This Is What A Founder Looks Like: Ohana

Jasmin Thomas speaking at an event
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
14 April 2021

There are many different reasons that people become entrepreneurs. Some have always dreamed of running their own business and being successful. Others have a passion or a hobby for something that naturally grows into a business. And others, like Jasmin Thomas, are inspired by a personal experience.

Jasmin was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), which inspired her to launch Ohana, a CBD-infused skincare brand. She took a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp to launch her business. As part of the Virgin StartUp This Is What A Founder Looks Like series, we caught up with her to find out more about her experiences as an entrepreneur.

Did you always plan to become an entrepreneur?

It definitely wasn't in the plan – I've never really had a plan because I've always been a more 'go with the flow' kind of person. But I knew I wanted to work for myself, I knew that I wanted to have the opportunity to dictate my salary and I knew that for me it would be the only way I would be able to afford certain things. And I don't just mean financially, but thinking about time and flexibility with holiday dates too. 

Is that one of the main reasons that you decided to start the business?

Being able to dictate my time and how I work my days were definitely one of my driving forces. I think when you get a life-changing diagnosis you more than ever think I need to live life exactly how I would like to.

When we could travel, I was an avid traveller. I remember I booked a three week trip to America and my work wouldn't actually give me the annual leave to be able to go. So I quit my job and that moment gave me the kick I needed to take my side hustle to full-time business.

Jasmin Thomas

Why did you start the type of business that you did?

I had never really thought about being an entrepreneur.  Entrpeneurs and mostly born out of passion and problem solving. There was nothing I was passion about and I was at a stage in my life I wasn’t observing the way I do now the problems around me that need solutions.

My passions were birthed after I was diagnosed with MS, I started looking at alternative therapies and inter-holistic health. I was using CBD and became very encompassed in that industry. It was from there that I decided to launch Ohana. We focus on skincare that supports female wellbeing. We are a community that expands beyond skincare to support women in any discipline of wellbeing. We want and believe women deserve to feel their best. I'm five and a half years post-diagnosis and have thus far managed my health holistically which makes me feel really empowered, being able to share this and empower other women on their journeys is a privilege.

Have you had any challenges running the business with MS?

To be honest, it's made my health a million times better because I'm able to dictate when I work. Early mornings I like to take slow and ease myself into the day. I’m a total night owl so I’m often working into the evening, and being able to work when it’s best for my mind and body really helps. Employers weren't as understanding about what I needed. I’m a big believer in to perform at our absolute best we have to be in tune with our body.

What challenges have you had around working in the CBD industry?

There have been plenty. It's a nightmare. I think it's because we cannot do traditional methods of advertising - we can't run Facebook ads, or paid posts, we can't do paid Google searches. All the traditional digital marketing routes, so we are very much forced to focus on organic growth. And that's great because you build a good community of people. But it's challenging because you're in competition with other skincare businesses that don't face the same restrictions on the way that they operate.

You're also involved in setting up the entOURage network to encourage other women in the CBD industry, could you tell us a bit more about it?

It's run by myself and Jessica Steinberg. We met in a cannabis co-working space a few years back and we looked around and we were the only women there. We decided there and then that we were going to be friends because we were the only women. 

Cannabis and CBD has so many benefits specifically for women. It's a really important thing to look at. We saw this industry that is growing and offering so many opportunities for entrepreneurs. So we thought it was important for us to make sure that because it's such a good opportunity that women have an equal part in it.

Jasmin Thomas

What has your experience been of being a woman entrepreneur?

There's definitely a gender imbalance in the start-up community. Through my journey of founding a business, it's something that I've become very passionate about and very aware of. I went into it very naive, I had zero experience of raising money or anything like that. I didn't ever really think about it. I think my naivety helped because I just went for it.

However, now that I've been through it I know that the odds are stacked against me. Only a tiny percentage of women raise money from VC or outside capital. And of that it's an even smaller percentage that are founders of colour, which I am. So it's then that I realised it was a big issue. Then once I was aware of it, I was able to spot the unconscious biases that I was being faced with. I think there definitely were moments now that I look back, but I wasn't necessarily aware of them at the time.

Do you think your experience is different as a woman of colour?

Yes I do believe it is different, as much as I’ve had the privilege of being naive in the past I think with what’s going on in the world at the moment it’s impossible not to think the experience of being a Black woman is different, whether that be as an entrepreneur or in the work place.

There are certain micro-aggressions that I have come across that I'm sure would not happen if I were white and I had similar experiences in my previous employment where I felt this way multiple times. There are many initiatives out there at the moment that are proposed to help Black female founders which I hope levels the playing field and help overcome some of the very deep-rooted and complex obstacles. This is a subject I’m very passionate about and of course, want to support my peers through the entrepreneurial lifecycle where possible.

Got a great idea for a business? Head over to Virgin StartUp for start-up loans, advice and more.