AJ Agrawal: Growing & Selling a CBD Empire (for an 8-Figure Deal) Within 2 Years

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AJ Agrawal: Growing & Selling a CBD Empire (for an 8-Figure Deal) Within 2 Years


Written in partnership with Famous Entrepreneurs.

It’s one of the biggest names in CBD: Verma Farms — the nationally acclaimed ‘hempire’ that was recently bought for an (undisclosed) eight-figure sum. FE International, one of the most well respected e commerce M&A advisors, brokered the deal. And the name behind that name? AJ Agrawal, the 31-year-old entrepreneur who grew Verma from the ground up in just two years.

While that might sound like a breakneck pace, Agrawal has a history of astronomical achievements reached in short periods of time. Cofounding a business in 2012 and becoming a CEO of another one by 2013 — all before graduating from the University of San Diego’s business school — was just the beginning of Agrawal’s entrepreneurial success.

His strategy, skillset, and acumen have set him apart from an early age. Barely out of college, he was 24 when the world first started taking note of his “risky” and out-of-the-box leadership style — risks that paid off, clearly.

He founded (and still currently owns) the marketing agency Verma Media — a business Forbes called “unconventional” and “San Francisco’s largest blockchain marketing firm.” Cutting his chops in branding, affiliate, and digital marketing, he shares that he got his start at Verma Media working with brands like AmEx, Shopify, Juul, and Expedia. “This allowed me to have experience in scaling and building brands, which gave me a huge advantage when starting my own DTC [direct-to-consumer] brand,” he says. “And apart from Verma Farms, I have built four other direct-to-consumer brands that do over $1M in revenue every year,” he says.

But his next venture wasn’t something he planned on; the idea came to him on vacation.

Saying Aloha to CBD

On a trip to one of Agrawal’s favorite locations — the lush, laidback islands of Hawaii — Agrawal came upon an unexpected treasure that would change the trajectory of his career and legacy: CBD.

“The first time I tried CBD, I was in Hawaii,” he says. “Spending time in Hawaii is already a surreal experience — adding an extra element of relaxation with CBD made it so clear to me that I wanted to capture the experience, bottle it up, and share it with the world.”

A brand was born in that moment: the feeling of tranquility and peace many seek on a vacation, accessible anywhere. “It helped that I already had a big focus on health in my personal life,” says Agrawal. “I was a D1 collegiate athlete, which was where I was first exposed to taking my health seriously — but in my late twenties, I encountered what a lot of young adults do as we begin to age: a struggle to relax, recover well after workouts, and sleep.”

“As a way to thank the state for introducing me to CBD, I based the entire Verma Farms brand off it — the culture, the beauty, the lifestyle, the colors, the flavors,” he says. “Hawaii has such a special place in my heart.”

Verma Farms Is Born

Agrawal saw opportunity in the hemp sector, and shortly after his trip, the 2018 Farm Bill passed. Thousands of new brands exploded into the once-fledgling market.

“I knew it was sink or swim,” he says. “This onslaught of brands surged into this space, the hemp and CBD space, and I knew if we didn’t differentiate ourselves from the beginning, we’d never make it,” says Agrawal.

Fortunately for Agrawal, branding was his bread and butter. “Because there were so many phony, faux-brands from overseas that didn’t even put CBD in their products, we obviously started the differentiation process by emphasizing quality and safety; we were offering a premium product. Quality, controlled and tested products using US-grown hemp.”

With remarkable branding experience, imaginative strategies, and a real story to tell, a lifestyle brand quickly developed. “I decided to really lean into the Hawaiian storytelling,” says Agrawal. “In our packaging, branding, selection of flavors and products — but also in our approach to the business, the farming, the whole thing. Hawaii is all about purity, keeping the natural environment pristine — it feels so pure, untapped. We used a socially and environmentally conscious focus.”

CBD gummies with flavors like Blueberry Wave, Maui Melon, and Beary Beach were sold alongside dried fruit-plus-CBD offerings — pineapple, mango, and papaya.  “We were giving people a literal taste of the island lifestyle,” he says.

The promise of the aloha spirit — and some relaxation — in a bottle or jar worked; Verma Farms was building a massive following. “We had consistent 20% MOM growth,” he says (which, is worth noting, mostly took place during a pandemic and economic crisis). “We did $1 Million in profit in the first year alone.”

At a time when Americans couldn’t visit Hawaii, Agrawal offered them a taste of it at home — an escape from the reality around them. He rode the proverbial green wave of hemp’s national growth; the CBD gummy market alone is expected to reach $14B by 2028.

Growth and Sale of a CBD Empire

Verma Farms was completely bootstrapped, says Agrawal, which maximized profitability as he took no outside investments. He cites autonomy and efficiency as strategic guideposts that allowed his business to not just survive the pandemic, but to thrive enough to acquire a second company: Penguin CBD.

The acquisition of another company in 2021 allowed Verma Farms’ valuation to skyrocket; so much so that six months later, mergers and acquisitions giant FE International led a remarkable transaction, selling the business (that once had only $200) for eight figures.

“I couldn’t be more grateful for the past two years — as an entrepreneur and as an individual,” says Agrawal. “From the first time trying CBD on the beach in Maui, to product testing and tasting the Verma Farms gummies we made, to keeping a business alive in 2020, to acquiring Penguin CBD, to the sale now, it’s been such a profound journey. I can’t wait to share what’s next with the world.”

Agrawal continues to own and run Verma Media, and has multiple DTC projects in the works.


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