When Whitney Beatty first got the idea for Apothecarry — a line of high-end custom safe boxes for cannabis connoisseurs — she knew getting her company off the ground wouldn’t be easy.
Beatty was working as the senior vice president of development for Warner Bros. when she began to experience anxiety issues. After learning the condition ran in her family, she visited a doctor who prescribed a number of medications before finally suggesting she might benefit from cannabis. As someone who did not spend her high school and college years toking up, the idea came as a shock.
“Nancy Reagan had told me to say no to drugs, and I believed her,” Beatty laughs. “Eventually, I started using cannabis for anxiety, and as I started getting more involved, I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of stuff in the cannabis space pointed toward me.”
As Beatty saw things, the industry was noticeably lacking in products that targeted demographics like women, mothers, and executives.
“The people I knew who smoked cannabis were all doctors and lawyers. They were all making six figures and they enjoyed cannabis in the same way they enjoyed a great glass of wine, but everything that I was seeing was a lot more tie-dye and Bob Marley.”
For her, it seemed insane that while wine was kept in a fridge, liquor in a bar, and cigars in a humidor, most people were storing their cannabis in shoeboxes under their beds. Her solution was Apothecarry, a product designed to be an attractive but secure storage system for those who value their joints like a fine Merlot.
While finding investors for any startup can be quite the challenge, Beatty says being an African-American woman looking to create a business in the cannabis space was especially tricky.
“At the end of the day, people invest in people who look like themselves,” she says. “As a round, little Black female, I’m not necessarily the standard white male investor. I’m not going to remind them of that, so I need to be able to come and let them understand that I’ve done my homework.”
That homework was extensive.
“I read everything from The Lean Startup to How to Make Friends and Influence People and everything in between, trying to understand this space,” Beatty says. “I’m not ashamed to say that I found the end of Google trying to figure out exactly how to do this.”
The road to success came with plenty of devastating potholes. After Beatty pushed all of her friends and family to support an Indiegogo campaign for Apothecarry, the site decided to brand her product as contraband and pulled the listing.
“I found that so offensive,” she says. “It was like, ‘OK, let me crawl under my bed and die.’ ”
Undeterred, she decided to put 100 of the units for sale, and — much to her delight — the entire inventory was gone in six weeks. During those early days, Beatty says the feedback she received from customers was pivotal, giving her insight into where things could be improved.
“At the end of a day, as an entrepreneur, my job is to be able to listen to what the heck [customers are] saying and to make changes on the fly,” she says. “My job is to iterate, and that’s what I love about being a startup. I can change designs really quickly and fix issues and become a better product. We’re not a huge beast where it takes 500 years to make a change.”
The true turning point came with Canopy, a cannabis-focused business accelerator. The program falls under the auspices of Arcview, which has funded 146 companies and invested $120 million dollars into cannabis entrepreneurs since it launched in 2010. When Beatty first pitched Arcview via a webinar, she received a score of 2.2 out of 5.
“They didn’t understand the offering,” she recalls. “They said I should partner with a safe company. That wasn’t what I was selling.”
In hopes of refining her vision, Beatty applied and was accepted to the San Diego cohort of Canopy. She says the experience of Canopy helped her learn how to talk to investors and have them understand the people she was trying to serve and what they were going to get from her product.
Reinvigorated, she pitched the Arcview investors again, and this time earned a 4.85. She was asked to share her pitch live on stage, where she received the Best Pitch prize and $50,000. Since August, Apothecarry has been shipping units and continues to explore options for expansion.
Beatty radiates joy when she speaks of her company. Aside from her financial success, it’s clear she’s particularly proud to be a minority entrepreneur, proving there’s room for everyone in the industry.
“I’m not unaware of the fact that I’m a Black woman. I think the number was 0.2 percent of all VC money on seed raises has gone to African-American female CEOs. I was like, ‘Oh, look at me. I am climbing a big mountain.’ At the same time, I was like, ‘I’m going to fucking climb this mountain.’ I’m coming for it.”
She hopes many more mountain-climbers who look like her are gearing up to take a shot at the slopes. Her advice to them is simple.
“Sometimes, it’s just hard to get into the room,” she says. “So that’s what I’ve been doing: forcing myself into the room. If you’re not invited, knock the door down.”