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07:00 AM | May 17, 2022
Marijuana and the Metaverse: How LA Cannabis Startups Are Lighting Up the Virtual Realm
With West Hollywood becoming a hub for cannabis consumption lounges and many Silicon Beach companies embracing virtual reality, it was only a matter of time before two of Los Angeles’ two burgeoning industries started mingling.
While many cannabis firms are still figuring out how to incorporate the metaverse and Web3 applications like NFTs, Canoga Park’s Saucey Farms & Extracts has become one of the first business to offer THC products in the metaverse as part of a dispensary in Cryptovoxels, a virtual platform build on the Ethereum blockchain. Local weed brand Califari, meanwhile, recently sold NFT artwork to support the cannabis-oriented criminal justice nonprofit The Last Prisoner Project. Then there’s groups like the Crypto Cannabis Club (CCC), an organization centered around 10,000 “NFTokers” that gives holders discounts on cannabis products and has hosted weed-themed meetups in the Decentraland metaverse.
According to Crypto Cannabis Club CEO Ryan Hunter, about 20% of the community is based in California, with the organization’s most active chapter located in Southern California. Hunter said that CCC uses different metaverses based on its needs; if the Club wants to host virtual 4/20 or 7/10 gatherings for all of its members, those would take place in Decentraland because it’s “more of a wide-open space,” while interactive gaming experience would be on The Sandbox platform, where noted weed entrepreneur Snoop Dogg has already staked a claim.
Hunter views the metaverse as a bridge between real-world cannabis enthusiasts and those who are passionate about virtual experiences.
“We’re trying to intentionally create a community of folks that are part of the cannabis community in the real world, and want to be a part of the cannabis community as it expands into the metaverse [and] these virtual communities that are developing,” he said.
In addition to cannabis ventures, artists are also exploring how the metaverse and Web3 can help them connect with new audiences. Reece Kinsbursky, art director of the The Artist Tree dispensary chain, told dot.LA that he has received interest from artists about showing their NFT artwork on the dispensary’s walls; one even explored marketing a piece for sale via a QR code that would be displayed in the dispensary. (While The Artist Tree does not currently display NFT art at its stores, Kinsbursky didn’t rule it out in the future.)
“It certainly has the capabilities to change a lot in how the ecommerce space functions,” he said of the overlap between NFTs and cannabis. “But it’s too soon to tell.”
Cannabis aside, the metaverse is blossoming into a major focus for tech companies in Los Angeles. From social media companies like Snap to entertainment giants like Disney, there are no shortage of players leveraging virtual reality to grow their businesses and expand how they interact with audiences.
Likewise, Hunter and other cannabis entrepreneurs hope that engaging with metaverse platforms can expand their brand awareness and ecommerce presence. In addition to launching a direct-to-consumer offering—featuring collectible NFTs—in partnership with delivery company CampNova, CCC is building a dispensary in Cryptovoxels to display products from partner brands. In time, Hunter wants the virtual dispensary experience to mirror the real one, complete with a cultivation space where visitors can learn about the growing process.
As for cannabis consumers who may doubt the metaverse’s potential, Hunter believes a little skepticism is healthy.“I think there’s every reason for them to be suspicious, and that’s a great way to approach it,” he said. “I’m not trying to convince anybody. We’re trying to create a community that earns its place—and hopefully we’ll find folks who are open-minded, and they’ll tell friends who are less open-minded and convince them.”
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Upfront Ventures Summit: The Chainsmokers Journey From Music to Venture
02:16 PM | March 02, 2023
On Thursday, Upfront Ventures hosted its 2023 Summit and music icons Alex Pall and Drew Taggart of The Chainsmokers hit the stage, not to perform, but instead to discuss their venture journey.
The duo launched MantisVC, a Marina Del Rey-based early stage tech venture fund in 2019.
Pall and Taggart shared the stage with WndrCo’s managing partner Jeffrey Katzenberg to dive deeper into what their music career has taught them and how it translated over to their venture firm.
Here are some of the most important takeaways:
The duo believes hustle is more important than talent to achieve success.
“There's just so much content out there that's just happening all the time for no reason,” Taggart said. “There's just so much to pay attention to and if you have to wake up every day, and think out what your angle is going to be, try stuff, have it not work. You have to accept defeat so frequently and still get up and do it.”
Creating music was their foray into building communities.
“I think we have some real insight into how to build that community and tell that story because essentially, that's all we're trying to do,” Pall said. “No matter what your business is, you're telling the story about something that you think is important that someone else needs and will enjoy.”
Building connections and having conversations with pioneers in the space helped them launch MantisVC.
“Humility and being self aware are two of our strengths,” Taggart said. “I think knowing what we don't know is a big part of how we've gotten to where we are, and with the support of people around us, and the relationships we built, we understood that we were going to have to go out and prove to the world that we were serious about this and we respected the people that have come before us and the people that are doing it right now.”
VCs should offer all their founders support.
“When you're building something early on, you want that support, that hands-on feeling and the purpose of Mantis isn't necessarily right now to replace the incredible institutional investors that exist out there and have been around for a while,” Pall continued.
“But we want to be the Robin to their Batman, and we think there's a way that we can kind of partner with everybody in the space and provide our founders that holistic support they need. It's inspiring to work alongside people that share that same energy and we're constantly working on ourselves and I feel like it takes a really special type of human being to be successful in this world. Level of grit and determination and something that's continually fueled us and we want to invest in people like that.”
Feedback is necessary and essential to create successful products and businesses.
“Similar to products or services that you're building, it's important to get real life feedback out there and iterate on those things,” Taggart said. “And there's really just no substitute for that.”
Pall added, “I think for some reason in our culture, it's become an issue for people just to be straightforward and say no, about things and give honest feedback and, and move on. I think we can all learn a lot from just having more honest conversations with each other.”
Never lose sight of your core audience and mission as a company.
“Never forget what your core product is and what people love about that and make sure that every piece of innovation is derivative of that,” Taggart said. “I see a lot of friends of ours that have had really successful companies start to build ancillary projects that don't really feed their core audience that they're just making to compete with their competition. We do the same thing in songwriting, and you can never lose sight of what people love about you.”
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Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.
What Hailey Bieber’s Skincare Company Reveals About Influencer-Led Brands
08:58 AM | March 06, 2023
When Hailey Bieber launched Rhode skincare last June, the release was coupled with YouTube videos detailingeachproduct. Bieber has since fully integrated the skincare line into her content, bringing on other beauty influencers to discuss it and highlighting it in get ready with me videos on her channel.
Bieber’s efforts paid off—Rhode has since become one of the most talked about skincare brands online, and the products often sell out. At The Upfront Summit last week, Bieber joined OBB Media CEO and founder Michael Ratner, who produces her YouTube series “What’s In My Bathroom” and “What’s In My Kitchen,” to discuss how she has merged her content creation with her business endeavors.
“YouTube is a great home because, most importantly, we’re able to reach Hailey’s audience,” Ratner said, adding that they can “cut out the middleman” of a traditional streaming service.
Bieber isn’t alone in utilizing her online platforms to start a beauty company. Kylie Jenner launched Kylie Cosmetics in 2014, and the line consistently receives high social media engagement thanks to intentional influencer marketing. But even influencers without the celebrity status of Jenner and Bieber have become entrepreneurs. Beauty YouTubers like Michelle Phan and NikkieTutorials have turned their expertise into makeup companies, while TikToker Hyram Yarbro did the same with skincare.
So how does the content creator to skincare mogul pipeline work?
Oftentimes, outside companies approach influencers about launching their own brands. Beauty and makeup brand incubator Madeby Collective, for example, was seeking a Gen Z star to be the face of a new line in 2020, and TikTok darling Addison Rae was the obvious choice. After approaching the influencer, they gave her the title of co-founder and Chief Innovation Office before launching Item Beauty later that year.
Bieber is trying to shove Rhode to the front of a field that even she admitted is incredibly crowded. Despite this, Bieber didn’t have a compelling answer when moderator Kobie Fuller asked how Rhode can stand out.
“To me, Rhode is a whole world. It’s a world of me, essentially” Bieber said. “In order for people to understand my vision for the brand, they would have to understand me.”
Bieber has become known for her various “glazed donut” looks, which range from nail designs to her skincare line. Multiple TikTok and YouTube tutorials re-created these looks as the trends swept through online beauty communities. And it doesn’t hurt when the person manufacturing these trends can use these platforms to show exactly how she gets these results—and promote her brand along the way.
Still, closely tying one’s company to one’s public perception is risky. On the extreme end is influencer Jeffree Star, who launched his cosmetics company in 2014 and often used elaborate YouTube videos to promote products. His items sold out quickly. But accusations of racism and sexual assault caused sales to decline. The fallout extended beyond him—beauty company Morphe, which rose to popularity through collaborations with Star, recently closed all of its U.S. locations due to low sales. Dragon Beauty, a company launched by YouTuber Nikita Dragon, was put on hiatus last month following the influencer’s arrest.
To that end, Bieber is currently embroiled in her own internet drama, having lost over one million Instagram followers after seemingly re-igniting her feud with Selena Gomez. Obviously, this is not comparable to the situations with Star and Dragon. But it does point to how even a slight misstep can have ripple effects on an influencer’s business and the fragility of someone’s online reputation.
The panel didn’t touch on this topic, and it’s unclear how the scandal has impacted Rhode’s sales—but the brand has become tangled with it. When Bieber re-posted someone’s Instagram story about Rhode that included a song featuring Gomez, fans noted that she changed the song to the version without Gomez. In turn, Gomez fans are urging people to stop buying Rhode products.
Even without pushback from vitriolic fan communities, influencer-led brands have struggled in recent months. In January, Sephora stopped carrying both Rae and Yarbro’s products after sales slowed down. Now, expertsare wondering if this is the beginning of the end for influencer-backed brands. Some have managed to produce products that can stand on their own—ironically, Gomez’s makeup line Rare Beauty has become the gold standard in this area. But Bieber’s philosophy of creating “aesthetically pleasing products that work” isn’t all that different from her competitors.Still, it’s unlikely that influencer-led brands will die out considering 92% of Gen Z adults make their purchasing decisions based on influencer recommendations. But influencers are finding that getting people to spend money is a more difficult task than getting them to watch a video. And when influencer-entrepreneurs like Bieber are unable to quickly articulate what makes their brands stand out, it’s understandable why viewers aren’t buying what they’re selling.
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Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.
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