Tyler Browne, Principal of the Cloud Vapor Store, turned a side hustle into a seven-figure e-commerce business of ancillary cannabis goods—focusing on concentrate and herbal vaporizers. The former Marine Corps combat veteran and University of California, Berkeley graduate tells the California Business Journal how he grew his business and where he sees industry in the near future.
Browne found himself in a high-pressure sales job out of college, which he initially enjoyed. But working 15 hours a day burned him out soon. He quit in the hopes of something more stable.
“In my next job, I ended up in a dead-end corporate nine-to-five with a terrible work culture. Speaking to my colleagues to gain career advice demoralized me more. After I learned about my supervisor’s life, I thought, ‘If I am this guy in 20 years, I should jump out the office window today,’” Browne told CBJ.
Besides the fact he did not like being a cogwheel in the corporate world, his first job taught him how to sell. This experience came in handy when he started buying and selling vaporizers on eBay and Craigslist as a side hustle. He arrived at a pivotal moment. “I was making just as much money as in my daytime job. I quit and gave working for myself a shot,” he says.
Browne only planned to sell vaporizers as a temporary job for a few years. He aimed to turn it into a gig that would earn him passive income before moving on to another venture. However, as he became more experienced in running his own business, he learned that no venture generates passive income and what he thought was only going to be a side business started generating some considerable revenue. In E-Commerce an entrepreneur must stay ahead of the game by remaining educated about new product releases and related innovations and dealing with customer service inquiries to ensure client satisfaction.
In the 2010s when he started, selling on online marketplaces was becoming more cumbersome due to policies related to cannabis products changing overnight. He started building his own website before off-the-peg solutions surfaced. Establishing his own online web store was a bumpy road—and expensive. Coders would charge him through the nose and ending up at the top of online search queries was a gamble.
Yet, he remained persistent. “The Marine Corps and UC Berkeley expect you to perform and work hard. These two organizations shaped my work ethic and supported me with an education that helped me succeed still allows me to navigate the corporate world,” Browne says.
How did he become familiar with vaporizers? “I was on the boxing team at UC Berkeley, so switching from bongs to vaporizers sounded a healthier option. I wanted to smoke pot but was conscious about my cardio-vascular endurance, which was affected by combusting cannabis instead of using a vaporizer ,” he adds. As a user, he became familiar with workings of vaporizers and as a knock-off effect with the market, too.
As such devices became cheaper and more accessible, Browne realized his friends and classmates increasingly used them. Ancillary goods gaining popularity in his cohort gave him the idea that the increasing market share of such gadgets may be a good bet for the future.
Today, the market is reaching its plateau. “Oddly enough, the industry has cratered in on itself,” Browne says. These circumstances gave his business a boost. He could remain afloat as a small lean operation while a handful of larger competitors needed to downsize—or went entirely under.
Expanding but fluid industry
Browne’s business is strategically located in California. Despite recent financial and tax difficulties in the state’s marijuana market, pundits expect it to remain the world’s largest cannabis industry. Legal recreational and medical marijuana sales are expected to reach almost USD 6 billion in 2023. Already 23 U.S. states, three territories and D.C. legalized the recreational use of cannabis, and more states are likely to follow.
In the meantime, on the other end of the pond, the European Union is progressing toward an overall laxer relationship with cannabis consumption. Cannabis has been available for recreational use in Dutch coffee shops since 1976, and the tiniest member in the bloc, Malta, legalized self-growth, private recreational use, and limited possession for adults. The European continent may soon start regulating cannabis and growing its marijuana industry.
In the United States, Browne expects the market will expand the whole country. “It is only a matter of time before it is completely legal,” he says. He may be right; business sense votes for developing a regulated cannabis market. This is evidenced by expanding acceptance by political actors. “Now we are seeing politicians, who would be forever opposed, trying to cash in and write rules so they and their buddies can benefit from sales, too,” Browne says. Lobbying works.
Still, even with legalization, marijuana is a high-risk industry. “Over time, Amazon changed their stance, reclassified such products and went after anyone selling these items. They ultimately shut accounts down. eBay, Google Ads, and PayPal have acted similarly. The evolution to complete openness in this regard will be slow,” Browne says.
Even as regulated markets develop, the industry will remain a high-friction one—total regulation may not make it easy to navigate. Making profits will remain challenging.
How is To the Cloud Vapor Store different to competitors to succeed in such a fluid market? It offers newcomers a feeler of the product for easier entry.
“We have a trial period where a customer can use the vaporizer and then return it for a fee if vaporizers just aren’t for them. It is basically like renting,” Browne explains. Furthermore, To the Cloud Vapor Store offers lifetime trade-ins. Clients can swap to a different make or model by returning their device, which eventually gets sanitized, refurbished and resold for a discounted price – used vaporizers provide another advantage for newcomers who want to take a vaporizer on a test ride.
Although almost half a century has passed since Richard Nixon’s strict administration and war on drugs, and cannabis goods are seeping into medical treatments, cutting THC (the psychoactive part of the plant) for CBD (the medicinal component), the stigma still exists. Public perception still spans a broad spectrum from acceptance to rejection.
Additionally, as a maturing industry, regulatory environments are fluid. As a cannabis business, entrepreneurs must be on the lookout for fine print.
“You have to address regulatory changes as they come. Planning for what rule or regulation may roll out next is impossible. This is an ongoing topic that is always on my mind,” Browne says.
Vaporizers, not vape pens
Browne has an advantage in this regard. His business does not sell the plant or its components. He sells ancillary products—items that are used to consume cannabis and a plethora of other herbs and CBD. Under this umbrella, Browne’s niche is vaporizers, which further confuses the layperson.
“Herb & Extract sometimes incorrectly grouped in with e-cigarettes or vape pens. With the growing popularity of fancy and colorful disposable vapes, people rarely recognize how our vaporizers differ. We have had to add adult signatures to nearly all our items, which is costly.”
The vaporizers Browne’s business sells are devices used to vaporize the marijuana plant. They contain no liquids or nicotine. Cannabis enthusiasts can enjoy their smoking without the need to burn the plant or roll it in paper. Many of Browne’s lifetime pot toking clients move to vaporizers from smoking, the traditional method of combustion using a pipe or joints.
What does Browne do in a country where Juul vapes hit the headlines for having been easily accessible to children? “Our approach,” Browne concludes, “is to educate. Generally, when people shop on our website, they already know these are dry herb and extract vaporizers—not in the same category as liquid vapes. As for quality control, we only partner with the leading brands and manufacturers whose vaporizers have quality control certifications from organizations like ROHS or UL.”
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