Excerpt: “Billion Dollar Start-Up”

If they were going to get into the cannabis industry in a real way, Seb and Adam had to immerse themselves in the culture. And that meant going to the epicentre of canna culture in Europe, the Amsterdam Cannabis Cup. Less than a month after hiring a lawyer, Adam and Seb got on a plane across the Atlantic. They thought they knew what to expect, but Amsterdam over-delivered from the first night they arrived.
Seb and Adam could smell the party before they could see it. Pot smoke wafted through the air, streaming out of window cracks in a disused warehouse on one of Amsterdam’s docks. Electronica reverberated throughout the whole area, punctuated with seizure-inducing flashes of colour and strobe lights. This was, after all, the opening night and everyone who was involved in the European marijuana industry was there: dreadlocked hippies, expert cultivators, cannabis accessory company executives, happy young consumers, weed celebrities, and media of every stripe.
Amsterdam had hosted the international event that had grown to sprawl across multiple venues ever since High Times magazine founder Steven Hager launched it in 1987. This was be the last year before it became the Amsterdam Unity Cup, and everyone was determined to go out in a blaze of smoke. Now that Hydropothecary had a name, a lawyer, and a logo, this was the place to start looking for people, ideas, and suppliers.
Adam tugged nervously at the button of his blazer. He and Seb had arrived in Amsterdam late that evening, laden with a suitcase full of “We’re hiring” cards and Hydropothecary-branded printed materials. They’d dropped everything off at their rented loft in the city, where they planned to hold meetings and interviews. But before any of those took place, they would first mingle, dropping their cards on every available surface, and getting a bead on their targets.
Adam, Julie, and Seb
Looking around the booming nightclub with its mishmash of counterculture savants, patchouli-scented armpits, and pot enthusiasts, Adam realized the blazer wasn’t going to work. He darted a look at Seb, who lived in athleisure clothes and running shoes and didn’t really give a shit what anyone thought of it. Adam scanned the crowd, looking for someone—anyone—in a blazer. Even a tailored vest or a tie would do. Nothing. He looked like a Young Liberal who stumbled into a 4/20 protest expecting a cocktail party fundraiser. He vowed to hit an H&M the next day and buy something more youthful, like a grey knit sweater with toggles. Maybe a brown vest of some type. Until then, he thought, he’d just have to try to blend in.
Deeply unhip clothing choices aside, he was there with Seb to figure things out. The Cannabis Cup was the highlight on the marijuana calendar. Part massive celebration, part awards night to honour the best seeds, hash, concentrates, bud, and coffee shop flowers, it was held in two locations, but pop-up parties and try-and-vote events were everywhere. And they were going to try it all. Following the crowd along the waterfront, past a french-fry stand and up to a third-floor space over a shawarma shop, they found themselves in a brightly lit, bubble-gum pink room dotted with metallic silver lounges and big screens playing a movie. They found a spot on one of the couches and sat stiffly, feeling more out of place than they’d thought possible. Before long, a parade of bikini girls came into the room with a 10-foot-long plastic volcano bag filled with smoke, which they passed around the crowd.
“It’s legal,” Seb shouted over the noise. “Let’s give it a try.”
'It’s legal,' Seb shouted over the noise. 'Let’s give it a try.'
He immediately questioned the decision when the guy ahead of them not only put his lips on the bag but his entire tongue as well. When the bag was passed to Seb, he wiped the plastic nozzle with a look of disgust, closed his eyes, and inhaled. Adam followed.
After so many years as friends and family, Seb and Adam had developed a certain style in social situations. Adam would sidle up to strangers, find common ground, and talk. If Seb knew the crowd, he would confidently stride in. Otherwise, he sat back, watching, then engaged when he felt the time was right. But that night, as the weed quickly took hold, those roles were reversed.
Seb was observing everything, talking at the speed of light and showing no signs of slowing down. Whatever that weed was—and they would vote on it later—he became Sébastien the Verbose and Erudite. Nothing escaped his notice, and everything was worthy of a remark. From his own haze, Adam could hear the non-stop commentary: Did you see what that girl was wearing? How many people do you think are here? I can’t figure out that movie. Oh man, this smoothie is incredible!—and just wanted it to stop. Shhh, he whispered. Time was contracting and expanding, he could feel the blood pulsing in his veins, and even if someone were to pull the fire alarm, he felt too paralyzed to move. Shhh, he said again, this time vaguely batting a hand. Just fucking shhhhhhhhhhhh. His brother-in-law was at 11 and he needed him at a 5. If this was jumping into cannabis culture with both feet, he thought, I’m taking one foot out.
For the rest of their two-day stay, they talked to people, listened, asked questions, and, more than anything, felt wildly out of place. They had come to Amsterdam expecting this... this crazy, weed-fuelled love-in... and while it was an education, they realized it wasn’t their demographic. Neither knew enough about the cannabis culture to participate in it, and both respected the pioneers who’d established it too much to even try to mimic it.
If there was an a-ha moment on that trip, it was this: cannabis counterculture already had its own demigods, outliers, icons, and points of reference. What Hydropothecary wanted to do was remove the stigma associated with stoner culture and figure out how to sell medical marijuana to people who didn’t fit in with it. They wanted to market their cannabis to people just like themselves.
Pick up your copy of Billion Dollar Start-Up here.