Whitney Beatty didn’t like storing her cannabis medicine in a shoe box, so she created a line of high-end storage containers.
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Whitney Beatty was a high-ranking executive developing talk shows for BET with a film screened at Cannes by Kodak. She left it all to become an innovative designer of luxury cannabis storage systems. She bootstrapped her quickly growing start-up and is completing her first financial raise to expand.
Whitney Beatty is still a high ranking executive as CEO of her own company, Apothecarry Brands.
What brought you into the cannabis industry?
I never imagined myself working in the cannabis industry. To be honest, I did not use cannabis when I was younger. I didn’t use in high school and I tried it a couple times in college but I wasn’t wasn’t impressed — besides, Nancy Reagan told me to just say no to drugs and I believed her!
I had a 15-year career working in entertainment but a couple of things changed my trajectory. First of all, I was diagnosed with anxiety. It was a life-altering experience for me. I went from sitting at my desk with shortness of breath and heart palpitations to racing myself to the emergency room, parking between two ambulances at the ER and being pretty sure that I was going to die of a heart attack.
Besides being very scary, the rest, as they say, is history. I was able to find a CBD/THC regimen that works for me. I was able to get off of all the other drugs my doctor had put me on. I was able to do the research on the plant and learn how misinformed I was. And then I realized that although I now love the plant — I did not connect to the cannabis culture as I thought I might. I detested the stigma. I detested how people avoided talking about it. And I realized that while I kept my wine in a wine fridge, I kept liquor in a bar, I kept cigars in humidors — I was still keeping my high-quality cannabis in a shoebox under my bed. Which is inappropriate — — not only for safety and freshness, but it perpetuated the stigma I was trying to erase and shamed my experience. What other medication do you store in a shoebox?
After meeting so many like minded cannabis users, who lamented about a lack of good storage system, worried about securing buds away from kids and pets, and who were tired of searching around for their stash to discover it dried out from plastic baggies and non-airtight dispensary jars, Apothecarry was born. The brand seeks to redefine the image of cannabis users who take pride and pleasure in their stash, while filling a hole in the marijuana paraphernalia market for everyone from the attorneys who toke after their high-powered workday, to the “stiletto stoners” who are hosting ladies night, the seniors using medication for health benefits and everyone in between who demand the best in all things.
What obstacles and challenges have you experienced in operating within this industry?
I think it might be easier tell you the challenges that I have not faced getting into this industry, lol! There is this idea out there that working in cannabis is a free for all — and that we’re all smoking weed all day, making tons of money the easiest way possible — and nothing could be further from the truth. Cannabis entrepreneurs are responsible for everything else every other business is responsible for PLUS we have an added layer of legislation and unique regulation with eyes watching over us at every point in time. We pay taxes but we can’t bank. They want our money for licenses but we cannot take payments from customers with credit cards. It’s insane.
For me, personally, there were a couple of challenges that stick out. First of all, the key to being a successful entrepreneur is not necessarily to know everything but to gain access to the people you need to fill your knowledge gaps. In an industry that’s changing as quickly as the cannabis space, that can prove to be very difficult. There is not long track records, case studies and standard operating procedures. The rules change on an everyday basis and a lot of people don’t like to share information so they can keep their competitive advantage. You have to innovate and be nimble.
Raising money is also a huge challenge in any circumstance, and even more so in the cannabis space, where investors are leery because it is still federally illegal. And keep in mind, I own a company that does not touch the planet. I sell a box, a locking storage box! Not to mention the fact that over the last five years only .02 percent of capital raises across all startups were closed by an African American female founder. So I knew there was an uphill road in front of me.
Finally, I had to prove there is space in cannabis for a luxury consumer, and that these new higher-end consumers would be prevalent in the newly legal market. It only makes sense to me. The people I know who use cannabis are doctors and lawyers and professionals people easily making six figures.
I can also see the correlation between the cannabis space and the alcohol space — whereas there’s a space for Popov vodka in a plastic flask and there’s also a market for Belvedere. I wanted to cater to that high-end consumer in the cannabis market and give them something beautiful, safe and functional that made them feel more comfortable having cannabis in their their home and improved their their smoking experience.
How have you overcome these obstacles?
By using hard work, dedication and a hell of a lot of Google. I was able to build a community around myself, which is very difficult as an entrepreneur. One of the ways I was successful in that was by joining the Canopy business accelerator in San Diego. It gave me access to a cohort of entrepreneurs who were dealing with the same issues as myself. I was able to mastermind with them and share resources together on how to solve banking issues, compliance issues and so on, to accelerate all of our companies. I was given access to mentorship from across all areas of business and the cannabis space, which allowed me a much broader view of market trends and where the industry is moving.
Regards to raising money, it was a mix of preparation, due diligence and developing traction. It was incredibly frustrating for a while. I was able to win the ArcView groups 2017 Los Angeles Pitch prize for $50,000, That was a great start but the longer I found myself raising the flatter my sales became. I realized at a point that I needed to take the money I had in hand put it to work so I could prove to future investors that if they gave me the money I would do what I said that I would.
That worked. I was able to take that small amount money and my next month was 500 percent better than the month before. Before long I was able to close a $250,000 seed round. I am back at it raising my bridge (funding). It helps to know that although it may be difficult, it is not impossible.
And in regards to my MVP (minimum viable product), the solution there was two fold. I took every penny from my friends and family around me who believed in me, and put it into buying 100 cases — bootstrapping at its best. At that point I was a single mom who had quit her job and sold her home to get the company off the ground. I couldn’t even afford advertising. I just put them on our website and hoped for the best — and in six weeks they were sold out at our $259 price point that everyone had told me was impossible.
The next part tends to be difficult for entrepreneurs sometimes — but I needed to listen to my customers. I went back to all those first 100 customers and I sent them a survey to find out exactly what they liked about the case — and more important what they didn’t like — and how they suggest I improve. Then I used that knowledge to iterate on the case again, and again, and again, to improve our customer satisfaction. In a market that’s changing as quickly as this one is, it’s paramount that you keep up the dialogue with your customer base, watch trends and be willing to pivot. Our continuous improvements helped us grow our market share — our Q1 2018 was 144 percent up from Q1 ’17.
As a woman in cannabis, do you feel that you are at an advantage or a disadvantage (or both) and why?
It’s a mixed bag. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone with no knowledge of the cannabis space mansplain my business to me. Or tell me it’s impossible for me to make money. Or I just need an Etsy shop. Or tell me that I need to bring on a male CEO who would better connect with investors. And when some investors want to take male entrepreneurs under their wings, for a number of reasons it’s much more difficult to build that relationship as a female founder.
As a woman of color it’s often like a double whammy. I tend to be so materially different a person than the investors that I’m pitching to that I need to be at 110 percent to get that same consideration. It can be frustrating. But at the same time I’d like to think that those are the things that light the fire in me that I need to keep going.
On the positive side I think females add enormous value to the space. We tend to look a little bit more holistically at the lifestyle of cannabis consumers. A lot of the higher-end items that you see that take cannabis out of that counterculture and into mainstream culture have been spearheaded by women. A lot of education that I see happening in the space now has been spearheaded by women. I also tend to see women understand that this is a huge market and rising tides lift all ships. They are more than willing to share information and to build this industry together. They make me proud to work in cannabis space. I’m also a single mother and I tell people all the time if you want your investment managed right — have a single mother do it. I keep a close eye on our dollars and cents. We have a really low burn rate. I take the money invested in me personally. I don’t take it lightly.
What is an accomplishment you have achieved in this industry that you are most proud of?
There’s a lot that makes me proud. Q1 2018 was 144 percent up in year-over-year. We’ve had less than $32K in ad spend. In the 18 months since our launch we passed our first $500K in sales. Being nominated for a Dope Mag best new product award. Every single article that has covered us because we aren’t paying for PR yet. But more than all those, what makes me most proud is being invited to speak and encourage women — and especially women of color — to consider careers in the cannabis space. I’m proud to pass that knowledge along and help others achieve their dreams. A candle loses nothing of itself when it lights other candles.
What is your greatest lesson learned?
I’m not always going to know all the answers – and that that’s not my job. I’m the bus driver. I have the vision – I know where we are going. My job is to find the best team, and put them on the bus with me so we can all get to the final destination. True leadership is giving the right people the right climate to shine.
What trait do you rely on most when making business decisions and why is this useful for you?
I trust my gut. I’m lucky to have a few people close to me who I can run things past when I need to talk through them. And I do, but ultimately I have to think of things like: Do I trust this person? Do I want to be in business with this person for a long-term basis? Are our needs and goals aligned? What is the worst-case scenario? Then you pick a direction and you keep moving. Second-guessing yourself will get you nowhere.
Author: Cynthia Salarizadeh