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CBD Is New and Cool, But What Is the Industry Like for Women?

It’s not marijuana, but its close ties make being an entrepreneur extra delightful

CBD

Every entrepreneur knows—or quickly learns—that starting a business takes more gumption than passion, more drive than vision. Depending on the type of company you’re building, you’ll have a range of startup costs for things like equipment, office or retail space, insurance, and payroll. You’ll also deal, almost incessantly, with the unexpected, the things you thought you’d researched and planned for but then quickly learned weren’t going to pan out. 

If you’re lucky, you have mentors you can turn to who can help you navigate your industry—if you’re not so lucky, you might be working in the CBD industry.

“The number one thing I wish I had when I started was someone who’d come before me,” says Alexis Rosenbaum, founder and CEO of Rosebud CBD, a line of CBD tinctures available online.

CBD, or Cannabidiol, the THC-free cousin of marijuana, is everywhere. It’s in our lotion. It’s in our gummy bears. It’s in our cocktails and coffee. Touted for its health benefits, the product is so prevalent that it feels like it’s been around forever, when in reality, the industry is in its infancy, and its entrepreneurs are carefully navigating regulations that neither they nor the regulators understand. And they’re doing it without the benefit of having industry vets around who’ve done it all before. 

Yet with all the complications of new industries also come new opportunities, and in CBD, those opportunities have been, for the most part, in favor of women. According to Marijuana Business Daily, 27 percent of execs in CBD are women. That number has fallen in the past few years as more men from traditional industries have made the switch to CBD, but it’s still higher than the average across the larger U.S. business landscape.

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“In my personal circle, I only see really strong women leading the way,” Rosenbaum says. “What would push them out would be financial issues, not having enough backing from rich white men. There are a lot of women doing incredible things, but unfortunately, investing sometimes gets in the way.”

Rosenbaum started her company in 2018 and, in less than a year, grew her revenue to six figures a month. Instagram has been her main marketing strategy. There, she shares information about products, of course, alongside extremely personal news, like her challenges with fertility. She says 70 percent of her customers are women, and her goal on Instagram is to give them a more authentic experience on the platform, one they don’t get from Instagram’s flood of influencers. 

Her strategy has proven beneficial in more ways than one. CBD ads are banned on Instagram, so her intimate posts fill that hole in her business model.

“In this industry, there are certain resources we can’t use,” she says, explaining that confusion around the plant, what’s federally legal and what’s not, makes the CBD industry tricky to navigate. “PayPal, Stripe, Instagram and Facebook ads. Shopify or Squarespace may flag you. CBD is not allowed on MailChimp.” The companies are also considered high-risk, so few insurance companies will back them.

“CBD has always been such a gray area, whether it was legal or illegal,” says Laura Fuentes, cofounder and CEO of Green Roads, which produces pharmacist-formulated CBD products. “People will give you 10 different answers to that question.”

A licensed compound pharmacist for more than 25 years, Fuentes started her CBD journey in 2012. Like Rosenbaum, she and her cofounder, Arby Barroso, have been carefully navigating uncertainties in the industry. “It’s just so new. We can’t look at Nike and use them as a standard. We want to be that company that others look to.”

Fuentes has also faced the typical sexism many other female founders deal with regardless of industry, especially when their business partner is a man. In one instance, a man came in to purchase Green Roads’ product, but he wouldn’t give Fuentes the time of day. He prefered to work with Barroso. The founders opted not to do business with him, even though the deal was large. “We don’t want to work with people like that,” she says.

Otherwise, she’s had an all-around positive experiences since moving from pharma to CBD. “Being a woman in this industry has actually been very gratifying,” Fuentes says. “You get to see the way you impact people’s lives.

In pharma, you don’t always see the happy, positive story. You just see a customer come in with an opiod addiction. It feels good to be the right side of nature.” That right side being the health benefits of CBD, which range from treating anxiety and addiction to nerve pain and heart health.

A CBD user herself, Rosenbaum echoes Fuentes’ sentiment, which is why she thinks more women should talk about using the product and also look for jobs in the CBD industry. “You don’t have to get into CBD-specific products,” she says. “CBD needs lawyers, sales reps. It’s a brand new industry. We need you.”

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By Beth Castle

Managing Editor, InHerSight

Beth Castle is on staff at InHerSight, where she writes about workplace rights, diversity and inclusion, allyship, and feminism. Her bylines include Fast Company, Charlotte magazine, The Charlotte Observer, SouthPark magazine, Southbound magazine, and Atlanta magazine. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

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