PenSimple, a three-in-one device for marijuana, far exceeded its pre-order expectations thanks to viral marketing.

How Boulder-based PenSimple used limitations in advertising to its advantage

BOULDER — When PenSimple was ready to open up pre-sales last September for its product — a tool that could grind, store and dispense cannabis without having to touch the plant — CEO Brian Seckel said he was expecting 1,000 to 3,000 orders.

What he got was about 10,000 orders, thanks to a viral video that helped advertise his product through social media.

That video was no small feat for PenSimple, which faces the same challenge many cannabis-adjacent companies face in having to carefully select what words they use in describing and advertising their business.

NowThis, a media company that posts short viral videos on Facebook and other social media platforms, posted a video about PenSimple, and its 30 million views translated to 1,500 orders in one day.

“We were able to stop spending money on advertising and instead build our team around sales, marketing and logistics,” Seckel told BizWest. “Now we’re planning on selling about 10,000 units per month.”

The innovative grinder and dispenser has now started shipping out those pre-orders. The pen-shaped product, which includes an attachment to grind down the buds, a storage chamber and an electronic component to dispense cannabis hands-free, is manufactured in China and shipped out of Chicago.

Pen Simple has a grinding component (right), a storage chamber (middle) and an electronic dispenser (left).

Making an electronic product has been difficult, Seckel said. A recent crackdown on lithium ion batteries means plenty of paperwork.

It’s made all the more difficult by having a product that deals in cannabis. To be able to sell PenSimple through e-commerce and have a payment processor and bank, PenSimple had to have uses beyond marijuana.

To get around that, PenSimple is actually dual-marketed as an herb grinder. Customers can use it for weed, but it actually grinds down and dispenses any herb. That means PenSimple was able to get a bank and processor as a kitchen product, as well as for cannabis.

“You have to walk a line,” Seckel said, when it came to marketing and registering the business. “It’s safer to have a degree of separation.”

Although marketing PenSimple as a multi-purpose herb grinder has worked on social media — it’s against Facebook and Instagram’s policy to market anything directly for cannabis — the company has still faced challenges. After a few months, it was kicked off of Google AdWords.

“It can be tough being near cannabis,” Seckel said. He added that AdWords is looking to change some of its policies on cannabis as the industry is increasingly legalized.

But there can be benefits to dealing in an industry that is still largely illegal. In Colorado, cannabis can come in forms such as edibles or oil, all of which is easy to buy. But in states where cannabis is still illegal, having a product that can discreetly grind and store marijuana in its dry form is important for cannabis users who have limited access to weed.

Put frankly: “The illegal market is good for us,” Seckel said.

PenSimple has also used social media to its advantage. In addition to the NowThis post, PenSimple got a lot of attention early on from a post on social media platform Reddit showing how the three-in-one device could grind, store and dispense electronically.

“That visual aspect helps people,” he said. “It really helps customers see what we are when you get a video in front of their face.”

As PenSimple ships its products, Seckel said the company plans to ramp up production to 2,000 units per week. It retails now for $69 plus shipping, and will soon be increased to $79. Next steps include producing accessories such as attachments for various sizes of grinder teeth and manufacturing the PenSimple in different colors.

Although it was founded in Ohio, where Seckel is from, PenSimple came to Boulder a year ago to join the cannabusiness-focused Canopy accelerator. As PenSimple grows — Seckel said he’s looking at office space between Boulder and Denver — he is mentoring a new cohort of Canopy companies on how to advertise and sell a product in the cannabis industry.

“My advice to them is, success is mostly based on execution,” Seckel said. “It’s more than just the idea and thought, it’s doing the testing, getting a team. It’s a lot of work.”