From a secret side hustle to a certified B Corp buzzing business, Beekeeper's Naturals' Carly Stein

Joining me today is Carly Stein, the founder behind Beekeepers Naturals.

Founded by Carly Stein in 2017, Beekeeper's Naturals is an innovative company on a mission to reinvent the medicine cabinet. Using unique remedies from the beehive (like royal jelly and propolis), the beekeeper-led team is committed to providing the cleanest, most powerful solutions to modern health issues—like brain fog, chronic stress, poor sleep, and scratchy throats.

Unlike competitors, they apply scientific rigor to their product development and commit to third-party pesticide testing to ensure they’re creating natural remedies that actually deliver.

This has been one of my favourite episodes to date, Carly has such a special story and shares so much of the actual how of building her company, you’re going to get plenty of valuable pieces of gold throughout so make sure you’ve got a notepad and pen handy!

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!

Carly: Yeah, so I'm Carly Stein, I'm the founder and CEO of Beekeeper's Natural's, and Beekeeper's Knoxville's is a natural medicine company. So our mission is to reinvent the medicine cabinet using cleaner ingredients, sustainable ingredients, things that truly work and not making any compromises. When it comes to what you're putting in your body. You look at the medicine cabinet today, we have two very different ends of the spectrum. We have like nasti, cherry flavored cough syrup full of refined sugars and chemicals that are not actually healing, but just not for the symptom. And on the other side, there's this wonderful world of not for wellness. And there's a lot of great stuff there. And there's also a lot of stuff that's heavily marketed and doesn't really get the job done. And so we are really trying to marry the world of nature and science and reinvent the medicine cabinet. And one of the key features of our company is that we draw on a lot of different medicinal ingredients from the beehive going beyond honey. And we also are dedicated to saving the bees and supporting sustainability.

Oh, I love that I was actually just having a look in my medicine cabinet, in my bathroom, and I was like, yeah, I don't have anything natural in here. It's like old old stuff that you buy over the counter.

Doone: And it's interesting when you look in your cabinet, when I'd been obviously reading about your brand and like all these amazing reviews and things that you've said about the products, and I was like, wow, this is really weird. I don't have anything natural in there. And it's a weird thing because you have so many natural things in your fridge now. You have so many natural things in your skin care, but not yet in that category. Like for me personally.

Carly: Yeah, no, it's a really interesting thing. I mean, I have a lot of thoughts on this subject matter, obviously. But the first thing is, you know, when you're sick, your body's in a vulnerable state. The last thing you want to do is be introducing chemicals, refined sugars, flavors, preservatives, dyes. And so medicine was not really made to heal in a lot of cases. You know, there's some wonderful aspects of modern medicine, of course, but in a lot of cases, the medicine that we buy at the drugstore, it's meant to kind of mask the symptoms and get us through our day. But it doesn't it's not really helping us in the way that it should. And then just kind of to your point about what's in your fridge or your makeup cabinet or something like that, we've seen this better for you. Mission permeate every sector. There's clean food, clean beauty, sustainable fashion. And the one area that's truly loved is medicine. And I think it's because with medicine, at least, I'm like this with beauty products. I'm like, OK, sure, I'll try it. I don't know if it's working, but like, give me more. But with medicine, it has to work. Like, if you have a sore throat and you use the beekeeper's nozzles propolis spray and it does not help your sore throat, you are never using one of our products again and nor should you. So you're held to a very different standard when it comes to medicine and there is a lot of kind of upfront investing we have to do on the efficacy side, on the science side. And that's all stuff we're committed to doing. But it means that before we bring a product to market, we're spending a hell of a lot of money compared to kind of our cosmetic or food counterparts. So that's why I think there hasn't been a lot of innovation in this area. And for me.

Carly: This is like my obsession because of my own health issues, and so for me, there was like no other road I was going to go down. But certainly it's it hasn't really kept pace with what the customer of today wants and deserves and demands for themselves.

Yeah, totally. Absolutely. I'd love to go back into your past when your health issues were starting and you get to learn a little bit about your story before you had the light bulb moment to start this business and what the problems were that you were facing and how that led into starting the business.

Yeah, so. Oh, my gosh. I had. All kinds of health issues going up, so I had chronic tonsillitis, I don't know, have you ever had tonsillitis? I had have you had strep throat? Anything like that?

I haven't I'm very happy to hear that, but for any listeners, tonsillitis, strep throat, these sort of things are quite common and they're very painful. And typically, when you have something like tonsillitis or strep throat, you take a course of antibiotics and you'll recover in like a week or so. And if you have a chronic condition, you get your tonsils out. So that would have been the normal path for me. But I have an autoimmune condition where I cannot take antibiotics, so I cannot take antibiotics at all. And what that meant was that when I got tonsillitis or strep throat or anything viral, there was nothing I could really do. My body wouldn't recover quickly. I had a really weak immune system and so I would be sick or, I don't know, three weeks at a time.

And so think about this started when I was a little kid. So my whole experience growing up was, you know, missing. Huge amounts of school and sitting on the sidelines and being sick and in pretty severe pain with no medicine, that could help me. And when it came to taking my tonsils out because of my allergies, antibiotics, it wasn't the safest path to go down. So I have my tonsils. I still have them today, but I grew up constantly ill. And because of my allergies, a lot of one antibiotics are just not in the conversation for me. But a lot of what sold at the drugstore I would actually have an adverse reaction to. So everything from like the Neosporin and Nyquil and these these traditional things that we take, they would make me sicker. And so I grew up seeing, like every specialist flying around the country, like just trying to solve my problem. I saw every doctor, every naturopath, every like constantly just searching. And then from a pretty early age. We figured out that not much was happening and we had spent a lot of money and time that we couldn't really keep up with trying to solve these problems. And so I started really exploring the world of thoughtfulness. And I was really excited and I did a ton of research. I'm a person who has to do a ton of research based on where my health was, that my health has changed a lot now. Now we'll get to that. But anyways, I started doing a lot of research on the world of doubtfulness and I was really excited.

There was all of these cool, natural plant based alternatives that promise these unbelievable results. And there wasn't necessarily the most science that I was finding, but there was a ton of anecdotal evidence and a lot of these things have been used for years and years. And so I got a job started saving up money. And these wellness alternatives tend to be quite expensive. So I started buying these things and using them and I very quickly became very disillusioned with the world of natural wellness because I would end up spending time researching and buying these fancy celebrity endorsed food products. And they would in many cases do nothing. And sometimes I would have a negative reaction. So I was just really frustrated. I was like, where do I fit in the system? And it's, you know, a lot of people struggle with this. I had a chronic tonsillitis. It certainly wasn't debilitating and it wasn't life threatening. And I'm very fortunate for that. But it certainly altered my life. It caused a lot of stress, pain missing out. It was it really affected my wellbeing. And there's a huge population that struggles with autoimmune and these things are just not as accessible to this community anyways. So that was my experience and that continued up until college. I was constantly searching for the latest and greatest, only to be disappointed. And I kept when I could see different doctors getting different opinions. And everyone was kind of like, You're out of luck, kid. And in college, I did a semester abroad and went to Europe. I was studying in Sweden and I was traveling around and I busted my butt waitressing to get out there.

It was like my first big trip, so excited. And when I went to, I was doing like two weeks in Italy to meet up with another friend. And when I got to Italy pretty soon after that, I got really severe tonsillitis to the point where I was having a very hard time breathing. My tonsils were so swollen it was hard to get Aaron go. And I was going to have to come home. And I was like, oh my gosh, I'm not missing out again. Like, I worked so hard to get out here. And every time I get this opportunity in life, it gets shot down because I'm sick and I'm so tired of that. And so I was like, I'm just going to figure this out. Like there has to be a solution. And I went to a pharmacy in Florence. It was it wasn't like a natural fancy store. It was traditional pharmacy. I just looked up online where I could really talk to a pharmacist and I went and spoke to the pharmacist. I rattled off my list of allergies, my symptoms, all the things. And she was like, oh, you need propolis. And I was like, OK, what's that? And she's like propolis from the BS. And I was like, OK, so honey. And she's like, no, no, no, not honey. Totally different. It's propolis. So I had never heard of this stuff before. Like many of us, I thought that the only thing the bees did was make honey guilty.

I mean, I completely thought that.

And I thought I was like, OK, this must be like a language barrier. I don't know. But she's adamant that I try this. She feels really confident. And she was like really relaxed, given all of my symptoms and like the state I was in. And I was visibly sick and I was like, OK, I'm just going to try this. And I was also twenty one. And so I was like. I'll try it. And so I bought this propolis from her and I started using it, following her instructions, and then about five days I made a full recovery. And that had never happened to me before. I had tried at 20 years, 20 years. Like a game changer. Yeah, not exactly 20 years, because I started getting sick around like nine years old ish, I think, anyways. But a long, long time of searching. And for the first time I had this experience of recovery and I didn't know that that was possible for me. And I started doing a ton of research on propolis and the more medicinal compounds that come from the beehive. And I learned that propolis is certainly not new.

The first recorded human use dates back to three hundred B.C. and propolis has been written up for having some incredibly beneficial properties. Its antiviral, its antifungals, antimicrobial antiinflammatory. It's full of antioxidants. So these are all things that are amazing for combating germs and reducing inflammation and swelling, which is what you need when you're sick. It's really interesting, actually. In the 17th century, propolis was listed in the London Pharmacopoeia as an official drug. So a lot of people think propolis is like the OG antibiotic, like it's really what people were using long before we turn to a lot of the sort of medicines we use today. So it's really interesting. We have this really longstanding heeling history. If you look at propolis is a compound. There's over three hundred beneficial compounds inside propolis. It has a really wonderful effect on the body and it's wonderful for autoimmune and sensitive people generally because it's really sensitive on your system and it's something that your body can really kind of integrate. So I have found my problems right here.

So I had found my thing. I was feeling better. And as I was traveling around Europe, I started to notice things like propolis, royal jelly, bee pollen were more commonplace. I remember finding brand supplements in France with royal jelly. And I saw all these like anti aging compounds as well that had royal jelly. And then when I was in France and then in Copenhagen, I bought this energy supplement that had bee pollen. So I started finding these products everywhere. And it's not like they're so widely accessible, but I was looking for them and I just started noticing that there was a greater awareness.

So I started incorporating them into my routine and I felt a huge difference. I was somebody who was getting sick monthly and I really wasn't getting sick. And when I did have something coming on, I was able to kind of stop it before it got bad. So my health radically changed during that semester abroad. And I certainly wasn't thinking about starting a company. I was just like, oh my God, I found my thing. I love the products. They work for my body. This is great. And so I finished my time abroad, came back home to finish up college in Canada where I'm from, and exams rolled around. And I had one too many all nighters cramming and I got sick. And I wasn't so worried this time because I was like, I just need propolis. Being sick is no longer a monthly affair. So I thought I just needed to get my hands on some propolis. And I went to like every health food store and there was shelves and shelves of organic honey and manuka honey. But nobody really knew what I was talking about when I asked for propolis. It's like people thought I was insane asking for this. I finally found some propolis at this farmer's market in British Columbia and it was forty dollars for like the tiniest tincture and it was organic and artisanal and all the things. And I went back and used it and I had a really severe allergic reaction. And so I was like, what the hell, how is this happening? I just came off seven months in Europe where I used propolis literally daily.

Why is this happening? And at that time I was a T for my chemistry class. And so I actually ran a toxicity panel on the product I had purchased and I found out that there was pesticide exposure. And so that led me down a different path where I was like, it's organic. How is their pesticides? And this like, isn't that the whole point of organic? And what I learned was with products and I'm sure there's a lot of inefficiencies in the organic world, but specifically with new products, organic is not a great benchmark because the bees fly. You can't put a leash on them. So just because their hive sits on organic land, if the neighbors are doing something dirty, which they you know, pesticides are widely used, in many cases they are. The bees will get exposure. Oh, gosh, I know it's brutal. So for somebody who's autoimmune and really sensitive to pesticides, organic doesn't paint the full picture. And even if you're not, if you're paying the extra money for something organic, like it should be pesticide free, you're trying to get your body clean and away from these toxic ingredients. But anyways, that experience. It was illuminating and it made me realize, you know, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. So I know the byproducts work. I'm not allergic to be products. All of a sudden I am still allergic to pesticides. So I need to start beekeeping and run quality control. How the hell do I do that?

So I literally went on Google was started reading blogs about beginner beekeeping, YouTube videos. I literally bought the book Beekeeping for Dummies. I actually met the guy who wrote it a few years ago and I was like, I like almost crying. It was really embarrassing. It was I just it was extra. It was not. It was awful.

But anyway, I love that you like your fan girl moment.

Is the guy so funny and he's like not used to being approached by that. So he was like, are you having a panic attack?

And you're just really cool.

It was really embarrassing.

I want to share with him and I'm like standing so awkwardly and so stressed out in the photo actually didn't even post. It was like, I look insane even though he's so friggin cool and made a big difference to my life clearly.

So anyways, I started learning all about beekeeping and then I was like, OK, where do I get these? How do I do this? I'm a college student. And so I Googled beekeeping and I found the local my local chapter for the Beekeeping Association. And if anyone's interested, most parts of the world have a local chapter for a beekeeping association that meets monthly.

Even right now, most places are doing it for you. So I started attending these meetings and I was not the typical. I was not a member of the typical demographic that attends these meetings, and I ended up meeting this guy named John. He is a third generation beekeeper who moved to Canada from Romania. He's a retired biochemist and he basically moved to Canada to live in the woods and keep bees and be a recluse. And lo and behold, this annoying cheerleader shows up just like begging him to teach her about bees. And so basically, I convinced him to let me be an apprentice. I started working for him for free. He was in the middle of Victoria, B.C., in the forest. So why is pesticide free as you can get in the middle of the forest on an island in Canada? I went to college in Victoria, British Columbia. So I was fortunate to go to college in that beautiful place. But anyways, I started working with him. I started as his apprentice, and it was just this incredible learning experience because I'm learning from somebody who's generationally been exposed to bees and then also has a science background. And then at the same time, I was taking science courses. I was still achieve my campus. So I would go to the hives and work with the bees and create all these products and learn about them and then bring them back to the lab where I had a free run and perfect my extraction type.

And I I didn't know it at the time, but looking back, I was creating this product line and just perfecting it for myself. And, you know, it was it was actually a really beautiful, accidental way to start a company, because I think a lot of time I mean, when people start companies, they're thinking about the longer term, they're thinking about profitability and how you scale this. And inevitably you cut some people not you don't necessarily have to. I really believe you don't have to do this. But you've we've all seen a lot of people cut corners on the pursuit of profit. And so I never thought I could start a company. I was just making what works for me and doing it as best I could. And so I have this beautiful experience where I was just able to really learn about something and really perfect something and become an expert in something with no pressure. And that's what happened. I completely fell in love with the bee. I am obsessed with playing mad scientist and creating products, and I really changed my health. And at the start, you know, I never thought it could be a company. I never thought I studied sciences. I never took a business course in my life. I never thought I could start a company. But I started sharing these products with my roommates. And next thing you know, people on campus were Facebook messaging me.

They're like these products, where can I buy some from you? And I was like, OK, I don't even know you. But what was happening there was I realized that. These one these products work for a meaningful population beyond myself, and there's a real appetite for something natural that's effective in the medicine space and there is clearly a lack of options. Even if you're not autoimmune, even if you don't have these allergies, there's an understanding that when you're sick, you want to put something clean in your body, but you also need something that works and is going to address the symptoms and you want something that also helps you recover more quickly. So I was hitting all of these things and sorry, this is a long story.

I love a long story. Please continue.

Good, good. So I was making these products and I was just madly in love with what I was doing. I completely fell in love with the bees. I've always been pretty interested in environmental affairs and just like a nature lover. And I started to really learn about the importance of pollinators and how these really sustain life on this planet and how intricate these creatures are and how it's matriarchal society. Like there was all of these things about bees that were just like, oh, this is the coolest. So I fell completely in love with bees. I was already in love with building products and I like solving problems. And so I had this dream of starting a bee product company, but I was graduating with negative funds and starting a bee product company. When I went to basically any adult was like, that sounds really weird. You probably just get a job.