Building a Smoking Accessories E-commerce Business – Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected

INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 46:00)

PODCAST AUDIO

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Intro

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected shares how he, along with his partner, created an online marketplace for high-quality smoking accessories.

People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode

Book: Profit First by Mike Michalowicz

What You’ll Learn

Interview with Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected

00:00Introduction
00:50Backstory
04:28The business idea
06:53Shopify Exchange
08:43The business model
15:00Fulfillment and shipping
17:20Competition
20:05Problems with funding
22:35Payment processes
24:46Customer acquisition channels
28:08Target buyers
32:32The team
33:23The journey looking back
35:49Mistakes made, lessons learned
41:21Rapid fire round

Rapid Fire

In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected

  1. Book recommendation that you would make to entrepreneurs or business professionals (Response: Profit First)
  2. An innovative product or idea and the current eCommerce, retail, or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response: VR and AR)
  3. A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend (Response: Duoplane)
  4. A startup or business, uh, in e-commerce, retail, or tech that you think is currently doing great things (Response: Shopify)
  5. A peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspired you (Response: Gary Beats)
  6. Best business advice you ever received (Response: Don’t give up)

Interview Transcript

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Hey there, entrepreneurs. My name is Sushant and welcome to Trep Talks. This is the show where I interview successful e-commerce entrepreneurs, business executives, and thought leaders, and ask them questions about their business. And also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start grow their businesses.

And today I’m really excited to welcome Na Sovan, the show. Na is the co-founder of Cali Connected. Cali Connected is an online marketplace for smoking excess. And today I’m going to ask Na, a few question about his entrepreneurial journey and some of the strategies and tactics that he has used to start and grow his

So thank you so much for joining me today. I tripped 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: off. Of course. Thank you. 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So very, very interested, uh, in learning more about your business. Um, I did, uh, read that you went through a little bit of a journey even before starting this. I mean, would you, I think you were trying to figure out different business ideas along with your friend.

Can you share a little bit about, you know, your backstory? How did you want to get into entrepreneurship and some of the ideas that you explored before 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: starting? Absolutely. Um, so mainly my backstory, I have a business degree out of college, and then both my jobs before I. Ended up coming full time at C Connected.

Before this, were in management and retail, so very always business oriented. And I always had the mindset of running my own business and pursuing something like that, even if it was something like real estate. So that’s essentially where we started. My friend and I, we were friends in college. He ended up being my, my partner at Call Connect and the other co-founder here.

Um, we basically just decided we’re gonna pick a relatively cheap city, a poor city. Tried to put about $20,000 together and launch a real estate company flipping, basically foreclosures at auction from the government. Uh, we sat in constant courthouse and everything like that. Just decided that’s not the route we’re gonna go.

So we started to pursue other ideas, and this is, I guess more so the interesting part. Um, we really wanted to get into vending before, uh, getting into anything with e-commerce. Uh, vending was mainly we saw opportunities in of various sectors, various industries. There’s advancements in food. Um, wherever you saw there was vending was just growing automation.

So we started to a deep dive there. Um, my business partner is actually a full-time EMT lifeguard on the beach of Florida at the time, so, He came up with the idea with all like, Why don’t we pursue vending sunscreen? Like you go up and down the beaches and there’s just like, there’s shops that sell it, but at the end of the day, we’re just all constantly buying these bottles of sunscreen, taking it to the same exact place for use, and there’s not like one centralized place just to host it.

Also, you could bring public sector investments and have all the money go back to that public beach or anything like that, and you also end up with a cleaner environment with no bottles. So we started just to go down the rabbit hole with that. Ended up founding a gentleman who had a patent that Basical.

Protects anything that dispenses sunscreen jumped on a call with him and we went down the rabbit hole there founding out that like it’s not really investible because of basically him holding the patent and someone else trying to challenge him. So we thought what our great idea ended up once again, just going down the wayside, we decided go back to the drawing board and decide what to do.

And that’s what we came. Um, there’s a Shopify Exchange platform where you can buy starter stores or if someone just wants to get rid of an established store, you can sell it through them. We just started looking there weeks on end, and we came across Cali Connected. Cali Connected at the time was an online smoke shop like ours out of the uk, but only had five products.

Very minimal, very minimal. Branding was basically all we were buying. Buying was the url. Um, so once we saw that, we decided to explore this space before contacting him. Like what distributors are out? How much money do you think we’re gonna have to put into this to get it even started, et cetera. And we liked what we saw.

We saw the opportunity there and we basically reached out and we ended up purchasing it relatively cheap, um, investment that we got the URL for. And then from there it was just months on end of rebranding, linking with basically distributors doing what we can to get the website up. 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So a couple of follow up questions to that.

I guess my first question would be, So you were not, you were looking at different business idea. You were not really into the whole, you know, uh, marijuana or, you know, this, this industry. Uh, was there an education process for you or, or like you were already familiar with the industry and, you know, this was one of those ideas that you saw, okay, maybe there is a potential and or did the idea really come from the, you know, while browsing through the Shopify Exchange and you looking at the, the 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: URL and.

So I, I think in general, after the vending went down the wayside, we had a grasp and a, a field to go after e-commerce. Uh, I had done some basically work with e-commerce and different channels in my previous job, so I felt like this is something we could go after. And definitely we have a lot to learn, but it, we have a good starting point.

So it’s more so that we are going after what could we do in the e-commerce space? Let’s try to find something. Hey, maybe that industry catches our eye and then from there, if it does, like we are interested, go after it. So I wouldn’t say initially, yes, we were a hundred percent dead set on the cannabis industry.

It was more so on. Let’s see what we could do in the e-commerce space. Once we found this opportunity, we looked into it further and we said, Absolutely, this is something we wanna go after. 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: And the reason you went after a Shopify Exchange store, rather than just creating your own Shopify store is. This one had some already, some, some traffic related to the keywords, uh, in the cannabis industry.

Was that the main 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: reason? We were hoping that would be the case. Um, we had some idea of how SEO worked, but very minimal. And we figured like, alright, so he’s got very minimal products. Hopefully he’s got some traction going, anything like that. But it was not the case at the end of the day, essentially, we really bought the url.

I mean, the site map wasn’t set up, nothing was crawling properly. Um, like it was minimal products and it’s not gonna get too much traction to, like a different competitor’s got thousands of products or anything like that. So it wasn’t really that, that, that brought us, that. The one thing that we did get in, in a positive sense when looking at like, basically technical aspects of the website or what we bought, um, would be the longevity of the url.

That URL itself was around and got transferred to us. So you do get some SEO credit for. Okay. And, 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: uh, I mean, anyone else, any other entrepreneur who’s trying to go through this, right? You know, going to a Shopify exchange and looking for different businesses and things like that. Like what? What advice would you give them in terms of doing the due diligence so that, you know, maybe they’re thinking that they’re, they’re buying like a huge traffic or something, but, uh, is there, like, would you do, would you any due diligence that, uh, someone should do before purchasing through Shopify 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: Exchange?

Absolutely. And Shopify Exchange does a great job. Basically, if you’re gonna sell on Shopify Exchange, you allow Shopify Exchange themselves to display your analytics. So one, what they’re displaying to you, traffic wise, revenue wise, everything when you’re at that point of purchase is accurate. It’s not being posted by the seller.

So you do have a guarantee there from Shopify itself on the data that you’re seeing. But you do wanna do a deeper dive. I mean, if you do have, obviously marketing reach in an industry, someone could plum like skyrocket those numbers for a few months and make that what you’re seeing look amazing. But it’s really not.

So we always just like to say, The general stuff you could do looking at SEO wise, whether it’s Google Analytics or looking at the free like domain authority searches or going deeper dive onto like a MA or a DIB is always good just to see. Beyond the traffic, Where are they ranking for keywords? Are they even ranking well for the keywords they need to, If it’s something that’s tied to a brick and mortar location, how is it?

There’s local traffic looking for that so that you could essentially go back to ’em with rebuttals they probably don’t even know and even negotiate that further. So we always say just shut it, like go further than the traffic numbers and what’s presented to you. There’s a lot of free tools out there that you could get all this data.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: And, and the website, Your website call connected. Um, how do you describe it? Um, uh, I believe it’s, it’s not just an e-commerce store, it’s a marketplace. What is, what is your business model? Is it really that you’re inviting sellers to sell and then you what you’re bringing, the value that you’re adding is really your marketing and, and the traffic that you’ve, 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: uh, created.

Absolutely. So when we started, we thought we were gonna be able to basically, Bootstrap this whole thing. Get to a point where we could get some investors and have our giant, massive warehouse and we’re shipping everything. We quickly found out that was not gonna be the case. Um, banks want nothing to do with our industry.

You have to find other type of investors. There are, you can find investors for sure, and there’s even some banks outside of like a typical bank that would deal with you, but the main way people go is just to find private investors. If they have interest in the company, you could get 

some sort of money that way, but it basical.

Gave us the green light to say, if you wanna advance this to one of the top three, where they have thousands of products and everything like that, you have to create some sort of marketplace aspect of it. So we reached out to basically distributors at this point. We were, this is probably like two, three years ago.

Um, basically that we are already buying wholesale from. And ask them in a manual aspect, Would you be willing, since we have a great relationship to start allowing us to drop ship some of your products. So we would list it on our site. We’ll push through an order as if it’s coming through one of your retail channels and you guys just push it out as if it’s coming from there.

Those relationships flourished and what ended up happening is we realized that we can grow this even. And you’re really not taking a risk on your bottom line inventory wise if you are able to do this successfully. So what we started to do is we found in our space that many people were willing to do this for many reasons.

Uh, whether it’s a smaller company, a larger distributor, uh, whatever it was. But we wanted to present it in a way that was better than our competitors. There’s a lot of drop ship platforms out there that you could pay into, or there’s some that have been built by our competitors, and that’s how they approach these distributors to get their inventory for drop shipping, to get it on their site.

And we spent months, this was in the middle of last year, getting this all built up, and we ended up partnering with a da, a system called dual. And what that allowed us to do is to approach many more manufacturers, many more distributors. We’re now at over 24 distributors and manufacturers on our site be on our own inventory.

To allow them to list on our site. And everything’s fully automated. It removes customer service issues. It’s been a great and nice clean process. So yes, it’s turned into a marketplace. Was that the initial plan? No, um, but that’s where we saw we needed to go if we were gonna accelerate growth in any way.

Because unfortunately you can’t approach a bank with a great idea in our industry and get. 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So, uh, in terms of the, the, the technology that you mentioned, is it, can you share a little bit more about how that works? Does it connect with your distributor manufacturer and pulls in the inventory directly from there so that you know, you’re not worried about if somebody buys from you and they may not have the inventory.

And then vice versa, site someone makes a purchase, it automatically transfer. Uh, the order to them or what, what exactly, how exactly does the mechanical 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: you’re ordering and Yeah, so you, you hit the nail on the head. Obviously it gets far more technical with everyone having different backend ERP systems having different front end shopping carts.

But the main partner, the main reason why we wanted to partner with Du Plain is that we saw it being cost effective to be able to meet as many customization aspects as possible. We’ve linked with distributors who have a full customized backend system built on NetSuite from. We are linked to other small companies that just use Shopify and the Shopify inventory aspect of that.

So it literally can be customized in any way possible. And what we’re doing is we’re not just staying there. So that was like the where we wanted to start. We didn’t wanna bring a developer on and customize it. We saw this as a great product and we thought we knew we can build off of it. So going forward, we just signed contracts to basically.

A public Shopify sourcing app for other stores. So if you own a startup in our space and you wanna list our inventory, there’s only two public Shopify apps currently. They’re no function too well, Um, you can go search ’em yourself. There’s a bunch of private apps through the bigger retailers, but we really wanna try to go into that public space, dominate it, and do it right.

And that’s where we’re. So, yeah, dual plane is what’s running us right now. And it works exactly as you described it without getting too technical into like what exactly it can do, which, which connectors. Um, but what we’re gonna do is build off of it and the front end system that we’re building now is gonna be fully proprietary to us and, and the value 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: proposition.

For your store really is the selection, right? So what you’re bringing to the consumer of this, uh, product is really the wide selection and, and, um, um, and choice and, and design and things. Is that, that, um, statement? 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: Absolutely. As soon as we switched the whole vision of going towards the marketplace, that’s exactly where the brand vision went, is bring every possible product.

In this industry to the customer’s eyes in one place, whether it’s cbd, whether it’s uh, uh, housing stuff, whether it’s actual glass pipes or vaporizer. Any other collection that ends up growing as the industry’s growing, we’re definitely gonna do whatever we can to get it on the website and find whatever vendors we can.

Um, so we’re also like super strict with how we are with our suppliers and everything. So like we wanna keep the shopping experience nice and basically what they’ve experienced with shopping with us. So there are a lot of supplier restrictions. Supplier contracts and everything that go into place to like prevent issues from happening with us getting too big with too many vendors.

At the end of the day, that’s where we see the growth in what the customer wants, as much products as possible in this space, in one site. And I, and I 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: feel your website definitely has some, you know, great reviews, but I would’ve thought that with this business model, there’s a bit of a, Because at the end of the day, fulfillment is dependent on the supply.

Your manufacturer dis. And if they don’t do it properly, basically the customer is at the end of the day, gonna come to your store and leave a negative. Uh, how do you, how do you, in this kind a business model, how do you manage that? How do you make sure that the supplier is actually fulfilling on time and, and, um, and, and doing their 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: part of the.

Absolutely. So the main thing starts with, like I said, the preliminary stuff that’s always cut and dry is just the, the contractor agreements. They, we set preliminary standards on what they need to do. So if you’re on our site, we’re fully transparent to where it’s shipping from. It’s shipping from call connected.

It has tagged just like Amazon ships from Call connected. Shipping from a manufacturer distributor like prism Pipes, Let’s say their pieces are on our site, it’ll say it ships from prism pipes. And when you’re, What that also shows below it is their average fulfillment time. That data is coming directly from dual plane.

If they’re now taking 3, 4, 5 days, that’s publicly facing to the customer. So if a customer goes in to purchase that they know fulfilled on average within five. We’ve given ’em fair warning. Obviously it’s gonna be a, a, a not so great experience if they haven’t caught that. Or even if they did catch it, no one wants to wait that long.

So what we do is we set thresholds, if it goes to three, Not only getting warning messages all the time as it goes past the promise fulfillment times, but like that’s when we start saying like, Should we drop this vendor? Should we consider something else? How much volume can we actually send them? Should we remove express shipping options from those products?

There’s a lot of different ways where we can create a great shopping experience, keep our suppliers on board and on brand, and still produce what we’re trying to do with not having that control that is necessary. Like you said, it’s why Amazon created their. You bring your products to us and we’ll ship ’em for you because they knew that this was gonna become a problem.

Well, we feel like there’s a way to go after it as long as you’re like blunt and cut and dry from the beginning and you stick to these restrictions and these rules that they have to follow. It’s been working so far and we think we can grow it. What kind 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: of, uh, competition exists in the market, uh, for these, these kinda products?

Um, I’m assuming I. Because cannabis is becoming more and more legal in more places. 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: Um, 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: I’m, I’m assuming there’s a lot, lot of competition because a lot of these products are probably manufactured in, you know, Chinese, uh, companies, you know, factories and so forth, and, you know, anybody can really go out, you know,

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: what is the. 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: How do you, how do you make sure that, um, you have your share wallet? 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: Yeah. No, so I think the main thing when it comes to like actual manufacturing and not just reselling. We haven’t dove too much into it. We’ve created a few cleaning products and then we’ve done the typical unbranded, like cheaper entry level products that you would find at any basically retailer.

If you go into a target, you find target branded napkins at the cheapest price point. That’s what we did. We brought in unbranded glass, and it’s, that’s what you’re shopping for. It’s available on the marketplace. If you wanna go to a branded item, you’re, it’s a little more costly. So we’ve done that aspect when it comes to manufacturing.

And that just like, basically just like stabilizes us our bottom line and just like increases our branding in a sense. So we can say, but when it comes to like the brand itself call connected as a retailer, how we’re doing against competitors, how we can continue to gain market share and basically also retain market share.

Cause it is, it can be easy to get into this market if you’re willing to fight the risks and barriers that are in there. Um, I think the main thing, it’s been what we’ve said from the. It’s so cliche, but if you’re so customer focused, I don’t care what industry you’re in, it’s going to work. You see success stories in dog food, you go read the chewy story, you see it in shoes.

Go read about Zappos, you see it everywhere. Amazon itself, all his preliminary thoughts are all about being so customer focused that we, that was the main reason why we said, let’s go for this industry. Cuz when we found this website, we started Googling all our competi. A lot of them didn’t even have a phone number up.

If you have a, If they had a phone number up, it would go to voicemail. If you try to chat, it was an automated chat that you’d get an email later. We saw customer service as a huge opportunity as being so simple that we could just come in and spearhead this and yeah, someone else could come in and try to.

Compete and do it better than us, but I think that we are the like first that are getting to that middle grade area of growth that has been so focused on that. And I think if we retain that, which my business partner and I are focused on, it should just keep growing from here. 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Now I know, I know you were mentioning before that, you know, initially when you were trying to get funding for the business, the banks were hesitant on working on, you know, this, this, the idea with you.

Can you share a little bit about, you know, is, is it really, is cannabis industry still? Because I mean, at the end of the day, to me it seems like your business is really a product that that’s not necessarily a cannabis business. It’s, it’s really a. You know, accessories business. Um, what is the hesitancy from, from, you know, uh, these banks or financial institutions even I, I’m assuming payment.

Uh, providers and so forth. Um, why are, has, why are they hesitant on working and, you know, with cannabis industry products, Uh, is that still the case and, you know, what are, what are some of the, the challenges, uh, of 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: Sure. I mean, You hit the deal on the head. It’s such a gray area from top to bottom. I mean, outside of my industry, we, we don’t deal with the plant at all.

So if you go into cannabis itself, it’s weird how you can process debit card payments through all these banks and everything like that, but they won’t allow the credit card processing come down into our space. All of us, including ourselves, you could get a business credit card from any of these banks.

They’re willing to issue out credit cards, start to build your credit. But good luck getting a loan from any of them. So it’s just like they’re sort of one step in, one step out in every aspect themselves, because like you. We can present it and our lawyers can present it into a way where it’s like, these are tobacco products only.

We abide buy other tobacco product laws. We have other tobacco product licenses in all these states. That’s how the states wanna tax us. That’s what we do. That’s what we pay. So that, that means that’s what we sell. You go into another lawyer’s office and then they start arguing that we’re selling direct cannabis vapes and all this stuff, and it, it’s a whole different terminology.

So I think it’s the sense. Since there’s so much gray area, since there’s in our country overlap between federal and state laws, that the banks are just themselves. Like I keep saying one step in, one step out, that that’s why you run into the hesitations. Do I think maybe a bigger, like a green lane or a high tight ink to two publicly traded?

Have been able to maybe get some funding. I’m sure they probably have a smaller bank that they’ve succeeded with and shown the longevity of proof of all their revenue. But at the end of the day, it’s at our size, smaller, even bigger than us. It’s just not really possible right now in 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: terms of working with payment processes, what has been your experience, um, which.

For, for a more, I guess, you know, this gray area or more for risky business, which payments payment providers have been more willing to work with you and is there an additional cost for, you know, products and business? 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: Yeah, so you really don’t find too many big name payment processors. Even, like I said, the local banks, like if you happen to have a bank, a td, let’s say a business, If they won’t process your payments, they’ll hold a checking account for you.

It’s like stuff like that that you run into when the bigger names. So you do find a lot of people are willing to process. Um, there’s some even domestic options at smaller banks. Basically the processor uses smaller domestic banks. There are oversee options, which are lesser rates, but you need much, much higher volume.

And then you also run into the risk of where’s that money? But the domestic options, I mean, you said it accurately, you definitely run into a way higher fee than other industries. Any high risk industry, they, they ding us on processing. Even as your volume is growing and you’re getting to a point where it’s like you’re giving them significant volume each month, they’re still, the processing fees are hefty, especially for us in our, basically the, the bigger accessory vendors in our space.

What they’ve done is added CBD like we did. Um, as soon as we did. Even though there was a, a, a national hemp bill that was passed into law that allowed the CBD to be traded across all state lines, federally, everything like that, they still use that as a reason to charge us more. Or you wanna be processing cbd, it’s this much percentage higher.

So yeah, you do get dinged a bit unfortunately with dealing with our products and, um, 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So your business is really about marketing, right? The way you are driving revenues is kinda in control, in, in your control, but it really depends on how much traffic and how much, um, how many people you can drive to your site.

Can you share a little bit about, you know, what are some of your main customer acquisition channels and. And is this, I’m assuming that this business is more of a repeat for this kinda business where, you know, once you’ve acquired the customer, you can bring them back again and again and have them purchase 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: multiple times.

Absolutely. So I think to start off with the first part in the sense of. Basically how we’re marketing and everything. Yes, it’s a hundred. I mean, marketing is a hundred percent because like you said, we have no traffic. There’s nothing. It’s our number one sales channel. Call connected.com. We are growing other channels, which we can dive into, but at the end of the day, that’s our bread and butter.

If there’s no traffic there, there’s no revenue. So when it comes to marketing though, it gets a little bit misconstrued. Our industry. We can’t go to Facebook and run $10,000 worth of ads. We can’t go to Instagram and say, Here’s a hundred grand for this quarter. Go do what we can. No, social media will take us no paid ads on search.

You can’t do search either Google ads, anything like that. So it mainly comes down to what you can do yourself and what you can do in these like ancillary, smaller channels. So there are like, obviously, like there’s a, the We Tube, which is like a YouTube of cannabis videos out there. You can do stuff like that.

But mainly what we do is. We’ve be, When we realized this, we became so SEO focused that we realized you have to just gain as much share as you can in the search space, because if you do the analytical work and see where the top three, less than 1% of their traffic’s coming from paid ads. So it’s all a search.

You gotta win here or you’re not gonna win at all in MySpace. So we started to become so SEO focused and do what we can there, and that’s our main marketing initiative. Beyond that, we run our own affiliate marketing platform. So we have over 50 affiliates. This can be from websites that look like Groupon in our industry, we’re just offering coupons, and then we issue ’em now with percentage to influencers on social.

Getting paid out a percentage. So that’s how we go beyond SEO and do what we can to grow ourselves. That’s very 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: interesting. So, So you can’t even make organic poster on Instagram or any other social channels like TikTok. No, 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: not at all. They’ve kicked us almost all. We’ve been kicked off of Instagram twice.

Uh, we’ve been out of huge petition. We were a part of a huge petition with the YouTube with over, uh, sorry. With the We YouTube, it has now over like 80,000 signatures to just try to get a conversation around parameters as to why these accounts are getting kicked off. And even one of the biggest in this Space Bank Stop had over 300,000 followers.

That was one of our biggest appeals every time they kicked us off, is that you’re keeping the Biggers guys in our space who are posting the same exact. They finally got kicked off this month, so it’s like it’s, they just, right now they’re very antiar industry. They tie us directly to cannabis. We did everything possible.

Did not include a word or a reference that looks like the plant. Everything was pieces without any plants, descriptions, captions, hashtags, None of that had it. We age restricted our Instagram page to do it. 21. Still got taken off. The second time was over 11,000 followers. So it’s just like, it hap we just can’t unfortunately go there.

I don’t know why. Maybe one day in the future, but that’s just the way they’re treating us right now. Do 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: you, do you know who your target buyer is? Like, do you know, uh, is this, is this. Mostly a certain age range, you know, male, female. Um, my assumption is that, I mean this industry probably like whoever uses these products, cannabis related products are probably quite passionate about it.

So, I mean, one way if no social media platforms allows you to market could be probably be to build a community, I suppose. Not necessarily. To sell the product, but building a community around just the, the lifestyle, I guess. And, and have you ever thought of something like that? 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: Oh, for sure. And if, if you talk to my business partner about the biggest opportunity here, it’s that Exactly.

Uh, we’ve seen other brands, even small things like created discord around a gaming community, a virtual community just to meet. There you go, As to a puff go. Who makes the biggest e rigs or, or vapes on the, on the market, right. They run like Puff Con and have like a festival where they get the community together and everything like that.

That’s definitely the way to go. Um, have we done it yet and done it successfully? Absolutely not. We need to definitely start focusing on that and that’s like you hit the nail on the head of like things, opportunities that we’ve written down here. There are like a huge focus of ours and that’s something that we should and absolutely have to go to because like you said, there’s no way to go to the social sites.

There’s no way to go search, so, How you have to go and you wanna retain these customers. Going back, I forgot to answer that part of your last question about basically, is this a reoccurring customer base or anything like that? Surprisingly it’s not. So we see that our customers come back a lot to purchase.

It’s, you get about. One and a half purchases from a customer every two years. So what we find is we’re a very once bait industry. We’re not needs based. So if you hit a harder economy, we had a successful economy, let’s say, going through the rut of, of the covid spur because people had some extra money, they were stuck at home, couldn’t vacation, everything like that.

So it shot up because they had this ancillary money to spend. You bring down a tighter economy like we’re looking at now. At the end of the day, if you’re gonna consume cannabis, you can go down to a bodega, buy a packet of paper for a dollar, and you have 30 sessions right there. So why would I spend a hundred dollars on a glass bomb?

That’s what we started to realize. Our customers mindset is into seeing a great period and a slower period of turndown that you might see in an economy. And, but you still see them coming back to the site. They like to see the products, they like our emails. We have huge click through rates on our e on our, our email subscribers.

So like it’s an active customer base, but on the purchasing aspect, it’s not as many would proceed in terms 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: of like the, the buyer. Um, Could you think about like some other umif company or brand that is not, that’s kind like, uh, I don know what the right word is, but it’s not. Um, it’s.

Uh, you know, um, a different category, not, not necessarily cannabis, but you know, that any cannabis, most cannabis users would be using those products. So maybe utilize your, you know, customer base if they’re not buying it here, you know, this product to. To promote a different product or a different, 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: um, thing Category?

Absolutely. We haven’t been able to focus in sp like on a specific collection or product yet, but we can definitely tell the trends in basically to put it generically in the urban space. So if you go to, like out here, I don’t know if they have ’em, up in Canada, we have a retailer called Urban Outfitters.

It’s very like trendy, skateboardy. You can find a Puffco Peak or an auto grinder on their website, so they’re starting to like trickle in some of our products as they know our customer base is there. Those are the same trends that we’ve been seeing how we can pursue and enter that space. We haven’t gotten there yet, but we’re definitely starting to trend some of these basically, well, like you said, cross references of industry bases where you can possibly take some customer base easily.

If you can find these connect. What does 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: your team look like right now? I know you mentioned you have another co-founder, but, uh, uh, who else is in your 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: team? For sure. So we have two full-time employees, uh, below them. So we have our main warehouse out in California, which is run by a third party logistics company.

We don’t have a warehouse employee or like employee like that where the two employees work. There is a small return center there, so like they do see some products that come back and everything like. Beyond them. We have five contractors, so it’s like lawyers, graphic designers, bookkeeper, accounting, web developer, everything like that just goes into that bunch of contractors where we’re using ’em on a contractor basis.

Um, but yeah, besides myself and my business partner, there’s two full-time employees, like kinda like connected. So, so 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: you started this business, I believe in 2018, and you know, the goal was cause you were interested in entrepreneurship. Um, looking back, do you think that you entered the right business or the right category?

How do you see this business at this stage? Do you want to continue working on this because you’re kind of invested in it, or do you ever think that, you know, maybe this was not the right. Category to get into, you know, maybe I should have tried something else, or, you know, this is kinda like a learning experience and maybe there’s some sort of an exit strategy and you want something different.

Like, are you, um, you know, looking back, do you think that you are fulfilled as an entrepreneur doing what you’re 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: doing right now? I would say yes and no. I definitely, when I started with the mindset of entrepre, And even going back into like being focused on real estate, at first we always went with the mindset that we’re not gonna fall in love with any investment.

Whether it was me and my business partner talking, or myself talking with my wife, whatever it was, I’d never, if I wanted to be successful with, from what I was reading, is you gotta be willing to exit and continue on to the next project. So with that mindset, I, I was thrilled to take this on. Was there some hesitations with the.

Absolutely. I mean, when I, we first started this, it was just like a side hustle investment between my business partner and I. We both had si full-time jobs. I didn’t even post this on LinkedIn or anything yet because I thought if my boss sees I’m selling BS online, what’s he gonna think? Like there goes my full time job maybe.

I don’t know. I, that’s, that was just like my hesitations. So, yeah, there was some hesitations at first, but I love what we do. I think we’re doing ethically and appropriately. We write what we need to be doing when it comes to age ramifications and anything like that. So I feel like confident and love the brand that we built, that I don’t have any hesitations being in this space now.

Do I wanna exit and see Cali connected being sold at one day? For sure. That’s the plan from day one. We wanna build this to something where it’s hopefully a jug or not, and we get some big time offer and then onto the next one, whether it’s in this industry or not, that I don’t, I, I don’t think I’ve ever been so focused on that it really would bother me or say that I’m hesitant that we invested in this space.

Now, in 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: every entrepreneur’s journey, there’s always mistake made failure. Lessons learned, Lessons learned. Uh, can you maybe think about, you know, throughout your journey of building this business, what have been your, you know, one or two big mistakes or failures, and what have you learned from them? What, what advice can you give to an entrepreneur just starting out in their journey, 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: uh, as, as a lesson.

For sure. I, I mean the lesson itself might sign cliche when I say it’s really don’t ever give up, but I, I, I wanted to be more focused on my industry. What, what we really learned was in that sense that don’t ever give up because at the beginning we just were hitting wall after wall after wall. So we built Shopify.

Okay. We didn’t realize we needed a whole separate payment processor, cuz Shopify does not wanna process payments for our. So you go live the next second day you’re down, the website’s up, there’s no cart to check out on. So go after that. Try to be down for a few weeks, figure that out. Then going down the road, there’s age verification laws, vape restriction laws, tobacco laws that are unraveling on right in front of our eyes, and it’s like, should we give up?

Should we pay these lawyers thousands of dollars to tell us? Basically, you’re gonna have to shut down like all this. And we just kept figuring out different ways to figure it out and get the information we needed and work through it. Whether we have to cut back sometimes, whatever you have to do, you just have to get through it.

Cuz at the end of the day, if you do figure it out, it’s just gonna lead to more success. If you aren’t just to give up at that point, that’s where you end, you know? So I think it’s really, I hate to say it, but just truly don’t give up. If it’s something you think it’s gonna succeed, there’s a way around whatever issue you’re running into at that one.

Awesome. 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, so now I’m gonna to on to our next segment called Rapid Fire, by the way. I know, I know you gave a great, but, uh, could you maybe one big failure or big mistake that you, that was almost like, you know, Was almost like, you know, why did I make this mistake? Or, you know, even sometimes it’s not in your control with a big failure and you know, you had to, you know, redo something 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: in your For sure.

I think, I think it’s more so like a, I wouldn’t say a lesson learned, cause I feel like we would probably take this risk going back again, but it was just something to expect that could possibly happen. When we were a few years back before we started going after the marketplace aspect this way, um, there is a market, a public facing marketplace app, like I told you, I think it’s called Smoke Drop on the Shopify app store right now, that we’re basically trying to build their competitor.

Um, we were on there as a supplier, so another website could order products. It was actually US shipping. And what happened was we thought this like website had done their like dual or the app had to do their due diligence and everything. It was pretty early on for some reason, like a number of orders went out, a significant amount, like a few thousand dollars worth of orders went out and they were actually not paid for by that retailer.

And like however the app was, I forget what exactly happened, but we basically ended up being out that. and the, the issue at that point became is do you stay on the platform and basically just be out the money and continue to sell and like tell ’em to figure their stuff out and hope they do? Or do you get off and Yeah, we could have stayed on and brought on a lot of revenue.

We cut it out immediately. We just said this was like not the way to do business. Not people we wanna be dealing. And we lost all that revenue. We lost that channel of sales and we didn’t have anything close to that for like six months to a year before we started building our marketplace. But at the same talking, we just felt like if that’s how we were gonna be dealt with at that one point, like just cut it off now and try to do what you can and grow from there rather than trying to like deal with it and hopefully it gets fixed.

So there’s just points. You feel like you’re so invested that you can’t really back out or you shouldn’t back out. And sometimes it really is the best decision. And looking back, I think it really was cuz to see where our own marketplace is at now rather than being on someone else’s marketplace is incredible.

And if I would not have had that decision to make right there and us, my business partner, I backing out that this would probably not be where we. By the 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: way, what, what do you think about crypto? Have you, I’m assuming you’re not accepting cryptocurrencies on your We do accept 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: crypto. 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Oh, you do accept. Ok.

Cool. And do you see a lot of uptake on that? Like are there a lot of people using crypto as a payment method? 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: Surprisingly, no. Uh, to check out, there’s really not too much being used right now. In the like huge sways, we see people use it more. Like they’ll get frustrated that they’re now down XYZ amount across their portfolio.

So I feel like they’re just like, Screw it, let me get rid of some. And the other way too, when they see huge swings the other way, we in the news, we see people using it a bit more, but. For the most part, no. Most of our processing comes through credit card processing. And then the next big chunk, which really is not that much, it’s still under 10%, is the our buy now pay later vendor, uh, via Bill.

So yeah, crypto’s very small. 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So now I’m gonna move on our rapid buy round. And in this round I’m gonna ask you a few quick questions and you have to answer them maybe in one or two words, or one sentence or so. Ok. So the first is, One book recommendation that you would make to entrepreneurs and business professionals and 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: why?

I always like to recommend Profit First by Mike Maha. Uh, mainly just how to run a lean company. It just applied to us very well from the beginning, so I, it’s always stuck with me. An innovative 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: product or idea in the current e-commerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited. I think 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: like VR and ar, how that space is gonna enter basically any sort of physical aspect of the retail space.

Whether you’re selling ancillary vapes and glass pipes like us or a couch or anything like that. Like yeah, we’re seeing it fit into your room. Where’s that gonna go? I think that’s gonna be very interesting to see how much we can do with that beyond what’s capable, right. A 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: business or a productivity tool or software that you would recommend or a productivity tip?

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: Uh, I think I’d probably go back to dual plane just cause of how much it helped us right now just to establish the marketplace aspect. So if that’s something you’re trying to do, develop a marketplace aspect in your back end and you’re not gonna develop, customize it yourself. There are a few options out there, but I would probably recommend dual plane.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: A startup or business, uh, in e-commerce, retail or tech that you think is currently doing great things?

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: Uh, I would probably say Shopify just cause I, without that, I know there’s other big commerce or anything like that stuff that you could build websites on. But without them, I don’t think Call Connected would look or be at where we’re at right now. And also just in general, what it’s been able to do to bring competition to Amazon.

Amazon has crossed industry lines everywhere, so anybody that tries to compete with them or gives ’em a good stab at it, I’m always in. So for them to give small people like us an opportunity to be a seller, be a website, they’re now also like linking all of them to create a whole basic e-commerce of sellers on their shop app.

And they’re also getting to fulfillment. I just, I like what they’re doing and very just interested to see where it goes from here. 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: I always, I think you know this, Uh, just, just a quick comment. I think you know, all these companies that start as, start as like innovative startup start growing, but at a certain, they become so big and their different things.

I. You know, start becoming scary. . 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: Oh yeah. Antitrust has gone out the door. . Um, a peer 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: you? Uh, I would probably say Gary Beat. I just, even if you don’t like his antics and how loud he is, I just love that you could never underestimate the hustle.

If you work hard, something good’s gonna come out of it, and that’s his main driver. So I, I always just like anything he has to. Cool. 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Final question, best business advice you ever received or you would give to other entrepreneurs? 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: I think that I would give is probably going back to like that last question with the whole thing about never giving up.

There were so many aspects where we could have said, Oh, this is a high risk industry. Oh, this bank said no. Um, this payment processor shut us down. This like, and it’s just, just keep going at it. If you think you’re passionate about it and you think you’re confident, it could go some. Working hard at it will get you somewhere.

So I just always say, don’t give up. 

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Well, thank you Naia tho. Those were all the questions that I had today. Thank you again for sharing your story, for joining me today, ATTs, for sharing you know, how you started your business or the challenges, how you grew your business, um, and your future vision. So if someone, somebody wants to purchase product from your business or get wants to get some touch with you, what 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: is the.

For our, our products, obviously directly through our website on call connected.com, and if you wanted to get in contact directly with me or my team, um, obviously there’s a generic email@infocallconnected.com or I myself can be reached through, uh, my email that it’s listed on the website or also through my LinkedIn.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Awesome. Thank you again. I really, really appreciate your time today and thank you for joining me 

Nassir Silwany of CaliConnected: today at Trep Talks. Likewise. Thank you.

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