Cyo Nystrom grew up about five blocks from her future business partner Rachel Washtien — in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond neighborhood — before moving to Marin at age 7. Her mother was an alternative healer and her father, whom she barely knew, spent most of her young life in prison for a cannabis-related crime.
“I carried a lot of shame around it,” Nystrom says. “I grew up in Marin County, I went to private school, and I also think when you grow up, you think everyone’s life is a cookie cutter.”
Now, however, that shame is long gone. About two and a half decades later, she and Washtien co-founded Quim, a cannabis company that has already raised more than a million dollars in investment. To hear Nystrom tell it, she’s the “ideas” person, while Washtien stays on top of the “details” – but their official titles are CEO and COO, respectively. Nystrom says she’s dived into the cannabis industry in part to break through her own internalized stigma about cannabis. “I saw an opportunity — not like I was going to save anyone from the war on drugs — but to get involved early on and work through some of that shame I’ve carried with me for 25 years.”
To democratize the investment process, Nystrom and Washtien launched a crowdfunding investment campaign via Republic. Launched on September 15 of this year and accepting new investors until December 18, it gives brand enthusiasts the opportunity to invest from $100. Investors invest in a CrowdSAFE, which means that instead of immediately holding equity in the company, they have a receive a financial interest that converts to equity or a cash payout if Quim goes public, is acquired or sells its assets. Full disclosure: I invested at the measly $150 level (because at that level, $50 of the investment is returned to me as a gift card).
The founders want to do more than just destigmatize weed with Quim’s products – they’re also tackling stigmas surrounding vaginal health. Quim is a line of intimate lubricants and everyday proactive vaginal health products, all infused with THC or hemp CBD.
When making the product, Nystrom wanted to clear up two major misconceptions: first, that UTIs and yeast infections cannot be prevented through proactive care, and second, that needing lube was evidence of sexual incompetence. Both problems arise from patriarchal stigmas who make it taboo to talk openly about sexual or reproductive health.
As Quim grew, Nystrom and Washtien found that they had to confront the patriarchy in more ways than one. At first, their potential investors, the majority of whom could not personally benefit from Quim’s products because of their anatomy, did not understand why they should invest in a vaginal health product. And while Nystrom and Washtien’s investment pitch was popular – they won the Arcview Pitch Competition in 2018 and the Pitchforce and SXSW Cannabis Pitch competitions in 2020 – they often left such conferences with no new capital.
Nystrom says she answered ignorant questions such as, “are these vaginal health problems you’re talking about really that common?” and “so will this make my wife want to have sex with me more?”
“I’d say, ‘Probably? It’ll make her want to have more sex, but I don’t know about you.’”
Rachel and Nystrom also faced several creative and personal sexist attacks. “People would refer to us as the sister women, and I’d say ‘Excuse me?’” Nystrom recalls. “You can call me many things. You can call me my name, you can call me Mrs. You can call me the vagina weed girl — or preferably woman — but you can’t call us sister women.” By then, the founders knew they had to find a way to integrate more of their real customers, who really understood and valued the product, into the investment framework.
It is this pursuit that brought them to the Republic. The fundraising site claims that “for the first time in history, the majority of the US population can invest in tech startups” through their online investment platform because of its consistently low minimum investment thresholds. An industry friend, Jewel Zimmer, had already been crowdfunding through Republic for her cannabis tincture company Juna and recommended the platform. The hope was that because most investors identify with men, lowering the investment threshold would make it more accessible to Quim’s diverse client base.
To date, they have raised $130,542 through the Republic campaign, which, combined with their previously earned seed funding, brings them to nearly $1.1 million in total investment. But what excites Nystrom most is the new demographics she sees on her laptop. “There are so many people investing that make between $75,000 and $150,000 a year,” she says. “I know that’s a big range, but I think earning $75 to $150 doesn’t normally make you a recognized investor.” And while many of the investors who find Quim through the Republic platform are male, a growing pool of female investors is also cropping up in the statistics.
Nystrom says this also helps them become a more customer-centric company, while earning a capital injection that will help them build a robust direct-to-consumer arm of the business. Fortunately, the founders also see a fortuitous forecast for those customers who have become investors: Quim saw a tenfold increase in gross revenues from 2018 to 2019, and between the fourth quarter of 2019 to now, they have seen a 30 percent increase in direct sales. to the client. Before crowdfunding, Nystrom said when they visualized a successful future acquisition, it was always a bit bittersweet
“We thought: who is going to win there? Obviously, Rachel and I, our employee, of course, but most importantly our investors,” she says, who were mostly older and male. Nystrom hopes for an acquisition in the next five years and is proud that its most loyal customers will take home some of Quim’s success.
After all, it’s thanks to customer loyalty that Quim has grown as fast as it has — 26 percent of their monthly revenue comes from 2nd, 3rd and 4th time customers, according to their crowdfunding campaign. It is a product that, because it is significantly more expensive than non-cannabis lubricants and creams, is difficult to get off the shelves. However, once customers have crossed the $50+ price tag, many come back for more.
As those clients have become more comfortable with their bodies — and weed — Nystrom has also worked through many of her own internal stigmas about cannabis and her father’s beliefs. In fact, it is through Quim that she was able to reconnecting with her father at the end of his life. Quim was featured in an episode of the TV series Viceland slutever, which ran in repeats for several months. One day, Quim unexpectedly received an email with no body and the subject line “I’m so proud of you and couldn’t be happier for you.”
Nystrom recognized the last name and asked the sender if he was her father and if they wanted to meet. He replied “yes, yes, a million times yes.” Shortly after, she drove to his house in Las Vegas and met him for the first time since she was four years old. He died several months later from complications of kidney cancer, with Nystrom by his side.
“I think everything happens for a reason,” she says. When things get tough, she remembers that this company, which quickly rose to the top of the cannabis industry, reunited her at a young age with the man who took the war on drugs from her. “That was one of the most important things that ever happened in my life, and it probably wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken this risk.”