A PotNetwork Exclusive
A person or thing viewed as a model of excellence, Paragon is a name apropos for the cannabis company founded by entrepreneur Jessica VerSteeg. Based on blockchain technology and its incorruptible data, Paragon grew partially out of VerSteeg’s own desire to perfect the seed-to-sale process of the marijuana trade. Yet, where others in the industry lean on the technology more as a buzzword, VerSteeg’s company has always focused on it more as a solution. Paragon is, in many ways, a company born of necessity.
Conversely, Paragon is also a company deeply personal to its founder and CEO, an undertaking built in many ways on the premise of redemption —both personal and in the larger sense of the industry. To understand the impetus behind Paragon, its purpose for being, one needs to understand Jessica VerSteeg. Entrepreneurial-minded, tech-savvy, and deeply introspective, she’s a bold woman in an industry that needs more of them. Paragon is a cannabis company with a purpose —a purpose beyond making money, and at its center is Jessica VerSteeg.
We spoke with company founder and CEO Jessica VerSteeg to learn more about Paragon in her own words. Below is Part I in PotNetwork’s exclusive two-part interview with Jessica detailing what she had to say:
“It’s an ecosystem that has a few moving parts.”
A diversified brand, Paragon takes a holistic view of the cannabis industry through a diverse array of business offerings. More than just blockchain technology, the company stands at the leading edge of marijuana entrepreneurship, offering users a community experience. Aside from tackling the supply-chain, VerSteeg’s company has taken on the banking system head-on with the cryptocurrency offering Paragoncoin. The cannabis industry’s version of Bitcoin, Paragoncoin not only helps budding entrepreneurs maneuver around the banking system, but it also sustains Paragon’s internal ecosystem as well.
And then there’s space for businesses to operate, and Paragon’s community voting system as well. Where today’s cannabis industry is lost in a battle over who has the most abundant greenhouse, companies like Paragon are preparing for the future through diversification. There’s a reason why Paragon is considered not just a business, but an ecosystem.
Jessica VerSteeg: Paragon, overall, is an ecosystem that kind of feeds into these three things; our blockchain, our coin and our space. I decided to create this ecosystem because I realized it wasn’t —in order for one to really work and grow, you need a supporting role, and these roles create this ecosystem. So if I just say, “Here’s the blockchain,” and everyone is working just straight from the Ethereum Network which we built it on but I had to build another layer because, if you just start using our blockchains on the Ethereum Network, it’s going to be really expensive, but I want this to be free to government, free to suppliers, free to farmers, labs, I want a free product.
So, with our second layer using our coin increase, this little second kind of buffer that makes it inexpensive. So you don’t have to pay us a fee to use our blockchain, you just use a coin or a token, and it pays for a small —it’s basically a maintenance fee. It’s so small you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it at all, it’s like you’re paying for wifi. It’s such a small thing that it’s the only way that I could do it, this coin.
And then, the space, I realized that when I had AuBox, it was so difficult for me to find an affordable space. I wasn’t even a grower or a lab; I wasn’t a dispensary, I was just repackaging products that were already packaged into a pretty box, that’s it. And it was really difficult to find space, so I decided to create this coworking space for cannabis startups to have meetings at, to have their office at, to get mail at, and make it be at market rates. I mean, they’re a startup just like anyone else, it’s not harder to have a startup in cannabis because you’re regulated to these green zones, you can easily be robbed, and they don’t have the same money or comforts of working from a garage or getting VC funding the way that other startups do. It’s an ecosystem that has a few moving parts.
[Voting] is so important to me because these are people that are in a space that’s been shut out and nobody wants to hear what they have to say. This is a space that people – a lot of people that get into this space just want money, and they don’t care what – you know, if you’re an investor, they’re not caring what people want or what the supplier really wants to create, they just want money and a fast turnover.
So I wanted to give this to the community since it’s who I built it for, and give them a voice. What do they want? Where do they want this space to be built? They’re the reason it’s being built; I don’t need it anymore. I wanted the community to have a voice.
It’s like our coin, other people approach me, and they say, “Jessica, how much of your coin should I buy? When is it going to go up?” And I honestly can’t help but laugh, because that’s not what our coin is about and that’s not what our ecosystem is about. If you’re not in cannabis, you have no use for our coin, don’t even try to buy it. If you are somebody that just wants to, you know, promote cannabis, and you don’t even use it yourself, fine, you can be part of our ecosystem, you’ve got a voice, you can vote for things. But I think it’s important to have a voice in this space because it’s a community that’s been pushed to the side.
“His exact words were, ‘I’m scared I’ll get addicted.’”
In an era of interchangeable CEOs, Paragon is that unique company that can claim its leader as both its heart and its soul. To tell the story of Paragon is to tell the story of Jessica VerSteeg —a heartbreaking story that’s become too often repeated in America today. When thinking of the opioid crisis in the U.S. today, it’s easy for many to forget how substance use disorder and its repercussions when it comes to wealth or fame or status in life. Jessica, herself learned that under the most unfortunate of circumstances.
It’s also important to note that substance use disorder is a disease that affects not only the user but those closest to them. To hear Jessica VerSteeg tell the story of her relationship to a former NFL Player who lost his life to prescription pills, and the guilt she felt in denying him the use of cannabis to ease his pain is a stark reminder that everyone suffers from this disease. But to hear Jesica discuss how she used that pain for something positive and continues to do so to this day is a hopeful sign. Jessica channeled a dark time in her life into something brighter while continuing to open up about her past as a way for others to know that they are not alone.
JV: I grew up in Iowa with my father and Oklahoma with my mother. It was kind of this Bible Belt, just say no to the devil’s lettuce kind of communities. My parents were in the military, so I never saw drugs. They were pretty straight-laced, so I just thought that it was a bad thing.
So, when my partner, who was in the NFL, asked if he could smoke marijuana for his pain like the other players I said, “No way, there’s absolutely no way, it’s illegal in the NFL.” And he said to me —his exact words were, “I’m scared I’ll get addicted.” I said, “You’ll never get addicted because the doctors know how much to give you.” I just thought addiction was cocaine or heroin; I didn’t know it was medicine from the doctor.
He did get addicted to these pills, and we didn’t really notice it until the NFL cut him for having too many concussions. When the NFL cuts you from the team, that means you no longer have a doctor with an NFL mindset that’s giving you pills to wake up, pills to practice, pills for your pain, pills for stress, pills to go through the game, and pills to sleep. And since we were in a relationship, and he knew I wouldn’t have been okay with what was going on, he kind of hid it and started buying pills from other athletes that had access to pills. Ultimately, everything about our relationship changed because he was changing, with this fiending for pills.
I told others around me I thought he had dementia, he was brushing his hair with his toothbrush, doing really strange things, having mood swings, and everyone told me I’m crazy. They said, “There’s no way, you’re just exaggerating, maybe you want to break up with him because he’s out of the NFL and you’re trying to find some reason.” Everything was being blamed back on me.
So, I just dealt with it and lived with it until one day, I was cleaning up his vomit which became a normal habit that I thought was because of concussions and hoped would go away, and I found a bunch of hard things in his vomit. I didn’t know what they were but, because I thought he had dementia, I thought maybe he was eating rocks or doing something strange. I decided to clean it off, which was nauseating in and of itself and when I did, and I saw that they were pills that hadn’t been dissolved.
It clicked in my head what he had said, “I’m scared I’ll get addicted.” So I confronted him, I told him, “Let’s get some help.” Things got worse; we ended up breaking up because it became a very bad, abusive relationship. Ultimately, during our breakup, it was a one-year breakup, he passed away from an overdose of these pills. And then, I really started looking into alternatives for painkillers. An alternative kept coming up as cannabis, to painkillers, and I was shocked. Obviously, I instantly felt regret, and denial, and blamed myself, and even became suicidal because I felt like I killed him in a way.
I wanted to change the way that other people saw cannabis because I didn’t want anyone else to be as ignorant and naïve as I was.
“So I put Paragon first, and I put AuBox on pause.”
In a bit of irony, Paragon was born out of something more imperfect than not. VerSteeg’s first foray into the cannabis industry, a boutique enterprise called AuBox in which customers would receive cannabis products in a stylish box every month, suffered a setback when she found some of her suppliers were falsifying lab reports. To her, the issue was more than just bad business; it was terrible for people. Her primary concern was and continues to be what people are putting in their bodies, because cannabis, as natural as it may appear to some, can contain pesticides and other dangerous chemicals that need to be vetted by distributors and customers alike.
At first, VerSteeg was not looking to start a new company. To the contrary, she wanted to maintain the quality control she had promised her customers at AuBox from the beginning. Yet, when inspiration strikes, it’s always best to follow. Jessica knew she was onto something big, not just for herself, but for the industry at-large. The beginnings of Paragon are an interesting story of desire, and of wanting to do better for an industry desperately in need of an image makeover. So, VerSteeg put AuBox to the side and began her journey with Paragon.
JV: I created this company, AuBox, and it was a monthly subscription to medical marijuana. Basically, it was just a really pretty box that looked like a Chanel box that you buy a purse in, it felt really nice, and it was different products every month that clients would get. That was the first step of how I got into cannabis, and my mission was to change the perception and to hopefully help more people get into the space.
Because it came from such a passionate place, and a place of wanting transparency, and a place of wanting to change this image, I required every supplier to give me lab results. Because I wanted —at that time, especially, it was important, it was medicinal only in California. I wanted so badly to give people good products that they would feel comfortable with.
Unfortunately, I started to see some lab results were photoshopped. At first, I thought I was really just reviewing real lab results. I will say, 90 percent of them were honest, I have great suppliers, but that 10 percent or 5 percent margin, it’s too much to risk with children or people with compromised immune systems.
So, I already knew about blockchain because my husband was a Bitcoin miner very early on when it first came out. I was an early adopter of Bitcoin. I knew that there was a way to verify these lab results, so I just decided to do it internally, I wasn’t trying to build anything else at that moment, I just wanted to help AuBox and its patients.
So I asked my husband to lend me a few developers, and have them help me learn how to work myself on the blockchain. I knew how it worked, I knew how to view things, I knew how Bitcoin works, but I didn’t know how to code something or write anything on the blockchain. So they helped me. All it was, there was no UI/UX, there were no smart contracts, there was nothing, it was just a blockchain with storing information and the information I was storing was lab results.
Over time, I would say a few months, I realized over a discussion with Igor, my husband, I was creating something that —if the entire industry decides, to be honest, they would want this. So, I kind of toggled back and forth between the two. You know, when your company, your first startup ever, when you go from modeling to tech it’s a pretty big jump, starts to make money, it’s like this money hungry side of you wants to just kind of stay with that. But the passionate side of me that created this and got into this in the first place was much stronger than the money hungry side.
I realized I needed to focus on building this technology and hope that everyone else in the space wants transparency. So I put Paragon first, and I put AuBox on pause.
We worked on the UI, the UX, the different users, and created this blockchain that, labs themselves can now put this information on the blockchain, cultivators themselves can now put this information on the blockchain, and it creates these two smart contracts at the end of the lab result and at the end of the grow that can be compared. The government can compare them; patients can compare them, dispensaries can compare them, suppliers can compare them, and make sure that the information is true. So now, with these smart contracts, you can verify, yourself, when you go to the dispensary.
When you go to a dispensary, next time why don’t you ask them, “Is this product organic? Is it not? How was it grown, indoor/outdoor?” They’re going to tell you whatever’s on the label, but how do you know that label is true as a consumer? And that’s not really fair, it’s our body, and we deserve to know what’s in it. And same for government, I think that this can really help move things to a legalized cannabis country on a federal level. Because government, they’ve legalized alcohol, they’ve legalized tobacco, they’ve legalized opiates. Everything that shouldn’t be legalized is, why? Because they can tax it and track it properly. Once they can tax cannabis properly, it’s going to be a go.
Check back tomorrow for Part II of PotNetwork’s exclusive interview with Paragon founder and CEO Jessica VerSteeg!