Meadow's Aria Biswas on Synergies in Cannabis Brand and Dispensary Marketing

Plus, the evolution of dispensary software

Aria Diana Biswas is head of experiential marketing at Meadow, Y Combinator's first startup to operate in the cannabis space. Since 2014, Meadow has been building a complete suite of connected software tools for cannabis dispensary sales, marketing, inventory management, compliance and more.

Aria produces the annual four-day, 500-person cannabis industry retreat Meadowlands, held in the redwoods of Mendocino, designed to build a more connected, collaborative and equitable industry. Tickets for Meadowlands, happening Oct. 1-3, are on sale now.

In collaboration with nonprofits like Our Academy and Success Centers, Aria produces workforce development curriculum to help social equity applicants thrive in the cannabis industry. She also organizes with Allies Creating Equity, an activist community working to increase diversity in Silicon Valley tech startup culture.

As a certified reiki and breathwork practitioner, she also leads private and group meditation and healing sessions at cannabis retreats like Humble Bloom's Field Trip and MJ Lifestyle's Visualize & Thrive.

We spoke with Aria for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.


Aria, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up working in my family's bagel shop and cafe on Main Street in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where I first developed a love of being immersed in community and saw what it took to run a small retail operation.

I was introduced to cannabis brownies in high school after my friends learned that my birthday, 4/20, was the stoner holiday; in many ways I feel like it was destined that I'd work in the cannabis industry years later.

I studied journalism and international relations in Argentina and Greece, lived in Ecuador as a travel writer right out of college, worked as a copywriter and producer in New York, and ran a film production company in New York and L.A. with my husband. I now call the Bay Area home and am grateful to keep building stronger roots here.

Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.

I'm the head of experiential marketing at Meadow. I produce Meadowlands, our annual cannabis industry retreat in Mendocino County, and lead our events and marketing efforts, including developing SOPs for pop-up sales experiences at licensed cannabis events like Emerald Cup and Northern Nights. I'm based in the East Bay and our cannabis retail and delivery software powers dispensaries and delivery operators throughout California.

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

Cannabis is a daily pleasure for me; it enhances my meditation practice and inspires creative thinking and is my favorite way to unwind. I've connected with some of my favorite humans through our shared love of this healing plant. Tinctures have been extremely helpful in helping me manage migraine headaches over the years as well.

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

I'm a big fan of the sungrown flower from Moon Made Farms. I love the intention and energy that Tina and her team put into nurturing the cannabis plant on their land in Humboldt County. I also always have a supply of Mellows gourmet-infused marshmallows in my freezer that my friend Stephanie Hua makes; they're one of my favorite edible products for relaxation, and they never fail to delight friends and family.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

Compliance is something my team and I think about a lot. As cannabis regulations continue to evolve, so must our dispensary software. Our retail and delivery system has been built in lockstep with California regulations since 2014. Helping dispensary operators understand the value of having a POS system built in California specifically for this unique retail regulatory environment is something they don't always appreciate until they've used a clunky system that doesn't have the correct compliance guardrails in place and they have to bring in expensive Metrc consultants to fix complicated inventory discrepancies. 

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.

I'm excited to see more dispensary marketing teams and brand marketing teams begin to work more closely together to reach their shared customers and goals. Since many cannabis brands can't sell directly to their customers, they rely heavily on dispensaries for visibility, promotions and customer engagement. When we launched our new cannabis marketing platform, we designed it in a way that allows dispensaries to layer segments of data from their CRM to reach exactly the right customers with targeted text campaigns. Dispensaries can also give brand marketing teams limited permissions to draft (but not send) SMS and MMS campaigns directly inside their POS. As more dispensaries and brands work together to create special offers to delight relevant customers and send strategic cross-promotional text campaigns, we're seeing amazing ROI on marketing. This is a great win-win-win situation that's good for dispensaries, brands and their customers who receive well-crafted messages and product updates that are highly relevant to them.

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

I love to support the team at Success Centers because of the celebratory energy that Angela White, their Equity for Industry program manager, brings to the work of uplifting marginalized community members and creating opportunities for them to enter the cannabis industry on the ground level. Success Centers has worked to improve the lives of people living in difficult circumstances in the Bay Area for more than 40 years, and they were pioneers in seeing the emerging cannabis industry as an opportunity for economic social justice.

I've been grateful to work with Angela and her team to launch a retail compliance education series that helps future dispensary and delivery operators navigate all the red tape of selling cannabis legally in California; she makes it a real joy to participate in these kinds of social equity programs and should serve as an inspiring model for other cities and jurisdictions throughout California who are looking to implement workforce development and training programs to build a more equitable industry.

A recent project you're proud of.

Recently my team and I worked with Y Combinator and four cannabis legal groups to create the Cannabis Safe, a free resource designed to help new cannabis businesses compliantly raise funds with standardized investment terms they could trust. We know raising capital in the cannabis industry is a huge hurdle for many social equity operators, and it's been gratifying to hear that these pre-vetted investment terms to pull off the shelf have helped new entrepreneurs avoid predatory partnerships and stretch their startup capital so they can get up and running more efficiently.

Someone else's project you admired recently.

I'm really excited about the new Papa and Barkley spa and consumption lounge in Eureka, which is powered by Meadow's cannabis retail software. I am so excited to see more consumption lounges pop up; I've personally always wanted more social spaces that don't revolve around alcohol and I think these kinds of immersive wellness experiences will change cannabis culture and give us new safe spaces to appreciate the medicinal aspects of cannabis while gathering in community.

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.

Brandon Bolton at United Core Alliance is someone I've connected with recently who is very inspiring to me; he saw a need for more support for social equity applicants in Sacramento, and as a social equity applicant himself, he's created a great new organization that's providing a unified voice for communities most affected by the War on Drugs. Brandon and his team have successfully advocated for more equity licenses in Sacramento, and have hosted expungement clinics, free career training workshops and food drives for under-served communities in Sacramento County. I really admire his can-do attitude and would encourage others in the cannabis space to support this group's grassroots efforts to create a more equitable industry.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.

Since I was a kid I've always had the dream of owning a bed-and-breakfast to meet travelers and also have quiet space in nature to write stories; I'm currently working on my first novel and would love to someday be a full-time author with more time for writing and reflection. My husband and I were the winter caretakers of a retreat space in upstate New York several years ago where I started studying reiki and was introduced to breathwork and other healing modalities. I now host breathwork with different local Bay Area meditation studios and my husband is a DJ and music producer; we would love to eventually have a space of our own to host different types of community events at the intersection of wellness, music, social justice and plant medicine. 

Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards, editor of Muse by Clio, and host of the podcast Tagline. Previously, he was creative editor at Adweek.

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