What the Chronic Cup Taught Us About the Canna-Business.
I recently had the opportunity to judge the Chronic Cup in San Francisco. The Shark Tank-ish pitch event awarded $10k to a variety of California-focused cannabis startup. It was sponsored by FLOWER CO, an online, subscription-based wholesale company that bills themselves as the “Costco of Cannabis.” Flower Co. recently made waves with their own startup accelerator pitch, and this event was their way to pay it forward.
The Chronic Cup contestants represented the many faces of the cannabis industry. There were two former Airbnb employees pitching their company Berbix, a software system to automate your ID checks. A lupus survivor pitching The People’s Dispensary which was aimed at empowering the community. Potli, a company that produces premium hemp-infused honey, olive oil, and chili oil using a secret family recipe. And a mobile app called Entrc that gives cannabis producers metrics and insights.
My fellow judges were also an eclectic bunch -- cannabis entrepreneurs, journalists, and an investor from Y-Combinator, a mega-powerful start-up incubator.
Listening to the contestants' five-minute pitches, it was hard not to feel the passion of the presenters and the giddy energy of the packed room -- and that was before we started smoking.
It was a similar vibe to some of the dot com events I attended in the late 90s. Everyone was optimistic about the future and thrilled to be involved in an industry they believe has a positive impact on society.
After the presentations, the judges deliberated in a conference room over cold pizza. It was a tough call but we ended up going with a company called AItogether Marketplace Solutions. Their business focuses on making consumer cannabis events, such as The Emerald Cup and the Cannabis Cup, profitable for brands. The company’s ideas about customer acquisition through events, net positive marketing and lifetime customer engagement through delivery, seemed to fill a void that few are thinking about.
The concept behind Altogether wasn’t flashy or trendy. There were no catchy slogans or fancy designs. In fact, they just built their website this week. But what they didn’t have in pizazz, they made up for in practicality. This was a service that everyone in the room wanted to use, like, yesterday.
Altogether was founded by Mathew Passqual, who used to work for the Democratic party as an organizer but decided to turn his attention to his true passion – cannabis.
“I saw how brands were losing money at the Emerald Cup and other events, so I created a new model,” he says.
His company now helps these same brands earn money and acquire customers by taking over their retail at events and fulfilling direct-to-consumer deliveries.
Comparing the Green Rush of today to the Gold Rush of yesteryear, Passqual believes the real opportunities lie with the ancillary businesses saying, “During the Gold Rush, some people made money on gold, but the real money was made by the people who made the pickaxes and jeans.”
At the Chronic Cup, he gave us 10,000 reasons not to disagree.