Ultrapreneur Doreen Sullivan has been setting creativity in motion for over three decades and is currently setting the cannabis industry on fire like a well-waxed hemp wick. The South-Carolina based marketing strategist and branding expert is already well-known and respected for her originality and detailed creativity, earning her a historic clientele that boasts such familiar names as Disney, ESPN, and the United States Olympic committee, to name a few. While Sullivan’s unique and multifaceted marketing agency, Post No Bills, continues to successfully thrive after 33 years, her entrepreneurial spirit too continues to grow, pivoting into the budding industry of cannabis. She planted the seed less than five years ago when she began transforming vases from her personal collection into water pipes (a.k.a. “bongs’). “Many of the vases were souvenirs and antiques, and they had a story to tell,” says Sullivan. So it was there, in her home in the prohibition state of South Carolina where she let her creativity soar high, cultivating her pipe-dream until it blossomed into My Bud Vase™, a sophisticated line of vases-turned-bongs marketed primarily to a feminine clientele. Her goals are clear. How clear? As clear as one of the crystal bongs in her posh collection: to normalize cannabis consumption and to make smoking more beautiful—one vahz at a time. Her strategy: “I learned very early when I started my agency in New York City that it’s all about creating a buzz. You can’t just sit in your living room and expect things to happen. You’ve got to hustle, get out there, and create a buzz,” says Sullivan; and as the cannabis industry continues to establish itself as a viable market, creating a buzz is exactly what Sullivan, the most creative woman in cannabiz, is doing.
Warren Bobrow=WB: Tell me about yourself. Why cannabis products?
Doreen Sullivan=DS: “I was born and raised in California, then moved to New York City after college to start my agency in 1987. My first project was the original Dirty Dancing. I thrived in NYC and was hesitant when my now-former-husband suggested we move to a small town in South Carolina. ‘How was I supposed to run my agency from the middle of nowhere?’ I thought. Now, however, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Yes, there were challenges at first—dial-up internet and the hour-long drive each way to the nearest FedEx, for example, but challenges are really opportunities for thinking outside of the box, and that happens to be my forté.
I’m creativity in motion!—that’s my tagline. My multiple roles professionally, and personally, require diversity and originality, and I owe much inspirational gratitude to cannabis. Yet, despite this and its many other therapeutic benefits, I always felt the need to hide my consumption. Aside from the multitude of obvious fears—legally, socially, etc—I also felt a disconnect. Many cannabis consumers have a preferred method for their use, and I have always preferred a water pipe as my device of choice. However, despite my own preference to smoke from a bong, and despite how much I loved this plant, I always felt a disconnection when being handed a bong. It’s phallic—quite plainly—and as a woman, when consuming cannabis from a bong, I felt vulnerable, dirty—disconnected. This bothered me. I realized something was clearly wrong here. I thought: ‘Women need, and deserve, a more elegant choice for their cannabis consumption.”’
WB: Did you go to art school? Where? Business acumen? Tell me about your business?
DS: “I did not attend art school per se; I earned my B.A. in theater arts at UCLA. In many ways, I think all artists—whether in theater, visual arts, music—share many similar attributes: the obsession to create, and to evoke emotion. As a ‘career-creative’ I have built the foundation for my businesses (and in fact, for my life!) on the artistic ideals of creativity and beauty. I believe one of the things that has contributed to my agency’s success is my intuitiveness: I have a gift for seeing my clients’ needs and potentials. I find the value in their brands and focus on that in the details of marketing and packaging. I especially enjoy collaborating—orchestrating various concepts and products together to create more momentum and energy—more of that buzz—benefitting all involved. It’s very gratifying to see.
With My Bud Vase™ I now have the opportunity to apply all of this to my own brand, and I’m perhaps my most difficult client to-date,” Sullivan admits, half seriously, “but it’s wonderful—I have met some of the most amazing people working in this industry. We recently partnered with High HerStory, a female-led and female-centric video production company, to produce a fun yet important music video titled: The Bong Song. Together, our companies are committed to erasing the stigma associated with cannabis consumption. Today’s consumers are elevated, educated, savvy, and selective, and they deserve products that reflect a modern attitude to ancient medicine. While I may not be the first person to make a smoking device out of another object, My Bud Vase™ is the first company to bring the “vase bong” artistically and successfully to market. We are growing quickly as a brand, inspiring creativity and entrepreneurism with strong marketing behind us. Currently, we offer two lines: our Artisan Collection, which in the original spirit of our company, features one-of-a-kind pieces repurposed from antique vases and decanters; and we offer our award-winning Signature Collection. Each design is a unique work of art, each detail carefully selected, from its bowl, to its faux flower poker, curated with our motto in mind: smoking made beautiful.”
WB: What are your six and twelve month goals? What obstacles stand in your way? How do you anticipate removing them?
DS: “Creating a product for cannabis use in a state where I’m not legally allowed to use the products that I make is perhaps one of the biggest obstacles I face. I hope that with education and open-mindedness, the stigma “gap” associated with cannabis use will close once and for all. As more states in the U.S. legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, the growing cannabis industry is becoming more innovative and mainstream, helping to bridge that gap as well. However, it’s a slow process. I stand behind my views on cannabis, and I believe in My Bud Vase™ and its ability to positively influence the attitudes towards cannabis use, especially as they pertain to female consumers. I have created a beautiful concept and product, of which I’m very proud, and we work hard everyday to scale our creations to many markets, both in the United States, as well as worldwide. These goals each have their own sets of logistic, economic, and bureaucratic obstacles, which I’m currently wading through, as well as social and political challenges, which vary region-to-region, state-to-state. While I often take up the proverbial sword to sway people’s minds about cannabis and convince them of its benefits, I’d prefer to wield a faux flower poker, as I hope that my product in itself, with its artistic and aesthetic value, will play some role in chiseling away at the ugly, negative stigmas associated with cannabis use.
Expanding on that goal, I’m in the process of developing a legacy project, My Bud Life™, where I’ll utilize my gifts and resources to help others live their best lives. In addition, I’m trying to carve out more time for public speaking and even have a TED Talk in the works!
WB: Do you cook? What is your favorite food? Restaurant? Where? What kind of food?
DS: “I don’t cook a lot, but when I do—I cook BIG!”, Sullivan laughs, “I get a little obsessed and can spend an exorbitant amount of time looking up recipes, etc. I’m so dramatic in everything I do, so I tend to go “all out” and make a big meal. The trouble is, I’m not good in the ‘clean up’ department. As for my favorite food and favorite restaurant, they can be summed up together: I love seasonal, artisanal, farm-to-table cuisine, so Jack of Cups in Folly Beach, SC is my favorite restaurant. It’s a comfortable, local spot that serves really tasty, eclectic faire.”
WB: What is your passion?
DS: “My passion is in creating and in helping others realize their own creative potential. That’s the motivation and backbone of My Bud Life™, which I mentioned earlier. I am what I call a business psychic: I possess innate abilities to see very specific potential in others and can really help them to hone in on what they should be doing in life, based on their own passions and gifts. I want to inspire people—women and newer entrepreneurs especially— to follow their dreams while teaching them practical tools and creative resourcefulness, enabling them to grow and add value to grassroots businesses without a lot of money. These pragmatic skills are vital in entrepreneurship, because, as creative as you are, if you can’t execute your vision, you’ve got nothing. It’s all about developing win-win-win situations.”