Top Cannabis CEOs, Other Leaders Network in Las Vegas
The Lemonhaze Invitational Golf Tournament is where serious deals are made.
The second annual Lemonhaze Invitational is more than just a golf outing; it’s a chance for influential cannabis executives to build relationships in the industry during an informal and fun setting that can’t be duplicated at the MJBizCon in Las Vegas in days afterward.
This year’s event was again hosted at Cascata Golf Club in Boulder City just outside Las Vegas by Lemonhaze, the Southern Nevada-based B2B cannabis convention and events company headed by CEO Brian Yauger. It hosts high-end boutique events and regional golf outings across the country targeting segments of the cannabis industry.
The Vegas tournament is by invitation only for executives of major nationals in the cannabis industry and C-suite and other top executives for privately-owned companies valued at more than $40 million. It’s branded as the largest collection of the most powerful decision makers in adult-use cannabis in one place at one time and all on the golf course and mixers associated with it. There were some 70 invitees that attended and tee times allocated as well to about 40 sponsors, with food and drinks served throughout the day. Limousine buses transported them 25 miles from the famous Las Vegas Strip.
“It’s the ultimate networking event,” says Yauger, a former college football assistant coach. “This is a chance for all of these people of the most powerful companies in the country to get together and spend time together. The sponsors want to get their product and wares in front of the decision makers at all these multi-million-dollar companies.”
Companies have the same investor challenges, customer challenges and media challenges. And there are sometimes licensing deals that come out of these get-togethers, he says.
This year’s event generated a lot of excitement among the participants.
David Rula, COO of GoldLeaf Print & Packaging, said this is his second consecutive year participating in the Lemonhaze Invitational tournament. He called it smart timing by being held at the same time at MJBizCon and credited Yauger and his staff for doing a great job of organizing leaders in the cannabis space.
“It’s filled with owners, presidents, CEOs, CMOs, COOs—nothing but C-suite people,” Rula said. “It’s a peer-to-peer group of management teams to have good discussions and see the trends in the industry and just talk about how we can push the cannabis space forward.”
Rula, who’s from Mississippi and Alabama, said it’s like duck hunting to him. It’s one of the best ways to get to know people by spending four hours with them.
“It’s unlike a conference environment where it’s madness like a horde of bees running around,” Rula says. “You don’t get to know anybody, but the Lemonhaze events enable you to get to know somebody and build more of a longer lasting relationship. It’s good food, good entertainment and good company.”
Phil Hon, vice president of Southern California-based ROVE, said the tournament helps with relationship building and their expansion into new states.
“We’re currently in seven states, and Lemonhaze has these tournaments in other states and we get to meet the industry folks there,” Hon said. “Cannabis is a small network, and when you have something like this with upper management in these tournaments, it makes things easier.”
ROVE President Paul Jacobson said a lot of other events are too intense about cannabis or too much of a party atmosphere, and that makes it difficult to have a normal conversation.
“With the Lemonhaze events, the focus is on golf so when you’re out on the course, you spend an extended amount of time with people you might not normally have the opportunity to spend time with,” Jacobson said. “It’s a different and advantageous atmosphere to have meaningful discussions with people.”
Chris Holston, finance director for Cookies, said the tournament allows his company to come in contact with brands and suppliers. He said it’s nice to talk to people within the industry to see what business conditions they are experiencing and make comparisons.
Charmaine Chua, senior vice president sales/field marketing for Stiiizy, said she loves how the Lemonhaze Invitational allows her to meet with her customers, talk and enjoy the day.
“I also like to see all the new companies coming up with new services and technologies that my company could benefit from,” Chua said.
Karen Torres, chief product officer at MedMen, said she was excited to play with Chua, a brand partner of her company for product sales in their stores.
“I think it’s important for us to show up and represent the cannabis industry as a solid industry and real industry in business,” Torres said. “Events like this allow us to all get together and be thought leaders and create partnerships and a stronger foundation for this industry.”
Legendary NFL running back Ricky Williams, who launched his own cannabis brand Highsman, said while a lot of people know who he is, he doesn’t know a lot of people. The golf outing helps with that.
“It’s a great opportunity to make contact and find quality potential partners,” Williams says. “Last year, we were on the bus here and across from the CEO of TILT, and we ended up doing a deal in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. The conversation got started here.”
Tom Schneider, chief marketing officer for RevBrands, said networking is invaluable, and Yauger brings in top executives that they meet and do deals with.
“It’s pretty valuable for us,” Schneider said.
Erin Gore, founder of Garden Society, said the golf outing is important networking since they’re expanding into new markets. They’re meeting with MSO and brand partners and others who they don’t get to spend a lot of face-to-face time with, she added.
Jeff Dayton, vice president of strategy for TRP Co., said the Lemonhaze Invitational offers a chance to talk with thought leaders in the cannabis space. This was his first year at the event.
“I think face-to-face interaction is key to doing business,” Dayton said. “I believe COVID made people realize there are stop gaps and ways to communicate virtually, but there’s no replacement for in-person interaction, shaking someone’s hand, looking in someone’s eyes and knowing more about the person you are doing business with. Events such as this allow those relationships to start, be nurtured and flourish.”
David Murray, CEO of Redbud Roots, says seeing what other people are doing in the industry is important and the event helps with that. It’s a growing industry and people are “trying to be sponges and students of the game.”
Lemonhaze has held more than 30 various types of events in 2022 and expects to grow that number in 2023 to more than 70, Yauger said. For a company that launched in Seattle in 2015 and initially known for its Budtender parties, there will be more of a focus east of the Mississippi River.
“We’re focusing on New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio and Pennsylvania,” Yauger says. “In the next two to three years, you’ll start to see more happening in Mississippi, Alabama and North Carolina. I’m really excited about those markets.”
Penny Cook, Lemonhaze COO, said the value of their events is “incredibly high” as the market is new and developing.
“We bring industry growth with us,” Cook says. “That’s what we are here for. Our events are all about connecting the right people in the industry. We curate who’s going to be here so the people meeting each other are of high value. We see an exorbitant amount of deals that come out of our executive events, and we see brands present at our Budtender events have higher sales. There’s a clear ROI for every one of our sponsors that do Lemonhaze events because they’re connecting with people in high numbers—their target audience that they wouldn’t be able to connect on their own, let alone for the spend that they have to be there.”
Normally, in the events industry, people worry about how many tickets they can sell, but Yauger says their model isn’t selling tickets but sponsors wanting to pay a premium to be in the room.
“Another huge value point that we have is we’re hyper local,” she says. “What’s going on in the cannabis industry in Massachusetts right now is really different from what’s going on in Southern California. Because we have the right audiences in each one of these localities, these national companies are able to come in and get feedback directly from the people on the ground in those markets to address that and spend their sales and marketing dollars in a more targeted way.”