Seed Technology CEO Matthew Cutone: Operate with authenticity and transparency, with Fotis Georgiadis

I am sure this will sound cliche, but hire people who are smarter than you and do your best to empower them. It’s very inspirational to witness your team solve problems and “grab a hold of the controls”. Don’t just hire smart people, but treat them like family. Start-ups are a grind. Especially in the […]

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I am sure this will sound cliche, but hire people who are smarter than you and do your best to empower them. It’s very inspirational to witness your team solve problems and “grab a hold of the controls”. Don’t just hire smart people, but treat them like family. Start-ups are a grind. Especially in the cannabis industry, if you don’t have the right people in your corner, you will neither thrive nor survive. Operate with authenticity and transparency. If you don’t, these very smart people will “smoke you out” and be onto their next venture.

Matthew Cutone is the founder and CEO of Seed Technology, the third business he has partnered in and the second he has founded. Previously, he helped lead Horizon Technology from 10 employees and $5m in revenue to over 130 employees and $100m in revenue. In 2007, he co-founded Horizon Display, which brought him closer to the retailer and end user. Horizon Display has created interactive experiences to enhance the retail environment for clients like Tesla, Nike, Acura and Drybar. He’s always had a huge passion for solving real business problems with digital technology, and his prior experience makes him uniquely suited to navigating the developing cannabis industry. He and the Seed team are on a mission to make shopping at a dispensary the same as any other store by coupling self-service with credible education.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While I’ve owned several technology companies, technology itself isn’t what gets me out of bed every morning. My passion really lies in solving business problems using digital technologies. My other company, Horizon Display, has been creating digital and interactive experiences for the past 10+ years for Fortune 500 companies like Tesla, Nike, Acura, etc. Our applications have helped customers travel the learning curve on products as well as enhanced the retail experience. Several years ago, we created an interactive consultation that essentially matched a user to the appropriate hair care product. It was, and continues to be, a huge success in providing self-service for the customer and significant sales lift for companies like Drybar. I knew we could repurpose this educational software and recommendation platform for other industries. After testing several markets, it was clear that there was an opportunity in the cannabis industry to provide credible education through a digital application.

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

What’s been most interesting is the sense of community that the cannabis industry has. In all of the other industries I’ve been in, everyone’s eating each others’ lunch and cutting each other’s throats. Yes, this is a competitive business and you need to be prepared for that, but I have never experienced an industry with such excitement and optimism. It is very refreshing. I have had many people take time out to help me and I am always looking for ways to pay that forward.

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?

Like many other people out there who are discovering or rediscovering cannabis, I have a couple of failed attempts at consuming edibles. One Friday at the office, I was able to make it through the workday, but had to have my wife pick me up… She was obviously super proud. Another less- than-stellar experience was at the San Jose airport. I could not for the life of me figure out exactly where I was supposed to stand in line to board my flight. I’m pretty certain I freaked a few people out. How hard is it to understand the basic chronology of numbers? Apparently very, when you’ve had an edible on an empty stomach.My advice? Always start low and go slow when it comes to edibles. Or maybe just go with a different consumption method.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Always. On the client/dispensary side, we have begun working with some very large multi-state operators (MSOs). The MSOs always introduce a level of complexity that I personally find interesting. Each state has its own laws and challenges, which then forces you to solve unique problems. With software, you can address them with much more agility. This is also benefits our existing customer base because it keeps the product evolving, as all Saas platforms should.

We are also exploring some exciting projects with our strategic partners. Technology leaders in the space have a responsibility to find ways to integrate and work with one another, as that ultimately unleashes the unrealized value in a dispensary’s software stack. We are working on a robust integration with springbig, a loyalty communications platform, to create a dashboard where customer insights can be aggregated.

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?

There are a lot of people… starting with my employees. I have an unbelievably talented and passionate team. This is a grueling industry. Their fight and drive helps to fuel me on a daily basis.

I would also have to say my Dad. I get my business acumen, worth ethic and endless curiosity from him. At an early age, he told me to study economics, which acquiantatied me with markets. It also taught me how important it is to be relentless about the customer experience. My first job in corporate America was at TJX Companies, parent entity of TJ Maxx, Marshalls, & Homegoods, where my Dad was an executive. They initially offered me a position in the Marketing Department. I went home thinking he would be excited, but it was clear that he was disappointed. While marketing is a critical function of any business, he told me to go back and tell them that I wanted to be in the trenches — learning the ropes, running the business, making decisions and taking risks. The next week I was making multi-million dollar decisions on where women’s activewear should be shipped based on the region’s sales performance and market trends. At the age of 24, I quickly learned how to make business decisions and understand risk.

Last but not least, my wife. She’s the CEO of my favorite business… my family. Any entrepreneur would agree, endless support at home is more critical to the success of any company than is ever given credit. She has been the best. I cannot thank her enough.

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?

Due to the infancy of this industry (in legal terms), many of the marketing and sales efforts have been more analog and organic than expected. We have spent 10+ years perfecting and executing a digital marketing strategy, and while we certainly deploy this, we have had to fall back on old school tactics. Trade shows, print ads, cold calls, pounding the pavement, etc. Fortunately, I love this kind of grind. There is no faster way to understand an industry than to be in it’s trenches, day in and day out.

We will always look for ways to be innovative in our approach to the market. It’s critical for successful scale. But right now, I am enjoying the grind and the rapid learning that comes with it.

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

1. Federal legalization and the fact that we are literally participating in history.

Cannabis is 100% medicine… health, wellness… call it what you want. I am seeing it firsthand with my friends and family. Federal legalization will introduce much needed research and accelerate the rate at which people are safely introduced to this plant.

When I recruit new employees to the company, I ask them if they are advocates for progressive legislation. This is literally history in the making and something that excites me greatly.

2. People improving their lives through alternative medicine.

As mentioned, cannabis is 100% medicine. There are tangible health and wellness benefits. The more I get involved in this industry, the more I am exposed to people who are changing their lives in remarkable ways because of this medicine.

3. The sense of community.

I mentioned it before: there is a real sense of community in this industry. You will not find an industry with as much perseverance and community. People are excited to help one another and are genuinely invested in helping people discover the benefits of cannabis. They are also excited to be part of an industry that arguably offers more potential upside than any other in the world.

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

1. How challenging this industry is.

This is by far the most challenging industry I have ever been in. It is hard enough as it is to run a successful business. Now try doing that in an industry which is not legal on a federal level. You can’t get a loan, put your money in a bank, manage payroll in a traditional sense, etc. There are so many other aspects of a cannabis business that need to be managed in a unique way that it can create distractions to the job at hand.

2. Identify what you want to be in this industry and stay laser focused.
We are fortunate that we have not strayed too far, but we did step outside our

“lane” a couple of times. This can be very dangerous.

3. Don’t be overly reactive.

You need to be careful about product feedback and what you do with it. Every state is a different market and has its own needs, nevermind completely unique laws. You can’t be all things to all people. What one market says about your product may not apply in the other markets. Be nimble and agile, but be selective on how you evolve your product and make sure you clearly understand how that development will resonate with various markets.

4. Be careful what you say “yes” to.

As a startup in any industry, you want “wins”, customers and certainly cash flow, but you have to be careful to what you say “yes” to. This is even more so the case in the cannabis industry. Cannabis is still very nascent and there are a lot of problems yet to be solved. They may look exciting and promising, but that could not be the case if solving them doesn’t align with your company vision.

5. Find someone with industry success and hire them.
 Finding an employee, or even a business partner, with with real industry success (not just relevant experience) is invaluable.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

I am sure this will sound cliche, but hire people who are smarter than you and do your best to empower them. It’s very inspirational to witness your team solve problems and “grab a hold of the controls”. Don’t just hire smart people, but treat them like family. Start-ups are a grind. Especially in the cannabis industry, if you don’t have the right people in your corner, you will neither thrive nor survive. Operate with authenticity and transparency. If you don’t, these very smart people will “smoke you out” and be onto their next venture.

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. 🙂

I have to say, being a business owner in the cannabis industry is exactly that. I am huge fan of progressive legislation and overall acceptance. This industry is pushing the limits in all those areas.

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

I am not very active on social media outside of LinkedIn… if that even qualifies as “social media”. Please reach out to connect and feel free to follow me. We are always sharing cannabis-related business articles of relevance and poignancy. And definitely follow seed’s instagram page (@seedtechnology).

Thank you for joining us!

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