For The Love of the Culture: Don’t Come to the Arts for Money

Cannabis is a culture, not a commodity.

A lot of people don’t understand that the weed game is an art. Like most culture-based industries, succeeding in this space is about more than just a good business plan—it’s about caring about what you do from top to bottom. Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, a lot of the culture was dictated by what was happening in the hip-hop world.

That nostalgic wave everyone is living in, well, that was the real moment, and we helped blaze that trail. From sneaker culture to $100,000 chains, much of what has become the norm in pop culture today is rooted in those early days of hip-hop, and while many people have tried to bite the style, only those who have really respected, and represented the culture, have really succeeded.

I had this in mind a few years ago when my team and I set out to start a cannabis company. Having had some earlier successes in life, my family and I were in a position to approach a market we were passionate about in a way that we still believe to this day makes the most sense—curating the best products for weed heads by actual life-long smokers, not just the suits with the capital. While we’ve learned numerous lessons over the past few years that have helped us improve our business, and our products, there are three rules that I think are the most important for any brand or player in this space.

Create for Yourself First

The first and most important rule is that if you don’t care about your product you can’t ever expect it to succeed. Now, I don’t mean that in the lackadaisical sense of just not paying attention to the production process, or branding—or that simply ‘caring’ about doing good work is enough—I mean truly caring about what it is you’re creating.

To phrase it another way, if you’re not creating something that you intend to use, something that’s filling a need in your life, how can you expect anyone else to? When we set out to create our brand, the absolute most important thing for us to do was to create grade-A products that we would want to consume, because if we can’t sport our own team, what’s the point of even playing?

While this industry is exploding with potential, many of the new faces coming to the arena aren’t people who were interested a few years back. In fact, many of these people wouldn’t consume because of the prohibition we still face in many parts of this country and the larger world. If that’s the case, why are they interested in cannabis now?

Because of the money, of course! While we do pride ourselves on the ability to bridge the gap between suits and the culture, and there is still a need for maturation in many areas of our industry, the most important thing in this game at the end of the day is, do you love what you’re doing? If the answer isn’t a resounding yes, if you’re not so excited to consume these products just about as soon as you can produce them you can barely contain it, then maybe this really isn’t more than a job for you. If that’s the case, you should probably find another lane.

If It’s Not the Best, It Doesn’t Wear Our Label

Perhaps an extension of the first rule, but important enough to warrant its own distinction: if we’re not proud of it, it should never wear our brand. There’s obviously tons of amazing flower on the market today, but with all these brands doing almost exactly the same thing as the guy next to them, standing out is important.

That doesn’t just mean having the best of a particular cultivar—you have to have the best of everything. If you’re growing what others have, yours needs to stand out when compared to theirs, but maybe more importantly, having something different is what will make consumers come back to you. Your pheno selection is just as important as the quality of the plant, so don’t overlook a unique terp profile in favor of something popular in the market. Oftentimes, that unique profile is what creates the stand outs the market flocks to.

This goes for all your products, not just your buds. While sure, your flower is the easiest place for consumers to see the quality of your product, remember that they will taste it in other SKUs as well. Lots of brands create prerolls with their trim and think the consumer won’t know the difference. As a consumer, we promise you, we can tell, but as a brand owner, you should know you’re pushing away your customers. Again, if you’re not proud of your products through and through—if you can’t survive a gut test—don’t expect to get one over on the market.

Another important distinction here is that we’re not talking about some plastic product made on a factory line, we’re talking about produce. There are going to be ebbs and flows in the production process, and not everything you grow is going to be up to the standards you hope for.

While there are many who will take their B-grade and throw it in the same bag just because they were the ones that grew it, that is something we make sure never to do. As New Yorkers, bringing the East Coast vibe in everything we do is important to us, and if there’s one thing we don’t mind doing back at home it’s letting others know when they’re lacking. You gotta be your own harshest critic so that you’re diamonds when you go outside. Don’t get caught slippin’!

The Market Moves Fast; Keep Up With the Culture

The final rule is one I feel is probably the most overlooked in this space, and it’s that you’re only as good as your last bag. The market is always changing, and consumers are not loyal if they feel burned. New phenos are popping every day, and consumers are also picky, often moving more around what’s hyped in the market than their own taste preferences. In a landscape like this, it’s more important than ever to constantly reinvent yourself, and to be pushing to reach new heights with each project you take on.

I mentioned earlier that your phenos are just as important as your quality, but you should note that one hit song doesn’t make a superstar—and no one wants to be a one-hit wonder. Part of what makes my team so special is that we’ve empowered the right players in the right positions so that we can constantly grow—not just our visual presence, or our distribution, but also our menu and our skills. This allows us to strengthen our offerings every, single day, which means the level we’ll be playing at in a few months will make where we’re at now seem elementary, and that’s the goal.

One final note I’d like to include here is that your brand’s label is the highest honor you can bestow onto a product, so it should not only represent greatness, but also stand for something. Every time your consumers see your logo, they should know what it means, not just to them, but to the community at-large.

There are a lot of people who suffered to pave the way for us to get here, and if you’re not giving it up for them, we’re of the opinion that you don’t really deserve your space. Let’s all remember that just because we want to succeed, and make money, and grow our brands, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t also use them as a tool to right the wrongs of prohibition, and to empower those that came before us!

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