I was a sophomore in college when I smoked marijuana for the first time. Having been somewhat sheltered, it didn’t strike me as odd when my new roommate began unpacking copious amounts of Grateful Dead posters, incense, and tie-dyed t-shirts. Being the ‘sharing’ type, it wasn’t long before he offered me an opportunity to experience something completely new. I had lived with him for less than a month when I obliged and accepted his offer.
With concern for my respiratory health being my primary cause for declining the initial offers, my roommate (the kind soul that he was) had procured a vaporizer. While my parents, teachers, and elders had taught me that smoke inhalation (of any kind) was bad, I didn’t understand why vaporizing (a new alternative my roommate had introduced me to) made a difference. Embracing my curiosity, I began to research what vaporizing was and why it was a better alternative. I discovered that cannabinoids, the active ingredient in marijuana, vaporize at around 285 degrees while the actual plant matter begins to combust at 392 degrees. This means that you can get all of the effects without inhaling the harmful tars, toxins, and chemicals of the combustion-based “smoking” process. Vaporizing, as it seemed, was a means to enjoy the effects of marijuana without damaging my lungs.
It’s just one of those moments you never forget. Sitting around a coffee table with a group of people, some you know and some you don’t, as you take that first inhalation – not knowing what to expect. I suppose comparisons can be drawn with traveling as, no matter how many ways someone explains it to you, it is still with a distinct mix of excitement and terror that you set off to experience something that’s guaranteed to change your perspective on the world.
While the experiences over the weeks following were eye opening, my stoner career in college was short lived. It was less than two months later, as I came from smoking with friends off-campus, that I stopped by my girlfriend’s dorm to get my bike. Just as I left the building and jumped on my bike, college security rounded the corner and pulled into the parking lot. Like a SWAT team, they poured out of their dingy patrol truck and jumped in front of my bike. Likely the result of walking around a college campus late at night on a weekend, it was with a fervent echo that they pestered me about the contents of my backpack – not allowing me to leave.
Telling the story today, it is much to my chagrin to admit that they convinced me to open my backpack. Expecting to find some form of alcohol in my tiny backpack, I distinctly remember one of them bouncing excitedly at the realization that they had just caught someone with a controlled substance. Unsure of what to do, one of the campus security officers called the local police. Fortunately as it seemed, the dispatch explained that they were too busy breaking up a fight a few blocks over. It was with a sigh of relief that, without handcuffs, I was able to ride my bike home and await a call from an officer.
The following evening I sat in my dorm room slowly managing to eek out one of my homework assignments as I contemplated my circumstances. I distinctly remember having been able to, for a brief moment, forget the shit storm about to reign over me and it was at that moment my phone rang. As the officer politely introduced himself I looked over to my clock and was astonished to see that it was 11:30PM at night. He apologized for calling at such an indecent hour explaining that he worked the night shift and had just gotten on duty.
It was when the officer stated that he had gotten my cell number from my parents that, I had to interrupt him with a horrifying question. “I’m sorry, what did you just say? You got my phone number from my parents?” … “Yes, the college had mistakenly given me your home phone number. I spoke to your father and he gave me your cell number.” Astonished, horrified, and speechless – it was at that moment I was seriously contemplating the benefits of jail time. My parents had always been somewhat strict and extremely straight laced. Realizing that extremely polite police officer had innocently interrupted my parents’ sleep by calling their home at 11:00PM at night, on a Jewish holiday, when my entire extended family was staying over to explain that I had been caught in possession of marijuana – was more horrifying to me than any prison sentence.
As part of my punishment, the college required that I meet with a school counselor biweekly for several months. On our first meeting she started the conversation by asking for my perspective on the consequences of my actions. I began to explain that I had three sets of consequences – one from the college (which she knew), one from the police (which she also knew), and one from my parents. She stopped taking notes and looked at me wide eyed as I detailed the extent to which my parents were making my life hell. When I finished there was an extended pause which was punctuated with the statement, “well… do you want to talk about something else?” Realizing that my parents were doing their best to teach me the consequences of my actions she figured it was only cruel to sit there and lecture me for another forty-five minutes. In fact, in all our required sessions that was the last we ever spoke of the incident.
It was years later, long after my college career, that I was reintroduced to the drug. Again, another friend offered it to me as we were leaving the house. Realizing the absurdity not of my abstinence, but the reasoning for my abstinence, I obliged and smoked only a small amount. It was that night that I remembered everything I loved about marijuana. It was a tool by which to relax, contemplate, and experience the world from a different perspective.
Not long after that night, I went on a date with a beautiful Brazilian girl just a few years my junior. We talked in a coffee shop for three hours before parting ways. Just a few weeks later we started dating and a few months later she moved in with me. Early on in our relationship we discovered that we had similar views on marijuana. We both saw it as recreational, but not required – and used occasion, but not often. What I didn’t know was that, despite my thinking that she shared my extroverted nature, she was actually quiet introverted and would often opt to forgo big events for a quiet night at home.
One night, trying to offer a better alternative to attending a friend’s birthday party, she suggested we stay in to make a homemade pizza and watch a movie. Seeing my contemplation of her offer, she increased the allure of her proposition by making it a ‘dinner and a movie … with marijuana’ night. It was more likely her adorable smile and the overwhelming deliciousness of her homemade four-cheese pesto and artichoke pizza that made me give in to the temptation. Excitedly she smiled and asked, “so what do you want to watch?” to which I replied, “I don’t know, what do you want to watch?” Unable to identify the perfect movie, I opened my computer and searched the phrase “stoner movies” in search of cinematic guidance.
We searched and searched to no avail as we found list after list of movies about smoking marijuana. We had no desire to watch movies like Cheech and Chong, White Castle, or Friday. We wanted to watch a movie that enhanced the contemplative nature imbued by the drug and we eventually settled on a movie that wasn’t on any list we had come across – Stranger Than Fiction with Wil Farrell.
The next weekend, likely seeking to repeat a working formula, my girlfriend suggested what had at that point been dubbed a “stoner movie night”. Again we couldn’t decide on a movie, again we turned to the web searching “stoner movies”, again we couldn’t find what we were searching for, and again we decided on something that wasn’t on any list – The Truman Show with Jim Carrey. The next weekend was no different, but the receptive nature of the process prompted a question – was “stoner movies” something that other people were searching for?
At the time, I had recently discovered Pat Flynn’s ‘Niche Site Duel 1.0’ and was experimenting with creating various niche websites to enhance my new understanding of the Internet Marketing world. Before we began our “stoner movie” that night I did a quick keyword search. When I discovered that term was being searched over 1,100 times per day and had no significant competition … I saw an opportunity. I immediately purchased the domain ‘stonermovies.net’ and made a note to build out the website in the morning.
Attempting to rank on the front page of Google for a well trafficked, low competition term like ’stoner movies’ would be stellar practice for the Internet marketing skills I was trying to develop. I wasn’t sure if I could (legally) make any money doing it, but was more interested in the experience and assumed I would be able to figure it out as the project progressed. My girlfriend had been watching me build these mini-websites and was equally excited to see what happened, but neither of us were really “stoner” enough to write content for the site.
It took me about four hours the following morning to install WordPress, install a theme, and write my first two articles. Compiling a list with my girlfriend and attempting to “talk the talk” the two articles were titled “10 Best Stoner Movies” and “10 Stoner Movies To Enjoy When Smoking With Friends”. I posted the content, did some minor marketing, and waited. It was three days later that I was reminded about the project and decided to do a quick check on my progression in Google’s rankings. I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw that in less than 72 hours the site was already ranking in the top three pages.
Without anything more than the two original articles, it had reached the #11 position by the end of the week.
It was at this point I realized that in order to climb further in the rankings I was going to need more content and I was NOT qualified to write it. Almost reflexively, I did what any entrepreneur would to do – I looked to hire someone from the Internet to write the content for me. I had already hired a few contractors through oDesk and went there first. I opened up a new position and titled it ‘Awkward writing request…” with this job description:
Contractors spend a lot of time applying to jobs and it’s pretty normal to receive a template responses, but this time – I got none. Every single response was written specifically for this listing as contractors laughed at the posting and begged for the position – apparently there’s a fair number of stoner copywriters out there. Less than 24 hours after the listing had been posted I received a response that left me laughing so hard that I struggled to breathe.
Needless to say, he was perfect for the job and I hired him on the spot. To this day, he has been one of the my best hires as he was absolutely perfect for the position. I needed only to provide him with the keywords and he would create absolutely brilliant content. While all of his writing expertly entertained the audience with which he was tasked, this has continued to be one of my favorite passages:
With the help of an amazing writing (who only charged me $5 per article), we reached the front page of Google within two weeks. Immediately we were inundated with stoners seeking the perfect movie to compliment their mood. I still didn’t understand most of the jargon that was being discussed on the site, but had achieved my goal at an astonishing speed. It was at this point that I realized two things: (1) most people searching for “stoner movies” aren’t in the mood to pay for a download and (2) people who smoke a great deal of marijuana don’t tend to have the best understanding of internet marketing – the entire market was fair game.
I asked myself, what is the most expensive thing that you can (legally) purchase in relation to marijuana? No sooner had I asked the question that I remembered my experiences in college and had my answer – vaporizers. So what was the Cadillac of vaporizers? If I was going to make commission selling a product it might as well be the most expensive one on the market! A quick Google search and I had my answer – the Volcano Vaporizer. Ringing in at $669 per unit and with almost no competition in the search rankings I was excited to capitalize such an amazing opportunity.
All I needed now was a supplier who had an affiliate program I could utilize. Another quick Google search and I found several, but one which offered a starting commission of 15% and (with increased volume) up to 35%. That meant that I would be able to make $100 to $234 each time I sold a unit. With the keyword research indicating that I could have over a thousand people visiting the site each day I was giddy with excitement. This time I used LeadPages a simple landing page software, in combination with a basic WordPress website to create the web presence. I assigned my writer a few keywords to use as the basis for new articles, started to link the site, and tried my best to wait patiently while it climbed in the rankings.
An idea, born as a joke, had become not one, but multiple profitable businesses. With no experience in “stoner culture” and minimal experience in Internet Marketing I was able to establish several niche websites that generated streams of passive income. While I didn’t start smoking marijuana to get an education, it certainly taught me a great deal – not by virtue of using it, but by virtue of deeming no question to be unworthy of asking. While most stereotypical “stoners” were being absorbed into their couches, I seemed to be the first person to take the initiative to capitalize on this opportunity. Since launching these websites there has been a boom in copycats and other forms of competition, but the lessons learned never fade away. At the end of the day:
You don’t need to know exactly what you’re doing when you start, you just need to keep going long enough to figure it out.
— My Social Sherpa (@My_SocialSherpa) September 12, 2014