Becoming the go-to multi-million dollar cannabis company, with Kush Queen’s Olivia Alexander

I’m so thrilled you’re tuning into this episode today with Olivia Alexander - the Founder of Kush Queen.

Since 2015, Kush Queen has been committed to providing the finest cannabis, wellness, and lifestyle products. Under Olivia’s direction, Kush Queen has grown to become the premier female-focused cannabis lifestyle brand and has catapulted into a multi-million dollar company, distributed to 1000+ accounts, stocked in the likes of Urban Outfitters and partners with incredible brands like Alice and Olivia.

In this episode we cover:

  • Why it’s important to build your email and SMS database over social media: and spoiler alert it’s because she learned the hard way when she lost an Instagram account with 3 million followers.

  • The marketing risks she took that quantum leaped her forward.

  • How she overcomes the challenges that inherently come with working in this industry.

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

Speaker2: So I am technically the founder and CEO of Kush Queen. We are a luxury CBD and cannabis company out in California. I founded the company over six years ago in my parents garage and I've grown it into a multi million dollar operation over the last few years. We have over 70 Skewes. We sell products online in retailers like Urban Outfitters and then we also sell cannabis products in the compliant and regulated market in California.

Speaker1: Love it. Love it. It's crazy to think like when you started something from your parents garage that you could get to where you are today in just six years. It's kind of quick.

Speaker2: Yeah, I did have a leg up. I started technically in this industry before it was an industry. Twelve years ago, I worked at the most entry level job you could have in cannabis at the time, which was a bud tender. So I had some friends. They said, my friends are opening up a dispensary. I was like, whoa, I want to work at a dispensary that sells really cool. And so I did. And it was from that moment that I fell in love with the plant and the people that use it. And I knew that there was going to be a whole world that was going to be built around people who were not stoners. Because I wasn't a stoner, I just used cannabis and I had no idea what I was going to do. I just knew this is it for me forever. I love it. I love connecting with people. I was excited about it and everything else sort of just had to fall into place. So when I started Khush Queen, I had been working in the industry as well for many, many years, and I was able to use my experience as a form of capital when it came to starting my business and chasing my dream totally.

Speaker1: What was the point when you were working in the dispensary and in the industry that you thought, hey, there's actually a business for me to start here and I'm going to stop going on this entrepreneurial path?

Speaker2: Honestly, right away, I started a company called Sky High Treats when I worked at the dispensary when I was 18 and it totally failed, but I had the instinct. It really spoke to me and my gut. I'm an entrepreneur who really believes in training yourself to learn how to listen to intuition. Believe it or not, you can train yourself in meditation. And so I've always been listening. I didn't have my AHA moment and chase it until about twenty thirteen. So many years later in a manifestation period, I was really doing a lot of meditation, a lot of yoga. I knew I wanted to start a business. I knew I wanted it to be something that would give me a lot of freedom in life, but also allow me to make money. And there was a week that I would say is the most important week of my life. It was summer of twenty thirteen. I had gone to a little premiere party for a friend of mine, Harvey Gillion, who's now a big actor on what we do in the shadows on effects. And I put my hands up like this and I ended up on the glamour dotcom beauty blog and it said Celebrity Olivia Alexander's nail art. And I'm like, that's funny. And then a couple days later, I was in a store and I had purchased a pen battery and I had crystallized it with Swarovski crystals. And the owner wanted to buy some. And I was like, huh? And then the moment happened. And I said, this is what I have been waiting for. This is what I've been trying to manifest.

Speaker2: This is my opportunity. So I went to my dad and I said, hey, I need you to give me some money to start a crystal vape pen business and a nail art business. And I'm going to also sell sunglasses. This is my plan. And my dad gave me seven hundred bucks. I know like what a week amount of money to ask for. And I made six dollars in the first month and it was really, truly off to the races from there. And I really just let the community that I had found speak to me because Instagram really just exploded for me. It was very obviously early on and Instagram still. And I just was posting images of the products, posting images of myself, really showing people a luxury cannabis lifestyle long before this was even socially acceptable. I mean, I had so many people tell me you're ruining your life. Why would you post yourself smoking on the Internet? You're never going to have a job. And I was like, well, I'm making a lot of money now. I was not making money like this before. So the money kind of had people settled down with the stigma very quickly and then just a lot of organic natural support developed for Crystal Hold. And what I was doing, Miley Cyrus tweeted a photo of herself wearing the sunglasses and a friend had brought them to a video shoot and was just like, oh, I think you might like these. And I just really called in a lot of favors. I had been in the entertainment industry my whole life, so I was able to ask a lot of friends who are actors, young Hollywood kind of people, hey, can you throw me a tag? Can I get you to put these on and let me take a picture and share it on my social? And it just builds and builds and builds.

Speaker2: And then a girl showed me an attachment for the pin and you could actually use cannabis with the battery. And I created one for her and I said, well, I should just sell them. I use cannabis. And basically I called the queen and then I really opened up Pandora's box. My business just like exploded again. And it was because of these two words, Kush Queen and how I self-identified, how I showed you a really beautiful joint rolling set up with blue batons and how I was just creating this world, showing this lifestyle. And then it just built and built and built. And one day I met who is now my fiancee, but he was a cultivator. He had a huge grow operation. And I said to him, I said, you know, it's really my dream to make a cannabis brand for everybody else. I'm not a stoner kush queen, is it? We have to just make beautiful, amazing products that speak to people in a way that is wellness and that isn't just about getting high. And it didn't happen immediately because he basically really got me a lot of clients in cannabis at this point. I was doing creative work, social media. I was really just hustling nonstop, running Cristol cold.

Speaker2: I had clients. I was really just living this wild life. And I built a huge network on Instagram, over three million followers at this point. Why? Yeah, and cannabis and CBD inherently violates the terms of service of almost every major social media app. Something really important for people to know it's censored. They do not want you promoting these kinds of things. So I started to have a lot of problems. I lost a million and a half followers in one day during the summer of twenty fifteen. My biggest pages were deleted and taken away from me by Instagram and never given back. And in that moment I had my real dream right in front of me, which was Queen, and I took it as a great aha moment to focus on what I truly wanted and not be distracted by all of these cannabis clients and all of this social media advertising. Basically, I was doing I had my moment to really put my name on something that I always dreamed of and we really reformulated the products we pretty much seized. Being crystal cold at this time went all the way into Khush Queen and it was a wild ride. So I did that. And within a few months, well, I guess not a few months. Within two years, we were approached by a nail salon chain called Belchers, who wanted to do a KBD mani pedi. And we were supposed to just give three hundred services of products. And all those years later, it's still one of the best selling services they have at the salon.

Speaker2: They have like seven of them, I think. And it went viral. It was just this huge moment. And we got to be a part of ushering in CBD into the mainstream, in the media. And we really saw this incredible growth with our business where all these amazing women mainly and men were going into nail salons. They were getting to experience the service that they had tried 70 times in their life with CBD. And they felt a difference. They felt it and they would go home and they would buy our products. Then they would go back and get the character again and again and again. And it was just explosive. And then we rode this wild ride of being one of the only brands in the beginning with Lord Jones and a couple other people in this space. And then I had one warehouse, then I had two warehouses within a month, and then I had three warehouses within a year from that. And then now we have a seven thousand square foot operation in Orange County. We manufacturing another twenty thousand square foot building with our cannabis products. In twenty nineteen. Alice and Olivia reached out to me on LinkedIn and said, Stacey wants you to make Alison Olivia CBD products. I got to go to New York Fashion Week and I've really just been on this incredible wild ride that really just started because there was nothing for me and there was nothing for my people. And I had the courage to make it and just chase it every single day relentlessly.

Speaker1: That is so crazy. And if that's not seeing and spotting a gap in the market, I do not know what is that is like. Unbelievable. Oh, my God. Love that for you. So cool. Thank you. I want to go back because I have a few thoughts on different questions. When Instagram decided to deactivate your account, three million followers or you lose a million followers and then your accounts are gone, what is the actual reaction that you have in that moment? What do you do? What's the day after?

Speaker2: My life was like on fire, you know, I would say, like I built my home on somebody else's land and they evicted me. And I was beyond upset, I was depressed, I felt like I was literally free falling because I had an agency that was making mid six figures. We were having a lot of growth. We had a lot going on. It was a really great ride for me. But what I really needed was to lose everything in a certain aspect because it wasn't what I really wanted. I was just making a good living and I was very distracted and I was building other people's businesses with my community that I had built with all of these followers. And it really was terrifying, traumatizing. I still have PTSD from it. But the truth is it set me up for having a lot more roadblocks because the truth was I hadn't even seen the start of the roadblocks. I hadn't even seen the beginning of what I would face as a CBD and cannabis business. I had so many challenges ahead of me and it really helped me get some good battle armor. And that is really how I look back on it. And I, I look back on it and I say thank the universe that happened to me. I know when people hear the story, they're like, wow, that sounds awful. And it's like it was. But I've never, ever been the kind of person who stops. I never stop with forward motion. And for me, I just said, this is leading me to my real dream. Khush Queen was always my real dream and I actually sold the remaining pages that I had and really use that capital to put into the new queen and to help keep up with the sales. I had sales going, but you can make money, but you really do need cash for the cash flow. And I definitely had a lot of you know, I had a lot of learning to do. And twenty, fifteen to twenty seventeen was like my business school, if you will.

Speaker1: Love that. I always love to ask about the money piece to paint that picture of how much capital you need to start a business and what it really entails. Are you able to share what kind of costs to have in the beginning or what kind of capital you needed to have to fund your first ortez?

Speaker2: My dad gave me the original seven hundred, which I turned into six thousand, and then with Khush Queen in that period, I think we maybe were able to scrounge up maybe 10, 20 thousand dollars. It was very nominal. I really did start with Kinko's packaging, like it was like a paper strip that I wrapped around the farm and we would custom fit these very basic shrink shrinkwrap and we would shrink wrap them by hand. I started with absolutely nothing and I just built it a little bit over time and really did it sort of the opposite way. People call it bootstrapping, but that is really what we did. And I think that what's important is that people have a plan and know what they want. I think for me, I at least had a plan and I knew what I wanted. I didn't have much money, but I knew I had my experience and I knew that I had worked behind the scenes that all of these cannabis companies and I had seen the pitfalls. I had seen what was wrong with the products. And like I said earlier, I use my experience capital. So I may have started with very little if to most people in this CBD and cannabis space, it's nothing but for me, my rich experience all the years I had been in cannabis, that was my capital. And that is really, truly what allowed me to elevate my business and then our plan. You know, if you have a very clear plan and clear goals and you stay consistent on the plan and on those goals, you can't really lose. Sure, you have bumps. Things don't go the way that you think they're going to go. But you can always go back to the plan that you set and stay focused on that. And I really think that's where you build momentum. And then all of a sudden there's a tipping point and it really all comes together.

Speaker1: Like you said earlier, you built a house on someone else's land. Does that mean that when you came into Quish Clean, you focused more on building your own email database and owning those relationships versus focusing too much on social media? And what was the kind of thinking there?

Speaker2: Yeah, I mean, I one hundred percent use social media to get eyeballs and to get the initial traffic. But as I was deleted, I was like, what's having three million followers? They're not my followers. They're not my users. They're Instagram users. And at this point, I had also spread myself onto a lot of platforms, Pinterest, YouTube, Snapchat. If it was a free platform to market myself, I was on it. I was creating content for it. And I was always posting there at least a few posts a day. And then when the deletion happens, that's when I became heavy on email marketing, collecting emails. I started a club with Khush Clean that was really brilliant and it was called the Kush Queen crowning program. And we crowned Kush Queens and Women and they got a 50 percent off discount. They got their own codes. They got like some free stuff. But I didn't even really have a lot of money at the time to do anything other than offer steep discounts and let them belong. And I think we got over a thousand people to sign up. And those initial people really helped bridge that moment of, oh, my, I've lost these pages to a great email list, a solid SMS approach, and really helped me lay the foundation. So again, I had no other option, but I knew in that moment I had to start collecting emails and I knew that if I had my list and I had my people, I was always going to be OK. And so I focused on that probably for a year or two in the early days while I kind of figured everything else out.

Speaker1: Mm. That is so genius. I love that crowning women. Oh bliss. How did you find those women and what was the, the mechanics of being like. You need to do X to become a crowned queen.

Speaker2: Well we did salvage the Queen Instagram page, which at the time predominantly just posted women who shared themselves using cannabis in some way or made some type of female driven cannabis content. We posted Meems, we posted artwork from artists. We posted a lot of selfies, and I was able to salvage that page and begin to source the invites from there and then use that page as a tool. Because a lot of people do want to shout out. A lot of people do want to be seen on a bigger page. I think the page had like thirty to eighty thousand followers somewhere along those lines. I can't quite remember. And we really use that as. A tool to have them be seen, to continue to share our messaging of breaking the stigma around this planet and also to show other people that we saw them. So we built a criteria that made it feel like an even exchange. I think that's also a huge thing that people don't do is build community. You know, if you build community, if you build something that is an even exchange of energy between maybe your business or your project and the community that you're building, everyone can win. And I think that that's really what we did was built it where it was a no brainer.

Speaker2: It was very cost effective for our company. It gave people huge discounts and shout outs on social media, and then they got to proudly be a queen and belong to something that signified something so much more than CBD, bath bombs and products. It signified taking a stand, supporting this plan, being seen in an industry that didn't see women the way that we were seeing ourselves. And it really was using nothing and turning it into something. And I can't believe sometimes when I look back on the genius that was the queen crowning program, but I think that I didn't have abundance. I was not in abundance with my business. I had not raised any money. I was really just running off of the sales I had and the energy that I could create. And without abundance, sometimes survival does drive us to a certain level of brilliance. And I think a lot of my early decisions, I can't say they were incredibly intentional. They were just me trying to survive and me trying to rub two sticks together and create a fire. And I really felt like that's kind of what we did.

Speaker1: Gosh, that's amazing. So amazing, at what point did it start to really snowball and, you know, evolve with your marketing and evolve with that big growth?

Speaker2: I would say from the time we really said, OK, Khush Queen, is it it was about six months we grinded in a manner those first six months that I don't recommend for anyone's mental health. It was quite all consuming. We called in every favor. We called in every person that we ever worked for. We called in and took meetings with just about every relationship. We had to let people know this is what we're doing. If there's any way we can work together, if there's any way you can support us, just getting the products and a lot of dispensaries. And then that's when essentially we started to see a lot of growth and really see everything scale. And then twenty, seventeen, again, pivotal moment, not just for CBD, but for cannabis. That was an election year for us. And then in twenty eighteen, you saw us vote to legalize cannabis statewide in California. And that also was a timing thing where I was already in the market. People already knew me, people already knew my brand. And I had relationships that I was able to use in order to stay in this regulated system, which is really, truly set up to push out small business owners and smaller businesses because it's highly regulated. I think it's important for people to know, especially if they're getting into CBD or interested in maybe starting a cannabis business, that if you are selling certain molecules, you are entering a highly regulated business that is predominately set up for large corporations, that the bread and butter of it is mergers and acquisitions and not bootstrapping and starting organic brands.

Speaker2: But at the same time, I did it. And if I did it and a few other people did it, it is possible. And I think that's what is important for people to know is just being an entrepreneur is so challenging. It really is. You're really setting yourself up everyday for constant challenges. But you can either look at it as a challenge or you can look at it as an opportunity. And we just got so used to being beat down and having so many problems and issues because of the space we were in and it being an emerging industry that we've gotten really good at taking every challenge and turning it into an opportunity. It's not to say that we don't have bad days. Trust me, we do, but we hold on to each other, especially my C suite, my team, my upper group. We are like family and we also look at the business like a human. And I know that's a strange thing. What do you mean? We call her she and we think of her as a child that we birthed the child, that I heard people say, when are you going to have kids? And I say, already have a kid. Her name is clean and my company is five, six years old.

Speaker2: I think of her like she's going to kindergarten. And I think of all these years that I was growing her and fighting for her and calling in all my favors as the time that I had a baby and I needed help. And so I think looking at the company like a living, breathing human also has allowed to bring a lot of empathy into my business, especially when it's come to work life balance, when it's come to culture. And just because we're a smaller company that was a startup doesn't mean we can't have culture, doesn't mean that we can't value the people that work at our company and doesn't mean that we can't bring a new I call it unicorn energy to the it's a different kind of unicorn energy. It's when you you feel like you're a unicorn already and you stand in that and you say, oh, our day is coming, where will be a traditional unicorn. But until then, we stand in a billion dollar space, which is all about energy and the vibe and feeling like we have everything we need. Even though you don't. You just say we've got this, we've got this. We can't afford that. Let's think creatively about how we can. And it also gives you the confidence to take risks and act a little wild, which is also something I've done that I'm very proud of. As far as marketing goes,

Speaker1: Can you elaborate on this of marketing while the unicorn energy? I want to hear about it.

Speaker2: So we have to go back to summer of twenty nineteen. CVT has exploded in the US and everyone is trying to start a CBD business. But one of the big things people don't know is that CBD processing online transactions, accepting credit cards is considered high risk and is actually very hard to acquire because of the popularity of CBD company by the name of the 11 and merchant processing company decided that CBD was getting too popular and they were no longer going to process CBD transactions. And they shut down pretty much. Entire industry, so one day I am at a show, I'm at a convention called Cauliflowers, I'm in my booth, I'm talking to buyers, I look down at my phone and something is very, very wrong. I cannot accept one credit card transaction on my site. I am completely effed. And tha