Q&A with Michael Scherr- CEO of Aria Brands

Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I used to be a touring musician until I decided to go back to school in Boston to get my MBA where I focused on entrepreneurship, branding and product development. I first started using cannabis as a medicine around the time I was playing the piano for 4 hours every night and needed relief for the pain in my wrists. I later got into cultivating my own cannabis after I tore my cartilage in a skiing accident. The more research I did, the more I was blown away by the endocannabinoid system. I knew I wanted to get involved in the space in some way. I started by working with a package design and manufacturing company, then a hemp company before launching Aria Brands. 

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
After launching BirthJays, I had the honor of meeting Snoop Dog for a very special occasion! I’ll never forget carrying out his cake topped with our original pre-rolled joint candles, BirthJays, and singing happy birthday. 
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The BirthJay wasn’t created overnight. There were many iterations and prototypes of this idea before I figured out the best possible way to combine a joint and a birthday candle. I dipped a lot of joints into heated candle wax before I realized I needed to come up with another strategy. It’s pretty funny looking back on it now thinking about all of the perfectly good bud that I totally ruined with candle wax. I was just so determined to make it work, and eventually, I figured it out of course. Lesson learned, folks! Don’t dip your joints in candle wax! 
Are you working on any exciting projects now? 
Our main focus right now is getting BirthJays into as many locations as possible. Eventually, you’ll start to see BirthJays at the check-out counter in dispensaries and various smoke shops across the country. My team can attest to the fact that I have plenty of ideas for new products under Higher Celebrations, but we aren’t in a position to talk about those just yet.   

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Finding someone who isn’t a parent or relative who actually takes the time to help you on a professional level is very rare. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a few people like this in my life, mostly outside of the industry. My old record producer was one of them, and I’ve had other entrepreneurs as mentors as well. I personally like having someone to call upon who tells it like it is and doesn’t sugar coat things. I was once sitting down with a mentor of mine who was putting the heat on me as I was talking about some issues I was having with the business. He just started dropping F-bombs and asking me what my vision was, which was a little intimidating and humbling at the same time. His scare tactics actually worked and got me back on the right track though, so I was very thankful. 

This industry is young, dynamic, and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting? 
Most definitely! Gorilla Marketing is my forte, and when you’re trying to generate buzz about your company on a budget, you need to be thinking outside of the box. For example, instead of burning through a ton of cash by getting a booth at a conference, our team utilizes our backgrounds in entertainment and overall quirky personalities to spread the word. We actually dress as Waldo at conventions and wander around the conference floor, and you’d be surprised by how many people flock to us wanting to talk. 
We’re a pretty scrappy team and we’re overly creative and tactful because we don’t have the money to waste if something doesn’t garner the results you wanted. I can imagine that large corporations with full-fledged marketing teams and substantial quarterly marketing spends don’t have to flex their creative muscles that often and tend to use a spray and pray method, hoping something sticks. My advice to them would be to never throw money at a marketing campaign just because you can. Host brainstorming sessions often, mindmap new ideas and try to keep things fresh and exciting. 

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
Things That Excite Me:

  1. The massive white space around creative thinking never ceases to amaze me. People are supportive of weird and funny ideas more so compared to other industries. 
  2. I’ve been in the industry for about a decade now, so I’ve managed to build a solid network of professionals who, similar to me, are bootstrapping their way to success. It’s nice having people to lean on who have been there to witness your ups and downs. 
  3. Similarly, I know many ‘OG’ cannabis professionals who have paid their dues, and then some. When these hard workers and friends of mine start to finally get some recognition for how far they’ve come, it’s incredibly humbling. No matter if it’s an industry award, or perhaps someone has managed to grow their startup into something widely successful, witnessing hard work paying off is always satisfying. 

Things That Concern Me:

  1. Everyone and their uncle is coming out with their own CBD brand or line of products. Just because you can legally launch a CBD product, doesn’t mean you should. 
  2. The lack of transparency with some of these brands is putting a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. For starters, product labels aren’t aligning with potency test results, especially in the over-saturated CBD space. I’m afraid that brands doing their due diligence to be fully compliant and transparent are being lumped together with the other guys who just want to make a buck, with little regard for the consumer’s health and experience. 
  3. Lots of people don’t understand hardships that true industry OGs have suffered. Some of them have gone to jail for this plant. I’m witnessing a lack of empathy from new people entering the industry who don’t realize all of the sacrifices involved with building the backbone of the legal cannabis market. 

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Trust in yourself, because not everyone is going to agree with every choice you make. You have to be okay with that and know that you’re doing the right thing. 
  2. Being a CEO is one of the loneliest jobs in the world. You can’t expect everyone at your company to work as much as you do. Sometimes you’ll be working late nights on your own, and accept that your social life may take a substantial hit as well.
  3. Raising money is hard and sometimes near impossible, especially when external factors like the economy, vape crisis, etc. come into play. 
  4. Your business is your “baby” and even if you do everything in your power to keep it safe, a  lot of things are out of your control. Things will go wrong at some point, but you’ll drive yourself crazy if you beat yourself up over every little thing. 
  5. Choose your business partners wisely, they can make or break you. Pick someone who you trust, but no matter what, pay for a lawyer to draft up an agreement.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
When you first hire someone, check out an inspiring Ted Talk from Simon Sinek, author of the classic “Start With Why” and “Leaders Eat Last.” His speech and his books explore how leaders can inspire cooperation, trust and change. 
The book ‘Measure What Matters’ is also a good read that taught me about measuring OKRs (objectives and key results) to ensure you and your colleagues are on the same page with priorities.  A big part of this as the leader is understanding how to give constructive feedback.
Don’t let the superiority you have over your employees get in the way of also having empathy for various situations they might be facing.  You’ve been in their shoes before, so don’t forget that. Although, at the same time it’s important that you establish some barriers and avoid being overly chummy. Finding a happy medium is key, which is especially difficult when your company is very small and you start spending way more time with your colleagues than your family!  

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
One of my passions came to life when I created the America Israel Cannabis Association. Most people are unaware of the amazing research that’s happening in Israel, which is why I started the association in the first place. For example, there are several studies around cannabis use in children with autism that more people need to know about. Raising awareness around this topic is something I would love to do more of if I had the time. 
I also am very inspired by the nonprofit Defy Ventures that gathers volunteers to consult inmates on how to secure a job after serving time in prison. Over 30% of inmates return to prison because re-entering society is a challenge, so I’d love to help someone realize their potential to be successful and maybe even start a business of their own! 
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Definitely follow @BirthJays on Instagram and/or my personal handle @michaelscott1982. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn as well, since I’m pretty active on there these days.