Christine Yi’s career journey is fascinating and full of twists and turns. Currently, she holds down three unique positions, as Senior Venture Architect at BCG Digital Ventures in New York City, Scout for Vice Ventures, and Co-Founder/Advisor to premium cannabis-infused ingredients company Potli.
In this episode, Christine explained how she ventured into a completely new-to-her industry, landed features in New York Magazine and The Cut, and raised capital for the first time. She also shared with honesty what it was like to hit burnout and make the difficult decision to step down from the day-to-day operations of Potli.
If you’re navigating the early stages of a startup, you’ll appreciate all the wisdom that Christine shared today. Listen to Episode 37 of The Career Memos Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher.
When you know there’s something more for you out there, consider a side hustle.
At 24 years old, Christine had manifested everything she had dreamed about as a teenager. She was living on Park Avenue in New York City and making good money working for Ann, Inc., the parent company of Ann Taylor, LOFT, and Lou & Grey. She even had a boyfriend with a European accent who wore suits everyday. But she was yearning for more.
It was 2017 and she knew the recreational cannabis industry was going to be huge. So she partnered up with Felicity Chen, her best friend and college roommate, and launched Potli, a premium purveyor of top quality edibles.
Christine and Felicity’s goal was to flip the narrative of edibles, which often were thought of as unhealthy, unreliable, or too strong. There were very few healthy options available – everything was either a gummy, a brownie, or a piece of chocolate.
The pair launched their first product, a THC-infused honey, and later a CBD-infused honey, olive oils, chili oils, sriracha apple cider vinegar and more. The honey was even farmed from their own hives!
It was a lot of trial and error in the early days, and Christine laughed about how experimental it all was before they invested in a more formal research and development process.
Don’t underestimate yourself if you’re navigating a new industry.
Christine credited making friends and building relationships as a critical component of her success. Getting a new business up and running in an extremely regulated industry had its challenges!
There was a lot of researching, thoroughly reading regulation documents, learning about food safety, and how to make shelf-stable products.
Consumer packaged goods can seem like an intimidating category to enter as a newbie, especially when you think about how to make something, how to package it, and how to sell it. But don’t underestimate yourself – there’s so much you can learn and do on your own without a lab or fancy equipment.
The business slowly grew. Potli products got into one dispensary, and then another and then another. In 2018, CBD started trending, which led to a collaboration with a matcha bar that got picked up by CNN and NBC. All of a sudden, Potli was being featured in Thrillist, New York Magazine, and The Cut.
Eventually, it reached a point where Christine felt torn between her full-time job and her success with Potli. It was a dichotomy of two equally amazing opportunities. Her and Felicity decided to go all in and they made the jump together.
Leaving Potli to become a Senior Venture Architect.
Hitting burnout late last year, Christine made the difficult decision to leave the day-to-day operations at Potli and stay on as an advisor. A few times a month, she meets with Felicity to delve into budgets, the team, future product strategy and marketing strategy.
Today, she holds the role of Senior Venture Architect at one of the largest venture studios out there, BCG. Their business model is to create new ventures for Fortune 100 companies. So what does that mean exactly?
They’ll work with a large company who wants to be more innovative; perhaps they want to make an investment in a new space they may not have a footprint in and they’ll spin up an entirely new business.
As a venture architect, Christine will survey the new business opportunity, support the ideation phase, and later help launch and incubate the business as well. It’s very much a boots on the ground, wearing many hats kind of role. It’s a perfect fit, given that Christine loves the energy of launching a new business and being able to set them up for success.
As she looks forward, she has no idea where she’ll be a year from now, but figuring it out one day at a time has been a fun part of the journey.
“I had to just make a decision and look myself in the mirror and see, ‘do I want to take this gamble and try it out?’ I never dreamed in a million years that I would work in the cannabis industry.”