Miss Grass: Side Hustle Turned Booming Cannabis Business

Photo: Courtesy of Miss Grass
Picture someone smoking weed. If the image that popped into your head involves some gendered combination of hotboxed basements, Cool Ranch Doritos, or ill-fitting sweats, then you just earned a front-row seat to The Limited Perception of People Who Get High Show — an outdated stereotype Miss Grass is actively working to dissolve. After 30 minutes spent talking with Kate Miller, co-founder and CEO behind the Cali-based e-commerce shop for all things cannabis and CBD, we saw an entirely different image of the weed industry and its need for diversification. While marijuana regulation in the United States has slowly made moves towards recreational legalization and decriminalization, the landscape is, by and large, still considered to be a boy's club that caters to a very limited consumer base — and still bears the weight of a whole lot of stigma.
In this installment of Talking Shop, Miller spoke to Refinery29 about how the conscious consumption of cannabis plays a role in living her best life. She also shares how she took Miss Grass from a Squarespace side hustle to one of the leading online platforms for the canna-curious.

Everyone I knew in my life, including myself, smoked a lot of weed and was extremely productive.

Kate Miller, Miss grass Co-Founder & CEO
Refinery29: Walk us through the process of launching Miss Grass — what was your personal connection to the cannabis space?
I've always had side hustles. I always had a million things going on — I launched an experiential marketing company way back in the day, and through college, I was a budtender at a dispensary in downtown Los Angeles. I learned how to roll a cross-blunt at work, which, if you're not familiar, is literally two blunts that are rolled together. One day in 2008, I went home and bought missgrass.com on GoDaddy. After I graduated college, I worked in entertainment for over a decade, previous to [founding] Miss Grass. All the while, I had missgrass.com up as a Squarespace site."
Photo: Zen Sekizawa for Miss Grass
Where did the name "Miss Grass" come from?
Honestly, when I was working as a budtender in 2007, the brands that existed in the cannabis industry looked very different than they do now. There was no brand that resonated with me — nor my friends — who were consciously consuming this plant. Everything at the dispensary had giant weed leaves on them and really leaned into that stoner-bro stigma that we know so well. We see it in all the movies and all of that. I was just like, this industry is going to evolve, and there will be more brands that enter the space that represent a different type of consumer. There was the consumer portrayed in film that sits on his couch, smoking blunt after blunt, and is super lazy; Meanwhile, everyone I knew in my life, including myself, smoked a lot of weed and was extremely productive. I was juggling a wellness routine, a social calendar, a full-time job, and was super successful.
So that's where the name came from. It was obviously a nod to "grass," which is cannabis, and then the "Miss" is a nod to one, the female plant — Cannabis is a female plant, and they actually separate the male plants early on so that they don't pollinate the female — and it's also a nod to the fact that we definitely cater to a female consumer.
Did you have a business background?
Miss Grass is my first true entrepreneurial endeavor. I studied business in undergrad, and my focus was entrepreneurship and business management. But in all honesty, I feel like [professional] experience is what really teaches you tangible skills. You learn by doing. There's only so much you can learn in the classroom. I think that there are different industries and career paths that do require textbook learning. But at least for me, I think that the more of the skills — the hustle, the negotiation skills, and fostering that creativity to think about structuring deals and partnerships — all of that came from just throwing myself in it and figuring it out.

Small businesses have an incredible opportunity to really shift the narrative on a lot of the capitalistic culture.

What do small businesses or female-founded businesses mean to you on a personal level?
I think that being a small business carries a lot of weight to it. On one hand, you're a small business: You have to scream really loud to have your voice heard. But on the other hand, I think being a small business carries such an incredible opportunity with it. Unlike massive businesses and corporations that have been around for decades, we're changing things up on the daily, and we're doing things differently than if we were much larger, we wouldn't be as flexible. So I actually think that small businesses have an incredible opportunity to really shift the narrative on a lot of the capitalistic culture. I think that's going to be changed from the success of a lot of these small businesses that exist today.
Photo: Zen Sekizawa for Miss Grass
What was the process of scaling your business?
That was so new to me. When I was still working in entertainment, I started looking into the cannabis space. Like I said, I had Miss Grass as this side hustle I was doing, and the [cannabis] regulations were changing in a lot of states, including California, which had just voted for recreational cannabis. It wasn't implemented yet, but it was voted on. I just felt like it was the time more than ever — I got opportunities at the time because I had the side hustle. Whenever I was around anyone talking about cannabis, I was always part of that conversation. One, because I have always been a cannabis consumer and love this plant so much and two, because I had Miss Grass that I could point to and be like, I have this whole thing. That led me to an opportunity to do a big Coachella event: They had asked me to program a geodesic dome that was the Miss Grass lounge, with all of these activities in it that catered to more of a conscious consumer of cannabis. That was sort of the catalyst and the point of, Okay, this can no longer be a side hustle for me anymore. I need to either do this full time or not — and obviously, you know what the answer was!
I was able to utilize some of the resources [at my previous role] internally to help me build a business plan. I raised a little bit of capital before we launched, and then I moved out to Los Angeles from New York. I met my business partner, Anna Duckworth, at that same time. We launched in January 2018, the same month California went recreationally legal. There was a lot of press that was writing about cannabis at the time, and we were very lucky to be included in a lot of those articles. It was the perfect place, perfect time, perfect concept.
It was also the height of the #MeToo movement, and we're two female founders so there were a lot of tailwinds behind us. Right off the bat, we got some great early successes, and that allowed us to raise a little bit more capital and close out our first round. Fast forward a year later, we raised a true series C and raised $4 million in that.
What does the Miss Grass team look like now?
We are nine bad-ass women, all right now based in Los Angeles, although everyone is working remotely.
Describe the journey of bringing brands onto Miss Grass — what does that merchandising process look like?
It's a fun process and we get to try out a lot of incredible products, but it starts with us having conversations with the founders and the teams of said product and really understanding the values that drive their business and who's behind it. We want to amplify the right voices in this industry and the right brands in this industry, so it starts with that. Then everyone on the [Miss Grass] team, including a couple of industry experts, try products for efficacy, to make sure it actually works. Then we get third-party lab results to actually make sure what is labeled on the box is actually in the product and that there are no harmful ingredients. We have quite an extensive "no-ingredient" list, and we won't sell certain products that have ingredients in them that are harmful.

We launched mini joints because our community told us that they never get through a full joint.

What are some of your favorite products from Miss Grass?
I have psoriasis on my scalp and I use Frigg's Hair Potion at night. The founder, Kimberly Dillon, is incredible and so knowledgeable. She was the CMO of Papa & Barkley, which is a legacy brand in cannabis, and she left to launch this brand. I sleep with that and rinse it out in the morning, and it really has done wonders for my psoriasis. I consume our Miss Grass minis almost daily. We have three different boxes depending on your mood. So this is my nightly ritual where after a long day, I'll go up on my roof and just let go of the day. Those are probably my two go-to's on the daily.
What are some new projects you're working on?
We recently just launched our own product line on the THC side in California, as well as Miss Grass minis, which are mini pre-rolled joints. We also have those on the hemp side, where we mix hemp with other adaptogenic herbs to elicit specific effects: Sleep, sex, and balance blends, and that's available nationwide. That's somewhat the future of Miss Grass. We'll be launching new products and really expanding the distribution of our current product line.

For the first two years of the business, we really focused on the community platform and having a relationship with our consumer: What is she buying? What does she want? After two years, we felt like we had enough intel and understanding why she's consuming this plant. We used that data to form our own product line and launched our first product on the THC side, Miss Grass minis. Smokables were the number one category for our community, and we launched mini joints because our community told us that they never get through a full joint. Especially in today's [COVID-19 pandemic] age, we shouldn't be sharing joints with anyone!

Cannabis has such opportunity and potential to shift the fabric of our society.

What's been your biggest business challenge AND your biggest business win?
The biggest win has been the community that we've built — and I include the nine bad-ass women that we work with as part of that. It is just so incredible to be part of this community. I was never "in the closet" about my weed consumption, but there was never a community I felt that I was a part of where others can come as they are, feel like it is a safe space to share, to ask questions, to learn about this plant, to really understand the best way to be a conscious consumer, to support an equitable industry, to vote with your dollar, and to use this plant in whatever your personal needs and desires are to integrate this plant in your life. We have just received so many comments from our community on just how valuable that is, and how this plant really has transformed so many people's lives. That really is our greatest accomplishment.
As for our biggest struggle, I would say cannabis is a really challenging industry because it's brand new and there are things that we're all learning in real-time. There's no roadmap that has been built — we're building it right now. Just as much as that is super exciting and brings with it so many great opportunities, it also brings a lot of challenges.
What's the ultimate goal you want to achieve with your business?
We're growing, and I want Miss Grass to be a financial success for everyone on the team. But bigger than that, I want Miss Grass to be a success with a lot of the good players in this industry because I do think that cannabis has such opportunity and potential to shift the fabric of our society.
Cannabis is a very politically charged plant and industry given its history. We have the opportunity — if we do it right — to take this plant, whose prohibition has really harmed and disenfranchised Black and brown bodies, and use it to actually right the wrongs from the war on drugs and give those same people the ability to come in and really have generational wealth. Money equals power. And the only way to really make a change is to have that power. So that is how we're going to really change things.
We have an opportunity to be a model of an industry that's equitable, that's led with characteristics such as compassion and empathy and collaboration, all things that, truthfully, I think cannabis brings out of you. It also has an opportunity — from what we're offering — to provide access to so many people who could benefit from this plant.
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