Leadership: Where Style Meets Innovation

Futurola partners Toby Skard and Patrik Eriksson employ an old-school, hands-on approach to keep their iconic products at the top of the market.

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Futurola partners Toby Skard, left, and Patrik Eriksson. (Photo: Josh Sep / mg Magazine)

Of the many things we’ve learned about American cannabis consumers since the dawn of adult use, one of the most significant is they place a premium on convenience. Whether it’s ordering weed delivered to their door, pressing a button to activate a vape pen, or popping a fast-acting gummy, recreational consumers value seamlessness and ease of use.

 This may help explain why pre-rolled joints have become such a sensation in the United States and Canada over the past five or so years. One of the most competitive segments of the industry, pre-rolls accounted for about 15.3 percent of total U.S. sales in August 2023 and about 33.3 percent of total Canadian sales, according to Headset. The segment represents the third most popular category (behind flower and vapes) in the U.S. and the second most popular in Canada.


Globally, cannabis revenues surpassed $50 billion last year and are expected to top $60 billion this year. If pre-rolls account for even 10 percent of the global market, that’s more than $6 billion at stake. 

To ensure their supply meets consumer demand, pre-roll brands are moving away from hand-rolling and investing in machines that speed up the process. Pre-roll production tools and accessories are manufactured by numerous companies, but Futurola has been setting standards since the 1990s. The company offers everything except the flower: papers, cones, and the machines that shred bud and wrap it into tight, uniform joints. Founded in Amsterdam, the company moved to the U.S. after a pair of entrepreneurs who already had built successful careers in the entertainment and fashion industries acquired it in March 2014.

Since assuming command, Toby Skard and Patrik Eriksson have grown the company into one of the biggest and most well-known wholesale manufacturers of pre-roll equipment in the world. Skard estimates the company has worked with about 90 percent of the big brands in the U.S. The company’s Knockbox series of pre-roll machines, launched in 2015, is iconic.

“Futurola was one of the first big brands in Europe that made quality products,” said Skard, who is originally from Sweden. “They were trying to break into the U.S., and Patrik and I came on board to help them with that. That’s how it started. And with our background in fashion and music, we kind of did it our way and slowly built the company and made it what it is today.”

While both men had extensive experience building brands in the fashion industry, they spent their early careers on the wilder side of the entertainment world. Eriksson, who was born in Norway, began training as a boxer in Sweden when he was thirteen and then moved into Muay Thai (Thai boxing), becoming the Swedish champion in the latter sport by the time he was twenty. After traveling to Thailand and Amsterdam to train with some of the best fighters in the world, he launched a career as a professional kickboxer and eventually won two world titles in the sport. When his fighting days were behind him, he went into business and landed in Los Angeles, which is where he met Skard. 

“After my fighting career, I went into fashion, and this guy from Milli Vanilli was my friend. He was also a good friend of Toby in Los Angeles,” said Eriksson. “Toby was starting a new brand after Von Dutch and needed somebody in Europe. So this Milli Vanilli guy put us together in 2009 or so. We met up, and we’ve been working together ever since. We are both very driven, and we stepped over from a clothing brand to a totally new market. But not with less energy, not with less spirit. And that’s what you see the result of right now.”

Skard had a successful career as a rock musician, most notably playing bass guitar for ’90s cross-genre hitmaker Poe. The singer-songwriter and her band toured the world and opened for Lenny Kravitz, one of the biggest acts on the planet at the time. After Skard’s rock-and-roll career wound down, he took an executive position with Von Dutch, a clothing brand popular with celebrities in the early aughts until it was revealed posthumously that the vehicle artist and motorcycle mechanic after whom the brand was named was a racist and admirer of Nazi ideology. Skard soldiered on in fashion, co-founding California Christiania Republic, a brand that celebrated “the spirit of personal freedom, spiritual liberty, and self-actualization.”

Today, Skard and Eriksson, who don’t dwell on corporate titles, are dutifully involved in Futurola’s day-to-day operation and avoid taking the company’s rise to market leadership for granted. Whether it’s minding the booth at dozens of trade shows every year or taking calls from clients, both said they take pride in an old-school, hands-on approach to business. They also said they’re determined to maintain the work ethic that has been with them at every step of their careers in fashion, entertainment, and cannabis.

You’re both from Europe, and you’re familiar with the cannabis markets over there. What are your observations about the European industry right now, and how fast do you think those markets will develop?

Toby Skard
Toby Skard

Skard: It has been a slow start, to be honest. We’re over there, and we’re definitely following the market. We are doing shows in Europe, we have clients in Europe, and it goes a little slower than America’s rollout. Americans are way more business-oriented than Europeans in everything they do.

It takes time. There’s a lot of politics and bureaucracy. Spain is already pretty established, and Italy is doing its part, as well. The northern countries are a little slower, but Denmark is pretty established already. They’re all going to fall in line once they see Germany do its thing. [Recreational possession and cultivation are expected to become legal in Germany April 1. Social clubs for public consumption are expected by July 1, pending the finalization of regulations. —Ed.]

Eriksson: There are definitely good growers and good quality over there, but it’s a very different market. Keep in mind a lot of the coolest brands that are big in the U.S. are also big over there, because Europeans look to the United States for impulses on what’s cool right now. We have seen how it’s implemented in fashion, music, everything. But they are very far behind where we are in the U.S. and in Canada right now.

Skard: The funny thing is, Futurola started in Europe in 1996, almost thirty years ago. It was an established brand in Europe. We took a victory lap in the U.S., and now we’re going back to Europe to catch up and make it even bigger. So it’s kind of funny, the evolution and how that works. It came from Europe, took over America, and now we’re going back to Europe to make it even bigger. We also have Asia and South America coming, and we do a lot of business in Australia. In a couple of years, probably all over the world. There are a lot of growth possibilities here.

What makes Futurola’s technology and design unique?

Skard: The difference between our machines and all the others is that our goal is to make a reliable machine anybody can use. And we have so many different machines for startups all the way to big companies that need large machines. They’re all based on the same very simple filling factor, because it works. And that’s what more and more people recognize: The cones filled in the Knockboxes are simply better than ones filled in a robot machine.

In 2019, you partnered with Mike Tyson on some Tyson-branded products. Was there any particular vision he had for the brand, or did you develop the new products for him?

Skard: We spoke to him about what he wanted to do, and obviously he knew what we were known for. He wanted great pre-rolls and innovative products, and he really loved our non-tobacco paper. He discussed different things and narrowed it down to just a few products, because we didn’t want to do too much in the beginning. It was this entire team experience throughout the COVID years, and it was an amazing experience. One of the reasons is because they trusted us, and he’s done a great job of promoting the products.

Speaking of celebrity brands… The sudden fall of Von Dutch must have been disappointing and frustrating. How did you deal with the negative publicity? What did you learn from the experience?

Skard: I mean, that was such a crazy time, and I was part of something that will never happen again. It was the beginning of celebrity-driven clothing brands and lifestyle brands. We didn’t have cell phones, and we didn’t have social media like today. I learned a lot from that.

You have to have a story. People pay attention to a story much more than you think. And you need to have good products. You can’t just think your consumers are idiots. If there’s a need in the marketplace and you do something right, people will find out about it.

I also learned you don’t need to spend millions of dollars on marketing. Instead, work in clever ways people pay attention to. A lot of people just waste money on marketing and it doesn’t do them any good. It almost feels like they are pushing [their products] down people’s throats. Also, be truthful. Don’t sell lies and cheat, just be honest and be real. That’s the best advice I can give.

How do you divide the work? Do you each have certain specialties, or is all the work shared equally? 

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Patrik Eriksson

Eriksson: We do pretty much everything together. We have different qualities, and we’re both very driven, which is positive because it’s all about hard work. It’s all about going for your goals and not giving up.

It’s been a long journey for us. You see companies falling off left and right because it’s not easy, and it wasn’t easy for us either. We’ve been working hard, day and night, and we’ve been at every trade show for ten years. Most [chief executives] don’t go to the trade shows after two, three, four years. They just have somebody else do it. We’ve been there for ten years building the brand together, so I think that’s a strength, as well.

Skard: I think the biggest thing for people trying to do this is that once they start becoming a little bit successful and start doing better, they’re too cool to do the hard work and they want to be the big boss. We are very much aligned with what’s going on, and if you don’t do that, you lose touch with what’s going on in the market.

If you want to become successful, you have to know what’s going on. You always have to renew yourself. One thing both me and Patrik share is we both had some success before we did Futurola, so we’re fine with letting the brand do the talking. We’re not trying to sell or promote who we are. I was part of some pretty big companies and bands, and I saw the success and also the opposite side. I learned from that, and I think Patrik did the same thing.

We are very different people. He has his strengths, I have my strengths, but we know each other very well and constantly ask each other questions. We always try to find the best way of doing things, and that’s a very good thing. You make better decisions that way.

Now that Futurola has cemented its position as an industry leader, are you exploring any other sectors?

Skard: One of the ground rules Patrik and I have is we don’t get involved with stuff we don’t understand and don’t know how to do. Less is more for us. I think we have some opportunities to get involved with different parts of the industry, but we always kind of stick to what we do. We come up with new innovations for what we do, and we stick to certain things—pre-rolls and machines, and then also consumer products with big celebrities and stuff.

Eriksson: We are committed to doing something really good instead of doing a bunch of crap that is not really working. So “stay in your lane,” pretty much.

What advice do you give clients and partners about how to stand out in the market?

Skard: Quality products, hard work, and don’t spend a lot of money. If you put your heart and soul into something, then it mostly works. If you try to get there quickly and easily, it doesn’t work.

Money doesn’t buy coolness or anything. You also have to have a story, and you need to sell something that is high-quality. You also need a little bit of luck. You need to be very determined.

It takes a long time to build something successful, and that’s something most successful people will say. It doesn’t come easy. But it’s possible if you stay true to who you are and work hard.

Eriksson: Most companies just copy somebody else and do something similar. We’ve been trying to stand out a little bit, so we try to be innovative and outstanding in the way we do things. I think we took the cannabis market to a different level, a little bit cleaner, sexier, and more mainstream.

When you look ahead to the next iteration of pre-roll manufacturing, what do you see?

Skard: Everything is becoming faster and more automated, but it’s also still very much the same. People always want bigger and better, but they also realize they need to watch what they spend in order to run a successful business. You have to be aware of the cost versus the benefits.

I think there are definitely going to be more automatic machines that go faster, but I also think it’s going to stay the same because it works the way it works.

Eriksson: I mean, look at the Knockbox. It has been here for almost ten years, it’s pretty much the same, and it really works. For this industry, it doesn’t have to be too much crazier. Cannabis is a little different from tobacco, of course. But so far, it’s been working for us.

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Looking back over the past ten years, what are some of the lessons you’ve learned? Is there anything you would do differently?

Skard: I learned nothing happens the easy way. You know, work hard. And don’t think about making money. Think about your passion to make something and make a difference in the marketplace. We have made a lot of mistakes over the years, but we always kept it between us. It’s also how we wanted the brand to be seen. We haven’t done many interviews, because we’ve let the brand do its own talking. It’s not about me and Patrik.

Eriksson: We have always taken the lead on innovating and are always a little bit ahead of the game. If you look at the pre-roll market, there was nothing like it before, just bongs and pipes and stuff like that. And then we started the Knockbox and took pre-rolls to the next level. And that’s been very, very good for us. I think that was very innovative. I think that’s why we are number one in that market.

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