A Dose of Empathywith Marcy Capron Vermillion and Maia Reed
Equilibria, a company that makes CBD products for women, has a team of dedicated dosage specialists who do one-on-one consultations with customers. During the pandemic, this team has taken on an unprecedented amount of customer support—bearing witness to the heightened stress and anxiety that their customers are feeling around job security, caregiving, and family life. Equilibria’s Marcy Capron Vermillion and Maia Reed come on Rework to talk about helping this team maintain their own stores of emotional energy.
- "Women Tending to Their Basic Needs Is Not Self-Care" by Meredith Ethington - 00:12
- "This Is A Primal Scream," the New York Times' special report on American mothers' mental health crisis - 1:02
- Equilibria website | Instagram - 1:13
- Marcy Capron-Vermillion - 2:20
- Maia Reed - 3:39
- Illinois Women in Cannabis - 4:25
- Ellementa - 4:28
- Laura van Dernoot Lipsky of The Trauma Stewardship Institute - 12:12
The Full Transcript:
[00:00:00] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:00:01] Welcome to Rework, a podcast by Basecamp about the better way to work and run your business. I’m Shaun Hildner.
Wailin: [00:00:07] And I’m Wailin Wong. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this piece I read online titled, “Women tending to their basic needs is not self care.” And here’s the part of the essay that made me lol sob a little bit. Okay, it says, “Buying more underwear and dishwashing soap is not self care. Sitting down to eat a meal or having a cup of hot coffee is not self care. Folding laundry while listening to an audiobook is not self care. It’s just multitasking.”
Shaun: [00:00:37] Yeah, that’s just being an adult.
Wailin: [00:00:40] Yeah, that’s what the essay said. And, yeah, this misleading narrative that fulfilling your basic needs counts as self care is something that I think is mostly fobbed off on women, which is especially damaging now because while this pandemic has been brutal for everyone, women and mothers are really going through it. At least in the US, they’re bearing most of the job losses and childcare has been a disaster.
Shaun: [00:01:05] Today on the show, we talked to a business whose entire ethos is about listening to women and helping them manage their stress and anxiety. The company is called Equilibria. They sell CBD products for women. But what’s unique about Equilibria is a special team they’ve created that takes customer support to a whole new level.
Wailin: [00:01:21] The founders of Equilibria, Marcy Capron Vermillion and Coco Meers launched their company publicly in March of 2019. Today, we’re hearing from Marcy and one of Equilibria’s first employees, Maia, who leads the company’s dosage team. This team has been witnessing firsthand the incredible stress that their customers are under. The pandemic and its effect on women have really tested the emotional limits of this team. I thought their experience would be helpful for anyone going through something similar, whether you’re in a job where you have to absorb a lot of other people’s stress, or you’re just trying to take care of yourself.
Shaun: [00:01:56] A quick note: Equilibria sells products with CBD, which is one of the active ingredients in cannabis. Now we’re not doctors or qualified to talk about the medical benefits of CBD. So please do your own research and consult your doctor before taking anything.
[00:02:10] And now, here’s Wailin’s conversation with Marcy and Maia.
Marcy: [00:02:18] I am Marcy Capron, Vermillion, and I am the Chief Product and Innovation Officer and co-founder here at Equilibria.
Wailin: [00:02:24] Can you talk a little bit about the origins of Equilibria and how you came to co found the company.
Marcy: [00:02:30] I was in a stupid kayaking accident and I injured my spine. I looked like I had the injury of someone so much older, I was like stooped over. And after years of really not seeing any progress from physical therapy, I received some CBD for my 30th birthday. And I said, alright, whatever. At this point, I’ll do whatever options I have in front of me. So I gave it a shot. And within a couple of days, I found myself able to stand upright for the first time in years. Once that kicked in, I was able to rehabilitate my back in a way that I couldn’t previously.
[00:03:05] So I started helping to run a group every month where women could come in and talk about their experiences with cannabis. It was a really wonderful, private, intimate group. You know, we had women driving in like two hours to come to this group sometimes. It was really clear that there were not a lot of good over the counter product options, aside from what was in dispensaries, and that women were having a lot of problems understanding where they should start, what to do once they’re actually using products, etc. And that a lot of women, frankly, were scared. While running that group, Maia showed up.
Maia: [00:03:37] I am Maia Reed, and I’m the Senior Director of member education at Equilibria. Back in 2006, 2007, my father was diagnosed with colon cancer. I was able to become his caretaker. We were very lucky that we had a family friend who was a doctor who worked with cannabis and was deeply interested in it. I just saw how much it really helped my father at the end of his life, that I just formed a passion for it.
[00:04:08] After he passed away, I just started helping people, not as a career path per se, but just because I was passionate and there’s not a lot of information out there. And then when I moved to Chicago, I missed being a part of that kind of community. That led me to the Illinois Women in Cannabis and ultimately Elementa which is where I met Marcy, and the rest is history.
Marcy: [00:04:33] I started doing all these one on one interactions with the women that were in these groups and their friends. So, phone calls, video calls, etc., to talk about cannabis use. And so, when I went to Coco, my co-founder saying like, hey, I really think there’s something here, we need to do something about this. We need a respectful way for women to learn about CBD and cannabis, respectful hand holding, what does that look like? I had a year of research under my belt and I had this wonderful woman who could take this service and run with it. Because I made it very clear that this was about responsible use. I did not believe in giving someone CBD and just letting them walk away. So I was only willing to do it if it was going to be both a product company and a service company at the same time. So that’s where Maia came in.
Wailin: [00:05:18] Maia, were you doing one on one consults from the beginning? Or how was your team structured?
Maia: [00:05:24] Originally, it was really just me sort of beta testing what was working right, what wasn’t. And very, very quickly, it became obvious that the service was a big part of what people were drawn to about the company. And so pretty quickly there, I needed to scale that team. And so we started by hiring three other women, and then it sort of evolved into four other women really quickly there. And now the team is just scaling rapidly. I hired 10 new dosage specialists in 2020.
Wailin: [00:06:02] In those early days, what form are those conversations taking? Were these emails, phone calls?
Maia: [00:06:09] So they’re 30 minute calls, one on one. And we start by just discussing, what their health goals are, what their experience level with cannabis is, how comfortable they are or not. And then we talk a little bit more about the products themselves, how to get the most out of what they’re taking, how to structure a routine. And we’re one of the few companies who will tell you if we think CBD is not the right fit for you.
[00:06:41] And then we follow up every single call with an email, giving them a rundown of what we’ve talked about. And then we check back in on them in a week and see how they’re doing with those adjustments that we’ve made. This team is not a team of salespeople, we’ve made it a very, very, very clear, their job is not as a sales person.
[00:07:03] I like to take the approach of this concierge level support. I’m all about surprise and delight. I’m all about creating a safe space. And I tell every single person on the team, their job is ultimately to empower women through education.
Marcy: [00:07:19] I want to further stress that point, that it’s not just that these aren’t salespeople, it’s that we we don’t incentivize them with it either. There’s no commission structure. A dosage specialist needs to be incentivized by the actual work that they’re doing with the member. In fact, we even have a policy called the ethical upsell, you are not allowed to push a product on anyone, they have to ask for recommendation, and then you can help assist them in a transaction. But there’s a very clear, ethical line that some people at the company might even say I’m a little bit of a butthead about. But it is really, really, really important to the ethos of this company that they are educators and educators alone.
Wailin: [00:07:56] This dosage team is completely separate from Equilibria’s members support team, which handles customer service issues like billing and shipping.
Marcy: [00:08:03] We have an amazing member support team. But I think they would even tell you that they don’t think it’s appropriate for a customer service person to be handling a lot of the questions around this type of product. And so when our competitors are doing that, I don’t feel like their customers are in safe hands. And it really bums me out. But it’s why we made these choices.
[00:08:24] I am seeing women blindly pushing CBD on people on Facebook and cannabis groups, etc.
Maia: [00:08:29] We’re in this industry that is not well regulated by the FDA, we’re not in a safe industry right now. And so it’s really, really, really important to know exactly where your product came from. Some people will find that if they take really large doses, it increases their heart rate. Or if they take really large doses, that it makes them super nauseous or really, really tired at times they shouldn’t be. So it is important to make sure that we’re approaching this from an education standpoint.
[00:08:59] For so many women, these 30 minute calls with a dosage specialist is 30 minutes longer than they ever really get to talk about themselves, even sometimes in a doctor’s office. And we really make a point to hold space for them wherever they are in their lives. I saw pretty early on in the year that the tone of these calls had shifted. The top three reasons we hear from our members that they’re starting CBD is to manage stress levels, to manage pain levels, and to manage sleep. All three of those issues are complicated, even more so by the fact that we’re going through quarantine, we’re going through COVID. These are really, really difficult times as this has touched every single person’s life. And so it’s not uncommon for a dosage specialist to get off the phone with a working mom who’s managing remote learning for three kids under 10, to go straight into a call with somebody who’s dealing with the emotional stress of losing a loved one to COVID.
[00:10:08] Last week, I actually spoke with a woman, and this is something we hear all the time, who’s homeschooling her two young children dealing with the stress of losing her own job. And her husband’s actually an airline pilot. So she is just constantly worried that he’s gonna bring COVID home with him, and she hasn’t slept in years. So we’ve been working on helping improve that evening routine. Talking about shutting the phone down, talking about increasing her water intake, and then using CBD to sort of help improve that quality of rest. You know, I heard back from her a couple days ago, and we’ve taken her from three to four hours a night to six to seven hours a night.
[00:10:52] While the calls have always been sensitive, they mostly fill our cup. All of us are very high emotional intelligence people, we’ve got a lot of success stories. But even those success stories are made more difficult by this cloud of sadness that COVID has brought on for everybody. It used to be that a dosage specialist would do four or five calls in a row back to back. And we pretty quickly made the change to making it two to three calls in a row before they take a break and have a chance to focus elsewhere just to give them a chance to level set.
[00:11:32] We do cover each other sometimes. If somebody has gotten off a particularly difficult phone call, and really needs to take a moment, I’ll hop in and I’ll cover the next call or some of the other team members will.
Wailin: [00:11:43] Did you have to sit your team down at some point, or maybe at multiple points during last year and just recognize what was happening and maybe give some additional tips or make some things explicit in terms of expectations and self care and things like that?
Maia: [00:12:04] Very much so. And not only did we do that, but I also brought outside experts in. We brought in Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, who’s the Director of Trauma Stewardship Institute. And so we brought her in to really help build out specific strategies to help us recognize and prevent overwhelm. And sometimes it’s important to hear an outside person say something like, you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. It can be really easy for our team to feel like they have to take on the emotional burden of someone else’s life. And Laura just did a great job of helping us remember that sometimes it’s enough to simply give them the quality of our presence, to offer space, and dignity and just simply bear witness to their stories.
[00:12:52] We’ve had yoga classes, I’ve made a big effort to make our weekly meeting a little more fun and a little more team bonding. So yes, absolutely, we are constantly having to remind them that their job is here as an educator, not to be the emotional support for everybody. Because it can be difficult when you’re doing seven or eight calls a day. And each one of these calls is full of this emotional burden.
Wailin: [00:13:22] And I imagine a lot of your staff members might also be working moms themselves and going through a lot of these same issues that the people they’re talking to on the phone are going through.
Maia: [00:13:34] Yes, absolutely. And I will say it is incredibly difficult to dose yourself. It is difficult to care for yourself. It is so much easier to have somebody else tell you, that does sound hard. Here are some of the things I think, strategies I think might help you. And that is not something that is easy for us to do for ourselves. So one of the things we do is set everybody up to have dosage consultations with other people.
[00:14:07] So one of the women on my team, she has really bad insomnia from PTSD. She’s been taking 25 milligram soft gels. It was working really, really well for her and then COVID hit, it stopped working for her. And so her instinct was to bump herself up. But actually we did a dosage call and I suggested we take her dose down again to see how that works. And now suddenly she’s able to sleep again, right? But that is not something she was going to be able to see for herself necessarily.
Wailin: [00:14:39] How do you manage kind of your own work expectations when you know that CBD is not going to fix all of the issues that are contributing to something like lack of sleep or high anxiety or depression? You know that you’re just a piece of the puzzle.
Maia: [00:15:01] You’re right that CBD in and of itself is not a fix all for everything. We talk a lot about nutrition. We talk a lot about water, really upping your water dosage. We talk a lot about exercise, meditation. Meditation has been a big reliant for me in sort of managing, not just these calls, but also making sure that I can be the support system that my team needs and make sure that they’re all doing okay, as well. It’s a constant struggle to make sure that we’re doing the things we need to do to take care of ourselves outside of just taking a daily CBD dose.
Wailin: [00:15:42] Yeah. And Marcy, how have you been taking care of yourself during this time?
Marcy: [00:15:49] Ah, strange laugh, sorry. I was thinking about that as Maia was talking. So guided meditation has been a huge help for me. My big metric I’ve been focusing on is getting my resting heart rate down, it’s the last vestiges of recovering from extreme obstructive sleep apnea, I’ll be the first to admit that I need to be doing more for self care. So you know, thinking a lot around exercise and taking time away from the computer. And I think the biggest struggle for me has been not being in the office with others and being able to just sort of take a walk to talk about stuff. Every conversation is now a meeting. And so I’m still trying to find better ways to combat that and to have better boundaries with work and the rest of my life. But it’s something that I’ve been really, really conscious on and even have… I’ve worked with a therapist on. And I think that other people on the team are doing a better job of it than I am at this moment in time. But I’m getting there.
[00:16:40] I mean, I have built a lot of companies, and I’ve never seen this level of customer member interaction. Even, I send them a tracking email, and I get a random reply from someone that’s like, hey, so the holidays are here and Equilibria is the only thing that’s getting me through it, because I just lost my mom. These things that are just, oh my gosh, like makes my eyes to tear up and to get… I mean, oh my gosh, hundreds and hundreds of them. It’s incredible. And if any of our members are listening to this, I mean, I always encourage them to keep writing in. This not always an easy job and it’s a hard thing to sort of scale and figure out what’s next and always be there for them. But when they make it visible what it is that we’re doing for them, it really helps if I’m having a tough day and I did a 16 hour day trying to get a new feature live or whatever. Gets me out of bed in the morning.
[00:17:29] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:17:34] Rework is produced by Wailin Wong and me Shaun Hildner. Music for the show is by Clip Art.
Wailin: [00:17:44] You can find Equilibria at myEQ.com and on Instagram at @EquilibriaWomen, we are at rework.fm and on Twitter at @reworkpodcast.
Shaun: [00:17:53] And remember, listening to a podcast even this podcast, while folding laundry is not self care. It’s just multitasking.
Wailin: [00:18:12] Now what if I refuse to fold laundry? Would that be self care? I think it might be.
Shaun: [00:18:17] Literally almost wrote that into the script, Wailin. I was going to ask you. So how much laundry folding are you doing?
Wailin: [00:18:23] Ugh.