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“Listen to some great music early in the AM.” with Ryan G. Smith and Len Giancola

Positivity is everything. Starting days off with a solid outlook on what the week will bring, listening to some great music early in the AM, whatever it takes to start off on the right foot goes a long way. People who have trouble getting out of bed, are visibly or secretly negative bring no value […]

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Positivity is everything. Starting days off with a solid outlook on what the week will bring, listening to some great music early in the AM, whatever it takes to start off on the right foot goes a long way. People who have trouble getting out of bed, are visibly or secretly negative bring no value to themselves and can destroy a team. Positivity, just like negativity, can be infectious, but the former leads to motivated, excited people looking forward to writing their story every day.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan G. Smith, CEO and Co-Founder of LeafLink, the cannabis industry’s wholesale marketplace and order management platform.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of what first introduced you into this business or helped you get interested in the business?

My co-founder Zach and I have always been interested in marketplaces. Before building LeafLink, Zach spent some time at eBay and I’d been selling things online marketplaces since grammar school. When I was growing up, my parents used to say if something went missing the house it was probably in Ryan’s PayPal account. The idea behind B2C marketplaces is so much a part of our lives now, but B2B marketplaces still have a long way to go. Zach and I believed we could build a new paradigm, as the supply chain forms within the cannabis industry, for a B2B marketplace that empowers brands and retailers in the space.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When we were first starting LeafLink around 3 years ago people, especially on the East Coast, thought entering the space was risky. Would it become a professional, large industry like many others? We believed it would and knew after working closely with our first clients in the first months of LeafLink that we wanted to help write that story. In the last 6 months, the industry is all everyone can talk about; everyone wants to be in cannabis. Whereas we used to have to be subtle about including the word “cannabis” in job descriptions, now it’s a huge asset to highlight in our recruiting.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This was more of a valuable lesson than a funny story, but recognizing that all money is not equal and knowing when to move on during capital raises is important. Early on we spent too much time fostering a few relationships with individuals that ended up being small check-writers, at best. Being highly selective about which investors you work with, making sure they have the same perspective on core issues and making sure they are the right fit is crucial. Bringing on investors is very similar to recruiting new team members; the right ones bring value without slowing you down.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

We closed out 2018 with a few exciting initiatives including the first LeafLink List celebrating the top brands and products in our marketplace. LeafLink List will be released annually to rank products and brands across 10 different categories.

We also released the first Wholesale Cannabis Pricing Guide in December to provide a bird’s-eye view of average wholesale pricing across product categories in eight states, and share insight into how that pricing affects sales to retailers.

We’re currently preparing for our second 3.20, a month long promotion where brands feature their best deals on LeafLink leading up to 4/20. Retailers typically start stocking up for the holiday a month in advance, and we’re here to make that easier for them and more lucrative for brands.

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?

As far as we’ve come at LeafLink over the past three years, we are just getting started. One thing I’m very excited about is the new, creative execution by team leaders. We’re starting to bring on experienced hires who can bring best practices with them to elevate what we’re creating here, and that’s how we’ve continued to raise the bar. LeafLink recently broke 50 full-time team members so there is a diverse set of ownership across each of our teams, empowering people to take our overall efforts to new heights.

This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?

As a B2B company in a tight-knit industry, case studies showcasing how our current clients use our product goes a long way in increasing our credibility.

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

Things that excite me:

  • The cannabis industry is a startup
  • New states are enacting medical and recreational programs every quarter
  • The industry is filled with incredibly enduring, dynamic client teams — most companies are facing all the challenges of any new organization compounded by a rapidly changing regulatory environment!

Things that concern me:

  • The cannabis industry is a startup
  • The US is falling behind other international players in terms of legalization and commerce
  • Viability of the hype — many companies are raising money, garnering attention because they are in the industry not because they are doing anything noteworthy. We believe our industry should be judged just as any other by real numbers met and real goals achieved.

Can you share your top “5 Things You Need To Know In Order To Run a Successful Cannabis Ancillary Company”? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Recruit amazing team members: as an ancillary company in the cannabis industry, we believe our clients and the entire industry deserve technology and services that are on par with any other industry. We bring in top talent with experience to help us deliver a best-in-class product.

2. Serve client needs and expectations: to be successful in building an ancillary company in cannabis you need to make sure you’re providing solutions that cannabis companies need. Make sure that your product fills a gap in their operations or makes their lives easier, and you’ll set yourself up for success.

3. Respect regulations: although ancillary companies are not regulated in the same was as plant-touching businesses, it serves you to respect and understand state regulations. In our case, we have built our product in a way that is flexible so that it accommodates the regulations across states.

4. Be present in multiple states: since the US cannabis industry is broken into discrete state-level markets, it’s easy to fall into the trap of operating in one market but not expanding to serve multiple states. The most successful ancillary companies will bring their solution to clients across state lines, which will set them up for federal legalization in the future.

5. Respect the pioneers of the industry that got us here: while there has been a recent influx of technology and capital into the cannabis industry, the smartest ancillary companies will take the time to learn from the companies who have paved the way. They have insights into the intricacies of the industry that newer entrants don’t.

Aside from your particular vertical, which other cannabis ancillary industries to you think have very strong potential in the next few years? Can you explain why?

We are betting that data is the future of the cannabis industry. Companies providing that data have strong potential in the next few years and beyond as they’ll help everyone in the industry be smarter about how they do business. The LeafLink List and Wholesale Cannabis Pricing Guide were both data-drive projects we released to empower cannabis brands and retailers with our anonymized platform data. We’ll be continuing to work on content like this and plan on releasing some sort of retailer ranking in the next year.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Hire people smarter than you, give them support where needed but trust them to do their thing. Course correct quickly.

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

Positivity is everything. Starting days off with a solid outlook on what the week will bring, listening to some great music early in the AM, whatever it takes to start off on the right foot goes a long way. People who have trouble getting out of bed, are visibly or secretly negative bring no value to themselves and can destroy a team. Positivity, just like negativity, can be infectious, but the former leads to motivated, excited people looking forward to writing their story every day.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Twitter: @LeafLinkUS

Instagram: @leaflink_

Facebook: @LeafLinkUS

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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