Irish entrepreneur Cormac Sheehan heads up Green Planet, a cannabis-advocacy site in Australia. But, it was in his first marijuana-based business venture he inadvertently created a cannabis-infused gin that sold out in just three days.
Sheehan founded The Cannabis Company along with Dr David Stapleton, a biochemist who was interested in cannabis and the uses it could have as a material.
Speaking at Pause Fest in Melbourne last week, Sheehan said the pair launched the business in November 2017, when hemp foods became legal in Australia.
Initially, they offered simple products: hemp seed oil for both humans and pets, and hemp flour and proteins.
They also made an effort to connect with their customers, chatting over the phone and via email, blogging, and making themselves available to answer any questions related to the products.
“We weren’t just a faceless company,” Sheehan said.
At the same time, Stapleton bought credibility to the brand, he explained.
“It’s one thing when it’s an Irish marketing guy with tattoos on his hands in his 30s, telling you that you should smoke cannabis,” Sheehan said.
“When it’s a biochemist in his 50s, people are more inclined to trust them.”
However, it soon became clear that tech giants and, more importantly, significant marketing platforms Facebook and Google, would not take kindly to their venture.
“You’re not able to use all the marketing shortcuts — ad words or advertising and so on,” he explained.
If you have the word ‘cannabis’ or anything related to it in your material, “you just can’t get a foot in the door”.
So the co-founders were forced to be a bit creative, coming up with new ideas to reach a wider range of consumers.
Gin was having a moment in Australia, Sheehan noted. So, it made sense to start experimenting in the space.
“It was a Trojan horse,” he said.
“People were talking about gin, and cannabis was having this huge moment worldwide. So, we got ready to launch it in time for Christmas,” he recalled.
“The idea was to bring the conversation about cannabis to the Christmas dinner table.”
Everyone loves cannabis
They released the first batch in October, to a market much more receptive than either of the founders had anticipated. They sold their entire stock of 300 bottles within three days.
“It went viral,” he said.
“We couldn’t believe it … I don’t know if it was the timing, I don’t know if it was the way the story was told, but everything came together in a perfect storm moment.”
Suddenly, they were scrabbling together to make a new batch and get it to customers before Christmas.
People started emailing the company, asking whether their bottle would arrive in time. On those emails were signatures, he said.
“It was CEOs, managing directors, executives — people from some of the biggest companies in Australia, as well as government agencies, not-for-profits and corporates.
The user data for the website was also interesting, he said.
People over the age of 50, for example, were converting at a rate of 15%.
“We were able to put the data together with the anecdotal evidence,” he explained.
“Actually, everyone in Australia does love cannabis.”
The founders were obviously on to something. So they started making new products, such as Navy-strength cannabis-infused gin and gin using native botanicals, which did just as well.
Just the be-gin-ning
But, there was more here than The Cannabis Company could provide for. The founders were spending their time “in the churn of the business”, doing the boring, everyday things.
It wasn’t the storytelling, advocacy work they wanted to be doing.
But the insights Sheehan had got about who the consumers were for cannabis-related products got him thinking a little differently. It became a personal mission for him to tell the story of cannabis as a safe material.
That was when he started Green Planet, an organisation dedicated to spreading that word, advocating for the plant as an eco-friendly alternative to plastic, for example.
He encouraged other entrepreneurs to consider the ways cannabis-related or hemp products could be used. There could be another success story just around the corner.
“There’s so much we can do with this plant,” he said.
“If you want to make money off it, you can do that … If you want to help people, you can do that too.”
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