Gotham Opens

Today Gotham is open to the public. It has been and continues to be a fun, exhilarating, educational journey. Opening up a store is a dream come true. This germ of an idea has been in my head since I was 21.

I was a retail/finance major in college, working in retail since I was 16. I spent a decade of my life in retail and half a decade in wholesale. These businesses teach foundational tools for inventory, sales, management, turn, etc. Then the last 15 years, I have spent investing. I learned about customer acquisition, direct-to-consumer businesses, social media, and new-world marketing. Gotham touches all these things, so as always, all the dots connect.

Over two years ago, I decided to go after a dispensary license. I had this germ of an idea about opening a retail store, seeing all my favorite stores close their doors during Covid. And then cannabis came along. How about putting them both together?

Getting a license is not a walk in the park. You don’t want to hire anyone or spend any money until the acknowledgment from the Office of Cannabis Management that you are given a license. Then there are multiple hoops to jump through to get the license enacted.

I took a not-too-expensive risk and hired Foster Project to work on the brand; we already knew the name and had an early logo, which they tweaked. That took a few months while we waited for the OCM to accept license applications, so we believed we had a good shot when we could apply.

Then we waited some more. We discovered that the time had come to apply; it would happen in six weeks. At that time, NY State announced that the only people who could apply and get a license were either someone who had previously been incarcerated for cannabis and then owned a certain percentage of a business that had been profitable for two years; or non-profit organizations that worked in the space of helping incarcerated people get back on their feet.

First-to-market is always key, so I contacted Strive, a fantastic organization that Gotham Gives supports. They were thrilled about the opportunity, but getting a non-profit group to jump in six weeks is not easy. I seriously applaud Strive for getting it done. Now we have an application.

It is sometime in October. I have a brand and Alex (Chief of Staff, sidekick in all I do), but that is it. We also took a risk and purchased a piece of real estate for the store. Around early November, there were rumblings because the powers that be started to do diligence which looked like a good sign. After talking to possible hires for two years and never finding the right one, it was time to pull the trigger hard.

I started with the network of entrepreneurs I had invested in. An email out to all my investments, a founder in the medical space knows a guy who knows a guy who has CBD stores in Philly. Boom, I find Lukasz, who is ready to start before we exit our Zoom call. At the same time, I was introduced to Billy through the guy that cuts my hair. Billy comes out of the nightclub world and is super smart and creative to come on board—two people, a CEO, a Chief Creative Office, and Alex. We hit the ground running, trying to figure out the space, the three of them go out to Las Vegas to hobnob with companies and people in cannabis, and just as they are leaving, while I am in Mexico City, and it is days before Thanksgiving, I get the call. We are good to go. It is November 18th.

It has been at full speed ever since. Rachel joined us a few weeks later as the Director of Merchandise; she was the founder of Otherwild, R.I.P. I had talked to Rachel over the years and even did a podcast with her, and Alex is best buds with her sister. We start talking to farms, and Lukasz is introduced to Miri, who has been buying cannabis for eight years and knows her shit. We still need a social media person, and I remember Rachel (another Rachel), who had worked at one of the companies I had invested in and thought her work was excellent. I DM’d her on Twitter while she was lying on a beach thinking about her next move, perfect timing. Billy had worked with Darin twenty years ago, and he has been managing retail stores his whole career, including one for seven years in a retail industry that is heavily regulated, so he gets it. Now we need an accountant, and we found Lam, a piece of work, and we all love her. We have also hired an advisor, Jay Caplan, who has guided us through the cannabis world with ease. We also brought on Gabriel Cornick, a dear friend, and an art advisor, to help us in that space.

At the same time, I hired Zoe to build out the private label line of Gotham; think of it as our omnichannel. That is an entirely separate business, but I believe it makes sense to build out the brand. The other item is that we have drilled down on finding a separate space for delivery. It is a very different business, and the OCM will let us operate delivery out of a separate storefront because we are early in the game.

We had to build out the store, Sarah Carter, the founder, and owner of CV-Partners, told me she thought it could be done by mid-October. I suggested April 20th. We hired Cinema-Vitae to help us execute our vision with shop drawings and work with Ovation Instore to build our cases.

During this time, we are attempting to get a bank, insurance, and payroll company while building out a website, buying merchandise, digging into the cannabis wholesale market, getting through a community board, and of course, hiring a management team under Darin and salespeople.

Our team is incredible; we all work well together while supporting each other and executing all day long in their noted lanes. Everyone had chipped in when help was needed, such as completing the website or trying out the products. We also have incredible attorneys who have helped navigate us through very choppy waters, including tax attorneys, because this space is so complicated if you want to be profitable. All and all, it is a pleasure to work with every one of them.

This story has many other parts, but I am sticking to the high points.

Today we open. All of this has been going on for a while as a backdrop, but basically, the gas pedal was hit on November 18th; essentially, all of this has happened over six months. We are now roughly 30 people, with a store. I believe we can apply for a license to open two more stores sometime at the end of the summer.

I know a long, drawn-out post, but for those entrepreneurs out there, I thought you might enjoy the journey. I love it.