Gateway Cannabis Startup Accelerator: Vision to Virality (Podcast)

Gateway Cannabis Dispensary Startup Accelerator podcast

Do you want to build the next great cannabis company? You’ll need to attract, engage and nurture a loyal fan base. Ben Larson, from Gateway Cannabis Dispensary Startup Accelerator, based in Oakland, interviews Guillermo Bravo (CEO of Foottraffik) and Chikodi Chima (MoonshotPR.com) on marketing best practices and how to take your cannabis company from “vision to virality.”

Guillermo and Chikodi demystify marketing and demonstrate how mission-driven content and digital strategy can help you find consumers and convert them into sales.

Watch the podcast below:

Key Takeaways

Read the notes of key takeaways. (A full transcript follows.)

Why Your Company Must Be Mission-Focused

  • Because there’s so much historical baggage and stigma around cannabis, it’s even more critical to be a mission-focused company and to communicate your mission to customers.

Case Study: Flow Kana

  • Flow Kana is a focused sustainable cannabis practice. They launched as a farm-to-table cannabis brand with a mission to empower small farmers to have a very direct connection to the end user.
  • They create loyalty by communicating their Northern California heritage, the farmers, the people who have put themselves on the line for decades to make sure that we have the industry that we have today. Their whole story is about the farmers and the craft, the dedication of making the best cannabis in the world.

The Importance of Using Storytelling in Your Marketing Efforts

  • Get your story out there as early as possible, and saturate every possible environment with a story.
  • Storytelling is a strategy that allows brands to form an emotional connection with their customers that will build loyalty for years to come.
  • Remember, “Facts tell, but stories sell.”

Best Practices: Engaging New Clients

  • The highest priorities for a dispensary should be their website, SEO and customer database. You can do the SEO basics, the website basics, mobile, which is huge
  • With Clear Choice, we did A/B testing, created a mobile version of the website for best conversions to get people to the only actions we care about (menu visits, deals, request for directions, and phone calls). Everything else is irrelevant. Keeping it hyper-focused and ignore the “noise.”
  • Media opportunities are opening up for dispensaries. Google AdWords is now approving accounts. Display advertising is opening up across major publications.
  • For dispensaries, you really can’t advertise on Facebook, but if you’re a software company, there are workarounds for that. Keep in mind: You can’t use terms like cannabis, marijuana, drugs, or anything involved with paraphernalia.
  • Challenges persist with Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, because they are public companies, and until it’s federally decriminalized, that’s still gonna be the case.

Best Practices: How to Guide Your Clients to Success

  • What are the questions you ask to help start driving them in the right direction? Is it analyzing the market or is it more analyzing the company within and telling their story?
  • Start with a problem, and the more specific the problem the better.
  • Get as granular as possible and really just speak to the pain of one person. If you can translate one person’s pain and your solution to that pain, then you’ve done most of what you need to do. You solve one customer’s need, then you can extrapolate that to the next hundred people like them.

SEO & Voice Search

  • Google wants your content to be for a human audience. There are algorithms running in the background looking for the density of keywords, but it must be readable to a human (and you need to be careful not to “keyword stuff,” as Google will penalize you for that).
  • You can do many things to boost the visibility of terms that you’re ranking for, but if people aren’t reading and sharing your content — actual humans — then Google isn’t going to prioritize your content.
  • Use descriptive keywords in anchor text that reflect the same topic or keywords the target page is trying to target. It’s not necessary to use the same keyword text every time—in fact, doing so can trigger spam detectors. Instead, strive for a variety of anchor text that enhances context and usability for your users—and for search engines, as well.
  • Google considers outgoing relevant links to authoritative sites in its algorithms and they do have a positive impact on rankings.
  • Technically, both inbound (when a website links to you) and outbound (when you link to an external site) are considered external links.
  • Social engagement drives your search engine rankings. If you have more Facebook, Twitter shares and people engaging with the content, you’re gonna rank higher.
  • Influencers: tag them on whatever the platform is and ask them to share your content, when that shares, then that’s a good signal to Google that this I influential. This is high ranking, valuable content.
  • Voice search is gaining huge popularity now, so you have to write the content as if it were a person asking. For example: “where do I find the best dispensary around?”
  • The way that you would talk to Siri is the way you talk to a person, like a 10-year-old basically. It needs to be a natural conversation.

Gateway Cannabis Dispensary Startup Accelerator Podcast Transcript

Ben (Host): Welcome to Gateway Office Hours. I’m Ben Larson, the co-founder of Gateway. Thank you once again for joining us. We have a very special episode today. Episode… what, 68, Michael? Something like that. We have brought mentors on today to talk about the tips and tricks of building a vision, getting that out to their customers, and really gonna just focus the discussion on giving you the tips and tricks you need to help grow your company. I mentioned a couple weeks back that this is going to be our new strategy. We’re going to bring you into the inner fold of what we do here at Gateway and give it away for free because that’s what we like to do.

So, today’s episode, Vision to Virality, and sorry for using such a contentious cliché, but consonations (sic) are always good … or is that alliteration?

Chikodi:            Alliteration.

Background

Ben (Host):         Anyways, I’d like to welcome Chikodi Chima of moonshotpr.com and Guillermo Bravo of foottraffik.co. They’re independent companies, but they make for an incredible combined team. Ones that have worked with companies coming out of Gateway, most recently is Trellis. You guys are collaborating on that company. Chikodi, generally, has worked with some amazing companies in the cannabis space. Flow Kana is… at least you’re in the Bay Area. They’ve been seen all over the place. There’s billboards, commercials, everything. Amp Organics is another one. Bloom Farms is really well known around here.

Guillermo, you work specifically with dispensaries and retail organizations in the cannabis industry. Very niche. We’ll talk about how you got there, but Clear Choice up in Washington, I think they’re the second largest in Washington. The largest in the world, I think that’s newly minted, is NuWu out of Nevada, which is another amazing dispensary. And then Have a Heart, also from Washington.

These guys know what they’re doing, and know what they’re doing specifically in the cannabis industry. Their background goes a lot further beyond that, so we’ll get there. Thank you guys so much for being on today.

Guillermo:        Yeah, thanks for having us.

Chikodi:            Thank you. It’s a real pleasure to be here.

Ben (Host):         And we have some of our founders here today, so they’re gonna be peppering you with questions later so we can really dig down into the needs of the companies. I’m basically gonna give you the background and ask you guys the questions that kind of lead us through there.

A lot of times when we’re starting with a new startup, they have an idea or a problem–hopefully a problem–that they’re addressing, maybe some potential customers, but what we really need to get them built into is that vision or mission. Chikodi, that is really your specialty, helping build a strong mission, one that resonates through all the materials that a company puts out and helps build that foundation of what a company is. Let’s dial it back a little bit. How did you get into that line of business? What drew you to the cannabis industry? Give us a little bit of your background.

Chikodi:            I’ve been in San Francisco for seven years plus, and if you live in northern California, you have some connection to the cannabis industry. I was approached by a friend who was high school friends with the founders of Flow Kana in Venezuela, actually. It was a very random coincidence that I was able to work with them on my first legitimate cannabis project.

The Importance of Being Mission-Focused

Ben (Host):        Just for the viewers, can you explain really quick what Flow Kana is? It’s such a unique company.

Chikodi:            Yeah. They’re a very focused sustainable cannabis practice. Farm to table cannabis was essentially how they launched, and their mission is to empower small farmers to have a very direct connection to the end user. Not only do you get the best product, but you know its whole life story. It’s really important because it’s the heritage of northern California, the farmers, the people who have put themselves on the line for decades to make sure that we have the industry that we have today. Their whole story is about the farmers and the craft, the dedication of making the best cannabis in the world.

Ben (Host):        A lot of stories and potential angles that you could take with that, which is probably what makes it really interesting for you. As a Moonshot PR representative, when you approach a company like Flow Kana, what’s the promise that you’re selling them? When you approach them, what are you looking to learn from them, and how do you take it from there?

Chikodi:            We’ll use the word mission, and I think that that’s really how I like to differentiate myself and how I like to approach any client project especially in the cannabis space because we are bringing a new industry online for the first time, bringing it out of the shadows. There are millions of people that have used cannabis throughout their life, and now it’s not taboo.

So, when you are saying we wanna help seniors with arthritis or with different effects of again or we wanna help pets or we just want you to have a good time, we want you to relax, those are things that have a very emotional deep connection to people, so rather than say we’re a product that does X, Y, and Z thing, it’s like we are a community. We are for the people.                

The thing about a mission is that even if you don’t necessarily buy something if the mission resonates with you, you’re gonna tell other people. You’re gonna feel happy and comfortable sharing someone else’s mission, so it’s automatically viral, and it’s very powerful because you feel like you are transcending your own personal needs to share someone else’s vision.

I like to help companies think about themselves as a mission-based organization. And in cannabis, because there’s so much historical baggage around the stigma and prohibition, that when you’re bringing this industry into the light, there are a lot of people that you’re helping. That’s how I shape a story is that you’re helping people and you’re helping a specific group of people in this way.

Ben (Host):         Would it be accurate to say you have your own personal mission of the impact you want Moonshot PR to have on the cannabis industry just because you do feel that sense of there’s stories to tell?

Chikodi:            Yeah. Absolutely. Because my background is in technology, I was a reporter at Venture Beat. I actually came to the Bay Area–I was living in Bangalore, India previously–and I launched a publication specifically about sustainable transportation. That was very mission-driven. This was right at the time of the BP oil spill disaster. Tesla had IPO’d right then. The Nissan Leaf started rolling around the streets. So, it was a very heady time in cleantech. It didn’t last very long, unfortunately, because of market realities.

I thought–and still think–that it was very important, and I have the same passion for telling the story of cannabis. We can get into the approach. I’ll let Guillermo talk about what he does too, but I just think that when you have that passions and that fire behind your eyes, people automatically gravitate towards it. You need a community, and you need people that really support you passionately to grow a business. It’s not enough just to have a product that does something. You need to have a story.

The Importance of Using Storytelling in Your Marketing Efforts

Ben (Host):         Let’s talk about Guillermo because as the name would suggest, Foottraffik is about getting customers into the door and actually buying product. Just so we can make the nexus, at what point would you typically engage, Guillermo, in your process? With Trellis for instance, you’ve helped develop the story and the foundation of the story that will be told, and then you say, “Okay, now this actually needs to translate into getting people to purchase the software or come in the door.” How does that work between the two of you?

Chikodi:            You want to get your story out there as early as possible, and one of the amazing talents that Guillermo has is to be able to saturate every possible environment with a story. As soon as you know that you wanna start communicating your story, we can work together to help you.

Guillermo:        Yeah, and specifically with Trellis, their brand is put together nicely and everything. All the tools are at our disposal, so instead of driving foot traffic to their store, we’re driving leads for demos of their software.

Ben (Host):        So, not just dispensaries and retail, bridging into software now as well.

Guillermo:          Yeah. Trellis is our first client in the software space. We’re developing it. We have the same techniques that we can apply to software. We created a landing page for them. We can run Facebook ad campaigns with customer demographics.

Ben (Host):         Which we’ll dig into just a bit because a lot of people say, “You can’t run Facebook ads”. That’ll be an interesting topic.

Guillermo:          Yeah. We’re developing. The goal is to get leads, to get producers, processors, extraction companies, and get them to sign up for the demo. That’s the whole point as far as the marketing side of us.

What Was the Inspiration for Foottraffik?

Ben (Host):         Got it. Give us a little bit of your background. How did you end up coming to create Foottraffik? What have you done in the past that helps you really focus on the cannabis industry and create an opportunity or…

Guillermo:          After I graduated from Sonoma State up here, I moved to San Diego and did an internship at an agency. I was the third person there. It was called Best Rank at that time. I think they grew to 30 people by the time I left. I was there about three years. After that, I started an eCommerce store for Bamboo Products, so same eco-friendly as you, Chikodi. We got that up to about 6,000 SKU’s in Bamboo. I didn’t even know that exists.

Ben (Host):         Not an insignificant amount.

Guillermo:          Yeah. Then after that, I started Cashinbis, which is a B2B publication for the cannabis space. I knew I wanted to be in the space. I grew up in Sonoma County. Cannabis has always been a part of my life, so I was looking for my place in it. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do marketing, so I was just interviewing the different thought leaders, movers and shakers, and entrepreneurs in the space.

After that, I decided to do a test campaign with Clear Choice Cannabis in Washington, which was last year in April. We took them from… I think it was 650,000 at one point to 1,000,000 in 9 months. After that, a light bulb went off. It’s like, okay, I have to do this and apply this to every metropolitan area in the whole country.

Ben (Host):         That’s amazing. We were talking off camera before the show where I think Chikodi was pointing out that you took that dispensary from ranked #16 to #2?

Guillermo:          Yes.

Ben (Host):         In a nine-month period.

Guillermo:          Correct.

Ben (Host):         That’s amazing.

Guillermo:          By revenue. The only reason they’re not number one is because their competitor, the number one, is Main Street Marijuana. It’s in Vancouver, Washington on the border, so people from Oregon to there to buy cannabis. It’s the only store that offers the concentrates and stuff there. That’s the only reason they’re number two.

Best Practices: Engaging New Clients

Ben (Host):         This is a great example. Let’s break down that project a little bit or whatever you’re willing to tell us on camera…

What was the state of affairs when you go there, and then how did you establish what the plan was gonna be?

Or is it more the startup mentality where it’s like we’re gonna try a series of things very quickly, look at what takes hold, and then really start letting that take us down the road?

Guillermo:          Yeah. As of now, the current priorities for a dispensary should be a website, SEO and customer database, and that’s something I figured out over that startup phase. We were testing out different things. I already knew the basics. You can do the SEO basics, the website basics, mobile, which is huge. We did A/B testing, created a mobile version of the website for best conversions to get people to the only actions we care about, which is menu visits, deals, request for directions, and phone calls. Everything else is irrelevant. Just keeping it really focused.               

Right now, we’re in that testing phase. Where there were not media buying opportunities available for dispensaries, and now they’re somewhat opening up. Google AdWords is now approving accounts. Display advertising is opening up across major publications.

Ben (Host):         I’m assuming there are certain stipulations like you can’t actually mention the sale of cannabis, but you can maybe…

Guillermo:          Dispensary.

Ben (Host):         Is dispensary one of the banned words or…

Guillermo:          No, you can use dispensary.

Ben (Host):         You can use dispensary?

Guillermo:          Yeah. You can’t use cannabis, marijuana, drugs, or anything involved with paraphernalia. It’s starting to open up now. For dispensaries, you really can’t advertise on Facebook, but if you’re a software company, there are workarounds for that.

Ben (Host):         Yeah. Are people still facing the issues of having their accounts shut down as well?

Guillermo:          Oh yeah. That’s not gonna change. My take on that is it’s going to continue to happen on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and any other websites just because they are public companies, and until it’s federally decriminalized, that’s still gonna be the case.

Best Practices: How to Guide Your Clients

Ben (Host):         Okay. Chikodi, when you are working with these companies and you’re helping them establish their brand, I’m assuming that a lot of times they need a lot of help. They have an idea of the market they wanna address, but…

What are the questions you ask to help start driving them in the right direction?

Is it analyzing the market or is it more analyzing the company within and telling their story?

Chikodi:            I really like to look at a problem, and the more specific the problem the better because in the United States we are such a massive economy that if you really nail the solution to one problem, you are going to be fabulously rich and loved forever. If it was pet dandruff or something like that and you knew how to solve dandruff in small dogs, there are so many dogs in this country, for instance, that you will never run out of customers.

Ben (Host):         I have a little football sized dog at home that would love that.

Chikodi:            People love their pets. My approach is to get as granular as possible and really just speak to the pain of one person, and if you can translate one person’s pain and your solution to that pain, then you’ve done most of what you need to do. Then, it’s all of the channels… Foottraffik can help find these people.

Ben (Host):         I think that’s super interesting because… that’s from the marketing standpoint, but even when we’re working with a very early stage startup, it’s like solve one customer’s need and maybe extrapolate that to the next hundred people like them to really solve their need in a critical way where you become indispensable to that customer. Just build everything around that. After you’ve established that, it’s actually easy to maybe expand the story a little bit or expand your customer focus so that you can loop in a new group of people and make them evangelists for your product.

Chikodi:            Because it’s challenging enough just to get one story told well. In the valley and just in entrepreneurship in general, people have a lot of ideas. They’re up late at night thinking about I could do this, I could do that, and that’s part of the creative process. When it comes down to running a really well-oiled machine, you just have to know that you’re doing one thing, and it’s not nearly as easy as you think to just pull away from the distractions and just do one thing. To the extent possible, we really focus on that one person, that one thing, and really telling that story well.

SEO & Voice Search

Ben (Host):         Right. A big part of this, and you mentioned one of the tactics, is SEO, Search Engine Optimization. SEO’s been a thing. It’s been a thing for like 30 years now. But SEO has changed, and the way Chikodi thinks about SEO might be different from the way Guillermo thinks about SEO because a lot of your clients are local businesses, and local SEO might be different than global SEO. When you start thinking about that, key terms, all these kinds of things … I would like to hear both your perspectives or if you have differing perspectives, would love to hear that. A little controversy is always good. How do you start approaching that problem of SEO? It’s like I’m ranked on the third page of Google for everything.

Guillermo:          We worked together on Trellis specifically targeting keywords for the software. I did the research, and I told him what I needed as far as keywords and search engine optimization like we need these placed X number of times within the content, and then he developed the messaging behind that.

Ben (Host):         Not to sell your business for you, but that’s kind of the benefit of a specialist is very specific, tactical ways to go about SEO. Mentioning it this way, bolding it, putting it in titles or whatever.

Ben (Host):         Yeah. I feel like I read a lot of books, and it’s just like all right, here’s the thought process behind it, but what’s really helpful for founders and why we’re starting to do the show a little bit more like this is to present some to-do’s you need to do.

Chikodi:            Yeah. I would say one actionable tip is that when it comes to ranking your content for a search, that Google wants your content to be for a human audience. There’s the algorithms running in the background looking for density of keywords and everything. At the end of the day, it still has to be readable to a human. You can do certain things to ensure the prominence of terms that you’re ranking for, but if people aren’t reading and sharing your content, actual humans, then Google isn’t going to prioritize your…

Ben (Host):         You’re saying the algorithms are getting smarter.

Guillermo:          Yeah. So, keep this in mind. Voice search is gaining huge popularity now, so you have to write the content as if it were a person asking. Like, “where do I find the best dispensary around?” They’re not typing in San Francisco dispensary. You wanna keep that in mind.                

Another thing is social engagement drives your search engine rankings. If you have more Facebook, Twitter shares and people engaging with the content, you’re gonna rank higher.

Ben (Host):         Interesting. Google’s tracking all of that.

Chikodi:            Correct.

Ben (Host):         If I write an article. If I get everyone to share it…

Chikodi:            If it goes viral then…

Guillermo:          It’s a really good point about voice search. A lot of times I now use Siri to look for things, so the way that you would talk to Siri is the way you talk to a person. You’re talking to a 10-year-old basically. Your content has to be able to match that kind of … that litmus test if you will.

Ben (Host):         That’s why we’re starting to see titles of articles that are absolutely just sentences. Sorry, Michael, for bumping the mic. In the text itself, having it be a more natural conversational type of language instead of… I don’t know, bigger words that people never use, like my partner who can’t defend himself often does.

Guillermo:          That’s another thing like he said, bigger words. Google understands synonyms too.

Ben (Host):         Oh, wow.

Guillermo:          You can do cannabis or marijuana, and it’ll consider them the same. So, you don’t have to target both keyword groups separately.

Ben (Host):         I’ve been out of the tech industry for too long.

Chikodi:            That goes back to really understanding a specific customer because a specific customer is gonna be looking for a very specific thing. There’s a technique that I … I didn’t invent it, but I just call it bread-crumbs, where you’re looking for specific phrases and keywords that are very relevant to a specific group of people, and that’s only going to matter to them. Either a product name, the name of a CEO or a prominent person in an industry.

Like THCA, for instance, is a newly identified cannabinoid, so if you had a high prevalence of THCA either in the strain of cannabis that you’re developing or if it’s in a product and you rank for that, then people are gonna know that you are the real deal for their problem. Specificity really, really matters, and that’s about understanding where you fit in the life of your ideal customer.

Guillermo:          Just to add on to that, if you’re targeting a keyword that’s somewhat new, competition’s low, so you’ll rank faster. That’s one thing. The other one… I had something else I just forgot. Google Trends, that’s what it was. You can look at Google Trends for anything that’s trending right now.

Ben (Host):         Interesting. Okay. When you’re writing the article, let’s get down into the actual construction of the article. Obviously, I mentioned putting it in the title, bolding it, whatever you can do to draw attention to those keywords is pretty commonly known. What I always get kind of hung up on is how much time and effort should I spend on linking out to other articles or references. Is that actually helpful for SEO, or is that just making the content more dynamic?

Guillermo:          I can give you some actual items then. It’s one keyword per page, so I would stick to that. For Gateway, it would be cannabis incubator, and you wanna have that in your title tag, you wanna have that in your URL meta description, and h-tags on the website. Then when you’re linking within your website, you wanna link with that anchor text to the homepage, let’s say, if that’s the page.                  

One to three external links is fine. It adds value. It has to add value. It all comes back to customer experience.

Ben (Host):         So, if they’re wondering what THCA is, going to the Wikipedia page what THCA is.

Guillermo:          Yeah, and if you’re linking to Wikipedia, that’s a reliable source or any major publications. You’re probably not going to increase your rankings, but it’s just going to show that you’re trustworthy, which is important for Google or any search engines.

Chikodi:            When it comes to content, this is something that comes from the blog world. If you’re talking about influencers or you’re talking about trending topics and there are people that are very active on Twitter or on other platforms and you tag them on Twitter. Or, you tag them on whatever the platform is and ask them to share your content, when that shares, then that’s a good signal to Google that this I influential. This is high ranking, valuable content. Even if you only get a couple of retweets, most content gets zero retweets. Simply by the fact that you’re getting more than other people for the same topic, that’s gonna help you as well.

Guillermo:          I’ll give you an example. I posted something on Reddit about Sessions and cannabis for one of my clients, and that article received like 50,000 visits just from that engagement on Reddit and going viral. It’s probably still ranking in the top five. And Jeff Sessions and cannabis are pretty competitive now; because everyone’s pissed off about him.

Ben (Host):         Reddit’s such an interesting beast. I feel like there’s still a large number of people that don’t really utilize Reddit. But it is very effective.

Chikodi:            One in three Americans is on Reddit.

Ben (Host):         One in three.

Chikodi:            Every month.

Ben (Host):         Wow.

Guillermo:          Yeah. I was at a conference, and Alexis Ohanian said that. I was like, “Am I on Reddit?”, and it turns out that I would look for streams for European soccer games on Reddit, and I didn’t even put the two together.

Ben (Host):        There you go.

Chikodi:              Yeah.

Ben (Host):         So that’s one good takeaway is if you’re not on Reddit — if you don’t know what it is — at least do yourself the favor of going and figuring it out, understanding what the subgroups are and maybe find your tribe.

Guillermo:          The community.

Ben (Host):         There’s a community there, or you can build a community.

Guillermo:          I don’t know if there’s a cannabis startup community on there, but I’m sure there is. If not, we should create one.

Ben (Host):         I know there’s The Trees.

Guillermo:          That’s for culture, though. That’s like pictures of weed.

Ben (Host):         Okay. Gotcha. Maybe we should start one.

Guillermo:          Let’s do it.

Chikodi:             This is another really easy growth hack for your company is if there are existing tribes online, if there are existing communities, go in them, see what people are talking about, and then just take the threads that people are having active discussions about and make that your content. Make that the subject line of a blog post because these are things that people care about already. There’s already a lot of activity, so…

Ben (Host):        You’re using it as your idea generator almost.

Guillermo:          Or even take it a step further and include them in the process. You can ask for feedback on a logo. Ask for feedback on a concept and get their honest opinion… People on Reddit are real honest.

Guillermo:          They’ll give you your feedback.

Ben (Host):         Sometimes they just wanna tear you down just for the heck of it, right?

Guillermo:          They’ll tell you if it’s a winner or a loser, yeah.

Chikodi:             Yeah.

Essential Tools for Cannabis Dispensaries

Ben (Host):         Very cool. Like I said, I’m gonna fast forward to the Q&A, but before we get there, I wanna ask you there’s a lot of DIY. Companies are often cash-strapped. Are there any specific tools that you really love that you say, “Hey, if you’re gonna get out there and start managing your social media better or managing your content creation better, what are some of the tools that you recommend?” I know I’ve looked at Club Spot and Hootsuite and stuff like that. Any of those or any lesser known ones that you really like?

Guillermo:          Sprout Social.

Ben (Host):        Sprout Social.

Guillermo:          Sprout Social has a great management software and reporting most importantly. It pulls in the reporting. You can look at it on a daily, weekly, monthly comparison. You can look at engagement, and it also pulls in your messages from there so you can reply to every message in the Sprout Social…

Ben (Host):         All on the platform.

Guillermo:          Yeah.

Ben (Host):         Very cool.

Guillermo:          That’s one. I would say that’s the “go-to” for social media, and then… I would say just one thing that doesn’t cost you anything is asking for feedback or reviews from your customers about your product. Google reviews, Facebook reviews, Yelp, WeedMaps, and Leafly, if you’re a cannabis product. That goes a long way. It doesn’t cost you anything. Your reputation online, especially if you’re a local dispensary, for brands it goes a long way.

Ben (Host):         Just asking.

Guillermo:          Yeah.

Ben (Host):         What about following your brand? We use whatever the Google search thing is where it-

Chikodi:            Google Alerts.

Guillermo:          Alerts.

Ben (Host):         Google Alerts, yeah. Are there other things you use to monitor the brand or is it more focused on the execution and just making sure that you’re executing well?

Guillermo:          Trying to remember the… I use Ahrefs, it’s ahrefs.com, and that’s to research viral content. I think there are a few other websites that you can look for… If you type in cannabis, it’ll show you what’s popular right now, and it pulls in everything from publications from all the social media websites and show you which one has the most engagement. I’m trying to figure out what the website is. I can grab it after.

Ben (Host):         Okay. We’ll put the link in the comments. Chikodi, did he miss anything? Is there anything else we need to know?

Chikodi:            Just getting out of the building.

Ben (Host):         Oh. Interesting. Classic.

Chikodi:            Classic. I’ve mentored a lot of companies, 500 startups, that are traditional tech startups, and one of the things that I found really fascinating is just going to places where you think you’re likely customers are shopping. You can go to the mall, and every demographic has different stores, whether it’s Abercrombie and Fitch or Bloomingdale’s or American Eagle. There’s no longer The Sharper Image, but you know. I guess Microsoft. If you go to the Westfield Mall in San Francisco, Microsoft has its own store.

The people going in and out of those stores represent completely different demographics, psychographics. They have a different mentality for each store. Talk to those people. Figure out who you want to be selling to. Ask them questions about your brand. Kind of like Guillermo said with Reddit, you get to see people interact face to face with what you’re doing, and you get feedback from them, and you can take their feedback and either turn it directly into marketing content or just incorporate that into what you’re doing. But that is priceless and has very little cost. It’s just you and some of your team spending an afternoon being a little courageous and interacting with your audience.

Guillermo:          Yeah, and then the Reddit AMA too. Ask me anything. You can go on there as the CEO and other cannabis entrepreneurs can ask you questions.

Ben (Host):         AMA’s used to be reserved for notable people, celebrities, that kind of stuff, but now we’re kind of into this era were as long as you have something interesting going on, you can jump on there and probably garner a decent audience?

Guillermo:          Everyone has an audience. You have an audience. You have your podcast audience that you can…

Ben (Host):         There you go.

Guillermo:          It’s just a way for you to engage with them on that platform.

Ben (Host):         All right, Michael, let’s get an AMA on the calendar.

Chikodi:            I think we’ll probably talk about the sophistication of targeting with Facebook in particular about building custom audiences and sponsoring content. For an AMA…

Guillermo:          Private groups.

Chikodi:            Private groups, yeah. It’s ridiculous.

Ben (Host):         Private groups are good because it actually enables you to get higher engagement without having to pay for it, right?

Chikodi:            Exactly. Yeah.

Ben (Host):         Because I’ve noticed with our…

Guillermo:          Or premium content. You can have premium content in there too.

Ben (Host):         Oh, interesting.

Guillermo:          If I pay a subscription to Gateway to access some software that you have, you give me access to this Facebook group where you can interact with all the other owners of the other companies. I do that for a few software platforms I use.

Ben (Host):         Interesting. It’s like the new way of getting people to sign up for a mailing list. This is just taking it deeper and providing better value.

Guillermo:          Circling back around, it all just come back to mobile. Everyone’s on their phone. It’s in your pocket. If you wanna get in front of people, it needs to be via SMS or social media apps, and that’s the best way.

Chikodi:            SMS is huge.

Guillermo:          I’ll give you a number. It’s 97% of people open a text message within five minutes.

Ben (Host):         97%.

Guillermo:          Yep.

Ben (Host):         Wow. So, the old adage was collect emails, always be collecting emails. That is now expanded to… Well, emails are probably still important.

Guillermo:          It’s less than 10% for emails.

Ben (Host):         All right. Less important.

Chikodi:            The thing about emails, though…

Ben (Host):         Text messages.

Guillermo:          There’s less than 10% open rates. Like 10 to 20 if you’re good. But it’s nowhere near text messages.

Chikodi:            You want both because with email you can create a custom audience on Facebook. You can drop in a spreadsheet of emails that you have.

Guillermo:          And phone numbers.

Chikodi:            And phone numbers, and you can target those people, say I only want my ad to be seen by these people-

Ben (Host):         In Facebook.

Chikodi:            In Facebook.

Guillermo:          Custom audiences.

Ben (Host):         Wow.

Chikodi:            And you can do it on AdWords too can’t you?

Guillermo:          Yeah, you can do it in AdWords.

Chikodi:            So, you can show your…

Guillermo:          And Instagram since that’s Facebook.

Chikodi:            It’s so much cheaper because you’re only distributing your ad… I don’t know.

Ben (Host):         To a captive audience that you already have.

Guillermo:          I just messed up on that last week, actually. I spent too much money on a Facebook ad because I forgot to do that.

Chikodi:            We’ve got a couple things we’re working on right now that we will discuss off camera in terms of using custom audiences.

Ben (Host):         If you’d like to hear this content, join Gateway.

Value of Partnerships

Guillermo:          The last one is probably the most important, and it’s the reason that my company’s successful: partnerships. I leveraged a few partnerships with software companies and branding companies, and I literally have not got any cold business. All this has been referral based.

Ben (Host):         Wow. That’s fantastic.

Guillermo:          Yeah. Clear Choice, that came from Wick and Mortar up in Seattle. NuWu came from a referral from another client. If you do a good job and you work your partnerships and number one, you find the right partners, and really just leverage… We’re working on this right now. Do an inventory of what they can offer, how you can work together and really add value to their business. If you can drive their business, they’re gonna drive yours. Reciprocate that.

Chikodi:            For instance, the New West Summit, they have the 420 Games, and they have a massive online audience. There are things that they do really, really well, and there are other things that they wish they could do better. So just being able to engage with someone who has a massive audience that might be an audience that you covet or crave and then being able to trade something that they can’t do is a much cheaper way than trying to build it yourself or… Partners can be really, really huge. It’s worth going out to lunch with your team and just saying, “Who do we know? What do they know?”, and then really re-engaging with people that want you to succeed.

Q&A: “Office Hours”

Ben (Host):         That’s great. That’s great. Okay. As promised, this is office hours, and I wanted to engage some of our companies in the current cohort, so we have, what, two companies sitting here. So many of them. You guys got questions. Do you have a mic? Make sure it’s on, and let’s get these guys answering some of your questions.

Matthew:            I have a question. Hi guys. Matthew. Chikodi, I have a question for you specifically around PR strategies from… We talk about cannabis moving from the black market to the mainstream market, and there’s still challenge with reach and visibility and trying to get mainstream consumers to understand the benefits around cannabis. What tactics and strategies are you trying to employ to be able to be relevant in the cannabis industry, but then also really getting a broader reach to people that may not be on Leafly or these other places?

Chikodi:            Thank you for that question. You’re basically asking how to be relevant outside of cannabis if you’re a cannabis brand? Yes? Okay. That’s really huge, and I feel like I’ve… I haven’t cracked the code, but I think that I’ve had a lot of success in being able to translate what’s going on in cannabis.

The problem with cannabis media is that it’s been around for a really long time. It’s been girls in bikinis holding crown nugs. There’s a lot of just titillation if you will. There’s a lot of pay-to-play. If you want to get in a cannabis outlet, all you have to do is pay $500, they’ll say anything you want about your company, and you might be out of business in two months.

That media is read by a very loyal following, but we’re talking about an industry that’s growing by leaps and bounds. You wanna be in Fast Company. You wanna be on Mashable. You wanna be in Tech Crunch. You wanna be on the evening news.                   

Like I said, when you have mission, when you are so passionate about what you’re doing and there are people that can attest to how you’re helping them — grandmothers that couldn’t sleep, or children with seizures, or dogs with seizures, or people with cancer and you’re saying this is a problem that is not being addressed by any other existing solution — that’s when media takes notice. And that’s when you rally to become a mission-driven organization.             

I was a reporter. I come from a reporting background. We’re always looking for a cool and interesting story. Cannabis is very much a cutting-edge topic right now, so when you’re able to check off those boxes, then you’re gonna have no problem being a mainstream success. It’s really just about having a mission and being able to show these are the people that we are helping, and we wanna help this many more people.

Guillermo:        It’s the “why?”

Chikodi:            It’s the “why?” Yeah.

Guillermo:        “Why?” is important…

Chikodi:            Thank you for boiling it down to one word. It’s your “why?”

Ben (Host):       How about you guys?

Guillermo:        I was gonna add on to that one.

Ben (Host):       Please do.

Guillermo:        I would say as far as a brand, I wouldn’t market to stoners. Market to the general public. Stoners are gonna be a small percentage of your market anyways. In regards to the branding and everything, I typically don’t recommend putting cannabis and marijuana in your brand name. Alcohol companies don’t put alcohol in there. They don’t market to alcoholics

Ben (Host):        We have a strict rule, no cannablink. In fact, we’ve made… How many companies have we made change their name?

Guest:         Every one of them.

Ben (Host):        At least 75% of them.

Chikodi:            Yeah, your brand, your story, don’t use the color green unless you absolutely have to. It’s got too much baggage. It’s cliché.

Ben (Host):         Don’t use a leaf.

Chikodi:            Yeah. There’s just so many more people that your brand is applicable to than you ever thought possible.

Guillermo:          What we’ve found is that beyond who you’re targeting, it’s just confusing. We really like some companies, and then like, “Oh, what was the name of that company?”, and it’s like, “Oh, Canna-blank something, they had a leaf.” It was like, oh, you just described fucking 50 companies.

Ben (Host):         Yeah, exactly.

Chikodi:            In some states, like in Colorado, there can be zero appeal to kids. You can’t have animals, you can’t have cartoons, so you have to be really careful with your brand in certain states that it doesn’t trigger any legal action.

Guillermo:          You can show flower on billboards in Washington now.

Chikodi:            Wow. Okay.

Ben (Host):         That’s offensive.

Chikodi:            But constraint is the crucible of creativity. When you have to operate within certain constraints, you have to find ways to get your message out there. It can be…

Ben (Host):         Constraint is the crucible of creativity. That was beautiful. You’ve said it before, haven’t you?

Chikodi:            No, I just… That was off the cuff.

Ben (Host):         That’ll be the title of your next book.

Chikodi:            I’m gonna get that tattooed.

Ben (Host):         There you go.

Guillermo:          You could say the next thing would be customer persona, so create your different avatars of your different customers. You have your soccer mom, 35 and up that likes to read these books, etc, etc. With $100,000 or more income, you can target those people on Facebook.

Ben (Host):         And what’s great about that is you start really drilling down into knowing the voice to use, knowing where they hang out, maybe getting creative with advertising. Maybe they drink Starbucks every morning, so maybe you’re advertising near or in a Starbucks.

Chikodi:            And to his point, if it’s a soccer mom who lives outside a metro area and has kids, and they’re spending a lot of time in the car, maybe you record a 20 minute podcast that they can listen to when they’re driving to school, soccer practice, ballet, whatever it is because that’s a really good format to build trust.

When you know your audience, then you know… One of the tactics I used for a PR client a few years ago… There was a guy called Sam Ovens, and he’s from New Zealand, and he calls it lumpy marketing. He would take clippings from the phone book or the newspaper, and he’d put them in a big manila envelope, and he would send it over to a potential client.

The receptionist would take all of the mail from the day, and there would be this big envelope on top of everything else, so they pretty much had to open it because it was so disruptive. For my client, it was a joke app, and I took whoopie cushions, and I put them in these silver Mylar envelopes, so it was a big Mylar envelope, sent it to reporters, and it put my business card that said: “Something hilarious is coming.” Don’t underestimate the ability to use the US Postal Service to get in front of your audience, especially if you’re talking to seniors who are used to reading the newspaper.

Guillermo:          That’s high touch. If you’re targeting the elderly, you want to do educational seminars and…

Ben (Host):         I was working with a tech company that was focusing on the elderly. I had not even thought about this before, but it was like doing radio ads. I was just like, “Oh, the radio. I haven’t listened to the radio in years.”

Guillermo:          It’s still relevant.

Ben (Host):         Elderly people certainly do, and so like reaching them and building that trust through a medium that they’re used to hearing that way.

Chikodi:            And remember, you are not your customer. You’re not your customer in 90% of circumstances. Your assumptions about what your market value is and your value proposition might… To you and your friends, you say — “hey, we like this and we do this” — but unless your friends are buying your product, then you need to actually ask your customers what they think and why they like you.

Guillermo:        Do a survey.

Chikodi:            Yeah. Google consumer surveys.

Guillermo:        Text message survey.

Ben (Host):       Text message survey. There you go. All right. Do we have more questions?

Lewis:              Lewis from Arc. We have a hardware device. We’re getting ready to start, and I was curious what are the actual technical things that you can do to market on Facebook? What you can do, what you can’t do, what’s the framework around that.

Guillermo:          I would leverage influencers, that’s the first thing. There’s a difference between paying for exposure and using the organic approach, which would be paying an influencer instead to share your content. Facebook highly prioritizes native content, and what that means are photos and video, more importantly, is what you wanna post on Facebook.

And upload it directly to Facebook. Don’t upload it to YouTube and then post it on Facebook. You want to upload directly into Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn is up to 10 minutes I believe. Do that, and then copy the URL, which is the date. You can right click, copy it, and that’s what you send to your influencers to post. It’s basically like they post it and it shows your name on their profile so that anyone who’s on Gateway’s Facebook can just click on that and then add you as a follower.

Ben (Host):         I just want to repeat that because I think it was very important. Instead of producing a video as such and uploading to YouTube and then using the YouTube link to share over everything, it’s more create that native content for each platform and get the follows, likes on each of those individual platforms.

Chikodi:            Yeah. Totally.

Guillermo:          It makes sense. Do you think Zuckerberg wants to promote YouTube?

Ben (Host):         No. No, absolutely not.

Guillermo:          They’re in competition. They’re all in competition, so they all want native content. This is for every network.

Chikodi:            And to his point about influencers, I’m less versed in Facebook influencer marketing. What I can tell you in terms of breadcrumbs and in terms of context around your brand is that you want to look at all of the… If you look at a Venn diagram where there’s one bubble and then there’s another bubble that overlaps and you have this area between, you wanna look at all of the different places where you have relevance.

If you can be influential there, then you’re not competing against anybody else because no one else has your device. For you guys specifically, you were skiers, right? So, skiers and extreme sports and athleticism and just being able to carve out a much bigger slice of an audience that no one else is going after will make you the only game in town.

Guillermo:          Yeah, and then specifically for you, I would say this winter do videos–live video more importantly–of you on the slopes using your device. That’s a no-brainer.

Chikodi:            Yeah, the live video is huge.

Guillermo:          Huge, yeah. This is a workaround. If you’re a cannabis company and you wanna show flower and stuff that’s not permitted by Facebook’s terms…

Chikodi:            Just do it live.

Guillermo:          …you do it live.

Ben (Host):         Just do it live. And have a backup account.

Guillermo:          And then it goes away. The content disappears. Snapchat, Instagram stories, Facebook stories, and then I think Twitter’s just launched something too. Once the video gets engagements, once it gets natural engagement, then you boost the video.

Ben (Host):         So, boost after the engagement begins.

Guillermo:          It costs you less overall.

Ben (Host):         All right.

Guillermo:          If you’re boosting or doing ads on Facebook, don’t do any content. No words, just do video and images.

Ben (Host):         Okay. Shoot. Learning too much.

Lewis:              Fair enough. Thanks for answering. I think the only followup thought I was having was like from kind of a technical aspect of putting your company up there, like trying to read in some of the rules and the things. Like if you make posts, you’re not supposed to put certain words or things of that nature in it. Do you have any technical feedback on any of that stuff?

Guillermo:          Don’t post anything that’s gonna get you flagged. So, marijuana, cannabis, don’t use those words at all. Don’t use drugs. There’s a list. Anything associated with a sin, that’s gambling, porn, drugs, guns. Anything related to any of those that is a slang word or is in any way associated with it, that will get you at least on their radar. That’s the same for Google AdWords and any other ad network. Those type of niches have their own ad networks typically.

Ben (Host):         I think we’re on a lot of lists already. More questions. Come on.

Audience:          This is really great info. You guys hit a couple of really interesting areas that we think about a lot. We have a pretty experiential brand. We do a lot of juice tastings and demos, and also there’s a lot of festival culture and events that will be coming up.

Do you have any specific strategies? It kind of sounds like maybe doing live at these events while you’re demoing the product or sharing that with consumers. But any kind of recommendations around how to work from that live event or something that would be happening here and how to help convert that?

Guillermo:          Yeah, a Snapchat filter. Instagram filter. Have one created and have it uploaded. You put the geo-target in there so when people are on Instagram or Snapchat they’ll have that filter as an option, so that’s an easy one.

Ben (Host):         And those are relatively cheap, right?

Guillermo:          Pretty cheap, yeah. You can do it as a startup. Yeah. Another would be creating some type of engaging backdrop or something where people can take selfies and check in there. Something to engage the customer whether it’s like a…

Ben (Host):         A contest.

Guillermo:          Spinning the wheel for something free.

Ben (Host):         You see those frames all the time where people can stand behind it.

Guillermo:          Free swag. Glasses. For a juicing company… What do you think for a juicing company? What’d be…

Chikodi:            For a juicing company specifically, I would think that more generally if you’re gonna do an in-person activation, get people’s phone number and get their email.

Guillermo:          Have an iPad with a join the list.

Chikodi:            Yeah, or a QR code or something like that that they can just take a picture of and be added to the email list. Just make it really easy for people to leave their contact information because it’s one thing to have them have a really good experience, like “I really like that juice, but what was it?” What was it? Make sure…

Guillermo:          What made it stick?

Chikodi:            Yeah, what made it stick so that you can just reactivate them soon?

Guillermo:          A contest. For you, I’ll think of one right now: win a month’s free subscription of hemp juices, and you’ll probably get 500 people just from that. Especially if you’re on the front lines at Coachella, you can just fill that thing up walking around the festival. Something along the lines of that.

Chikodi:            And thank you for bringing up events because that’s actually something that I’m extremely interested in, and it’s totally underutilized in most businesses and especially in startups. People are always looking for a reason to meet new people, to get out of the house to do something different, and if you can provide that to them, then that’s how you build your community.

Cannabis is an experiential product, so if you’re in cannabis, you should be looking at ways to create new experiences or leverages experiences that are already happening for your brand. It could be as simple as a hike. I’m definitely looking for a brand that I can work with where they have a Saturday hike, and they start at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning, and they just go out for an hour. Not everything has to be lasers and button down shirt networking.

Ben (Host):         What’s wrong with that? I’m ready to go hiking.

Guillermo:          I got the sneakers on.

Chikodi:            Yeah. But you know, like maybe it’s your juice brand, but then people bring their dogs out and go for a walk with their dogs, and they just socialize over this. There are just a million opportunities to do things that are very low cost, high touch, and people will never forget that you were the one to do that for them.

Of course, they’re gonna give you their phone number and their email address, and they’re gonna tell all of their friends the next time, “We did this really fun thing, and I wanna tell everyone about what I did.” Word of mouth and just… There was a book called “How to Master the Art of Sales.” He called it bellybutton to bellybutton. The more time you can spend bellybutton to bellybutton with your customers, the better you’re gonna do in the long run.

Guillermo:          I forgot to add that in the dispensary marketing and everything. Word of mouth is actually number one. If you can deliver on customer service and the experience in the store and customers are happy, that’s way more powerful than any of the other digital marketing you can do. But you need to have that vision in the store.

Ben (Host):         Awesome. Awesome. All right. How are we doing?

Audience:          Awesome. Great. Thank you. That was amazing. The other one would be just maybe a little bit of a different question would be we listen a lot to Gary B. Obviously you guys are kind of speaking to some of how he talks about that. Do you have any…

Ben (Host):         Lot fewer f-bombs.

Guillermo:          We can start now.

Audience:          Any recommendations on how to prepare your brand for creating live videos? Do you wanna reach a certain threshold before you start creating and sharing content to make sure that you’re ready to receive that and how to analyze that and how to judge where you’re going, and then know to boost that video? Do you start kind of ramping that up or wait until you hit a threshold to where it feels like things are okay to “launch” or really bring the attention to it?

Guillermo:          I would shoot for say 2,000 followers across all platforms as a starting point. Engage with your customers, thought competitors. Engaging with someone on a personal level is gonna go a long way. On Instagram, it’s the easiest to do, actually. You can find people by where they’ve been, what hashtags they’ve used.

I can go to my competitors, and I can see all the followers that they have and anyone they’re following and add them all. I can direct message them. It’s so powerful, so I would use that as a starting point. Get to 2,000, start to produce some content, get your engagement up, and just do 1,000 per month. Shoot for 1,000 per month. That’s like 30 a day.

Chikodi:            The other thing is consistency matters.

Guillermo:          That’s what I was gonna say.

Chikodi:            Don’t start until you’re ready to really put the time repeatedly. Even if it’s once a week doing live content, just make sure that you can do ten weeks consistently, and people will come to expect it. It’s not as easy as it sounds to be able to carve out the time necessary to do a consistent live video or any content format.

Guillermo:          Yeah, consistency. I would start with Instagram, especially if you’re both using video. Start with Instagram and then move to Facebook. Keep it strategic. Focus on those two to start. If you have the resources, expand from there. Those have the biggest footprint.

Ben (Host):         Especially in the cannabis industry, we’ve noticed there’s just a lot of engagement going on on Instagram. I’m gonna cut it short because you guys will have a private session, and you can answer whatever questions you want. Everyone online is probably well off now because I think we’ve gone well over an hour.

Chikodi:            Oops.

Ben (Host):         No one cares. Thank you guys so much for coming on. I really appreciate the time. The input’s amazing. I have a ton of notes here that we need to start executing on. And I look forward to continuing to work with you guys. Thanks so much again for the help with Trellis and GrowX and everyone else that you’re engaging with.

Chikodi:            Thank you so much also.

Guillermo:          Yeah, thank you.

Chikodi:            It’s a real pleasure.

Ben (Host):         And for everyone watching, we’ll see you next week. I don’t know who’s gonna be on, so I’m not even gonna try. And yeah. Maybe we saw you in Vegas. Maybe not. All right. Peace out.