When Ali Fakhri co-founded Direct Cannabis Network – which began organizing events for investors and entrepreneurs in 2016 – he started hearing about the many issues of ticketing cannabis events. He soon realized that many organizers and sponsors were losing money and clients because of events being canceled, and data and monies being frozen. This sparked Fakhri’s entrepreneurial mind and he decided to fill the need of creating a legal, compliant, event tech platform.
Like any good entrepreneur, he started collecting data from organizers, sponsors, and guests on their event ticketing experience. Fakhri – who had already broadened his understanding and knowledge of the event industry – knew he had to do the same for compliant banking in the cannabis industry, especially since cannabis is still federally illegal. This was the foundation of his idea of creating what would eventually become EventHi, a compliant cannabis event tech platform.
We recently talked to Fakhri, who gave us the lowdown on how EventHi is creating a secure gateway to the cannabis culture, the nitty gritty of online transactions for cannabis events, as well as his thoughts on the San Diego canna-tech scene.
Year Founded: 2017
Fueling the Cannabis Culture: With EventHi, Fakhri saw the need for a safe-hosting marketplace catering to cannabis event creators. “Our mission was to keep the cannabis culture alive, as we believe events are important to the industry and to the social and cultural movement. We have created a marketplace for event hosts, attendees, and sponsors to come explore and discover the variety of events in our marketplace. What makes EventHi different than other online cannabis companies is that we encourage and facilitate people to gather in person.”
Funding: EventHi has raised a pre-seed round through Canopy San Diego, a cannabis ancillary focused accelerator program, and recently opened up its seed round.
Banking on Success: “We have built the EventHi marketplace from the ground up. However, what really makes us unique is that we are one of the few cannabis companies in California who have a Marijuana-Related Business (MRB) Bank account, which means we provide our event hosts and attendees a safe-hosting environment that allows us to safely transact tickets and sponsorships for event organizers,” Fakhri said. “This is a valuable offering as many platforms like EventBrite, Splashthat, etc. have in their terms and conditions that they cannot work with cannabis-related activities and consider them as prohibited merchants, prohibited transactions, and prohibited events. They have a reputation of shutting down and freezing funds for event organizers who are creating experiences for a new community of people. The EventHi team understands that dealing with money is an issue of trust so having this banking component builds our credibility throughout the cannabis space.”
Trusted Marketplace: Now with EventHi in beta and the startup becoming established in the event industry, Fakhri believes the company is moving forward as the leader of cannabis events nationwide. “We know we don’t have all the bells and whistles of our competitors just yet as we are currently in beta, but our unique advantage is that we are creating a safe space for cannabis events both non-consumption and consumption,” he said. “We know we are creating a trusted marketplace, and we are working with our users during beta to make a more robust software for the industry, and it’s working.”
Transparency: Fakhri said he doesn’t worry about the current federal legislative wave of cannabis prohibition because “you have to be as transparent as possible. The more you are transparent with your banks, your clients, and anybody that associates with you, it gives them a better understanding of how the company operates in this highly regulated industry. We want to make things as mainstream as possible with our bank and customers.”
Soaring High: EventHi’s mission is to build a world-class platform with its team of four software developers and a customer relations representative. Fakhri said the company plans to add features that allow sponsors to shop proposals and vet their organizers. Next, EventHi plans to add a collaboration tool for venues and organizers. The company plans to add all these features this summer.Budding Market: According to Fakhri, the event industry is worth $14 billion, while the cannabis industry is estimated to be worth $22 billion by 2022. He said EventHi plans to get a piece of that pie. “When looking at the data, we see our technology serving a wide audience in the cannabis industry, from B2B events to B2C events, not only nationwide but eventually to the global market as well.”
Customers: Fakhri said EventHi has three types of customers: event creators, who are creating experiences and hosting events; event-goers, who like to attend cannabis-related events; and event participants, which consist of brands and businesses that are looking to exhibit or sponsor events.
San Diego Canna-Tech Scene: “The cannabis tech industry is slowing growing, but I believe that San Diego has the opportunity to really evolve cannabis tech,” said Fakhri, who, prior to his startup life, was Director of Events at House of Jane, where he worked with sponsorships and larger events learning this side of the event industry. “I believe it will just take time and education as San Diego is a bit more conservative than other cities like Los Angeles and the Bay Area.”
When asked if San Diego is a solid place to start a cannabis tech company, Fakhri said, “Yes, I believe so. There are a lot of talented individuals to hire, and we are seeing more capital coming into San Diego each year thanks to organizations like San Diego Venture Group and San Diego Startup Week. I believe cannabis tech would be a better approach as our conservative community would be more receptive, which would allow for us to change the stigma behind cannabis.”
Editor’s Note: Canna-Tech is a new series by Fresh Brewed Tech and the Direct Cannabis Network (DCN) spotlighting San Diego’s growing cannabis industry. Through this series, we will explore local tech and science companies on the leading edge of cannabis, from software tools to manufacturing, digital advertising, AgTech, FinTech, mobile health and more.