The Entrepreneur Who’s Building Her Empire Sterilizing Vapes

As told to
Photo: Timothy Fadek/Bloomberg News

Carrie Martz, 61
Cannabis and Adult Pleasure Products Entrepreneur
Scottsdale, Arizona

I worked in advertising for 33 years. When I retired, I knew that I was probably not going to stop working. I just needed to find a new venture.

One day an old marketing contact sent me some products for sanitizing toothbrushes. My daughter was about 5 months pregnant and a little obsessive about germs. I said, you ought to use this. I know you’re worried about catching things. She said, “You know, I read these mom blogs now that I’m pregnant. On one of them someone was asking if it’s safe to use a vibrator when you’re pregnant. And the advice was that you have to make sure you sanitize it.”

I’ve had a vibrator forever and I used to constantly get infections and wonder where I was getting them from … I wasn’t sexually active! At that moment I was like, oh, now I get it.

So I just launched Clean Light Laboratories, a business that uses UV technology to sanitize adult toys and marijuana-smoking gadgets.

I never imagined I would be doing what I’m doing now in my life. I graduated college a semester early, in ’77, I worked for a man selling tchotchkes. I was young and way too aggressive. Eventually my boss revealed he’d hired me so he could take more time to play golf and relax. He said, “You’ve made more business for me. I did not want that. Start your own firm and be your own boss.” The next day I got a business license, sold my Mustang for $1,500, and bought letterhead and business cards.

By the time I was 22, I was running an advertising company specializing in real estate, which grew to become the largest female-owned advertising agency in the region. My first full-service client was a semiconductor company. I didn’t even know what one was. Their first brochure was just pages of products they had that they wanted in a three-ring binder. They had to have them — it was before Christmas — and they got stuck at UPS in Phoenix. I spent hours down there begging, crying, and buying cookies to get the binders out of the warehouse at night. The company was so happy they gave me more work — which was their entire advertising business.

When I don’t know about something I immerse myself in it because I am completely driven by fear — fear that somebody will do something better, fear that maybe I’m going to lose everything, or fear that I won’t be successful.

So back in the ’70s and ’80s it could be hard to pick up business. I was never going to be able to play golf. A businessman once asked, “Are you a good ten-toes-up salesperson?” I later learned what that means … you know, you’re getting your clients by having sex with them. Yeah, right. So many of my clients hit on me. Married? Didn’t matter. Pregnant? No big deal. So I learned lots of tricks. For example, I always left the table before anybody else. When we checked in on business trips I’d go, “What floor is Mr. so-and-so on” and they’d say ten, and I’d say, “Put me anywhere below,” so I could always get off the elevator first. Saying no and keeping a client is not easy.

I hired people out of school, I mentored a ton of women, I won the Athena Award. A lot of the women working for me started at-home businesses because they had kids and clients don’t understand part-time work. I put in a sick room so the parents could come to work when their kids were ill.

Thirty-three years later, after two very tough periods — a divorce and financial issues where I almost lost it all — thought I’d finally made it. We had 60 employees, offices in Las Vegas and Scottsdale. Ninety-five percent of my clients were real estate. When the 2008 recession came, I lost 80 percent of my client base in 60 days. I owned a building and I couldn’t make the payments. I was getting another divorce.

I was told by a very large law firm the only way to salvage my career would be to declare bankruptcy, I kept saying to the attorney, “I will not do that. I manage people’s reputations.” It scared me to death. I’m driven by fear, remember. I went on payment plans and I never had to declare bankruptcy, I never had to change my business name, and it’s good I didn’t because two years later I get a phone call from someone who wanted to buy my agency. I stayed on the board for a little while, and right after the sale we picked up our first cannabis client. I also went to Denver where I saw how important this industry was poised to be in Arizona.

But I didn’t pursue it right away. Instead, after the toothbrush conversation with my daughter, I started researching the adult toy market. I discovered it was a $15 billion industry for toys alone and there wasn’t one universal method to clean them. Not one. Some manufacturers were saying wear a condom when you play with your toy; others were like put into a dishwasher. Well some of these are electronic and that would ruin it. I found a microbiologist out of Harvard. We started to talk about how you can use a UVC germicidal light to sterilize toys … After many, many months, we built the right product that could safely sanitize 99.9 percent of all germs on the toys.

My first adult trade show was a big one in Vegas and I wandered over to the S&M area … They wanted to know if I could clean blood off leather. I go, well, we can’t get the stain off but we can sanitize the bacteria in our machine. We did more research and now we can sanitize pretty much anything but fur, and I don’t even want to talk about what that’s being used for.

At that same event I encountered a few people showing glass dildos, and one of them had a glass bong … I studied again, I looked at the cannabis industry and began to consider just how important the emerging market would be.

After that I went to my first conference for women in the marijuana business. I asked if I could do a focus group where the women who had been in the business a while could give me their opinion on our product. I sat through their lightning speeches and noticed a common theme: One woman after the other who had been in other industries and hit some kind of rock bottom in their life.

I did my focus group at a cocktail party. It was a cash bar and the marketer in me started thinking … So I announced, I’ll buy your first drink if you fill out my form and examine my product and let me know what you think. Well over half the people said that they have a vape or some sort of smoking device and hadn’t really thought about the germs associated with passing them around. So I’d do my pitch. They’d go, “Oh my god, right, because why else am I sanitizing my hands when I go into the grocery store or my toothbrush or the baby’s bottles or whatever.”

Cannabis is easier to market than adult toys because you can do it in public and because there’s the medical association. You can say well I smoke because I have arthritis or I can’t sleep or whatever. No one looks at an orgasm and goes, oh my god, I have to use adult toys because my doctor told me I have to have an orgasm every day and my husband can’t give it to me. I’ll tell you this, women will be and have been, I can already see, far more accepted in the cannabis industry.

Women are not necessarily the scientists and the growers — that’s still kind of the original male pothead. I think we’re great communicators, we’re great marketers and we’re traditionally associated with nurturing and health care, so women are good faces for the medical-marijuana industry.

The last women in marijuana conference I was at, I remember thinking to myself how supportive everyone was. It was so flippin’ different than when I started in advertising where a woman wouldn’t help another woman for anything. Now, of course, I’m not stupid, it could be because after the conference everybody goes into the cocktail hour high … Everybody’s like: “Sureeeee, I’ll help you! Wait, what was your name again?” Ha! Whatever it was, I felt it and I came back all jazzed up and excited and I talked to my guys in China who manufacture my adult toy sanitizers. They’d never even really heard of the marijuana industry so they were in shock. Some of my investors had cold feet: Just stay with the adult toys for now! But the other half were like, you go, girl. Go get it.

Recently I took my machine and my toys down to an oncologist and radiologist and they’re going to start carrying toys to help women reengage after ovarian and breast cancer treatments. I said, you need to put my sanitizers by every single bed because it also completely sanitizes the phone and the iPads and anything people bring into the room. Look how far we have come! A hospital is willing to look at pleasure products. I’m in touch with a female breast-cancer oncologist who is a real champion of the machine for adult toys. Here she is so flippin’ excited, and then of course, I see the opportunity and I say, “Well, I have some hemp oils which are great for pain. Oh and also, this same product can help sanitize the things people use to smoke medical marijuana.” She’s like, “Okay, slow down. Just let me get through with the toys, girl.”

The Vape Sanitation Entrepreneur