Privateer Holdings, a Seattle-based private equity firm trying to professionalize the cannabis industry through the legitimizing powers of capitalism, is trying to raise $75 million in funding. According to Business Insider, the round could include investment from Peter Thiel's Founders Fund.
The budding marijuana moguls behind Privateer used to be known for their "straight, corporate image" and their Ivy League pedigrees. That is until they roused the ghost of Bob Marley and turned him into a brand. Last month, Privateer launched Marley Natural, a global pot line "based on the legacy of Bob Marley."
Marley Natural," as the brand is called, unrolled with the family of Bob Marley fully on board and granting interviews. The announcement arrived with a slick promotional video, featuring misty mountains and the late reggae singer’s classic "Could You Be Loved," as well as a lion-centered logo designed by upmarket Seattle branding company Heckler Associates, also responsible for the Starbucks mermaid.
Just wait until Privateer gets its hand on the Tupac hologram.
Business Insider, which first reported Thiel's potential involvement, says investors behind the $75 million round assume Privateer is already worth $425 million, however the deal is not finalized, so the numbers could change. A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows that Privateer was hoping to raise $75 million and secured $18.6 million towards that goal by mid-July.
Privateer is trying to professionalize the cannabis industry through the legitimizing powers of capitalism
The economy around legalized marijuana has been hampered by concerns about federal regulation. When I went to a demo day last year, for example, none of the weed startups dealt directly with the plant. But if venture capital dollars can help professionalize Bitcoin, perhaps Privateer can do the same for pot. Since launching in 2011, Business Insider says Privateer has made strategic investments along "the weed supply chain":
Privateer quietly bought up another startup in the space, Leafly, which is like Yelp for weed products. In 2013, Privateer launched Lafitte Ventures, which focuses on medical marijuana, and Tilray, which mails medical weed to users and generated nearly $200,000 in revenue last year. Privateer is also exploring a testing facility (Arbormain) in Washington state. The founders may launch their own weed-focused investment fund, too, so Privateer can pour money into external cannabis companies.
These diversified initiatives are not yet profitable, but revenue is growing. According to Business Insider, Privateer generated $1.2 million in net revenue in 2013 and expects nearly $11 million this year. Up to 70 percent of the money comes from Lafitte Ventures, a company based in Canada that delivers "premium-quality medical cannabis." Privateer thinks it will be profitable by next year, projecting $111 million in net revenue in 2015 and $440 million in 2016.
A libertarian like Thiel seems like a natural choice for a financier. He donates to fringe groups dedicated to the Singularity and seasteading. Meanwhile Founders Fund was once synonymous with the motto: "We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters" and likes to think of itself as a bunch of free-thinking futurists. During his book tour, Thiel took another jab at those 140 characters, maligning marijuana in the process:
"Twitter is hard to evaluate," Mr. Thiel said in an interview on CNBC on Wednesday. "They have a lot of potential. It’s a horribly mismanaged company — probably a lot of pot-smoking going on there."
That's the nice thing about stylizing yourself as a contrarian, though. It comes in handy when your mouth and your money contradict each other.