Older Americans have officially embraced legal cannabis. According to a 2017 federal survey, Baby Boomers aged 55-64 are more likely than 12-17 year olds to smoke weed monthly. This is a dramatic flip from the early 2000s when teens were 4 times more likely to consume cannabis than people in their 50s and 60s. There’s also the finding that seniors aged 65 and older have essentially gone from zero use in the early 2000s, to 2.4% of them reportedly using cannabis monthly and nearly 4% taking it annually.
It’s music to the ears of Octavia Wellness Co-Founder and CEO Carrie Tice, who has spent the last 4 years building her California-based cannabis company to specifically serve the aging population. To hear about how a family member’s cannabis journey led to the founding of her company and learn what life is like for the cannabis CEO, we took some time to catch up with Carrie at MJBizCon in Las Vegas.
FOUNDED TO SERVE SENIORS
“Octavia Wellness is dedicated to having the best products and services for seniors and Boomers,” Carrie said of her company. “Those are the fastest growing segments of the cannabis industry, but also the most under-served.”
It’s a mission informed by personal experience. In 2014 Carrie’s mother Gayle was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and suffering from a peptic ulcer, the result of a decade-long regimen of 12 ibuprofen a day.
“She had an endoscopy and she couldn’t get enough oxygen, then she went into a nursing home,” Carrie said. “She was actually strapped to her bed at night because she was not able to sleep, so she would be wandering around.“ Carrie understood that her mother’s being able to sleep would make a difference to her overall health, but the idea presented to her wasn’t at all what she expected.
“It was actually the caregivers [at the nursing facility] who pulled me aside said, you know, a lot of our dementia and Alzheimer’s residents use pot drops to help them sleep,” she explained. “I was truly like, what are pot drops, where do I get them, and why are we whispering?”
A former tech executive specializing in health and wellness for video game company Ubisoft, Carrie tapped into her network to learn more. “I knew that I had liked cannabis but I was like, wait, there is actually some validity to this?” she said laughing. “I was working with Humana and Cleveland Clinic and some of these larger organizations, and I had met different scientists across those paths, one of which was working at the Buck Institute on Aging. So I talked to him and said tell me about medical cannabis, I didn’t know anything about it.”
That first conversation would evolve into a product development undertaking. “We ended up coming up with a formulation due to the fact that I was just really trying to find a solution,” Carrie explained. “Our scientists ended up making one of the first products that uses a compound that is very helpful for sleep.”
After she began administering the medicine to her mother, the results were so dramatic that relatives started asking questions. “Pretty soon we had so many people going, ‘Why is Gayle better? Why is she living at home now? How did this help?’” Carrie said. “I had this feeling that I truly had this responsibility to scream it from the mountaintops.”
She then reached out to friends at Rossmoor, a Northern California gated senior-living community in which her grandparents were co-founders. Carrie learned about a medical group meeting held there regularly for residents. “This was 4 years ago, I thought that there were going to maybe be 5 people; it was a room full of 100 people,” she said. “They introduced me and I stood up and said, ‘I have a sleep formula.’ The reaction was crazy. I’d never had this feeling and I had been in product development, branding and licensing for 25 years for multi-billion dollar companies.”
Carrie saw firsthand the power of reliable word-of-mouth for this community, and for her fledgling company. “What we realized, and how our business model started, is that that people like my mom or like you and me want to know about products from people we know,” she explained, “So I just called everybody I knew and they became our Wellness Consultants.”
THE OCTAVIA WELLNESS APPROACH
The Octavia Wellness business model relies upon a network of Wellness Consultants using outreach to educate and engage the aging community. Consultants share their referral code or place product orders on behalf of clients and receive a percentage of the sales in the form of payment or a credit towards additional product purchases. Those signing on to be consultants decide their level of involvement, including the option of becoming trained and certified Ambassadors who receive referrals, product discounts, and get paid a higher commission. For Octavia consumers, whose average age last year was 78 and is starting to trend younger at age 57, face-to-face conversations are critical.
“If you’re a senior, technology is a challenge, so the way they learn about cannabis is in these planned senior communities or from their doctor,” Carrie explained. “We are a company that goes out on a daily basis to senior planned communities, memory centers, hospice centers, libraries, community centers. And guess what? That entire group of people exists in every single municipality in this country.”
While based in California where cannabis is legal for all adults, the company is built on a foundation of mindfulness towards the specific needs of seniors. “We have Octavia Herbal, which is our hemp treatments, and then we have Octavia Wellness that has our more advanced treatments and is in legal states,” said Carrie. “Octavia Wellness carries our microdose signature line of products that are specifically formulated for seniors, and then also we have a full line of curated products that we’ve selected because they work great for our demographic.”
For Carrie, the focus on education is really about helping people explore preventative measures. “I come from a family who has cognitive neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and my grandfather had Parkinson’s,” she said. “These all are very receptive to cannabis for symptom relief.”
Carrie explained that with doctor approval, patients are advised to take “take CBD hemp capsules on a daily basis to be able to fill your endocannabinoid system” as a preventative measure. And the idea isn’t to completely eliminate prescription medications, but to work with them. “What we like to do is add a microdose of cannabis or hemp to that regime, and then wait and see,” Carrie says of the process. “Add microdosed levels, see how you’re feeling, and then you might all of the sudden not need your 3 o’clock opiate pill that’s going to make you tired for the rest of the day.”
Instead of pushing an alternative, the overall purpose is making sure seniors and their children understand that they have options. “It’s actually the fundamental approach, and this should be a basis for wellness,” she explained. “Because that’s where people get scared: ‘Wait, it’s an alternative to what I need?’ No, it’s not, it’s in conjunction.”
DAILY LIFE AS A CANNABIS CEO
So what does the day-to-day look like for this cannabis CEO?
“It’s never the same,” Carrie says with a chuckle. Having recently brought on additional team members including a VP of Product Development, she is able to now focus her efforts on seeking Series A funding for $5 Million. “I’m a salesperson at heart so that’s natural,” she explained. “I’ve always been selling something before, but I’ve never been selling my business so that I can now pick who’s going to be our strategic partner.”
Being able to get the help she needs in order to shift her attention from daily business operations to the investor side is truly a victory, according to Carrie. “The most miraculous thing in this industry is that there’s a lot of lessons in the surrender,” she said.
When asked what the biggest challenges are, Carrie is unflinching. “The regulations,” she answers, but from her perspective the key is to find the balance between rolling with the punches and sticking to the goal. “You have to stay focused on your path and be as flexible as you possibly can without deviating from your dream,” Carrie said. “There can be aspects of it that don’t work anymore; don’t be afraid of letting that go.”
She’s just as adamant when describing what is most fulfilling about her work. “Everything. Slowly but surely we’re all women pretty much,” she said, explaining there was one remaining male co-Founder on the team. “This was not on purpose, but what I have learned and what has inspired me is that women are used to chaos, we navigate it intuitively.”
Carrie also thrives on each interaction she has while doing outreach, and still hits the road to join Wellness Consultants and Ambassadors at meetings and events. “I’ll go to anything. Every single point of contact inspires me,” she said.
ADVICE TO BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS
Carrie’s advice for anyone thinking about starting a business in the cannabis industry stems from her own experience leaving an established career – and a hefty paycheck – behind in pursuit of something…more.
“Burn your boats,” she said plainly. “Buy the house, extend all of your credit, do everything because if you think you can turn back, you will.” Not waiting on the perfect moment or a false sense of security, while scary, is the best way to fully embrace the possibilities in this industry.
“The lessons are there, the nuggets and the magic happen when you actually surrender and you go for it,” said Carrie.
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