Vanessa Gabriel of Drop Delivery: “Nobody really understands how often the rules change until you are working in this space”

I think the biggest thing is that the industry is literally changing month to month and year to year. New states are legalizing different forms and levels of cannabis and states that already have legal sales are changing regulations to fit their specific needs. So, nobody really understands how often the rules change until you […]

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I think the biggest thing is that the industry is literally changing month to month and year to year. New states are legalizing different forms and levels of cannabis and states that already have legal sales are changing regulations to fit their specific needs. So, nobody really understands how often the rules change until you are working in this space. We make jokes about how every year in cannabis is a dog year in other industries and it’s absolutely true.

As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Gabriel.

Vanessa Gabriel is the CEO and co-founder of Drop Delivery, the cannabis industry’s only all-in-one delivery technology solution for delivery companies and retailers. A twenty-something, self-described serial entrepreneur, Vanessa previously co-founded Greenlight Technologies, a leading order-ahead and digital loyalty software in the cannabis industry, which was acquired in 2018 by publicly-traded Leafbuyer Technologies.

Before jumping into the cannabis industry, Vanessa’s passion for fashion led her to co-found aSociete in 2011, a shopping platform for millennials to shop for their favorite fashion brands from all across the web in a simple, entertaining, and engaging way. She later created WNDRLUST in 2014, an interactive marketing platform that brought existing fashion editorials, such as photo lookbooks and films, to life with shoppable technology. Vanessa launched both companies with Drop Delivery co-founders Marc Lopez and Jade Gabriel while all were still in college.

Vanessa Gabriel attended the Eberhardt School of Business at the University of the Pacific and Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

I founded several companies in college with my current co-founders Marc Lopez and Jade Gabriel. Marc had done some startups within the vape industry and had created connections in the cannabis space. Once we all came together and realized that no one had built what we built, we decided it was time to launch our first company Greenlight, which was an order-ahead app specifically for cannabis dispensaries. We sold that company to Leafbuyer eight months after launching and saw the need for a dynamic delivery management solution in the space, so we created Drop Delivery.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One story that was interesting and really surprised me was how fast we were able to raise money as a company when we moved from looking at venture capital to crowdfunding. We had just run into so many walls, yet with crowdfunding, we raised more than 1M dollars in eight weeks, which is fast for any industry. The biggest lesson I learned is that every no will lead you to the right yes.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?

This is funny to me but during holidays and family parties, it was almost guaranteed I’d get asked at least once when I would finally get a regular job or go back to school from certain family members.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I wouldn’t say there’s a particular person so much as there are people. The cannabis community is quick to support each other’s goals and I have been lucky to have found myself surrounded by women especially to want to see me and my company grow and be successful. Drop Delivery’s board is made up of women that I reached out to on LinkedIn — Jessica Billingsley, Cynthia Salarizadeh and Kristin Jordan — all powerhouse women in their niches within the cannabis industry.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Right now, the whole team and I are laser-focused on Drop Delivery and making it a huge success for our clients, customers, and investors. We’re working on building new partnerships and integrations, reaching into new states and markets, and adding and updating platform features. We believe that buying cannabis online should be as easy as buying groceries, and the easier we make that for people, the less stigmatized cannabis will be.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?

  1. Individuals can exercise the power of the purse and show up at the cash register to support women-owned cannabis businesses. Women are represented (although not nearly enough) as entrepreneurs and business owners in the industry at every level, from cannabis products to all the ancillary products and services that comprise the multi-billion dollar industry. As consumers, we can all use our spending power to show that women-owned businesses are a supported and successful element of the industry.
  2. Companies need to pursue diversity in earnest and make it part of their everyday company culture to create and foster opportunities for under-represented groups including women. Entrepreneurship should not be the only path to leadership in cannabis or any other industry; we shouldn’t lose sight of also being represented in the established board rooms and making an impact in those spaces traditionally controlled by white men.
  3. As a whole, we need to nurture all young women to see careers in business or STEM — we need to be able to give them the tools as well as the path where they can become leaders in this industry.

You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non-intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.

I think the biggest thing is that the industry is literally changing month to month and year to year. New states are legalizing different forms and levels of cannabis and states that already have legal sales are changing regulations to fit their specific needs. So, nobody really understands how often the rules change until you are working in this space. We make jokes about how every year in cannabis is a dog year in other industries and it’s absolutely true.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?

  1. There is always something new happening in the industry. New legislation, new products and brands, new medical research; cannabis is constantly evolving sometimes on a daily basis.
  2. The people in the worldwide cannabis community and the passion that has driven the industry forward over the years. They are our customers, our investors, and our co-workers.
  3. The fact that it’s only scratched the surface! I feel that the next few years are going to see some of the biggest changes we’ve seen yet, from federal legalization to the global market really opening up.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?

I think that many of the challenges that are specific to the cannabis industry — the fragmentation and lack of a central system in terms of trade, regulations, economics, even social equity and justice — can mostly be attributed to the history of federal prohibition. State and local markets have been left to work things out on their own. At Drop we have seen it firsthand from a tech standpoint: it created a market of separate platforms for separate functions for online cannabis sales that don’t necessarily work together, or across certain lines. Federal legalization would be the single biggest step that would work to help resolve the biggest challenges.

What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?

Of course, the whole Drop Delivery team supports the end of federal prohibition, and I’ve never been more optimistic that it will happen, even as soon as within the next year. Cannabis has basically been the victim of a smear campaign for so many years, and part of the growing wave of Congressional support for cannabis stems from legislators listening to their constituents and seeing for themselves not only how cannabis is improving so many lives but also helping to create a whole new economic future for their state.

Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?

Cannabis and cigarettes are apples and oranges. Social stigma aside, and regardless of why any particular person may choose to use cannabis, it has been shown to be a safe product to use and an effective treatment for a growing list of health conditions. There are zero deaths attributed to cannabis use; meanwhile, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States alone! Legal cannabis can be, should be, and is significantly regulated, but we feel that that’s where any similarities to cigarettes end.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My personal motto is “every no brings you to the right yes,” and that came right from my own experience as a young tech entrepreneur seeking startup capital who is also a woman of color; I’ve certainly heard my share of nos. But it was that same frustrating process that led us to take a look at crowdfunding as an alternative to traditional raises — our first 1M dollars raise set a platform record, and we are gearing up for a second, and much larger, raise.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The cannabis industry as a whole is a cause that I truly believe in, so I like to think that Drop Delivery’s part in helping people and businesses connect around a product that has changed so many people’s lives for the better is part of what inspires me every day.

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