How Monk Provisions Brought Their Drinking Botanicals to Life (Part 1)
By: Bill McCool
We’ve all got that one friend who has a genius idea for a brand new business every five minutes, but taking that snapshot and transforming it into a successful company is what separates the true-blue entrepreneurs from the armchair CEOs.
We spoke with Monk Provisions’ founders Melanie McGraw and Aaron Burke about the inspiration behind their handcrafted cannabis-infused drinking botanicals and got a masterclass in bringing their business to life.
(This is the first in a 2-part series. The second part can be read here.)
How did you get the initial idea to start Monk Provisions?
Monk Provisions: We are lovers of the handcrafted cocktail and have been lucky enough to belly-up to some of the best craft cocktail bars in the world, where world-class mixologists bring together fresh herbs and botanicals, citrus, extracts, and craft spirits in a way that elevates the drinking experience.
Additionally, we wanted to create products that encourage connection because it’s one of our core values — whether that’s a shared moment with friends, connecting with our communities or the world at large, or simply taking a breath in the middle of our sometimes stressful lives to connect with ourselves.
A handcrafted cannabis cocktail seemed like the perfect way for us to execute fully on our values, elevating the cannabis experience for consumers by ensuring the best and cleanest ingredients, exceptional taste, gorgeous packaging, and one of the most consistently dosed products available.
Were you worried about the other players in the industry that were also looking to create tonics and drinks infused with terpenes?
Monk Provisions: Not particularly. There were, and still are, very few truly clean and healthful products in the cannabis market—particularly when looking at infused beverages. So many products on the market work against the benefits of cannabis by packing drinks with refined sugars and artificial ingredients.
With MONK we purposefully defied this trend, using carefully chosen herbs and fresh pressed juices specifically for the health benefits as much as the flavor profiles they bring. Time and time again, we have heard from our customers that MONK just feels better in their bodies. It’s just a better drinking experience all around.
Of course, competition is a reality. But the remedy to concerns about competition is an increased focus on the end-user. MONK came about, in part, as a response to conversations we were having with consumers who felt underserved by the existing cannabis market. That perceived need is as real today as it was then and we continue to maintain our competitive advantage through intimate knowledge of our customer.
Once you decided that this was something you wanted to pursue, what were your next steps?
Monk Provisions:Recipe formulations and brand identity, on parallel paths.
For our recipe formulations, we started by looking at the known health benefits botanicals, even before focusing on taste profiles. We were bringing together distinct botanicals to produce a targeted effect, such as relaxation, anti-inflammation, and so forth. Early on we were playing with things like burdock and astragalus root in addition to other core botanicals, because of their health benefits, including consulting with a highly experienced TCM practitioner. It was critical to us to have this foundation of health.
Then the real fun began when we started playing with flavor profiles, leveraging the talent of a couple good friends, one who is a Los Angeles-based herbalist and wildcrafter, the other who is a highly esteemed mixologist in the LA cocktail scene. The goal was to achieve exceptional taste while not sacrificing health benefits.
We were intent on expressing and delivering a beautiful and cohesive brand experience rooted in transparency, timelessness, connection, and craft. The tired old stereotypes – pot leaves, objectified women, and “punny names” referencing levels of intoxication – didn’t speak to us.
We were lucky enough to be introduced early on to Brian Scott of Boon Design in San Francisco. Brian’s work is innovative, nuanced, sophisticated, and impeccably executed. Our conversations began with exploration and talking about our core values and intentions for MONK and MONK product lines, and Brian constructed a unique graphic voice that was born out of our values and entirely supported them.
Let’s talk startup costs. Can you provide a breakdown of what costs went into getting MONK started?
Monk Provisions:: Early on, before we even had a brand name, we developed a pitch deck with the intention of raising money. We were lucky to have a number of friends or family members who were well versed in valuing investment opportunities and navigating early stages of startups, and they generously gave their time and insight to talk things through with us. We funded the first year’s expenses (2015), including the cost of company formation and legal fees, design fees, and trademarking, with our own money.
In January 2016, given the growing intensity and momentum with MONK, we left our consulting work and turned our time and attention 100% to MONK with the goal of launching the Drinking Botanicals line by late Spring 2016. With proof of concept achieved and personal funds dwindling, we took in our first investment money in the form of a $50k convertible note from a board member. With a launch imminent and the related costs quickly climbing, we focused again on developing an investor pitch deck.
In Q2 & Q3 2016, we raised a total of $400k in convertible notes from friends and family, which allowed us to launch the Drinking Botanicals line and achieve market fit. We completed a final raise of $300k in Q2 2017, allowing us to execute on changes to the product line and labels based on quantitative and qualitative market data, get into wide-scale California distribution, and begin growing the brand.
Who did you turn to for packaging your products?
Monk Provisions: Inspiration and internal discussions were communicated to Boon Design. They also connected us with print and paper companies such as Label Art of California, who printed our beautiful bottle labels. And as mentioned before, after much research, we chose Taylor Box Co. in Rhode Island for the sampler boxes.
But figuring out packaging is similar to sourcing suppliers. It’s done through a ton of internal research, looking at different types of sample packaging, whether that’s by perusing the aisles of grocery stores or high-end markets, going to expos focused on packaging solutions, or just visiting box/paper companies so that you can check out hundreds/thousands of different types of packaging they have in their showroom.
It’s not just about aesthetics or functionality. It’s about the touch, feel, and even sound of opening the package. It’s about the layering and unfolding of various visual elements. It’s about the totality of the customer’s experience and how that supports or negates your brand identity.
Bill McCool is a freelance writer based out of Los Angeles. Though new to the world of design, he has always been a storyteller by trade and he seeks to inspire and cultivate a sense of awe with the work and artists he profiles. When he's not winning over his daughters with the art of the Dad joke, he is usually working on a pilot, watching the Phillies, or cooking an elaborate meal for his wife.