A romantic relationship blossoms into a lucrative cannabis branding business.
It’s a love story with a happy ending—though perhaps an unconventional one. Adolfo Gonzalez ﬁrst met Enid Chen when she moved to Vancouver from Shanghai back in 2014. At the time, he was working as the marketing director of Green Island Naturals, a plant-based medicinal company producing tinctures for patients, and she was pursuing dreams of continuing her successful career in product design. As a romance developed between them, a business relationship started to blossom, too: Chen started to take an interest in Gonzalez’s work, passing comments here and there, helping him understand the process—and the importance—of design.Thus, in 2016, the same year Gonzalez and Chen got married, their new joint venture was born: Connekta, a cannabis design and marketing company.
“Enid was working on luxury brands in China,” says Gonzalez. “Luxury watches, luxury beauty products and so on. So when she saw what we were trying to do with cannabis brands, she laughed, and said the cannabis industry could really use a facelift.” Within two months, Chen had designed a brand-new set of packaging for Green Island, including a new logo, resulting in a look that could really connect with the people they were trying to reach. That brand went on to become the numberone tincture producer in Canada.
But there was more to the success than pretty packaging. At ﬁrst glance, Connekta’s website might look more like a business consulting ﬁrm than a graphic design service, but dig a little deeper and you’ll ﬁnd that they live and breathe by the mantra that a true “brand” includes every public-facing element of a company. “Enid really opened my eyes to the fact that you can’t just design a superﬁcial product that looks good,” explains Gonzalez. “She made me understand that you have to work with the client on everything the brand touches, including staff training, product use and workplace culture. We want to build something that’s solid, and when you tap on it, there’s something in there. There’s a heart and it’s pumping.”
Though Chen knew business inside and out as a result of her training in design management from the U.K., she was certainly less familiar with Gonzalez’s area of expertise. “When I moved here, I wasn’t really familiar with the cannabis culture,” says Chen. “I met this guy who was so passionate about this topic, and it was so foreign to me, I thought, ‘This guy is crazy!’” Once she had made the connection, though, it wasn’t long before she proved her merit. “Every other industry is full of professionals applying their knowledge and skills,” she explains, “but in the cannabis industry, people are building their skills in a very different way. I thought it was easier to start something from scratch than to change people’s minds, so that’s what we did with Connekta.”
Glancing at the company’s client list, it’s a who’s who of Canada’s biggest cannabis players. From Omni to Baked Edibles to CannaReps, Connekta is slowly but surely extending their reach across Canada’s budding industry.
Now, the company is growing bigger than either could have dreamed, with the announcement of the launch of a new sister venture. Gonzalez and Chen have partnered up with Julie Domingo, a former manager for Apple, to launch Calixy, a cannabis-industry consultancy that will reach as far as reﬁning the quality of the actual product. “We saw a niche where we have the experience to bring in ﬁnancing, accounting, all the business elements that are required to navigate the transition of illegality to the legal ﬁeld,” explains Gonzalez. “The natural result of that transition will be that people can walk into a store and choose a product that’s right for them— we have the know-how to make that brand alignment happen.”