The chief financial officer of HighTimes Holding, owner of counterculture pot magazine High Times, has jumped ship after just three months — in the midst of a rocky IPO process.
Neil Watanabe, who was also the company’s chief operating officer, resigned on July 19 “to pursue other business opportunities,” the company said in a regulatory filing.
“There were no disputes between Mr. Watanabe and the company with respect to any financial matters or financial disclosures contained in the company filings with the SEC,” said the filing.
Watanabe did not return an email seeking comment.
The departure comes as HighTimes, which runs pot-themed events in addition to running the magazine, struggles to pull off a money-raise through a mini IPO process.
Even before Watanabe’s departure, there were signs investors were growing restless with the IPO process, which has dragged on for more than a year.
“Where is our stock we bought 8 months ago?,” asked David A. Day, the CEO at New World CBD Distributors.com in a Linkedin comment when Watanabe’s appointment was announced in April. The comment attracted two likes.
Watanabe wrote back: “Hi David, thank you for your investment and patience. This has been a lengthy process, but we are completing the last steps towards listing on a public exchange. We are starting the stock issuance process in the following weeks. Stay tuned!”
Fast forward to today, and Watanabe is gone while the stock is still not listed on a public exchange.
“I’m beginning to wonder,” said Day, who told Media Ink he and his family purchased between 3,000 and 4,000 shares. “I was planning on Nasdaq and the rocket taking off,” he said.
In late June the company said it would be extending its offering period yet again from June 30 to Aug. 31, indicating it has not yet sold all 4.5 million shares.
The IPO is being done under SEC rules called a Regulation A+ that allows small cap companies to raise money without the more onerous requirements of a bigger IPO.
Hightimes — owned by private equity company Orvea Capital — has also been forced to borrow more money from its principal banker as losses mount.
Watanabe is not the only high level departure. The same day he resigned, the company said it also accepted the resignation of board member and corporate secretary Colin Conway, an investor who owns 2.1% of the stock.
“I resigned because I started Pharm Capital and couldn’t devote any of my time to High Times,” Conway emailed to Media Ink. “The cannabis industry is still capital starved and I am focusing all my efforts on providing short term working capital solutions and giving entrepreneurs access to capital for their businesses.”
Oreva Capital, headed by Adam Levin, purchased the 44-year-old cannabis title from its original owners in June 2017 with backing from investors including Damian Marley’s publicly traded Stoney Hill and Ean Seeb, who ran the Colorado dispensary Denver Relief Consulting.
The goal has been to use the high-profile name of the magazine, which Levin dubbed the “Coca Cola of cannabis publications,” to make money through conferences, award ceremonies and other live events. The marijuana legalization wave sweeping the country has been predicted to create a $50 billion industry centered on pot products and events.
In addition to Watanabe, the company named Kraig Fox, a director of Dick Clark Productions, as its new CEO earlier this year.
Starting in August 2018, Hightimes Holding began efforts to sell 4,545,454 shares at $11 a share. The company initially predicted it could be oversubscribed in a matter of months and said it aimed to raised up to $50 million.
As of April, Levin said he had raised about $15 million from 20,000 subscribers.
Meanwhile, the company’s losses are also widening. In an offering statement on May 31, it said revenue from 2018 was $14.7 million — or flat with the $14.5 million it took in during 2017 from its publications and exhibits such as the Cannabis Cup.
But its losses from operations more than doubled to $27.5 million in 2018 compared to $13.6 million a year earlier. Its total net loss was listed as $41.3 million in the latest fiscal year ending December 31.
Despite the offering, the company said in its latest offering note that it believes the company has a valuation of $225 million.
The company also disclosed that it had to go back to its banker for another $600,000 loan from its principal banker, Ex Works which brings its total loan from Ex-Works to more than $18 million. The company said as part of the new loan its obligated to issue 37,500 shares to its banker.