When professional rugby player Grayson Hart, 32, was hit with a degenerative knee injury, he explored natural treatment alternatives to avoid reliance on opioids and painkillers. Having witnessed his father’s struggles with addiction while he was growing up, the New Zealand native did not want to fall into that same trap. Conducting his research, Hart, who has played for teams that include Glasgow Warriors and most recently, Bedford Blues, learned about NFL players taking CBD. Inspired, he followed their lead and quit painkillers. However, as a drug-tested athlete, he soon became concerned with companies making false claims that their products were free of THC (a psychoactive compound in cannabis that gets users high and is banned in sports). This galvanized him in late 2018 to co-found Pure Sport CBD, a brand that targets other professional athletes as well as older adults with active lifestyles and has the certification and lab reports to prove credibility.
It’s been a fascinating trajectory for the ambitious and amiable Hart. With the rugby season suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak, Hart is currently in London focusing on his burgeoning company. Recently, he spoke about the genesis of his new business, recapping the trials and the triumphs in addition to the importance of churning out tested and certified products.
This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Iris Dorbian: What are some of the challenges you have faced launching this new CBD line?
Grayson Hart: There are a lot of restrictions with marketing in the U.K. You can’t do paid ads; you can’t go the traditional marketing route. We had to be really creative and build a community around the people who love the product. Because we achieved certification through BSCG, one of the world’s most recognized testing certification for athletes, we now have a lot of athletes reaching out. We used that network to organically promote CBD.
[There were] other challenges: We didn’t necessarily go out with the idea to create a CBD brand or company. We were athletes who genuinely benefited from the product. We were able to stop taking painkillers but we were quite naive about what it really took to take and grow a business. It’s really been a crash course learning how to run a business and what it entails. Fortunately, for us, one of our strengths is connecting with people who have skills and knowledge we don’t have as athletes. One of the guys we’ve been fortunate to connect with is Alex Stewart. He’s part of a Scottish [private equity firm] Clyde Blowers Capital. When our business started to grow a lot quicker than we anticipated and we started to face challenges like business plans, forecasts, understanding the ins and outs of accounts and how to scale up the business, we went to Alex as a friend. He’s been like a real blessing to us.
Dorbian: What’s your staff size?
Hart: We have a team of seven staffers: two in Scotland and the rest in London and one stranded in Australia because of the lockdown.
Dorbian: How do you ensure that THC will not be in any of your CBD products? What does your company do to ensure quality control?
Hart: That’s something that sets our company apart. We’re providing far more clarity than what’s in the products than 99 percent of brands out there. With our certification, it shows lab reports, every single aspect of the final product, tests for 260 banned substances in sports, every contaminant and pesticide, a test of CBD levels, a test of THC levels. With some of these third-party tested agencies that CBD companies are sending these companies to, they’re not using industry accepted testing methods. They’re using in-house lab testing. No one knows what it’s tested against. We use an industry worldwide accredited lab testing to measure all cannabinoids, banned substances and CBD content. When we came up with the idea of launching Pure Sport CBD, we wanted to work with a manufacturer that could guarantee to a tee what they were extracting.
Dorbian: Do you mostly sell online or do you have a presence in stores?
Hart: We’ve been quite protective of our brand. We’ve been very picky in terms of choosing retailers we work with. In terms of our retail focus, most of our sales is online and available everywhere CBD is allowed.
We are currently being sold in gyms, yoga studios, pilates studios and physiotherapy clinics in the UK. We’ve got a distribution agreement in South Africa. That’s hit up a few retail sales points. We’re currently finalizing agreements with New Zealand, Australia and Japan. We’ve found with our official rugby network the word has spread quickly.
Dorbian: Did you use your own capital to launch the business or raise outside funding? If the latter, can you discuss how that went?
Hart: The company was created from our own capital—myself and our co-founders. We had to convince our wives that utilizing our savings was a great idea. It took a fair amount of convincing. But to date, that’s proven to be a good investment for us. We’ve had an angel investor (Alex Stewart) on board who has contributed. We’ve had quite a few offers of investment proposals. We’ve really considered these offers but we felt they were quite keen on taking a fair chunk of the business. We’ve been picky on how we navigate but now we’re looking to scale up.
Dorbian: What’s your estimated revenue for this year?
Hart: With our forecasts, we’re looking at between five to seven times of last year. Each month our sales are increasing by 15 to 20 percent throughout 2020. We’ve seen a significant uptake in sales even with COVID.