Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there! My name is Chris Glissman and I am the founder and COO of Meowijuana, a Catnip Company. Meowijuana is a company that sells catnip like, you guessed it, weed; dime bags, pill bottles, jars of buds, and even pre-rolled joints all filled with Catnip. Simply put, its catnip so good, it should be illegal.
We started out in 2015 in a one-car garage with four flagship products that consisted of three different pill bottles filled with loose catnip (Meowi-waui, Kalico Kush, and Purple Passion) and lastly, our signature jar of catnip buds.
Our mission was simply to have fun with the play on words and to create a product that pet lovers would love as much as their pets do. Today we are an emerging global brand and you can find a wide variety of Meowijuana products in thousands of pet retailers, large and small, around the world.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I grew up in a rural farm town in Northeastern Nebraska. My dad was a business owner so I saw that modeled from a young age. Small town life created a stage for a rambunctious boy to come up with all kinds of ideas, couple that with “leadership qualities” or the ability to talk my peers into things and I always had some scheme to make money.
My background has been in technology as long as I can remember. As a kid when everyone else was off for the summer and playing, I would take computers apart and see if I could put them back together. Growing up 40 miles away from the birthplace of Gateway computers I had the good fortune to meet the founders in its inception and I was hooked right there.
The challenge was that I did not enjoy school. Do not get me wrong, I love learning, I just felt I wasn’t learning the right things. People always wanted to pick my brain about my computer skills. In 9th grade I ended up being formally asked to teach my computer class at our high school. By the 10th grade traditional education soured me and I had dropped out all together.
The idea for Meowijuana came to me in March of 2005. I’m sure you can figure out what I was doing at that time but if not, let’s just say it was pretty hazy in my apartment 😊 At the time, I was working as a cable guy and my coworkers and I with the help of our Nextel’s would use Meowijuana as a code word to arrange our safety meetings, err... yeah “safety meetings.”
I went on to start my own wireless internet service provider but the safety meeting remained the same so one day in March of 2005 I claimed the domain name Meowijuana.com. I didn’t really have a plan for it at the time, but it was funny so I went with it. The idea was loosely kicked around that it would be fun to sell catnip under that name but what does a tech guy know about the pet space, or its consumers?
As time went on, with no plan for the domain name, I let it expire. I continued in tech, eventually selling my wireless internet provider, and transitioning into the GPS space, specifically GPS units for golf carts. In 2010 I founded CartTrac, a company providing golf courses in North America with cellular tracking service.
The business was going well but from time to time, I would still visit Meowijuana.com to see whatever became of it. The guy that registered it after me, gave a go at selling catnip however, it was nothing to the level of what you see today. In late 2012 I saw the company he created with my brainchild, was for sale so I had to reach out. We came to an agreement and the domain name and business became mine. Reunited and it feels so good. Despite my lack of formal schooling, and no knowledge of the pet industry we set out to have some fun and see what Meowijuana could be.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When I started working on making this idea a reality, I started doing market research to see what was available in the pet industry although catnip is commonly thought of as cat weed, I couldn't find a company that formally marketed it that way.
The thing that made Meowijuana great, is that catnip looks marijuana. It grows in the form of buds, it flowers in similar colors, and you can grind it in a grinder to look extremely similar. We are certainly not the first to draw the parallel but we are the first to come up with a stellar name that markets the product itself. We wanted to sell catnip like it was weed. Dime bags, Pill bottle, jars of buds. You name it, we wanted to try it.
The next thing to figure out was a supply chain. As catnip is a seasonal plant, we had to find growers that could provide a steady supply of it that would sustain us year-round. Catnip is typically sold in stores in shake form, meaning ground up because it is easier to harvest that way. Our idea to sell it as “buds” to continue to parallel between Meowijuana and marijuana but few suppliers had ever provided it that way. To create relationships with suppliers that could keep us in steady stock of buds was challenging in the beginning.
I reached out to graphic designers to create sticker labels that would go on all of our pill bottles. The original design idea was similar to the Starbucks logo except inside the circle was a cat holding a bong. More on that later, I promise. We ordered pill bottles from veterinary supply companies and airtight jars from a company out of Ohio. We wanted everything to look as close to things you'd see in a marijuana shop as possible.
Lastly, I had a relationship with a patent attorney from my previous businesses so I had him do a patent search and register a trademark for Meowijuana. From there I was ready to finally begin taking this idea and making it a reality.
Describe the process of launching the business.
As the tech guy, I set up a website and we listed our products. (Fun side note, the original website is still available if you’re interested. Visit meowijuanaville.com to see how we’ve evolved. It was meant to be an interactive village for your pets “safety meetings”.
We didn’t really have a launch strategy. Since I had a full-time business, to me, this was something to do for fun on the side. We just began listing our products on the site and I’ll never forget how exciting it was in June of 2016 when we hit our first $1,000 in total revenue.
I self-financed the beginning of Meowijuana on credit cards to the tune of $35K. We had no formal business plan so I knew to apply for a startup loan was out of the question and although the idea was funny I didn't do a Kickstarter because again, this was just a side business for fun in my mind.
My aha moments came at separate times but let me know we had a winner on our hands. The first was when my mom, who is not pro-marijuana legalization but is pro-cat, thought this new venture was a great idea. More importantly, her cat Baxter thought it was a hit.
My second was when I received a cease and desist letter from the legal team at Starbucks. Our little logo had come to their attention and was apparently a big enough splash that they wanted us to know.
As we grew we fulfilled Meowijuana orders from our website in the garage, enlisting the help of neighbors who would sit in the garage with us, trimming the catnip buds by hand and filling pill bottles one at a time. There was even a time my wife and I would trim buds in the garage while watching a movie and called it “date night.”
We were covered in nip but we were together. Over time, we eventually began selling on Amazon.com. The Pet division at Amazon took interest in this upstart company generating new sales in their space and wanted to form a direct relationship with us which we did, and with the support of their team business continued to grow. It grew so much that we leased two more apartment garages and hired our first employee.
Amazon has been a great sales channel for us. It makes up half of our annual online sales. However, to remain profitable you really have to know your numbers in their FBA program.
From our very humble beginnings, we began getting brand recognition, winning awards at local Pet expos so we took the risk financially and began attending National pet shows that exposed us to bigger buyers. To our surprise, we won awards there too which led to exposure on The View as part of Whoopie’s favorite things. As a result of all of these things, we quickly outgrew our 3 garage operation, as well as the next 3 warehouses leased.
We were growing faster than we were able to sustain which led to a strain on the partnerships at that time. Overhead was high, the infrastructure we had wasn't able to keep up with the demand and cash flow was tight. Basically what got us here wasn't going to be able to get us to the next level so we had to make some changes.
My efforts were still split between a growing Meowijuana and my other company CartTrac. The original partnerships were eventually dissolved due to differences in vision and I was left to figure out how to keep this thing afloat. By now I knew it was meant to be more than a side company but I didn’t have the skill or resources to keep the momentum going.
At a pet convention in 2018 I met a fellow native Nebraskan turned Kansas City transplant and shared the story about Meowijuana, and what we were up to. This happenstance connection presented another opportunity as her husband was a pet industry expert who was intrigued by Meowijuana and happened to be between ventures. This was the turning point from a business being run by a tech guy in the pet space to a Pet business being guided by a Pet Industry expert.
Later that year, we met a national pet retailer in efforts to begin a relationship before Christmas. Their original intention was to bring Meowijuana on the next year but they recognized the buzz that was being created and wanted to be a part of riding the wave as it was happening. With the new partnership and business expertise, we were able to hit the 2018 holiday roll out.
With the success of this new retail partnership, 2019 was a year of change and the formation of Meowijuana 2.0. Structural changes, staffing changes, warehouse changes (again), the growing pains were necessary to make us what we are today. We are better able to fulfill our products, keep up with our supply and demand, and bring creative, new innovation to consumers worldwide.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our customer base is fairly broad as the messaging of Meowijuana as well as the need for cat products/catnip that people enjoy giving their pets, resonates with young and old. Our customer base has been a loyal one from the beginning. Perhaps because they are having their own “safety meetings” and they love being able to share this with their pets in a fun and safe manner. There is something powerful about connecting to a community of people over something they love and making it funny.
Just because you can do everything doesn't mean you should. There was a point where I was the owner, the graphics guy, the content creator, the shipping department, and the janitor.
By staying true to the brand, we have sustained that loyalty. We have had to change a few things as our customer base and the brand has grown but the idea for Meowijuana has largely remained the same.
We also made it a priority from the beginning to provide a quality product that our customers love and their cats love to consume. Along with stellar customer service and consistent marketing through social media advertising and email campaigns we see our customers coming back again and again.
Amazon has been a great sales channel for us. It makes up half of our annual online sales. They have a huge audience and it has only helped us. However, to remain profitable you really have to know your numbers in their FBA (fulfilled by Amazon) program. They may offer free shipping to the end consumer but someone has to pay for it and those costs are passed back to the seller.
Our products are offered on Amazon US, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Mexico and we are currently working on Amazon Japan. We do run ads on Amazon but it bears repeating, know your numbers! The ACOS can easily outpace your revenue from sales if you're not prepared, making it unprofitable.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Meowijuana is the cat's meow. We are profitable and continue to innovate and bring great products to the marketplace.
Ninety percent of our sales come from independent brick and mortar stores and National retail chains. The other ten percent comes from online sales through our website, Amazon and Chewy.com.
Currently, we operate out of two warehouses with combined square footage of fifteen thousand square feet and run by a team of 11 people. We used to fill our catnip sprays on our kitchen counter but now we run thousands of bottles at a time through a third party fulfillment center.
The team at Meowijuana is continuously innovating and bringing new products to the pet space. We have grown 100% year over year. We just launched 3 new cat toys including getting blasted: a rocket plush toy, Get a Rise: a balloon plush toy, and Get Rocked: a plush toy of stones on a string.
In addition to this, Meowijuana is now available on Amazon Mexico and are now in the process of opening distribution to local pet stores in Mexico. We are on track to bring distribution to Europe and then on to Japan.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have learned a lot along the way but the most important things are to find partnerships that have like vision and know the industry you're in. If you are constantly disagreeing internally your progress will be slow and impeded. In the same vein, vet your investors. Make sure that everyone is on the same page and you don't just take money from someone simply for the cash infusion. This can be costly in many other ways down the road.
Know your own limitations. Just because you can do everything doesn't mean you should. There was a point where I was the owner, the graphics guy, the content creator, the shipping department, and the janitor. Things work much better now that I have hired the right people and put them in the right jobs so I am free to do the work of an owner.
Plan for the cycles in your business. For us, we had to plan around the growing season in the US and were out of some of our best sellers during the holiday rush one year because the supply chain couldn't be replenished during that time.
As we grew, knowing how to properly handle overhead was a big deal and we got in over our heads quickly. So have your infrastructure nailed down as you go. Don't build a business that your infrastructure can't support. Along those lines, have a plan for sustained growth. We had to negotiate a lease termination because we outgrew a building that we were in less than a year and we had signed a 5-year lease.
However, I believe you have to view mistakes as lessons learned. They're not for nothing. They are costly but think of them as the tuition you paid to take the class and now you know how to do it differently because of that education.
As for luck, We were extremely fortunate to have timing on our side. Coupled with the efforts to legalize marijuana, Meowijuana received brand recognition almost for free at times because it was such a huge issue in the US and people were there for it.
As a business owner, one of my greatest assets is that I know a little about a lot. It has afforded me the understanding I needed in many areas in my business. I don't have to be a specialist, I just have to know what we need and from there I can hire the specialist to do the work for me.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Shopify - Website Sales
- Shipstation – Order fulfillment
- Quickbooks – Keeping tracking of the finances
- Microsoft Suite – Outlook, Word, Excel Proforma Income Statements, Projections, Budgets budgets, Cash Flows
- Google Analytics - Insights into how your website is performing
- FB, Twitter, Instagram- Social media fun and marketing
- Mailchimp – Email marketing and lead capturing
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I am a voracious reader and try to read or at least listen to one book a week.
- Dale Carnegie - How to win friends and influence people
- Robert Kiyosaki - Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and Cashflow quadrant
- Ryan Stewman - Hardcore Closer and <G> code
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My advice to other Entrepreneurs is first and foremost to trust your gut and trust God.
Don't discount yourself if you lack formal education or because people say it can't be done. Life is the best teacher and the right mentors will show up right when you need them.
Also, it's an old saying but tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you where you’ll be in the next 5 years. The people you surround yourself with are so important. It can literally be what causes your business to rise or fail and you have to be willing to consistently tweak who those people are, as you go. Remember its not personal, its business.
I would also tell you to take risks and be ambitious. It can be scary and sometimes things don't work out but it's not a failure, it's just evidence that somebody tried to do something out of the ordinary. Opportunities are all around you just pick a couple and focus on them. The door will open up but only one at a time and you have to go through one to get to the next step.
Don't get distracted - I’ve seen others start good businesses, grow them and when they get some brand awareness they use their platform for other focuses and it ends up diluting the business they started. Have a singular vision and don't lose sight of what you started to go after. I know Meowijuana is still a fun company with fun products because we’ve stayed true to what we started out to do regardless of the things that came our way.
Above all else, don't give up.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are not hiring at the moment, but we do consider applications. Please forward your resume to [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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