CBD business? You NEED to listen to these 7 major learnings from the founders shaping the industry
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
Hi everyone! Doone here - your host and hype girl. Thank you for tuning in to my solo episode this week.
This week, I’m digging through the archives all the way back to the early days of Female Startup Club to unearth the lessons shared by female pioneers in the controversial, exciting and ever-evolving CBD industry. Since cannabis is progessively legalising across countries and it’s demand has increased multifold, we’ve seen an influx of innovative women-led companies in the space.
Although, we must note, not a particularly representative one. In 2022, the percentage of women holding these top position has dropped to 22%, down from 37% women in executive-level roles in 2017. Despite this decline of women-power in the space, I’ve had to chance to speak to a number of real hustlers in the space making a profound undeniable impact on the future of CBD, and I’m excited to share their biggest learnings with you here today. Let’s get straight into it.
The first interview takes us back to the chat that I had last year with Valtina Milanova, the founder of Daye. Valentina is the creator of the first ever cannabis infused tampon, created to help with period cramps. Secondly we chat to Yugenials founder Nia Davies, as we dive into why it’s about time for consumer education and regulation to evolve more seriously in this space. We look back on the time the founders of Equilibria, Coco Meers and Marcy Capron-Vermillon showed us how to look at influencers as a relationship development partnership.
Ok, that’s all for today! What I love about the female-founded cannabis space, is that the founders work together like a team. It’s a tight-knit community of strong women working together opposed to against eachother in their plight to educate the world on the positive effects of CBD and join forces in battling through those regulations. When you’re starting up a business in CBD as a woman not fighting against competition, you’re joining a team. We can all take a leaf out of that book. We also jump back to the basics on finding that gap in the market and how Sagely Naturals founder Kerrigan Behrens started where I’m a big believer every brand should, looking at consumer insights. Next we reflect on our chat with Kiva Confections founder Kristi Palmer about the importance of packaging in gained consumer trust, before diving into the specifics of how the money piece comes together in building a brand in a high risk category such as this one from our conversation with Prima co-founder Lauren Angelica Myers. Before rounding off the episode with the story of the industries very own Kush Queen, Olivia Alexander, who has shown us like no other how a bad situation can turn out to be a stepping stone for greatness.
Let’s get straight to it! This is me, for Female Startup Club.
Hi everyone! Doone here - your host and hype girl. Thank you for tuning into my mini solo ep this week. Today we’re digging through the archives all the way back to the early days of Female Startup Club to dive into the lessons shared by female pioneers in the somewhat controversial, exciting and ever-evolving CBD industry. Since cannabis is progressively being legalised across countries and it’s demand has increased a huggggge amount, we’ve seen an influx of innovative women-led companies in the space that I’ve had to chance to speak to making a profound and undeniable impact on the future of CBD, and I’m excited to share their biggest learnings with you here today.
But before we jump in, and you might have caught wind of this already if you receive our Monday newsletter, we’ve got something cooking and it’s going to be launching very very soon and I am just SO excited. Whether you’re in the 9-5, whether you’re a student, whether you own a side hustle or whether you’re a founder actively building your business - this is for everyone who is part of Female Startup Club and I can’t wait to share it with you. If you’re a listener of this show I’d love to have you be part of it. You can join our waitlist at femalestartupclub.com/waitlist to be ready for when we make our announcement in a few weeks!
Ok, now let’s jump into today’s episode!
The first interview that came to mind when I was thinking about the CBD space, was the chat that I had last year with Valentina Milanova, the founder of Daye. Valentina is the creator of the world first cannabis infused tampon, created specifically to help with period cramps. I actually get them delivered to my mailbox via subscription and love them. But as you can imagine, a concept as out-the-box as this one was an easy target for critics and naysayers in the early days. Which brings us to our first learning we should take from the famously resilient women in the CBD space, and that’s that you should absolutely not back down from a no. When Valentina first started sharing her concept with friends, and people at work, no one shared her excitement. It was all …. don’t talk about tampons. It’s uncomfortable. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. If this was such a great idea, Procter and Gamble would have invented it already. But instead of backing down to these criticisms, it was these reactions that confirmed that Valentina was onto some real innovation. She went ahead and developed the product on the quiet, and that’s how Daye was born. Valentina reminds us that basically everything she’s done since then has seemed impossible when she first started thinking about it. But therein lies the magic. Take the impossible, believe it in 110%, and never ever back down when you’re faced with a massive mountain of no’s to climb.
The journey of entrepreneurship is famous for being littered with no’s, but few industries receive quite a many as the CBD industry does. It’s a controversial space. It’s part of the reason Valentina lacked support from her friends, and it’s the reason so many founders struggle in the space today.
I should mention that’s also a big reason why we created our private community for founders - so we could come together for support and guidance when times are touch.
Which brings met to my next point. There have been so many developments in terms of legalisation and changed understanding about the effects of Cannabis, but these deep-rooted perceptions don’t change over night. In my conversation with Yugenials Nia Davies, she dove into why it’s about time for consumer education and regulation to evolve more seriously in this space. She sees the war on drugs as having caused this perception of all drugs as being bad for you and having no benefit whatsoever. Because of this, founders now hold the responsibility to redefine cannabis as something that's not just the medical use and not just for recreational use but which can be taken as a health supplement. The learning here is that as a founder you need to take that education piece seriously if we stand any chance to change the narrative around cannabis in the future. Take the time to choose great quality, transparent products that have lab tested ingredients, and make sure your consumer knows what they’re taking and why they’re taking it. With real results, effective products and most vitally, the education piece, we can change the perception around the damage that the war on drugs has left on the industry and come together to a more integrative and holistic approach to health.
One particularly effective way to go about the education piece, considering the advertisement regulations broadly imposed across social media and other channels, is to collaborate with influencers in the space. Nia recalls times an advert did finally manage to run across Instagram, having been careful not to use any of the key-words such as “CBD”, and it being stopped prematurely. Obviously this is super frustrating as a founder trying to activate different marketing channels. Collabs with influencers and bloggers are a great way to get around that. And of course there are many different types of relationships that brands can have with influencers. The founders of Equilibria, Coco Meers and Marcy Capron-Vermillon took a deep dive into this topic during our conversation about their female-focused CBD brand earlier this year. Many brands will blindly send a product out in the hope for a shout-out, or pre-determine a strict price-plan for the influencer to adhere to. This didn’t work for them in the CBD space. Instead, they decided to opt for a more relationship centered approach. Instead of looking at influencer as a transactional channel, it’s referred to as their relationship development partnership, with the marketing team functioning as relationship owners. They know them, they’re friends with them, they understand what their financial goals are, and they help them create content. The results of this kind of approach has led to an increase of real and authentic product reviews, wild-fire word-of-mouth and exploded their referral programme to the next level. The learning? Create meaningful connections to ensure meaningful results.
I’m aware I’ve skipped ahead a little there, so let’s backtrack a second. Back to the basics of the supply and demand around bringing a CBD product to market in the first place. In order to find that oh so important “gap in the market”, Sagely Naturals founder Kerrigan Behrens started - and I’m a big believer every brand should do this - , by looking at consumer insights. She realized she needed to find out what the barrier to entry is for someone to actually try this kind of a product. Where those pain points lie that might prevent someone from trying CBD in the first place. Surprisingly, through focus groups, she quickly came to the realization that the vast majority of people already believe in the medicinal benefits to cannabis. So the education piece didn’t need to be centered around that. In fact, the biggest barrier to entry was that the fear of getting high. People clearly had this association between CBD and hallucination, and Kerrigan realised her mission would be to bust this myth. To make CBD feel like this normal every day product you’re proud to carry around. Because that’s what it is btw, the beautiful thing about CBD is the fact you can get all of these key benefits without having to get high. With this insight she was able to focus on making the product as approachable as possible, with a clear central message around the brand. This is a great example of how listening to your consumer is an absolutely vital early step in developing your brand feel, I can guarantee there will always be something that surprises you and changes the trajectory of your business for the better.
Kiva Confections founder Kristi Palmer found a similar thing to be true in creating a brand aesthetic for her brand well over 10 years ago now. She knew from the get-go that product and packaging would be the way to gain consumer trust, especially in an industry as controversial and questionable as this one. As a way to combat the unpredictability of the space, she opted for a strategy of consistency and trust, to be communicated through packaging. A great way to build on trust is through consistent actions. Beautiful packaging and a consistent, reliable product is what fuelled word-of-mouth for them in the early days. Being meticulous and having a methodology about everything from the quality of what you’re offering to the placement of the information of the package all comes together to create a thoughtful, professional brand that consumers trust. Therein lies the key, especially in an industry that doesn’t have trust inherently built into it.
Next, I want to dive into the specifics of how the money piece comes together in building a brand in a high risk category such as this one. A lot of the CBD founders I spoke to quoted difficulties in raising and building connections with investors as a major painpoint for kicking off their entrepreneurial journey. Despite the landscape changing significantly in the past years, many VC’s funds still classify hemp-derived products as ‘vice’ products, meaning internal rules make it hard to invest in them. I’m lucky to have gotten the chance to speak to Prima co-founder Laurel Angelica Myers, who was able to secure a $9.2 million seed-plus round about how exactly she went about this. Her main piece of advice centered around going in with a clear financial plan, how much you want to raise and exactly where it’s going, and a clear vision for the future. This is going to give people more faith if not just your idea, but also your ability to execute against it. And that’s what people are really investing in at the end of the day. A person, and the idea. Show off what you can bring to the table, and make them excited about joining your business. Additionally, you also want to be showing off how you are uniquely positioned to solve this problem. How there is a clear problem, with a clear opportunity, and you clearly being the best person for the job to solve that. You want it to almost feel ludicrous that they could be considering not investing in you.
Now finally, I wouldn’t dream of chatting about CBD without mentioning the industry's very own Kush Queen, Olivia Alexander. She has shown us like no other that a bad situation can turn out to be a stepping stone for greatness, and is a woman we can all learn a lot from whichever industry we’re in. Prior to founding Kush Queen, the cannabis lifestyle brand that has catapulted into a multi-million dollar company, Olivia made her income from her 3M-following- IG account. That all came tumbling down when Instagram decided to remove her account in accordance with community guidelines. That’s pretty traumatizing. Instead of wallowing in this moment of despair, she decided to turn it into an opportunity. To take this moment to focus on what she truly wanted, which was to start building Kush Queen. And it turns out this was exactly the type of body-armour that would serve her well building in this notoriously tricky space. I wanted to leave this solo episode with exactly this message, that all the challenges that inherently come with entrepreneurship do serve a purpose. They provide us with all the tools and inspo needed to face that next roadblock head-on.
What I love about the female-founded cannabis space, is that the founders work together like a team. It’s a tight-knit community of strong women working together opposed to against eachother in their plight to educate the world on the positive effects of CBD and join forces in battling through those regulations. When you’re starting a business in CBD you’re a woman not fighting against competition but joining a team. We can all take a leaf out of that book.
Ok, that’s all for today folks!
If you know someone interested in this space, please do share this episode with them. And as always if you’re on your phone listening to this episode take a quick screenshot of the podcast and share it to your Instagram stories or leave us a review in your podcast app to help other ears find us.
And if you love to chat, please do slide into DMs to say hello and let me know what you’re building. I’d love to be your hype girl. You can find at @dooneroisin on Tiktok or Instagram.
See you next week, bye!