The legal cannabis industry is becoming an increasingly competitive space for entrepreneurs these days.
Valued by experts at $66.3 billion by 2025, it can be daunting for someone looking to make their name in the cannabis industry and distinguish themselves from the competition.
As the founder of three successful cannabis companies, Cody Alt knows what it takes to build a successful brand from the bottom up. We spoke to the industry innovator to see what he thinks it takes to stand out in such a crowded space.
Cody Alt: An Innovator and Visionary in the Cannabis Space
Growing up in the tiny town of Maxville, Montana, a town of thirty people, ten houses and a single bar, Cody Alt has overcome the odds to reach his dreams at every turn.
Alt always had an aptitude for business. Alongside his father Paul, he started his very first company Mon-Dak Oilfield Services, a company that specializes in reclamation work for oil rigs and hauled crude oil from the rigs to the refineries.
That work helped establish and form his uncompromising work ethic, one that took him to eleven different cities in four years of “following where the oil was.”
In 2015, he switched gears away from Mon-Dak and onto his newest venture, BodyFuel.
Alt poured his blood, sweat and tears into the business, handing out flyers from his car and barely being able to afford rent. Just like his role model Mark Cuban, Alt kept his work ethic up and went on to found five companies so far who’s revenue combined exceeds $60 million.
One of those companies is Kushly. Originally thought of as a cannabis delivery platform, Kushly eventually evolved into what it is today — a one-stop-shop for consumers to pick up a massive range of cannabis-based products from CBD gummies to CBD oils to a CBD skincare line.
Alt founded Kushly after seeing the benefits of cannabis products for himself. Always dealing with insomnia and sleep issues, he exhausted his options when it came to over-the-counter sleep aids. A friend then gave him some THC syrup that opened his eyes to the potential of cannabis products.
“I slept like a baby and woke up feeling amazing,” said Alt. “So that was pretty much all she wrote for me.”
From there, he used his experience as a marketer and passion for cannabis-based products to build Kushly into something special — a company that would provide the same help to others as it did for him.
Alt took his experience from the oil business and applied it to the cannabis space, focusing on becoming the one-size-fits-all destination for anyone interested in cannabis-based products.
“If you can make yourself a one-stop-shop, you have the edge over the other guy,” he said.
Advice for a New Generation of Cannabis Entrepreneurs
It’s clear that Alt has what it takes to make it in the ultra-competitive legal cannabis space. And you might be wondering if you have that ‘X Factor’ as well.
Well, thankfully, he has shared some advice for all you up-and-coming cannabis entrepreneurs.
Authenticity is a driving force for Alt and his businesses. He believes the key to success in the cannabis industry lies in the decisions you make. If you’d use the product yourself, then there are potential customers out there who feel the same way.
“Be authentic,” said Alt. “There are too many fake people who are trying to jump into the marketplace. You have to be different from other people. You have to know branding, you have to hire the right marketing team that is aligned with what your vision is, with the company you want to build.”
At the end of the day, Alt says that while there are countless important factors to building a booming business, the key difference needs to be your passion for serving customers the best quality product.
“(Focus on) actually wanting to help customers instead of worrying all about the money,” said Alt. “I created these products to try and help people solve issues like me. That was my goal from the beginning.”
When asked for one piece of advice he’d give to anyone looking to create a successful business, Alt stressed the importance of focus, drive and dedication to one’s customers.
“Keep your eye on the prize, keep striving to try and help people day in and day out. That’s what it’s all about.”
Mathew Gerson: Bringing Women Pleasure & Pain Relief with Cannabinoids
Five years ago, Mathew Gerson launched Foria, a new category of non-psychoactive cannabis products for women’s sexual health and pleasure. In the few years since, the company’s formulations have won numerous awards and earned global notoriety, all while innovating solutions for women’s wellness and inspiring a Harvard researcher-led study on the efficacy of cannabinoids for menstrual pain relief.
The company develops THC and CBD-infused products, which include suppositories, vape pens, and sensual oils. By re-introducing cannabis into the sex lives of many, he found that he had stumbled upon an age-old therapy, one that proved beneficial to millions in modern society.
Prior to becoming a social entrepreneur, Gerson spent 10 years studying Buddhist meditation in Asia and throughout North America. His first venture after leaving the contemplative life was a project dedicated to responsible, pleasurable sex, founding Sir Richard’s Condom Company, which produced all-natural, vegan-certified condoms and more. Gerson describes the enterprise as a “conscious condom company, sort of like Tom’s shoes for condoms.” Sir Richard’s helps to address the unmet need for condoms globally with a “buy one, give one” business model.
THC for TLC
After that, Gerson continued his dedication to positive change by addressing another unmet need: women’s pain and pleasure. He founded Foria in Venice Beach, CA in 2014, and the brand is credited with bringing the first cannabis-infused intimacy oil to market — a process which, he explained, started in 2011 as a kitchen experiment.
After learning about the medicinal properties of cannabis, Gerson realized, “There was so much more to (cannabis) than THC. Turns out there’s actually a long history of cannabis use in birth and gynecology, from the Victorian era to the ancient Egyptians, from the oracle at Delphi to ‘broom-riding witches’ (medicine women who applied herbals salves via a wooden dildo to achieve euphoric visionary states, a.k.a. ‘flight’).”
Inspired by the historical celebration of cannabis as an aid for intimacy, Gerson cooked up a blend of coconut oil and THC and shared it with a number of female friends. “All reported amazing results,” he says.
Those results, combined with a lack of products for women on the market, were the impetus for Foria. In 2014, the company officially released Pleasure, a first-of-its-kind sensual enhancement oil.
The product was formulated with a specific focus on female arousal. “The oil is ideally suited to the unique anatomy of women or anyone with a vulva,” said Gerson.
At the time of its release, “there were over 20 FDA-approved drugs for male sexual challenges and a total of zero for women,” Gerson noted.
Pleasure was created to address the “orgasm gap” between men and women. “The pleasure gap is an issue with wide-ranging causes,” says Gerson. “Our culture and media view sexuality from an almost exclusively male perspective.” While Big Pharma offers countless Viagra-style drugs for men, there’s next to nothing for women’s arousal challenges—let alone menstrual or sexual pain, he notes.
Each ingredient in Pleasure — and all Foria products — is organic or grown to organic standards, and rigorously tested for purity, which is especially important due to the intimate nature of the products. Also due to the product’s nature (a topical), effects are non-psychoactive. But as some users report, the application might cause a mild, euphoric body high.
Foria clients experience heightened or renewed pleasure and orgasm with Pleasure. But many of them also experience profound relief from conditions like endometriosis and vaginismus, says Gerson.
While Foria initially set out to harness the power of cannabinoids for intimate pleasure, customer reviews quickly revealed the oil to host therapeutic benefits for pelvic pain and discomfort. Foria listened and in response, invented a separate product, Relief, the first cannabis-infused vaginal-suppository for menstrual cramps and discomfort.
The CBD-only version of Relief will soon be the focus of a first-of-its-kind observational study at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, says Gerson.
In the meantime, Foria continues to push the boundaries of health and wellness for its customers — thanks to user feedback, an integral part of their business model.
“All of our research and development comes as a result of a dialog with our community of clients to better understand both their experiences and their needs,” Gerson explained.
So, when people from around the world inquired about shipping Foria’s products overseas, the company developed THC-free versions of their dispensary-only products, made with broad-spectrum CBD from organic, U.S.-grown hemp.
Included in Foria’s line of CBD products is a THC-free version of Relief and an arousal oil named Awaken. Awaken combines CBD with eight other plants for what Gerson calls “the ultimate, multi-botanical entourage effect.”
The primary ingredient in Awaken is a proprietary kava kava extract, which Gerson says stimulates the same receptors as THC. The formula also incorporates cardamom (an anti-inflammatory); ginger (antispasmodic and warming), peppermint (cooling), vanilla (soothing) and cacao (which also affects the endocannabinoid system).
Close communication with their consumer base also motivated Foria to create Explore, anal suppositories (which come with both THC and CBD). “We’d heard from clients who were freezing Pleasure in ice-cube trays to make rectal suppositories,” Gerson explained. “Now, there are a lot of different reasons people take cannabis rectally, but their goal was to enhance anal play.”
Both THC and CBD influence nerves and blood vessels, says Gerson, and they really work well together for pleasure and pain relief. “But we formulated Explore with a lot of CBD because that really helps to relax smooth muscle tissue,” he adds.
The feedback about Awaken and Foria’s new CBD suppositories is deeply moving, says Gerson. A week doesn’t go by where the company isn’t hearing from women, some “who no longer need to take massive doses of Ibuprofen every month,” and others who “are finally able to experience pain-free sex for the first time in their lives—and this inspires us to continue developing new formulas and delivery formats based on this feedback.”
Foria’s THC products have proven so effective that gynecologists and sex therapists in California and Colorado recommend them to patients. Gerson looks forward to a future where doctors nationwide can do the same — but in the meantime, Foria will continue to push the boundaries of modern medicine.
Cameron Forni: How to Build a Billion-Dollar Cannabis Empire
Cameron Forni knows a thing or two about building a billion dollar cannabis company. The CEO of Cura and founder of Select Oil has always been an innovative thinker. In 2015, he identified and developed the need for an organic cotton wick vape pen, providing a healthier consumption method. From there, he set his mission to be the leading provider of cannabis oil to both consumers and premium brands in legal markets, both in the U.S. and internationally.
We spoke to Forni about his entrepreneurial journey, Cura’s record-breaking success in the cannabis industry, and his predictions for the future of cannabis.
Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us a little bit about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you ended up in the cannabis world.
Cameron Forni: I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life and have had many incredible mentors. Entrepreneurship was in my blood; I did everything from selling flowers on the side of the street in Milwaukie, Oregon as young as four-years-old, to managing a car detailing business in high school, to building an event company in college. I have always been interested in business and entrepreneurship.
Right out of college, my goal was to create jobs, not to take a job. I started my journey in entrepreneurship when I co-founded TextNoMore, an app designed to reward drivers avoiding texting while driving. From there, I co-founded TryEco LLC, which holds a patent on a starch-based, biodegradable super-absorbent polymer used primarily in agricultural applications. I always had a focus on building businesses that helped people live better lives and achieve more and that’s what led me to cannabis.
With both a medical card and a caregiver card on hand, I started looking at what the future of cannabis would be. I knew that combustion wouldn’t be a long-term option for most cannabis consumers, so I started focusing on safety and vaporization. I started taking apart every vaporizer pen in the market and learned that silica fiberglass was commonly found in most cartridges, so I built a new cartridge, innovated with organic cotton and unique absorption systems.
That’s when Select was born. It’s been quite the journey!
Over the last 18 months, Cura has seen record-breaking success in the industry. You became the first cannabis company to appear in INC. magazine’s annual top 50 companies in 2018. Now, your billion-dollar deal with Curaleaf Holdings is said to be the largest ever among American companies. How does it feel to be behind one of the industry’s golden unicorns?
Wow, what an incredibly cool question to hear. It’s often difficult for me to pause and reflect, so thank you! I’m thankful for the team who has helped build this incredible company with me every day. When you are relentlessly working and traveling (on pace for 300 flights this year alone) because you are so obsessed about something, it’s hard to turn it off. It’s been more than four years of hard work, but in cannabis years, they say that for every one year you multiply by seven because it’s moving so fast!
Sometimes it’s really hard to step back and look at what the work has become. People think that achieving milestones like the Inc. 500 placement or our billion-dollar acquisition must be all we think about, but it’s not always straight forward. We face federal regulatory approval, state licensing approval, audits and regulatory change in each state so often that it’s difficult to master balancing it all. That’s why you need an incredible team.
Cura is widely respected in the industry for innovative extraction techniques and its focus on setting high standards for quality products. How has it evolved from its beginnings into the industry leader it is today?
First of all, it’s always been about building the best team possible and taking care of people along the way.
Our evolution over a short period of time is due to our constant focus on innovation, setting best practices and our never-ending pursuit of better.
Senate Bill 582 will allow Oregon to import and export cannabis products across state lines — but only if the federal government changes its policies. What are your thoughts on this?
The main hurdle is the federal Controlled Substances Act which bans interstate shipments of cannabis. That would have to change. Otherwise, the states that attempt to implement this are subject to crackdown by the Federal Government. There is much work to be done here before this becomes a reality.
Which international markets do you think are really leading the charge right now?
The industry is in the first of a nine-inning ball game. With now 11 states with adult use policies, 33 states with medical cannabis laws and 62 percent of Americans in favor of legalizing cannabis (according to PEW), I expect the industry to have massive growth and significant consolidation.
Canada is the leader from the standpoint of the financial market because it came in early, established policies and amassed significant capital to deploy into international markets. However, the leaders in medical cannabis and cannabis research is still Israel who has been making significant investments into research and development in cannabis science.
Will vape pens replace flower? Why or why not?
There’s a nostalgia and ritual to consuming joints and using flower. With baby boomers and longtime cannabis users that will undoubtedly continue. However, U.S. consumer preferences always gear more towards convenience. The closer we can create the experience of vaporizing unique cannabis terpene and oil formulations, the closer we can get to replicating the experience to that of flower. Long term you will see vaporization pass combustion of flower and in the end, it’s safer.
What new challenges will the industry face going forward?
Banking, taxation, legislation and real estate have always been the major challenges facing cannabis operators. We are the most heavily taxed industries in the world. We are also one of the most heavily tracked — meaning track and traced — industries in the world. In every legal state we use RFID chips on each product case that goes to stores in order to track the product from seed to sale.
Last but not least, cannabis companies achieving profitability is becoming critical to survival in this space. With large gluts of products in states like Oregon, it makes it very hard to run a profitable business under incredibly high taxation.
What trends are shaping cannabis in 2019?
I expect unique terpene profiles and oil formulations to become more popular. Additionally, innovative, discreet and more elevated devices will be the main drivers for 2019.
What demographic do you see having the most growth?
We’re seeing more and more young professionals 25-35 come on board to cannabis at a quick rate. Millennials are seeking cannabis options that suit their own personal needs and they’re becoming more willing to share their interest in cannabis publicly.
What are your one year, five year, and 10-year predictions for the cannabis industry?
1 year: More states will continue to come on board and legalize adult-use cannabis. With that, we’ll also see an uptick in normalization around the country.
5 year: Ideally, the STATES Act will pass, providing more people with access to cannabis, jobs and business opportunities around the country.
10 year: Cannabis is treated by society and regulated by the government like alcohol and will become mainstream.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
The biggest piece of advice I’d offer to new cannabis entrepreneurs would be to surround yourself with people who fill in your weaknesses early on.
It’s important to be agile and never get stuck to a plan. The plan is always changing because the regulatory environment is always changing. You can’t work in this industry without being agile and nimble with decision-making.
Finally, what are the three things people don’t know about being a cannabis entrepreneur?
- Time commitment: If you want to be successful in this business be prepared to give up your social life. I find myself traveling 48 weeks a year. Having a very understanding partner is critical as well!
- The regulatory environment WILL shift beneath your feet. Expect to order one million boxes of packaging and 2 weeks later that package is obsolete in one of the states you operate in because they need a new sticker
- Cost and funding: Traditional capital is not readily available to the cannabis entrepreneur, you need to make sure your business can survive and thrive. It’s very expensive to handle all the taxes and fees that accompany a cannabis business. For example, in California we face 44% supply chain tax, 12% excise tax, 11% sales tax, 5% gross revenue tax, 35% 280E tax, along with licensing fees and higher-than-normal rates for real estate… just because we’re a cannabis company.
Kyra Reed: Women, Weed and the Web
Multi-entrepreneur Kyra Reed is creating platforms for women to succeed in the cannabis industry by harnessing the power of social media.
Kyra Reed is paving a path for women in the cannabis industry — and she’s laying it in concrete.
The multi-entrepreneur is the force behind the Facebook group Women Empowered in Cannabis (WEiC), formerly Women Entrepreneurs in Cannabis. She is also co-founder of Kadin Enterprises, Markyr Digital, and Lady Jane Society, an event production company focused on bringing female consumers and business owners together.
We spoke exclusively with Reed about creating platforms for women to succeed by harnessing the power of social media.
A Pre-Pot Pioneer
Kyra Reed is a community builder. The foremother of social media specializes in building meaningful relationships between entrepreneurs and their audiences.
She made her name in the digital marketing world in the early 2000s when she joined forces with Nic Adler to revitalize the iconic Roxy Theatre and Sunset Strip in Downtown Los Angeles.
Adler was the owner of the Roxy, and the son of its original founder, Lou Adler, producer of acts including Cheech and Chong, and The Mamas and The Papas.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Alder explained how Reed’s digital strategy saved the Hollywood landmark, and in turn, other icons along the strip including the Viper Room, the House of Blues, and the Comedy Club.
“The Roxy was the first to come online and they did one simple act that changed the history of entertainment venues on the Sunset Strip,” reports TechCrunch. “They started being social online with their neighbors.”
The venue was among the first 19,000 accounts on Twitter. By 2012, The Roxy grew to host the largest and most robust Facebook and Twitter followings for music venues on social media. As a result Entrepreneur Magazine named Reed a “Social Media Pioneer.”
Now, she lends her renowned skillset to clients the emerging cannabis industry.
The Wonderful World of Women and Weed
In 2016, Reed began working with clients in the cannabis industry, a natural step for the Northern California native.
“I grew up with cannabis being normal,” she added, “I saw it as medicine. It was the rest of society that had the problem.”
Reed previously worked with clients in the industry, but it was not until voters were likely to approve Proposition 64 — and business started to occur — that she made her official move into cannabis.
In 2017 Reed co-founded Kadin Enterprises, the first digital training company specifically for women for the cannabis community.
This May, she launched Kadin’s List, a directory for women in the cannabis industry. A subsidiary of Kadin Enterprises, the site hosts professionals from various fields including real estate, business, journalism, education, and more.
When Kadin first launched, Reed said she believed women in cannabis — similar to other industries — were becoming entrepreneurs to get rich and lead a glamorous life. She quickly realized that was not the case.
So she re-assessed her own understanding of what women in cannabis actually needed to achieve their goals, “legitimizing the plant and making it accessible for patients while sustaining themselves and their families,” she said.
For nearly a year, Reed focused on listening and observing the women in her Facebook community, WEiC, which she created in 2017.
There, members tap into previously unrealized sources of data: each other.
With over 5,400 members, WEiC provides a platform for women to vent their frustrations, ask for help, and connect with other women in cannabis around the world.
What Reed learned was that women and men work differently, and they value different things in business.
Females, however, are still holding themselves to the same standards as men, despite inherent differences.
“We need to reframe the business models we currently use to include the benefits women bring to the workforce,” she said. “Men built the model to win the model.” Instead of trying to fit themselves into that model, “women need to re-define the value they bring to business and build new models that allow them to succeed.”
For example, Reed explained, women are taught that sharing challenges, resources or the need for help is a weakness in business.
“Females really do have an opportunity to redefine how we work via the cannabis industry. Sharing of resources, information, and problem-solving is a big part of making real changes to our system,” Reed said. “When we share information, we empower ourselves to make better and more confident choices.
“Women by nature are the caregivers, the relationship maintainers, multi-taskers, emotionally intelligent, and are more adept at seeing the bigger picture; those are massive assets to a company,” Reed explained. “We need to recognize that women’s talents make companies better. The statistics show it, women (and diversity in general) are vital to our system.
“It is up to us to create the change we want to see for ourselves, our daughters and all the girls out there that deserve better,” said Reed. “All women need is resources and opportunity, and we will do the rest.”
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WEiC, formerly known as Women Entrepreneurs in Cannabis, is now WOMEN EMPOWERED IN CANNABIS. Our industry is growing rapidly and we’ve changed our name to be more inclusive to Women Working in Cannabis. If you are a member, please note our new name and Group URL. If you are a women in cannabis and haven’t joined us yet, you can find us by clicking the link in our bio! . . . #cannabis #womenincannabis #women #bettertogether #mondaymotivation #instadaily #instagood #empowered
This is, in part, why Kadin Enterprises (Kadin’s List/Kadin Academy) focuses on access, education, and creating a network of professional allies. The company also emphasizes affordability; membership is just $30 per month.
Named after the Turkish word for “women” Kadin aims to move the cannabis industry from male dominated to female inclusive. To meet this goal, members are given the ability to connect, share resources, webinars, events, job listings, and promote themselves and their businesses in a space that fosters honesty and support.
Through observing her community, Reed learned something she did not expect.
“I’ve noticed in the cannabis industry that the men I speak with tend to paint the industry through rose-colored glasses,” she explained. “Everything is great and find and we’re winning like crazy!
“I’ve also found that if you want to know what’s really going on, ask a woman. Women are willing to talk about the failures, the challenges, and the hard truth about life inside the industry, what’s really going on,” she noted.
In WEiC, “members are honest about what they need help with, and they straight up ask for it.’”
Most inquiries, when thrown into the WEiC universe, will be answered. Sometimes within minutes.
“It isn’t uncommon to see women sharing their contacts, processes or experiences in an effort to help other women move faster, smarter and make better business decisions,” said Reed.
WEiC recently introduced two new, separate Facebook groups: WEiC CBD, and WEiC Supply Chain. WEiC CBD is intended for women who work in CBD or hemp, while WEiC Supply Chain is a space for women in cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and retail.
Leading by Example
Part of what makes these groups so successful is Reed’s leadership.
“I’ve led this group with zero tolerance of judgment or disparaging conversation,” said Reed, who emphasizes WEiC is a space where “women know they can feel comfortable asking for the help and connections they need.”
Reed reigns in negativity with the help of WEiC moderators Lelehnia Du Bois and Kendra Losee, who uphold the group’s posting guidelines.
Anna Marie Redinger, co-founder of the Lady Jane Society, and member of WEiC described Reed as a “true alchemist.” She works tirelessly to create better experiences for women. Most importantly, she listens.
As a leader on social media, “Everybody’s watching.” Reed said she’s definitely had her feet held over the fire — but she won’t be bullied, or let WEiC members be bullied, either.
“It is very hard to create an environment where that won’t happen, and the challenges will only grow as the community does,” she explained. She meets those challenges with reminders to be kind, and supportive.
Reed believes the level of support between women in the industry is unparalleled.
“Women have stepped up to help other women, they actually help when call goes out for help. I’ve never experienced that before,” she added. “That makes my life and work pleasurable in the hardest moments.
“The reward is that I get to be surrounding by incredible women who give me a purpose in continuing the life I have.”
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