Portable ZAM Grinder with innovative center-ring magnet.
Zachary McCreedy was looking for an innovative product to create. Something small, simple and reasonably priced, he says, that people use every day.
The 26-year-old entrepreneur from Norfolk, Virginia half jokes that he first thought about creating a new kind of spoon. “Spoons are used by people all over the world billions of times a day,” says McCreedy. “Imagine the glory of inventing a better spoon. Nobel prize worthy if you ask me.”
Five years ago, McCreedy decided to take a hiatus from college to give more attention to a website he’d created about table tennis. People were loving the 20 or so informative articles he had featured on his site and he was pulling down a few hundred dollars a month of passive income.
“I figured I could take a semester off, write a hundred new articles and maybe make a few hundred dollars more per month,” he says. “Then I’d go back to school the following semester with a nice stipend and something to add to my resume.”
The table tennis site steadily continued making money and McCreedy let college fade into the rearview mirror.
“I saw plenty of room to grow,” he says. So he doubled down and continued creating new products with the money that was trickling in from the site. He invented a glow-in-the-dark LED ping-pong paddle — which he says got mired in manufacturing issues and fizzled out — then he moved on to create products for another pursuit he enjoyed: cannabis. He wanted to create something remarkable, so he landed on oversized bongs. Really big ones, like four- to five-feet tall. Those ZAM Bongs ended up being a hit in some weed circles and were featured in videos by influencers in the expanding marijuana space — some of them clocking millions of views. But while the cannabis faithful loved ogling his mammoth water pipes, the bongs were mostly novelty items and sales proved to be meager. Also, shipping large, delicate items had its downsides.
Then McCreedy thought back to his original “simple and small” idea for a product, something sturdy and easy to ship. That led him to create the portable ZAM Grinder, a slender, aluminum pocket grinder — sporting a compact 1.1” diameter — with extra room for storage. Through experimentation and iterations of design, he eventually discovered that he’d created a grinder like no other on the market. To save space, instead of employing a magnet in the center (like all current grinders, he says) which keeps the top and bottom of the device together, he devised a ringed magnet on the outer edge of the grinder. The innovative design solved a pervasive issue that creates a “bud patty” in the center of the grinder when using many conventional grinders. Plant material gets gummed up right over the center magnetic and creates a dense cake of cannabis that’s compressed and stuck in place.
When I first talked to McCreedy, I knew he had a good product and the will to push through the inevitable adversity all entrepreneurs experience. I also knew he had a lot more to share about his inventive product and the challenges he faces getting the ZAM Grinder to market.
Forbes: Tell us where you’re at with getting your grinder on store shelves.
Zachary McCreedy: So I’ve just received my first shipment of 100 grinders which I gave out to gather feedback, and now I’m getting ready to scale up. But to be honest, I was really forced into this position. Because cannabis is such a huge sector with well-established cannabis grinder brands, what I really wanted initially was to license the design out so I could get these to market as quickly as possible. But whenever I sent a grinder to a brand, all I got was, “Good idea, but no thanks.” It didn’t make any sense to me. I have fixed a common problem with grinders. I’ve patented it. I have people who say they like the design and are willing to buy one — but you don’t want it?
That’s surprising because it’s a great new design — and you even received really encouraging responses from people on Reddit, right?
Yes, I did. After each refusal from grinder companies I would go ask active cannabis consumers on Reddit what they thought of the design and the feedback would propel me to keep going. I knew people wanted a grinder like this, but I guess the other brands thought otherwise. Eventually I had no choice but to manufacture it myself. After posting on Reddit, I ended up getting over 400 email signs-up to be notified when inventory is available.
Zachary McCreedy, founder of ZAM Grinders.
How did you come up with your center-ring magnet concept?
My whole goal initially was a simple, slim pocket grinder. I had just added an additional chamber above the teeth, too, for more storage, and I thought things were looking good — until I got my first prototype. I immediately knew I had a problem. There was no point in making a portable 1” diameter grinder if the magnet in the middle takes up half that space. Not only that, but when I would try and put any bud in the grinder, the teeth wouldn’t close and I would get that notorious bud patty. My grinder was essentially useless until I found some way to hold the grinder together without that center magnetic post while still allowing the top to rotate loosely.
That’s where you had the light bulb go on.
That’s right. But when I first thought of redesigning the magnetic post into a ring, I was skeptical. I wasn’t sure if the grinder would still rotate comfortably. But I knew that if it worked, I would have fixed an issue found in most grinders sold around the world. Honestly, why do all grinders have a magnetic post directly in the center where the cannabis is placed? It limits the amount of material you can put in the grinder, allows the top to wobble and allows smell to escape — and you’re just asking for bud patties to prevent the grinder teeth from working correctly.
What were some of the biggest manufacturing challenges you faced?
Sourcing the grinders was difficult. Because of the price I was targeting of $40, I couldn’t have the grinders manufactured in the United States. But then there was the obvious problem of my design getting ripped off overseas. How does one price check and shop around when every time you speak with a manufacturer there’s the chance they take your product and run? What I did was have a non-unique but complex part of the grinder quoted, that way I could shop that part around without worry of design theft. I had multiple manufacturers refuse to quote me unless I sent the whole design over. So you can see why that was important. After I found manufactures with good quotes, and communication that I was happy with, I would order samples. I had two different factories make the parts for the grinder which were then shipped to the U.S. where I would assemble them.
How many units are you having manufactured for your next shipment?
I was trying to decide between 500 and 1,000 units, and eventually landed on 500 because at this quantity I will still be able to make a reasonable profit on each grinder. I’m also actively making changes to the design, as there were some minor fixes that had to be made. I need to make sure those are ironed out before I place larger orders. This will also be the most money I’ve sent overseas, so I want to take it one step at a time. How important is it for you to nail down a distributor? Right now, not very important at all. I want to focus on making sure the quality is consistent before I start pumping out tens of thousands of these a month.
How will you be selling your grinders initially?
My primary way of selling the grinders will first be direct through the website at www.ZAMgrinders.com, and then Amazon. Amazon takes a decent amount of the cut. Because I’m just getting started, I want to focus on direct sales through my website as that’s where my margins are best. Once my order quantity is above 1,000 my margins will be large enough to warrant selling on Amazon. You experienced some success before selling giant bongs and had influencers tout them in posts right.
Are you doing the same with your grinders?
Yeah, so social media is more important than ever in regard to cannabis related marketing because the normal pay-per-click avenues have been cut off for cannabis, like Google and Facebook. With the bongs I really learned the value in giving influencers a free physical product to review. Influencers with a large following get pitched all day every day non-stop, so being able to actually give them something extraordinary that they can hold in their hand really goes a long way in getting them to respond to your DM and set up a rapport. If your product is something the influencers think will attract more eyes to their page, even better. A cannabis grinder obviously isn’t as eye-catching as a giant bong, so it hasn’t been as easy to get those big-name features. One important thing I learned from the bong venture is there is a “soft spot” for influencers where they don’t have the notoriety to ask for top tier pricing, but they’re still popular enough in their community to make working with them worthwhile. This is the group I’ve been focusing on with ZAM Grinders, and it’s been going well.
You’re currently looking for an investor to take you to the next level, right?
Yes , I think ZAM Grinders could grow to be a huge cannabis brand someday, but I’ll need some help if I want to capitalize on the massive amount of growth expected in the industry. That being said, I’m looking for $50k to $100k in seed funding to get started.
If you were given that $50-100k in investment right now, what would you do with it?
Purchasing more inventory, completing the utility patent process, and creating marketing collateral would be my largest immediate expenditures. That $100,000 would put me in the best position to grow rapidly and would allow me to handle any hiccups along the way.