While the marijuana legalization battle continues to brew in Federal courts, innovative cannabis startups have begun to crop up.
From cannabis-infused household products to mac ‘n cheese, cannabis seems to be everywhere. Well, almost. It is only legal for people over the age of 21 in a handful of states like Colorado and Maine. States like these have become breeding grounds for cannabis entrepreneurs racing to become a leader in the new, burgeoning industry. However, less than 5% of blacks are cannabis business owners, compared to 80% of whites.
Ebony Costain, Founder and CEO of BDTNDR, saw another big problem. Budtenders, the individual who serves customers at cannabis distributors, need help. There are too many brands, and not enough education about the products. Many people still wander into cannabis shops looking to “try” new things, and rely heavily on the budtender’s expertise. Ebony developed an idea to be the bridge between the brands, and the budtender. After being selected to participate in CanopyBoulder, a highly competitive cannabis accelerator in Colorado, Ebony’s vision came to life in 2017.
Why did you get started in the cannabis business?
For an entrepreneur, this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime business opportunities. As the market begins to emerge from the shadows, there are so many business needs that have to be created to support this industry. Brands and products play a huge component of that. There are roughly 5,000 cannabis brands throughout the U.S. that budtenders and consumers alike have to keep up with.
What is a problem most cannabis brands have? How do you fix that?
Getting the most accurate message out to people about their products. There’s a major advertising restriction that says cannabis businesses must be able to say that 70% of the marketing audience is over the age of 21. So if you can’t reach your customer through traditional advertising brands you have to speak directly to the person selling your product – the budtender. Our company BDTNDR, is the liaison between the two and helps deliver the desired message. Brands are confident their stories are being told accurately. Budtenders feel empowered by the information they have received. And now customers have a better understanding of what might happen when taking the product.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to make cannabis illegal. If that happens how might it impact your business?
Technically cannabis is still federally illegal. However, Sessions is ignoring states’ rights, and over 50% of states have spoken that they want some form of cannabis legalization where they live. With the tax revenues that are being generated and projected, I’m not concerned about his actions having an impact on our business or the industry overall.
What have you learned that you didn’t know being in the cannabis business?
It was surprising to see how unsophisticated the retail processes were. Having over 10 years of corporate retail experience it’s mind blowing to witness that something like inventory management is not even close to being as streamlined as traditional retail. I look forward to seeing how quickly the market matures.
Where will the future growth of your business come from? What are you most excited about?
The continuing path of legalization. More states mean more brands and a larger sales force to support the growth. What excites me the most is being in the position to set an industry standard. No single business is a true dominating leader in this space. What other industry can you say that about?
What is it like being a woman in this business?
Being a part of a cannabis accelerator has definitely helped with operating within this industry and having conversations with people that may have been otherwise difficult, but analysis tells us that less than 3% of funding is being allocated to women CEOs. Not to mention I’m a black woman who wears my hair natural and I’m confronted with conversations around the manageability of my hair with male investors. Funding makes a monumental difference in the successful outcome of a business. Women want to win, too.
How has being in this business improved your life?
Having the opportunity to move to Boulder, Colorado for CanopyBoulder has hands down improved my life. National Geographic voted Boulder as the happiest city to live in U.S. The people I have met along this new journey have improved my life by infinite measures. Wana Brands is a leading edibles company based in Boulder and one of our first brand partners. This relationship happened because of Canopy.
If you had an extra couple of hours in a week, what would you do with it?
I would use it to get my second daily meditation in and an express class of Bikram Yoga. Being an entrepreneur brings on unique levels of stress. Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to understand even more the importance of self-care. Show up for yourself so you can show up for others.