I spent $10,000 to launch an online smoke shop that made over 6 figures in sales last year. Here’s how I broke into the cannabis industry as a woman of color.

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using one of Elevate Jane’s joint holder. Angela Mou
  • Angela Mou is an LA-based entrepreneur and founder of online shop Elevate Jane, which sells accessories for smoking.
  • She works from her living room and brought in over $US117,000 ($151,809) in two months during the 2020 holiday season.
  • This is what her job is like, as told to freelancer writer Danielle Bauter.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

I was cruising Instagram one day in 2017 when I came across these beautiful ceramic pipes and bongs, and wondered why no one had put them in a shop. I started looking for interesting and unique pieces and the more I looked, the more I found. I became obsessed with the idea of starting a shop for a good two weeks, and finally I decided to make it happen.

To get started, I wanted to figure out how much it cost to buy the pipes and how much I could sell them for. So I pretended to be a smoke shop in order to receive wholesale pricing info, like line sheets and minimums.

Once I’d found 10 or so pieces that I wanted, I started looking around for pop-up markets in LA. I applied for all the necessary licenses including a reseller’s permit, and then I built my website and Shopify site. For two months I worked nonstop, and then launched Elevate Jane in July 2017.

Before Elevate Jane, I’d worked in tech, hospitality, e-commerce, and marketing.

In 2017, I was taking a break from a hotel company that I was working for in New York and figuring out what I wanted to do next, including moving back to LA. I grew up in Southern California, and I’ve been smoking weed since middle school. It’s so prevalent in the culture here.

I spent $US10,000 ($12,975) to launch my business – $US4,000 ($5,190) for buying inventory, $US2,000 ($2,595) for legal fees, and then another $US4,000 ($5,190) for setting up logistics, packaging, marketing costs, etc.

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Elevate Jane’s petal pipes. Angela Mou

Early on, I did all of the traditional smoke shop things. I went to the trade shows, I saw the distributors, and I saw what I wanted to bring to the industry with my business.

I wanted to create a one-of-a kind experience completely different from walking to your corner smoke shop.

From the beginning I always wanted Elevate Jane to be an online store, and COVID-19 really pushed us to focus on that.

I work out of my living room, and I have three employees – one full-time and two part-time. I shoot all the photos myself, so my workday is a mix of content creation, order fulfillment, purchasing, product development, and marketing planning. I like being involved with every aspect of the business.

Over the years I’ve honed in on what helps me to stay organized. I’m dedicated to a paper planner as well as lists and white boards. It’s a mix of being meticulous with schedules, but also going with the flow.

In some ways, it’s so much easier to be a solopreneur than to have partners.

Often I can get things done more easily on my own. At the same time though, having to make every decision myself can inhibit me from completing certain things. Every year is a new set of challenges, but I’m grateful because they’ve all helped me grow and learn about the business.

One of the things I hear consistently is that timing is everything. I feel lucky to have launched Elevate Jane in 2017 – and in Los Angeles, where it was a special time right before recreational legalization of marijuana. It was at the very beginning of the “Green Rush,” when we started seeing millions and millions of dollars being funneled into the industry. New businesses had the opportunity to emerge and be influential.

I feel like there was a shift in 2016 or 2017 when it became much more acceptable for women of color to be involved in the cannabis industry. I’ve also aligned my business with a lot of like-minded progressive brands, and I feel welcomed with open arms as a woman of color in the cannabis space.

Last year we had two products that did really well for us. On 4/20 we launched our first Elevate Jane original piece, Mimi.

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Mou smoking with the Mimi bong. Angela Mou

It was well-received from day one, and we also saw huge demand for it during the holidays. The other product line we focused on last year was vintage sets, like an ashtray paired with a joint holder or a pipe, which customers also loved.

We brought in over $US117,000 ($151,809) during the 2020 holiday season.

In addition to doubling our holiday sales from 2019, we had rapid growth in our Instagram followers.

Instagram is tricky, but I’ve always just tried to put out good and consistent content. For us, that means beautiful photos of our products and cannabis education. If I have a platform, I want to be doing good too.

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Elevate Jane’s vintage sets and joint holders. Angela Mou

My Instagram intuition is pretty well-honed by now, and I know what works best for Elevate Jane and what our community wants to see. Now, one of my cousins also helps me with managing Instagram. We were also early adopters of Reels, which definitely helped us grow by getting us onto the Explore page.

In July 2018, I decided that we were only going to sell pieces made in the USA because I wanted to support local artists and small businesses. Currently, 65% of the companies whose products we sell are women-owned and 35% are from people of color or immigrant-owned, and I’m always continuously seeking out more.

My advice for starting an online shop is to launch fast and launch lean.

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Mou says being productive helps her stay inspired as an entrepreneur. Angela Mou

Before taking the leap, make sure your business is something you want to do every day. On the flip side, I know from personal experience that sometimes you can kill a passion when you make it your full-time “work,” but you won’t know until you try.

I set Elevate Jane apart from the crowd by not listening to the crowd. I listen to my gut and only choose to carry products that I love. The products that do well are the products that I use myself. I’ve learned to let my intuition and genuine passion lead my buying.

In the early stages of growth, it was incredibly discouraging at times when I was exhausted and felt full of self-doubt. The first step is to flip your mentality – I try to look at every challenge as an opportunity to grow and expand as a business owner.

I practice a concept called “Amor Fati,” which means to love one’s fate. I’ve been through some obstacles in my life that felt devastating at the time, but I’ve learned that things always work out. If I can teach myself to harness challenging energy in a productive way, I usually end up in a better place. As an entrepreneur, you can make the most of every opportunity.