Robbins and Paull are a bantering married couple who live in the artsy town of Taos, New Mexico. With their boho-chic clothes and untamed hair, they don’t look much like the slick, business-attired investors on Shark Tank, but their accomplishments are impressive. Paull was an executive at Snapfish, the online photo service that Hewlett-Packard acquired for $300 million in 2005. (HP has since divested it.) Robbins is an author and Emmy-winning filmmaker who invented “The Tingler,” a head-massager that’s sold more than a million units — “an orgasm for the head,” she calls it. She also appeared on the reality show Homemade Millionaire with Kelly Ripa.
“We’re a very conservative lesbian couple,” Paull jokes. “We really are more like dolphins” than sharks. Indeed, both women are warm and cheerful, impossible to dislike. For an industry eager to reach the largely untapped seniors market, Paull and Robbins could be perfect ambassadors.
Last week, in a nondescript Denver building, Paull and Robbins held auditions for The Marijuana Show‘s new season. In addition to Haines, the hopefuls included a hemp burger company and a cash-management system for dispensaries. Dave Hargett, a slim entrepreneur with blonde surfer-dude hair pitched a bouquet of businesses including one that makes products using cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive chemical found in marijuana and hemp that’s associated with many of the plant’s medical uses.
Last year Americans bought $5.4 billion in legal marijuana, almost all of it in a handful of states. All told, 25 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical use. With California and a perhaps four other states expected to vote on legalization in November, predictions of explosive growth are reasonable.
Like the rest of the industry, Paull and Robbins are eager to go big with The Marijuana Show. Celebrity entrepreneur Russell Simmons will feature in the upcoming season, and $20 million in investment capital will be available to entrepreneurs. In season 1, available on the show’s website, the graphics and sets lack the polish of Shark Tank and other reality shows but the production values improve in season 2, which the hosts hope will get picked up by Netflix or another streaming service. (It isn’t currently available online.)
More than most TV shows about the Green Rush, which tend to focus on the most successful entrepreneurs, The Marijuana Show captures the moment’s primordial capitalism. The market is big enough, and most companies small enough, that grudges and rivalries are a waste of energy. Everyone an entrepreneur meets is a potential partner, investor or employee. Plus, almost all companies share the unifying goal of advancing legalization.
The Marijuana Show‘s business model reflects how in the tight-knit and relatively isolated community of legal weed entrepreneurs, companies often sprout additional businesses, and the line between competitors and partners can be hard to distinguish. In addition to promoting the businesses featured on the show, Robbins and Paull take an equity stake in the companies. Since taking a stake based on how much money a company raises would run afoul of securities regulations, The Marijuana Show considers itself a business accelerator: Paull and Robbins take equity in exchange for mentoring, introductions and similar services. The show then functions as a marketing vehicle for those companies. In a natural progression, Paull and Robbins plan to raise a fund to invest directly in cannabis companies.
Very few mainstream companies are willing to work with cannabis, which has led to a flourishing of specialized companies. Contestants on The Marijuana Show have included everything from a pesticide for marijuana growers to cannabis-infused bitters. Anyone thinking of trying out — tryouts are ongoing — should know that Paull and Robbins aren’t especially interested in edibles, which they consider an oversaturated market.