I recently sat down with Lian Bruno, founder of Puff Herbals and alumni of the Greenhouse, to learn more about her work and her journey as an entrepreneur. Here’s a transcript of our conversation.
Stephanie: Can you tell us a little bit about your business, when you started it and where you’re located?
Lian: Yeah! My business is Puff Herbals. We are an herbal wellness brand centered around the ritual of smoking. We sell herbal smoking blends, both in loose leaf form, and in pre roll form.
I officially founded the business in 2019 after having other smoking businesses before then, kind of unofficially. The business is based in the US and I’m currently living in the UK.
What brought you to working with plants to begin with?
My father has a master’s in plant physiology and so growing up, he was always pointing out all of the plants growing around town and telling me what they were. And so I was learning to identify plants from a very early age. We also have a big family garden that ever since I was little I was weeding in.
I always literally had my hands in the dirt, playing with plants and learning them, and I went to a few summer camps as well and so kind of learned some wilderness skills and stuff like that. And I am also really into travel and food and just like exploring different cultures, and I was always really fascinated by the huge walls of Chinese medicine shops.
I would always think, oh how cool would it be to know what all those plants do and have a wall full of drugs and herbs and know exactly where to go on the shelf to get a remedy, I always thought that was super cool.
And then in early adulthood I learned about a couple of schools in the Boston area and investigated, and then ended up enrolling.
What originally, then inspired you to start your business from there?
I went to the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston.
And at that time you could do a three year program, and the third year was a clinical rotation while also kind of flushing out your goals, whether that was like clinical goals or business goals and I was still kind of trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with herbs at that point.
And I remember we were talking about smokable herbs and one of the teachers gave a special workshop about cannabis as medicine.
That just kind of clicked for me one day. I have always smoked weed and enjoyed it and that’s how I kind of first got the idea of formulating cannabis.
In school, we had talked about formulating caffeine, like if you are going to have caffeine you can formulate it with other herbs to make you feel better and downplay any potential negative effects. Then I thought I could do this for cannabis as well and at that point I hadn’t really heard of anyone else doing it.
I started giving my friends these blends to try and they all really liked them, and that got really exciting.
I noticed that I would make tinctures and tea blends and give them to my friends but it seemed like they weren’t as receptive to that as they were to something that you could smoke, for some reason. It was a way to craft your high, rather than like you’re taking medicine. And so I was like, okay there’s something here. And I just kept exploring that, and eventually got the opportunity to sell at a local market.
I was offered, as a third year student, to sell at our herb teachers’ market table, and a class friend and I decided to sell herbal smokes there. We did zero marketing, I don’t even know if the organizers knew that we were going to be there but we just showed up completely unannounced to the public, and there was a really long line at our table non-stop, like the entire two days.
I realized that people want this and then it just kind of all sprouted from there.
Who was the first person who helped you see that you could do this as a business?
Yeah, I feel like I remember in the third year of our school, we had to make five year goals and I wrote down: start a niche business – smoking blends or gummies, and you know it’s funny to say that now because gummies are literally everywhere you look.
So I wrote that down and I always kind of knew that this is kind of quirky and interesting enough that it will make people’s ears perk up. And that was what I was experiencing with my friends and the people I was selling weed to at the time.
You know, they could smoke something and feel the effects immediately. Whereas if I was giving someone a tea blend or tincture then it can often be more about the long term consistent use. Some of my friends weren’t interested enough to be consistent. Whereas when they smoke something they could feel it immediately and then, that kind of convinced them that there was something to herbs
Awesome. So thinking about setting goals, then, I’m curious, how would you define success for yourself?
I think I’m still trying to figure this out.
I have been working on relaunching the brand. When all is said and done it was probably like for a year and a half, but the last six months were especially intense. I was always working towards this goal of having it done, then having sales come in, and I kind of fantasized about that moment and like how good it would feel.
Now that it’s here I guess you could say I was successful in executing my plan but I think success, itself, is the feeling of satisfaction that I have when I’m NOT working.
And I am starting to feel the shift now where I can stop work for the day and feel satisfied, and I don’t feel like I have to keep checking email and get right back to this person and keep moving things forward.
Yeah, with the relaunch it’s something that I’m really proud of and I do feel successful in, you know? I’ve had this vision for so long and I feel like I executed it successfully.
Can you give us a typical day in the life of Lian?
For this year, up until very recently, it’s kind of been when I start working, [I ask] what’s the highest priority thing that I need to do to keep everything moving forward for the relaunch. And now that it’s launched I’m taking some time to recover and reflect and think about what I want my daily schedule to be and I’m still kind of figuring that out.
The past couple weeks I’ve been trying to get some sleep and get my body moving more and get that kind of foundation of health back, because I felt like I lost it a little bit, recently.
What do you think the most important skill is that you’ve learned on your path as an herbal entrepreneur?
I would say to not forget about the herbal aspect of being an herbal entrepreneur. I think when you start a business, even if it is an herbal one, it’s very easy to get caught up in the business side of everything.
For me, sometimes I have to remind myself that this is all about herbalism and it’s not just about being a good business. That can look like not forgetting to drink tea or taking your own herbal advice, which is something that I have been one to not do sometimes. I’ve gotten so caught up in the marketing stuff or logistics. When at the end of the day it is about herbalism and promoting healthy habits.
What do you think has been your biggest challenge, and maybe it’s related to that or maybe it’s something different but what has been your biggest challenge over the years?
This has me coming back to the idea that “done is better than perfect.”
I’m definitely a perfectionist and I really struggle with perfectionism and obsessing over little details and feeling like I can’t stop until something is perfect. Whether it’s visually or worded perfectly.
And something that I’ve kind of been repeating in my head recently is “done is better than perfect” and to just move on. It doesn’t always stick but I’m getting better at it, and it is a helpful reminder that these are little details that I’m obsessing over and most likely people aren’t really going to notice. And I can relax.
What has been the greatest reward for you, and the choice you’ve made to do this.
I would say it’s like the fact that I get to do this, like every day is super rewarding.
If I take a step back and look, you know, I’m working from home and I have a nice desk set up and my cats are right next to me, and I’m right by the window and it’s really lovely.
What is it that you hope to gain from being in community with other herbal entrepreneurs?
Getting perspectives and opinions about certain things and ideas that I would have never even considered before. I can get so entrenched in the smoke world that it’s nice to be reminded of what other people are doing, and being able to support them, you know, however I can whenever possible.
It’s also not just about me and what I’m selling. I’m contributing to this larger movement and it feels really great to be a part of this movement with other herbalists.
You can learn more about Lian and Puff Herbals by subscribing to her website here, and following her IG here!
Want to join the Bud to Bloom Community along with Lian? Click here to learn more and join.
Does Lian’s story resonate with yours? Share below if you’ve had any similar experiences, or if anything Lian shared with us inspired or gave you insight into your own business! 👇🏼