Interview with Hannah O’Brien, Director of Strategy and Operations at Kikoko
What was your first job in the cannabis industry?
I graduated college in 2012 and moved abroad and taught English abroad for a few years. I didn’t really consume cannabis for a few years because I was in France and Korea. France really only had hashish and you were lucky if you found flower. I bought weed one time in Korea and it was $100 for one gram, which was outrageous, so I didn’t really consume it for almost three years.
When I came back to the States, I moved to San Francisco and I got a job at my first tech startup, Shift. Shift is an online car marketplace that actually just went public last year. That’s where I started to get into data, and I was doing a lot of operational work with data models and trying to improve operations. Being in San Francisco, I immediately started smoking cannabis again. That was in 2015, so that’s when cannabis started to get a lot smarter and really started to open up a lot more. I got really nerdy and into it.
I was high all the time, and I was doing data work, and that was also the first moment where cannabis was helping me instead of just being recreational which was a really awesome moment for me. I knew I loved data and I loved cannabis, so I told myself that I needed to find a data cannabis company and In 2015, there weren’t very many of them. I eventually worked for Confident Cannabis for about three years; I started as an Operations Manager and eventually moved up to Director of Growth Operations. I did all sorts of things; data, marketplace, and worked with a lot of cannabis labs. That was my start in the industry.
How did you land at Kikoko?
When I first moved to San Francisco, there was a flower brand called Flow Kana. I had always loved their messaging, their ethos, outdoor cannabis, and working with farmers. Working at Confident Cannabis, I was exposed to a lot of the folks at Flow Kana, so I always knew them and I always envied them. Working at tech, I wasn’t touching the plant so I knew I needed to “get my hands dirty”, so to speak – I wanted to work with the farmers and more in the supply chain. Flow Kana at that time was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, smaller brands in the state.
I eventually weaseled my way into Flow Kana and had an amazing experience. Kikoko was a brand that they distributed at the time and worked with them on the sales and operations side of things and got to know the team. After building a relationship with the Kikoko team at Flow Kana for about a year and a half, they asked me to come work for them which was really awesome. I feel like I’ve had a really nice trajectory of touching lots of different parts of the cannabis industry so I’ve pretty much seen it from all these different angles, which is really amazing and exciting.
What’s special about working on the Kikoko team?
Kikoko is a very beloved brand, it’s been around in the state for quite some time now. It’s a woman’s company and it has a very different spirit, a very different vibe, and a very different energy. I think it’s one of the brands that really pioneered cannabis wellness as a whole and there’s a lot of those things that I really like to see in a company which gravitates me.
Kikoko has always been a wellness company all about whole plant experience, not just with cannabis, but all the other ingredients and wonderful properties that you could put in a product. Since my start in the industry, everyone I talked to raved about Kikoko; one of the things that everybody would say constantly was that Kikoko was the highest quality, best product that they’ve ever used, and that the dose promised was the dose felt. So all of those things make it a really great and unique place to work.
Are Kikoko’s products designed for women specifically?
Yes, and originally the brand was created for middle aged women that are new to cannabis. That was definitely the inception of the brand, having high quality approachable products for people. Kikoko began with two women founders and was founded because one of their best friends had cancer and they developed a lot of these products for her. There’s a lot of properties in the products that we market towards women. For example, our Tranquili-tea helps you to sleep, but we also market it for for women who are going through menopause. We also have CBD tinctures that are really great for menstrual pain. You have to target your demographic and you need to know who your customer is, but that doesn’t mean that a Kikoko product can’t be for everybody.
Yes, we started off for women, and I would say about 40% of our customers are women but we have a new sublime that’s definitely supposed to be for everybody; We’re trying to move into this place where we’re not really leaving anybody out of the conversation. All of our products are approachable, microdosable, buildable – really an anytime of day kind of thing. That’s the other thing that I love about this brand, is that it destigmatizes cannabis. I love the idea of cannabis wellness throughout the day. It’s important to do the little things that you feel you need to in order to keep yourself going. That’s for everybody, not just for women.
What’s the story behind Wild Womxn?
Wild Womxn is here! If you don’t know, it’s our first new mini pre-roll brand that we just launched. It’s our first inhalable which is very exciting. Kikoko has been edibles forever and is an amazing brand, so why not take that really beloved brand with our other really beloved products and make a kick ass pre-roll? The pre-roll market is very large; it’s maybe the second or the third largest category in California and with all of the saturation and competition out there, even the pre-roll market slightly grew recently, so that’s a good sign. We decided to come up with the pre-roll because we wanted to do something that was women focused, so we created this concept of Wild Womxn which is working with any women grower indoor or outdoor greenhouses. We’re doing this to lift these women up and draw awareness to these amazing women growers and make a stance.
These women have been around for a long time and it just gets increasingly harder for them to sustain their businesses, especially for small growers. This was our chance to stick together and put out a kick ass product. We all need to do our part, everybody needs to make money, and I know people are getting gouged everywhere, especially all up and down the supply chain. California is a really tough place to be profitable and to survive in the industry.
What did you learn in the process of planning for the Wild Womxn launch that you didn’t Expect?
Many things! Jen, our Head of Innovation, has done a really amazing job guiding everyone with the process. She’s the one that’s gone out and really brokered these beautiful relationships with the farmers. I feel like she was born in the cannabis industry; she’s worked everywhere, she knows everybody, she always thinks ahead, and she really knows the cannabis market. It makes my job a lot easier knowing that my innovation team already knows what’s going to sell. Things like picking strains and picking batch sizes are unknown to us because we’ve never sold this type of product. I’ve been learning all sorts of the little things it takes to make our new product successful.
How do you balance collaboration and competition in cannabis business?
I believe a lot of people have unique ideas when it comes to putting products out there. I know that our market is very saturated and there’s reasons for that – I know it has a lot to do with licensing issues, types of businesses, and how expensive it is. Kikoko definitely believes in transparency; we work with everybody, we’re not shy, we’re telling you what’s working, we’re telling you what’s not working. If I meet an industry colleague, I am always getting my thinking cap on, I want to swap horror stories with that person, I want to know what’s working for them. I always believe that that sentiment and energy is really important. There is space for everybody and the smarter you are about working with other people, you can create that space together. The more limited and protective you are, you’re not going to set yourself up to win – you’re going to leave people out of the conversation for lifting up this entire industry. That is always a sad thing to see, because it’s greed and it’s ego. I’ve seen too many booms and busts in my day to know that that kind of thinking and mentality is actually not the recipe for success.
We’re seeing a lot of consolidation in the California market at all levels, do you view that as a good or bad sign about where this industry is headed?
Both. Some of the good things are you’re going to consolidate and you’re going to have verticalization and that will help streamline things and bring some sophistication to the market. It’s going to become even more corporate, so that kind of behavior will keep bringing the cannabis industry to a more corporate level, which, from a business perspective, will help and bring more revenue and bring more tax revenue. There might be some financial wins when that happens. The flip side is, not every business can do it all.
Let’s take Kikoko, for example, we have a distribution license but it would be a business catastrophe if one day Kikoko decided to self-distribute, that’s just not what we do. We don’t have the infrastructure, we don’t have any of the resources to think that way, and even if we did, that’s not where the money would go. People make business decisions based on if they think they can grow, cultivate, manufacture, distribute, and have a retail license. Some businesses may think they can do it all, but that’s where you’re going to see a lot of implosion happening. I think to be successful in the supply chain, you need to look at other industries. You need to recognize your strengths, try to stay focused, and try not to get distracted by the shiny objects, because in cannabis and in any new industry, there’s a million shiny objects. That’s definitely one of the most important things that I’ve learned working for these three different successful companies – Instead of trying to do it all, they stick to the things that they’re doing really well.
If you were a budtender for a day, what would you stress to that day’s customers?
I always stress that it’s a process. Especially if you’re new to cannabis or new to a product, you might need to try it a couple times; you might need to try it at different times of the day, on different amounts of food that you’ve eaten, in different mental states. I think all of those factors are really important to convey to any buyer because everybody is so unique and different. I think it’s also important to show a little humility, because as a budtender, you’re not a doctor – you might be very knowledgeable on the products, but you don’t know everything about this person.
You have to figure out what is the best product for them so it’s important to do some discovery with them. It’s also important to convey that it’s a “try and see” and not everything works for everybody. It’s great if you have a little bit more of an educated consumer because then you can break down the cannabinoids and percentages and all of the properties in the product. I’m not just informing the consumer about the cannabis, I’m also informing them about everything that’s in the product. Just like you would buy anything else at the store, it’s essential to look at all of the ingredients and ask about it.
What are you up to after indulging in some weed?
It depends on the day that I’ve had. If it’s been a rough day and I’m tired, I will reach for a Kikoko X tab 50 milligrams and that will set me straight… into the couch. I will be very chill and happy, I would say that’s probably the best. I’m one of those people that loves to get high before I clean, exercise and before I go on hikes. I really do consume a lot of cannabis so there’s really nothing I’m not doing, while I am consuming cannabis. I basically just indulge in life.
Kikoko is a women-owned, women-led cannabis botanical wellness
company that was founded in 2015 for a friend with cancer. They sell
infused herbal teas, botanical mints, tinctures, infused manuka honey, Xtabs, and mini pre-rolls.