📓 Q&A with MJ Unpacked (George & Kim Jage)
The conference takes place from 5/18-20 in NYC. I spoke with the co-founders on the conference and what attendees can expect for the second iteration (first one was 10/21-22/21 in Las Vegas).
Great to see some of you last week at our Hall of Flowers event before Day 2 kicked off! As you’re likely still digesting commentary/feedback from Hall of Flower Palm Springs, I wanted to turn attention to the next big Cannabis conference, MJ Unpacked. Unfortunately I’ll be missing out due to a scheduling conflict with internal meetings for my firm but it sounds like the event will be well represented with industry insiders (pretty much 80%+ of the people I’ve spoken with plan to attend). One of my friends is organizing an investor dinner at the event, so reply to this email if you’re an investor and would like to attend.
Also, would appreciate any feedback on the conversation format (podcast or Q&A or both).
MJ Unpacked / Co-Founder Bios
MJ Unpacked is the first national event exclusively for THC CPG brand and retail executives and accredited investors actively investing in cannabis. The show draws in brands representing every adult-use market and retailers from nearly every legal (medical and recreational) state in the U.S. MJ Unpacked combines the productivity of an executive conference with the discovery of a trade show to support the most critical subsegment and vanguard of the cannabis industry by directly engaging with the consumers. MJ Unpacked vets and qualifies every attendee, allowing admission to credible cannabis CPG brands and retail executives with the title of manager or higher. This ensures that everyone in the room is on the same level, resulting in a significantly higher return on investment.
George Jage, Co-founder, MJ Unpacked. George is an award-winning event producer and media executive with nearly 3 decades of experience. He was a founding partner and lead executive for the Off-Price Show (’93-’01) and World Tea Media (’02-’14). George entered the cannabis industry in 2014 as President of MJBizDaily and was the lead architect of MJBizCon from 2014 through 2017, scaling the event from 20 table tops to over 100,000 net sq ft of exhibits at the Las Vegas Convention Center. George went on to serve as CEO of Dope Media and lead the sale of company assets to High Times in 2018. In 2018, George launched an exclusive microcap event to help drive investment into the growing number of publicly–traded cannabis companies. In his latest media play, George launched Jage Media in partnership with his wife, Kim Jage, to meet the needs of the market and provide focused events to the CPG brands and retailers driving the industry forward.
Kim Jage, Co-founder, MJ Unpacked. Kim Jage is an award-winning B2B brand developer and marketing executive. She is co-founder and CMO at Jage Media, as well as their affiliated cannabis CPG trade show, MJ Unpacked, and their media arm, MJ Brand Insights, which provides news and intel to cannabis industry professionals. Prior to founding Jage Media, Kim was Partner and VP of Sales & Marketing at World Tea Media, Director of Sales & Marketing at F+W Media, and President of Frost Jage Consulting. Under Kim’s leadership, World Tea Expo was three times named Fastest 50 by Tradeshow Week Magazine.
How did the inaugural MJUnpacked go? What went well and what could have gone better?
Launching MJ Unpacked during a pandemic was one of the most challenging undertakings that Kim and I have taken on. Still, we could not be more pleased with the feedback from both our targeted audience and the early adopters.
Last fall, MJ Unpacked was the first cannabis trade show to display brands and retailers from nearly every legal market in the United States, medical or recreational. This represents a critical inflection point as the industry evolves into a mainstream CPG market. It is essential for leaders in the space to see not only where the innovation is happening, but also what products are scaling across state lines.
Participating brands loved our event design, which provided a cost-effective, tech-enabled turn-key solution. Our attendees also appreciated the ample soft seating incorporated into the event to facilitate the intimate conversations that lead to deals getting done.
One of the most notable successes involved attendee feedback regarding the level of diversity throughout MJ Unpacked, which has not been as prevalent at other cannabis trade events. This achievement was largely due to our partnerships with the Minority Cannabis Business Association and Our Academy, a BIPOC and social equity accelerator.
Another highlight was our success in raising over $70,000 for the Last Prisoner Project to help support the release of incarcerated people serving time for nonviolent marijuana charges.
As with any launch, there are a number of elements we have already begun revising for the next event. The most notable is that MJ Unpacked will be a stand-alone event moving forward, not during MJBizCon. We launched the conference knowing that because of the pandemic, all returning cannabis events would be compressed into a 3-4 month window. So, there was a significant need to provide a focused, qualified event environment for brands and retailers looking to return to in-person shows. However, this also meant that many executives already had plans during MJBizCon and were unaware of our event. So, going forward, MJ Unpacked will be its own entity separate from any other conference.
How will the upcoming MJUnpacked in NYC differ from the first one?
Both shows are targeting a national audience, but as with any bi-coastal event, there will be a stronger regional draw. In Las Vegas last October, 30% of our participants came from California. For the New York event, we are seeing increased representation from a lot of the east coast states. Because New York is the financial capital of the world, we are also seeing a significant increase in the investors attending the event. Overall, the event has a similar design with a large lounge area, a Main Stage, a Money Stage, Private Business Suites, and our Brand Experience Hall. We expect the event to be on par with Vegas for attendance, but as a captive audience, expect it to feel twice as busy.
How many people are you expecting to attend?
We always like to manage expectations and avoid overpromising to our clients. We are projecting roughly 2,500 delegates to the event. MJ Unpacked is centered on being the biggest event, just the most productive.
What's the background of attendees (% retailers, brands, investors, others)?
Last event, 42% of our delegates were retailers or verticals. 20% were brands, 13% were investors or fund managers, 4% were press, and 3% were distributors with the balance being the handful of ancillary companies that exhibit.
What would a successful outcome look like?
A successful outcome means that we have created an event unlike any other by evolving MJ Unpacked. We are going to continue to gather the largest number of brand and retail executives that any other show in the country has had under one roof and have several partnerships that will help add value to what we are creating.
Thoughts on other Cannabis conferences? What are others getting right / wrong?
There are a lot of trade events in our industry. Trade shows are critical to helping grow the market, driving commerce, building partnerships, providing professional development, and fostering relationships. Successful trade events can have an exponential impact on companies, employees, and their families. It is the modern-day marketplace that drives the economic engines of industries. This is why I love what I do and appreciate the opportunity to be of service.
That being said, it is critical that event producers understand their critical role in stewarding the growth of the individuals, the companies, and the market. We are not in the business of selling another booth and another ticket but are in the business of delivering results and a return on investment, objectives and experience.
There are no less than 4 leading trade shows in the cannabis industry—no surprise given the excessive hubris in the cannabis industry. Many others claim to be the most influential, most trusted, or most whatever. These are all ego-centric claims about their own self-importance. It is easy as a business owner or an executive to get lost in your pursuit of success, I get that. However, we have a different philosophy at our company.
We are focused on creating successful outcomes for our clients. We take the time to help our clients understand their companies, their goals and their objectives. We design our event to deliver results. We believe that we have an obligation to our clients' success and only if we are successful in delivering on our promise do we get the honor and privilege of creating a successful enterprise for ourselves. After all, being of service is life’s highest calling.
What conference are you modeling MJ Unpacked after?
Honestly? None. Or maybe this is a hodgepodge of the best of the best? I have been producing tradeshows and leading business media companies for 30 years and Kim for 15. With the sea of sameness in the conference space, we really took the time to understand the market needs of the moment. Put more simply, we listened to our customers. One of the key differentiators is that our core values are grounded in hospitality and a focus on the experience and outcome of the clients. Many event producers are focused on selling more real estate or packing in more people, but that doesn’t always translate into a better experience.
Why should people attend?
Very simply, we are at the dawn of the golden age of brands in cannabis. For much of the journey into legalization, the retailer has controlled the relationship with the consumer. Cannabis is a CPG industry and the long arc will be that the brands will own that relationship. We are seeing this emerge with DTC models, increased sophistication of the buyers, more expansive selection at the retail level, and even edibles/consumables outselling flower for the first time in some states during the most recent 420 holiday.
MJ Unpacked offers the only nationally-focused event that is meeting the needs of the market at the moment. We are offering a highly curated event with a highly qualified audience. We take the time to understand our clients’ goals and objectives to make sure this is the right event for them.
We know there is a tsunami coming from the alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries when federal cannabis legalization happens. They have deep pockets, CPG discipline and massive operational efficiencies and expertise. MJ Unpacked gives the independent operators access to capital and the ability to create partnerships to build a moat around their brand instead of getting washed out to sea when the wave hits. The independent operators drive innovation and carry forward the culture and compassion of the cannabis plant. The industry will continue to change rapidly as it has over the past 10 years, but as I mentioned, we are nearing the end game in which the future global cannabis brands will be crowned.
👋 Highly Objective is curated by Dai Truong, who leads Cannabis Investment Banking at Arlington Capital Advisors. Third-party information presented here and links to third-party content are for informational purposes only and are not intended as a recommendation, offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any financial instrument, security or investment. The information provided is not warranted as to completeness or accuracy and is subject to change without notice. Linking to third-party sites in no way implies an endorsement or affiliation of any kind between Arlington Capital Advisors, LLC, or its affiliates and any third party. The information in this blog constitutes my own opinions (and any opinions posted by guest bloggers from time to time) and it should not be regarded as a description of services provided by Arlington Capital Advisors, LLC or any affiliate.