How To Start A Cannabis Brand (According To The Women Who’ve Done It)

How To Start A Cannabis Brand (According To The Women Who’ve Done It)

Three years ago, Kimberly Dillon was burnt out, overwhelmed, and losing sleep as a senior product manager at a tech startup in Los Angeles. When her mother recommended she try CBD and “chill out,” Dillon heeded her advice and noticed an immediate change.

“I tried an edible and had the best sleep of my life,” Dillon says. “It gave me the most focus I’ve ever had. I was able to perform better. I was a better friend, a better girlfriend.”

“But at that time, it was still in an alleyway and felt shady,” she recalls. “I was concerned with who was watching and seeing.” It was then that Dillon decided she was on a mission to normalize cannabis.

That led to her current role, chief marketing officer of Papa & Barkley, one of the top-selling cannabis brands in California. And in fact, women-owned cannabis brands are performing everywhere, in every category. Think Whoopie & Maya, Moxie MedsMiss Grass, Stonedware Company, Apothercarry, and so many more.

Success stories like these are just one of the plentiful reasons the cannabis industry is experiencing such a gold rush right now. In 2018, legal marijuana was a $10.4 billion industry in the US, according to New Frontier Data. As investors pump millions into the already burgeoning space, the momentum is expected to continue.

With so many opportunities up for grabs, now is the perfect time for women to enter the cannabis space. As Dillon calls out, “It’s a lot of suits and bros right now. What that means is there aren’t a lot of people thinking about products women want that could meet their specific needs.”

Here that? Now is the time! To help turn your cannabis dreams into a business reality, we spoke with some women-identified trailblazers who have already found success in the space. Read on for some real talk from several founders—and marketing and PR experts—who are lighting up the game.

A 10-step guide to breaking into the cannabis industry

Bring your expertise to the table

“Transition what you are doing right now into the cannabis space. We need doctors, we need lawyers, we need web designers, coders, and publicists. This industry is so multifaceted and we need everybody’s skills and all kinds of people in order to grow and make it the force that it’s shaping up to be. The biggest misconception is that people think that they have to be involved in a plant-touching business—either growing, cultivating, or handling products.

“There are plenty of cannabis-related roles that don’t touch the plant. You can pivot your business to address the needs of this burgeoning industry and that’s what you’re seeing a lot of people and a lot of people of color doing right now.”

— Tracey Henry, publicist, Women Grow

Educate yourself on the ever-changing landscape

“Be willing to listen and learn, because if you think that you know everything in this industry going in, you’re not going to succeed because it changes constantly. Nobody knows everything. It’s still very new. Cannabis itself is not new, but as far as the regulations and it being able to exist in the marketplace legally, it is very new. As a woman, the best thing you can do for yourself is to educate yourself as much as possible.

“Talk to as many people as possible. Get all the information that you can because that’s what’s going to allow you to go into these conversations and be confident. The confidence is what you need to not be bullied and not be pushed around and to make sure that you’re getting treated just like any man would.”

— Brittany Carbone, founder, TONIC

Be discerning about who you work with

“It’s really important to be picky and careful about who you decide to work with. There are a lot of companies doing good work and putting resources into important social justice issues in cannabis. Then there are other ones who aren’t and they’re really just in it for the money.

“So, if you’re looking for a company to work with, definitely do your research. Google the owners. Google the CEOs because you’ll find out if they represent the kind of culture that you want to be part of in the industry. Being choosy is important.”

— Anja Charbonneau, founder, Broccoli Mag

Don’t ignore the history

“It’s so important to focus on equity and inclusion as we continue to build this industry. Let’s make sure that there’s language and new legislation that comes to the surface around tax revenue from cannabis sales and how it should be funneled into communities that were most harmed by the war on drugs. This should be on people’s minds when they’re thinking about whether or not cannabis should be legal, or when they’re thinking about which brand to buy from.”

— Brittany Carbone, founder, TONIC

Find your community

“Instagram is really helpful for finding people who are doing events and who have interesting projects coming out. That’s been a really great connector for us on the community side. I like the Word On The Tree newsletter for keeping up with the news and different political and business related updates in the space. Once you find people who are active, they’ll be connecting you to other people who are active in the space. It’s usually a domino effect. Once you find one good person, you find 10 more.”

— Anja Charbonneau, founder, Broccoli Mag

“What’s exciting about the industry is that although it’s growing, it’s still small enough where you can interact with some of the major players.”

— Tracey Henry, publicist, Women Grow

Be flexible

“You need patience if you’re going to get into hemp or cannabis. Laws change and make no sense, social networks have no visible policies on cannabis (verifying some accounts while banning others), payment processing can be a nightmare even when you’re a legal and legitimate business; you have to think on your feet and master the pivot. You’ll fail a lot but you learn, adjust, and get creative. Being flexible and adaptable is non-negotiable.”

— Marta Freedman and Charlotte Palermino, founders, Nice Paper

“You need to be able to go with the flow as things start to change because they will always be changing. At least for the next ten years, you can expect the cannabis industry to be constantly evolving as different regulations come out.”

— Brittany Carbone, founder, TONIC

Persevere through the red tape

“There’s definitely a lot of red tape to cut through when you’re in this industry. I was naïve when I first started because I just thought, ‘Oh, it’s legal, it’s fine. I’m just going to set up a website and start selling it.’ And then I quickly realized that credit card processors do not accept hemp or CBD products to be processed under them. There are advertising obstacles as well. You can’t use Google Ad Words or do sponsored posts or ads on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest. You need perseverance to roll with the punches.”

— Brittany Carbone, founder, TONIC

Have a connection to cannabis

“It’s always helpful to have some type of connection to cannabis, whether you are a cannabis consumer or have tried it before. There are people in the industry that don’t use cannabis at all, but in my line of work, I don’t think I would be serving the journalists that I work with or the public at large if I was approaching it from more of a removed experience.”

— Tracey Henry, publicist, Women Grow

Shine a light on different voices and perspectives

“If you’re a retail product company, think about your supply chain. Who are you getting your CBD from? Who are you getting your packaging from? Who’s designing your logo? If you come from an authentic place and build your business in a way that feels ethical and equitable, then you’ll find a really great community of both people you can work into your business chain, and then also on the consumer side too, you’ll have more robust support because people will want to be behind your products.”

— Anja Charbonneau, founder, Broccoli Mag

Seize the opportunity

“As a consumer, it feels like a really great time for women in the industry, and it is. There’s a window of opportunity right now for us to make our presence known and cement our mark on the industry before a corporate takeover happens.”

— Brittany Carbone, founder, TONIC

“There’s a misconception that women run weed but in my experience and my peers’ experience (and the data on women in executive roles) it looks a lot like every other industry—overwhelmingly white and male. That being said, there’s room for new brands to grow. Women are in a unique position to make products for us.

“You can use cannabis for beauty, health, wellness, and recreation—these are categories that women dominate. Find a space that you think needs your voice or your product and go for it.”

— Marta Freedman and Charlotte Palermino, founders, Nice Paper

We’re covering every step of the entrepreneurial journey in Startup Studio at the Girlboss Rally. Join workshops that will walk you through how to turn an idea into reality, and get actionable advice on how to fund your growing business and hire your dream team. No matter what stage you’re at, register now at