Featured Cannapreneur | Bryan Gerber | Co-Founder of Hemper
Socialize: [Twitter: @hemperbox | Facebook: /hemperco]
Bryan Gerber has always been a visionary, and when he and his friends/Hemper Co-Founders, Ravjot Bhasin (RJ) and Henry Kochnar, graduated in 2015, they put one of their dreams in motion: Hemper. The group of three worked tirelessly from January to May to make their dream a reality. By June they were processing their first shipment of Hemper boxes. Today, they have blossomed into the innovative company we have all come to know and love.
They’ve come a long way, but they’re only getting started. I had the chance to catch up with Bryan and talk about how he and his two business partners were able to pave their own way and make some major waves in the cannabis space.
Here’s what he had to say…
CM: Hi Bryan! Thank you so much for interviewing with Cannabis Magazine today! We’re all familiar with Hemper, but when we heard about your story we knew we had to share it with our readers!
Bryan: Hey! Yeah, no problem – thanks for having me on!
CM: Of course! We like to give our readers an idea of how cannaprenuers like yourself get established in the industry. Can you start by telling us a bit about how you got your start?
Bryan: Basically, I was in my last semester of college, I was smoking a lot. My roommate and I were ordering boxes of raw rolling papers online. And all of a sudden my buddies would come over and be like, “Let me grab a pack of rolling papers and I’ll pay you $5.”
There was no store within a 10 block radius that sold Raw rolling papers, or any type of rolling papers besides Zig-Zags. So, my friends would come over, they would buy some packs. So I thought, okay. Everyone is giving me $5 for a pack of rolling papers that should cost $2 right? Something’s here. So then I started looking at Amazon and I was like okay, let’s put this on a subscription basis and then I realized they don’t really touch these products, yet. So I was like okay – opportunity.
RJ was subscribed to Birch Box at the time. We were sitting on his couch on New Years day, it was January 2015 and I was like, “Yo, let’s just do smoking accessories in a box like Birch Box.”
RJ doesn’t smoke, so he was like “Oh, I don’t think that will work.”
Henry, who smokes, was like “Oh no, that’s genius. Let’s try that out.” And that’s kind of how it started.
CM: And that was when Hemper began?
Bryan: (Nods) I walked across the graduation stage May 18th. I went up to New York the very next day and we started shipping boxes June the 1st.
CM: That’s incredible!
Bryan: Right, exactly! It definitely took off a lot quicker than we thought.
CM: How did you get it to build up so quickly?
Bryan: Basically I was following our competitors’ followers on social media to gain visibility with people interested in similar products, and we got like 35 boxes out our first month. Then, about two months after we launched, we realized the advertising potential of this segment of YouTubers called ‘Weedtubers’. They go on YouTube and smoked weed, doing box reviews or whatever, and it was one of the only avenues you could get – basically this industry’s version of a billboard.
And the Weedtubers’ channels are age restricted so they can’t make advertising revenue the same way as other YouTubers can. So they often work with companies like us to make money. So we created this guest curation concept. We brought on this Weedtuber named Jane Dro who had about 20,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel, and she came in and picked the items that we would send out in our August box.
We didn’t really have any printing capabilities at the time, so we got a stamp made, like a seal, and it said ‘Jane Dro Approved.’ And we stamped it on every single box lid. And we got close to 900 Hemper Box subscribers that month.
CM: 900 subscribers? That’s amazing! How many subscribers did you have before you launched the box for Jane Dro?
Bryan: About 150 subscribers.
CM: What an incredible take off! And you guys just kept going from there! Is that when it hit you that Hemper had the potential to become a major player in the cannabis space?
Bryan: So, I’ll tell you when it really hit. For the first 10 people who ordered the box, I would say, “Oh, we got an order today! And my roommate any my friends would be like, “Oh, who is it?” And I’d be like, “Oh, it was Ryan. Or, oh, it was Tommy” or whoever. But then after I stopped recognizing the names signing up for subscriptions is when I knew we had something going.
CM: (laughs) I know that feeling
And that’s when we realized – it was like “Oh okay. This is hitting. We’re convincing people throughout the country or the world to buy our product.”
So then we started dealing with larger YouTubers and we started amassing a larger following, and then by the end of our first year of business I think we had around 2,000 subscribers.
CM: Those are some seriously impressive numbers. Seeing that, what were you thinking? I’m sure it must have been mind-boggling to have launched a business venture just out of college and had immediate success like that.
Bryan: Yeah it was! We went from processing $1,000 to $50,000 in three months. And then we thought, if we can get weedtubers to sell $2,000 worth of our product, we can probably get celebrities to do millions!
So that’s when we started doing stuff with bigger celebrities. We’ve worked with influencers like Ty Dolla $ign, Flosstradamus, Fetty Wap, Two Chains, and a bunch of other people at this point.
Essentially cannabis is a welcoming culture. You could be a musician, you could be a skateboarder, you could be a blogger. Everyone partakes, so everyone has a different perspective.
CM: Interesting! So by marketing to these types of influencers, you’ve managed to create a product that appeals to nearly every aspect of the cannabis community.
They pick the items to show our subscribers how they smoke, it’s like you’re sitting on their couch, with them, with the track they just hit on the radio or whatever, and that’s what Hemper is about. It’s more about the lifestyle and the culture, instead of just about the box and the medium.
CM: Was that your intention from the start? Or did it develop as you got into the industry and started exploring the cannabis space?
Bryan: We wanted to position ourselves as this mainstream, upscale, economy price-tag brand. With a much more universal mainstream look, we want to be the Supreme of the smoking accessories world.” We kind of wanted to be that company, where when you walk into a headshop or a dispensary you’re like “Oh, I have Hemper rolling papers. Okay, well their grinder must be awesome too.” You know?
CM: You wanted to be that universally recognizable brand.
Bryan: Yeah, exactly. We went with a brand that could be seen on a box, on a t-shirt – on a cereal box. It was more universal.
CM: That was a smart business move. It leaves you guys with plenty of moving room should you want to expand in the future. And I’m sure the added mass appeal has worked for you guys really well in addition to that.
Bryan: Right. So now we have about 7500 monthly subscribers and we’re doing a lot more collabs with bigger artists. We basically had to knock out every single middle man for ordering products in our supply chain because our business is more than a couple months old and the more middle men you have the more the cost is, right? So we’re now doing all of our own manufacturing. From plastic, silicone, glass, wood, ceramics, all direct to our own factories. So now we control the product, and we’re actually doing a lot of manufacturing and sourcing for other companies now.
CM: Nice, I like your ambition! Really smart business move on your part! Can you tell me a bit more about what your goals are going forward? What’s the next major milestone you’re looking to accomplish?
Bryan: Have you ever heard of Bravado before?
CM: Yes, I have! But do you mind explaining what it is for our readers?
Bryan: Of course not. Bravado does the manufacturing for all general celebrity merchandise. They do it for Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande – every big name you can imagine. So want to become that for smoking accessories. That’s our goal.
Wiz Kalifa and Snoop Dog have smoking accessories. Why don’t the other top 100 artists have anything at that level? So now we’re partnering with all these management companies and we’re going to be the ones manufacturing smoking accessory lines for these artists.
CM: That’s amazing! When are you launching?
Bryan: It’s all in the works right now. We have proposals out to several big names in the entertainment industry that we’re in the final stages of negotiation with. There will be a ton of exciting collabs to look out for in the coming months.
CM: Nice! We’ll definitely be on the lookout for that! So your artist curated boxes – can you explain that more to me? What’s the process for picking out box items?
Bryan: So basically, the flagship box that they’re curating is our Glassentials box for $29.99 per month, and then they pick 8 to 10 smoking accessories. We brand out the box sleeves and all the items inside are co-branded. If they say they like raw rolling papers we put in raw rolling papers, if they say they want limited edition stuff we can do, you know, custom rolling papers. Stuff you can’t just walk down to your local headshop and get. We’re trying to create a potential aftermarket for this.
CM: Okay, so you’re working to create collector’s items too?
Bryan: Yes, exactly! And this is the first of its kind. So when we go up to a rapper or an influencer and we’re like, “You can have your own smoking accessories line.” They’re like, “Wow! That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard! My brand on a rolling tray? My brand on an ash tray!”
CM: It’s genius! And definitely a market with lots of untapped potential!
And the thing is, it was kind of interesting because I was always techy. So I was always trying to come up with the next coolest app. And then RJ, he was my college roommate, and he was like dude stop doing tech. Let’s try product. And this is the first idea I came up with for product.
CM: Really? That’s pretty impressive. So what inspired this idea? Why was this your first idea?
Bryan: So it was out of personal necessity, right? And that’s where the best ideas come from. I personally needed someone to send me these products on a subscription basis and there was no one doing it.
CM: And it’s blossoming into a brilliant company! So you’re at 7,500 subscribers now?
Bryan: Yeah, and we just hit 2 years June 1st.
CM: That’s amazing – that’s solid. Congrats!
Bryan: Thanks, I appreciate it!
CM: Unfortunately we only have a few more minutes left, but is there anything else you’d like to share with us before you go?
Bryan: Expect us on the West Coast! We’re moving our DC team out to California.
CM: That’s so exciting! So the West Coast better watch out, huh?
Bryan: Haha yeah we’re coming for it!
CM: That’s awesome! I’m glad to hear that you guys are doing well – I’m excited to share your story with people. We’ll definitely watch out for you in the future. I can’t wait to see Hemper continue to do big things in the cannabis space. Thank you so much for your time today Bryan!
Bryan: Thanks for having me on!