By Aryan Malhotra Jul. 03, 2018
While my classmates were starting out as interns, I was learning how to run a business through a very different kind of on-the-job training. My college drug dealer gave me an education most people pay good money to business schools to learn.
Marine Drive was enveloped in a sweltering humidity, and the hot air of South Bombay had begun to smell like a damp gutter reeking of piss and stubbed cigarettes. The summer of ’17 had begun, and my friends hopped on the fresher bandwagon, looking for jobs, internships, and any line of work that offered “experience”, aka shit pay. If it weren’t for my lack of enthusiasm, I would’ve joined them, but I wasn’t particularly excited by the idea of staring at a screen all day if it did not include Netflix-and-chilling. To be honest, I was looking for something with better pay, and lesser work.
My search led me to my friend Ishaan’s black Honda City, parked in a quiet Churchgate lane. A trail of smoke from his nostrils had formed a miniature cloud inside the car. “There’s no scene with dealing drugs, as long as you keep an eye out for the college staff. Teachers, watchmen, the principal, even the peons – they will fuck your happiness if you get caught,” he told me. It sounded dangerous but adventurous. Plus, Ishaan was never short on cash.
I was in. We had a plan in place – Ishaan and I would sell rolled joints to lazy stoners.
While my classmates were starting out as interns and part-timers, I was learning the ins and outs of business through a very different kind of on-the-job training. Ishaan had a couple of months of experience over me.
Your first job shapes the way you see the professional world, and selling rolled joints was an eye-opening stint. My college drug dealer gave me an education most people pay good money to business schools to learn. Professor Pothead’s class was in session.
1. Supply Chain Management is Key
The first principle I learned was of supply and demand. In a college full of stoners constantly running out of stash, Ishaan saw a need that he could fulfil. The demand was high, he just had to sort out his supply. That’s when I learned about supply chains, as well as the difference between wholesale and retail prices. Ishaan would buy eight bags a month from dealers who were the real deal, not rookies like us. They normally sold a single bag for anywhere between ₹1,500 to ₹1,800, but Ishaan would make his bulk purchase for a flat rate of ₹10,000.
The peons Ishaan paid hush money to started to blackmail him for more; fights broke out among our college mates over the weed deals.
The next step for a blossoming enterprise is cost and inventory management. Ishaan had a trick for doubling the output from every bag. Normally you use weed to tobacco in a 70:30 ratio, but when rolling joints for customers, he’d flip the ratio around, using much less weed and getting many more joints as a result. With this expansive inventory at our disposal, all we had to do was find our buyers.
2. God lies in the Details… And in Research
Market research is important when identifying your target audience. Luckily, Ishaan was a motivated entrepreneur who had created a network of people, which included our seniors, juniors, and classmates. It was his core friend circle that gave his business the initial push. A little thing the fancy suits in their Lower Parel highrises call “word of mouth publicity” later, everyone knew who to hit up when they needed a toke. Before we knew it, we had ourselves a brand.
We told ourselves we were 19-year-old “independent businessmen”, with the tiny caveat that our business was dealing weed. So we decided to lean into it, and go full Breaking Bad. It’s every amateur peddler’s dream to have their own equivalent of Walter White’s famous blue meth to sell, so we made our joints easily distinguishable from what everybody else was smoking. We’d slice off a centimetre from the rolling paper, so that our Js were more compact, and used coloured paper for the butts, with each shade denoting a different kind of weed. If you want to break into a new market and create repeat customers, you need to stand out, which is exactly what we did.
3. Go Big or Go Home
Once we’d established our presence in the market, we knew we were onto a good thing. It was time to scale up. In order to shift the perception of our product from a utility to a luxury item, Ishaan decided to promote an air of exclusivity. We started selling to a small, curated group of buyers – tastemakers, if you will. The money was good, but as anyone who has watched Narcos can tell you, good things seldom last long in the drug world. The peons Ishaan paid hush money to started to blackmail him for more; fights broke out among our college mates over the weed deals.
It got too real and one day I told Ishaan, “I’m out.” I was worried that our adventure was turning into a drug racket of sorts. And soon we’d be busted by college authorities. Ishaan wanted to continue making “heaps of drug money”, and he decided to go it alone. In less than a month, though, Ishaan’s toke car lost steam.
By then, I had bagged my first real job interview and it didn’t seem all that intimidating after the two months I spent by Ishaan’s side. I know whatever lessons I’ve picked up from him, I will apply through life. I might never be able to add “pot-dealing internship” to my CV, but Professor Pothead remains the best B-school teacher I ever had.
Aryan Malhotra likes watching Mohabbatein while it rains hard so that no one can hear his heart going dhak dhak