Lately, it’s becoming a trend: Veterans of tech giants are joining the legal cannabis industry. With the cannabis industry often likened by Wall Street sages as the equivalent of what Silicon Valley was like 20 years ago, there’s a karmic symmetry going on here. The current example of this tech-to-cannabis migration is Joel Lunenfeld, 41, ex-head of global brand strategy at Twitter, who’s just been named chief marketing officer at NorCal Cannabis Company, a vertically integrated cannabis operator based in California.
Lunenfeld’s appointment came after meeting with NorCal’s CEO Douglas Cortina and President Jigar Patel. “I was really struck by their ambition, plans and rich roots in the industry,” he said. During that time, Lunenfeld, who had already left Twitter, had been advising and investing in startups—NorCal being among one of them.
Another element that drew Lunenfeld to NorCal were Cortina and Patel’s belief that “cannabis is a force for good, an opportunity for those who have been wrongly incarcerated.” Further expounding on the social justice that’s at the core of NorCal, Lunenfeld continued, “Enforcement of laws are expensive and it’s racially discriminatory. NorCal really respects the heritage of the industry and those who were in the black market.”
Lunenfeld cited recent statistics that illuminate the industry being a big job creator in America. According to leading marijuana researcher and investment firm ArcView Group, the cannabis industry is expected to create 414,000 jobs in the U.S. 2021, either directly in the cannabis industry or in a related job.
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With a majority of Americans (66 percent) supporting legalization based on the most recent Gallup poll, Lunenfeld said he has no reservations about entering the industry. To him, legalization is inevitable.
He feels his background, comprised of working at well-known companies in their early-stage phases, is ideal for the emerging cannabis market. Prior to Twitter, where he worked for six years, “pre-IPO and pre-revenue,” Lunenfeld was CEO of Moxie, a then nascent marketing agency. “What I loved was that was the beginning of the digital world,” he said. “At Twitter, it was the beginning of social media.” The constraints of the platform, imposed by its then 140 character-tweets, empowered Lunenfeld to be even more creative. He’s hoping to incorporate the same kind of creativity to his new role at NorCal.
Lunenfeld said his goals at NorCal will be “bringing meaning and definition to NorCal’s corporate brand” as well as turning it into a cannabis content creation company. Currently, the company has four brands in development that are ready to launch soon. Of special interest is an exclusive partnership with ex-TV host/comedienne/author Chelsea Handler to bring her new product line to market.
For Lunenfeld, the main challenge at NorCal will be “learning to speak to and respect current consumers while engaging with the new consumers.” Key elements he plans on stressing in the messaging will be the health and wellness benefits.
In a public statement, company CEO Cortina expressed great confidence in Lunenfeld’s capabilities. “Joel was vital to the growth and development of Twitter over the past few years,” said Cortina. “His experience at building global, disruptive brands is a perfect fit for NorCal as we are building the most impactful brand in California cannabis. We’re looking for him to take his unparalleled mix of marketing, new media and branding experience to an industry like cannabis that is still writing the rules.”
The announcement of Lunenfeld’s new appointment at NorCal comes on the heels of the company raising $27.4 million in Series A funding. According to a press release, the capital infusion will be used for expansion and to pave the way for a potential 2019 listing. Presently, NorCal has three cultivation facilities, 400 plus employees, 1,000 plus daily deliveries and 10 storefronts in development, said the company website.