Inspired by a lack of stylish, safe cannabis storage systems and a disdain for storing medicine in a shoebox, Apothecarry Brands CEO Whitney Beatty is a successful entertainment industry executive turned cannabis storage designer that’s spearheading her quickly growing start-up. Her luxury cannabis humidor company Apothecarry was selected for the first cohort of Canopy San Diego cannabis business accelerator, won the ArcView Groups 2017 Los Angeles pitch prize and was selected at the Fall 2017 Pipeline LA portfolio company.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? How did you first get into this business or get interested in the business?
I actually 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 of times in college but I wasn’t impressed — besides, Nancy Reagan told me to say no to drugs and I believed her! I had a 15-year career working 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 of the ER and being pretty sure that I was going to die of a heart attack.
Besides being very scary, I was most frightened because the medicine that I was given to treat my anxiety did not work for me. And I tried a lot of them. And finally, in an offhand comment, my doctor suggested I look into Cannabis, 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 redefining 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 tokes after their high powered workday, to the “stiletto stoners” who are hosting ladies night, to the seniors using medication for health benefits and everyone in between who demands the best in all things.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your cannabis company?
I think one of the most difficult things that I had to deal with being an entrepreneur was at the beginning of my journey. I had just finished a friend and family round and intended to do a crowdfunding campaign in order to get the company off the ground. I had worked extremely hard on the campaign — we did videos, photo shoots, we had put money towards advertising and worked with a lot of companies to help get our campaign noticed. I spent almost all the funds I had in hand. And after all of that work we launched — and less than 10 days later we had our campaign taking down for being paraphernalia. Which meant we had wasted all the advertising money, all that hard work on those videos that were targeted for that campaign. And it was absolutely devastating for me. I was heartbroken and I felt defeated I didn’t know what to do next I didn’t have enough money to move forward without being able to take pre-orders funds and I really was at a loss.
I allowed myself 24 hours of abject devastation — and then I had to crawl out from under the bed to decide what was next. And this was my last shot. I took every penny I had left, quite literally, and I would buy 100 cases. 100 cases of My MVP product and put them online. At this point, I was completely out of funds so I did not have money to advertise or to buy Google ad words or really let anybody know what we were doing besides being guerrilla. But I bought a hundred cases all the same and I put them together in my garage, and box them up by hand. I hand stamped each one. Wrote thank you notes on them and PRAYED that someone would buy them (at my price point — which was another challenge for me. I had to prove that there was a market in the cannabis space for the 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 knew who used cannabis were doctors and lawyers and professionals people who were making six figures easy. 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 cannabis market and give them something beautiful, safe and functional that made them feel more comfortable having cannabis in their home and improved their smoking experience.
So I knew that this was a make or break event for Apothecarry. Either people would buy the cases or they wouldn’t and if they didn’t buy them I have a much harder time raising money and getting anybody to get behind the company.
And when they went up online they sold out in six weeks with absolutely no advertising. And I was elated. I was working like a crazy person by myself doing all of the fulfillment of my garage — but I was elated. It proved that there was a market for what I was doing and at that point in time I knew there was no stopping us.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think my brand stand out for its tone
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?
There’s a lot of people I am incredibly grateful towards during this journey. First of all my friends and family members who were involved in my first seed round. My seed round was comprised entirely of minority angel investors — not people coming in with big checks but $5k, $10k checks pre-MVP from people who saw my idea on paper and they believed in me when no one else did — and that really matters.
I’m also incredibly grateful for my cohort at canopy San Diego. I was a member of the first cohort canopy San Diego’s cannabis business accelerator and went through they are a 16-week program. It was a big challenge for me — I commuted from Los Angeles to San Diego for 16 weeks… As a single mom. It was a beast. But the work that I put in there, the other entrepreneurs that I got to work with and collaborate with and share information with, really made a difference in my business. Entrepreneurship can be incredibly isolating. And I think one of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur not having the network or resources to quickly find answers to the inevitable questions you will have along the way. It’s very easy for you to lose days and weeks chasing down a simple answer to a question that you could get easily — if you knew the right contact. Canopy really helped me with that. I got introduced to mentors and advisers, investors and other entrepreneurs who were in the same boat as I really help direct my path and allowed me to cut through a lot of BS in getting my business started.
I remember prior to going into canopy I had the opportunity to pitch the ArcView group which is a large investor network in the cannabis space. I was extremely excited because we really needed the money in order to be able to actualize Apothecarry in the way then I thought it needed to be done. So the ArcView group works is that they do webinars, where entrepreneurs get the opportunity to pitch to investors and investors get to rate them on a 1 to 5 scale — and if you have an average score of over 4 you have the opportunity to come and pitch at one of their live events and actually take in investments. I was so excited, and I had prepped, and I had done my decks and I THOUGHT I did well — and I was devastated to find out that I have gotten a 2.2 on their rating scale. That’s when I realize that the investors did not understand the opportunity — and I wasn’t doing a good enough job explaining it to them. They were asking questions that show that they didn’t understand my value proposition and I wasn’t sure how to fix it. After going through the canopy accelerator and working on my decks, my pitch, my elevator pitch — and being able to hone in on my value proposition and be able to show them my KPI’s and the success of my MVP I have the opportunity to go back and pitch at another webinar — and on that occasion I ended up getting a 4.29. I made it to the stage, and eventually won the pitch prize which was a great way to open my seed round.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We are launching our new dabbers case, which is exciting, we haven’t seen a lot of storage items for extracts so we are excited to bring one to the market. We also just launched our limited edition cases — each one has a beautiful design theme and limited run that we hope makes them collector’s items.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
I’m excited by:
One of the most exciting things by far about being in the space is widespread legalization. To see so many states come online with medical and recreational programs that allow people to get their hands on the plant is fantastic. The number of new products that come onto the market. It’s exciting to be able to go into a store and find CBD bath salts, CBD/THC feminine suppositories for menstrual cramps! To find THC infused keurig cups! The amount of Safe legal tested product is exciting.
2. Opportunities for Women
I think if you look at the lower barriers to entry, access to new markets and lower number of legacy organizations, Cannabis has the ability to offer lots of opportunities to the female entrepreneur. I am hoping this grows as the industry expands. I think the best advice I’ve ever gotten was “women who seek to be equal to men lack ambition.” Its something I’ve taken to heart as both as a woman and a woman of color. It served me well as an executive in the uber-competitive entertainment industry, and as I started Apothecarry. The odds are always against you as an entrepreneur but you have to trust in your ability and capabilities. You have to shake off anything you hear that tried to consciously or subconsciously limit what you can achieve. That’s also the joy of working in such a new and booming market — I can’t compare what Apothecarry can do with anyone else because this space didn’t exist 10 years ago. You get to blaze a new trail.
The downside of that is that while cannabis has been touting the fact that there are more female CEO’s in cannabis than other industries, those numbers are trending down and if you look at the demos of those businesses you will see that women aren’t controlling companies that have the capital needed to affect market change.
3. Education about the space
I’m also really enjoyed the destigmatization. You be surprised how many people pulled me to the side when I hear I work in the cannabis space and tell me about the CBD product that they swear by or how much their life is been changed by being able to smoke an indica at night before going to bed, or their anxiety levels had dropped by using a tincture. Slowly but surely, the tide is shifting from shame to pride. People have more understanding of the benefits, more willingness to imbibe, and an unbelievable array of products on the market. With more research starting daily I’m excited to see what the space looks like in 5 years.
I’m concerned about:
1. Access to capital
Raising money is also a huge challenge in any circumstance, and even more so in the cannabis space, where investors are leery of putting in money and a space that still federally illegal. In mind you 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. For me attempting to overcome it has been a mix of preparation, due diligence, and able to develop traction. It was incredibly frustrating for a while. I was able to win the ArcView groups 2017 Los Angeles Pitch prize for $50,000 which 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 they if they gave me the money I would do what I said that I would. And that worked. I was able to take that small amount of money and my next month was 500% better than the month before. Before long I was able to close a 250,000 seed round. I’m back at it raising my bridge. And it helps to know that although it may be difficult, it’s not impossible.
2. Lack of minority involvement
If you asked my mother 4 years ago, she would have put cannabis, heroin and crack at the same level “dangerous drugs to be avoided.” And its hard to blame her — communities of color have been Disproportionately disenfranchised by a war on drugs and now that it’s a legal industry there still a lot of concern and communities of color about the safety of working in the space. Half the people I knew questioned me when I told him I was switching industries — and the first thing they said was “why would you do that you have a degree?!” it showed me that there is such confusion about what’s happening in the space and the future of this industry. And I was very clear if this was the end of prohibition and someone took me to the side and asked if I want to help start Jack Daniels I would definitely say yes and I believe that this is the time that we are living in in the cannabis space we have the ability to start a new brands they could have legacies for years to come. Additionally, there hasn’t been a lot of conversation and communities of color about the benefits of cannabis — Health benefits, ability to treat disease, mental health benefits. Communities of color are historically underinsured and it’s exciting to see what the differences could be when those communities have that information needed to harness the ability of cannabis to heal. Make no mistake there was a very pinpointed and concentrated campaign to destroy public perception of cannabis by people like Harry Anslinger, who painted it in the most racist, vile way possible. It’s no wonder that so many people have a negative connotation of the plant — and are so quick to spread misinformation. So it’s exciting now to see them out of education going on about the plant and the benefits.
3. Education about the space
For every group striving to educate the population, there’s still a dispensary with under-informed budtenders and no one to tell new customers about what they may want to try — and why. Just like it’s important you understand the difference between drinking a shot of tequila vs a quart, we need to be able to inform the new consumer about consumption and encourage micro-dosing. A bad experience can turn someone who could really benefit from the plant off of it altogether.
Can you share your top “5 things you need to know in order to succeed in the Cannabis industry”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Do your research. First of all the key to being able to be a successful entrepreneur is not necessarily to know everything — but to be able 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 is that can prove to be very difficult. There’s 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 to keep their competitive advantage. You have to innovate and be nimble.
I can’t tell you how many people of told me that they want to come into the cannabis space and become a grower — because that’s the only job that they can think of in the Cannabis area. Now I can understand if you spent the last 15 years growing cannabis — but if you’ve never kept a fern alive in your life that is NOT what you should be quitting your 9-to-5 job to do. You should be looking at the cannabis industry as a whole and figuring out how your skills fit into what we’re doing here. So if you’re an accountant please bring your accountant skills to the cannabis industry. If you are a marketer bring your marketing skills to the cannabis space. If you are a nurse to bring your medical expertise to the space. Don’t decide that because you made a Cannabis brownie in ’05 you should start an edibles company.
2. Bootstrap! BE small, scrappy and nimble. It’s not easy to get investment in the beginning. You need to prove your space. You need to do your homework. You need to build relationships. Bootstrap as much as you physically can to get to a place we are ready to jump to the next level. If that means that you need to be building your business plan on nights and weekends from your regular job do that. Get to a point in time where you have an MVP and some traction. It will show investors that are you’ve done your homework, that you’re invested in this as much as you want them to be, and that you are willing to see that your company has possibilities for the long-haul.
3: Do your homework read as much as you can talk to as many people as you can in the industry knows the space you know where cannabis is going to the regulations in your area know what’s legal and illegal know where regulations are heading in your space don’t be a generalist. It’s easy to say “oh Cannabis is gonna be a $50 billion industry — But do you know what the exact vertical that you’re trying to get into is projected to be? Do you know the demographics of your ideal customer? We’re not in the time anymore when you can just say Cannabis and everyone comes running — people have likes and dislikes. Are you pointed towards a flower market? extract market? Edibles? Are you looking to be on the B2B side or the B2C side? Is that your company is going to be the Popov of Cannabis or the Grey Goose? What is the demographics of your customers? Are you talking to women, men, higher income or lower income? The same sort of demographic and market work that is necessary every other industry is necessary here as well — and people tend to forget that.
You need to make sure that your pitch is on point and error-free. That your business plan is tight and your executive summary shows the value that your company has. This is the time to make sure your IP is ready, trademarks are ready… don’t half-ass it because you think that the cannabis space is easy. It’s not — it’s harder than any other business, we have all the expectations of any other business has –with an extra layer of regulation.
4: Collect your “No’s” on the way to a yes: Remember that as an entrepreneur all we hear is No! I hear no’s all day — from investors, from partners, I hear no from distributors, I hear no from customers. I have to get used to hearing No’s — and still be able to wake up and the next day and do it all again. And the key to that is to remember I only need ONE yes.
And at the same time, I need to remember that in all of those No’s I don’t need to burn my bridges. Because even though it might not be time for that investor to come into your seed round — it may be a time when you’re raising your A round or your B round. So you still need to build those relationships to keep those networks going.
5: Know your worth: It’s difficult when you’re getting started and you feel like you’re constantly asking for something you’re asking investors for money. You’re asking people for their support. You’re asking new partners to take a bet on you. You are asking other entrepreneurs for insights and info. I often felt like I was that Charlie Chapman character with my hat in hand saying “Please sir can I have some more sir.” And that’s when it’s most important for me to remember that I am also offering all those people something — I’m offering investors a great opportunity to make money I’m offering my partners great brand to align with, offering my customers a fantastic product. It’s important that you know your worth. That’s what keeps your integrity. That’s what keeps you from picking that investment partner. Or do a deal with the bad business partner
In our experience when people are passionate about what they do they are more successful. Where does your cannabis passion come from?
I’ve seen what it’s done in my life and the lives of so many others. You can’t those things and not be passionate for the stigma and misinformation o die and for safe and legal cannabis to be available to all.
What are some cannabis industry pain points that you would like to see a solution for?
I definitely think of the banking issue as a pain point that I would love to see be solved. It’s absolutely that the insane majority of businesses in the space are not allowed to have Checking and savings accounts, or to get business loans to be insured. It makes for a much more dangerous industry where the vast majority of people have to deal in cash. And also makes it more difficult for customers who have to pay in cash and have limited ability to use ATMs or check cards.
Another pain that’s been driving me crazy right now is the lack of ability to advertise. Especially in 2018 when over 31 states have some form of legal marijuana usage that we are not allowed to advertise on Facebook. Or Instagram. Or in magazines that are not cannabis facing. It’s absurd. At the end of the day, I sell a safety product the product that if parents had in their house would allow them to keep cannabis in a way that was safe for children and pets — but it’s hard for me to even tell people that because marketing is almost possible.
Oh, and if there was a solution for the side eyes from judgmental moms who look at you skeptically for having joint whilst sipping wine and popping Xanax that would be great too.
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. 🙂
If I could start a movement in the cannabis space it would be to encourage people of color to come into this industry. If this was in the prohibition and someone asked if you want to start Jack Daniels you would not hesitate. But here we are at the cusp at the end of cannabis prohibition and we are not participating in full scale. However, our communities have been disproportionately disenfranchised by a war on drugs for years. And now you let Chad start a dispensary on your corner while Jerome is still in prison. We have got to show up in the space.
Jilea Hemmings is the CEO & Co-Founder of Leaf Tyme. She is running a series on Leaders In The Cannabis Industry.