I go out into the world to physically meet and make conversation with the folks I believe would be interested in attending or otherwise supporting my cannabis events. Early in my cannabis event planning days, emailing businesses for partnerships wasn’t the most effective approach, and Facebook ads and Eventbrite ticketing systems were not always possible due to the involvement of cannabis. Guerilla marketing, like creatively kicking off my events in a very public place before heading to the cannabis lounge, has been a clever way for Token Events to instantly boost awareness of the many ways in which the cannabis industry can succeed.
As a part of my series about “the 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business ”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ivy Summer. She’s is a certified wedding planner who serves engaged couples interested in planning their own wedding. As the pioneer of some of California’s first cannabis events, Ivy was the first local wedding planner on the scene to tackle the unexpected aspects of cannabis-incorporated weddings and is responsible for bringing the annual Cannabis Wedding Expo and its team to the golden coast. With nearly a decade of experience consulting, planning and coordinating weddings in the Bay Area, plus 3 years professionally consulting cannabis weddings, this jack of all trades and Master in Business Administration launched the USA’s first cannabis art museum tours and cannabis yacht tours on San Francisco’s bay. As a networking guru, business professional and traveler, Ivy has a devoted fan base across the globe. Visit both voulez-events.com and tokenevents.ca; follow both Voulez Events and Token Events on Facebook, voulezevents and tokenevents Instagram, and @VoulezSF on Twitter.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with the ‘backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis space?
I’ve always been an advocate for the cannabis industry, and even more so as a professional event planner for the past 10 years. When California legalized recreational cannabis in November 2016, I intuitively prepared for how to discuss the various cannabis wedding options with engaged couples based on my previous hospitality experience and existing network in Colorado. The following month, I coordinated my very first cannabis wedding at a San Francisco private estate.
During my time coordinating vendors for my first cannabis wedding, I realized the scary possibility that some vendors may not be ready to associate their brand with cannabis. I did a bit of research about how to navigate this challenge. The Cannabis Wedding Expo (CWE) was already hosting annual events in Colorado and Washington, but not yet in California.
I made a phone call to introduce myself to the co-founders of the CWE, and happily offered to find a 10,000 square foot space for the team to bring the expo to [San Francisco] California for the first time. Local engaged couples immediately reached out to Voulez Events to inquire about how to legally incorporate cannabis into their wedding day as either a ritual, group activity, dining experience, or non-consumption décor. From there, I saw an opportunity for not only weddings, but special events like art museum tours and yacht parties — and then Token Events was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting story that happened to me since I began hosting cannabis events was about America’s first cannabis yacht tour on the bay in February 2018. I published the event on Facebook in January 2018, and within 48 hours of creating the Facebook event page, about 2,500 people RSVP’d as either “Going” or “Interested.” By the time the tour date came around, I had already spoken with the U.S. Coast Guard among other important institutions and organizations to ensure that I was executing my event by the book and being transparent throughout the process of preparation.
I reserved at least half of the 40 seats for American veterans who belonged to the Oakland Chapter of the Weed for Warriors non-profit. About an hour after we set sail on the bay, the U.S. Coast Guard approached our yacht… and I learned that they had been ordered by Jeff Sessions to do so! This was interesting because the U.S. Coast Guard came aboard, found there was nothing illegal taking place, and got to meet their brothers and sisters from every other branch of the military. We ended the event with happy guests and we sent our best to Jeff Sessions.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made when I was first starting was innocently forgetting about the possibility of service pets attending Token Events yacht tours! One guest attended with his gorgeous, well-mannered golden retriever — a certified service animal, who was recently recovering from a knee injury. I immediately got in touch with the cannabis lounge and Captain of the yacht to confirm we could all accommodate the guest’s service pet. Everyone was ecstatic to make the pup feel comfortable, including our cannabis sponsor W!NK, which offered its pet-friendly CBD tincture for the dog to enjoy along with the guests.
One lesson I learned was to be intentional in the future about accommodating service animals and ensuring all parts of the events are ADA-compliant across all venues.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
I’m currently working on an exciting project that can propel cannabis tourism around the globe, beyond U.S. borders. As I transform my wedding planning business into a destination wedding consulting firm, I’m finding opportunities to extend my cannabis event services to other countries. Can’t say much more about it at this time, but stay tuned!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m super grateful for my family and friends for believing in me from conception to execution of the ground-breaking Token Events. I’m grateful to my event attendees and sponsors who participated in the events I’ve hosted for San Francisco residents and tourists alike. I’m thankful for the team at Medithrive, which sponsored my first two cannabis art museum tours. Specifically in the Bay Area, cannabis businesses have created community and are really supportive of one another; I’ve got so much appreciation for the organized groups in both San Francisco and Oakland, from the bottom of my heart! Without that community, I’d still be fishing for answers to so many questions I had about how the laws all around California are changing. Last, but certainly not least, the co-founders of the Cannabis Wedding Expo helped me create a dream come true for my city by the bay, year after year, and I’m honored to call them my friends.
This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
The marketing strategies I implement are simple: I go out into the world to physically meet and make conversation with the folks I believe would be interested in attending or otherwise supporting my cannabis events. Early in my cannabis event planning days, emailing businesses for partnerships wasn’t the most effective approach, and Facebook ads and Eventbrite ticketing systems were not always possible due to the involvement of cannabis. Guerilla marketing, like creatively kicking off my events in a very public place before heading to the cannabis lounge, has been a clever way for Token Events to instantly boost awareness of the many ways in which the cannabis industry can succeed.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
Three things that most excite me about the cannabis industry entail (1) the potential it has to positively affect every other industry we can imagine and in some ways we may not be able to imagine; (2) its ability to fund public education and claim other important social responsibilities; and (3) the strong pillar of education around cannabis that continues to blossom. The three things that most concern me include (1) the steep hurdles that still exist for cannabis businesses to launch and thrive due to the lack of a level playing field, relative to the majority of established industries; (2) the long-lasting cycle of mass incarceration for cannabis-related crimes; and (3) the roadblock to funding necessary cannabis research required to make monumental advancements in the medical industry.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
Five things I wish someone told me before I started leading cannabis business:
(1) I wish someone told me about the best ways how to advertise, considering the limitations of Facebook ads.
I wanted to run a test for the first cannabis yacht tour Facebook event: Without sending any invitations, I wanted to see how many people would RSVP or purchase tickets. The title was “Cannabis Yacht Tour on the Bay.” Within the first 48 hours, the event page attracted 2,500 RSVPs! I wanted to boost a Facebook ad to see how many more people the page could reach. Facebook was quick to deny my boosted ad, and I consider myself lucky that the title of the event alone was exceptionally effective in capturing my target audience. Word-of-mouth would’ve been my next attempt at advertising the event if all else failed.
(2) I wish someone told me how to sell tickets for my cannabis events.
As a professional event planner, I naturally used Eventbrite to sell tickets for my first cannabis yacht tour. After having successful sales and transferring the funds to my bank account, Eventbrite banned my ticket page. The company failed to warn me about this. I found out that my Eventbrite page was no longer available when I went to review my stats on the back end. For my second cannabis yacht tour, I had to find a reliable ticketing system that gave me full confidence that my customers would be able to purchase tickets without issue and that I would be able to transfer funds to my bank account without a problem. Fortunately, I was able to conduct business on the TicketLeap platform for subsequent cannabis events.
(3) I wish someone would’ve told me how to write off cannabis [event] business expenses.
It’s still impossible to write off certain expenses as a cannabis business. For example, fellow cannabis businesses sponsored some of the products in the gift bags for my event attendees, but I had to purchase other items, process deliveries, acquire transportation, and invest in some business operations that I would’ve otherwise been able to write off as a business expense had I not been operating within the cannabis industry. Unfortunately, any business operations that were affiliated with the growth, transportation or consumption of cannabis could not be considered business expenses that I could legally write off, according to the laws at the time.
(4) I wish someone would’ve told me how to find non-cannabis industry folks as prospective partners who support this new emerging industry.
Before I discovered the Cannabis Wedding Expo, it was not the easiest feat to find and book vendors for the cannabis weddings I was hired to plan and in San Francisco. Many businesses outside of the cannabis industry were uncomfortable associating their brand with cannabis. I needed to be transparent with the wedding vendors I reached out to on behalf of my clients to validate their reliability, willingness and professionalism regarding these turn-of-the-century events. I heard a lot more “no way, not right now’s” from wedding industry folks in the Bay Area than I originally thought I would.
(5) I wish someone told me about where to find legitimate answers to valid legal concerns per location.
California’s laws can slightly differ county by county. I explored several different resources that allowed me to keep my ear on the legal pulse of legislation throughout the state so that I could adequately perform my job as a professional wedding and event planner. I took initiative to be more informed so that I could educate a venue my clients had their eyes on. For example, in the earliest days of legalized recreational cannabis, a grey area existed for venues located both in the city of Pleasanton, CA, and the county of Alameda because the city and county established cannabis legislation that clashed with one another. Unfortunately, these venues could not legally host cannabis events — at least not until the laws pertaining to their entire jurisdiction made it clear that it was legally okay to host events with cannabis onsite.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Advice I’d share with other cannabis business founders to help their employees to thrive would be words of encouragement to listen and even test out employees’ ideas. Some of the most successful parts of my cannabis art museum and yacht tours came from my employees!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Visit both voulez-events.com and tokenevents.ca; follow both Voulez Events and Token Events on Facebook, @VoulezSF on Twitter, and both voulezevents and tokenevents Instagram.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started, with Ivy Summer and Fotis Georgiadis was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.