to new highs with
to new highs with
In the saturated world of cannabis brands, Houseplant is in a league of its own. Co-founded by Seth Rogen, this cannabis and lifestyle company has set a new bar by offering design-minded products delivered through an elevated customer experience. In this frank and fun conversation, Chief Consumer Officer Melissa Greenberg talks about Houseplant’s core customer (from the curious to the connoisseur), its commitment to social impact, and why it’s unlike any other celebrity-backed brand out there.
Heather: The cannabis market is one of the fastest-growing industries in the US, thanks to an influx of newly operational, legal, state markets and an increase in societal recognition of the plant’s wellness benefits. Taking the industry by storm is Houseplant, the cannabis and lifestyle brand co-founded by actor Seth Rogan. With its high-quality products and stylishly designed home goods, it’s no surprise that the site sold out 24 hours after launching in the US last year.
Today, I am thrilled to be speaking with Houseplant’s chief consumer officer, Melissa Greenberg. An industry disruptor, Melissa was CEO and co-founder of the female-centric cannabis company called Kiki Leaf, which Houseplant acquired in 2019. I’m eager to hear Melissa’s perspectives on being a female leader in the cannabis industry, on the new products and experiences she’s working on and her vision for the future of the Houseplant brand. Welcome, Melissa, so excited to have you.
Melissa: Thank you Heather. So excited to be here.
Heather: So, I didn’t get any samples for today’s recording, but maybe those will come later.
Melissa: Well, you live in New York, Heather. If you come to California, we’ll get you some samples.
Heather: There we go. Diablo wind, pancake ice, pink moon. Talk to me about what these are.
Melissa: They are our famous strains named after weather systems—just like Pineapple Express, the movie—and people just love it in California. So, hopefully, one day we’ll get it to New York.
Heather: Seth Rogan had said, ‘I love weed. I love art. I love design. Houseplant is the combination of these passions.’ Tell me about how this ethos has been built into the Houseplant brand and how you would describe why it’s different from others out there in the market.
Melissa: Sure. For so long, weed has lived under your coffee table, in your sock drawer or hidden someplace else. We don’t think it deserves that. Certainly, Seth doesn’t. And with Houseplant, we wanted to create innovative products that people could proudly display in their homes. We found this void in beautifully designed pieces for people who enjoy cannabis and wanted to create something that people would be proud to showcase very similar to how alcohol-related accessories are often displayed on bar carts or around the house. So, unifying the worlds of house and plant, the brand has really curated cannabis through one-of-a-kind expert insight from Seth and [co-founder] Evan [Goldberg]. That’s perfectly married with well designed, innovative house goods.
Heather: Talk to me about the customer and why they love the brand so much.
Melissa: Well, the Houseplant consumer, not surprisingly, celebrates cannabis and views it as a lifestyle enhancement. And their experience with cannabis really ranges from being a curious customer to a connoisseur. They welcome weed into their homes and are proud to display it. Our products, both on the house side and on the plant side, were created and designed for people who have an appreciation for design and quality and functionality. Whether it’s a beautiful ashtray or a tin of our weed, each piece in our house-goods collection has been carefully thought out and meticulously crafted with the consumer always in mind. And every product has a story behind it and was brought to life through very thoughtful planning and execution by our team. Similarly on the plant side of our business, every strain has been carefully curated and tested by Seth and Evan. So. when consumers buy anything from Houseplant, they know they’re getting top-quality products.
Heather: It sounds super fun. And you have this pretty expansive role—product development, eCommerce, digital marketing, consumer research—and you’re also playing a pretty pivotal role in managing the brand’s corporate social responsibility initiatives. That’s quite a range. Tell me what a day in the life looks like—I’m sure no day is the same—and how all of these areas of focus come together to help the brand.
Melissa: You’re right in saying that no day is the same. One day I’m with our eCommerce team, talking about how to improve the consumer experience on our website; or we’re preparing for a big Gloopy launch, which is a coveted product styled after Seth’s kind of famous Gloopy style of ceramics; or working with partners at organizations like Marijuana Policy Project or the USCC in thinking about how we can help create a more equitable cannabis industry. And then, I’m working with our sales team and talking with our retailers on the dispensary side to figure out how to best represent Houseplant to customers and how to make sure they understand how to use our product and when to use our product. So, my day is never boring—and packed—which is super fun. It all really goes into what the customer experience is, which is what we’re super focused on at Houseplant no matter what function you’re looking at.
Heather: What I love about the brand, as you said, is that it’s this culmination of different passions that Seth has but bringing a new aesthetic to the industry. The packaging, the design, the way in which there’s a curation that exists. Tell me about how you are continuing to innovate, meet demand, and the role of design inherent in the way that you think about the experience.
Melissa: I think you can see our approach to the consumer experience in everything we do on the plant side; for example, our pre-roll joints are hand rolled to mimic the exact joints that Seth rolls for himself. And they come in these really beautiful, bright, airtight tins with little fun Houseplant matches. On the house side, every product that we create comes with a note from Seth and Evan that talks about why the product exists—and it has these fun, operating instructions—and it’s all there to create a very elevated customer experience.
Heather: There are a lot of celebrity-backed brands across industries and, certainly, within the cannabis industry. This is a celebrity cannabis brand worth the hype. How do you see the role that Seth and Evan are playing as different from what you’re seeing in other spaces? How central, really, is he or they to the brand?
Melissa: I feel like I’m hearing about another celebrity getting into the weed business every day. And I think consumers are smart and that we’re living in a time where consumers are using their buying power to support businesses that are authentic and that align with their personal values. And in terms of Houseplant and how we’re different from a celebrity perspective, Seth could have slapped his name on a jar of weed a long time ago. He could have inked a crazy lucrative endorsement deal with any partner in this space; instead, he built a business as a founder and an owner. And he is incredibly involved in the day-to-day decision-making at the company. I think his sensibilities and his authenticity and lifestyle really come through in everything that we say and do, and that resonates with consumers. And I think they respect it.
Heather: Yes, I think that there’s a real soul to the brand. And, certainly, for those of you like me who are big Seth Rogan fans, there is something about wanting to hang out together and enjoy life together. I think the passion that he’s shown for design and pottery, ceramic making, has inspired other people, as well. What’s he like as a leader?
Melissa: You hit the nail on the head when you said passionate. He leads with passion and creativity. He built his career on creating material that is now woven into the fabric of our culture, and the way that he approaches Houseplant is no different. He has an incredible sense of what resonates with his followers, with audiences and consumers. And he’s constantly pushing us to think about our customer experience, making sure that our messaging is clear and that our products are providing something elevated and valuable. He’s a trusted source of truth when it comes to cannabis, and that’s why people come to Houseplant; they know that he knows his weed, and that’s going to come through in everything that we do.
Heather: Are there brands out there that, as you think about building the brand and the persona and the experience that you look to, that you really admire? Or do you feel like you’re in a class of your own as you think about the Houseplant brand?
Melissa: Kind of both. Personally, as a consumer, I look at a lot of brands that I respect. California is a really crowded space, and I think there isn’t a ton of brand equity in the space; but, as a consumer, there is a handful of brands that I love that I think really pay attention to who the customer is. They’re looking at content, they’re looking at creative and they’re looking at their Instagram experience. And they’re really thinking about the brand holistically. But I think, in general, Houseplant is in a league of its own. There are not any national cannabis lifestyle brands that I can think of that approach cannabis in the way that Houseplant does.
Heather: Yes, it is really a unique space. And speaking of the national brand building effort, how do you navigate that when it is state-legislated and isn’t available to everyone in all states? And how do you see that changing over the next few years?
Melissa: Well, our house-goods business allows us to speak to a cannabis-friendly audience on a national scale, which is a big differentiator for us at Houseplant. Within the first three months of operation, we sold a house good to every state in the country. And that really allows us to build trust nationally. So, when Houseplant cannabis does enter a new market, we’ve already established our brand equity so consumers will choose Houseplant over an unknown, untrusted brand on the shelf. We are pretty focused on the California market right now. We want to make sure that we’re delivering a phenomenal consumer experience in our backyard before we tackle a new market, but we are for sure paying attention to the data and the consumer behavior of what’s happening in our house-goods business to help influence how we think about state expansion on the plant side.
Heather: And right now, everything is direct to consumer through the site, or are the products also available in other retail locations or popups or things of that nature?
Melissa: For the most part, our house goods are all direct to consumer on Houseplant.com. We do have a few select retailers in New York and Los Angeles that are starting to carry a couple of our products, but the majority is online. And all of our plant products are in select retailers throughout California.
Heather: Do you feel like this will be the long-term strategy or will be determined based on where you see growth coming from?
Melissa: We’ve been purposefully disciplined and patient with our approach, whether that’s not overextending financially or from a resource perspective. We’ve seen the fallout of the green rush in California, where brands have taken on a ton of capital and tried to scale quickly. We’re trying to lead by example here, and I don’t see us becoming this mass-reach, super-scale type of business anytime soon. We never want to sacrifice quality for scale. So, if it makes sense for us to enter a new market, or if it makes sense from a business perspective to expand on certain skews in the house-goods business, we will; but there has to be a really good business reason to do so.
Heather: I think that’s really smart—and fitting for a weed company to take things kind of slow and steady.
Melissa: Absolutely. We’ve seen a lot of brands come and go in this space over the past few years in watching the California market develop. So, I think slow and steady is definitely going to win the race.
Heather: Yes, there is a sense of thoughtfulness and, as you said, discipline, which I think is a really important philosophy to have. So, you’ve been an entrepreneur; you started your own company, Kiki leaf. Tell me why you wanted to get into the space. You described it as a female-focused cannabis branch, and I’d love to know a bit more there. Then, tell me about the acquisition and how that came to be.
Melissa: Sure, in early 2018, my friend and I went to a dispensary in LA for the first time. I had been a casual cannabis consumer for a long time, but had no idea what product or brand was best for me. We asked the budtender for help, and he pointed us to suppositories and PMS cream.
Heather: Oh, my goodness.
Melissa: Yeah, it was atrocious. In that moment, it just became super clear that this industry needed a lot of help connecting with women. Women are quickly becoming the fastest-growing demographic of cannabis consumers, and there is still a lot to be desired in how the industry speaks to us. I think brands need to take a hard look at how they’re marketing to women and what products they’re creating that cater to women specifically. It’s not that different from BevAlc or beauty or CPG; consumers want choice, and they want to feel seen and represented. That’s true whether you’re in a liquor store or the grocery store or a dispensary. So, there’s a lot of opportunity here. And in terms of the acquisition, we were introduced to the CEO of Houseplant through a mutual friend. We had pitched him a couple of times on investing in Kiki, and he kept saying no—but that didn’t stop us from staying in touch with him and keeping him updated on the business. He became pretty much like an informal advisor or mentor to us. Then, one day, we were in his office showing him the latest demo of the platform, and I think the stars just aligned. I’m a big believer that timing is everything and, at the time, Houseplant was thinking about a California presence. They were already hugely successful in Canada and wanted to focus on understanding the California cannabis consumer. So, my partner and I had been studying the market for a long time—and I think Mikey and the Houseplant team shared our passion for data and consumer behavior and the focus on elevating the customer experience. So, the rest is kind of history. It ultimately resulted in Houseplant acquiring the company, and my partner and I formally joined Houseplant in 2019.
Heather: It’s a great story. And you’ve had a career that certainly has been entrepreneurial, as I’ve said, but very much rooted in the digital and social media space. You worked at brands like Evite, match.com, DailyCandy. SHIFT, Fetch. What did you learn from those experiences? And why do you think brands that are winning in that space are doing well, Houseplant included?
Melissa: It sounds repetitive, but it’s all about the consumer. I think the through line for me, throughout my career, has just been this obsession with how the consumer connects with brands. Whether that’s through a coveted brand like DailyCandy that’s telling you where to shop or where to dine in your city or it’s leveraging technology through a company like SHIFT, which helps brands scale their advertising on Facebook and Twitter. I think the brands that are winning and doing it well are really trying to understand who their consumer is—and they’re using a lot of data points to do it. They’re using technology, they’re using surveys, they’re doing events, they’re looking at their social data. They’re using that information throughout their whole ecosystem, so that data really should be impacting their product development, their go-to-market strategy, their messaging. I think the cannabis industry still has a long way to go. I think the beauty and CPG industries are starting to catch up, and cannabis is going to follow. That’s why I’m so excited about what’s happening at Houseplant and so excited to be a part of an industry that’s really just getting started from a legal perspective, because there’s a lot of opportunity to understand the consumer. There’s the connoisseur and then there’s the curious customer, who maybe had a weird experience in college with cannabis and hasn’t touched it in years. But now, there’s so much more choice and a lot more brands that are trying to figure out who their audience is. And the brands that are going to win are really focused on who their customer is.
Heather: I’m curious as to whether there’s a story or an anecdote that you can provide where, through really digging in and getting beneath the behavior and the desire and the fear, there was a nugget, an insight, that you discovered that ended up making a decision take place or a change or a new product. Is there anything that has been really surprising or was really an “aha” moment as you studied the consumer over the last few years?
Melissa: When we first launched, we thought we were really catering to the connoisseur— given who Seth is and who his following is from a cannabis perspective—and we really focused on, you know, the design of the product and how we show up in retail from a design perspective. But we quickly came to realize, after hearing from our retail partners and hearing directly from consumers, that we really needed to educate everyone, because the customers that were coming in were asking for Houseplant. These were some people that had never smoked weed before, but they were huge fans of Houseplant. They may have purchased an ashtray, or they may just be Seth Rogan fans. They knew that whatever was in that tin was going to be great weed, but they had never smoked it before.
We took that pretty seriously, and we had a lot of education moments. We had Seth and Evan do a lot of Zoom meetings with the budtenders, with the salespeople that are in the dispensaries, to help them understand the value of Houseplant. We have a series of educational videos that talk about dosing and making sure that you understand how much is right for you. We did an event where Seth actually taught a group of people how to roll a joint. So that was a learning that I think was just really unexpected, and it really impacted how we went to market and how we spoke to our customers.
Heather: I think the education piece is so huge. And, as you said, a lot of it is breaking down the barrier that might come from previous experiences that could be decades ago. As you think about so many consumers who might have never tried cannabis or who had an experience years and years and years ago that was just in a completely different time and place, how do you make sure people are exploring in the right way?
Melissa: I wanted to make sure that, when somebody was walking into a dispensary for the first time and they saw Houseplant, they weren’t having a similar experience that I had when I walked into a dispensary for the first time. That’s critical, right? We want somebody to come in and be welcomed and be walked through what Houseplant is, which product is right for them, which strain is right for them. Maybe they would rather have a lower THC product. That might not get you as high but will make you feel good. Maybe you are more of an Indica person than a Sativa. We just wanted to make sure that we were working with very consultative dispensaries to ensure a great experience.
Heather: I’ve seen you quoted saying that you have really done a lot of listening to understand what it is that Houseplant can do to really help educate consumers and that a big part of your role is around corporate social responsibility. Tell me about some of the things that you’re doing and the impact that you’re looking to make in that space.
Melissa: We recognize that the future of cannabis needs to be one that is more diverse and equitable, which is why Houseplant is so committed to ending these racist cannabis laws that, despite legalization in many parts of the country, still exist today. Some of the things that we’re doing to help with that fight is to create programs like our In-House program, which is focused on ensuring that entrepreneurs who were disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs receive a fair and equal chance to succeed. The mentorship allows participants to tap into resources like Houseplant’s network of industry advisors, with the goal of really helping these mentees in developing and marketing and selling their products. We had our pilot program last year, which was really successful. We opened up In-House to the public this year and received over 650 applications. And, you know, we’re really looking forward to building it out further, because there’s a lot of need to support entrepreneurs in the industry.
Heather: That’s fantastic. It’s that idea of lifting the entire industry up and, as you said, those that haven’t gotten the same access perhaps as Houseplant has versus seeing it as competition.
Melissa: Absolutely. Seth and Evan have been celebrated for their cannabis consumption for decades while others, mostly people of color, have been criminalized for it. We recognize the privilege of our founders and the privilege of Houseplant within the greater cannabis industry, so all of our policies and programs that govern our business practices and partnerships really revolve around that social mission of helping to create a more just and equitable cannabis industry. It’s critical.
Heather: It’s part of the whole story of what the brand stands for and its reason for being, and I just love hearing all of the different ways in which that ethos, that authenticity, that commitment is really woven through everything that you do. I’m going to be very excited to see where things go from here. I do want to end with a question that I ask all of my guests, which is: Do you have an icon? Tell me about who your icon is.
Melissa: My icon is my mother. She was an entrepreneur, a philanthropist. She was an author, a jewelry designer. She was a trailblazer in the ’80s and ’90s. She owned a media business in Boston which, at one point, was really one of the largest women-owned businesses in Boston. She taught me that you can be tough and gracious at the same time, and you really don’t need to know all the answers in order to succeed. So, she had a big impact on my life, and I think she’d be very excited and proud of what we’re doing at Houseplant.
Heather: Well, I love that. And I love the idea of tough and gracious. It’s not easy being in the C-suite as a female leader. It sounds like in the industry, in general, and in Houseplant that female leadership is celebrated but not conforming to the notion of what you’re supposed to be; rather, that you can be both and that you can embrace both sides. Kudos to your mom for modeling that.
Heather: Thank you so much, Melissa, for spending time with us. I am just so impressed with everything that you’re doing and that the brand is doing. I’ve got to make my way to California soon and will experience it all firsthand.
Melissa: Yes. Let me know. We’ll take you into one of our retailers and give you the whole experience.
There are not any national cannabis lifestyle brands that I can think of that approach cannabis in the way that Houseplant does.