How Bee-High Is Redefining Cannabis Culture by Building an Audience on Tumblr

How Bee-High Is Redefining Cannabis Culture by Building an Audience on Tumblr
bee-high

Travis Lachner, is the founder of Bee-High, a social-profit company leading a new generation of cannabis culture.

On this podcast you’ll learn how he runs a side business selling cannabis accessories, and why he chose to invest his time marketing on Tumblr rather than Facebook. 

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How and why to get deeply involved with communities before launching your business.
  • How to deal with the lack of energy and momentum when working a day job and starting a business on the side.
  • What is "private label" dropshipping and why it might be better than traditional dropshipping.

Listen to Shopify Masters below…

Show notes:

Transcription

Felix: Today I'm joined by Travis Lachner from Bee-High.com, as Bee-High.com. Bee-High is a social, profit company leading the new generation of cannabis culture, was started in 2015 and based at Denver, Colorado. Welcome Travis.

Travis: Hello Felix, glad to be here.

Felix: Glad to have you on. Tell us a bit more about your story because I know you sell a few different products, what are some of the most popular products that you sell?

Travis: We basically have established ourselves as an e-commerce market for the new generation of cannabis culture. A lot of our primary products are accessories and bongs, water pipes, devices called dab rigs in cannabis culture, a lot of accessories basically ancillary products for the cannabis industry. Everything that doesn't touch the plant essentially.

Felix: I like the way you put that. Tell us a little bit more about your background, how did you get involved in this industry?

Travis: I am from Colorado, born and raised. I've had the blessing and the pleasure of watching the cannabis industry grow right in front of me. So many people are having great success and exploring the area; I'm a very exploratory individual and the opportunity was hard to resist naturally. Then the secondary level is just having a general interest in cannabis on a personal level. I'm really passionate about cannabis in general as being used as a wellness product and really enhancing people's lives versus the old school mentality that unfortunately plagues a lot of the industry. I'm really excited to be in here jumping the trenches, be the first on board and be able to really set the tone for this new generation of cannabis culture that's emerging.

Felix: Very cool. You're getting at this a little bit about how there's still a stigma associated with this industry and because it's changing so quickly especially here in the United States. Were there ever concerns for you for getting into this or did you see as an opportunity more than anything?

Travis: Absolutely, it's a double-edged sword. The opportunity is there but the downside of this opportunity is there are a lot of red tape and regulations that you have to wind through. We can jump into that a little bit later but that's definitely one of the areas that we've really focused on with our branding, is shattering that old school, lazy stoner stereotype. Everybody in the industry understands this isn't actually all the people that use cannabis.

I'm sure you're aware of the classic stereotype or the Tommy Chong, 70 Show style, stoners of the, "Whoa man, whoa. We totally forgot to order the pizza bro." No. Just no. Yes, those people exist but we have to realize this is only a fraction of the community. A lot of our focus on our branding is just shattering that lazy stoner stereotype and being heavily targeted on responsible, respectable, regular users and there's plenty of them.

Felix: I guess how did you recognize that there were these types of users, that there was a market out there for this? Because you're getting at there's always been this stereotype ... Again 'stoner culture' like you're talking about ... How did you know that there was more beyond just that type of stereotype of a user of cannabis?

Travis: I am in the trenches here in Denver, Colorado seeing this industry emerge. I've really got two things going for me that have developed this mentality: the first one is really just my personal experience with cannabis within my family, within my surroundings, within my upbringing. None of it really matched the lazy stoner stereotype that most people associate with. I've always personally had a disassociation with the lazy stoner stereotype. Then second hand was when cannabis was actually legalized and people here in Colorado were losing their mind thinking, "Oh man, all these people are going to be out in the streets smoking weed." "Oh my God, the world's going to end."

At the end it legalized and to be honest, things really only got better since then. I have the opportunity to really speak with a lot of these high stakes individuals whether it's a cannabis dispensary owner or just a regular user. It's really just regular people that are using this plant. There's just a wide spectrum of how they're using it and why they're using it as well. Just seeing that first-hand and noticing the misalignment with the general assumption we're talking about and what actually is happening in the industry, it was very obvious to connect the dots that not everybody falls into that category.

Felix: Makes sense. Not everyone is listening might be in the cannabis industry but they might be selling us a product or maybe their entire brand is around a [inaudible 00:06:59] more sensitive or again a industry that has stigma attached to it. In that case, what kind of tips can you offer up when it comes to how to navigate around this stigma because I could imagine ... Maybe it's not true ... I could imagine that it might be harder to market or make connections or maybe even do things like run ads because again it's a stigmatized industry. Have you experienced that? What ways have you found that worked well to help you navigate around that?

Travis: Yes. I'll give you two areas to focus on: the first one is the community. You need to understand the community that you're going to be a part of and you need to consider yourself being a part of that community. You definitely don't want to come into the mentality that you're selling to a community. What you really want to do is get inside of this community whether it's digital, real world and speak with these people, understand what they want, understand what they need, understand what they don't want and understand what they don't need. From a lot of that, it basically gives you a lot of the puzzle pieces and the structure to develop it. The second part to that question and I would add is your language and your branding is very critical.

One of the things you might have noticed is every time I bring up this wonderful plant, I call it cannabis because that's what it is and that's how we're branding it. There is a lot of power attached to the language that you use and when you use the language that people respect and understand, it will attract those people that use that same language. I use the term cannabis instead of saying, "Smoking pot." Or, "You want to smoke some weed?" Stuff like that because it really resonates with our community on a higher level. Being really precise with your language and being really involved in your community will be really two great starting points to tap into that.

Felix: Let's start talking about this, again this applies to anybody anywhere regardless of industry. When you are thinking about starting a business, thinking about creating a business in a specific industry, you're saying that get involved in the community first. What ways have you done this? Or what ways do you suggest people get involved in the community to learn as much about the target market so that you can develop the right products and market it the right way?

Travis: What we've done ... You may have heard the concept of the watering hole. You want to find where your audience is hanging out and who they're hanging out with. Thankfully, cannabis is such a widespread product that virtually almost anybody in any market could technically be an accurate audience. What really has been our sweet spot has been tapping into social marketing on specific channels that have really good cannabis themed engagement in cannabis communities. One of which is Tumblr, if you've ever been on Facebook, you would probably realize that's probably not the best place to be sharing pictures of you smoking a bong or sharing some weed or anything like that that you would post on your traditional Facebook status.

On Tumblr, it's so much more anonymized that people just go all out, they feel a lot more safe within that community and a lot more presence in activity and engagement is going on in that department. You'll notice we don't actively target anything or anyone on Facebook for that reason until this stigma is de-escalated a little bit. I really have to focus all of my energies as a solopreneur on the markets and channels that give us the highest return. Right now, our secret source is actually Tumblr, it's got a really great cannabis community and they're really active and engaged and just passionate about this movement and getting things going.

Felix: Definitely I want to talk about your Tumblr strategy in a bit because I don't think anyone that has been on this podcast that has used Tumblr to market their business. What you're saying before it makes a lot of sense because there is still this stigma attached to cannabis. People are still 'in the closet' that are using cannabis; that is not something that you can just come out and say onto your friends, your family or on Facebook. I can imagine that that reduces the shareability or virality at least on certain platforms like on Facebook. Definitely, I'm going to talk about how you got around this on Tumblr in a second.

Before we get there, let's talk about the very beginning of your business. You knew there was a market for it, you were surrounded by in the offline world just because you are in Denver, Colorado. For anyone out there that's not from ... That is not familiar or not from United States, that's one of the first states to legalize recreational use of cannabis. You knew there was a market for it, you knew that there was big businesses going on around it. What was the first step? You knew that there was a market, how did you go from knowing that there was a market for it to actually starting a business?

Travis: I had a non-traditional entrance into this market. A lot of people really just dive straight in. I didn't have that luxury, I'm really young, I'm twenty five at the time of recording this. Just turned twenty five this weekend actually and was just getting out of college when all of these is happening. I'm seeing all of these happen around me and of course you want to be a part of it but at the same time you have to be realistic with what's in front of you. One of the things that I think will really resonate with your audience Felix is the fact that maybe we can just quit everything we've got going on and just jump in and go and try this out and see how it goes. Not all of us have the luxury of doing that.

I actually have been working full time, Monday through Friday, nine to five at a regular job at a nonprofit organization. A lot of that has given me my general stability that everybody strives for and it gives me a lot of that passionate work. It feels like I'm doing something different, I'm doing something meaningful. I didn't exactly have this, "Okay, throw everything out, let's go, here we go. Time to rock and roll." Jump into it like many people did. I had a little more of a strategic approach in getting into this industry. That is more of dipping your toes in the water and I actually started this business, this website, this community a hundred percent on the side while I'm working full time.

As we speak right now I actually just clocked out a couple hours ago from my regular job and converted into this solopreneur mode. What I think your audience can really grasp from that is that you don't need to be going all in on something. You can start anything at anytime with very minimal resources. My entrance into this market has been a very gradual, slow but steady growth. I really just created the website, created our Tumblr and was ready to go out of the box from there. It pretty much has been slow, organic engagement that builds the community, builds this audience which eventually funnels into our marketing strategy and everything.

A lot of it was something I know I want to do but because I have to be realistic with the balance that you have in your life, realize that you can start something just on the side and let it grow. See what works, see what doesn't work and it doesn't have to be the end of your world. If something goes wrong, you will still have this ... Whatever your fall back is traditionally. Some people will assume that that will keep you sheltered or keep you from taking risks. It's really put me in a spot where I can be very experimental with our audience and the content I'm putting out and see what works and see what doesn't.

It doesn't have to be such a high-stress environment like so many people assume it's going to be. My advice for anybody out there that's thinking of doing something, if they've got an idea, they know something just inside and out, they're really passionate about, just give it a little shot on the side, just see how it goes, give it a little bit of traction. You'll find the ideas that work and you'll find the ideas that don't work and resonate with your audience the ideas that do work and take away anything that doesn't. It's really just a slow and steady wins the race from this end Felix.

Felix: I definitely want to talk about this more because I feel very strongly about this particular topic because it's really underrepresented, this perspective that you have because it's not that interesting or it doesn't make the headlines when the story is, "Twenty five year old works on the side to start a business." It's not as interesting as, "A twenty five year old quits his six figure job and dives right in and launches a million dollar business." It's not as interesting but I think it's a much more realistic approach for a lot of people. I would argue that most of the people listening right now are in that situation where they are working a day job or consulting or doing something to pays majority of the bills then trying to start something on the side.

I think this is a really important point to talk about because if you do subscribe to the idea of you having to quit your job and going full time is that: one, it could be dangerous, you could be very dangerous, it could disrupt a lot of the stability that you're talking about that you throw out the window. The second thing is that sometimes people feel like they have to wait until the perfect time where it's like, "I can't do this yet because I haven't quit my job, I can't focus on it full time." It makes people wait longer than they need to which is I think what you're getting at.

Travis: Exactly Felix.

Felix: Definitely. Let's talk about the common points on the other side of the table. The one thing I think you brought up was that if you have a plan B, you are always going to end up I guess deferring back to your plan B, your backup plan. What are your thoughts on that? Do you feel like that ever comes up for you? I guess what are your general thoughts when someone says something like, "If you have a backup plan you're always going to defer to it."

Travis: Yes. I'm actually a little torn on that one because I do, I've heard the exact same things you do. I listen to all kinds of podcasts, self-development, professional development, entrepreneurial advice. A lot of it leads to that direction of the go all in without that fall back. I'm actually torn myself Felix as well between this exact issue because I wonder how much I'm holding myself back technically. At the same time I also want to be very respectful to my community and to the audience that we're cultivating. I think one of the other points that you can get into when you just go all in is your intentions can slightly change when you absolutely need a sale to have food on your plate this week or to pay rent this month.

Your attitude and your language and your tone is going to be much different than cultivating an organic relationship with this community. One of the trade-offs I think I can play a little devil's advocate for the other team of starting slow on the side, is you can remain a lot more genuine and organic with your relationships, which in the long run I believe are going to be a lot more valuable than a single sale that you're just trying to push. I would be much more inclined to cultivate a long-term relationship to increase the lifetime value of a customer than to force them down a short, narrow path that I can get a quick sale from them this week. That's my input in that department.

Felix: I think that makes sense what you're getting at is that when you don't desperately need to put food on the table or pay the rent because you already have something else helping you fund all of those expenses, you start thinking and making decisions for the long-term rather than the sale for today, this week, this month. The other point is do you feel like you could lose momentum because there's this other idea where you have something that's moving along but you only half of your time, maybe even less than half your time is focused on it because you have eight hours of your day devoted to something else. Do you ever feel like you're losing momentum or maybe don't have as much ... Obviously you probably don't have as much energy but how do you deal with these shortcomings?

Travis: That's one of the things I've definitely been focusing on and just from a personal development side is avoiding the compare and despair which will honestly kill you. If you're in the entrepreneurial zone, athletic zone, artistic zone, there is always going to be somebody doing it better, somebody doing it faster, somebody going all in. That's one of the things I've really been caught up in this the whole year is looking at our competitors and going, "Oh crap, well they're growing so much better. Theirs is looking so much better in this department and everything." Then I have to sit back and realize, "Okay, I'm one single person creating this community."

I'll research some of our competitors and they have teams of twenty, thirty, fifty plus people. I really have to ground myself and realize, "Okay, this is something you need to be doing for yourself." I think when you shift those metrics to an external standard like that, it really isn't good for you in the long run. It definitely affects me and I feel like I obviously would love to have eight to ten more hours everyday to amplify this but right now the balance on the ROI would not be able to make up for it. That's my point for that question Felix.

Felix: I think that makes sense. It's funny, I've also spoken to some other entrepreneurs that have ... Basically don't have a day job and are only solely focused on their business and some of them had told me that they will artificially restrict their time not because they don't have the time but because that they have eight hours, twelve hours, ten hours a day to work on their business, this tend to spend time distracting themselves or focusing on the wrong things and sometimes these restrictions definitely force you to get creative sometimes. Also force you to think about what actually desperately needs to be done and not spend your time with things that aren't actually core to the business. That's a positive to the lack of time, it just forces you to be really economical with your time and economical with your energy.

Travis: That's exactly right.

Felix: This leads into my next question which is that because you have a day job, because you're getting paid through a paycheck, you obviously have less time throughout your day because you're spending eight hours or so at work. You do have more cash and stability than someone that [inaudible 00:23:52] was just to quit and start a business from scratch. How have you used this to your advantage where you are time poor but cash/stability rich?

Travis: That comment that you were just making previously leads exactly into this, I really think that the entrepreneur that's doing something on the side for two hours a night can complete that same amount of work in two hours, whereas that same amount of work for somebody that has their whole day it could take them four hours, five hours. With that point that you're making about distractions and filling up time, I really think that if you focus your time and your energy into specific areas, it will amplify your results. What you need to be mindful of is looking for that eighty-twenty all of the time. Look for the twenty percent of your efforts that are bringing in the eighty percent of your results. If you can find what works and what you need to be focusing on, I am fairly confident that a really intelligent and smart individual can accomplish the same amount of work in less time when it really comes down to it.

I've noticed this firsthand ... Before I was living in Denver, I was actually commuting to Denver. I had just a brutal commute, two hours in the morning, two hours back and I was just the podcast master. Every single day, in and out and what I realized is I would get home and from about eight o'clock to ten o'clock was my Bee-High power hour zone. I would know from the first minute to the last minute from eight to ten, I am in beast mode, getting that done. I know exactly what I'm going to be doing, I've been thinking about it on the drive home, I know what's going to be coming up. I feel like if I were in the opposite scenario where I just woke up that morning and was like, "I probably need to get this done and maybe I could jump into that as well."

I just noticed that on the weekends because that's the mode I start to get into when you have all these extra time and I want to commit it to the company and building the brand as well. That's one of the things I've really noticed is the concept of Parkinson's law taking into place. What that statement really is is a task will fill the amount of time that you give it. A lot of the times you'll notice journalists on a deadline; you can push the deadline up three days, the project will get done within that amount of time. You could give them an extra week, it's likely they'll get the exact same project done in about a week. I'm really a confident believer in the concept of leveraging Parkinson's law to your advantage.

Felix: I like that. Speaking of this and speaking what you're saying about eighty-twenty, how do you locate or how do you identify those activities, those tasks that are going to deliver eighty percent of the value for your business?

Travis: Always be listening. Always be listening to your customer, read anything and everything you can on your industry, read what other people are doing. That's where a lot of our strategies come in is doing competitor research, see what's working for other people, what they're missing out on. I am really confident in my ability to look at tons and tons of details and information and all kinds of market research and boil that down to something strategic, something meaningful, find the patterns, find where the results are coming from. A lot of the time you will find it's coming from one or two or three different areas that you're focusing on and for us it has definitely been in the social marketing and email marketing hybrid area.

Felix: Makes sense. The last question on this is you're working on this on the side, you have a full time job, I'm assuming at some point you are going to want to focus on Bee-High full time. When will you know it's time to quit the day job and focus exclusively on your side business?

Travis: I have a number and that is basically a number referring to my salary. I want to be able to double my current salary with Bee-High.com and when I reach that point, I think I can confidently jump and go all in. That's just a personal strategic decision to shoot for a number. I've had a coach or a mentor that's recommended setting a single date, look on your calender whether it's two years from now, three years from now, find when you want to be out of this or you want to be starting this ... Whichever angle you want to come from and you can do the opposite and start a countdown timer. That would be an alternative way but for me I have a revenue number for me to take home and once I hit that number is where I would be safe, jumping in and going all in. That's what works for me and maybe a time-based goal would work better for other individuals but that's what my game plan is over here on this end.

Felix: That makes sense. For someone that maybe doesn't have a business yet or is still working a full time job they might be thinking, "I want to quit and focus full time on my business that I'm going to start if I can just match my salary." Why do you say double your salary?

Travis: Because I am well aware of my lifestyle design that I'm creating and I'm really just reverse engineering it. Instead of just living the exact life I'm doing now, I'm essentially working backwards from the lifestyle I want to be living.

Felix: The other thing too to think about is that when you do work ... I can only speak for people that are in the United States is that just because you're matching your salary doesn't mean that all the benefits, health insurance, taxes, all of the other stuff that is typically sometimes covered by your employer is not going to be covered anymore.

Travis: Exactly. There's a lot of secondary value in real jobs or what we consider real careers and yeah maybe I have really great co-workers and a great boss and we do great work at a non-profit, it's not like many stories where a lot of these other people, you'll hear a lot of the classic stories of these people that are like, "Oh, I wanted to walk into my bosses office and just walk in there with a shotgun." You're like, "Oh my gosh, jeez." Like, "I like the people I work with, I enjoy the work I'm doing." There's really not a need to stir up the hornet's nest if it's not necessary.

Felix: Makes sense. Let's now talk about the business that you've set up. We know the price that you're selling, how does it all work? How do you source them? What's your supply chain? What does it look like?

Travis: This is actually something I'm really excited to talk about today Felix. We operate entirely ... I've realized this might be confusing, I use the term we for pretty much everything I do in Bee-High. I use the royal we as a collaborative we just because it is such a community. There are so many passionate people that just help me all the time, it really feels like a we. Just for clarification, this is a solo project at the moment. I have no employees but I use the term we very often but just because it is such a strong community and we have so many people on board that are all in, whether they're employees or not.

One of the things I'm really excited to share is our entire model is based off of a private partner drop shipping set up. What that basically means is I don't have to touch any inventory ever and that makes me very happy. I don't have to deal with warehousing, packing, shipping, all of the administrative stuff that you would traditionally envision in an e-commerce store. I actually don't have to do any of that and that gives me maximum energy and effort to focus on the front-end and cultivating the brand, building the audience and growing these relationships with our consumers. A private partner drop shipping model is a really awesome concept that I stumbled into this last year and it has been really helpful for me to discover and it's pretty much the exact model of our entire company.

Drop shipping I'm sure most people are aware but it's when another individual or company sends a product to a customer on your behalf. Drop shipping already exists, that's already been a thing and there are sources for it online, you can sign up for it. The problem I've noticed with a lot of existing just sign up and go drop shipping is the competitive nature of those type of industries and those products are very difficult to compete with. When there's ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty other people that can go to that website and click sign up, "I want to drop ship." They can have their website up and running in a day, two days, three days and it's really inefficient and it brings the competition to a ridiculous level.

I've actually taken the drop shipping model and reached out to private product partners. Instead of going to a single warehouser or a drop shipper that has all these different types of products, I actually cultivate personal relationships with the actual products that are going to be sent out. Just for an example that we can follow along with here is say I wanted to start selling grinders, a very common cannabis accessory and I want the best grinder that's out there. I go and start researching different companies, which ones are the best, which ones have good reviews, which ones have bad reviews and I pick a single brand, a single product. In this case I selected Phoenician Engineering from Arizona, they're really a phenomenal company. They focus on luxury, high-end, premium medical grade grinders.

They are what I call a product partner. I reach out to them and create a positive relationship and I eventually sell their products on Bee-High.com and each time that we collect an order from our audience, the retail price I can go ahead and purchase that product for wholesale price and it ships directly to the consumer. I'm collecting the margin from the wholesale to resale and they are fulfilling orders like it's business as usual. It's really an excellent concept, it obviously has its trade-offs but the primary fact that I don't host any inventory, any warehousing, any shipping or fulfillment gives me the ability to cultivate on our content marketing, our social marketing, our email marketing and focus on everything on the front-end. What I've really noticed is in this green rush of the industry finally emerging is people with great products; awesome stuff coming out have nothing to do with it, no audience to sell it to.

They don't have the traction for it and I come in and fill that void. I basically do the exact opposite, I am cultivating this community of very like minded individuals and collecting our audience and I'll reach out and that's my value offer is, "I have a hundred thousand people that I can get your product in front of." That value that I can bring to the table is something that's necessary to a lot of people. If you know a specific product or a specific brand or company that's just killing it and you're aware of that but they have trouble tapping into the audience or tapping into the market, you can be the Segway, you can fill that void. That's really where a lot of our business model has thrived is on this private partner drop shipping model which is a one on one basis with each and every product partner. It's actually a phenomenal set up once you get it running and you don't have to focus on inventory and all of the shenanigans that comes along with all of that.

Felix: Let me break this down a little bit-

Travis: Do it.

Felix: You obviously want to go as a drop shipping model because it frees up a lot of your time because you don't have that much time to begin with, but then now you can also focus more on essentially the marketing and the community building aspect of it. You didn't want to just go and find any other public drop shipper because there's going to be so much competition. They're going to be selling to so many different retailers that it just doesn't make sense for you to get into because again there's so much competition and it's all because of commodity at that point. You find these manufacturers, these companies that are already creating great products then you're building a relationship with them, with the goal eventually of working a deal with them so that you could buy from them at wholesale price whenever somebody buys from your site then they fulfill the order and ship it directly to your customer, is that right?

Travis: Spot on. That is exactly it Felix.

Felix: Let's talk about this a little more. This is definitely a model that I personally have never heard of before but it makes a lot of sense when you talk about it. For anyone out there that wants to do something like this, let's say they find a product, find a company and they feel like they can fill that void that you're talking about and be the marketing and the sales, the community building arm of that company, how do you begin this conversation with those partners? What are you saying to them to even get them interested in you in the first place?

Travis: The most critical elements of this entire process is the audience and the community that you own. You need to have something of value to offer to these product partners, that's what I call them in the model is a product partner because that's exactly what they are. What you really want to be doing is offering as much value as you can to them to even have them be interested. All of your leverage comes on that front-end of the market. You need to be able to show or tell them how much you would be able to affect this community, your audience, your anything that you own and you have an influence over, that has value to other individuals. I would really focus on cultivating a highly targeted community and that's going to be where a lot of your leverage comes in.

I'll jump on a call or go through the old school emailing back and forth but really come to them with an offer of, "Hey, I have a hundred thousand responsible, respectable, regular cannabis users in my community. Your product fits the exact type of products that we're trying to put in front of this audience." Really coming at it from this angle of giving them value and producing results. Because a lot of the time you're going to be competing with massive ... They might be fulfilling orders for a thousand products at a time. This might just get blown off, you have to be able to understand and demonstrate the value that you can bring to the table.

Felix: In your case you had built this audience of a hundred thousand people and definitely want to talk in a second about how you did this, but you built this up first before you ever approached any of these partners that you found?

Travis: Slowly. I was able to have a basic first partner, right out the gates just because it actually worked perfectly like that. They weren't too concerned and they provided the products that we needed and it gave me just a little bit of a structure to start with. When you really start expanding and getting into a little bit of the higher end products, you definitely are going to need the actual audience and a targeted audience is where the value comes in. We are very clear that we are shooting for a little bit above the traditional market and shooting for the affordable, luxury category. We're not competing on price, a lot of the things that I consider when looking for partners is the value and the perception of their products and how well that's going to match the audience that I'm serving.

In the case of Phoenician, they have luxury premium grinders; this guy he's obsessed with engineering, he knows like, "Oh, if you move this tooth to this side then it won't get stuck on this." A whole another level of detail that I didn't even know existed but it gives the user a premium experience. It made it very clear that we had a product audience match whereas if I went and saw somebody with the exact same thing and they had some cheap aluminium alloy grinder that was manufactured ten thousand at a time and they sell three thousand at a time to wholesale distributors throughout the country, it's very unlikely that we would have a product market match there. Being really focused and really considerate of the audience that you have and the audience you're serving and the product that you're reaching out to attempt to connect with that audience.

Having that match is very critical and I've been very concise and considerate about the selection of our products which has been really part of our success model. Instead of giving the whole warehouse style of websites, I'm sure you've been in a website where you literally just feel like you're in a warehouse and you're just clicking through pages and pages and categories and we offer the polar opposite of that. If you would imagine a traditional warehouse Walmart style store, we are the polar opposite of that. We would be like a man's designer boutique around the corner. I'm very concise about the products selections that I put in front of our audience. Instead of just overwhelming everybody with anything and everything, that's been another little detail of creating really positive relationships with these individuals because of our marketing and our branding a lot more product partners that fit that category are all about it.

Felix: Makes sense. Let's talk about this audience that you built. A hundred thousand people, heard you say it a couple of times, is that just all in one platform and how is that spread out amongst all your profiles?

Travis: The primary metric I'm trying to get away from using but I use it right now just for tracking general metrics is cumulative social reach. That's pretty much our reach across all of our networks. That actually has been trimmed down significantly after our most recent Instagram shutdown got chopped down at a 50-55k which was heartbreaking but still recovering from the sting on that one. What that basically is is across all of our networks, we have access to about a hundred thousand followers and a large majority is Tumblr, another chunk of that is from MassRoots which is a mobile app targeted only for cannabis consumers. That was definitely again we mentioned that watering pool earlier. You want to be at the exactly where your audience is and it was dumb not to be there. MassRoots was another very excellent area for us to cultivate a little more traction then the classic Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest is the other ones.

Felix: I don't want to get stuck on this point for too long but you said fifty thousand followers on Instagram, that profile got shutdown. Man, that definitely sounds devastating, what happened?

Travis: As you mentioned earlier what are the trade-offs of being cannabis related and cannabis company. One of the things that we've done as a strategic decision is be very clear with our language and the terms that we use. A lot of the times I'm sure you've been into maybe a head shop or heard the people that use the phrase, "This is for tobacco use only." You're like, "Okay, sure." Everybody knows that's not actually for tobacco use only. A lot of the other companies they just roll with that because that's what you're supposed to do and everybody just thinks that's how it's supposed to go. We've done the exact opposite again mentioning being really precise with your language. We're very open and transparent about using cannabis terms, cannabis language and saying, "Yes, this bong is for cannabis. This is not going to be for tobacco use only."

Felix: That was against Instagram's policies or something?

Travis: Yes. Exactly. If you're in the category for tobacco use only that means you're safe technically and we are actually very clear about, "This is for cannabis, this is a cannabis product. This is a cannabis accessory." That violates a lot of terms for anything on the national level. The Instagram was actually just a small dose of the ... I call it cannabis bigotry in the industry. It's really a professional, industrial level of cannabis bigotry and it's anything affecting a national retailer or a national company will almost a hundred percent of the time cut out anything cannabis related. Our PayPal account has been shut down and our funds frozen multiple times, the Instagram shut down still recovering from that one. Just this morning actually recovering from Payment Gateway just got shut down as well.

That one wasn't even our fault, we had a previous high risk retailer or a high risk underwriter that was acquired by a different company, that new company came in and reviewed the policies and everything and cut anything and everything cannabis related or cannabis accessory related. Literally, as we speak I just opened my email this morning to see that our Payment Gateway has been shut down. I've got a stack of papers to sign up for a new Payment Gateways, get all of that figured out later. It's really a frustrating point but it's also really a moral stand from my perspective as well that I'm not going to play the for tobacco use only games. I'm in this again for the long run, I'm in this for the long haul and we're open about being heavy cannabis supporters.

It has some trade-offs and quickly I'm quickly realizing what those trade-offs are one at a time but as you've probably noticed in every entrepreneurial story, every theme, it's about re-routing your navigation to get to where you need to. I know where I need to get and it's going to be a leading cannabis brand and you're not going to get there plastering for tobacco use only on all of your products. It has its trade-offs but I think we're going to stick with our moral stand of remaining very transparent that our products are for cannabis.

Felix: Makes sense. Let's talk about Tumblr then. You're mentioning that MassRoots is one platform, Instagram at a certain point and you guys are recovering from that but Tumblr is also a big one for you guys. What is the strategy on there? How have you used Tumblr to cultivate following?

Travis: This was again another little sweet spot that I was able to find in the realm of social marketing and content marketing. As I mentioned earlier, I'm always looking for that eighty-twenty and Tumblr gives you an opportunity to create a platform. It's basically a microblog and unlike most other platforms, you have to post your own content, post your own image. Tumblr, you can create a completely curated blog of other people's existing content and let me be clear for a second, this is an image that somebody else has posted or uploaded and you re-blog it on your page. It basically creates a curated content blog and that is not stealing images, downloading them and uploading them as your own, that is a completely different category and that's a big no, no.

Felix: You still get credit?

Travis: Yeah. This is where it's originally sourced and you do what is called a re-blog on Tumblr. It's basically the same concept of a share on every other network. Instead of creating original content when I was first starting, I was able to build a platform curating really great content of smoking pictures and great glass, really that heavily visual communication with the audience. With that now that we do have an audience to leverage and cultivate, I've been sprinkling in a lot of micrographic content marketing, we can just into content and email marketing a little bit after this. It's a little trifecta that they all feed into one another but really focusing on visual content and creating an environment and a community that people want to be a part of and that's what I have found in Tumblr.

Felix: How do you find the content to re-blog? What are you searching for? What's the best ways for someone who wants to start a new Tumblr profile to build a community, what are the first steps they should take to find the best content to curate?

Travis: I'll give the forewarning it is definitely a slow and steady growth. If this is something you're going to want to jump into be weary that this isn't like a paper [inaudible 00:53:49] campaign that you're just going to amplify. It's really a long game strategy and it feels really empty and slow at the beginning but once it picks up, it starts taking off. One of the areas that I really started off with was just general hashtags as with every other social channel you can go and scour and explore all the existing hashtags. Anything cannabis related I was going ahead and jumping in there as my starting point. Then once you get into this community you start seeing who the regular influencers are, whose stuff gets re-blogged the most, what type of content gets shared all the time, what type of stuff just completely flops.

From there you can start targeting specific influencers to connect with. Once you break out of the surface level hashtag environment you can start jumping into seeing, "Okay, well who are the people that are dominating these hashtags? Who are the people that are really resonating?" These people have their own little mini audiences. Really tapping into an influencer marketing model with tons of smaller individuals. If you would imagine a traditional influencer marketing with authors and really big shots in traditional marketing, this is really the same concept but boiled down to more of a micro level. Connecting with these micro influencers, re-blogging a lot of their content and in turn that starts creating this self-sustaining cycle of value once you start creating these audiences.

Felix: Once you've built this community, once you've built a bunch of followers on Tumblr, how do you drive them to your store?

Travis: Actually, I have a couple of different things that we do: one of my areas of focus is actually not driving social traffic directly to our store. I actually attempt to drive a lot of our traffic to our email list which we can jump into content marketing, social marketing and email marketing to me are a holy, little trifecta and they're all interconnected. What I basically do is create really engaging visual content to share on the platform. A quick example, I'll give you an example of how it would work out and I'll create a micrographic that compares the death statistics of alcohol versus the death statistics of cannabis and I'll have an entire article ready, sitting on the site, nothing sells the ... Just educational informative community content and that's where I'll drive a lot of our traffic from social areas and all the time I'm always trying to feed people into your mailing list.

That's what you need to be doing if you want to own an audience, it needs to be on your email list or regularly coming back to your site but most of the time you want to be driving your traffic to an email list of some sort. That's really a lot of the focus that we do is I'm all about the soft sale, I'm sure I would probably make some marketing funnel experts cringe. I'm all about cultivating a long-term relationship over a short-term sale. We actually drive a lot of our traffic to the website for sharing content, sharing articles and educational pieces instead of jumping directly to the sale but we definitely do have ... I sprinkle in probably maybe about five or ten percent of our posts that just link directly to products and those do tend to do pretty well as well.

Felix: You're creating some original content that is related to your brand, related to your industry, then people are clicking on a link to go to some landing page somewhere from the site for email listing. How do they actually get from Tumblr to your email list?

Travis: One of the things that we really focus on funneling traffic to our mailing list is through our content sign up. We have a bunch of ... It's basically a legalization campaign called #Mission420. A lot of that content is very viral focused on stirring up opinions, getting people really passionate, getting them involved with cannabis legalization and exposing the details of cannabis versus other things. Getting people as passionate as possible before they get to the end of that article, the technical details would be email subscriber pop-ups.

Felix: You got some content that you've created on your site then you're sharing that on Tumblr and then they click over to it, then there's a pop-up basically from the sign up for your newsletter?

Travis: Yeah. Every article is going to be slightly different, I'm trying to really custom tailor every offer but you need to either ... There's two keys that you need somebody to sign up for your email list: they need to either be passionately in love with what you're doing or sharing or writing or you need to have something really cool or really awesome on the other end of that subscriber list. I've taken two different strategies for that: one is a traditional giveaway platform where we just straight up, "Give us your email address, your entry to the giveaway and you could win anything you want from the site for free." Stuff like that very simple model.

The other model is a little more complex, a little deeper and that's where it taps into the heartstrings and the emotions of our audience and that's where more of our campaign comes in like the Mission 420 campaign. Our cannabis education articles revealing all the different benefits of CBD oils and cancer treatments and just really a wide spectrum of passionate content that gets people going. A lot of it is either I email subscriber pop-up box or even just a simple link at the bottom of every article. It's keeping it simple and making sure that when somebody jumps on your page, there's really only one thing to do and you want to be funneling everybody towards a single call to action.

A lot of times you'll see so much content that just sends people, "Follow us on this and share it over there." "Oh, don't forget to sign up on our thing at the bottom of the footer, you can sign up for an email newsletter too. Don't forget to check this on your way out." Then people just leave and close the page. Any content that you're producing and you're driving social traffic to, I would recommend having one single call to action for that page and just make it very clear from top to bottom what that call to action is and eventually it pays off.

Felix: I totally agree that you want to keep it simple and then also give them a good reason to sign up and not just, "Hey, sign up for our newsletter." I don't want to be too dense about this myself because I don't have much experience with Tumblr, are you posting the link to the content on Tumblr? What exactly are you posting to get them to your site?

Travis: Thankfully one of the cool things about Tumblr is there's a wide variety of content posting types whereas Twitter you just have your a hundred and forty characters, you're good, you go upload something if you want then it's done. Tumblr has a really wide variety of post types, they have photo sets, they have single photos, audio, all kinds of different strategies. In general the most successful strategy is a single micrographic image and it's basically a mini infographic that can be absorbed in five, ten, fifteen seconds. Don't overdo it and that's where a lot of our traffic comes from, is I'll post a single micrographic that's part of a larger article and just create a link to that article within the post. The micrographic will be explaining, "Ninety percent of users that overdosed on prescription painkillers could have potentially been saved from cannabis." A little quick snippet of information, a little quick fact, it's heavy on visuals then in the text under that image is just a quick link to the actual article or anything that you want to create.

If you want to actually create a call to action directly from within Tumblr, you can link up to it as well, it gives you a lot of flexibility in controlling hyperlinks, bolding this and what not whereas a lot of other platforms you're really just restricted to what they give you. That is one of the areas where I can create custom links and that's also one of the areas I've been experimenting too, is to see what types of links are working? Is it better to send people directly to the mailing list or is it better to send them to content first then the mailing list? Just always testing, always optimizing but thankfully the flexibility of Tumblr allows for a very wide spectrum. The sweet spot that I would emphasize is a single image that tells them a small story in five to ten, fifteen seconds and I think you'll see a lot of success with that.

Felix: Makes sense. You're creating some kind of custom graphic, custom infographic that then links to your content page or you also said that you might link to your email sign up directly and that makes sense. Can I close it down by talking about email marketing? What are you doing once you actually get their email address? What are you sending them?

Travis: I have basically two different routes that are set up here: there's the traditional automation and autoresponders that are set up. Right now if you were to sign up and subscribe to our list on Bee-High.com, you would get emails for the next I believe sixteen weeks is how long I've got it set up now. Again, maximizing that eighty-twenty, email automation sequence is really where you can maximize a lot of your efforts because once it's set up, you can keep building and keep building off of that. Right now we have a sixteen week automated email sequence that goes out when you sign up. It's about once per week, not over doing it then I do traditional broadcast style what most people would just call a blast in email marketing.

That's when anything that comes up that is super topical, we'll jump in the news if there's anything really big happening in the world of cannabis, we'll jump in there. Then anytime we upload new products is also when I'll utilize the more of a blast style of email marketing instead of the automation. We've got a little bit of a hybrid model of automation that kicks in as soon as you sign up then over time depending on topical events, new products et cetera then that's when we leverage more of the traditional blast style of email marketing that everybody is more used to.

Felix: I like that, that you have basically sixteen weeks of communicating with the customers that are actually having to type up these emails yourself. This ties all together email marketing, Tumblr with the social marketing, the content marketing you're doing. All of these on the side, how successful has the business been since you've started it?

Travis: It has been excellent. Of course everybody has a different definition of success but I am in a great spot. We're in a steady growth of about ten, twenty percent per month and that's all I could ask for. I'm really satisfied with that. Jumping into more of a revenue side of things the first year I ever started jumping into this we hit 25k revenue and now this year we're projected to double that and possibly more. We're going to be hitting around 50-55k this year.

Felix: This is all done on a part time. How many hours a day are you spending on this obviously in the week?

Travis: It varies on a spectrum but I pretty much have this 8 to 10p.m blocked out every single day and that's pretty much my Bee-High focus zone that I get almost everything done in that 8 to 10p.m, Monday through Friday. I try to invest as much as I can on the weekends really doing a lot of the sacrificing of social hours and going out on Friday's and Saturday's nights, a lot of the times they're spent right here in front of this keyboard but it's really worth it in the long run I believe.

Felix: Thanks so much Travis of Bee-High.com, Bee-High.com is the website. Anywhere else you recommend the listeners check out for them to follow along with what you're up to, what your company is up to?

Travis: Yeah. Bee-High.com, sign up for our mailing list, you'll definitely be interested in a lot of the content that we promote and put out. On more of a personal level for anybody that's just wanting to connect for a business relationship, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn, that's actually been one of my sweet spots for connecting with business to business partners and all kinds of individuals. Feel free to find me on LinkedIn @Travislachner. That's Lachner.

Felix: Thanks so much Travis.

Travis: Thanks so much Felix, I appreciate your time.

Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended thirty day free trial.

Ready to build a business of your own? 

Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify today!

About the Author

Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs, and founder of TrafficAndSales.com where you can get actionable tips to grow your store’s traffic and sales.

Topics:

Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify