We recently caught up with Charlie to talk about the strategies, efforts, and patience required to bring a cannabis-specific invention to market. In the following interview, Charlie talks about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship in an industry ancillary to cannabis, how to make responsible decisions in a potentially unstable marketplace, and what it feels like to have delivered a product that you are truly proud of.
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Ganjapreneur: When was the idea of Deathcache first established?
Charlie Heidenreich: I had been tinkering with this pipe and the material since the mid-90’s. It was far from anything special outside material selection. The concept really started to solidify around 2013. We had the pipe around and we would use it from time to time. It came up often that it didn’t get terribly hot and without any metallic flavor contamination. We toyed with the idea of producing pipes, but, considering material hardness, there were challenges in working the material. We also didn’t want to release something that fell into the chasm of 1000’s of cookie cutter products. We wanted something that truly served our needs and solved the problems we had with all the current solutions; Something that we could be proud of, was beautiful and demonstrated true American Craftsmanship. Ideas popped up in our discussions and we built, tested and tweaked the concepts. Then in late 2015 we put all those down on paper and laid out the final Battista design.
Could you explain the design and development process for your first major product, the Battista pipe?
Unlike most our work, this was never something we intended to develop and sell by us, or anyone else. It just evolved casually over almost 20 years. Our core business is helping other companies develop, manufacture and launch their products, so we had a strong foundation to build from. That translated to just a lot of fun tinkering with the target of providing the best experience for our toughest critic and consumer — ourselves.
What material (or materials) specifically is the Battista made from?
The Battista is made from an exotic high carbon alloy. It has uses all over industry and can be classified along side tool steels. The same kind of material a knife maker would keep in his arsenal.
How long did it take to go from your planning stage to the product’s official launch?
We tinkered with the idea seriously since roughly 2013. It was only late in 2015 that we decided to move on it in January, 2016. Outside of some final product development tweaks, we developed our brand, designed packaging and SWAG, wrote our production plan to scale, completed our initial production prototypes and first pilot run, launched our website and launch video in 4 months and 20 days. We’ve had plenty of debates about what the brand stands for, our quality standards and what our product is over the years that when it came time to put it together, it came together really fast.
Can we expect additional premium smoking accessories from Deathcache Pipes in the near future?
Yes. We’re working on four near-term products and one long-term family of products to serve consumers and manufacturers. We’re planning to reveal some of the product ideas in the beginning of 2017, if not the end of 2016.
What was your career before founding Deathcache Pipes?
Good question! I started in the trades as a Tool Maker and evolved into mechanical engineering. Aside from the 20+ years between those two fields, I also went to school for Industrial Design and moonlighted as a design consultant.
How many employees do you have?
What’s an average ‘day at the office’ like for you as President of Deathcache?
My days swing from typical administration activities, and business development, to problem solving manufacturing challenges, brand development and product development. It’s tough to nail a ‘typical’ day. The other arm of our business is contract manufacturing and new product development. Because of this I’m exposed to a wide range of challenges in both engineering and manufacturing, and across many sectors. I also consult for a number of start-up companies developing highly sophisticated products and machines. Frankly, my weeks are dense and finding time for everything can be, at times, impossible but I wouldn’t ask for any other job. We provide a vital set of services for industry in our community and there are few, if any, contract manufacturers with the same eclectic set of skills. There is a lot of demand for my time. This leads to many chaotic days but the benefit from demand is it allows me to be selective and target work that I’m naturally engaged in.
What’s the biggest obstacle so far that you as an entrepreneur in the cannabis space have had to overcome?
Marketing. Marketing in the cannabis industry is difficult to navigate. There isn’t any clear, seemingly independent, benchmark to draw from. We’re targeting the national market and moving international from there. Doing so means developing relationships with seasoned professionals in the industry. Sadly, it isn’t apparent who to call, who has the expertise we need or etc. In our regular business we can talk to a few colleagues and get a lead if we have something challenging to deal with. In this industry it is tough to differentiate between them. Even using the most reputable sites, they are tough to gauge. So, we tried a tactical approach to vetting who we’re going to spend advertising dollars with, along with requiring statistics; including conversions. Depending on how they provide the data, their story around the data and user base helped us determine where we started. We tripped a few times in this regard and made a few, in hindsight, bad decisions. We’re still learning, but the relationships we’ve built have already been critical to our edification and growth.
Are there restrictions on where you can ship the Battista? Which region would you say you serve most regularly?
Today we’re not shipping anywhere outside the US and, on occasion, Canada. We’re shipping all over the U.S. in a surprisingly even distribution, with a small bias in the Midwest thanks to wholesale purchases. Closer to the beginning, or middle, of 2017, we’ll start shipping international, and that’s where we’ll hit some road blocks.
What would you say is most rewarding about working in the cannabis space?
We’re not cutting corners. We’re producing a product that serves many needs, which includes improving the user experience and doing it in a way that we feel good about. So, it’s personally rewarding for all of us. I mean, we developed the Battista for ourselves, which is pretty selfish, and released it for sale as we would want it, exactly. What we’re getting in return in gratitude is enlightening. It’s motivation for us to continue listening and being honest about our labors.
If you had one piece of advice for someone considering getting involved in cannabis, what would it be?
Be patient. Everyone is hyped and treating today like it’s the gold rush. In my opinion, it has yet to come. We still don’t have complete national reform and who knows what will tip the scales there: state pressure or enlightened leadership. So, take your time and decide what it is you love to do, regardless of the industry. Take that and translate it to a service or product you can provide to anyone in the industry food chain. We still need insurance, lawyers, printers, artists, bankers, administrators, truck drivers, assemblers, machinists, mechanics, gardeners, electricians, plumbers and the list goes on. As we drift closer to complete reform, the industry will draw more and more talented people; so focus on your skills so you can head into the industry and stay relevant as it evolves.
Thanks Charlie for sharing your thoughts and experiences! To learn more about Deathcache pipes and their Battista creation, visit the company website at www.deathcache.com.