I quit corporate real estate to join a CBD startup. I had to start at the bottom, but it was worth it.

Ellese Symons says she transitioned to the CBD industry because she wanted to work at a company with a vision she believed in.
says she transitioned into the CBD industry because she wanted to work at a company with a vision she believed in. Ellese Symons
  • Ellese Symons is the VP of marketing at Balanced Health Botanicals, a family of CBD brands.
  • After working in real estate for some years, she wanted to join a startup with a meaningful vision.
  • She transitioned to the CBD industry first in a customer-service role and later in marketing. 

Real estate is a part of my DNA. I moved around a lot growing up, and in my family a house wasn’t just a home — it was an investment opportunity. I learned how to determine a property’s worth based on its potential rather than its current state, and by the time I was 18 my parents had fixed and flipped over 70 homes across Colorado. 

After college, I joined my dad and sister in purchasing distressed multifamily apartment buildings and renovated them into beautiful properties. My sister and I later started our own company, Highline Residential, fixing and flipping residential homes in Colorado.

For about two years business was booming and we loved the work. In 2012, more Wall Street investors moved into the Denver market and started outbidding us on homes. Eventually, our margins started to diminish, and it was time for a new business angle. 

In 2014, my sister and I were recruited to join Sotheby’s International Realty as residential agents.

After a few years, I wanted to work with corporate real-estate clients

In spring 2016, I joined CBRE, a commercial real-estate brokerage firm. My role was to help technology startups find office space. The companies I worked with were full of young professionals eager to launch their organization’s big idea. 

I was inspired by their passion and felt that my career path was missing something I’d learned as a kid — how to invest in potential. I decided to make a career change and wanted to plant roots in a small startup with a vision I could contribute to and believed in. 

As I explored my options, my father told me about a small company he’d invested in called CBDistillery. In 2016, CBD was just kicking off in the consumer-products market and only a small amount of people knew what it was. 

My opportunity came when my dad asked me to drop off Costco sub sandwiches to the CBDistillery employees who were packing and shipping Black Friday orders. The small team of six was working around the clock fulfilling thousands of orders. 

I was mesmerized by the grit and dedication of the team and immediately wanted to get involved

I offered to help and the team gladly accepted. While everyone focused on fulfilling orders, I stepped in to answer customer-service emails. 

On all accounts, I wasn’t the most qualified customer-service candidate and was extremely fortunate to have the team put their trust in me. 

I spent hours doing research in order to answer customer questions, and many customers told me on the phone how CBD had changed their lives for the better. One customer with Crohn’s disease said he was grateful for our Black Friday sale because it helped him afford a product that offered him the relief he needed. 

After also witnessing the effects of our products firsthand, I quickly became a believer that CBD was going to change the world and this company was going to be at the forefront of doing so. I was all in. 

After a year of working as a customer-service rep, I transitioned into a marketing role in March 2017

Under the guidance of our former CMO Chris Van Dusen, I focused on content, SEO, building an affiliate program, creating email campaigns, optimizing the website, and launching new social-media pages. Chris was a great mentor and taught me a lot about the fundamentals of marketing. 

Today, I’m the vice president of marketing and lead a 12-person team. 

My marketing career has been unconventional, and I’ll always have a love for real estate

Still, I don’t regret moving to the CBD industry — it feels great to do work that can make a difference and help people. 

If you’re considering a career change, follow your gut. Even if you have to play catch up, you’ll probably be more successful doing something you love. I also highly recommend finding a good mentor in the industry you want to join.

For those interested in the CBD industry, my advice is to research your options and align with an organization that’s doing things right. There are a lot of CBD brands cutting corners and not providing the best quality and safest products to customers. Make sure you start with a trustworthy company because they’re more likely to be around in the long run.      

Do you have an unconventional career path or have you made a unique career change? Email Laura Casado at [email protected]

Ellese Symons is the vice president of marketing at Balanced Health Botanicals, a family of hemp-derived CBD brands that include CBDistillery and BOTA.