Pot Mates Team looking out for social justice in cannabis

One Year in Review

We launched at 4:20pm on 4/20/2020. It has been an unbelievable year and we had no idea if we were going to survive in the beginning. When COVID hit, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to launch at all! After a couple of months adapting to this new business environment, Oregon was flooded with wildfire smoke that blocked out the sun and made the air toxic to breathe. Then, in February, a massive snowstorm made the roads icy and dangerous. Both were bad news for a delivery-only dispensary!

In spite of all that, Pot Mates has not only kept our deliveries running and our store stocked, we’re thriving. After a year of operating successfully in spite of adversity, we wanted to take the time to look back and share with you a behind-the-scenes perspective of how we got where we are.

The Seed of an Idea

Pot Mates started as an answer to a question Pot Mates founder, Hammond Potter, kept asking himself: how can I get more out of my job and myself? Working retail for several years left him wanting to do something more fulfilling with his life. He had saved a lot of money through smart investments and believed he had what it took to run his own business.

Hammond has always loved high-quality weed, and the Oregon cannabis business was booming in 2016, so he decided to open his own dispensary. Looking into it, he discovered that it was a lot more expensive than he expected—at least the way most companies do it. Hammond didn’t want to work at his day job any longer than he had to, he wanted to strike while the iron was hot, and that meant thinking outside the box.

Sitting on his couch, watching TV during the summer of 2017, the idea hit him: what if there was a food truck, but for cannabis? A mobile dispensary that wouldn’t have to pay the same kind rent as a brick-and-mortar store, but could still offer a varied selection. Hammond did some research and when he learned more about the laws Oregon has governing pot sales, he realized that wouldn’t be legal. The state of Oregon has a step-by-step guide for starting a recreational cannabis business, so he read it from start to finish to see what his options were.

What he could do instead was offer a cannabis delivery service. All he needed was four walls, high-speed internet, and a whole lot of grass, and Hammond was ready to be in business. At least, that’s what he thought. It turns out starting a cannabusiness is a little more complicated than that—and a lot more expensive!

Nothing Worthwhile Comes Easy

The first step was finding a location. There are several state regulations that prevent cannabis dispensaries from being within 1,000 feet of a school and they can’t be located in an area zoned exclusively for residential use. Hammond searched and searched for a suitable location that was in his budget, but it ended up taking more than three months just to find a place that fit all of the requirements. Then he had to secure it with a minimum security system that included video surveillance, an alarm system, and a safe to ensure everything was protected.

Fortunately, Oregon provides a “business readiness guidebook” for OLCC marijuana operations, but the licensing application can be a lengthy process. There was huge backlog of applications already in the state’s queue, so Hammond had to keep paying rent and utilities on the Pot Mates headquarters while he waited for that approval to come through.

It took longer than expected, and money started to run low. Hammond had to take a second job delivering food from restaurants around Portland just to keep himself afloat in the interim. He had to seek support from an outside investor to keep the business from going under before it had even gotten up and running. By the time his license was approved and he could finally start stocking inventory, Pot Mates was only able to offer eight varieties of flower at launch—no vape cartridges, no prerolls, and no edibles or concentrates. Hammond could only hope that sales would be strong enough to diversify his product line.

By early 2020, Pot Mates was nearly ready to launch. We had our location, we had a small but well-curated menu, and our website was almost complete. Hammond set a launch date of April 20th, for obvious reasons, and started counting down the days on the calendar.

Launching In Spite of a Pandemic

The plan was to open for business from 11:00am to 8:00pm, but there was a snag on that first day. For whatever reason, the website wasn’t able to process orders the way it was supposed to. Since Pot Mates is delivery only, we couldn’t open our doors to customers any other way. It took a few hours of troubleshooting, but our CTO Jason Hinson was able to work out the bugs and bring the storefront online by 4:20pm that afternoon—just in time for the first orders to come through.

Hammond describes feeling a rush of excitement going to make that first delivery. This was an idea he had been working on for over three years, and now he was finally going to put his plan in action. The order came through, printing out product labels and delivery directions, and he happily packaged everything up in our classic, “Oh, high there” bags, then it was time to meet our first customer.

That first delivery went off without a hitch, and we could tell already we had a hit on our hands. Due to the explosion of what was then a novel coronavirus, it was hard to get the word out that Pot Mates was open for business, but we still had a handful of deliveries that day and our customers were so thrilled with the quality of our products that they told all their friends. Within a few months, the flower money became seed money and we were able to gradually increase our selection with vape cartridges, then edibles, and then concentrates. Our customers were super helpful with providing feedback about what we needed to make available next.

As Hammond would say, it was kind of a rocky start, but “the rest is history.”

Highs and Lows Over the Year (Mostly Highs)

After it became clear that Pot Mates was going to survive, we got to kick back and enjoy the ride. It’s important to us to stay committed to our promises, which is why we still only stock top shelf marijuana that’s certified free from pesticides and contaminants. We have also learned to love the day-to-day process involved with running a delivery business.

The part that gives Hammond the most joy on a daily basis is shopping for new product and packing it up for delivery. Getting to touch and smell such a beautiful and unique variety of flowers is a huge perk of the job.

Every day since 4/20 has brought us more deliveries, more products, a customer base that loves our services, and other people who can’t enjoy delivery (because they live outside Portland city limits) but still appreciate the knowledge base Pot Mates has amassed with our weblog and product catalog. They use the information we provide to make informed decisions about the weed they buy and how they choose to enjoy it, and they trust us to always share both sides of the story.

In the interest of sharing both sides, we have to acknowledge how Pot Mates fell short of some of our expectations. We 3-D printed masks to support healthcare workers who need personal protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic, but by the time we had them ready to distribute that particular crisis had passed. We’re still using computers for protein folding to help the fight against COVID-19. We also wanted to do more for the BIPOC community that has been so disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition, but we had to make sure we could stand sturdy on our own two feet before helping others up onto theirs. Still, we to be better every day than we were yesterday, so we have a lot to look forward to.

A Year Ahead and Beyond

One thing that will never change is our drive to be better at meeting our promises. The core of everything we believe is right there, we believe quality without compromise is possible and that it means approaching the ethical presence of our business in the world as well as the service we provide. At the end of the day, it’s not enough to just be a successful premium cannabis delivery company, we want to make sure we’re making the world better with our efforts, giving back after being given so much.

A year from now, we hope to be making even more deliveries of the same high-quality weed you’ve come to expect, and we want to expand our delivery radius as much as we can. We’ve developed a lot of custom technologies to make our lives easier enabling us to offer fast turnaround times and free delivery, technology that no other cannabis retailers seem to use. In the future, we want to find ways to empower the cannabis community at large with these innovations.

We also want to do more from a social justice perspective. Our first year of business saw widespread protests in Portland over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers. It reminded us that the war on drugs has been very damaging to people of color and their relationship with the criminal justice system. Whether it’s mentoring other Black entrepreneurs like Hammond or providing a path to a new career for someone existing the prison system, we know there’s got to be some way we can be making more of a difference.

Five years, ten years down the line, who knows where we’ll be? Pot Mates has its sights set on becoming the top premium cannabis delivery service in Oregon and it’s only a matter of time.

What Next?

A year ago today, we launched at 4:20 in the afternoon after three years of hard work bringing a dream into reality. It was a lot more complicated than we expected, but we didn’t let that stop us from persevering through everything life could throw at us to do what we believe this state needs. And we’re just getting started.

We’ve got a pretty good sense of how we want the next year to go, but we also want to open up a dialogue with our community. What did we get right? Where can we improve? Contact us to let us know your thoughts about your first year with Pot Mates. We’d love to hear from you.