Everything Arend Richard has ever done in his life has been out of necessity. At 16, he was kicked out of his home for being gay. Never wanting to be homeless again, he became a self-sufficient entrepreneur. In February of 2018, when YouTube began what’s now commonly known as the Cannabis Purge, when a number of cannabis-related accounts were shut down, he and many other other successful YouTubers were banned from YouTube without warning. Richard’s content, however, wasn’t “inappropriate” by any stretch of the imagination. The YouTuber was simply discussing his experiences with different marijuana strains and showcasing various smoking devices.
With over 120,000 subscribers Richard, A.K.A. The Gay Stoner, was kicked off YouTube overnight. He bound with other banned cannabis influencers to create their own platform, The WeedTube, where he and other creators could openly discuss all aspects of cannabis both safely and informatively. A little over a year since the launch of the site, WeedTube is releasing a WeedTube app on 4/20, otherwise known as National Weed Day.
Prior to the upcoming launch of the app, we caught up with Richard to discuss his journey in the cannabis industry and what we can expect to see from the new app.
Tell us how you first became the “The Gay Stoner”?
Sure, whenever I give this synopsis where I talk about who I am and where I'm from, I basically describe myself as self-made. I’m a gay man who was thrown out of a very, very conservative Christian home when I was 16 and came out of the closet. From that day on, I did everything I ever could to make sure that I would always have a home. That really is my theory behind why I have done everything that I've done entrepreneurial-wise because I don't have a backup plan.
Sorry to hear that your family didn’t accept you.
Honestly, I wouldn't be where I am today without that. So after being kicked out, I started a YouTube channel when I lived in New York City in 2015 because I wanted a creative outlet while I was trying out to be on Broadway shows. I went to college for opera performance on a full-ride scholarship, so I always thought I would either be a singer or performer. I started my YouTube channel when I lived in New York and out of nowhere, randomly, on a trip back home to Colorado, I made a tutorial on how to smoke weed through a pipe. The video went viral, and then, within that first year, I was just kind of known as, like, the cannabis “how to” guy. I kept putting out content because people seemed to respond to it really well. That's how I got into the cannabis world of YouTube.
Gotcha, so how did The WeedTube get started? Didn’t it have to do with YouTube banning cannabis content creators?
Exactly, so in February 2018, YouTube started what has been commonly referred to now as the Cannabis Purge, which was basically the result of advertiser crackdown. I don't think that cannabis creators were the intended, you know, "problem" to be taken care of, but we were just lumped in with the rest. Everyone who was uploading content was legally using the plant. People were simply talking about cannabis in the context of their everyday lives and giving people educational information on how to use it properly and safely.
Out of nowhere, channels started getting deleted. There's a course to getting deleted: You get three strikes before you’re permanently deleted. But there was no sort of timeframe for the three strikes. I got deleted in early March of 2018. They gave me six strikes in 24 hours. So my channel was suspended, terminated, and deleted all in that time without any chance of appeal. They did that to hundreds of creators — people with millions of followers.
Is that when you decided to come together to create The WeedTube?
Yeah, exactly. I was very fortunate when deletion started happening to be well connected with a lot of other influencers in the cannabis space on Youtube. Six months prior, I started a media company that paired cannabis-related companies like vaporizers or glass accessories with cannabis social media influencers. I have a natural talent and knack for being able to work with these companies and get deals worked out, whereas a lot of my influencer friends don’t. I was in the perfect place when everybody started getting deleted. It wasn't even that I was like, “Hey, let's start this.” All my friends looked and were asking, “Are you going to do anything about this?”
And that’s when you raised $15,000 on GoFundMe?
The first fundraiser was actually just for $6,500. We were raising money to purchase a server to start the website development. We raised that within 72 hours and then we had a second fundraiser to do some overhauling to the site just a couple of weeks later – to really improve everything. We raised that money in less than 48 hours and that was about $7,500.
Now, a year after the launch of the site, you’ve completed The WeedTube app, which launches on 4/20. What can you tell us about that?
We've been working for a really long time on it – about six months now – which is pretty significant when it comes to app planning.
What's going to be different on the app that’s new and exciting?
Two things in particular. One, we’re really excited because the app will actually have the ability to bring a viewer who subscribes to a certain creator back whenever that creator posts a new video. Back in the old days, YouTube did this, but they ruined it. Now that we’ll be doing this, we're expecting to have hopefully five times the amount of traffic than what we're doing now. It also makes it so much easier for the influencer. They no longer have to promote their video on other social media apps to notify their followers that they uploaded a new video.
The second thing we have continue excitement for is that ability to cuss. Youtube is cracking down on more than just the cannabis influencer. They're cracking down on some of the simplest things like cuss words. Now, you can't be monetized on YouTube if you use a swear word in your video. YouTube has software they put in, where if it even thinks you said a swear word, your video cannot become monetized.
I don't live in a world where all media should have to be child-friendly. Some of us are adults, so we're really excited at The WeedTube because we want to grow more into “adult entertainment.” We hesitate to use that term because people think porn and that’s not what we’re talking about. We just want to have content that’s not necessarily child-friendly.
It’s very cool you’re filling this void YouTube created through their unnecessary censorship. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
The WeedTube really is different than any other startup in the cannabis industry right now because we didn't start our business out of a desire to sell a new product or make a bunch of money; we started it out of necessity.The trajectory for our company and our morals reflect that, and that makes me really happy.