Woman cannabis entrepreneur takes winding path to Marin-Sonoma delivery venture

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Women in Business

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When Alexa Rae Wall first moved to California from her native Austin, Texas, she didn’t intend to get into the cannabis industry.

However, after she moved to San Francisco with her husband to get her master’s degree in environmental management from the University of San Francisco, she found herself drawn to the cannabis plant.

“It wasn’t really until I got out here in California that I realized, ‘Oh wow, it’s more than just sneaking behind your parents’ back smoking pot. There’s something to this plant that’s magical,’” Wall said.

Now the co-founder of San Rafael-based cannabis company Moonflower Delivery, Wall said she and her husband, Curtis, began growing cannabis on property in Petaluma in 2014 when it was still only legal for medicinal purposes.

“Everyone had to have their card and be part of our collective so originally, we just started growing for other delivery services actually, not dispensaries,” she said.

California voters legalized recreational adult use cannabis in 2016, with the rules taking effect in January of 2018.

“Everyone had to have their card and be part of our collective so originally, we just started growing for other delivery services actually, not dispensaries,” she said.

In the cannabis industry, seed capital can be difficult to come by, however, since banks and financial institutions are wary of getting involved in businesses that trade in a substance the federal government still considers illegal.

Wall said her parents helped her and her husband with their initial financing. “Really it was my parents who helped finance our first little commercial grow,” she said. That business eventually grew to include a delivery operation, but it was cut short.

“We actually shut down in 2017 because the rules came out and there was no delivery only license available in Sonoma County or available in Petaluma,” Wall said.

The couple’s original grow operation in Petaluma, called Luma California, was also forced to move when the county outlawed certain growers from rural residential use land zones like the one they were located on.

Wall said while that business is still in Sonoma County (though it is not growing plants for commercial purposes), it is in a differently zoned area and she and her husband have been working on the permitting process for a commercial grow for about two years.

“It’s been two years now, we haven’t even stuck a shovel into the ground,” Wall said, estimating that between permits, testing, consulting fees and other overhead, the project has cost about $300,000 so far.

Along with negotiating with neighbors, Wall said she has received 153 conditions from state licensing agencies that the company has to meet before the use permit for the operation can vest. “We have to upgrade septic, we have to upgrade the driveways, we have to grade, we have to get building permits, we have to get power upgrades, we have to build up everything,” Wall said.

Not to be deterred, Wall and her husband met two other entrepreneurs and founded Moonflower, which opened for business in February.

“Everyone was kind of scrambling to figure out ‘What kind of license am I going to get? And where am I going to get it?’ And it just so happened that San Rafael opened up,” Wall said of the impetus to start the delivery business. She noted there are four other delivery businesses licensed in San Rafael but that rather than compete they complement each other in terms of the products they offer and the markets they target.

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Read more inspiring stories of North Bay entrepreneurs, innovators and executives.

She said the process for setting up shop was more efficient than in Sonoma County and allowed operators like her to get a license before they needed to find a location for their business.

“In Santa Rosa, you saw all these dispensary owners sitting on their property for six months to a year,” Wall said. “Some people are still sitting there waiting for a hearing, waiting to find out if they’re getting approved or not.”

Wall said Moonflower employs drivers to pick up cannabis products they’ve obtained from licensed distributors and deliver them to locations across Sonoma and Marin counties. She said most of the distributors are based in Oakland, San Francisco, and Santa Rosa.

While she still does much of the hands-on work including packing products to be picked up by drivers, Wall said the company is growing, and hiring.

“I have a feeling I won’t be packing bags for too much longer,” Wall said with a smile.

While she was reluctant to discuss particular figures, in follow up messages, Wall said the business on average sees a 25% increase in customer base each week and an on average 125% growth in sales from week to week.

“Have I seen a pay check? No” Wall wrote in a text when asked about the profitability of the company. “Can we cover all of our overhead and expenses-absolutely!”

Wall admitted that the business had been slow getting off the ground, which she attributed to only being able to sell medical cannabis to people with a doctor’s permission to use the drug in the beginning.

“As soon as San Rafael removed the medical-only requirement and opened it up to adult use, that’s really when we got to see a lot of growth.”

Both a sign and driver of that growth is a large, purple billboard advertising Moonflower on Highway 101 near Petaluma.

“I think the billboard was huge for us for brand recognition,” Wall said. “We are small, it’s just the four of us. And we don’t have a lot of money behind us, we don’t have this huge marketing plan.”

One of Wall’s business partners in Moonflower, Nico Spann, agrees the billboard had helped the business significantly.

“You have to be more dynamic as a non-storefront delivery service because you’re online,” Spann said. He added the business had grown from making from five to ten deliveries per day to 40 or 50 plus.

Spann also runs an online cannabis company, CannAlign, which allows users to search for dispensaries and shop online, accessing updated menus.

He said he previously worked as a “budtender” at various cannabis dispensaries and focuses on customer-facing work as one of the co-owners of Moonflower.

“I answer the phones, I do delivery, I buy products,” Spann said.

He praised Wall as a business partner, noting her expertise in keeping the business in compliance with state regulations.

“We all come with our specialties and what we’re good at and hers is compliance,” Spann added. “Making that a priority is something she’s really been able to help me see.”

Wall said those compliance skills will hopefully lead to the Luma operation getting back up and running in the near future.

“In our perfect world, the grow would get up and going and not only would we get product from different suppliers across the state, but we would also grow some of our own branded under Moonflower, and then we would sell it through our delivery company,” She said.

“That would be ideal if we could ever get the grow up and going.”

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