Curating an Inclusive Cannabis Industry

Conference Preview: Revelry 14

In about two weeks on February 25, between 550-750 people will gather in downtown Brooklyn at NYC City Tech College for the 14th Revelry – described as a cannabis conference for the people. The conference is the flagship of curated events produced by On The Revel, an organization that highlights the diverse people who have been and are currently building the cannabis industry.

On The Revel was founded in New York City in 2016 by two cannabis entrepreneurs, Lulu Tsui (pronounced SWAY) and Jacobi Holland. Both had experience in tech and cannabis from western states (Lulu from Washington and California; Jacobi from Colorado). But as residents of New York City they felt that local events lacked the quality and access to operators that are actually on the ground in other regions.

Revelry 22The two also shared the opinion that other national/regional events did a very poor job representing the diverse backgrounds and faces that are building the industry. And they wanted to create a business event that captured the good energy and positive vibes of consumer events.

Cannabis Inc Magazine caught up recently with both Jacobi and Lulu in advance of the event.

Diversity, inclusion, transparency

“We both came from existing legal cannabis markets; I came from the Washington market and Jacobi came from the Colorado market,” Lulu recalled. “But we were very much bi-coastal and in 2015 we met at a 420 party hosted by Women Grow, and at that time in New York, there were many meetups and conversations around advocacy and investing in cannabis.”

She noted, however, that there was also a lot of false information and misconceptions about what was really happening on the ground in existing legal markets.

“And it was the first time I met someone that was of color who was talking about real truth,” Lulu said of Jacobi, “And we just hit it off.”

Originally called the Cannabis Tech Group, given their aligned skillsets in designing services, products and experiences, that morphed into On The Revel.

“We thought it was really important to share transparent and real information about what the cannabis space is about,” Lulu explained. “At that time you saw all these headlines about billion dollar companies, the so-called green rush, blah, blah, blah. And for some, that was true, but for a lot of the people that we met, that was not the case.”

She added: “We also wanted to highlight the folks that look like us that we met along the way through our business dealings in other markets.”

The mission was to focus on creating a community and a diverse network of industry professionals. “It makes for a better industry when it's inclusive and diverse,” Lulu emphasized.

“That’s because you have a collective intelligence that's coming together to problem solve from different backgrounds and different experiences and different skill sets,” she said.

As On The Revel began to grow, the decision was made to make it New York-centric.

“We both believed that when New York came online it would be a very influential market that would probably change how the world perceives cannabis,” Lulu said. “I'm from the West Coast, and I always say the West Coast is great about seeding new types of ideas, new types of culture, but it really isn't until New York adopts it, that it becomes a worldwide movement.”

So New York became the epicenter—the cultural influencer with the help of On The Revel—beginning in 2016.

Revelry 6
“For our first event we knew we wanted it to be a little more elevated than a traditional meetup group that just kind of had pizza and a couple of beers,” Jacobi laughed. “We wanted to take a new approach; So we kind of redesigned what we thought it should look like.”

Jacobi’s eyes were opened when a woman approached him after the first event. He didn’t know her back then, but she was clearly emotional about the experience.

He recalled: “I now know she was very established in the industry at that point; she’s an attorney and she came up crying and said, ‘You know, I've been working in the industry for X years, I go to so many different events and conferences, and this was the best thing I've ever been to. This is what New York needed.’”

It was then, after investing some money and a lot of sweat equity that Jacobi turned to Lulu and said, “I think this is a little bigger than we thought it was supposed to be.”
He said it was a pivotal moment for him. He realized that their approach was novel and important to people.

The first event had about 125 people in attendance. That was seven years and 13 events ago. Their most recent event—promoted as a Block Party—had 550 people. This year’s Revelry should surpass that.

Originally, there were four events planned each quarter, but as they kept getting bigger and bigger, they have become less frequent—twice a year. Lulu, Jacobi and their team all have full-time jobs, so for them it’s a labor of love and passion.

“Revenue is not the driver of why we do this,” said Jacobi. “We’re lucky if we break even. Our goal is to just make sure that people have information and have access to good people. What’s most important is to make a healthy collaborative market for New York.”

Creating an intimate space

Now, every event is defined by three pillars, according to Jacobi. First, everyone is going to feel welcome. “We’ve failed you if you walk in the room and don’t feel welcome,” he said.

The second pillar is curated and actionable content. “The speakers we bring in are mostly local as well as from out of state that are really well considered. We interview our community in advance about what information they most need,” Jacobi explained.

Lulu elaborated: “When we talk with people in our community, we figure out the questions that they want answered. We don't assume that what we're trying to figure out is what everybody else is trying to figure out.”

These discovery sessions reveal the subjects people want to learn about and then inform the event’s programming. “And then we'll hit up our Rolodex and decide who would be best for speaking about a specific topic?” Lulu noted. “So it's very intimate. Everybody on our stage is probably two degrees of separation from us -- people that we've worked with personally or our trusted folks have worked with.”

Revelry 5“And then the third pillar is you're going to meet more dope people,” he laughed. “It's kind of a cheeky thing to say, but there's actually a lot behind that. You're going to meet people that are genuinely interested in this industry -- they have passion about the industry, it's not just a money grab to them.”

For the upcoming February 25 event and others there will be three blocks of content.

The first one addresses what it's like to be a licensed operator. The panel and speakers are all licensed or in the process of coming online in New York. “They have already established themselves as an operator and will tell their personal story, while also sharing anything actionable that they wish they had known about before they started,” Lulu explained.

Another block will focus on how applicants need to come up with a community plan, something especially important in New York.

“We're already starting to hear about failed partnerships,” said Lulu. “So this piece is about how to create a conscientious ecosystem—it focuses on partnerships, working with your community boards and essentially how to be a good actor within the community.”

This segment will also focus on licensing deals, as well as how a legacy operator can take a pathway to a legal operation.

The third content block will deal with how to raise money. It will feature venture capitalists, banks and lenders who will advise what they are looking for from potential operators.

All in all, Revelry 14 promises to present a very holistic, 360-view from a variety of different perspectives.

But the information sharing doesn’t end with the conference. It’s ongoing. One platform that originated during the pandemic when everyone was locked down is On The Revel’s Dope People Online Community (dope people sign-up — On The Revel).

Free-to-sign up to all, the platform has grown steadily since 2020.

“The event becomes the central hub of information, but that ends,” Jacobi explained. “If you didn't get the business card or you forgot a person's name, or you couldn't find that company again, it's over -- you fade off into oblivion.”
But the creation of the Dope People Online Community allows the interaction to continue.

“We’ve effectively decentralized the information,” Jacobi explained, “We don't want you to wait six months for the next Revel event to learn more information. Here online, people keep talking and it all reverberates.”

At On The Revel, it’s all about creating content and experiences that help democratize the cannabis market.

For more information, visit: On The Revel


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