Justin Hall

Co-Founder of bud.com

Justin registered bud.com in 1994, the year he launched his personal site “Justin’s Links from the Underground” and helped launch the first commercial web magazine HotWired.

The NY Times later called him “perhaps the founding father of personal weblogging.” Hall has worked as a journalist, a TV host, a CEO, and a producer for mobile games, online games, and elaborate web sites.

Justin currently serves as the Chief Technology Officer of bud.com, which offers curated collections of premium hemp for shipping and legal cannabis products for delivery.

Where did the idea for bud.com come from?

I registered bud.com on 2 December 1994. It was free to claim; no one had used it before. I liked pot and I liked the internet so it was fun to have this playful short domain name. I was 19 years old, working as an intern at Wired Magazine in San Francisco. We were launching arguably the first commercial publication on the web called HotWired; we ran the first banner ads. I learned how to register domains in that office, and I didn’t register very many. I was bummed that justin.com was taken; instead I got justin.org & links.net. Both pointed to my personal web site, Justin’s Links from the Underground. I registered bud.com because it was short and I loved pot and it was available. The first thing I posted was a cannabis-infused poem.

Over the years I co-hosted software experiments on bud.com: a group weblog, an online game, an anonymous message board. I hoped to use bud.com for something fun that could engage a lot of people.

In 1999 I was contacted by a lawyer representing Anheuser-Busch, makers of Budweiser & Bud beer. “How does $50,000 sound for bud.com?” I replied: $50k should be the interest generated by the money someone pays for bud.com. I wasn’t going to sell lightly, and they weren’t going to bid against themselves, so we didn’t get anywhere. My dad was an alcoholic and I agree with weed more than booze, so ultimately I was happier putting bud.com in service of the cannabis plant.

In 2013, people began approaching me with cannabis business ideas for bud.com. They pushed me to use the domain for advocacy, crowdfunding, private social networks – all sorts of business ideas. I talked to 2-3 small teams per year as legal markets took hold in different states. Nothing clicked as people pitched me to sell or lease the domain. I had a feeling that bud.com should serve potentially anyone, not business-to-business. And I was realizing that I didn’t want to sell the domain to someone – I wanted to join an adventure.

In 2007 I co-founded an online game startup GameLayers. We raised $2 million, built a massively-multiplayer online game in a Firefox toolbar, a few games on the early Facebook, and we were closed by the end of 2009. I learned how hard it was to build a solid business. I was CEO then, and the board tried to replace me partway through. That experience suggested I might be better paired with someone else to serve as CEO.

So I started networking the cannabis industry for a business partner. In the San Francisco Bay Area around 2015 there were meetup groups, conferences, evening lectures. I attended a few each year and introduced myself. “I own bud.com, what should we make with it?” Many folks would say “ah! I own happyganjatown.net and I’m not sure what to do with that either!” so I had good practice being curious and patient.

After a few years of cannabis industry events, I finally networked my way to Dean Arbit, our bud.com co-founder & CEO. Since he operated a number of media and manufacturing businesses in the California legal cannabis industry, he had access to a range of cannabis products, expertise, and relationships. Dean was interested in a path to reach directly to customers for the brands he was working with. We decided to see if we could use bud.com to help people actually get legal cannabis.

Dean and I first met in February 2017. I quit my previous job in September and we established bud.com as a California benefit corporation in October 2017. We made our first delivery in January 2018.

Now we bring legal cannabis delivery to people who visit bud.com. This seems like an appropriate way for 42 year old me to carry forward a gift from 19 year old me. As I was sorting out my goals around this opportunity, I decided to set my intentions to have an adventure. And that has definitely been true: cannabis is a deeply unpredictable business.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My one year old son wakes me up around 4.50am. I consume four email newsletters and then read books aloud to my kids. I cook breakfast for the family. Then I retreat to my desk with a cup of echinacea tea to dial into correspondence and developments for bud.com, a cannabis delivery service I co-founded three years ago.

Mid-morning I usually have my first sip of my vape pen or nibble an edible, something calming to help me focus & steady my nerves. In the course of a day we have such a wide range of partners and scenarios, I can get quite stressed out quite quickly. Small doses of cannabis help me keep my head together and my heart calm. I make ruthless use of task managers and messaging queues to keep the psychoactive compounds from derailing my productive hours. My wife can tell the days I haven’t consumed cannabis because I’m either completely short tempered from juggling too much, or I’m weeping because everything is too poignant. Measured ingestion of cannabis helps me show up for the various roles I have to perform now in my life as a co-founder, husband and father during the coronavirus quarantine.
I don’t consume caffeine. It makes me too jumpy. Instead these days cannabis is a performance enhancing tool for me. I had a friend in college who smoked so much weed and got straight A’s. I said how did you do it? He said “I’m a marijuana achiever.” I have never really been a marijuana achiever like that guy until I started work in the nonlinear cannabis industry.

This startup is demanding for me personally, and for my family. Before this I had a part time job so I could focus more on being a dad. Now I’m part of a thrilling, demanding startup. I’m conscious of the household management that my partner and I are sharing here. If I have a break between calls or after finishing a project, I can change a diaper, start the laundry, chop ingredients for dinner, run to the grocery store – help keep the home running. If I’m on a long conference call where I’m mostly listening, chances are I’m mute with a broom and dustpan. Moving my body feels almost like exercise when we are trapped inside due to unsafe air from California’s fire season. If the air is good, I’ll take that listening conference call on a stroll walking blocks around the neighborhood just to use my legs and feel a breeze on my face – at least the parts of my face that aren’t covered by a face mask, sunglasses, and sun hat. I’m 46 and I had a skin cancer removed at 42, so I cover up when I go outside.

I wish I could spend more time helping my kids through this unsettled time in their education. So much is upended due to coronavirus; our business demand has seen a huge and sustained increase since mid-March 2020, so I’m working hard to make the best of this opportunity. My kids frequently imitate me being busy on the phone or laptop.
Working in cannabis delivery can be a twelve hour-plus day. In the early days I would check in early with overseas team members, then talk to the first shift of dispensary employees restocking, then stay on to make sure the day’s deliveries are all done by 9pm. Fortunately this year we’ve scaled up our awesome Customer Experience CX team, so I no longer have to be within 5 feet of a computer while deliveries are being made. After dinner, we put the kids to bed with books and songs. Then I might play a board game with housemates. Or a single-player video game if I can get the time for myself. Or work on a project with my wife. Often I end up at the computer for another bit of bud.com before bed. While a bigger team means there’s less I need to worry about moment-by-moment, there’s more happening that I can maybe be useful for. I get such a thrill out of seeing someone join the team, bring their energy and ideas, and then removing roadblocks for them to be creative and have fun with this thing we’re making together.

How do you bring ideas to life?

The older I get the more I realize collaboration brings ideas to life. If you can convince someone an idea is good, you validate the idea and give yourself a social commitment to follow through. If I have a personal idea I’m bringing to life, I do it repeatedly, eventually.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Total unexpected change brought on by COVID. There’s so much suffering and grief under way – none of that stress is to be underestimated. The world will be healing from this for decades, assuming this isn’t just the first in a wave of successive confining pandemics. If we can see through all the haze of pain and misery, there is a new humanity taking shape on the other side. I can’t help but be excited to see how we evolve in the face of 2020s challenges. I hope I make it. I hope we make it!

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Listening, practicing empathy. Waiting to speak.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Perhaps I would tell my younger self: even a teeny bit more compromise with the system will make many things easier. But my younger self wasn’t ready to endorse that approach to life, and I’m grateful for what I’ve experienced as a result.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Video games combine story and interactive media to offer choice, experimentation, and exploration. Video games are the current culmination of human creative communications. So when offered a choice between watching something or playing something, one would obviously almost always choose interactive media. Most folks I know prefer to recreate with sit-back video entertainment and that usually makes me restless.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I have been coming back to Mary Oliver. Her poem Wild Geese contains this keeper: “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.“ Good to remember poetry when life’s various inputs threaten to crowd out your instincts and core motivations.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

It took me about four years of networking and attending cannabis industry events to find a great business partner. Our partnership was the catalyst that transformed bud.com from a domain name into a service delivering legal cannabis from orders on a web site. Patient long-term networking worked for me; I can be extroverted and I had other jobs.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

In 2007 I served as CEO & co-founder of GameLayers, a company that built a massively-multiplayer online game in a Firefox web browser extension. I busted my butt for that company. I married my business partner and we ran it together. The company failed and then my marriage failed. I saw a therapist, I took up meditation, I published extensive notes on my startup experience including pitch decks and term sheets and financial statements, to help anyone who might think starting a business like that is a good idea. http://links.net/vita/gamelayers/ – I found documenting my business failure publicly afterwards helped me digest the lessons.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I want to have an ergonomic computer setup wherever I work – standing, sitting in a task chair, someone’s dining table, on a couch. As I was switching between sitting and standing in different work settings, I attached velcro to my pants to hold my keyboard and trackpad from sliding on the floor. Recently I was able to produce a velcro apron with $30 materials sourced on Amazon at retail prices. It holds my input accessories in place whether I am sitting or standing! I’m currently describing this with my hands at my sides, typing into a split keyboard attached to my apron.
Now I’m envisioning a line of ergonomic aprons with pockets and velcro facing for attaching mice and keyboards. You could produce an apron with the loop side of the fabric, and sell it bundled with a few sheets of hook that can be attached to accessories you want to hold in your lap.

Since an apron alone is probably not enough for a business, you could partner with brands and personalities who want to merchandise their own fun-ctional aprons and attachments. You could look into a subscription service that sends new monthly attachments. You could invest in fabric fastener R&D to create a proprietary velcro-type format so you could better own the supply chain. You could establish a marketplace for things that attach to your aprons and take a cut of all the transactions.

It’s relatively easy fun thinking of ideas to serve a narrow market. Besides providing a breakthrough apron concept, this story helps explain why I benefited from finding a business partner to help make something broadly useful out of bud.com.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I spent a little more than $100 purchasing my daughter a bigger scooter for her birthday. She had been riding a small scooter that tipped over whenever she went to make a turn, so she could never go fast. I looked at a range of scooters and how they worked, and I got her a color she liked, and now she whips around town and she’s psyched; it’s invigorating to watch her speed along. And when we go on walks now, she scoots and I need to jog to keep up with her. So purchasing a scooter for my daughter turned her into something of a personal trainer for me – an unexpected win.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

AirTable allows our bud.com team to catalog a huge range of information in a spreadsheet+database format. We have found the flexibility and adaptability of AirTable to be a powerful information organization tool for our company when we didn’t have the resources to customize a more enterprise data setup.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse. I read it when I was a far younger person, and the concepts within have helped me understand and shape my reality. Who makes the rules of the “games” you’re playing? Are you choosing to play, or are you forced to play?

What is your favorite quote?

“yesterday’s clarity is today’s stupidity / entrust oneself to change” – two lines from a poem by a 14th century monk Ikkyu, translated by Sonja Arntzen. Always good to be reminded that we’re making mistakes now as we speak!

Key Learnings:

  • Collaboration brings ideas to life
  • Think of cannabis as a potential productivity tool
  • Entrust oneself to change