From Budtender to Bud Baller, the Story of the Kush Queen's Million-Dollar Success
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The cannabis business may be fairly new and nontraditional, but that doesn’t mean the old adage about “starting at the bottom” doesn’t have its merits. Olivia Alexander went from budtender to business owner when she launched Kush Queen, a multi-million dollar brand offering CBD- and THC-infused bath bombs, lotions, wellness supplements, and edibles. We talked to Olivia about how she leveraged her success as a digital influencer into creating her own wellness brand, and how she sees herself as an advocate for women forging their own paths in the industry.
Tell us a bit about the Kush Queen origin story.
I started as a budtender at 18, and I saw firsthand the impact safe access had on people of all ages. That led to me launching Crystal Cult when I was 25, which was a hand-encrusted vape covered in Swarovski crystals. I started posting pics on Instagram of our vape pens styled with luxury accessories and a California backdrop, and I went from zero followers to 30,000 in about six months. I discovered this massive audience of women who love cannabis and everything snowballed. Soon, I had 3.5 million Instagram followers, and that’s when I lost half my following because cannabis is censored by Instagram. So I took everything I learned on social media and put it into something new. That’s when Kush Queen was born.
What was your initial vision for the company, and how has that changed over time?
It was very simple, and it’s the same thing that drives me today: cannabis wellness products for everybody. Listen, I didn’t fit into the culture, I didn’t look like a stoner, I didn’t sound like a stoner. I won the Cannabis Cup, but I didn’t look like I belonged there. So I wanted to change people’s minds. And that’s what the bath bomb was, it was the greatest mind-changing product I could create.
The bath bomb is approachable. It’ll never get you high, and it’s so effective as a delivery method because it’s a full-body topical. When you submerge in the tub, you’re taking on the essential oils in the cannabinoids, and your skin is your largest organ.
Why was it important to you that you retain complete ownership of the company?
So much of the industry is driven by profit, but I’m here for passion and innovation first and always. Large companies that are controlled by boards and by institutional investors don’t have that freedom; I wouldn’t be able to express my passion in the same way. I don’t want my responsibility to be to them, I want it to be to my customers and to the products and the plant. Also, we’re a family-run company, so there’s a passion and commitment there, and it allows you to attract other people to your team who share that passion. It’s probably saved me hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in HR turnover.
As a woman navigating a male-dominated industry, what were some of the barriers and opportunities you encountered?
On the one hand, no one took me seriously at first; they literally laughed me out of dispensaries with the bath bomb. But because of my beauty and white privilege, just being honest, I built my own following direct-to-customer. It’s hard to be a woman in cannabis; even with more women in the industry than ever, we’re still getting just 2% of the money that comes into the venture capital end of this business. To this day, I’ve never met a woman in the VC space; maybe they exist but I’ve never met one. But I was just living my life, I was not taking no for an answer, and I said come hell or high water I was gonna make it.
What distinguishes Kush Queen’s products from your competition?
Our technology — and me, honestly. I grew up in this industry, I believe this industry will have its stars and its leaders and I believe I’m one of them. And our nano-technology makes the cannabis fully absorbable through the skin; it’s more bio-available, and with THC it’s psychoactive. We’ve been and we remain one of the only brands in the space using this tech. With a smaller company driven by passion, we’re the ones to innovate, because there’s not a long chain of command to go through. If I want to do something, we’re doing it, and we’re doing it faster.
In what ways would you like to grow the company going forward?
We’re expanding globally, we’re available now in Japan and Hong Kong, and we’re continuing to invest in innovative technology. We’re the first and only company to sell cannabis cosmetics products, we’re basically the Estee Lauder of cannabis. She innovated color cosmetics, she became a leading manufacturer in the space and owned a number of different brands, and we’re doing the same thing. We’re manufacturing, we’re doing fulfillment for other brands, we’re running other brands within our brand family, and building a complete portfolio like Estee Lauder did in its early years.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs entering the cannabis business?
The best advice I have is to bet on yourself. So many people enter the space and look side to side; they’re looking at each other’s packaging and products, and it’s why we’ve had very little innovation and very little originality. Bet on yourself, believe in your vision, and build your own pathway into the space.