How this cannatech startup pulled an investor out of retirement

November 7, 2017
hmbldt cannabis startup
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After a long, successful career as a hedge fund co-founder and partner, Gunner Winston was ready to retire. Then he discovered pot.

No, not the act of consuming the sticky icky, but rather the business side of a market everyone is predicting will explode once the recreational cannabis use is legalized in Los Angeles, Jan. 1, 2018.

While making some personal investments to keep himself occupied in his retirement, Winston started researching the burgeoning cannabis market and immediately saw the potential.

Then he learned about hmbldt, a Santa Monica-based brand that creates a line of specially formulated cannabis pens that deliver a measured dose each and every time.

“When I first started researching the cannabis space, the first thing that came to mind was that, ‘this is a consumer product,’” he said. “Brands will manifest themselves in this space, but they really haven’t yet. What hmbldt created was something that'll allow you to have a conversation. It allows you to talk about cannabis with someone like your mom, your partner or your sister, because it looks like it could be sold in an Apple store. It’s really about helping introduce — or reintroduce — people to cannabis. I saw this as the opportunity to be a part of something completely transformational, and there aren’t really that many opportunities in life to do something like that.”

 

hmbldt cannabis startup 2
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Just like that, Winston’s employment status went from retired to CEO of hmbldt. Founded in 2015, the company’s line of cannabis pens come in a sleek, visually appealing cartridge that delivers 2.25mg every time a user inhales, ensuring users don’t become too “overwhelmed” with the product.

“Hmbldt does not talk about strains,” he said. “We have created formulations based on specific therapeutic needs. That's done through scientific analysis and using professional distillation from the cannabis plant to isolate CBD [Cannabidiol, a cannabinoid identified in cannabis], THC [a psychotropic cannabinoid] and the various terpenes into blends that are our own. For anxiety, there’s, ‘calm.’ For sleep, we have, ‘sleep.’ If someone is trying to manage their pain, we have a pen called, ‘relief,’ and for a feeling of euphoria, there’s ‘bliss.’”

There is, however, a catch. Because recreational cannabis isn’t legal until 2018, brands like hmbldt can only sell their products to licensed dispensaries, which can only be accessed by those with medical marijuana prescriptions. While the present inability to act as an e-commerce brand is certainly not ideal, Winston noted that it’s something the team plans to address as soon as they are legally able to do so.

“Right now, we are limited by our ability to do e-commerce,” he said. “We’d love for people on our website to be able to transact because it comes down to getting the patient what they want. Our goal is to be able to allow the patient to get what they need when they need it, and that is one of our priorities.”

 

hmbldt cannabis startup team photo
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While the company plans to aggressively scale its e-commerce operations come 2018, it plans on focusing on California — though it recently brought on a head of operations for Canada, which will legalize recreational marijuana use in July 2018. 

“If you're a cultivator, if you grow product, you're obviously beholden to the land that you have now and/or can have in the future,” said Winston. “There’s opportunity in something like 30 different states in the U.S., Canada and we can export to every legal market in the world — including Germany and Australia, among others — but the challenge is that we’re not ready for those markets yet. In California, we have a market that we estimate eclipses many other industries nationally.”

With a date set in stone for the legalization of recreational marijuana use, all hmbldt can do for the time being is prepare, something cannabis proponents in the state have been doing for decades.

“If we take your eye off the ball, and don't give it proper attention, we’re not going to get what we consider to be our fair share,” said Winston. “Our goal is to be a dominant brand, and we want to serve as many patients as we can, and — in this state alone, more than any other — there's that opportunity. So, we have to be good here first. We're on the path, but we're not where we want to be. We're going to earn the right to grow, which means having the proper people, the proper infrastructure in place and the proper level of diligence.”