Interview with Jared Mirsky, CEO & Founder of Wick & Mortar13 mins read
Hello everyone. We are back with a fresh interview and this time we have Jared Mirsky, CEO and Founder of Wick & Mortar (formerly Online Marijuana Design), an award-winning cannabis-focused branding agency which has been featured in over eleven magazines including CNN Money, Geekwire, WeWork, The Dieline, Dope Magazine, NW Leaf Magazine, Cashinbis, Top 40 under 40 in Marijuana Venture Design, Dope Magazine Industry Award Winner for “Best Cannabis Design Firm” and Cannabiz Journal. Jared had inherited the spirit of entrepreneurship from his parents and started his first branding agency, Mirsky Media when he was 19 years old. From then, he never looked back.
Note: The below is an edited version of Jared’s audio interview. If you want to listen to Jared speaking about his journey so far, please email us at email@example.com and we will send you a link. While Jared calls the audio interview little raw and with lots of ifs, buts, you-knows ☺ but I am sure you are going to love it. He has got this amazing voice & accent of the immortal Joker from The Dark Knight which is undoubtedly inspiring when added with such a journey.
Your entrepreneurship career is huge. I know you must have heard this question a lot many times and may hear even more, but I wish it never gets old for you. Now, how the idea of starting your own business came into your mind? Please include if any personal experiences where you saw the need to provide services for the cannabis industry.
The idea of starting my own business is mostly an influential act, by seeing my parents who have been entrepreneurs their whole life. My dad used to own a bunch of Gold Gym’s over in Southern California. When I was younger, I was not able to keep a steady job and always believed that there is always a better way to do something. I started my first agency Mirsky Media when I was 19 years old. When I was close to 3 years running my agency, I started working with Cannabis businesses. That’s when I came across most of my prospects in the nightlife scene, as the nightlife industry was an industry where most of my design services were being utilized. Through those relationships, I had met new medically licensed dispensary owners in Washington State and so on. For me, it happened to be really good timing for starting my agency and finding a niche segment to work for. An old friend of mine had always told me that if you want to have a really solid shot at success, then you need to do something unique or niche. For me, the Cannabis Industry is something which I recognized then as the niche segment.
Wick & Mortar (aka Online Marijuana Design) is in its 8th year. How the initial days of starting this company and what were the basic hurdles you faced, personally and professionally? What changes do you see now? People often give up, so what will be your advice to keep on going.
Yes, obviously. The largest hurdles we have experienced professionally is when new states come online, but sometimes these hurdles are also a positive sign. Regulations or compliances were hurdles earlier and we always found it’s interesting how the new states have adopted these rules and regulations. Other than that, getting paid on time and sticking to client timelines are always ongoing hurdles. I think the biggest hurdle which we faced was building a business in a time when branding was not necessarily something that was much of a consideration. Even 5 or 8 years back, weed was sold itself and none of it needed branding. Convincing a farmer, who knew nothing about designs and had very little business knowledge, about building a brand of their own was a challenge. Again it is less of a hurdle now than it was before. Also, we’ve been around for nearly 10 years and thus we’re a much safer bet so to speak because again it’s hard to quantify branding. Often times it is a lot easier to quantify the value of digital marketing based on the fact that there is analytics and dashboards to track all of those. But we’re branding farms far more different than that.
One of the critical aspects of every company is its leadership team. Please share some details about your team. Would like to know a little brief on how you built your second-level leadership team and what the criteria do you follow are. On top of that – how challenging it is to create the next line of leadership belt.
This is something that we’re constantly striving to develop and re-evaluate. How you build your team is something that should be fairly malleable, where we always look for new ways to essentially be a better leader. For me, it starts by, how we developed our brand attributes and how those brand attributes play a large factor into how we hire and how we present ourselves to the team or the clients. These brand attributes essentially help to determine, not necessarily a hierarchy or the organizational structure of your company but reflect, the company culture. An old friend of mine has mentored me throughout the years with many valuable leadership lessons, which helped me personally and professionally. At the end of the day, I strive to be an actor who is adding value to people’s lives without expecting anything in return. Everything comes around full circle. While of course, I’m mindful of my time. I do the best that I can to try and give everyone as much time as I can.
What was the vision & mission you had when you started Online Marijuana Design? How the mission and vision have evolved throughout all these years? The reason to ask this question is that of different aspects such as customer experiences or preferences, network balance and to achieve success – the mission and vision tend to change. Did you feel anytime that, this is not why I have created this business for?
My initial vision and mission were really just to create a company that serves the Cannabis Industry. It wasn’t something that had existed then and I never thought it was going to evolve to be where it is now. So my mission then was certainly not what it is today. Because the industry changes so frequently and it is growing so fast, it’s honestly hard to pinpoint exactly what your mission will be forever. I think there are just quite frankly so many unique opportunities to leverage with my agency. For example – developing our own brands and licensing those through preprocessors. That’s not something a typical branding agency in the typical traditional industry would be able to do. So again we’re fairly unique in the sense that we have a lot more opportunities, to not only amplify our brand but also generate new revenue streams. We really want to make sure that we exude our brand attributes through the work we do.
Wick & Mortar offers 8-10 services starting from advertising to web design. Which service generates more revenue for your company and why?
Most of the companies we work with are brand new. We offer packages that encompass full identity packaging and then web development. We, of course, do sales collateral and product photography as add-ons, but I would say the services as a whole are certainly more brand identity, packaging and web development focused. So it’s really just those three services and of course, identity encompasses a number of sub-services like a creative brief, logo design, brand directional mood boards, brand strategy stationery and social media artwork.
When you entered the market, you identified the opportunity of building a successful company by addressing the needs of Cannabis industry. Now, there must be zillions of companies who will be working for the same segment of producers & retailers. How is the current competition and how do you tackle it?
You know there are quite a few competitors out there but honestly, I’m not sure that they all operate on the same level as us. I would certainly say that we’re probably one of the most expensive cannabis focused branding agencies out there, but again it’s our credibility, that the amount of work we’ve produced, the experience we have gained and the relationships we have built, which won’t be trumped easily. We have been in the industry for nearly 10 years now and we’re the oldest & longest running cannabis focused branding agency in the world. We’ve got clients all over the world and certainly no shortage of business. We rank really well on Google for most of the keywords we focus on and specifically related to the services we offer. While a majority of our business comes from our website, we get just an absolute ton from LinkedIn as well as through referrals. We know that we are in a good position. That doesn’t mean that we are going to stop moving forward. We will be working towards being continuously progressive. We’re working on augmented reality print ads, to give Cannabis focused magazines something new. Again there is just so much new technology out there. We’re trying to leverage this opportunity and we really hope to bring a lot of that to this industry.
Currently, the technology space is lauded with words like Big Data, IoT and AI (artificial intelligence) and these technologies considered to be adding value to your business. What is your point of view on these technologies and have you adopted to any such technologies to improve your customer experience?
I guess I kind of just answered that in the last question.
We are adopting various different types of new technologies such as doing virtual reality farm tours. But without talking about too many of our upcoming proprietary ideas, the answer is yes- we are working with companies to improve customer experiences by way of implementing new technologies. Again some of the things that were just working around are augmented & virtual reality.
Which route will you advise to our aspiring entrepreneurs to grow– funding or build organically? What are the upsides and downsides you see in both the cases?
It’s hard to say as far as on the funding side, primarily because I self-funded my agency. I was just a freelance designer when I started my first company. Believe it or not, Yelp was what had created so drummed up business for me. I did a good job with clients that I hadn’t known when I ranked number one in all of Seattle. Going forward, it brought a lot of business, which required me to hire people at a time when I knew nothing about business. Developing processes and procedures early on to make us as efficient as possible. On top of that, being transparent about how we engage with our clients certainly ensured their confidence with someone who was new to the industry. So I guess it really just depends on the business whether you want to grow organically or funded. Branding is expensive. So if we’re talking about raising money to fund the branding process, in that case, you may want to. We’re pretty expensive and so are most really good branding agencies out there. It’s the nature of our business.
Staying organized makes your life simpler. How do you keep yourself organized? Any tools you want to refer to our readers.
We’re constantly striving to figure out ways to stay as organized as possible. I mean when we’ve got dilations coming in and just so many different files coming in & out, it’s very easy to get disorganized now. I, of course, have the right people in the right place to ensure that things aren’t being misplaced. Personally, how do my team and I stay organized – I use Asana and Slack. Asana is great for my project management and it also helps with how I just manage my own personal tasks. Slack is a great communication tool to use when going back and forth with a client design, especially with your internal team. The last thing you want to be is inundated with tons of emails when you can simply have that chat or simply have that conversation. Then Gmail (Google Apps) which works really well. We also automate a few of our redundant processes with tools like Zapier, where we automate quote requests received from our website to our salesforce software. By being organized and by developing automation & these procedures, it really helps us take out the guesswork of what you need to do which allows you to do it much faster.
Wick & Mortar is already huge with sustainable years. Apart from Wick & Mortar, if you would have started any other business what it would have been? Or, if you are planning to start a new business, what it would be?
Honestly, this is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done. It’s something that I want to do for the rest of my life, while I start other businesses. Most definitely my interest are in exploring the cannabis industry. Other industries, perhaps, but I’d say because I’m so enveloped in this industry now and have so many amazing relationships it almost seems silly not to stay. I’m already doing consulting for a lot of clients, so that’s something that I’d say is an additional revenue stream. Through this experience I’ve just learned so much not only about myself but about business and knowing what I or my agency is capable of doing.
Starting a venture is easy, but surviving is difficult. Will request a generic answer from you, for all those people who are planning to start something new – on “how to hang in there and make it a success?”
Wow gosh you know I think that’s a really tough question. I think, you know the entrepreneur or person certainly doesn’t want to quit. You know they want to have that drive but I think you also have to make sure that you validate your idea properly. If you’ve got this grand vision and it doesn’t make sense and you keep working towards it, then you’re just going to waste money and time. I mean don’t get me wrong. I’ve FAILED and at a lot of things, but each time I’ve failed I’ve certainly learned something from it. Don’t continue to fail and not learn from your mistakes. So start by building a good brand first and it will become far less hard to sell because you’ve catered to those emotional and rational benefits of your consumers. So make sure you validate the idea. Never be afraid to ask questions. Develop as many relationships as possible. Stay active. Go to conferences. Offer your time to those you know could really use your help.
Jared’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jaredmirsky
Wick & Mortar Website: http://wickandmortar.com/