Despite the recent dramatic changes in the world of marijuana–hello, THC-infused lemonade legally sold in L.A. dispensaries–there is one holdover from the past that won’t go away. Ask most people who is using and profiting off the cannabis industry and they’ll describe a Harold and Kumar-type or Bob Marley-wannabe. Regardless of what studies, polls, and legislators say, many resist the notion that soccer moms are lighting up in large numbers or that the industry–from dispensaries to hemp home accessories–is in the hands of a growing group of savvy entrepreneurs. Enter Olivia Mannix and Jennifer DeFalco, two twenty-somethings who, in their heels and sheath dresses, seem decidedly more Condé Nast than Cheech and Chong. And with their full-service branding company Cannabrand, they are introducing the world to the modern cannabis entrepreneur.
“Like all industries, cannabis companies need to be branded and marketed effectively,” says Mannix, co-founder of the Denver-based company. She and her business partner knew that they were the ones to launch the company, not because of a shared affinity for marijuana, but because of their ability to spot trends and solve problems. “We had both been avidly following the cannabis industry for years. Once we were aware that recreational use was going to become legal in Colorado, we planned to open a full-service marketing agency catering to the cannabis space,” says Mannix. She and DeFalco studied together at University of Colorado at Boulder and a few years ago opened a boutique marketing agency called MARCA Strategic. Then they decided to go niche and focus Cannabrand exclusively on cannabis culture. Clients have included Mindful, a network of Colorado dispensaries looking to overhaul its look from logo to employee uniforms, as well as soon-to-launched Bold Harvest, an edibles company created by a restaurant industry veteran.
“Our clients range from small startups to international public companies,” Mannix says. For these businesses, they do everything from logo creation to websites to social media management. “Jennifer is the creative director and was able to create all of the artwork for our company, including website design, logos, marketing materials, as well as direct creative strategy. I am the strategic director with a strong PR and marketing background who leads strategic aspects,” she explains, calling them a “dynamic duo” who financially bootstrapped the venture as soon as they saw that the legal tide was turning in favor of the cannabis entrepreneur.
As innovative as it may be to venture into newly legalized terrain, it is also risky. Laws can always change and public sentiment can turn against legalization. To Teflon-proof their business, Cannabrand is thinking outside of the box, offering brand extensions to show off their business creativity and simultaneously raise public support of cannabis legalization. They have the blog CannaBuzz, with its tagline “Covering cannabis culture and the recreational movement” with posts like the one titled “What it’s like to be a mother in the cannabis industry,” written by a woman on their creative team. It also means that they are looking beyond Colorado. “We envision opening branches across the nation, and we will continue to influence policy and the federal legalization of cannabis,” says Mannix. In other words, they are way more Fortune 500 forward-thinking than High Times laissez-faire.