Pot company backed by 49ers legend Joe Montana selling 22% of California's legal weed

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Pot company backed by 49ers legend Joe Montana selling 22% of California's legal weed

Legendary San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana had an unparalleled intuition as a football player. 

He had an uncanny knack for finding an open wide receiver at critical moments, even when facing a wall of incoming linebackers.

Well, it looks like that intuition extends beyond the football field and into the wild world of legal weed. Montana’s investment in a tiny California cannabis startup four years ago has given him an ownership stake in what is now one of the biggest pot companies in the state. 

In 2019, Montana’s venture capital firm Liquid 2 Ventures was an early investor in the weed startup Nabis, a cannabis distribution company founded by a pair of tech engineers. Today, Nabis has quietly become one of the most successful pot companies in California, selling hundreds of millions of dollars of weed.

Nabis is so dominant in California that it is now responsible for moving 22% of all weed products legally sold in the state, according to an SFGATE interview with Brian Dewey, a vice president of revenue at the company.

“We’re moving a big chunk of the market today,” Dewey said in a phone interview last month with SFGATE.

Montana’s firm is a repeat investor in Nabis, increasing its stake in the company in a 2019 Series A round and a 2021 Series B round. The timing has been fruitful, as Nabis has grown over 430% in the last three years, according to Inc.

Nabis began as a scrappy startup — Dewey said the company’s two co-founders were making deliveries themselves when they launched — but has now become an integral part of the state’s weed economy. The distribution company represents hundreds of different cannabis brands, according to Dewey, and delivers to nearly every single retailer in the state.

Nabis is one of the rare success stories in California’s legal weed market, which is currently experiencing an economic downturn that has led to widespread business failures and declining sales. Distribution companies have not been spared: HERBL, once the largest distributor in the state with $700 million in cannabis sales in 2022, collapsed last summer with $17 million in unpaid state taxes.

Dewey said Nabis has been able to succeed because it is using a nontraditional business plan. Instead of purchasing products and creating exclusive partnerships with brands, like a normal distributor does, the company works more like an e-commerce platform. The company connects hundreds of different brands and retailers, with Nabis providing the shipping.

“We kind of sit in the middle of the industry and allow everybody to communicate and transact with everybody,” Dewey said. “We didn’t pick and choose any one retailer or brand or category, we created an open platform for everyone to be successful and allowed the market to choose each other based on their knowledge.” 

Nabis also created a cannabis-specific software platform that provides logistical support for pot companies and even offers financing for upstairs businesses in an attempt to resolve some of the massive cash problems inside California’s legal weed market. 

Montana founded Liquid 2 Ventures in 2015 and has since invested in 25 companies worth a combined $1 billion, according to a 2022 press release from the company. In addition to Nabis, the firm has also invested in the pot industry by taking a stake in Meadow, a software company that sells a cannabis-specific point-of-sale system. 

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Region: California

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