Learn how Natasha Irizarry risked it all to ditch the rat race and move to Colorado for her cannabis accessory subscription business StashBox.
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[0:56] – What is Stash Box
[1:12] – Natasha’s background
[11:40] – How big is Stash Box
[12:49] – Natasha talks about transferring her corporate skills to Stash Box
[14:05] – How do you choose who to market to
[16:29] – What are the most popular products
[19:39] – Natasha talks about keep customers engaged and excited about Stash Box
[24:07] – Natasha’s advice on raising capital
[29:34] – Natasha talks about what she would do differently if given the chance
[32:06] – Natasha answers some personal development questions
[36:51] – Contact details for Stash Box
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Today we’re going to hear from an entrepreneur that builds her cannabis related business despite many obstacles and challenges and successfully transferred her skills from the non-cannabis world to the cannabis world. I’m pleased to welcome Natasha Irizarry, Co-founder and CEO of Stash Box to the show today. Natasha, welcome to CannaInsider.
Natasha: Hey Matt. Thanks for having me.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Natasha: Today I’m in Denver.
Matthew: Okay, but that might change at any moment.
Matthew: What is Stash Box? Give us a very high level summary of what Stash Box is.
Natasha: Stash Box is a monthly subscription box that matches cannabis consumers with products and brands that they’ll love.
Matthew: What were you doing before Stash Box and what made you start this company?
Natasha: Man, I guess before Stash Box I don’t know. The last thing I really remember is high school, which is crazy. So, high school happened, and then I had to grow up quick. I had five little sisters. I was the oldest girl. I wanted to rebel. So, around the time I was 22 I got pregnant, had my first kid, and said to myself, can’t be a bartender forever. I was doing some graphic design stuff on the side, and decided to go for a more corporate role in financial services as a designer.
I got to jump into my web design and user experience career, which is what I did before this, at a senior level and I was very fortunate to be able to work my way up through some different financial services companies with some of the best user experience teams in the country. After that, I had a couple more kids. I went and worked at O.K. Cupid in New York City as a product designer around monetization and data. Then my mom got sick. Well, my mom had been sick so I left O.K. Cupid, went back to Charlotte eventually. And all while I was doing that, I was starting this little side hustle with my ex-boyfriend D.J., who’s my co-founder.
That’s how Stash Box was born. We were kind of lonely. We didn’t have very many friends, but we had a lot of knowledge about weed products for some reason, probably because we smoked weed. Then we were just thinking why don’t we use what we know in user experience and design and product development and bring that to the cannabis industry. So, Stash Box was born. In May 2015 we shipped out our first boxes. I moved back to Charlotte in July of that year.
Then the cannabis startup world is the only thing on my mind. I’m following every. I read Steve DeAngelo’s book. I’m reading everyone’s blogs. I completely immerse myself into the cannabis industry. At the time I was a writer on Fivver. So I would spend my time writing $5 articles. It took forever. Keep in mind this is completely (4.08 unclear). It took forever, but what it did is it allowed me to learn about the industry as fast as I could because I was doing all of this cannabis writing for all these ramp companies. Then I applied to Canopy Boulder.
I was hesitant because in the cohort right before me. There was another subscription box, Ganja Boxes. I don’t know if they ever had a box, but they were in the cohort right before me. I was gonna apply. I was gonna apply to that cohort, but I didn’t because I wanted to move home to be closer to my mom and my family. So, I wait, and I’m like, you know what? I’m just going to try to build my company up to be the best that it can be, to make it so that Canopy really can’t say no to me. I want them to want me to be a part of their portfolio because I know that I’m gonna figure this out, so I applied.
I was like, I don’t care if the competitor was in the thing before. I don’t care. I love my competitors. Let’s merge. So, I apply and I’m waiting and I’m waiting and Christmas passes and the cohorts start at the end of February and I’m freaking out. I’m like, oh my god. What the hell’s gonna happen. I’m packing all these boxes. I’m in my apartment packing up all these boxes with D.J. They’re Christmas boxes and D.J. forgets to put the inserts in the box and we had gift wrapped them. So, we had to unwrap them all and rewrap them, which is fine. Lesson learned.
I’m like damn, I really want to focus on building the business part of this. I really hope Canopy gets a hold of me. Then Christmas passes, then New Year’s passes, then I’m like you know what? I’m just gonna email them. So, I started emailing and poking at them and checking the platform for Canopy. I’m checking every hour. Come on you guys, you’re killing me. I have three kids. I have to move my whole life and time’s a ticking. But at the same time I’m working for Allstate leading a redesign. This $8 million project redesign. I’m working full time on top of Stash Box and my kids.
So, we’re in January and it’s like mid-January and I’m hanging out with D.J. one night and my dad calls me and he’s like, hey your mom just died. I’m like, fuck. I’m sorry, can you believe that?
Matthew: That’s okay we’ll leave it on there. It’s real.
Natasha: I’m like oh my god. So it’s [9:30] at night. My dealer had just come by and got me my weed, and I had rolled two joints and I was about to take a bubble because it was a really hard day. I think I had my head shots or something that day and it’s always stressful. That shit’s always stressful. I’m like, oh my god. So, I leave D.J. at our apartment with my kids and I go to my parents’ house and it’s night. It was awful. It’s awful. Just letting you know, it’s two years ago to the day almost. January 12th was her deathaversary, as I call it.
Matthew: I’m sorry to hear that.
Natasha: This is something that has changed me so much and I think for the better. So, I get to my mom’s house, and keep in mind I have all these sisters. I have five little sisters. My mom died of an accidental opioid overdose. It’s a real thing. It’s a real problem. And she also had interim COPD and emphysema, but a couple days before that my grandma had died, her mom, so, it was like a double whammy to our family. I’m basically emotionally crippled. I can’t do anything. I can’t get out of bed. I come from a really close family. Anyone that knows me knows. I brought my whole family into this industry.
My dad is the head of distribution here (8.44 unclear). I bought 14 people to Denver. It was a big thing. So, I’m like, I looked at D.J. and we have got to find out about Canopy. I emailed Canopy a pretty firm email. I was like, D.J. we can’t tell them my mom just died. We can’t tell them. That’s a risk. We cannot tell them. A couple days later we find out that we made it in, and I’m pretty sure I had video. I recorded some videos of this. We got in and I just remember looking at D.J. and being like, I don’t know how I’m going to do this because my mom just died, I’m the oldest girl. I have to move away from my whole family and everything I know to come to Boulder in winter.
We do it. Three weeks, I tell my dad, I’ve got to move to Colorado. I need your help. I tell my children’s fathers, I need your help and all of my extended family, I really need your help. They have all been the best support I’ve ever had. I’m so lucky, because of them I was able to move across the country and go to Canopy and go through Canopy. In Canopy I was working full time. I can’t tell Canopy that I’m working full time for Allstate leading redesign, and I can’t tell Canopy that my mom just died.
Pitch practices for Canopy were on Tuesdays night and my mom died on a Tuesdays night. Every Tuesday I was just fucked. The whole cohort will laugh after they hear this. They would laugh because I’m talking I would in full on dramatic tears, and they had no idea because I didn’t want to risk it. We started getting really close with Mason at Canopy. He was in our cohort with We Grow and we were there all day and all night. We had so much fun. We were building our companies, hustling, being entrepreneurs. It was fantastic. Because of that, you know the Canopy story, you build relationships. You get funding and then you go. Long story short.
Matthew: Let’s get a sense of how big Stash Box is now. How many employees you have, how many customers you serve and things like that.
Natasha: We have five employees now. Six if you count part-time. I’ve actually learned a ton in the last two and a half years, which is because mostly Canopy and my hustle. So, we have five employees at Stash Box. And we have thousands of customers. We are partnering with brands as well as consumers. So, we are now able to take what we’ve learned, data-wise, in our company and we’re able to provide brand solutions based on that data.
Matthew: You mentioned working at O.K. Cupid, which is a dating site right? Okay, you have O.K. Cupid. You’re pretty involved in UX design. How do translate those skills over to Stash Box for optimal effect?
Natasha: It’s all the same. It’s the same in cannabis and Stash Box as it is at O.K. Cupid, as it is at any of the financial services places I worked, the same as AllState. It’s about people. When you think about cannabis consumers, try to think about the demographic of a cannabis consumer. I think that that is becoming a real problem for startups and other businesses in this industry is that if the demographic for cannabis consumers, everybody, then how do we find and penetrate the right target market?
Matthew: That’s a tricky thing. How do you figure out who… do you have an idea who your customers are and then sometimes they’re different than you thought or there’s more than one group and how do you speak to them each individually? How do you go about doing that? How do you go about creating an experience with the box that you feel like delights each of these demographics or the primary demographic?
Natasha: We ask them questions. So, we ask our customers, so our Stash Box subscribers, questions about their lifestyle. Now, depending upon how they answer these questions, they’re matched up with products and brands. So, if we learn that there is a 28 year old woman who consumes daily, and let’s say she’s fairly active on social. We’re gonna send her feminist related products like there’s these vagina rolling papers that are coming out. That would be perfect. We would send her a black bath bomb that has CBD in it. It’s endless the things that we would be able to send her based on this lifestyle data that we get.
Because of how she’s answering these questions, we can go to brands in any industry, not just cannabis, and say, we have this person who would be perfect for your product and she’s active on social. She talks about the substance she gets in her box. She comes back and she rates and reviews. So, because of all this, this is all data, I just know how to take that data and keep applying it to my product because that’s my background. That’s what I did at O.K. Cupid. That’s what I did basically everywhere I worked is analyze data, look for the outliers. Whoa, that’s interesting, that’s an interesting fact. And test it. If it’s a web app, build interfaces. If it’s a retail location, move your store around. There’s a lot of different things that you can do to test based on the data that we have.
Matthew: Is there any products that seem to be consistently popular across the board?
Natasha: We recently changed how our subscribers build their box. Before the box was $30 a month. They paid $30. They got a variety of stuff that we picked for them. Now subscribers can subscribe for as low as $1 per month. They build their box based on different price points of a box. So, they can choose from a few dollar items. Each price set has a mystery item. We’re able to do all these tests. Funny enough the things that are performing the best are hot sauce.
We’re the only people who sell this hot sauce called Pot Sauce. It’s not medicated. It isn’t just delicious. A detox company makes it. I think it’s great. Our subscribers love it. We actually have a subscriber that got pregnant that comes back to buy this from us. She emailed us and she was like, I have to unsubscribe to your box, but… I’m like you know what? Absolutely. Here’s a discount. Yeah, so we’re able to find these things, like a hot sauce. So, what we’re learning, people who smoke weed like to eat and they like to cook. They go hand in hand.
So, we’re able to go back to brands like the Pot Sauce and any food brand and say, we have these people who are really active on the munchies. The (Scrup) Waffle was another big hit. It’s like this little waffle, wafer, sweet treat. It’s so good. I think you can get them at Whole Foods. The brand that we had is Belgium Boys. I know that on some maybe United Flights or something you’ll get a (Scrup) Waffle. Belgium Boys is the brand that we had, and they are so good. They are so good. I am guilty. I probably ate a whole box of them.
Matthew: I got to find these now. Sounds like a good little munchies.
Natasha: The munchies are our popular items.
Matthew: This is an interesting business you’re in. I mean, there’s a lot of businesses or business owners listening they’re like gosh, I wish I had a subscription box. It’s the best business to be in. When it’s going well I’m sure it is, and then other times there’s attrition and you’re losing people and you’re like, gosh how do I keep people engaged and how do I have retention. How do you create that surprise and delight and what are you trying to do to keep retention and keep people engage? That surprise item sounds like a good way to do things. Is there anything else that you do?
Natasha: We kind of theme each box each month. I have a designer on staff. Her name is Jamie. Known her for ten years, plus. She designs each box every month. Every month we sit down and we’re like, how would this feel? How do we want people to feel when they open the Stash Box? We start there. For person, you know, you can’t make everyone happy and we don’t. We don’t make everyone happy. But we eventually do, because if someone were to reach out to use and say, I’m unsatisfied with your product, then we’re going to go through the steps that it takes to figure out… we want to learn how we can make them satisfied with our product. A few times we’ve run into fulfillment issues because we did fulfillment in house. So, to resolve that we’re outsourcing fulfillment and it’s so good.
Matthew: Is there companies that do that? Just pack and ship type… pick, pack and ship. Is that what it’s called?
Natasha: They do fulfillment for Walmart. They were like we’re looking at cannabis companies. And I get a lot of calls like that. We’re looking at cannabis companies and we want to test the waters with yours. Because we’re not a cannabis company. We don’t ship cannabis. We ship ancillary products, accessories, gifts, gift items, munchies. Nothing with cannabis in it. So, we’re like a safe spot for these brands. I’ve read a lot about a few distributors getting raided because of paraphanalia. So, it’s actually kind of comforting that these bigger companies that work with companies like Walmart are willing to work with companies like mine because it kind of broadens my dream for my exit.
Matthew: Where are you in the investing process or the capital raising process? Do you have multiple investors or bootstrap? How does that work?
Natasha: I got our initial investment through Canopy Boulder. So they invested $20,000. And then we went through Canopy Boulder. I met privately an investor who fulfilled our pre-seed round of $150,000. Then that same investor fulfilled our seed round in November of that year with a million dollars. Now we are still using that million dollars to keep our company going. So, I would say that we’re bootstrapping, but it’s not technically bootstrapping.
Matthew: You don’t think you’re bootstrapping.
Matthew: So, you say you had one investor that like what he or she saw and then just continued to invest more. So, that’s a good sign.
Natasha: He’s fantastic. He’s invested in a few more ancillary brands. We were looking at raising a Series A. I’m thinking maybe this time next year. I have a lot of things I need to polish up. The process of grief in my mom has really taken a toll on me as an entrepreneur. I didn’t have the ability to focus. Now time has passed and therapy has passed so the ability to focus is there now so that’s good.
Matthew: Is there any advice entrepreneurs or would be entrepreneurs listening that are saying hey I’d like to raise capital? What kind of questions do investors ask, and how should I be prepared?
Natasha: Investors ask… you can’t really predict it.
Matthew: Yeah, they’re probably all different.
Natasha: There’s a lot of different kinds of investors. There’s the investors that want to know the return. There’s the investors that want to know your financials. There’s the investors that are going to go through every little piece in your history. And then there’s the investors that are going to meet you and say, I can tell just by meeting you that you’re somebody that’s worth investing in, and you’re going to get it done. I think it’s worth waiting for the right investor for you.
I was never comfortable with the financials. I needed to go and get outside help with financials and that’s fine. I know product is not in development like really really well. So, probably just as good as somebody who knows financials though. So, being able to hang on and keep moving forward through the hard parts, because it’s gonna get hard. You’re going to run out of money. Your employees are going to quit. Crazy things are going to happen. Just be ready to expect them because what investors are looking for is someone who can take whatever and make it more. So, just keep taking shitty things that happen to you and make them more.
It takes a lot of discipline. I was reading something the other day. This company did a survey of 1,000 entrepreneurs about what makes them successful. In it, it said that entrepreneurs spend 25 percent of the their time by themselves and that’s a lot of time. I feel like when I first really dove into startup and Canopy and stuff like that the feeling that I felt more than anything, especially without my mom, was loneliness. Many things stem from loneliness, addiction especially, alcoholisms. These things stem from loneliness and as entrepreneurs if we can kind of hack ourselves, that 25 percent of time that we have alone is so precious. It’s our solitude. That’s our 25 percent to make whatever magic we can in our company magic. So, we should take that 25 percent and not feel guilty about spending it on work. I guess that’s what I would have to say. This shit’s hard, it’s hard, but it’s fun. It’s going to be okay if you just stick with it and you stay true to yourself.
Matthew: Yeah, and there’s really no rules. That’s kind of hard for people that are like I need a direction. I need someone to provide me direction. There’s some from a mentor or something like that, but mostly it’s on your own just trying to make things work, finding ways that’s going down path that aren’t well paved and just figuring it out. You have a high McGyver, as I call it, which is just kind of putting it together with duct tape and a fishing line and dental floss and a piece of gum. Let’s try this, now let’s try this, now let’s try this.
Natasha: It’s funny that you say that because it takes a certain kind of person. I think anyone can do it. Honestly I think anybody can do this. But I’m going to have to disagree with you. I think that there are rules and it’s the hardest rules. As an entrepreneur, as somebody especially in the cannabis industry, you have to always do what’s right, and sometimes doing what’s right is the hardest thing in the world. That builds your character. I feel like in the cannabis industry especially, what makes it different from the tech industry that I was in before is that everyone has had to deal with the black market. So, everyone’s had to build these relationships and kind of prove themselves to be a decent human. I just think that if you’re good and you do good and if you fuck up, you own up to it. You just do what’s right then you’ll be fine.
Matthew: Now if you could wave a magic and start your business all over again, what would you do differently and what would you still do the same?
Natasha: I think that I would do fulfillment way sooner. I would outsource it way sooner for sure, hands down. It’s so funny because Mark (Nautally), who’s a partner at Canopy Boulder, he would always just hound me about logistics. He’s one of my mentors. I talk to him weekly. He was like, how are you going to handle this. I’m like, I just am. I was so naïve. He was laughing at me basically. He was like, Natasha, no. So, lesson learned, lesson learned, Mark Nautally and he knows he was right. I would have definitely have done it sooner. The same, I think that I would… there’s so many things that I would do the same, but what do I want to say? I would definitely say that I would have raised the same way.
Matthew: Would you name your company the same? Would you keep it in the same location?
Natasha: Yeah, Denver is cold. It’s freezing outside right now. It’s colder than Charlotte. I really like the industry here in Colorado and I think that Denver’s great. Yeah, I’d keep that stuff the same. I’d keep a lot of it the same. I’ve learned so much so fast. I can’t complain.
Matthew: Natasha, I’d like to ask a couple personal development questions to help listeners get a sense of who you are personally, although you’ve shared quite a bit about who you are personally. So, that’s good to get that color and context around that because a lot of times there’s just this kind of gloss over and then my business was successful. It’s like, what was that blah, blah, blah part and you gave us a lot of color around that and I appreciate that honesty. Is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you’d like to share?
Natasha: I read four books a week. I would say the one that has stuck out to me the most, gosh, I’m going to go with some nonfiction here. Originals is a really good book. Originals is really good.
Matthew: Yes, I’ve heard of that. What did you like about that?
Natasha: It just tells you the no bullshit way of all the things, all the disciplines that you have to have and how other people in history have had those same things and how the feelings that you feel, you’re not alone. So, that’s a really good book. Actually Mason still has that book of mine. Yeah.
Matthew: Mason Levy if you’re listening can you get that book back to Natasha please.
Natasha: He knows. I would say another, and this is a really good way, if you’re like oh my god I have no idea what the hell I’m doing with my company, this is a good way to figure it out. It’s a book called Traction. And old employee of mine told me about this book and it changed who I was as a manager and as a leader in my company because that transition of funding and hiring people, it’s hard to have employees. It’s so hard. This book really helps you. It’s like a no bullshit easy read. It’s good.
Matthew: Is there a tool, web-based or otherwise, that you consider vital to your productivity?
Natasha: I would say my planner and my schedule is vital to my productivity. I would also say that my self care is vital to my productivity. So, if I don’t workout and I don’t write, if I don’t do those things with that, 25 percent of my time is spent alone. If I don’t take that time doing something that keeps my mind completely busy, then I don’t feel like I’m very productive.
Matthew: Is there any tools that you use to kind of digest the data that you’re acquiring about customers or demographics or any tools you use for quick mockups or user interface design and things like that?
Natasha: For the data stuff I use Excel. I’ve been messing with some Google stuff a little more. I’m having some fun with Google Sheets, but if you really want to have some fun, go play with Google Data Studio. It’s super easy. You can sync up your Google Analytics to it and you can just mess with and see what kind of data you can pull out. It’s really fun. Another app I use for data is (35.22 unclear). It’s a lot of manual work still. So, there’s a lot of MySQL commands and some code that goes into it. One the UI/development side, I would say for design I use a mixture of Adobe Creative Suite and an app called Sketch. Sketch is a math-based app that is pretty cheap, and I say it’s for UI based things. So, if you an entrepreneur and you want to do quick mockups, I would get Sketch, if you have a Mac.
And there’s a web-based tool called Invision. That is great for showing off prototypes. So, if you do your mockups in Sketch, you can automatically sync it with Invision and you can create tapable and interactive mockups. So, if you’re building an app and you don’t want to code it but you have some mockups done, you can make it easy to demo that way. So, there’s a few tools.
Matthew: Okay. Well, Natasha as we close, how can listeners learn more about Stash Box and find you online?
Natasha: Well, we’re all over social. Instagram is @getstashbox and our url is www.getstashbox.com. I try to tell people to not forget the get because if they go to www.stashbox.com they’re going to meet Stash Box the band, which I love.
Matthew: Wait a second, I know I know one of their songs. I’m thinking of Matchbox. I ruined it. What does Stash Box the band sing? Any songs we recognize?
Natasha: They’re a small band from Florida. So, no.
Matthew: Well, Natasha thanks so much for coming on the show today and good luck with everything you’re working on in 2018. We wish you the best.