Meet the cannabis content mogul Matt Gray, the founder, and CEO of Herb.co
Matt has created a cannabis content engine that generates hundreds of pieces of original content a month. Matt’s team creates articles, skits, videos and more.
Matt just finished 4.1 million capital raise for Herb.
Listen in as he shares how he creates viral content and hints and the direction of Cannabis media is heading.
[0:53] – What is Herb.co
[1:48] – Matt talks about his background
[5:25] – Matt’s takeaways from Bit Maker
[7:00] – How has cannabis media evolved since starting Herb.co
[8:20] – Coming up with ideas for Herb.co
[13:56] – Matt talks about helping brands get their message out
[17:52] – Demographics in the cannabis community
[24:49] – Matt talks about his predictions for cannabis media
[27:38] – Matt answers some personal development questions
32.35 – Contact details for Herb.co
Matthew: Hi. I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh new episode where I will take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at www(dot)cannainsider(dot)com. That’s www(dot)cannainsider(dot)com. Now here’s your program.
As the public’s thirst for unique and original cannabis related content grows, entrepreneurs that understand how to attract, educate and influence online visitors are in high demand. I’m excited to talk with Matt Gray, Cofounder and CEO of Herb.co, who will share what online content people are looking for. Matt, welcome to CannaInsider.
Matt: Hey Matt, thanks so much for having me.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Matt: Right now I’m in Toronto, Canada.
Matthew: What is Herb at a high level? Tell us.
Matt: Herb at a high level is a one-stop shop for whatever people need cannabis related. So, whether you’re looking for the perfect strain for your medical condition. You’re looking to find some interesting news on legalization, or you’re looking to find an entertaining video to just enjoy while medicated. When people think cannabis we want them to come to Herb. Over the past three years we’ve built the largest and most engaged cannabis platform in the world, have over 100 million monthly engagements on our content and push over 200 million video views a month. They’re just this destination for people to find whatever they need cannabis related.
Matthew: That is ginormous. Well done. What’s your background? How did you come to start Herb? What were you doing before this, or as Martha Stewart would say, Herb, I don’t’ know if you’ve ever heard her pronounce that, but that’s how she says it.
Matt: I have. Essentially when I was 21 graduated from a university just outside of Toronto here. I had been learning to code while in school, and found it unbelievably beneficial. I was able to finally construct a lot of the ideas that I had in my mind. I met up with a few friends after graduating and traveling off through 14 countries over 4 months, and could see this idea for basically a technology bootcamp where people with no prior coding ability would be able to come through this school, and over the course of a nine week intensive, in-person bootcamp become full stack software engineers and get jobs at tech companies.
So, we did just that. We created that program. It was called Bit Maker. Here in Toronto it was the first technology bootcamp of its kind in Canada. Over the course of three years we trained over 2,000 software developers and got them jobs at tech companies like Shopify, Hootsuite, IBM and more. That company was eventually acquired by General Assembly. Shortly after doing that I’ve always been passionate about cannabis. I’ve been a cannabis consumer since I was 19. I’ve always loved the culture around it. I love the movement that’s going on behind it. I had a bit of an aha moment when a good friend of mine, who’s brother suffers from PTSD from some childhood trauma, I’d seen the medical benefit of cannabis with this individual who is finally able to sleep through night terrors and more. Found an enormous medical benefit, and it really struck me as like, wow, if more and more people had access to this, not just to the education to know that it could help them, this could really change the world and help end a lot of human suffering.
That combined with the fact that as I dove more into cannabis, I became more and more educated as to the social injustice behind and the war on drugs, and the fact that I believe the statistics are something like 1 in 4 African American males are locked up in the states, and 80 percent of those arrested are for cannabis possession, which is fucking ridiculous. So, that really needs to change, and I wanted to be part of that change in the world. This incredible industry that’s the fastest growing industry in the world, and figured that’s the best use of my time over the next ten years.
I can see the idea for Herb, build a team around me of hackers, hustlers, artists and entrepreneurs, and over the past 2 ½ - 3 years now we’ve grown it to be the largest and most engaged cannabis community in the world. I built it totally nomadic. So, started it Denver and built it up more. The whole team was remote, coming from as far places as New Zealand to Denver to LA, SF and more. We had writers all over. We aggressively started getting into video content, producing a lot of different formats. Anything from “How To” to news segments and more. Yeah, I’ve built it to be this massive community of just people that love culture, love cannabis and view Herb as this kind of epicenter of those two things.
Matthew: Any kind of key insights you had when you’re working with all of the software developers and putting them through that intensive? Is there anything you saw, any trends in terms of some developers really seem to do well and they have certain characteristics or others don’t, or some people seem to gravitate to certain coding languages and do well with that? Is there any themes you saw that you recognized?
Matt: If you’re referring to kind of like high level takeaways from that experience and from running that, I think high level, it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s important to have empathy. Whether it’s empathy for consumers or empathy for people on your team, and being able to put yourself in other people’s shoes and see their struggle and see the opportunities. That experience really allowed me to, every day, day in and day out, put myself and my mindset in the mind of a technical individual who’s literally building the technology behind these websites and apps and things that you see.
So, with that empathy, moving forward in my life, I’ve just been able to ensure that whatever business vision that we have and whatever community we want to build, I have the understanding on the backend of what it will take technically to create that vision, which I think is enormously valuable. Secondly, it was just pretty obvious. It’s important to stay up-to-date with the newest technologies and the newest things going on. There’s a lot of exciting stuff happening. Nowadays with Voice being a new platform now, a new interface as well, what does that mean for the world. What does that mean for Cannabis and more? So, I think just like being more technically literate and understanding the shoes of engineers and their perspective is super useful.
Matthew: How have you see cannabis media evolve since you got started?
Matt: I think it’s very similar to a lot of just what you see across the entire industry. I think there’s a coming of age. Cannabis is entering the mainstream more and more and more, year after year, and it’s accelerating. So, whereas maybe four years ago you’re seeing super niche sites that maybe have a certain to them that isn’t as inclusive and friendly, and where the bar of quality of both editorial technology and design would be super low. A lot of that is changing now. There’s more and more people looking for quality information around cannabis, and there’s bigger and bigger companies in the space. People with better attention to detail, better taste for design and more. So, there’s just a general maturing of the industry, and with that you’re getting companies and brands that are really upping the bar and upping the quality of the content, which is great to see, and it only reflects well on everyone.
Matthew: How do you come up with the ideas for content? You have a lot of interesting stuff going on on your site. Is it just brainstorming? How does it work? How do you come up with these ideas to get all these views that you get every month?
Matt: I could probably go on for hours about this, but to give you the short and sweet, Cole’s notes, at the end of the day, we produce nearly 300 pieces of content every month. Even more actually. Where we’re getting all these ideas from, there’s a lot of different sources. We have a community that’s engaged like crazy, hundreds and millions of engagements every single month. So, we see what people are talking about. We also have programs we us to see what people are talking about, and we’re able to understand what content do these people want to see. What do we need to put there? What are our users asking for? So, that’s one way.
Related to that, through the backend of Facebook or Google and more, we can do research and see what are people searching, what are they talking about and create content around those topics that we know are super hot and that people want to learn about. Thirdly are through different tools that we have. So, some cool tools are things like Buzz Sumo, Tubular Labs and more. These are tools that basically allow you to monitor what’s going on online in the world, in a given space on a given keyword and more. So, you can search cannabis and see what’s the most trending topics around cannabis, say in the next hour or day or week or whatever. Through those three main mechanisms, although there’s a lot more we do, you’re able to get a good sense of what’s out there, what are people talking about, what should we be covering as a media platform.
Matthew: Do you just find the green light things that make you laugh or say hey, I see this as trending. If you write about this or do a skit about this, this would be funny to me so go for it, or how does it work?
Matt: Yeah I mean, high level, the most important metric on the social content side is share percentage. So, any content you create we make sure that we ask ourselves why would someone share this. So, what does that mean specifically? There’s certain emotions that you can trigger in humans that cause them to want to share content and make that content contagious. Some of those emotions are awe or laughter or anger and others. So, with any piece of content we’re trying to figure out how can we make this content useful, because people share stuff with practical value. Then secondly, among other things, is how do we make this compelling? Is it going to really inspire people and they’ll want to share it? Is it going to really anger people, and they’re going to want to share it, and more? We’re essentially green-lighting topics based on our perceived value of how shareable they are.
Matthew: Let’s do a quick role play real quick, if this is okay. I’m going to propose, I’m one of your content creators and I have four ideas here. I’m going to throw them passed you and you tell me which one you think would be best. Ready. This could be either an article or a skit. What might be served at a Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart pot heavy brunch? That’s number one. Number two is, Five sneaky ways to find out if a co-worker gets high. Three, Why Elon Musk thinks he is in an artificial reality created by stoners. Then the final, How to abduct an uptight friend, get them high and change their life.
Matt: So, your question is which on is the best one?
Matthew: Which one would you say, okay, none of them are good, or if I were to pick on to create content around, it would be which one?
Matt: Perfect, yes. Here’s my thoughts on that. First and foremost it’s important that you understand your audience. Who are you trying to speak to? There’s a lot of great topics in there. If you’re running a cannabis and entrepreneur magazine, the Elon Musk is probably fire. For our community and what we see do really well, interestingly enough Snoop Dogg is the man. So, people just love Snoop, which I’m sure goes as no surprise to most people. So just based on how much I know the community loves Snoop Dogg, I think that one would do the best. Again, every community is different, every audience is different and it’s important to know who you’re speaking about because some of those topics would do better than the Snoop Dogg one, given a different audience.
Matthew: Right. Craft the message right to the audience. That makes sense. There is something about Snoop Dogg. He breaks all demographics, every single demographic likes him. I don’t know if people can’t really articulate why either. They just know they like him.
Matt: Yeah, I think it’s that he’s an OG. He’s been around for a long time. He’s authentic. He is pretty bold too. He’s a trailblazer and someone that’s not afraid to point the finger at Trump or do other things. I think he’s helped to really define culture in his own way. I think in general people have a lot of respect for him. I have a lot of respect for him. Yes, content on our site, as an example, in general does very well.
Matthew: Now, you work with brands to help them get their message out. Can you tell us how that works?
Matt: Essentially any brand, whether it’s a brand within the cannabis industry or a brand outside the cannabis industry, they’re looking to get in front of engaged people who will talk about their brand, and who will hopefully visit their site, purchase the product or more. So, we essentially at Herb work with brands all across the board. Anything from vaporizer companies to mainstream entertainment companies, apps and more, and help organically insert those brands through a basic product placement into the content that we create. Yeah, we can help brands basically get out there to the most engaged cannabis audience in the world.
Matthew: What kind of budget do they typically need to get the ball rolling in working with you?
Matt: That just really depends on what they’re looking for. We have content that’s much more quick and easier to create, things like articles, which would be on the lower side of things. Then we have full-fledge original series, which we do with a whole crew of 10+ people and it’s a real production. It varies depending on what they’re looking for.
Matthew: Obviously it takes more time and resources, money and everything to do a full skit or a video and editing and everything versus just writing an article. How do you get the confidence to do skit and invest time, money and energy in that versus an article? I mean, how do you this is the right topic for a skit? Is there a sense, like this is the right things to do, or you really just don’t know and you’re just putting it out there?
Matt: The truth of the matter is I’ve been intricately involved in running and building this product that is Herb for the last three or so years. Within that time, I’ve seen 5,000+ pieces of content go out. We’ve run deep analytics on every aspect of these pieces, whether it’s articles, videos and more. We understand all our content on a monthly basis, what core tile it would go into, whether it’s the top 25 percent or bottom 25 percent of performing content. We really have an understanding of what works out there and what doesn’t. Very similar to how you gave me those four topics there, and I could say hey, this is the one that would do best with our community. We do have a really good handle on what topics do well and that informs us in our direction with content.
That said though, on a high level, our approach with content is a 70/30 rule. So 70 percent of what we do we know it’s going to work 100 percent, and it’s a proven formula for whatever that thing is, but 30 percent of the time we’re kind of adding our own new flavor to it, our own vibe to it, or maybe being a bit experimental just to kind of constantly be keeping ahead of the curve into breaking ground into new areas, new genres and more. That’s kind of our approach on a high level.
Matthew: When you’re working with brands to help them get their message out and get exposure, do you offer any kind of assurances in terms of what you can do for them?
Matt: Yeah, we guarantee view counts. We can guarantee that these brands that work with us in the video content get out there to a certain amount of viewers. So, that’s the guarantee that we have.
Matthew: What’s the sweet spot in terms of demographics of visitors that come to Herb?
Matt: So, 82 percent of our audience are millennials, so 18 to 32. It’s about 55 percent male, 45 percent female, but they engage at equal percentages. So, males and females are just as engaged on the platform. Yeah, coming primarily from major cities like LA, Chicago, New York, Houston and more. It’s geared heavily towards college students. So, a lot of people at UCLA, University of Boulder, whoever that are people like football, college sports, like cannabis, working hard on school, doing their thing. That’s kind of where we skew heavily.
Matthew: You’re a pretty young guy yourself. If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?
Matt: I’m 27.
Matthew: Well done, 27, that’s great. You’re a millennial then. You’re right in the sweet spot of your own demographic for your business. When you look at the millennials at a 30,000 view, can you make generalizations about them in terms of anything?
Matt: Oh yeah tons.
Matthew: Okay, tell us some stuff here. I like the juicy stuff.
Matt: I think it’s all we know this stuff. It’s everywhere these days. It’s [19.15 unclear] that’s causing you to do Instagram, Facebook. Off the bat, everyone, it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re competing for people’s attention these days. It’s the scarcest resource. So, people have short attention spans. You don’t have much time with these people. We’re impatient. If you want to get me to watch something, convince me in the first three seconds that I should be watching that. Make every second count. It’s quite the challenge for someone to create content that captivates someone these days. There’s just so much noise. That’s one important thing.
I think the other part to it is being authentic. It’s not cool if you’re going to be super forward about, hey, this is our company, this is our product, this is what we do. No one’s going to care about that. That’s an advertisement and it’s not going to keep someone’s attention. No one’s clicking on display ads. No one’s clicking on prerolls and more. Making sure that when you’re representing a brand to millennials that it’s done in a very authentic way. It’s super important, because they can sniff an ad from a mile away. It’s not going to be as effective. Those are a couple things that come off the top of my head. I could go through a laundry list of more things though.
Matthew: I was listening to the gentleman, Neil [20.56 unclear], who coined that term “millennial”. He’s written a number of books. He’s a really interesting character, and he was going through some details about the millennials and generalizations and so forth. One of the things that he said that is much stronger in the millennial group than boomers, GenX and now the homelanders, who are the generation younger than millennials, is they really have a strong sense of community. That’s important to them to be in a community, a little hive, whether that’s online or in the physical world. They want that sense of community, which I think is interesting, particularly when you’re trying to create content. Will this appeal to this little community or this hive mind out there. Would you say that’s true at all?
Matt: What’s your question in a nutshell?
Matthew: Would you say the community aspect of millennials is an important thing that needs to be highlighted or do you not see that?
Matt: Yeah, I think community is everything. I think that yeah it’s important to everyone. That’s essentially the hardest thing to create. So, if you can around your brand or your platform or whatever it may be create a community, oftentimes it’s like catching lightning in a bottle, and once you have it though it’s extremely magical and really is the value that people find to something. Facebook isn’t cool if you just go to it and there’s zero likes anywhere and zero comments and it’s just you. These platforms, these things, they have network effects. They’re more and more valuable as there’s more and more people on them. So, yeah, I think that’s attractive to anyone.
Matthew: There’s a lot of people that are of all ages listening to the podcast, but there’s people that don’t have any kind of social media presence. They may have a business, but they just don’t even know how to get the word out about their business, even though their business is doing well. I come across these businesses all the time. They have a strong business, but they have no social media presence. They really don’t have a lot of people sharing anything about them online, but they have loyal customers. What would be your suggestion for them?
Matt: It doesn’t matter what you do these days, you are a media company, you are a content company. We live in a day and an age where content is king. It’s everywhere, and it’s the best way to get your brand out there. Get out there to the world what you believe in, what you stand for. People buy why you do something, not what you do. People want to know what you’re all about. So, I think it doesn’t matter what size your business is, whether it’s just you in a garage or a 1,000 person company, I think it’s important you have a regular cadence to getting content of some form out there so that people can find you, people can learn what you’re all about. Through that regular cadence, just chipping away at it, getting a regular routine going. More and more people are going to find out about you, start following you, and you’re going to create a no brained affinity to a big group of people.
Matthew: How do you see the cannabis media evolving over the next three to five years? We talked a little bit about the past, where it’s at now. How do you see it changing, if anything? Is the attention span going to be even shorter where it’s got to be a three second animated GIF, and if they like that, they’ll click on something that’s like a little bit longer, and then if they like that, it’ll expand into something even larger. Do you think it’s going to reverse? People are going to want longer, more engaging topics that they can really sink their teeth into and sit down with for a while. What do you think is going to happen?
Matt: My perspective on this, there’s a lot of sides to it. I think it’s the latter. I think that longer form content and long form video is the new wave. It is where things are headed. Essentially the platform really informs the content to some extent. It’s one large consideration. When you look at YouTube, YouTube’s longer form, informative, useful content. It’s the largest library of video content in the world. That’s that side. You have Facebook that just announced Facebook Watch last week. They’re getting into repeatable, scalable shows, and they announced 50 different partners in that. It’s being rolled out to 1 or 2 of Facebook users in America, so same deal there.
Yes, Facebook has all been about these kind of tasty, social snippets, and that’s where it’s coming from, but Facebook is taking over the world. They’re starting to prefer and promote longer form content. So, if that’s the case, more and more publishers, more and more brands and more are going to be creating that kind of content. So, that’s the direction I see it going, and I think that although attention is very scarce, there’s something to be said for creating long form content where people can really dig into it. They can relax, they can watch it. Although maybe the audience at first isn’t as large as a piece of short form content, you’re going to develop a loyal following around that long form content that’s going to stick through it. Every Thursday that episode comes out, I got to watch it. That’s similar to what you see with Netflix. They dropped House of cards or another long form series or show and people are binge watching that over a weekend. Netflix is an incredible company. So, that’s where I kind of see it going.
Matthew: That’s great. Netflix definitely has something with this binge watching. It’s so much better way of doing it than having to wait for the next episode. It’s so much more preferable, but then at the same time, if you binge watch a whole season, then there’s kind of like a strange withdraw feeling like I want the next season now. I got to go to my Netflix dealer.
Matt: Exactly. I feel the struggle.
Matthew: Let’s pivot to some personal development questions here to let the audience get to know you a little bit better. Is there a book that has had a big impact on your life that you would like to share?
Matt: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of different books out there that have taught me different things and have been pivotal at certain points of my life. When I was a super young age, I think I’ve read it four or five times, like every two years, is a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s a real classic. At the end of the day there were two books that I remember hearing Warrant Buffet had read that said were super instrumental. One was Value Investing and the other one was How to Win Friends and Influence People, so I figured I should read this. Yeah, it’s really common sense stuff, but then again common sense isn’t that common. So, it’s a book that just really goes over everything from smiling to not picking arguments to just basic stuff that I think are just good tenants and a good foundation to have when dealing with people in general, because whether you’re starting a company, which is just a group of people with a common vision or goal, or just dealing with family or friends. It’s all about your EQ, your emotional intelligence and your ability to just be a good person and be someone others want to be around.
Matthew: I really agree with you. I’ve read that book when I was younger. Very powerful. I still remember some of the stuff and try to use some of the principles I learned in there. One of the things that stands out for me is that you’re trying to make small talk with someone, just get to know them, it’s always helpful to ask a question that they want to answer. If you don’t know how to break the ice, you’re trying to get to know somebody, that’s a great way to do it, versus talking about something political, which puts people in a different position kind of on their heels automatically. Great suggestion. That is a good book. How about a tool? Is there a tool that has a big impact on your day-to-day productivity that you’d like to share?
Matt: Sure. From a high level, everyone I think has different principles or values that kind of govern their approach to different things. One big thing that I’m big on is I believe life is a numbers game. Whether it’s your approach to winning in a new business or getting a girlfriend, at the end of the day the more people you talk to, the more you get out there, the better your likelihood. So, as part of business I’m very big on emailing, talking to people, getting outside the building and just getting shit done. One tool that a lot of people don’t use surprisingly enough that I think is absolutely essential is a tool called [30.20 unclear] for Gnome.
To a lot of people this is common sense, but a lot of people don’t know about it. When you send an email to someone you can indicate, if this person doesn’t respond to this email, boomerang it back to my inbox in one week. So, I know that if I’m emailing you Matt about being on your next podcast, as some random example, this is an untrue story, but just a random thing. I’m like okay, if Matt doesn’t get back to me in five days about this certain question I have, come back to my inbox so I can follow up with Matt again. It’s a simple tool, but something that I find incredibly useful at the end of the day. When you’re running a business and you’re dealing with 200 emails a day, or whether you’re just starting a new business and there’s a lot of people you’re trying to corral around a common goal, this is a very simple tool that helps keep you organized and lets you forget about the follow-up and simply this boomerang tool will remind you, hey this person didn’t respond. You should follow up.
Matthew: That’s great. Normally I stop right there with two questions, but I’m going to ask you a third here, because you’re really good at this viral marketing and content creation and you can tell me which option, this is like a multiple choice question, I want you to tell me (A) how you’d answer it, and (B) what do you think the number one answer would be if you posted this on Herb. Here’s the hypothetical question. What would happen if Attorney General Jeff Sessions accidently ate a pot brownie? Would he (A) Go on Twitter and ask Donald Trump to tickle him, (B) Start laughing and literally never stop, or (C) Eat an entire bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and watch reruns of the Dukes of Hazard?
Matt: I think it’s the last one. That one just strikes me, that just sounds right.
Matthew: You think the last one is the one that if you were to post that, that’s what people would select?
Matt: Yeah, and I think the community would be just in line with my thinking as well, yeah. That’s what I think.
Matthew: He knows it right. Boom that’s it.
Matt: That’s the one.
Matthew: Matt in closing we talked about Herb. Throw out your website, and let people know how to find you.
Matt: Our website is www.herb.co. We’re on Facebook as well, just search Herb; on Instagram @herb, and thanks a lot for your time Matt, really appreciate this and yeah, a great opportunity.
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