“But day’s passed into weeks, weeks into months – I felt as though my own parents had kidnapped me. I would cry nightly, begging to go back home to mama and papa.”
I had the honor of sitting with Martha and Curt of Life Elements today. Even though it was a Zoom call, I could feel their energy from the other side of the screen. This energy is very familiar. It is the same chemistry that you see when you witness two people in love. Martha was tenderly fixing Curt’s hair and they giggled more times than I can count.
Martha and Curt’s journey to starting Life Elements blossomed from a rather nontraditional path. Both worked in tech for over 20 years – Martha worked in custom database creation to provide security services inside correctional facilities and Curt worked at a tech-focused marketing agency. Their journey to start Life Elements was inspired by two parts. One – being in San Luis Obispo, they were surrounded by artisans. Their neighbors were farmers, wine makers, growers and creators. Which led to two – revisiting Martha’s childhood. Growing up, Martha moved around a lot and one consistent source in her life was visiting her grandparents in Mexico every year – Just a warning, you might need some tissue paper when you get to Life Lesson 5. In Mexico, she was surrounded by growers and makers. Her grandparents made everything. She learned how to work with herbs and plants, and started making tinctures and skincare products from her grandparents. She always wanted to create her own skincare line. That dream became a reality with Life Elements.
Martha and Curt’s story is so inspiring. Curt calls it a “13-year overnight sensation”, because Life Elements had to pivot many times during this journey. What makes them a leader in this industry is that they embraced change. Never having outside investment and armed with unwavering determination, this team created a brand that is dedicated to ethically and sustainably made products. Marie Claire reported on how their CBD bath bombs went viral and Refinery29 considers them an expert on CBD bath creations.
It’s an honor to sit and unpack Life Element’s many life experiences.
Life Lesson 1: Life is all about the journey and less about the destination
Wendy: Martha and Curt, you both were in the tech world – Martha developing custom database technology and Curt managing a tech agency – for over 20 years before starting Life Elements. Working in tech and starting a CBD brand is completely different. What lessons did you learn from these two worlds? And how did these lessons further your entrepreneurship journey?
Curt: As it relates to business, it is definitely a journey, but it is critical that you have your eyes, heart and soul focused on a tangible objective (aka: the destination). My lessons from the corporate ad agency include “execution”… Which you need to make progress. We always used to say that ideas are easy, but executing those ideas into actions are what makes progress.
Translating that into entrepreneurship, it is so easy to get distracted by “busy work,” which are all the daily minutiae of running a business (filing papers, keeping the warehouse clean, social media, etc). You can literally consume an entire day answering emails and doing busy work AND NOT doing anything strategic. Your strategy is your plan and you need to carve time out of your schedule to think about your plan and how to get there. Having that plan helps you prioritize your activities so you don’t get stuck doing busy work (equivalent to running on a treadmill). My question each morning is: “What can I do today that will drive the business forward?”
Martha: Let me start by saying that I do not have any education beyond high school. At 18, I was too eager to get on with my life and did not want to spend several more years in class. Playing sports growing up, I became competitive, driven and passionate – it’s these traits, along with confidence that helped me overcome the education I missed.
In technology, I was a salesperson, not an engineer – I learned about ‘bits and bytes’ through osmosis when speaking with software developers. This allowed me to confidently translate information in lay-man’s terms to clients. If I was unsure about something, I would call an engineer right there and then to get the answer we needed. This allowed the client to trust me and feel confident in their purchase. It’s what led to my success in that arena.
Starting Life Elements was very much the same – I had to learn by just diving in and learning about the ‘bits and bytes’ of the industry, plants and alchemy. I used the same determination to get my idea from a piece of paper into production. Once launched, I had to gain the public’s trust in the same way.
What I’ve learned from both is to be determined, passionate, honest and transparent. I’m confident that if we did not have Life Elements, we could easily start something new.
Life Lesson 2: Love is more than a feeling; It’s a choice
Wendy: You both are partners in life and partners in Life Elements. I can imagine that you’re together and working together 24 hours a day. In addition, you were both engaged to different people before marrying each other. What is your definition of “The One”? And now being business partners, what advice do you have for boyfriend/girlfriend and husband/wife teams? Were there mistakes that you learned from working with each other at the beginning that you solved now, making your relationship stronger?
Curt: Answering this will require a book and not a post! For me, Martha was incredibly intriguing (and not just because of her physical beauty and sensual ways). She had this combination of street smarts, business credibility and also this right brain creativity and innate “makers” mentality. Example: From the time I met her to the time when we started dating (a year and a half), she grew her IT company, sold it for 8 figures, left the tech business and started a feng shui consulting business.
In terms of advice, that is easy. If you are thinking of getting married or going into business with your partner, we both highly recommend marital counseling. We actually had “pre-marital” counseling and it was awesome. That experience really brought out some issues that we learned from, in terms of how to communicate better, how to manage conflict and ultimately made us much closer. Highly recommended…even if you think you already have the perfect relationship because every relationship has issues and when you combine your home issues with work issues, you gotta take care of those conflicts quick and not let them fester or bleed into the rest of your relationship.
Martha: Wow Curt – ‘sensual ways’? Was it the way I spoke about “bits and bytes”? hahaha. I love this question because I agree in that we choose who we love. I like to tell our staff that everything in life is a choice.
Unlike Curt, I had been married once before and chose to stay single for many years after my divorce – in which time I had my share of losers and ‘bad boys’. So, while Curt intrigued me when we first met, he was too nice, which for me, translated to boring. It was not until we started hanging out that my mother advised me to give him a chance, perhaps I would learn that nice was fun too. I therefore chose to change my mindset and started focusing on his other traits. Up to this point, I had not really noticed how funny he was and how I was always laughing when I was with him. I soon realized that nice was nice and that I deserved it.
Our courtship was easy as we have such amazing chemistry, but once engaged, I panicked. I would try to find ways to sabotage us. But it was his patience and the help of a pre-marriage counselor that helped me get my head together and taught us how to communicate and be good partners.
Our wedding day was amazing – for me, it was not the feeling of being in love, it was the joy and knowing that I was spending the rest of my life with the right man. The feeling I have now is that of gratitude – I am grateful each and every day that he is with me. We actually thank each other daily for being our husband/wife and business partner.
Life Lesson 3: If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody will
Wendy: Martha, growing up you spent a lot of time in Mexico with your grandparents. Your parents were in the military which usually means that your family moved around a lot, so spending time with your grandparents in Mexico every year became a cornerstone of consistency. You learned to work with herbs and plants from your grandparents. If your grandparents saw you today, what do you think they’d say? If you were to go back to young Martha spending her days in Mexico with her grandparents, did that Martha think she would one day start Life Elements? What gave you the confidence to embark on this journey?
Martha: This is a deep question; it makes me cry…
I know that my grandparents are still with me and know they are proud of the woman I have become. They did not have the opportunity to see me succeed later in life, but their spirit has been with me every step of the way. And I know if they were here today, they would hold me tight and say ‘we knew it!’
I don’t think growing up in Mexico or in the States anyone thought the quiet little girl with scraped, skinny legs would amount to much more than a housewife. Growing up, we were not encouraged to be aspirational, but simply to be good people and hold a good job. But, even at a young age, I begun learning about entrepreneurism by asking for babysitting jobs, cutting lawns, selling crafts and custom macrame pieces to neighbors. I loved being able to buy anything I wanted, with money I earned. It was these opportunities, along with sports that gave me the confidence I needed later in life.
Life Lesson 4: Courage is not the absence of fear
Wendy: When it comes to Life Elements, what is your greatest fear? And how do you manage this fear? When it comes to your relationship, since you are both life partners and business partners, what are your greatest fears?
Curt: For Life Elements, it is the fear of not having a sustainable business. “Sustainable” in this context is a healthy, thriving, profitable organization that is able to support our current and future employees and their families as we continue to grow. If we are doing that, then we are checking all the right boxes.
For our relationship, my greatest fear is that we stop maintaining the relationship balance in some way, which is that magic combination of trust, respect, intimacy and inspiration for all things. From a personal standpoint, we try to put some barriers around “work-talk” at home and the ability for each of us to have our respective “guy-time” and “girl-time.”
Martha: Having a business is like having a child – as a parent, you’re always in fear of them getting sick, falling down, being bullied, learning to drive and even dying before you. It’s gut wrenching and with Life Elements, it’s the same thing. Like Curt said, it’s about keeping it sustainable so that we can support our family, which includes our staff, business partners, vendors and local economy.
In our relationship, working together 24/7/365 (just about!) has had little impact on our marriage, but it has made a big impact on our friendship. I can honestly say Curt is my true best friend. My biggest fear is the friendship taking over the marriage. And what I mean by that is that at the end of the day, I don’t want to be sleeping with my best friend, I want to be laying in my husband’s arms and waking us with his kisses on my face. So that’s what we strive for – keeping work at work and our marriage at home.
Featured in Marie Claire and Refinery29
Marie Claire reported on how their CBD bath bombs went viral and Refinery29 considers them an expert on CBD bath creations. Designed for relaxation and to help reduce sore muscles and cramps, these bath bombs are meticulously hand-crafted to ensure consistency in ingredients and CBD dosage.
Life Lesson 5: Strength from within
Wendy: Bruce Lee once said, “Do not pray for any easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” Starting Life Elements was not necessarily an easy journey for both of you. The Life Elements we see today is actually an evolution of many passions molded by time. Can you share with us the difficulties you faced on the journey of starting Life Elements? And when it comes to your childhood, would you consider it an ‘easy’ one? How did your childhood shape the person that you are today?
Curt: The Life Elements of today is also an evolution of many setbacks, hurdles and pivots. Our accountant of 10+ years who, in September of 2018, actually suggested we exit the business and find a real job. But the holiday season of 2018 was the turning point for us in terms of market traction and real revenue growth. So after that, we kept going and never looked back.
My childhood was one of transition. My father was a career Air Force Officer and so we moved a lot (22 different moves by the time I was 19). I have one younger sister (one of my best friends) and my parents are still married and just celebrated their 60th anniversary this year. All those moves and a revolving network of friends made me very adaptable and comfortable with chaos, which I think is important for any entrepreneur.
Martha: We like to tell people that our story is one of perseverance. Like they say – never give up, you never know what’s right around the corner.
My childhood was not easy and even a bit dark. While my circumstances are not as severe as yours Wendy, there are emotional similarities… My mother left me to be raised by my grandparents as a baby, she would visit once or twice a year, then leave again. As I grew, my grandparents would have to distract me so that I would not run after the bus that took her away.
In those years, my grandparents became my parents, they were ‘mama and papa’. When my mother finally came for me, I was excited thinking I was going on a great adventure and would be returning soon. But day’s passed into weeks, weeks into months – I felt as though my own parents had kidnapped me. I would cry nightly, begging to go back home to mama and papa.
When my grandmother came to visit, I’d beg her to take me back with her. This of course left me with deep-rooted feelings of abandonment, which I have to suppress to this day. I eventually adjusted to my new home and new parents, but being one of six kids, I was often unseen and unheard over the chaos of the other five.
With my dad in the Navy, he was always out to sea, leaving my mother to raise all of us as single parent. It was difficult for her – she did her best and was very strict. Having been raised in a large family taught me how to handle anger, multiple personalities and individual needs. It was a crash course in people management.