This article first appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Cannabis & Tech Today.
As the leaves change from deep greens to hues of yellow and red in the fall of 2022, New York State will open the doors to its first conditional adult-use cannabis dispensaries.
Lulu Tsui will experience the historic shift from her neighborhood in Brooklyn.
She splits her time between her home on the East Coast and her community in Oakland, California.
She’ll likely visit New York’s first legal shops wearing a chic scarf and a wide-brimmed hat, her piercing brown eyes seeking opportunities to build community and connections.
Tsui (pronounced “Sway”) is the co-founder and chief experience officer at On The Revel, a company centered around education, networking, and community-building for the cannabis sector.
It hosts a recurring in-person event called Revelry and offers an online membership community, Dope People, which creates podcasts and virtual experiences.
Tsui launched On The Revel out of a passion for education, people, and technology.
She spent 15 years working in experience design and user experience for companies like Bloomberg, Mastercard, John Hopkins University, and Pearson.
She’s using that background to democratize information for those looking to learn more about the new industry.
One way she’s approaching cannabis education is through her work as president of the Cannabis Media Council.
“Think ‘Got Milk?’ but for the cannabis space,” she told Cannabis & Tech Today during a recent interview.
The female-led council will launch its first cannabis-friendly public service announcement this fall to coincide with New York’s adult-use legalization timeline.
Tsui’s personality hints at the kind of intellect that intimidates at parties and inspires awe in a boardroom. Multifaceted and dynamic, she’s central to several emerging businesses.
As the user experience and research advisor at Oakland Hyphae, she’s changing the narrative around psychedelics as well. The group founded the Oakland Psychedelic Conference and the Psilocybin Cup.
Information for All
Launching a business in the cannabis sector is akin to building an engine based on a picture of a car. You know what the final product should look like, but putting all the pieces together requires more expertise.
Cannabis is competitive. People who manage to start a canna-business aren’t often keen on sharing the secrets to their success. Tsui aims to change that.
“What we noticed the first couple of years in cannabis was everybody was learning, but there was also a little bit of gatekeeping of information,” Tsui said.
“Very specific people were allowed access or had the ability to fundraise. We thought it was important that if people were interested they would have real information, transparent information, and access to good vendors, lawyers, and all the folks in our community that we’ve built in the past six years within New York, as well as other markets.”
New Market, Different Beast
It’s not wildly insightful to say New York is likely to become a cannabis mecca in the United States. The Empire State has been setting trends for, well… Was there ever a time when New York wasn’t America’s cultural center?
The East Coast has its own cannabis culture and legalization will let people out of their “green closets,” as Tsui remarked, so they can publicly consume. Governor Hochul’s executive budget estimates New York could earn more than $1.25 billion in cannabis tax revenue over the next six years.
Those numbers will draw established cannabis operators from other states and Tsui believes they’ll be met with a surprise.
“New York is a different beast altogether,” Tsui said. “You have to have your person, your guy, your connections to make anything work in New York.”
She feels an abundance mindset and a collaborative atmosphere is central to creating a strong, inclusive industry. “It’s still very local and community-driven. It’s what’s beautiful about the opportunities here — there’s something for everybody.”
Something Tsui learned from user design is why it’s crucial to know one’s audience. She engages with her community to understand their questions, goals, and motivations.
This approach will help Revel hold its footing in New York’s unfolding marketplace. More so, it will help Tsui deliver the information New Yorkers need to build successful businesses.
“I’m not an expert in different industries. I’m an expert in understanding how people want to work in these different industries,” she said.
Tsui is listening to her community and building programming around their needs.
Many businesses are built backward, creating a product or service and then finding a market for it. Tsui takes the opposite approach when crafting Revelry events.
“[Revelry] figures out the programming based on information and questions and what’s happening in the New York market,” Tsui said.
“Then, we create programming. We go through the Rolodex and decide who would be the best speaker for that.” Each speaker is selected from On The Revel members.
This approach keeps Tsui’s community tight, validates the work of Revel members, and prevents bad actors from infiltrating events. She feels people are too quick to trust in this industry.
Without due diligence, it’s easy to fall for a “snake oil salesman,” she noted. Background checks and calling references can prevent bad investments before they happen.
Revel aims to create networking events that facilitate reliable business connections built on trust.
More Women in Weed, Please
It’s no secret this industry has a diversity problem. It needs more women, people of color, indigenous operators, and minority ownership. One of the overarching goals of On The Revel is to create opportunities for underrepresented groups.
Tsui’s commitment to a diverse industry is born from a desire for better functionality.
“We need different ways of thinking,” Tsui said. “We need collaboration.” Women are the missing element to unifying the industry and arranging the “messy stuff” plaguing the sector, according to Tsui.
“More women please, on the tech and science side. Please come over to cannabis. We really, really need you.”
Perhaps with the help of Tsui and organizations like On The Revel, more women will find resources and connections to approach one of this decade’s most exciting business opportunities.