No matter how much someone else believes in us or how many compliments we get, we must believe in ourselves and recognize our own power. When you allow negative self-esteem and negative thoughts attack us, it makes us forget our own power and makes it difficult for us to reach our potential. Once I found the strength to believe in my own crazy idea, the sky was the limit. It’s all about me wanting to make it happen, and believing in my abilities, strengths, and having the courage to acknowledge my weakness, will be the guiding principal to allow me to move mountains and get “Sh*t Done!”
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kat Donatello, Founder of Austin and Kat
Since the mid-nineties, Kat Donatello has been innovating in health and wellness — from starting and managing the nationally respected and award-winning Pumpkinman Triathlon Festival (the largest two-day event and first of its kind of Maine), to building a successful CBD pet business, Austin and Kat, from the ground up. What started as a project in her home kitchen in Maine, experimenting with various recipes and CBD oils to create a wellness dog biscuit for her own pets, quickly blossomed into a small business that was helping not only her animals, but those of friends, and friends of friends, and then the public.
Austin and Kat’s mission has always been to help owners have happier, calmer, and healthier pets. Austin and Kat continue to experience unprecedented growth in this trailblazing new industry.
Kat lives in Seattle with her husband, Tim, and is a mother and step-mother to four daughters. When she’s not visiting her very own biscuit bakery, she divides her time between long hikes with Austin, training for her next race, seeking new flavors to make a meal, and traveling far and wide.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
Istarted this company in the fall of 2014, in my home kitchen in Maine. I had a simple desire to bake up some wholesome treats for my aging dog and young pup — I’d been hearing about this naturally occurring component of hemp called cannabidiol (CBD) and after much late-night research and lots of trial and error, I was able to bake up a biscuit delicious enough to dole out to my pets. With the overwhelmingly positive difference in my pets’ pain and behavior (among other things), I knew I was on to something.
I started sharing my treats with my friends and word began to spread. Literally, I became known as the treat lady in my small town overnight. When I couldn’t walk down the street before people began to ask me where they could get some CBD biscuits for their own dogs, it was time to take a leap of faith and begin a business.
In building my brand, it was important to continue doing what worked at home. Thus, my biscuits are made from scratch with natural and locally sourced ingredients. Made by hand, in small batches, my team is passionate about using real food, no junk or fillers. A good diet is key to happy and healthy pets. By striving for consistency, accurate dosing, and independent testing we can ensure the utmost efficacy of our products.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The feedback I receive from customers is why I get up every day. When I started Austin and Kat, my sole mission was to help pets who were suffering. What I never expected was how much the families of these pets would be impacted when their pets found relief in using my products.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Once I decided I was going to do this for real, I had to come up with a bakery as my kitchen wasn’t going to be able to make the number of biscuits I needed to make daily. I found a “closed for the winter” bakery in Presque Isle, Maine (4 hours from where I was living at the time), that had four large commercial ovens (perfect for my needs), so I decided, while a crazy long commute, the price was right and I rented the place. Little did I know it would get so cold that pipes would burst. The floor also decided to cave in on me, because the fifty-pound oatmeal bags were stacked four high. Needless to say, it didn’t work. I had to scramble to find a replacement, which I eventually did a mere two miles from my home.
The lesson it taught me? Planning. I thought finding the perfect place would be the hard part, and everything else would fall into place. I know how to actively plan down to the most minute of details to make sure nothing gets missed. Some elements can still fall through the cracks, but when they do we learn from it and move on. And plan better next time. Fail and fail fast, then get on with business.
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
I was ultimately surprised (and delighted) at how open my 86 year old dad was to the industry. He was in law enforcement his entire life, and when we speak about the legalization of cannabis his funniest comment has been thus far “Finally, we can go after the bad guys, now that marijuana is legal!”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Within the cannabis industry, there are so many people making strides and advances that no one would have thought possible just a few years ago. All of these innovative people have influenced me. I am fortunate to have my mentor, Tim Moxey, one of the founders of the Botanica Investment Group. His guidance and knowledge as an entrepreneur have taught me so much, but it’s his work ethic that has been my guiding light. He maneuvers and hurdles his way through this tricky industry on a daily basis — I am constantly impressed with how he addresses the intricacies and challenges of legalization. His drive to create brands and products within a company that is both successful and responsible is essential to the industry. Also, I am proudly married to him.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’ve just debuted a line of functional biscuits, helping owners deliver just what your pup needs, be it calming an anxious mind, relieving creaky joints, easing up the aging process, or even just jump-starting their day. Just like all humans are different, each and every pet have different, unique needs. This line was developed with the idea that your pet deserves its own bespoke product, all their own. We put 10mg of our full-spectrum and organically-grown CBD inside each biscuit, along with wellness-enhancing herbs and botanicals. We’re just trying to remedy the most common ailments/afflictions we hear of from pet owners all across the country.
With the success of the classic line, it’s been above-and-beyond exciting to see how we’ve been so impactful in pet owners’ lives — people write in every day to tell us. I think we’re just barely scratching the surface here.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
Empower and encourage women to join the discussion — and encourage men to partake, too. You’re valued by your ideas and your input around here, regardless of your preferences or gender or anything like that.
We tend to “share the care duties” around here — a warehouse/bakery/office/home would not run smoothly without traditional “housekeeping items.” One for all and all for one in this space!
Lead by example. Even as a woman entrepreneur, who has definitely experienced pushback, I’m still a veritable product of the company I keep. I strive to invest in the right people for my team, surround myself with positivity, and above all, stay true to myself in this ever-changing landscape.
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non-intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
That I’d meet some really interesting people, many of whom I’d have never crossed paths with otherwise. My life is richer and my network deeper than I ever thought possible.
Telling some of your more conservative family members that you’re starting a cannabis business can get a bit uncomfortable. Stay strong.
Testing products can be really fun when you’re the creator. When you’re testing other companies, however…be ready for anything.
Being an entrepreneur and starting a living, breathing business is harder than you might think. There will be roadblocks, especially in this ever-changing landscape, be it regulation, packaging redesign, or legalities of banking/credit card processing. There will be times when it’s difficult to stay motivated.
There will be mistakes — many, many mistakes. Get over it. Keep going.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
Number one would be the conversations happening in our communities everywhere! Here in Seattle, we’re a bit insulated because of our already legal status, but I hope that as states legalize, they’ll look towards Washington state as a leader that accomplished this successfully.
Number two would be since the Farm Bill passed in 2018, where CBD was removed from the schedule 1 list, we are seeing fewer restrictions across the board.
Finally, the sheer innovation! So many inventive products, so many original ideas. It’s truly inspiring to see the market explode.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
Starting with the innovation piece — the sheer number of players that come into this space every day can mean that people are being sold products of unknown quality.
Alongside that — there’s a lack of transparency out there, which I’m campaigning to change. Consumers should demand clarity surrounding the products they’re purchasing, and remain adamant in seeking test results. Verifying the quality of the products they’re buying is so important.
And again, still many kinks to work out regarding the FDA and CBD products. Any new stipulations could mean a return to square one regarding labeling, packaging redesign, credit processing, etc.
What are your thoughts about the federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
Legalizing marijuana will reduce the strain on the legal and criminal justice systems — by massively reducing or even cutting out petty marijuana-related crime (possession of small amounts, for one). Production and sales of marijuana by the government, rather than by criminals, will save lives, create jobs, and generate money which can be used for social programs, education, and healthcare.
Another big one? Crime related to marijuana production, trafficking, and dealing will be reduced and/or eliminated. And by setting an age limit of marijuana use, there can be stricter controls on whether younger people can access marijuana.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
Federal taxes on marijuana, similar to that on tobacco, could end up generating a whole lot of money for the government. And, as I made mention, legalizing marijuana would drastically reduce the risk involved in producing marijuana — and a lower risk means more business as more people become attracted to this space. And more business means more competition to keep prices lower altogether. It’s a new market that’s newly regulated — and it’s exciting to see this coming to fruition.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”
– Glinda (The Good Witch), The Wizard of Oz
No matter how much someone else believes in us or how many compliments we get, we must believe in ourselves and recognize our own power. When you allow negative self-esteem and negative thoughts attack us, it makes us forget our own power and makes it difficult for us to reach our potential. Once I found the strength to believe in my own crazy idea, the sky was the limit.
It’s all about me wanting to make it happen, and believing in my abilities, strengths, and having the courage to acknowledge my weakness, will be the guiding principal to allow me to move mountains and get “Sh*t Done!”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I see a trend in my wellness sector as an awakening, of sorts — people want to feel good, do good, and see good. With the prevalence of social media and the influence of the internet, I think we can get bogged down with information overload. It’s amazing to be able to have access to so much knowledge, sure. But there’s a kind of fatigue that tends to creep in after 15 minutes catching up on your newsfeed (at least it does for me).
I’ve seen so much measurable positivity in taking time out for the simple things: their families, their pets, cooking, working out (it can be anything)! I think people need to return to the basics that make us human. When they’re satiated in that way, magical things start to happen as they strive to make a better world for everyone else.
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!