Demo Day Helps Build Strong Foundation For Startup

Alyson Martin, from incubator project Cannabis Wire, talks about her experience as part of the recent Media Center Demo Day training program

I managed the earliest days of Cannabis Wire from a small English town while I visited family. A few weeks later, from Brussels while I stayed with friends. Some days, I jotted down ideas while on the train; others, from a pub while I drank a pint of Hobgoblin.

It was a strange, transitional time. I had reported about cannabis in America with Nushin Rashidian for over two years, mostly traveling between states in my red Volkswagen Beetle. Some weeks, the temperature was below zero, the next over 100 F. We hustled between destinations, gathering as much information as we could about the rapidly changing landscape of cannabis laws in country–and we managed to capture a distinct moment in history: the end of a prohibition.

Our goal was to write a book, but the publishing industry buckled under the weight of a sagging economy and online bookseller competition. While we waited for a book deal, we discussed the idea of creating a news site to fill in the canyons in cannabis coverage in traditional journalism. Back then, publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic weren’t writing about evolving cannabis laws and the state and federal dissonance as much as they are today. So we launched Cannabis Wire, a skeletal website that covered, among other things, ongoing raids, updates in D.C., and a difficult shift from medical to social use legalization in Colorado.

Then we got the book deal. The New Press wanted to publish A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition, so we paused Cannabis Wire and furiously wrote our book. After another trip across the country in the red Beetle–this time for the tour–we returned to New York City. But the second trip to these states with medical and social use cannabis laws reinvigorated a goal from years before: to see consistent, objective coverage of the many aspects of the billion dollar cannabis industry.

During the summer of 2014, with the support of the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, we began work on the re-launch of Cannabis Wire and started to put together a timeline and workflow for the site. We applied to participate in Demo Day at the Made in New York Media Center, and our project was chosen. The process was difficult at first, because as a journalist, I spent more time cultivating sources and drafts than I did writing concise decks. Our mentors spent a great deal of time changing how we thought about our work. They brought great expertise from their fields of journalism startups, documentary work and branding.

I began to scrutinize the Cannabis Wire business model–and the future business models of journalism, in general. During pitch practices, the feedback molded how we presented our story and project. By Demo Day, I felt much more comfortable talking–in front of many people–about Cannabis Wire.

We needed to build a strong foundation, which is tough to do alone. With the guidance of mentors, the feedback of other Demo Day participants, and the advice of Media Center staff, Cannabis Wire is built on solid ground.