Interview: Bettina Huang, CEO of Say Hi & Lover of Paintings and Pineapples

As 2017 comes to a close, we thought it appropriate to reflect on the year that was with the CEO and co-founder of Say Hi/Hi&Low, Bettina Huang.

Hi&Low made its shining, content-driven debut in fall 2017, while Bettina has been working diligently to get Say Hi — a cannabis product discovery site — ready for launch in 2018. The two sites are essentially two sides of one coin created to bring you the most interesting and buzzworthy cannabis products and news.

Here, Bettina chats with us about her goals to normalize cannabis, the challenges of creating a cannabis startup, and a profound love for Flamin’ Hot Limon Cheetos.

Tell me about Say Hi. What is it, and why should we all be excited?

I’m so excited to say that Say Hi will be the destination for discovering the most innovative and best-designed modern cannabis products — often before they launch. There isn’t currently a site that lets you learn about the amazing products being developed in this space, much less a site that’s curated, looks cool, and is easy to navigate.

Our audience can learn about new cannabis products and where to buy them, eliminating the experience of feeling clueless at the dispensary. You can also create your own curated lists of products with our Add to Stash button to get updates on the cannabis products that most interest you. That makes you a tastemaker, because we’ll run weekly features on the most-Stashed products.

We’ve been heads-down focused on putting together all the moving parts to build Say Hi. So it feels unreal we’ll be launching at the beginning of 2018, most likely in February.

Why did you decide to create Say Hi?

Our goal with Hi&Low and Say Hi is to normalize cannabis by making it accessible to a broad audience but in a stylish way. We feel really strongly that’s where the future of cannabis is headed, but we’re making that happen now.

People who know me are initially surprised when they find out I’ve started a cannabis business. But that’s exactly the point. ‘m trying to get people to associate cannabis with everyday life, innovation, and great modern design instead of the outdated stereotype that cannabis is shady.

What are the challenges in creating a cannabis startup?

It takes a certain amount of crazy to start a company because it’s tough work. Of course there’s an additional thick layer of complexity when you start a company in the cannabis industry. The legal landscape is an ever-changing chimera.

We’re also endeavoring to do something new that will change the status quo stoner cannabis culture. That means we’re swimming against the current, but it’s by choice. Sometimes you can’t do important, exciting work otherwise! And sometimes challenges force you to come up with better ideas.

As a concrete example, we first planned to launch Say Hi as the first real modern e-commerce site for cannabis products. In trying to set up the business, we realized there are reasons this doesn’t already exist, including the very high legal and financial barriers. We don’t believe in speaking ill of anyone, so I say factually rather than critically that the companies that sell flowers online right now have all found it necessary to do something fishy to make that possible. We are committed to being above board, and that stance meant we had to pivot the business model.

We think we are now creating something more relevant to our audience, does a better job of acknowledging the amazing cannabis products that are coming out every day, and will change the way most people think about cannabis. Our slogan is “modern people, meet modern cannabis.”

What has been your career path leading up to the founding Say Hi?

In some ways, I’m a traditional overachiever. I went to Brown University for my undergrad and then New York University for my MBA. There’s an important part of me that loves processes, strategy, and even math and is excited to professionalize the cannabis industry. There’s another side of me that loves creativity, art, fashion, and design and has always rejected conformity.

I studied art history as an undergrad and worked at the auction house Christie’s after college. But the institution of auctions felt outdated, so I went to business school and became interested in startups back before it was quite normal to go that route.

I’m most proud of the work I did as one of the leaders at the design e-commerce site Fab.com and of building the Consignments business at Artsy. Both jobs let me work with amazing aesthetically focused products and use my creativity in a professional setting. That’s the approach I’m taking with Say Hi — we try to think creatively about how to elevate (no pun intended) cannabis.

How did you become interested in the cannabis industry?

An ex-boyfriend got me into it! I won’t give him credit for much, but let’s say he was a connoisseur. He believed cannabis was no more harmful than whiskey or wine. I looked into the research, which does largely support that sentiment, assuming responsible use. Of course there are proven medical benefits that make cannabis a useful treatment for some ailments.

I realized the primary issue with cannabis is perception, and inevitably, one day, we could evolve to think about it just like wine or whiskey — in terms of safety and in terms of belonging in a modern lifestyle. When used responsibly, cannabis can be interesting and nuanced, even cool. I’m laughing at myself saying that because I try to avoid saying “cool,” because there’s nothing less cool than using that word about what you do, but sometimes you just have to do it.

 

I love my geometric stash box, and I use Glossier zippy bags if I’m quickly bringing anything on the go.

What has been the most fun about starting Say Hi?

I’m a nerd who loves the puzzle of starting a business from scratch. There are so many things to do and keep track of: what kind of technology do we need, who is our audience and how do we create an experience they’ll love, what is the current status of the cannabis legal landscape? All of that is incredibly stressful but also extremely fun when it comes together.

Less insane is the fact that it’s been great talking to, working with, and getting to know the people behind the brands that are making the most interesting products in cannabis today. What could be better than knowing smart people who are doing new things, care about great design, pushing boundaries, and have the same long-term vision of this industry as you do?

What did you want to be when you were 5 years old?

I thought I would be a computer programmer, basically what the world called engineers back then. My dad was an electrical engineer and did lots of work with computers way before they were a standard part of life. I had them around me as a little girl and even played old DOS games that none of my friends remember.

Anyone remember the game where you had to catch babies who were thrown out the windows of a burning hospital? I loved that one, although it’s pretty morbid now that I think about it.

What is your personal stash like?

On the one hand, I’m kind of old fashioned. I think there’s something nice about the experience of smoking, usually from a joint. On the other hand, I’m really interested in all of the innovation happening in edibles right now. I think they can be such a great and fun way to imbibe!

For example, the chocolate-covered fruit from Satori are some of my favorites (check out our review!). They taste good, and it’s so easy to control dosage. You can microdose with just a piece, or can scale up and have a more intense experience.

 

Serving edibles in a beautiful re-purposed ashtray feels very old-meets-new.

What’s one thing that’s always in your fridge?

I’m bad about keeping my kitchen stocked, so it says a lot about me that my staples these days include pineapples (one of my favorite fruit, and highly nutritious), gochujang (Korean spicy bean paste that tastes amazing on everything), reishi mushroom powder (non-hallucinogenic, they’re great for your energy), and Cheetos (crunchy, of course, but specifically Flamin’ Hot Limon. It’s the perfectly engineered food with just the right balance of sweet, spicy, sour, and salty).

How do you describe your personal style?

I think it’s really important for people to have their own personal style and to collect things that reflect who they are. In my case, when it comes to my home, clothes, and shoes, I really care about form and material and also punctuations of color. Pants or a shirt that are sculptural but still flattering are generally my thing. I love brands like Acne and Jacquemus for my wardrobe and Hay for home goods. They’re all slightly playful, but they also experiment in really sophisticated ways with proportions and shapes.

My rings and cosmetics shelf. I think it’s important to place creative pieces in all parts of the home.

Thank you, Bettina! We can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store for Say Hi, Hi&Low, and the cannabis industry!

Hi&Low