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VOL. 132 | NO. 127 | Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Michael Graber

The Green Rush & Tokyo Smoke

By Michael Graber

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Alan Gertner gave a keynote presentation for the Front End of Innovation 2017 Conference and his talk was about the emerging Green Rush, legalized cannabis, the birth of a brand and an industry.

Alan’s calling is coffee, clothing and cannabis. When he took the stage, you saw the radiant archetype of a hipster: beard, boots, swagger and a yet venerable-looking like a guy who worries about taking risks but takes them anyway after anxious consideration.

Alan “first consumed cannabis as a teenager.” They chose a convenience store parking lot, which was not, in retrospect, a positive experience. “It was weird, secretive, and dark.”

This perception changed for him on the way to college when Alan partook of cannabis with his father and his father’s friend, which “changed my perception of this substance. It was about friendship and community. These guys were professional family men, just relaxing.”

After working at Google, Alan seems to have reached all of his goals by the age of 30. “I wasn’t challenging myself.” Looking for adventure and himself, he ended up in Ghana and found his way to a voodoo ceremony.

His next project was himself, trying to figure out his core passions and motivations. On a big spreadsheet, he scored how meaningful his life was. He discovered two simple things: (1) he likes big challenges and (2) he likes being part of a community.

“I had always thought about cannabis as a subculture, not a part of normal life,” he added. 133 million Americans have tried cannabis and one-fourth of Americans consume cannabis on a regular basis.

The legal marijuana industry is growing above 25 percent each year, which means there is both “broad support and massive room for innovation.”

Meanwhile, 90 percent of cannabis consumers do not make cannabis use their primary identity.

“Which makes me think of coffee,” he says, “and what all Starbucks did in the second wave of coffee with its own language and choices. Now, we are in the third wave.” Pot will go the same way. Right now, “cannabis prices are plummeting.” To rise in value, you need “brands, stories, and a nomenclature.”

Now you see a normalized, accessible way to consume, such as vapor pens, body lotions, sodas, more.

The idea of Tokyo Smoke was to bring some of “the elegance of Japanese branding to the cannabis space.” The idea was to try and build something new, something approachable.

Cannabis, even for casual users, is more of a lifestyle – so there needs to be lifestyle brands. The goal is to build a high-awareness business that normalizes cannabis.

“We are on the precipice of a major social change.” There are existing consumers and they are just looking for a brand.

“I’m excited about seeing this revolution happen and be a part of it,” he says. Canada is now legally exporting cannabis to other countries.

Michael Graber, managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, can be reached at southerngrowthstudio.com.

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