“Brands don’t sell products, budtenders do” With Missy Bradley

Brands don’t sell products, budtenders do. People are so used to window shopping and browsing the aisles of a grocery store. That doesn’t exist in cannabis. You may have spectacular branding in the coolest container, but it’s either in a glass case or on a shelf behind your salesperson, and the consumer doesn’t get to […]

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Brands don’t sell products, budtenders do. People are so used to window shopping and browsing the aisles of a grocery store. That doesn’t exist in cannabis. You may have spectacular branding in the coolest container, but it’s either in a glass case or on a shelf behind your salesperson, and the consumer doesn’t get to have the experience of looking at similar products side-by-side, or even picking up the container and reading.

Asa part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Missy Bradley. Missy Bradley is the brand director and co-founder of Stillwater Brands. Prior to her work with Stillwater, she was a senior producer at The Climate Reality Project where she led creative initiatives centered around climate change awareness and action. She is a former journalist, having previously held positions at Wired magazine, Hour Detroit magazine and PR Newswire.

Missy holds an MA in journalism from the University of Missouri and a BA in English from the University of Michigan.

Missy lives in Boulder with her husband, John, her kids, Max and Ella, and her dog, Princess Beadie Wigglebottom (Officer Beadie, if you’re a stranger or a fan of The Wire).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

Afriend from childhood approached me with a plan for a functional, low dose cannabis product. I had never been a cannabis user (I could’ve counted on my hands the number of times I’d consumed), so I was initially turned off by the idea; I didn’t think I’d have anything to contribute. But the more I thought about it, the more I recognized that there was an underserved market in the cannabis space — and that young women like me could benefit from low-dose cannabis in the same way that many use a glass of wine at night to unwind. I did a lot of research and a lot of souls searching and ultimately decided to take the leap with my two co-founders.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The most interesting thing that I’ve noticed during my time in the industry is how many people either use or are curious about cannabis. For so long it had been something taboo that you didn’t bring up with people you didn’t know well. And now when I tell people what I do, they have so many questions about cannabis and they want to talk about how they consume. It’s been fascinating to observe the cultural shift.

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?

The funniest mistake I made when first starting was not funny at the time, but I can laugh about it now. There were only five of us in the early days, and we all had a hand in everything. I attempted to make our first sample transfer in METRC (the state cannabis tracking system), and I did it completely wrong. When I arrived at the dispensary with my samples they were quite taken aback. I ended up having to return everything to our facility and that dispensary never wanted to work with us again. From that experience, I learned that I’m not always going to get it right, but as long as I learn from my mistakes and get it right the next time, we’ll be okay.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?

My dad told me not to get into the cannabis industry because it would tarnish my business reputation and no one outside of the industry would want to hire me ever again. He is now one of our biggest fans and product evangelists.

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?

My co-founders have really set me up for success at every step. They truly had to sell me on joining them in the early days, as I was terrified and didn’t know what I was doing. And now that we’ve been on this journey together for more than five years and we’ve launched new companies and products along the way, they still support my intuition and back me on whatever decisions I think are best for our brands. They continue to push me to think bigger and expand my reach, and I am so grateful that we get to do this together.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We just launched a direct-to-consumer CBD product, Caliper CBD. We’ve taken all of the learnings from our years in the THC space and applied them to this new consumer product. We’re still very much focused on quality, consistency, and functionality, and we’re excited to be able to offer the powder technology that we’ve been refining over the past few years to a national audience. I think it will help people realize that CBD might work for them. We learned very early on in the THC space that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for cannabinoids. What we hope is that people can incorporate our products into their every day and that they’ll help them in some way.

We’ve also put a lot of effort into building out our ingredients business, Caliper Commercial Ingredients. We now offer a full suite of CBD solutions for CPG products. Our ingredients take the guesswork and years of R&D out of creating a new CBD product from scratch. We have a few big clients who are taking the leap into CBD, and it’s been exciting to see the interest grow among traditional consumer brands.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?

Gender parity is something that has to be addressed across the board, not just in the cannabis space. We’re in a unique position in recreational cannabis where we have what is still seen as a new industry, and it’s still malleable. Biggest picture: VCs need to start funding more women. If we can’t get the money to get our ideas off the ground, it’s that much harder to end up in a position of leadership. And also, just hire more women! Our company is over 50% female, with an even split on our leadership team, and we benefit from that every day. And another easy one: mentor and promote women!

You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non-intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.

  1. Don’t think of cannabisas just a means to getting high. The majority of our consumers use our products functionally, meaning they are not looking for the psychoactive effects, they’re just looking to feel better. When we were making our first sales, dispensaries told us our products wouldn’t sell because no one wanted to buy a product that wouldn’t get them high.
  2. Brands don’t sell products, budtenders do. People are so used to window shopping and browsing the aisles of a grocery store. That doesn’t exist in cannabis. You may have spectacular branding in the coolest container, but it’s either in a glass case or on a shelf behind your salesperson, and the consumer doesn’t get to have the experience of looking at similar products side-by-side, or even picking up the container and reading.
  3. Regulation changes everything. The different regulatory environments that exist state-by-state allow for very different product markets in each. People constantly ask us why we’re not doing what company X in Y state is doing, and we have to explain that regulation in Colorado doesn’t allow for it.
  4. It’s not a cash grab. There was, and still may be, a prevailing idea that getting into cannabis means easy money. That is not at all the case. It takes time and resources and lots of awesome people to build a sustainable and profitable cannabis company.
  5. It’s still a relatively small industry and relationships are super valuable. We still work with many of our partners from our first year in business.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?

  1. We’re still here! Being a part of the recreational cannabis market in Colorado has very much felt like a case study. I love that we’re able to prove that what we’re doing is working and that the benefits outweigh the consequences.
  2. The comradery has been wonderful, and it’s something I haven’t experienced in other industries — especially among the women. We are all sharing, building, and connecting, and trying to lift each other up.
  3. It’s still small. There is so much room for growth and innovation, and I’m excited to watch it happen.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?

  1. There is still so much misinformation. We need a clearer path to consumer education, but in cannabis, our hands are tied when it comes to consumer outreach.
  2. Lack of standardized testing. We have a well-regulated market in Colorado, and even still, the testing is outdated and varies from lab to lab. We need to figure out how to standardize testing across licensed facilities, in Colorado, and across the US.
  3. Concentrates. I understand that concentrates can be medicine for some people, but THC at ridiculously high doses scares me, and I think it’s a consumer safety risk. I believe concentrates should be available for medical purchase and there should be more regulation at the recreational level.

What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?

Federal legalization would allow for federal protections of business and employees in the cannabis space, and it would also open doors to research and further innovation. Colorado has proven that with the proper regulations in place, both the consumers and the government can benefit from legal cannabis.

Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?

Cigarettes are a delivery method for nicotine, and they’re laced with terrible chemicals that cause cancer. Cannabis is a plant, and there are various methods for consumption, some better than others. But the overall safety profile is good. The plant should not be demonized for the chosen delivery method. There are plenty of ways to use cannabis responsibly, and I don’t believe the same to be true of cigarettes. So, sure, tax cannabis, regulate it heavily and sell it at every corner store.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

No regrets. It’s so easy to look back and say, “I wish I would have done this differently” or “had I known …,” and it’s also too easy to get stuck in that place where you’re playing out different “what if” scenarios in your head. I try to make the best decisions I can with the information I have, and then I move on. There’s no use in dwelling on what I could have done better. It’s a much better use of my time to focus on moving forward than it is to constantly rehash what went wrong and where I could have changed course. I am where I am because I’ve continued to move forward and evolve.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Judgement-free zones. We’re all so quick to call out what someone has done wrong (in our opinions) and to blame and point a finger. It’s not helpful, and it’s super divisive. Now, more than ever, we need to just focus on respect and understanding.

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!

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