As we’ve come to expect, MJ Unpacked was a non-stop gamut of conversations, introductions, and reunions.
As the content side of the team, we spend a lot of time talking to attendees to learn about their brands, their struggles, and the state of the market. It’s how we find new and interesting stories to cover. But we also enjoy just observing the happenings around us. And at MJ Unpacked, there’s a lot to catch. It’s fun to watch the momentum from the event build around us and spill out into other spaces.
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For example, in the women’s bathroom on the final day, two well-dressed business ladies exchanged cards and wished safe travels for each other, a touching moment between newly-acquainted professionals. Likewise, an excited man mosied out of the brand experience hall during setup on day one, raving about how he already made an important connection with someone he’d been interested in meeting for a while. These kinds of interactions are always excellent reminders of the positive impact that curated events can create.
In fact, that was a key takeaway, as it has been with our past two live events. People appreciate the stringent curation that thins out the hangers-on and makes it easy to connect with other high-level individuals. (No pun intended.)
Another takeaway is that after several events, there is a growing sense of the MJ Unpacked community. People come here to connect with friends and prospective partners they met at previous events and to continue meaningful conversations. As Maggie Wilson said on day two, “It’s just been so nice to see all their smiling faces and to see where they’ve been since the last Unpacked and how much progress they’ve made.”
Speaking of which, we are always psyched to run into the inestimable Diane Downey of Rebel Spirit, who had her partner Christopher and daughter Haley in tow. Haley has been with the company from its early days, when she worked as a trim crew boss, and she’s now their brand ambassador. Christopher and Diane both lauded their daughter for her extreme attention to detail as a trim boss and the enthusiasm she brings to the team.
“If you’re a small businessperson, your family ends up getting drawn into the business whether you intend them to or not,” Diane remarked.
It was Haley’s first time at MJ Unpacked so we asked her what she was expecting.
“I’ve heard really great things about your guys’ parties. Y’all know how to party. So I’m very excited about that. It seems like there’s a real warmth, just even in the emails and everything initially. I always love coming to these events because the people that you meet in cannabis are genuine people. And it’s great to be here with my family–they’ve worked so hard to build this brand to the place where it is, and we’re seeing some big success.”
When we stopped by the Our Academy booth, our own Wendy Campbell was introducing Hilary Yu to a volunteer who wanted to offer her financial skills in accounting to the incubator program. We also reunited with the ever-charming Anthony Jenkins, CEO and founder of Next Level Edibles, who said, “I’ve been really enjoying my experience at MJ Unpacked. I pitched for the very first time and I was extremely nervous. I was well-coached and it went pretty well. I’m making a lot of retail contacts, which is the other reason I’m here. I talked to a lady who has twenty retail shops in California and we’re having a conversation next week. So coupled with the success of our pitch, this has been a great MJ Unpacked.”
On a similar note, we caught up with cultivar IP protection tool Canopyright’s founder Jeff Hamilton, who pitched on the Money Stage the previous day. “The Money Stage gave us an incredible opportunity to get feedback on our business model, and gave us a meaningful confidence boost as we prepare for our launch in November,” he told us. We look forward to following up on this company’s upcoming launch.
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In addition to the Money Stage, this event featured a new component: an exclusive venture summit for the investment community to gather prior to joining the main MJ Unpacked event. “The attendees consistently noted how relevant the content was for them and the networking was exceptional,” said our fearless leader George Jage. “As we move forward, we will continue to build on our initial success to create a place for the fund managers and family offices, and eventually private equity and institutional investors to get the best information and build powerful networks.”
A highlight of Friday was the breakout session titled How to Keep People Happy. While learning about the best management practices for employee satisfaction is interesting on its own, one more factor made this session shine: our very own Felisa Rogers moderated the discussion. It was an illuminating conversation that covered instilling a sense of ownership and pride in employees’ work and overall, not being a shitty boss.
The discussion featured Chief People Officer of Curaleaf, Tyneeha Rivers; Matt Krishnamachair, CEO and founder of Purple Lotus; and William McKenzie, CEO of Left Coast Holdings. The talk was mostly fun and conversational – at one point, Matt commented that “We’re not selling toothpaste here,” and Tyneeha was quick to joke, “But hey, let’s give it up for toothpaste!” But the discussion took several sobering turns, particularly when Tyneeha shared a personal story about racist comments in the workplace. We look forward to continuing to amplify these conversations at future events.
A sense of accomplishment circled the brand experience hall Friday, as brands and retailers took their last shots at new connections. Eric Braddock of Eric^2 (rebranded from Eric + Eric) was in good spirits, having just secured deals in California and Colorado. He explained some of his expansion goals when we talked to him back in July, so it was touching to see it play out in real time. Eric also showed me their new branding, which incorporates more straight angles and resembles elements on the periodic table, in keeping with their name and image. Kudos to the team for taking the operation to the next level.
As soon as we saw the Mad Lilly in the display case, we knew we had to stop and chat with Judy Yee, CEO of K-Zen, who gave us some insight on the beverage brand’s journey — complete with a warm smile. It’s always nice to see the faces behind brands we’ve covered before; we mentioned Mad Lilly back in our list of cannabis beverages appealing to summertime consumers for its bold color schemes and low-dose formulations.
While we didn’t take our chances on the mechanical bull in the back of the Brand Experience Hall (remind us why we had a mechanical bull?), we did get to try something new and innovative: Oat Foundry’s Mellowtron. The retro, synthesizer-inspired device has a range of buttons and dials to help users find the right product and strain. We already had a general idea of how this wacky engine worked, but there’s something really fun about choosing your own mood and consumption method and watching the recommendations pop up on a large display board. MJ Unpacked’s retail partner Jardin was conveniently parked beside the Mellowtron, and attendees could place online orders straight from the hall for pickup later.
Other highlights of the event included a chat with the ladies from SheWeed, which will make its retail debut in Sacramento this summer. During the women in cannabis meet-up, they told us their goal was to meet other like-minded business owners and look for opportunities. Our own Morgan Worley hopped on that comment, quick to point out the dedicated social equity brand real estate on the floor, which sparked some excitement and introductions.
As Friday came to a close, anticipation was building up for the Pitch Prize winner announcement. The Jage Media team was called up by George and Kim Jage, where we stood in front of a crowd of people eager to see which company would take home the $5,000 check. After some kind words, Sorting Robotics was declared the winner, and founder and CEO Nohtal Partansky got to bang the final gong of the event. “I was able to talk to a lot of the brands here and that was really helpful,” Partansky said of his experience. “Actually, I made a few good connections for partnerships here and at the after parties.”
Though we were tired, Partansky receiving a huge check (like, physically. If you win the Pitch Prize, EVERYONE is going to know it) and banging the last gong (and the ensuing impromptu dance party) gave us a second wind to mingle at the closing reception. We said our goodbyes to old and new connections, and rolled out for a final Jage Media team dinner. Before we knew it, we were on a plane back home, already excited to do it again next April.