In this Cannabis Creative Blog, I sit down with Riley McDonnell, founder of GlassPass, an iOS and Android app for buying and selling glass. We discuss the pitfalls of the entrepreneur’s journey, how community engagement helped him take a failure to massive success, and the importance of regularly changing your bong water.
Although legalization has never had more steam in this country, the internet is still not a friendly place for cannabis.
It’s rife with pitfalls for cannabis enthusiasts looking to expand their glass collection. Products are not always what they seem in photos, mail order comes with the risk of broken glass, and if you get scammed, you’re pretty much out of luck.
Riley McDonnell is trying to change that.
McDonnell has been a fan of cannabis for years, but it wasn’t until entering college that he truly started to appreciate the hypnotizing world of glass. As any seasoned stoner knows, a bong is not just a vehicle for getting high. These glass creations are intricate works of art, selling for hundreds or thousands of dollars. But in the digital age, there was still no safe, reliable place to buy glass online.
McDonnell is the founder of GlassPass, an iOS and Android app for buying and selling glass products. Launched in March of 2021, GlassPass gives sellers a safe platform to show their products and offers buyers a quality guarantee. But the road to launching was anything but smooth.
McDonnell learned the hard way the same lesson most entrepreneurs learn- sometimes you have to scrap everything and start all over again.
GlassPass launched as an Instagram account, a risky strategy on a platform that doesn’t support cannabis. As their audience grew there, McDonnell and his co-founder turned their attention to creating a platform they owned entirely, and thus, the GlassPass website was born.
But from the start, the website was riddled with issues. Although they spent over a year and a half working on it, McDonnell describes it as “terrible,” and ultimately, they decided the website wasn’t representative of the company or platform they wanted to build. But deleting the site they had spent so much time on was no easy choice, and McDonnell calls it one of his most challenging times as an entrepreneur.
But he credits the Instagram following they had with keeping him going. Although running the business, being active on Instagram, and going to college full time was more than a full workload, McDonnell lights up when describing the passion and the feedback from his community. So, he did what any good entrepreneur does- he polled his audience and tried again.
The app was developed with real-time feedback from his community and following. He polled his audience on Instagram, asking questions in the stories, communicating with people in the comments, and starting discussions in DMs.
Less than a year from launch, the app is already, undoubtedly, a resounding success. Today, GlassPass has over 15,000 users and an average of five sessions per day, with an average sale price of $350 per transaction. With thousands of users and smooth functionality, GlassPass does something no other company is doing,
But McDonnell takes the most pride in the safety of his platform. All transactions come with a money-back guarantee, so if the worst-case scenario happens, and your glass arrives shattered, you reach out to a real person (usually McDonnell himself) and get all your money back. It’s really that easy.
McDonnell is in an immerging group of cannabis entrepreneurs; those who went to school in California and watched as legalization spread throughout the country and decided not to wait to get involved. McDonnell credits his college days with some of his success, acknowledging he would never have had the time to spend on Instagram, getting to know his audience if he wasn’t a student.
Read on to hear from McDonnell himself about what he’s excited for in the industry, the challenges he’s overcome as a young entrepreneur, and a good reminder of why you should always change your bong water before each bowl.
What are you most excited for in the industry right now?
RM: I’m really excited about events. One thing about cannabis in general that I enjoy is the social aspect. When I first started smoking, it was with friends, and everybody that I met through cannabis is just so unique, so welcoming, so supportive.
Every time I go to events, it’s amazing meeting new people. I went to PuffCon a couple of weeks ago, and that was an amazing event to see; it was in the middle of downtown LA, at a government headquarters type of building, in the middle of the street, and it was just so cool that there’s no alcohol, no tobacco. Everyone there was just smoking, and it was such a different vibe than a regular music festival. I felt like I could walk up to anybody and just have a conversation. I’m excited to see just how these events start to grow more and more the ability to host them legally.
I’m excited to see cannabis being more accepted as a social thing. I think it’s going to be cool to have vineyards for weed where you can go and just hang out with your friends, enjoy the cannabis. I’m excited to see people feeling like they can come out of their houses, go outside and meet people that are also involved in cannabis.
What’s something you’re not a fan of?
RM: One thing really needs to change is the people that are still in prison for a plant and a non-violent crime. I think they need to be released because it’s so hypocritical that there are people going out to huge events celebrating the plant when there’s people that are in prison for it at the same time. And that is obviously something that needs to change.
I think it’s crazy that there’s events where people can go, and the only to entry is owning a dab rig, but if you’re in a different state and you own that same dab rig, and you get pulled over, you could get a ticket or go to jail depending on where you are. I think that’s absolutely crazy that just based on where you live; you have such different laws. I’m not from California. I grew up in Chicago. I also lived in Texas for a few years, unfortunately, and it’s just crazy how different they are throughout the country.
Talk to me about diversity and inclusion at your company
RM: Diversity and inclusion is built into the way we operate. The only way that you can grow is by having different perspectives from different backgrounds. And I think that that is just a given. I always encourage everybody to speak up if they think something’s wrong or something isn’t right. And there’s been plenty of times when my team called me out on something that I thought was right at the time, but they think it is different. And then I realized you’re right, we’re going to change that.
The first thing I say whenever I bring someone on the team is that I always want to hear everything everyone has to say. I try to make sure there’s different perspectives because at the end of the day, if everyone has the same thing and is saying the same thing, you’re never going to grow; you’re just going to be doing the same thing over and over.
The women on my team have great insight that some of the guys just don’t really speak up about. We have a new intern, and she completely destroyed our website. She’s like, you need to change all of this, this and this. And no one has been so straightforward and upfront about that. I’ve noticed that some of my top users who give the most feedback are the most helpful, are all women who are really involved and truly care about making it better. We need more women in cannabis.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
RM: One of the hardest things was when we took down the website. It was a really dark time because we had just deleted the product we had been working on for a year and a half. And we felt like we’re at ground zero. All we had was our Instagram page, which essentially functioned as a mini marketplace for a while; it still does. We have users tag us in pieces for sale on their stories, and then we repost their stories onto our story. Every day we have one to 200 pieces for sale on our story, and it’s really difficult to manage honestly.
The challenge was that after we deleted the website was, we had nothing; we had no development team. It was just me and my co-founder Sam, and we had really no idea what to do. The only thing we still had was our Instagram page with all the people using the marketplace. And the one thing that we realized was even though we had no website and no app, the community, the people that were supporting us; they didn’t even skip a beat. They didn’t mind the website was down (probably because it was bad), but the idea of having a centralized platform and a safe marketplace was still extremely important to everybody.
One of the other hardest things for us was finding a bank that would support our product. We started using PayPal and quickly realized that PayPal is not a fan of glass. And I think that if we hadn’t spent so much time trying to search for a bank, we could have spent all that time trying to grow the community, grow other things. And I think just the large amount of regulation is a damper for businesses and growth. And it just makes it that much harder to do something that is going to benefit other people.
What is something you’re proud of?
RM: One thing is the community. I’m so proud of our community and how much they love the product. Every time I open the app, I’m like, holy! How is this my app? It functions so well.
I’m really proud of the team for building such a just such a fundamentally well-structured app. I’m proud of how beautiful the app looks, honestly. And just the design that we’ve put into it- I mean, if it wasn’t a bong app, I think that Apple genuinely would give us a shot at App of the Day. When it first came out, I didn’t really like using it more than Instagram. It wasn’t fully set up. It wasn’t really at its full capacity, and we still had a long way to go. But now, I never want to use Instagram or any other social media to sell stuff because the app is just so much easier.
Another thing that I think is amazing is how often our users open it. The average sessions per day out of our users is five and a half. I looked up some averages, and I think the highest app has an average of three opens per day. We’re way above that, and to me, that shows that people love using the app.
What do you want a customer to take away from an experience with you?
RM: Safety. I want them to know that whoever they’re buying from, they don’t have to worry about if they’re legitimate or not. Worst case scenario, if that person scams them, they’re going to get their refund within the same day. If a piece arrives broken, we’ll get them refunded, they’ll send it back.
When you go to a head shop online, you buy something, you know you’re going to get it. But if you go on social media, you aren’t fully sure that whatever it is going to show up, maybe the person is a good seller, but it was broken transit because of USPS. I want people to know that whatever they’re buying, they are fully guaranteed to be safe with that.
The main thing that GlassPass is trying to do besides making it easier is safety and community knowledge. We are there all the time to make sure that you are fully safe and you have the best experience possible. But primarily safe transactions. That’s the most important thing for us.
What’s your favorite fun fact about cannabis?
RM: I have a fun fact about glass, not so much about cannabis, but about glass. It’s kind of gross, but did you know that if you leave dirty water in your bong for more than 24 hours, it’ll start developing bacteria?
My fun fact would be you should change your water and clean your bong as much as possible because it can have an effect on your lungs and your health if you’re leaving a dirty bong because you’d be surprised at how quickly bacteria can form in dirty water.