It starts with a good story.
In Will Gaudet’s case, it goes back to a familiar beach in Seattle, Washington, where he would watch people gather, forming little communities around bonfires. It was this quiet place that sparked the name behind Gaudet’s Campfire app, which aims to connect cannabis users with each other and homegrown marijuana.
“It’s more like an Etsy, but local,” Gaudet said, “and more like a marketplace than a network.”
Gaudet, 25, is passionate about providing a platform where people can share with others—all they’ll need is a smartphone. “We want to empower people,” he said.
This platform is largely built off Gaudet’s desire to right a system that he said isolates low-income communities. He’s a “‘using business to leverage activism’ type of guy.”
“Cannabis is inclusive by nature,” Gaudet said. “There’s no bars, no clubs, no lounges. Where do people go to smoke weed?”
Bringing people together is at the heart of the app. And while he doesn’t facilitate the interactions, Gaudet hopes it will bring rise to the mom and pops of the industry, which, depending on the state, don’t currently have a viable policy to operate by for sale and trade.
“The policy needs to shift,” he said. “I hope people use this when access is being denied.”
The app is expected to launch in early 2017.Gaudet graduated from Canopy, a 13-week cannabis accelerator in December 2016, calling it the “best educational experience of my life.” He also received financial support here.
While Gaudet’s story, passion and product landed him in the program, he said the daily process “110 percent” tempered his enthusiasm—for the good of his company.
“I had to tone it down,” he said. “I had to check my activism at the door.”
That’s because business accelerators are trying to get these cannabis companies ready for the mainstream world with a healthy dose of reality, said Steven Kirsh, a mentor at the California accelerator Gateway.
Accelerators, much like the traditional business incubator but on a fast-track, help entrepreneurs crystalize their business plans and help them formulate and flesh out their ideas in order to make them attainable.
Kirsh, 51, said he totally relates to the energetic entrepreneurs entering the industry.
“I’m trying to drill that down a bit,” he said.
Kirsh is also the founder and managing partner of KindKhameleon, a matchmaking company, that’s based in Oakland, California, which launched in 2016. “We’re kind of the extension of the business development efforts,” Kirsh said.
Kirsh describes himself as a connector. He’s been “hustling” his whole life.
“It isn’t the size of the rolodex—it’s how you use it,” he said. “I like bringing people together. That’s why I do this.”
He said accelerators are looking for smart, savvy business people who really understand the cannabis culture.
“Fresh companies come in and think they think they need to have it all figured out. Incubators are just looking for solid teams,” Kirsh said. “It really is going to be about how you’re going to execute.”
As the market develops, more and more companies continue to emerge. Accelerators help entrepreneurs refine their approach for their target audiences through branding, which helps each company stand out visually. More importantly, cannabis accelerators keep companies connected within the industry.
“There’s a lot of cross pollination that happens,” he said. “A lot of times young people don’t know what the questions are. Having those people around you to help counsel and elevate you is great. Your odds of success definitely grow exponentially.”
That’s where this idea of an “ecosystem” comes in.
Sammy Trujillo is the cofounder of one such ecosystem, CANaccelerate which launched at the end of 2016.
CANaccelerate, specifically for the state of California where voters just legalized marijuana recreationally, provides a “one stop shop solution center for the industry,” Trujillo said. It’s built off a shared-space model that holds resources for cannabis entrepreneurs looking to ensure their business is compliant with state laws, along with those looking to create business plans, media kits and animated videos.
“It’s nothing more than a directory,” Trujillo said.
There’s also a social media element to this, which holds everyone accountable, Trujillo said. Entrepreneurs can leave comments and feedback on their experiences on the various service providers, but “it goes both ways,” Trujillo said. “It makes the customers accountable, too.”
It’s free for the customers to sign up and gain access to CANaccelerate’s educational webcasts. It costs service providers $499 to advertise their services on the site.
Trujillo, 41, has been in the industry a long time: “When I first got into this, I fell flat on my face.” He’s gone over speedbumps and experienced pitfalls and it’s all fallen apart before “because of the government”—so, he feels like he must teach the new people coming into the industry what he’s learned so they don’t repeat his mistakes.
“You need to have a business plan,” he said. “I built this out to offer this to the rest of the cannabis community because I know they need it.”
Looking to the future, Trujillo says it’s all in branding, just look at the wine industry.
“There’s two buck chuck and $400 wine. It’s all about the story,” he said. “It’s all about the rhetoric. It’s all applies to cannabis like it never has before.”
In the end, it’s the story that sets you apart.