Lean into networking. As much as it might feel like work — meeting other founders or potential advisors along your journey will be critical when you’re in a pickle.
Aspart of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a CBD Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Lewis and Meredith Schroeder, of Fleur Marché. Co-founder and CEO Ashley Lewis is a seasoned brand strategist with a proven record of translating concepts into revenue-driving businesses. Before Fleur Marché, she launched the wellness business vertical at goop, overseeing the launch and roll out of goop’s acclaimed vitamin line as well as the growth of its clean wellness shop (it was there that she first became obsessed with CBD). Prior to that, she was at ClassPass where she launched the Los Angeles business as the LA GM and subsequently oversaw the business development function, working on partnerships with Nike, Reebok, Sweetgreen, Outdoor Voices, and others. She began her marketing career at Mattel as a brand manager on the Barbie Global Brand Team, working on the fashion & beauty business. Ashley has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BA in Communications and Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania. Co-founder and CCO Meredith Schroeder has extensive merchandising experience in building and scaling retail platforms for female consumers and is a veteran at curating and building fashion brands for women. Prior to Fleur Marché, Meredith ran the fashion business vertical at goop, encompassing the buy strategy for third-party contemporary and luxury brands, and served as the lead merchant on goop’s own private label brand. Under her management, goop’s fashion business was the largest vertical, inclusive of RTW, Activewear and Accessories, growing over 3X in revenue within two years. Before goop, Meredith was deeply entrenched in retail businesses spanning mass retail (Macy’s), vertically integrated wholesale businesses (BCBG), e-commerce fast fashion (Nasty Gal), and concept luxury retail stores (Maris Collective).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path? (Meredith)
Ithappened very organically for me. I became invested personally in the category in the last couple years, once I learned that cannabis was a wellness tool, not just a recreational drug that got me high. I swapped cannabis for other medications in my own life and shared my experiences and product obsessions with my own community who in turn became believers in the category, under new context. I realized there was a clear opportunity to create a retail experience for women (specifically, novice women) on a bigger scale that was beautiful, sophisticated and elevated — an experience that didn’t exist at the time.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? (Ashley)
Right after we launched, Anheuser Busch invited us to come speak to a group of its craft brewers about CBD, marketing to a female audience, and the trends we were seeing in the cannabis industry. We weren’t really sure what to expect but got to the conference and found ourselves in a room packed to the gills with real dudes — beer drinking, overall-wearing, tough guys whom, at first glance, we thought would be completely bored by us. But, to our surprise, they were hanging on our every word. They were desperate to understand how to market their products to women and couldn’t get enough from us in terms of how women shop, how they evaluate products, what they care about when making a purchase, etc. It was really fascinating, and really fun. We only had an hour but could’ve spent the entire afternoon with them.
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? (Ashley)
When we first launched the beta version of our site, we sent a welcome email to all of our friends and family, plus a few potential investors. Along with information about why we started the company and the site, we offered everyone a discount on their first purchase…but we forgot to include a discount code, anywhere. It wasn’t until we started getting emails asking about how to redeem the discount that we realized our mistake. Ooops…
Are you working on any exciting projects now? (Meredith)
Can’t really give many details, but we’re in talks with one of our favorite non-CBD retailers to pop in to a couple of their locations and help their customer understand how CBD can apply to them in ways that they care about. It’s really on-brand for us in terms of audience and how clearly wellness ties in to the entire activation. It’s also a great way for us to dip our toes into the retail waters.
We’re also working on a really fun potential activation for Coachella, that would give people much quicker and easier access to CBD. But again, we’re being tight lipped until it’s real…
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? (Ashley & Meredith)
Drew Baker, founder of Funkhaus — an amazing digital creative agency — was our first real believer and is the reason we got this thing launched in the first place. Drew and Funkhaus have created the online experiences for some big brands in cannabis (they’re currently working on the launch of Prohbtd’s new site) as well as non-cannabis brands like ICM, Ridley Scott, and Imagine Entertainment. We were excited to be connected to him, just to pick his brain on the cannabis space and the opportunity for CBD ecomm. We called him for general advice, he had all these ideas and was so helpful and so enthusiastic about what we were doing. A week later, he called back and said he wanted to give us our first check, just because he believed in us as founders and loved our idea. Not only did he give us the money to get started, but then also connected us to a bunch of other investors, which is really how our fundraising got rolling. Without him, there’s no way we would’ve been up and running as quickly as we were. We owe him a lot!
This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting? (ASHLEY)
Mostly, we’re just trying to get in front of people. We know that events are the highest touch way to engage a potential customer, so we’ve tried to make the events we do much more intimate. We prefer to (literally) get into living rooms with groups of friends, talk to them about CBD, answer their questions, and help them discover products that can address their specific needs. It gives them the best sense of who we are as a company, the authenticity of our brand, and the fact that they can trust us. While this isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, it will get much harder at scale (who’s to say that the two of us will always be available at each of these events, how do you keep things intimate and authentic as you grow?).
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you? (ASHLEY & MEREDITH)
We’re excited about:
- Better research — the more research that comes out about CBD and cannabis, the more evidence we have of its ability to really help people and the more our “trusted experts” like scientists and MDs will start to incorporate cannabis into their practices. Not only will the research help make cannabis an everyday wellness tool, but it will make it easier for the reluctant audience that we specifically target to get on board. [ASHLEY]
- De-stigmatization of the industry — similar to what I mentioned above, I’m excited for the normalization of cannabis and the evolution of consumer thinking about what it is, what it does and who uses it. It’s not JUST a recreational drug that gets you high (even though we fully support that use of it), it’s also something that should live harmoniously in your medicine cabinet or on your kitchen shelf. I’m really excited for the day when consumers feel totally comfortable speaking up about how they’ve used CBD, how it has helped them. I expect that we’ll soon overhear conversations with all types of consumers (across the country) comparing their favorite CBD brands vs. just whispering to each other about whether or not they’ve tried it. [ASHLEY]
- The evolution of product formats and the improving quality of products that have been on the market for a while (with a staggering number of female lead brands I might add!). With more science, comes more inventive products, very excited to continue to see this evolve. [MEREDITH]
I’m concerned about:
- Bad actors flooding into the CBD space — as more companies enter the CBD space, there is more potential for bad actors, who aren’t focused on quality, transparency and standards. It’s really important to set the bar high in those areas, so that the consumer never has reason to distrust this space.
- Volatility of the regulatory landscape — with every passing day it feels like there is a new set of regulations. While we’re prepared to weather whatever comes our way, it would be great to have some sense of stability in terms of the regulations, so that we can build our businesses accordingly.
- Proliferation of bad information — we’ve really made it our mission to clarify and demystify information about CBD, what it is, what it does, and how to know if it’s legit. As CBD becomes more readily available to a wider range of consumers, we want to make sure that these consumers have the right information, know what they’re buying, and are set up for success.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each. (ASHLEY & MEREDITH)
- Because this is such a new space (or at least, a space that’s taking on a totally new form), there aren’t a ton of guide posts, rules or warnings. Anyone getting into this industry needs to be prepared for ambiguity and feel comfortable forging their own path and operating in the grey. As regulations are continuously changing, we’ve gotten really comfortable rolling with the punches, not taking any twist or turn too seriously, and feeling confident that if we do what we’re focused on doing, things will work out. [ASHLEY]
- Figure out payment processing first! When we first started, there was a lot of hearsay about companies that were getting unceremoniously shut down for seemingly no reason. Once we dug into this, we learned that the was a very clear reason: these companies hadn’t found the appropriate payment processing partners. Because cannabis is a “high risk” item, it requires a “high risk” payment processor, who knows that the business deals with cannabis and is willing to underwrite it. [ASHLEY]
- We were lucky enough to get ahead of this, but definitely get a strong legal team. The laws change so quickly, it’s critical to stay on the right side of things. [MEREDITH]
- Do your own research. There is a tremendous about of misinformation out there. We spent SO much time really understanding the category and the science with a fine-tooth comb, so that we could curate the best of the best and dispel a lot of confusion as it pertains to CBD and its benefits. [MEREDITH]
- Have a point of view! As everyone rushes to be part of the cannabis craze, it’s going to get pretty crowded out there. We’ve always focused very clearly on a specific mission, a specific audience and a specific problem we’re trying to solve. If you don’t have that, you’ll risk blending in with everyone else. [ASHLEY]
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
- Almost everything is fixable (so don’t waste too much time freaking out). [ASHLEY]
- Your mood/confidence/belief in yourself will literally ping pong from amazing to horrendous each day (and sometimes multiple times in a day) — don’t worry, that’s normal. You’re doing great! [ASHLEY]
- Ask for help! You don’t get points for knowing how to do everything yourself. As soon as you run into a roadblock that you can’t get around yourself, started thinking about who can help you figure it out. [ASHLEY]
- Don’t let yourself get paralyzed by your task list. Taking things one thing at a time, will have a whole new meaning. [MEREDITH]
- Lean into networking. As much as it might feel like work — meeting other founders or potential advisors along your journey will be critical when you’re in a pickle. [MEREDITH]
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
ASHLEY: Kindness — corny as it sounds, I think the world would just be better if we all tried to be a bit more kind; whether to someone you pass on the street or your worst enemy.
MEREDITH: Rebranding cannabis to women who think it’s not for them.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
@fleurmarche (IG, Twitter)
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!