] Ellen Scanlon: Cannabis regulations vary by state, and we still don’t have any kind of consensus on CBD, which is not federally regulated. NaluBio is working to create the safest, purest ingredients for their clients who value knowing exactly what is in their cannabinoids.

[00:11:53] Caitlyn Krebs: When you’re not extracting something out of the plant, so plants, you know, they soak up what’s in the ground, right? So some of them have heavy metals. There’s pesticides that they use to grow the plants. There can be mold, right, in the housing of the hemp or the cannabis plant. plant for sure. And so in a very controlled lab, we can make sure, well, there are no heavy metals.

[00:12:17] Caitlyn Krebs: There are no pesticides just because we’re not growing the plant, but we can control the temperature and the heat. In fact, we do, you know, we’re very precise about temperature and catalysts. So it’s ultra pure.

[00:12:37] Ellen Scanlon: Kaitlin knows a lot more than most people about the 140 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. I asked which are her favorites.

[00:12:47] Caitlyn Krebs: I’m a big believer in cannabinoids in general, whether people want to take THC or the 140 other cannabinoids. I use CBD, CBN. For sleep, with or without THC, just a little bit of THC for sleep.

[00:13:03] Caitlyn Krebs: I want people to be using these things so it provides them a health benefit. And I think what people don’t realize is there’s a tremendous amount of benefit from these cannabinoids. I don’t think of them as a drug at all, actually. I think of them like another medicine.

[00:13:19] Ellen Scanlon: Kaitlin is also really excited about a cannabinoid I haven’t talked much about on the show.

[00:13:24] Ellen Scanlon: It’s called THC V.

[00:13:27] Caitlyn Krebs: THC V, it’s a varin for weight management. So there’s been some later stage clinical studies that show it can help with appetite suppression. So, you know, there’s this whole Ozempic GLP 1 craze going on. I actually think that there’s a cannabinoid that can provide. Something similar, maybe not as potent, but could help.

[00:13:49] Caitlyn Krebs: Pain, I’m always a big fan of cannabinoids for pain. Like, hands down, people are using it for pain, anxiety, stress.

[00:13:56] Ellen Scanlon: In 2023, Caitlin and her team raised a 12 million Series A round from investors. And while that is a major vote of confidence in Nalubayo, the cannabis industry has had a surprising reaction to the work they’re doing.

[00:14:15] Caitlyn Krebs: Most of this industry looks at me like I’m crazy when I tell them we’re doing this through chemistry, right? Everyone is in love with the plant, right? People have this like emotional attachment to the plant and I just care about the end product. I haven’t experienced that in other kind of sectors that I’ve been in that people just love the plant.

[00:14:35] Caitlyn Krebs: And I love plants. I love nature.

[00:14:38] Ellen Scanlon: When I meet female founders, I’m always curious about their management style and how they face challenges in running their business. Caitlin fills me in.

[00:14:48] Caitlyn Krebs: I really believe in collaboration. I’m a collaborator at heart. I think that that’s kind of one of the keys, particularly in a new industry like this, where you have to figure out how to work with all the players, even if they’re not your ideal partners.

[00:15:03] Caitlyn Krebs: But with my team, I’m really collaborative. I respect all opinions. Trust is at the, is at the forefront. If you don’t trust your team and your partners, things can be really challenging. So I think the way that we’re going to change this industry and really elevate it and bring the therapeutic potential of no high cannabinoids is really through collaboration.

[00:15:26] Caitlyn Krebs: Because we can’t do it alone as a small company, as a startup. I’m also a really good listener. That’s what people tell me. I listen a lot. There’s a lot to learn if you listen.

[00:15:38] Ellen Scanlon: It takes a lot of passion and perseverance to found and run a company and to be a present parent. I asked Kaitlyn how she structures her days and finds time to be with her young family.

[00:15:52] Caitlyn Krebs: I have two little kids. I have two boys, an eight year old and a ten year old, and I love to exercise. So I start my morning off at 5 a. m. either doing CrossFit or I run. Then I get home and I get my kids off to school. And then I have the pleasure of walking to work. Then I’m in it for many hours. Many hours of Zooms and calls and investors and board members and team members.

[00:16:22] Caitlyn Krebs: And then I pick up my kids. My kids keep me balanced having, I think, young kids who need a lot of care and feeding keep me balanced, but I also have a super supportive husband, so there’s no way I could do this without someone who allows me to travel and be flexible and be on calls, you know, in the evenings and the mornings and the weekends.

[00:16:45] Caitlyn Krebs: But I really love what I do, so I integrate kind of work and life as one. That allows me to balance it in a weird way.

[00:16:53] Ellen Scanlon: Not every kid has a mom who is a CEO. I asked Kaitlyn how she talks to her sons about her work.

[00:17:00] Caitlyn Krebs: They know that I have a startup, that I started it. They, I think are very proud of me. It’s very cute.

[00:17:07] Caitlyn Krebs: They like to talk about it. They talk about NaluBio. I also tell them that they are part owners in NaluBio. They love that they have stock. That like really excites me. So they kind of understand that. I don’t yet have to talk to them about cannabis. You know, they’re still kind of too early. You know, I just simply say I develop products and medicines for people and make them better.

[00:17:31] Caitlyn Krebs: They can understand that and appreciate it. They come to work with me and they see my office. They experience the other side where I’m traveling and I’m gone and I can’t be at a school function. Most of the time they understand that. You know, they allow me to take time from them and put it into the company.

[00:17:49] Ellen Scanlon: Nearly 20 years ago, Kaitlin went to a work life balance panel and what she heard there has stuck with her ever since.

[00:17:58] Caitlyn Krebs: There’s someone from UCSF, someone from Genentech, there’s someone from a big lab, and they all shared their work life balance stories, and they were all completely different. One woman, her and her husband lived apart actually, and they would like come together for weekends.

[00:18:13] Caitlyn Krebs: One other woman, you know, had a husband who just sat on the couch and like drank beer all day, so she was this high performing Genentech professional. And so I realized at that point that like, there is no work life balance stereotype or norm. You just have to figure it out for yourself, at least that’s what I believe.

[00:18:34] Caitlyn Krebs: And so I think it’s just taken me time and it changes all the time, right? You just have to be flexible. Some weeks are much more heavy on work. You know, sometimes my kids are sick and they need me or my husband or my family. So. I think I’ve just kind of figured it out over time, but it’s, it’s not easy. I live my life by like minutes.

[00:18:56] Caitlyn Krebs: I block out my entire day. You know, time is the most precious resource. I’ve also learned to just be more fluid. Like I can take investor calls. on the weekends or I’ll schedule things, you know, if I’m at a soccer game, you have to integrate because if you have these, at least in my opinion, these really clear walls, like, okay, I’m at work now.

[00:19:19] Caitlyn Krebs: I can only talk to you at work. You just, you can’t, you can’t get it all done. And I just do a lot of, a lot of scheduling to try to, to try to fit it all in. I always want to do everything. I can’t, but I try.

[00:19:32] Ellen Scanlon: The cannabis industry has moved toward legalization at a slower pace than many expected, and yet there is progress.

[00:19:41] Ellen Scanlon: Kaitlin shares what she is most looking forward to as federal regulations become more clear.

[00:19:47] Caitlyn Krebs: I am most excited about combining cannabinoids and other, I’ll just call it bioactives, like vitamins and probiotics. Because the issue is people are scared to take, I’ll name them all, CBD, THCB, CBN, CBG. They don’t know what they are.

[00:20:09] Caitlyn Krebs: But when you pair it with, let’s just say, B6 or B12, people know what that is. Or, or even something more esoteric, curcumin, or maybe even like boswellia, some of these things that people are trying anyways. So I’m excited to pair them because it brings the consumer along. It’s, oh, it has cannabinoids in it.

[00:20:31] Caitlyn Krebs: Huh, that’s kind of interesting. Like I might try that. So I actually think there’s a lot of synergy between things. people are already using and cannabinoids to provide weight management, pain, anxiety, stress. And no one’s done that yet, just because it’s such a new, nascent industry. So I’m ready for cannabinoids 2.

[00:20:51] Caitlyn Krebs: 0 or 3. 0, just beyond the cannabinoid itself.

[00:20:56] Ellen Scanlon: Thank you to Caitlin Krebs for sharing her story for this series about women, money, and power. I’m excited to see what magic she can make with cannabinoids in the future. Who should we feature next in our women in business series? Please reach out to hi at do the pot.

[00:21:15] Ellen Scanlon: com or DM us at do the pot. And if you like this episode, please share it with a friend. friend. We love new listeners and are here to help everyone feel confident about cannabis.

[00:21:30] Ellen Scanlon: Thank you for listening to how to do the pot for lots more information and past episodes. Visit do the pot. com. Are you one of the thousands of people who love how to do the pots newsletter? If you’re not getting it, please sign up at do the pot. com. And if you like How to Do the Pot, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts.

[00:21:53] Ellen Scanlon: It really helps people find the show. Thank you to writer Joanna Silver and producers Maddy Fair and Nick Patry. I’m Ellen Scanlon and stay tuned for more of How to Do the Pot.

[00:22:16] Ellen Scanlon: Support for How to Do the Pot comes from CAN. Instead of a glass of wine, have you tried a cannabis beverage yet? Drinkable, delicious cannabis that’s as refreshing and sociable as your favorite drink, but hold the alcohol. Use promo code DOTHEPOT for 20 percent off when you visit drinkcan. com. That’s drink C A N N.

[00:22:39] Ellen Scanlon: Try a can today and relax at the end of the day without worrying about a hangover.



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