This Founder is Setting the Example for What a High-Growth Female-Led Cannabis Business Looks Like
Brittany Carbone is the founder and CEO of TONIC, a wellness company that develops CBD based topicals and orals from organically grown, hemp-derived CBD.
Prior to starting TONIC, Carbone was a professional personal trainer, a devotee to natural wellness remedies, and someone who battled anxiety. Incorporating Ashwagandhafor its natural anxiety relieving qualities was in and out of Carbone’s wellness routine. But cannabis was the only thing that ultimately helped her anxiety. Being high at work all day was not a sustainable coping solution though.
When Carbone learned about CBD--the non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant--she got to researching. She started to combine CBD and Ashwagandha to see if they would compliment each other’s calming, adaptogenic effects. That is exactly what happened, she says. The first TONIC she created relieved her anxiety, gave her more energy, helped her recover from workouts and helped her sleep better at night. She wanted to share it with the world. TONIC was born.
Carbone has been bootstrapping the business since launching the original TONIC formula in her home kitchen fall of 2017. In her first month of business, she generated $3,000 in sales. Less than a year later, Carbone has expanded the product line to include a variety of oral doses and topicals, has grown to $40,000 in monthly sales, has moved company headquarters to a facility on a farm plot in Upstate New York, and is preparing for her first CBD oil harvest this fall.
Carbone shared with me why CBD is having a moment right now, the hardest part of building TONIC so far, her plans for growth, and her vision for empowering women-led cannabis businesses.
Below is a condensed version of our conversation.
Gilbert What bigger impact do you seek to make in the world by building TONIC?
Carbone: Cannabis is being recognized more and more for its femininity and its ability to help women with real problems from anxiety to menstrual cramps.
I want to strengthen and solidify the foundation of this new cannabis culture being built, specifically in the CBD realm.
We are starting to see a lot of women-owned retail lines. The issue is where is this CBD coming from? A consolidation of large cultivation and extraction operations run by white men. The cannabis--hemp--being grown and the way that it is extracted is dictated by a very small group that fails to represent the cannabis community as a whole.
When we get women involved on both ends of the supply chain we can ensure that the evolving narrative around cannabis keeps its strong sense of femininity and inclusion. I want us to move beyond the ‘babes in thongs smoking bongs’ imagery that comes up when you Google “girls who smoke”.
We have a farm in Upstate New York where we are currently growing hemp for CBD production under a state-issued license. With the vision of expanding the farm and entering into the extraction and bulk distribution process, I want to be able to employ and empower women who want to enter this space but maybe aren’t sure how to get their start.
Gilbert: Why is CBD having a “moment” right now? Why now?
Carbone: Cannabis is becoming much more widely accepted and embraced for its healing properties.
In recent surveys asking whether or not people supported legalization, the numbers for those who support medical cannabis are staggeringly high compared to the moderate number that supports recreational legalization. The research validating CBD’s wide-ranging benefits has been increasing, pharmaceutical companies are developing CBD-based drugs for epilepsy.
2014 marked the first time since marijuana prohibition in 1937 that hemp has been able to be legally grown in this country. With the passage of the 2014 farm bill, states are able to grant research licenses allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp--cannabis with THC content below .3%.
CBD derived from industrial hemp grown in accordance with the Farm Bill is the only CBD that can be argued: “legal in all 50 states.” CBD derived from cannabis with more than .3% THC or grown by somebody without a state-issued license is not legal.
We are also living in a time where people are stressed the fuck out. Anxiety is at an all-time high, so an all-natural, plant-based anxiety remedy that actually works is something a lot of people can get on board with. This explains why Chill TONIC is our best selling blend.
Gilbert: What’s been the hardest part of building TONIC so far?
Carbone: Educating people about what CBD is.
It is hard to remove the stigma around cannabis when federal regulations mandate that you use prohibition-era language and avoid associating your cannabis-derived product with cannabis, at all costs. We have to educate people that hemp and cannabis--where our CBD is derived from--are the same things.
We have to be able to really communicate what CBD can do and not be afraid of FDA backlash but we have to be careful with client testimonials because the FDA can technically say you are making medical claims via the testimonial--something that an average wellness brand might not have to worry about but a CBD/cannabis brand does.
Gilbert: How is TONIC approaching things differently?
Carbone: I mentioned the private label services that are widely used in this space. I don’t do that. All of our blends are handcrafted in small batches. I extract the additional herbal infusions myself, I source the black seed oil from an organic female farmer in California who cold presses oil herself, the pure maple comes from a maple farm down the street from our hemp farm in upstate NY. Every ingredient in every TONIC product is mindfully selected and serves a distinct purpose. Even as we scale we’ll carry over these same mindful practices. Maintaining product quality and a high level of customer service is a top priority and are the parameters that dictate my growth strategies.
We are about to harvest our first hemp crop in September. Caring for these beautiful plants all summer has been amazing and I’m really excited to be able to use our own, New York-grown hemp extracts in TONIC, getting one step closer to controlling quality from seed to shelf.
Gilbert: What has been the most helpful to TONIC’s growth so far?
Carbone: Social media and word of mouth have really been the biggest driver of sales growth. People sharing their experiences with TONIC on social media has been huge because it helps close the loop and create more trust for a brand in a widely unregulated market. And maintaining a high level of transparency and customer service has been vital to our success so far.
The community around cannabis, especially women in cannabis, has been amazing as well. From bloggers to photographers to yoga instructors, to other CBD brands--there are so many amazing women willing to work together to promote each other and help each other grow. When we support each other and collaborate rather than compete we all win.
Gilbert: How have you grown the most, personally, since making the leap into entrepreneurship?
Carbone: I believe in myself way more than I ever thought I could. Building a business from the ground up is the loneliest experience, but also the most empowering. At least once a week I think about giving up or I think ‘how am I going to do this’ or I think ‘that’s it, I’m exhausted I can’t do it’ but somehow I get back up and keep going. Every time I think I’m done and prove myself wrong, I learn that I am stronger than I thought. Recognizing how much power you actually have within is the most liberating, life-changing thing. If I never started TONIC I don’t think I would have ever realized that power.