How To Pivot In Times Of Need - Q&A With Seibo Shen
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When we first spoke to Seibo Shen of Hanulabs this past February, much has changed in the world, we have been Sheltering in Place and George Floyd’s murder has pushed Black Lives Matter to the forefront for massive national and global change. We went back to see what has changed in the last 6 months.
How has that affected your mindset on approaching work in the cannabis industry? Have you made marketing pivots to reflect inclusivity and the change in consumer sales?
Seibo Shen: It has changed us quite a bit, a lot of what we did effectively was going out and interacting with the community so that they could experience what we were really about as an organization. Not being able to interact and interface with people made us focus more on digital and guerilla marketing in order to get the word out on what we are doing. We never had a huge marketing budget to begin with so not much has changed as far as what we put out there but it did validate many of the things that we have been doing, pushing for more transparency, pushing for more inclusiveness, and pushing ideas for equal opportunity for everyone.
I think we have come to a point in our society where we value people based on their economic contribution to society, but when the economy has to be shut down, where do we derive our value from? We never felt that someone should be judged on their economic contribution but judged by their character and how they treat others. I am glad that we have slowed down as a society to really start asking ourselves what is really important to us and how we can make and affect positive change.
How has BRNR LAB helped the community?
The community aspect of cannabis seems to be a distant memory so before we launched this new brand, we wanted to give back to the community first. We handed out 1000 meals to the essential workers at the dispensaries that made sure we would still have access to this sacred plant. We also handed out free meals to the Village which helps out the homeless in Oakland by providing them with hotel rooms, a shower, food, someone to listen to them, basically whatever is needed to help minimize the suffering that the homeless community has been going through. They have been hit especially hard with COVID and many don't have access to medicine or food. I wish we could have done even more but I am happy that our contribution did help the Village and all the homeless people that they are helping. In many ways, this program was the thing that I enjoyed the most over the last few years. It definitely feels really good to be able to give back and to see how a simple meal can change a person's day.
If you could predict the future of marketing in cannabis for 2021, what do you think we will carry over from 2020? Do you see the need for conferences and how do you think we will interact from a business standpoint? (Will it be in person, in smaller venues, or remote? And if it is remote, how do you think our sales skills change?)
I'm not a virus expert but based on the numbers that I see coming out of Johns Hopkins, it looks like we could be doing some form of SIP for the next 12-24 months. I just received an email from my daughter's school that they will be doing distance learning and maybe come to school once or twice a week to work on social skills. I think we will be focusing a lot more on digital marketing, putting out more content on our social channels, and interacting with our customers through platforms like Zoom. In many ways, I think this gives our customers more access to us but that doesn't mean I don't miss going out, throwing a huge party, and interacting with all of our customers face to face.
We have a B2B side of our business and now that travel has been minimized, we found that we can still do the same deals without getting on an airplane and that is something I am grateful for. I think we will continue to move towards a more digital world where connections are made over video conferencing and we will remember 2020 as the beginning of that.
We will continue to see the industry evolve and gain more mainstream acceptance. Unfortunately, I don't see the products becoming more unique but I do think that we will get better at making the products that are currently popular today. Edibles have always been difficult to titrate and with more drinks and nano infused products coming to the market, I think it will make it far easier to dose for those that enjoy edibles.
I hope to see the return of smaller brands that made products that might not be mainstream success stories but have a rabid local following like Kush Nuts, Oakland Extracts, and Hepburns. In my ideal future, we would see a handful of major players that have national businesses but I would also like to see a lot more of the artisanal brands that we used to have pre Prop 64.
How did you enter the cannabis industry?
Back in 1997, I bought my first vaporizer right after I began consuming cannabis. While I liked the way it made me feel and how it opened up my mind, I did not like that we had to roll joints, blunts, or smoke out of a stinky pipe or bong. Shortly after, I bought my first vaporizer and while it was better than smoking, the user experience left much to be desired. It got me high but it wasn't intuitive to use, the taste was horrible, and never seemed to be as strong as smoking. From 1997 to 2012, I had accumulated over 100 vaporizers and just couldn't find one that met my own needs and began to get increasingly frustrated as I bought the latest model after the latest model only to be disappointed by what came in the mail. After all of these disappointments, I decided to try and design my own and we ended up winning the High Times Cannabis Cup in 2013 and the rest is history.
Did you do research into cannabis before entering?
There wasn't a lot of what many could call "real research" when I first got started so I used myself as a guinea pig. Most of the articles that I researched online just stunk of bro science and in my quest to find the truth, I began to experiment using my own body. The 100+ vaporizers that I bought gave me a framework of what to do, and more importantly, what not to do. Social media also began to gain a lot of traction around this time so I began to use the wisdom of crowds and began throwing out questions into the universe of the internet to better understand the science and physics involved for vaporization.
The amount of great advice and information I received was invaluable and the reason why we were able to design a vaporizer that launched in 2014 that still wins awards in 2020. This collaboration with the digital cannabis community really motivated me to create something that was far beyond the status quo because of all the support I felt from people that I never met in real life.
What is the most frequent question you are asked about cannabis?
People used to ask me for from cannabis and free vaporizers all the time in the earlier days. Now, I get a lot of questions on how to incorporate cannabis with a healthier lifestyle. Jim Mcalpine and I had been talking about how much more enjoyable training and competing is while using cannabis and at first, we were ridiculed for this belief system until more and more professional athletes began saying the same. While cannabis is great for medical patients to improve the quality of their life while they are recovering, I believe that if you are healthy, you can also use cannabis to further optimize your life.
Why do you think some Asians are against cannabis?
It is purely an educational issue why Asians, or anyone for that matter, would be against cannabis. There had been decades of misinformation being thrown out there to deter those that haven't tried cannabis or to make those that enjoy cannabis feel guilty about their use. Educating a group of people on a topic that isn't top of mind for them is a tough and arduous task but as more and more people begin focusing on mental health and the lack of viable solutions that are currently available, we will see Asians become more open to using cannabis and other plant medicines as alternatives to prescription drugs.