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How this developer turned $600 into a multimillion-dollar empire

In 2013, Sean Geng was a student at Savannah College of Art and Design. Six years later, he's COO of a publicly traded company worth nearly $6 million. His company has acquired several successful brands in their space and has launched a proprietary software system that's threatening to re-invent the way e-commerce businesses operate.
He’s achieved all this on the back of only $600 in startup capital.

Geng’s company, Smoke Cartel, Inc., which he co-founded together with Darby Cox, is one of the most recognizable names among the growing cannabis market.

The road hasn’t been easy, as you’d expect in an industry once vilified by many major corporations. But for Sean and Darby, the hard part appears to be behind them. In 2019, with public perception of cannabis changing for the better, Smoke Cartel is expanding its operation.

Bootstrapping an online shop in the cannabis industry

Turns out, starting a business in the cannabis space is tough.

Smoke Cartel doesn’t sell cannabis itself, but that hasn’t made the road to success any easier. The company launched as an online head shop selling a wide range of cannabis accessories including bongs, dab rigs, vape pens, and cannabis culture apparel. Today the company operates through over 19 demographic-tailored web domains (from subscription boxes to pet supplies) and features its own wholesale and drop-shipment division.

Acquiring customers was one of the company’s most significant hurdles as cannabis-related companies do not have the luxury of the most commonly used advertising channels such as Facebook and Google AdWords.

As it turns out, grassroots customer base building and conscientious business practices played a major role in the company’s long-term success. Excellent 24/7 customer service to nurture each sale and a high-quality product selection was key to keeping customers coming back. A strong brand identity caught the attention of potential new customers at cannabis trade shows while stirring up organic social media engagement.

Scaling up With proprietary technology

With a foundation in place and a growing customer base, this is where Sean Geng’s programming background came into play. He built a system that allows Smoke Cartel to scale with new product lines, such as their recent Roll Uh Bowl travel bongs acquisition from KushCo Holdings, being sold to individuals and retailers through a growing number of curated web domains.

Customers enjoy quick, easy searchability on the face of each domain, while the team working from the bankend enjoys benefits from optimized pick-routes in the warehouse to actionable customer analytics for the creative department. Most importantly, each order is enhanced with real-time tracking from warehouse to delivery the team can use to provide advanced customer service responses that is also available to its wholesale customers.

Smoke Cartel’s proprietary software, Warely, has been the “secret sauce” in this cannabis company’s growth. As CEO, Darby Cox, explains, “We run a successful e-commerce operation because we develop effective e-commerce software.”

The empire continues

Partnerships with names like Leafly and High Times continue to draw attention to Smoke Cartel’s cannabis accessories brands. The company’s Sesh Supply product line even took home second place for “Best Glass” at the High Times Cannabis Cup.

Interestingly, the next step in this empire’s expansion has been a pivot into new B2B services. Warely, the software that gives Smoke Cartel the ability to offer drop-shipment and subscription box bundling has made its first entry into the Shopify App Store with a data backup and recovery application.

Smoke Cartel plans to continue to grow the software app suite available to e-commerce entrepreneurs looking to enhance their existing e-commerce platforms with new capabilities.

2 May 2019 17:06


About Boris Dzhingarov

Boris Dzhingarov graduated UNWE with a major in marketing. He is the CEO of ESBO ltd brand mentioning agency. He writes for several online sites such as,,, Boris is the founder of and