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Norby Presents: How to turn CBD spliffs into a thriving business with Barbari's Meryl Montgomery (Part 1)

by Female Startup Club
November 15th 2022

Today’s episode is brought to us by our favourite pals at Norby and we’re learning from Meryl Montgomery, the founder of Barbari. Barbari Herbals are weed’s best friend, thoughtfully crafted to sup... More

this podcast is brought to you by clay vo the email and SMS platform built just for e commerce brands. Start sending beautiful branded emails in minutes with a free account at Clay vo dot com. That's K L A V I Y O dot com. This is Merrill Montgomery for Female startup club. Welcome back to the show. It's Dune here, your host and hype girl. Today's episode is brought to us by our favorite friends at Norby and we're learning from Merrill Montgomery, the founder of Barbary Barbary herbals are weeds, best friend thoughtfully crafted to support your mind, body and energy intended to be mixed with marijuana or enjoyed on their own. Barberis formulated herbal blends. CBD, pre rolled herbal splits and adapt genic and CBD infused teas, help you find the right vibe in this episode. We're covering the struggles faced growing a business in this space, those early days of getting the business off the ground and Meryl's advice for founders who were just getting started.

Now I want to let you know that we did have some struggles recording this episode. So please do bear with us. It can get a little tricky towards the end and we miss out the first quick question, but you know, tech issues just can't be avoided sometimes and that's how the cookie crumbles. So if you still love this episode as much as I did recording it, please do tell your friends about us. We love it when you do that and let's get straight into today's episode. This is Merrill for female startup club these days. Every new potential higher can feel like a high stakes wager for your small business. You want to be 100% certain that you have access to the best qualified candidates available. That's why you've got to check out linkedin jobs, linkedin jobs helps find the right people for your team faster and for free. If you're a subscriber to the fsc monday newsletter, you'll know that we're always posting Lincoln jobs from female founded companies around the globe and it's so easy for you to do the same. Once your job is live, add the purple hashtag hiring frame to your linkedin profile to spread the word that you're hiring even further.

Simple tools like screening questions, make it easy to focus on candidates with just the right skill sets and experience so you can quickly prioritize who would like to interview and hire and with the end of the year in sight now is the time to get your ducks in a row to start the new year. Strong. It's why small businesses rate Lincoln jobs number one in delivering quality hires first, leading competitors Lincoln jobs helps you find the qualified candidates you want to talk to faster post your job for free at linkedin dot com slash fsc. That's linkedin dot com slash fsc to post your jobs for free keys and c supply Meryl Hi, welcome to the female startup club podcast. Thank you so much for having me. It's so nice to be here. It is so nice to be here. I'm so excited to talk to you today and learn all about your journey with barbary. It looks so amazing. I'm obsessed with your website. It's so cool. And the little like click a button thing like the mouse arrow that just a tiny detail. Yeah, the cursor, cursor, that's what I'm trying to say for anyone who might not know who you are yet or what your brand is.

Could you give us a little bit of an introduction to Barbary and you? Yeah, well my name is Meryl Montgomery. I'm the Ceo and co founder of Barberry where botanical brand for a mild high but we like to say we make a series of products but are really our cornerstone projects are smokable botanical herbal blends. These are effects based herbal blends. They're made with things like rose lavender, raspberry leaves and they're intended to be mixed with your own dose of cannabis or smoked on their own. But when you mix it with cannabis, you can not only control the type of high that you feel, but also you get. So we're all about helping people feel really empowered with their cannabis use safe to really experiment with that and customize that experience for them. We then also have our line of CBD Pre rolls which are our botanical blends mixed with CBD and we have a line of THC pre rolls that are available in Oregon and massachusetts, wow, very cool.

Sounds very excited. I'm so excited to dig into like how this actually works from a marketing perspective and the kinds of challenges that you faced building this brand and kind of having that marketing aspect covered. But before we get into that I'd love to go back to like the very beginning to what was getting you excited about this brand and building this as a business and your kind of origin founder story. So the, The brand was started with myself and my co founder Valerie Dakota. She and I actually longtime friends, we've been friends since college. So we've now known each other for over 14 years now and she in college really was using these different smoking botanicals. She would go to local and find different types of herbs and start mixing them in with her pre rolls. And that's really where it started is she was, you know, she's a curious mind and um, she just started noticing that depending on which herbs she smoked with her, we'd really impacted the type of high that she would feel.

Um and you know like me, we would use cannabis and college, you know, we would smoke before class. We both had, you know, very liberal arts fine arts degrees. And so we were able to um lean and sort of the create exploration cannabis really invites and use that to our advantage in our studies. And so um she really was able to kind of micro engineer that experience with these different smoking botanicals so fast forward then you know we graduate we each build our careers. I moved to new york and I spent about 10 years working in digital advertising and content strategy for various e commerce and CPG brands. And she really got her experience working on project management and brand um brand design and different brand work for an agency here in Portland. Um And so we were catching up over drinks one day in 2016, cannabis has just been recreationally legalized here in Oregon.

And you know, she said that you know, she had this idea for a product for a brand and the idea was a low dose pre roll something that you could smoke the whole pre roll and not worry about getting too stoned and mixing in those different smoking blends that she had used in college. Um as a way of really customizing that experience. And the brand seen in cannabis in 2016, especially here in Oregon was very um still sort of what we call our pre legalization days, right? So it was very um you know, we was literally selling itself so you didn't need to brand it. And so there was there was not that need to really come in. And so she had this idea of feeling like every time she went into a dispensary or purchased weed or had that experience. She didn't feel seen as a customer and I could really understand that there was sort of a you know, I prefer low dose and feeling very shunned by the you know, who was selling that um feeling like they didn't really kind of understand that experience and how how we like to use cannabis in small doses sort of throughout various periods of our day, like I do with my cup of coffee.

So the idea was to really bring together the functionality of the product but also are really kind of keen and creative and kind of weird brand experience that we've come to build today. Um so that was really the origin right with those drinks in 2016. And then through 2017 we really worked on kind of pulling together some early phases of what the brand be getting the website ready. Um and then in early 2018 we we launched our herbal smoking blends. Um and you know, you were mentioning a little bit about marketing and we can talk a little bit about that, but the blends themselves have been a really important part about how we've been able to grow in scale within the cannabis space without actually having any cannabis in our products, Wow, what a journey, it sounds so amazing. And obviously the landscape, it sounds like has changed so much from 2016 to 2022 when especially in this industry for cannabis, it's gone through a massive kind of growth, a growth phase.

I'd love to talk more about those kind of early days pre launch to talk about what you were doing, especially when it comes to the money piece. Like how much money did you need to put in to get this brand together? Were you kind of, you know, doing this at home? Were you finding a manufacturer to help you What was the kind of like pre launch phase? So Valerie and I really strapped this business from the day one, we were both working full time jobs. So like I said, I was working in new york and she was in here in Oregon and we were just doing this completely as a side hustle. We knew that creating a product was something that would require, you know, investment and um, I mean anything requires a certain amount of investment, but creating our own product in our own brand was sort of a not going to be the thing that we launched with. So what we did is we, while we were doing the side hustles, we launched with an e commerce shop and that e commerce shop was really are sort of our footstep into, into this world, so that actually contained no products of our own, we sold other people's products, you know, we sold types, we sold crystals, we really wanted to create an experience for the cannabis consumer things that they would need and enjoy that really set up into our, you know brand lifestyle, but also was a pretty low entry point in terms of cost uh you know, we found partners that would work with us through low minimums um and really just started to build traction that way um and really being able to just have a website, being able to launch an instagram, start engaging with people and creating some brand awareness that we are a lifestyle brand were for people who like to consume cannabis in smaller doses or maybe you know throughout the day or in the evening, like really with a specific goal, so you know having that really just launched at a place to really congregate around and while we were starting to, you know build some sales from that and starting to kind of build some brand recognition there in the back end, we were working on our product development the whole time.

So we would do, you know product testing in Valerie's house and in fact for our first year and a half we were making all of the herbal blends in Valerie's kitchen. Um we were doing all of the herb prep at her house and you know, all of the, the order fulfillment would actually happen out of my house like um yeah it was, it was a lot, it was a lot of doing a lot of things all at once but with our own houses, Yeah, classic entrepreneurial side hustle, start a story, oh my gosh, I love it, yeah, so just to add to, I mean we, as I said, we were each working side, you know, our full job, their full time job and I got to a point where, you know, I've been able to save some money and that savings account was really important to me as a founder, to be able to have the confidence to start this thing, I'm a pretty like singularly focused person, like, although I can do many things at once um To be an entrepreneur, to be a founder, you need passion and that passion has to be sustainable and so for me, I really needed to be able to like block out the stresses of being able to fully be present in my 9-5 jobs and be able to be just full time barberry to be able to get the company just out there and get the energy and the momentum really going and so I picked a number for a savings account when I think I would need to get to, to be able to feel comfortable quitting my job and so once I hit that number and I came from a, you know, a tech startup space, so I had very supportive bosses that were, you know excited for me to sort of take that entrepreneurial, that's like they had also taken um so you know, I had the full support of my, of my community, um but at that point, you know, I was living in new york and so I quit my job in new york and I moved from new york to my own town of Portland Oregon and was just sort of living in my mom's best friend's basement for six months.

Well we were, well we were really getting, getting this going, but it was it, you know, it took the full support of my, you know, of my partner, of my old employers and Valerie, my co founder, to really be able to take that leap. And I think that that having that supportive community that hadn't been for even one of those sort of three main components, I don't think we would have sort of made it past those first six months. Yeah, well yeah, community, I think is so important when you're going through this journey of like all these hard things, all these things that you're learning to do for the first time, you're trying to figure it out, it's stressful, you've obviously gone through a lot of change, having to move community is so key in that kind of early phase, Well in any phase, I guess of entrepreneurship, but especially in the early beginning, I'd love to talk a little bit about how you were kind of starting to build your community and get the word out there specifically when it came to marketing barbary. So we were actually really, again it was sort of that outreach um which is why I really needed to be focused on the company.

So there was at the time, you know, a lot of new kind of social groups forming around cannabis. Um you know now there's sort of uh kind of like hybrid influencer, content creators publishers. But this one group that we connected with is called High History, they're still around today and they were making um little videos that was kind of like drunk history, but instead of um instead of it being drunk they were high and instead of it being history on different like men stories specifically focused on women's history. So it was hilarious. It was um they're still to this day, one of the funniest people I know and so they were watching their sort of season of their hit or high history episodes And so I connected with them and they were hosting a launch event in New York and um invited us to sort of launch our products are urban, one product at their after party.

Um it was on 420 on 48 on 420 and 2018 and it was in this beautiful penthouse and um a couple of celebrities came which was really cool and we basically did what we still do today which are these herbal split rolling bars. So we had all of our botanicals out, we had a variety of weed that you we would you could choose from, we had a menu that you could choose from and we would hand roll um different, you know, different herbal split, so a mix of our Bataan Michaels would read for different people and that was really our launch event and from that event we were able to, you know, meet with some people, get a lot of great content um and just start networking, I think that was really an important piece for our business in those early years was networking and it takes a lot of energy out of you and I feel like even now post pandemic, my appetite for networking has gone way down.

But back then back then it was vital and really being able to get the word out about our brand and being able to show our faces have a product to be able to talk about being able to give out samples um and you know, when people see our enthusiasm and commitment and um just how we talk about the product, they then become excited about the product and it was really, you know, turning activating them as brand ambassadors for us and so that networking was so important in terms of just getting us meetings, getting us opportunities um and really just kind of putting us out there, that was really how we first started to grow and is that something you, first of all, it sounds amazing. That sounds so cool as an event strategy. Is that something you rolled out on, going to kind of start building momentum, These pre roll bars, Rolling events, Yes, absolutely.

And we still to this day, there are most sort of successful brand activation and we've got one later this month. So people love them. I mean it's a way of really being able, you know, it's like anything, you can smell the product and see the products really hear about it from, from the brand, you know, the benefits that it can provide, so having sort of that an event, but making it really customized to your brand and sort of tactile, that tactile and speaking of it was something that, you know, we have done many different pop ups and many different types of events and are rolling bars almost always one that has the longest line for it. I mean one people love free free rolls or low, you know, pretty good pre roll, sometimes we'll charge for pre roll, but if we're hired for an event we're obviously giving them out for free and it was, it is, I mean people just will wait in line and then be the friendliest.

They're so nice. Like any time we get to chat with consumers too, it's fun for me, you know, we get, I get to meet them and see the excitement and um, sometimes they recognize us and sometimes they're just learning about us for the first time and and every time it's always, it's just a party, it feels like, you know, like when you go to a house party and somebody's rolling joints, it's just like that sounds so cool. So much fun kind of reminds me of when you go to an event and they have the like piercing piercing like ear piercing bars. It's like always the coolest thing and people are really, it's so experiential because it's kind of different and I mean now those piercing like bar things and events are more scene, but especially when it first started, it's like this new exciting thing that people are like, yeah, I will line up for that because it's different and it's not like everything else is just receiving kind of, I don't know, something that you use a beverage that you used to have. So this is 2018, you have that launch event. What else are you doing to kind of like get the word out there?

obviously Highly regulated space. It's 2018 so it's pre this kind of like growth phase that it's been through as in the cannabis industry. What else are you doing? Is it content online? Is it just events like what else are you doing? So there's a few different approaches that we took because we launched with our signature product line, our herbal blends. We always intended for you to smoke them. Um but the botanicals themselves are all organic food grade herbs and they taste really good when you drink them as t. So when you first launched we sort of marketed them as smoke a whole T. And this way I'm just being able to position it as a key sort of helped us post over some of those regulatory concerns that come along with injectables. Um It would have that kind of multifunctional way kind of like if you think about it like a speakeasy right Like there was a grocery store in front and then if you knew the code so you can get the back where all the liquor was for our product on the shelf it looks like tea.

But if you knew the brand and sort of knew where to look you could see like oh I can actually smoke this and oh it's intended to be mixed with weed. And that was really I mean now we actually have our own C. C. T. We sort of from that um use but our product is still to this day we get customers all the time saying that especially our airplane mode product um which is our more relaxing herbal blend that they have a cup of that tea every night before bed to really help them lying down at night. So it is a very functional purpose. And having a product that is functional is you know very important. That is kind of the key um cornerstone of any product is how is it fulfilling a purpose in your customer's life. And so being able to really provide that function is a very important thing for any product from a marketing perspective. As I mentioned, my background is in content marketing and digital strategy. And so we've never been able to really do any paid digital ads like facebook or instagram ads and um, you know, Tiktok has locked us and kicked us off pretty much every video we do.

So we've never been able to really get into Tiktok either, which is pretty easy because huge trying on Tiktok. But as a brand, we're sort of gated from being able to participate in that conversation, which is, you know, a whole other thing, wow, are you able to approach it more as like the founder and not as barbary, but as Meryl, Well, Meryl does not like social media, it's actually like I do it, you know, there's certain things I'm really in there for the means and for my like group DM that I have, and thank God there are people like my comm founder, we have, you know, social media marketer that really runs with it because we've been able to grow our social media account really well. And I have been getting more into instagram and into reels and things as, you know, especially over the last few months. Um, it's been fun, but personally it's a life goal of mine.

So when they not be on any social platforms and just to kind of be back into my yeah, I know it's the dream. Um, but yeah, I mean that's, that's a green approach and I can get definitely something that we spend, you know, talking about on technology, like how can we isn't worth our time, how do we want to get into this and and those types of things, but from us, you know what is actually our most successful traffic driver is searched and so we invest quite heavily in our so we really strategize so every month we we get together and we plan out our next three month content strategy. We talked about what, you know, we're launching any products um when it's gonna be like our theme for that month. Um how are we really going to be supporting this content strategy? And so we look at things like, okay, how are people searching for us? How are they finding us? Are there any impressed pieces out about us that might be helping with certain search factors um and really recreate this strategy around around those keywords and figuring out how to really be um sort of ahead of the terms and ahead of it before they can actually are, you know, over situated.

So we consistently a month over month search is our number one traffic driver and we make sure to really work hard and providing block content pr as well as um social content to release the for that unified theme, whatever that theme is that also I would say just as a small business, um you're gonna have to be really organized and so being able to have three months of content calendar built out ahead of time makes it so much easier for us to operate on operators because we're not only creators, but we're the operators as well. So that organization is vital. Mm I wish I was that organized for you. It sounds like on the search side of things, there's a lot of like organic search, that's super important blog content. Pr that kind of side of things. Does it, are you able to kind of dabble in paid search or is that also kind of an issue in this kind of regulated space?

We dabbled And I would say 98% of our paid search gets shut down, but you know, we've been able to get a few through and it's still to face, you know, we are doing it right now, but it has been successful for us in the past, the paid search term. I say, you know, I have the background to be comfortable and kind of experimenting with different paid marketing platforms. Just working in ad tech. It has sort of primed me to kind of be like, well, we can just figure this out. Um, I'd say for most founders, it might not be an accessible knowledge base, but a lot of times they're easier than you think. Um, there's a lot of like, youtube and different tutorials out there to sort of help, that that process. Um, and it's just, it's whether or not it's kind of worth your time. Um we always like to do a few tests and if we see, you know, if we test something for three months and if it is looking good, then we'll keep investing our time and our resources in it and if it's not, then we move on to something else.

Um but we like to kind of keep those testing windows open so that we're constantly able to kind of figure out, okay, what works and what doesn't, and we're able to stay really objective about it. Mhm. What's an example of something that you've been testing kind of in recent times, besides the Tiktok test that's really shifting the needle, that you're kind of like, oh, we're gonna keep leaning into this in a bigger way. Um Well, it has to be, I would say reel reel have sure been something that we have been really trying to figure out, you know, when we first launched, video was like big into instagram and that was really inaccessible for us. Video creation is expensive, you know, you need a production team and then you make a whole bunch of video content that you try to check up and make last as long as possible and now that seems so archaic, you know, that seems like something that was so long ago with reel that really transformed the ability to create content on the fly and kind of figuring out the type of content that works well for us as the brand, um Which is why I've been having more fun, kind of getting in front of the camera and, and doing different types of reels with my co founder salary.

And so that's been something that has been figuring out. You know, we're like some rails only get a couple 100 views, some rails get north of 10,000 views and we're constantly kind pushing the needle and saying like, and really optimizing, like, okay, what, what is working and what are people liking to see what on the opposite side is that, you know, our email strategy has gone through a lot of ups and downs and where email was once driving, you know, 20 to 30% of our orders. Once the IOS formula or once that IOS um policy changed this year, we noticed a big impact in how our email performance started really performing. And so it's one of those channels where we have seen success in the past, but if it doesn't contain to perform, like, okay, well then do we abandon it completely? What do we do with all of our subscribers? How do we get people re engaged in this platform for me, email has always been my favorite form of, you know, talking to customers.

It's something that my co founder and I write ourselves, we're the ones doing all of the email newsletters. So it's sort of our dream line to our customers and they're fun for us to be able to kind of create. And I think that they have our own unique voice. And so we brought in some other help to brighten some experts to really kind of help us figure out what could be going on there. And um, yeah, to see that channel go because we, like I said, it's like really are direct access. Yeah. Gosh, So many changes. Yeah. Everything is such a, I don't know, it's crazy at the moment, so many changes totally. I think so when you're in the cannabis industry, you know, when you're in the cannabis industry, you're just used to things changing all the time. And so I mean we got an entrepreneur, things are changing all the time. But in the cannabis industry, a state could be like, we're not gonna do smokable anymore, just like that. And then all of a sudden market for us and you just started, we're just resilient.

It's one of those things where, you know, if you get really beat down by any little change or blow or sort of thrown off your center access, then it's gonna be really hard to the mental health in the long run and sort of being able to kind of absorb and react to those blows accordingly has been something that we've been sort of actually, um, fine tuned for, by being in the cannabis industry, my co founder and I have this saying that we, you know, we tell each other all the time that we don't fail until we quit and so when, you know, whenever we take off that that'll be the end, but as long as she and I are still at the core and are still there, I've been, we're still winning and we're still out there and still growing, I love that, still charging forward. When you think about your journey and you look back about the lessons that you've learned, is there anything that you wish you knew before you were starting out that you can pass on to other people who might be interested in starting a business in the cannabis industry.

Um I mean, I would say it was supposed to any industry, um there's a few things that really contributed to our success and I'm the first one is just partnerships. Um you know, we, that the company is a partnership Valerie and I, our partnership and having um having a co founder, that's one of your best friends, I think for some has been really challenging, but for us has always been, I think really the secret to our success, I mean we at the end of the day are always not only, you know, want the best for the business, but we genuinely love and want the best for each other. So it's helpful to have somebody who is kind of looking out for your, looking out for your back, you know, looking out for you um because when you're a founder, you often are putting yourself last and having someone that wants you to not be last is really important in order to keeping things running smoothly.

So um I always recommend partnership and it's not really, you know, I'm not saying it's for everyone, but I've always seen um I compared with people that are doing it on their own and we just seem to be having more fun along the way. Um I think something that I would tell, you know, entrepreneur and Valerie and any new entrepreneurs is perfection kills progress. That's not my words, that Sheryl Sandberg's words, but you know, when you are launching and getting things out there, it is never going to be perfect and you're gonna go through many rounds of different brand designs, you're probably gonna waste money on packaging that never sees the light of day and you just kind of have to learn that that's part of the, and until you really put something out there and see how it goes and be able to have that information to know how to adjust or to react, but if you're constantly, you know, trying to make everything perfect, then you'll never get out of that launch phase um because the majority of things in your business are not supposed to be perfect and your job is to figure out how to how to make it as good as possible for everyone and how to get it meets over the line into into the world um And just the best that you can do which is the best you can do is almost never bourbon, 100% done is better than perfect.

We talk about this a lot on the show and it's something that I feel like even now even knowing that I still struggle with wanting things to be perfect before you know a new launch or whatever it is and it really takes like you have to really craft that skill of being like no let's just like get it out, do it quickly and then iterate as we go. I love that advice. What does the future look like? What do you want to shout about? What can you tell us about that's coming up for you? So we are launching a new product soon. It's a collaborative product with our friends at tula tula herbals, it's X. U. L. A. Herbal there um a queer Latina and black owned CBD brand based out of Mexico city. Um And just like great humans. We love every time we see them at like cannabis events and they just, they just fun to be around like we just enjoy spending time with them and so we're really excited. We're launching our own products baby together specifically for people with wounds, people who have go through different hormonal changes each month.

Um You know it's really um it's we're pumped about it so that comes out in october um, and just this holiday season, I mean, You know, this year has been crazy. Like we some crazy growth in 2020 and 2021 to the point where it was like, Oh my God, like this is amazing. And then 2022, you know, I think it's just been room room when it comes to being a small business and we align the teams that small businesses have felt this year. Um, and I've had to, you know, react accordingly and kind of make those tough business decisions to be able just to get through and keep growing. And so we're looking forward to this holiday season And I think it is, you know, during times of economic struggle for, I think the whole world is really feeling right now. I just cannot stress enough. But shop small shop, small shop bipac own like shop women own um, amazon is convenient but doesn't need it and use small brands.

I think like us are the ones that are making this a really acceptable place for the industry and I think setting the standards are something that's really important for us. So, um, you know, I can't, I can't say enough, but it's not small and I think we're excited to see how the college has been um, really close about the year for us. Absolutely. I agree. I actually just downloaded this um, chrome extension called goodbye spelled G 00. D B U Y. And basically what it does is when you're shopping on the internet and your browsing any website. So like for example if you're browsing your website, it'll pop up saying like this is you select your values so that you can shop values aligned. So if you want to shop like women owned or you want to shop like environmentally friendly or you want to shop by poke, like you select those values. And then when you're on a website, it pops up saying like this is like um you know, women owned and like this is values aligned for you. Or if it's on amazon, if you're an amazon it'll pop up being like, hey, you can buy the similar or exact product like elsewhere at this small business like and here's the website and it gives you suggestions of how to shop elsewhere and it's so so great for people who really want to shop small and you know, shop values aligned.

I love that. Hey, it's dune here. Thanks for listening to this amazing episode of the female startup club podcast. If you're a fan of the show and want even more of the good stuff, I'd recommend checking out female startup club dot com, where you can subscribe to our free newsletter, we send it out weekly covering female founder business news insights and learnings in D. C. And interesting business resources. And if you're a founder building an e commerce brand. you can join our private network of entrepreneurs called hype club at female startup club dot com forward slash hype club. We have guests from the show joining us for intimate. Ask Me Anythings, expert workshops and a group of totally amazing like minded women building the future of DTC brands. As always, please do subscribe, rate and review the show and post your favorite episodes to instagram stories. I am beyond grateful when you do that.

Norby Presents: How to turn CBD spliffs into a thriving business with Barbari's Meryl Montgomery (Part 1)
Norby Presents: How to turn CBD spliffs into a thriving business with Barbari's Meryl Montgomery (Part 1)
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