Civilized, the international online magazine for an audience it describes as “cannabis culture elevated,” had its far more prosaic, down-to-earth beginnings beside a dumpster outside a restaurant in Venice, California, on the night of January 24, 2015.
Derek Riedle and his wife and business partner, Terri Mac- Donald-Riedle, had come to the restaurant to celebrate both a significant birthday and also the wrap of a season of filming Real Houses of…, a reality TV show they’d created and sold to the W Network.
There was wine, there was beer, there were spirits. But there was no marijuana. Cannabis was illegal in California. And those who chose to smoke in public must be… well…
So Riedle, a long-time “social cannabinoid user,” slipped out of the restaurant, stood beside the dumpster and quietly indulged a few puffs from his vape pen.
There’s something wrong with this picture, he thought. While cannabis was “a healthy part of my lifestyle”—as it was for millions of other equally motivated professionals across North America—“cannabis culture didn’t include me.”
So he went home and spent that night drafting a plan for a digital publication— similar to lifestyle magazines for cigar aficionados—and presented it to his wife in the morning. “We have a process,” he explains. “The answer [to any new project idea] is always ‘no’ unless the other person says, ‘Oh my god, yes!’” Terri said the magic words.
Within a month, they had a title to symbolize their publication as a “high-end editorial destination for highbrow marijuana smokers,” and 14 investors willing to put their money where their sympathies were.
By September 2015, Civilized had begun publishing to the world from Saint John—
Wait a minute. Saint John? New Brunswick?
Riedle, who’d graduated from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax in 1994 with a PR degree, had founded Revolution Strategy—a strategic marketing, branding, PR and “everything digital” company—in Saint John in 2002. Their part-time California base had become a necessity in 2014 after they began working on Real Houses of… “Our headquarters is still in Saint John,” Riedle explains, “but California gives us access to the market. We have exceptional leadership” in Saint John, he adds, meaning, “I spend a couple of hours a week managing Revolution. I spend 120 hours on Civilized!”
While advertising will inevitably become part of Civilized’s business model mix, Riedle says the main goal at the moment is to grow its audience. Civilized.life currently claims 500,000 unique visitors a month and an audience “made up of professionals and executives, often married with children, who own their own home, make $75,000 annually and have some post-secondary education.” His goal is to use his growing number of site visitors “to create enterprise value” that will allow his online magazine to become an umbrella for related ventures such as events and videos. This year, the company launched Civilized Studios to produce “premium video content.”
While recreational marijuana legalization in Canada and in several U.S. states has been “a jolt of rocket fuel” for his business, Riedle is quick to note the online publication launched even before the last Canadian federal election and isn’t entirely dependent on political decisions. Legalization helps, he says, but it’s not central to the company’s evolution.
While others must be mindful of legislation and regulation, he says, “we don’t touch the plant.”