We got the inside story of the downfall of Civilized, a cannabis media startup that raised $7 million, then had to shut down after a takeover offer fell through

Samantha Lee/Business Insider
  • Civilized Worldwide, a cannabis media startup, raised $7 million to create the "premium lifestyle and media brand" for cannabis consumers around the globe.
  • With investments from high-profile backers like the comedian and author Chelsea Handler and Canopy Rivers, the venture arm of Canopy Growth, Civilized and its husband-and-wife founders were soaring as cannabis legalization looked poised to sweep the US a few years ago.
  • But after a series of layoffs and business pivots, as well as a failed takeover attempt, Civilized has let go of all of its staff and suspended operations.
  • Civilized's management team told Business Insider they were in negotiations to restructure their debt and bring on new investors for a relaunch.

On September 20, 2018, Derek Riedle, then the CEO of Civilized Worldwide, a cannabis media startup, was set to embark on a tour.

He had just boarded a jet with the comedian Chelsea Handler at Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles, a popular spot for celebrities and wealthy executives.

The pair were heading to Calgary, Alberta, the first stop on a tour of seven Canadian cities where Riedle and Handler held town-hall-style events with thousands of people. Canada had just legalized cannabis, and the excitement was palpable.Advertisement

The excitement helped the company pull in $7 million from prominent investors like Canopy Rivers, the venture arm of the biggest cannabis company, and celebrities like Handler. By spring 2018, former employees said the company had even taken steps to go public and touted its ability to reach over 2 million people per month.

But a little more than a year after the Riedles toured Canada with Handler, they were closing up shop at Civilized.

By December 2, Civilized had laid off all of its employees and suspended operations after the startup ran out of runway. A deal to sell the company and resume publishing was beginning to unravel too.
Advertisement

While the layoffs have been made public, Business Insider is the first to report on the collapse of Civilized's deal with New Frontier Data, as well as its negotiations to restructure its debt. This story is based on conversations with five former employees and four freelancers, as well as email threads and internal memos obtained by Business Insider.

Read the full story here, available exclusively to Business Insider subscribers.

{{}}