I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Kadonoff an inventor, entrepreneur and environmentalist is the founder and CEO of Braingrid: Braingrid is a Toronto-based company that provides an affordable, versatile and quick-to-install sensor platform for cannabis cultivators. Braingrid connects cultivators to their grow on a microclimate level by communicating real-time data that helps to increase revenues, reduce costs and identifies risks.
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?
Before I got into cannabis, in fact, before I got into business period, I loved Star Trek. In particular, I was fascinated with the characters’ ability to seemingly divine knowledge from anything, anywhere. Using their trusty “tricorder”, these characters were able to just point it at something and immediately know if it was a threat, an opportunity or something even more. They were able to understand and react to the situation with one tool. What’s more, instead of just pulling out their phaser and brutishly disintegrating something, they always sought knowledge first. They dealt with scary, new situations through the acquisition of knowledge instead of just reacting or feeling threatened — the characters we’re always so confident with their tricorder. That always impressed me. Now, we live in a world where low cost, nearly battery-less sensing, distributed computing and analytics are delivering Star Trek-like insights across a host of industries, cannabis among them.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When we were just getting started, the cannabis industry was still very much in an embryonic phase. When you’re working in an industry like that, you really have to deal with the unexpected. At one point, a customer had us installing sensors in the middle of winter in Northern Ontario. It was about -30 degrees Celsius. In fact, it was so cold that the car couldn’t stay warm while we were in it — it was that cold. Oddly, the wood chips and biomass for which we were installing the sensors were steaming and warm, so much so, we were actually lying in them to get warm.
Another story from the early days, occurred when the industry didn’t enjoy the tolerance we have today. Legal issues could play havoc with trade events. I remember one event in Palm Springs when the local municipality passed a law that essentially made the convention we were attending illegal. As a result, no one really showed and the show was a proverbial ghost town. Some bored vendors decided to amuse themselves by body surfing on top of the food caddies down the aisles of the empty tradeshow. No one from Braingrid of course, but it was pretty funny.
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?
On an onsite demo with a new customer, our sales leader installed a Sentroller with a clamp mount at the end of a grow table to capture the air quality close to the canopy. This was great for the demo but unfortunately, the power cable dangled in the walkway and of course, within minutes, someone (not naming names), tripped on the cable which sent the Sentroller flying minus the USB power port. The product and dev. team quickly realized that the demo Sentroller would run on its internal battery but not long enough for a multi-hour demo at its pre-set 1 minute reporting rate. So, straight out of the Apollo 13 movie, the dev. team wireless sent a special command to re-configure the damaged Sentroller for lower power consumption so it could last the duration of the demo. What did we learn? Cables suck; run on solar power for table monitoring applications.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We most definitely are. Our whole goal is provide cultivators with the insights to manage their facilities in the most efficient way possible. I refer to it as providing cultivators with “horizon” — a means to view their entire assets simultaneously and with great detail If needed. All of our projects are focused on that objective.
Externally, we’re working on expansion projects with customers — the vast majority of our base is very happy and are moving from small projects to full roll outs. As a result, we’re spending a lot of time up-selling and growing on the basis of earned trust from our earlier deployments.
While our initial product scope focused on environmental conditions, energy management is also becoming a big item for cultivators. As a result we’re delving into ways to help them manage their energy costs, which is vitally important, not just for the growers’ bottom line but for the environment as well.
Internally we’re launching our data science tools and visual analytics platform, as well as next generation products, mobile apps, and more.
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?
A. The early investors. Aside from capital, they had the foresight to invest in us before it was cool. They continue to have great faith in the industry and in us.
B. The growers, especially WeedMD and Beleave, they helped us develop our system and recognized our value early on.
C. My wife — my biggest critic, my biggest supporter, and my best friend.
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?
To be frank, I see companies out there with really large market caps companies but I don’t see any true incumbent companies in this young industry. I also don’t think anyone is delivering clever marketing. We’re working on that and folks like you are helping. Stay tuned on that front.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
I am excited about:
1. Creating jobs and GDP, for us and the world
2. Helping to create medicines that truly help people
3. On a personal note — Doing my small part to position Canada as a global leader. As a citizen, I’m very proud that we are leading this industry.
Some of my biggest concerns include:
1. Our industry’s use of utility resources like water and power. Right now, we’re incredibly wasteful and that needs to stop! For example, the energy used to grow a single pound of cannabis could power the average home for almost 2 months. As an industry, we can do better.
2. The industry, in general, employs very little rigor or discipline around cultivation right now. It needs to happen for our long-term success. There are, of course, exceptions, but for the most part it’s still the proverbial Wild West.
3. A potential oversupply within the industry and the kinds of trouble that’ll cause the great growers we meet out there. I believe we’ll see a lot of consolidation for those who don’t understand the importance of consistent, efficient cannabis cultivation — I’m glad Braingrid is there for these growers.
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. Test, Test, and Test again — don’t assume that everything you create will work. It likely won’t. Try it again and again. The customer experience must be flawless.
2. Listen to the customer — this is a bit of cliché, but it’s true. Get in their face. Listen actively and ask questions even is it invalidates your beliefs. The more you do this, the better product you will produce.
3. Loss leaders are OK. The goal is market penetration and subscribers. This is critical.
4. Forecasts are fine, but don’t assume immediate scale — you’re not going to take on 100,000 customers at once. You’ll get one, because that’s what the customer needs to understand your value. Also, your sales cycle is going to take longer than you think — trust takes time and cannot be rushed,
5. Get a partner or a pro to help you understand your customer base. That means someone that, as a professional, gives you credibility and the customer insights you need. Having a master cultivator with decades of experience on staff or under contract is a good example. He or she will make sure you can speak the industry specific language the customer understands. As technical people, the impetus is on you to make sure you understand your customers.
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?
Micro and home growing — and not just cannabis. As we spread out as a society and a people, locally sourced food, water and energy will prevail — certainly as we explore beyond this planet in then next 50 years.
As pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and recreational edibles become forefront, services within the supply chain, retailers, extraction segments will be very hot. I’m also fascinated with the emerging companies that deliver of clinical trials as a service — there’s so much research going on.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Don’t hire yourself. By this, I mean don’t just hire those that think like you. Hire the best talent to meet your needs even if getting along with them is unfamiliar. Hiring someone that makes you comfortable is recipe for personal and business stagnation.
Give yourself downtime. Otherwise, you’ll be miserable and your company will suffer.
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. 🙂
You can and should be off grid. Both as a business person and an individual, I firmly believe we can be net neutral with our environment without an unpleasant lifestyle change or too much additional cost.
We will soon have very little choice in the matter, so we may as well get started now. Cannabis has the potential to serve as an example for everyone which is exciting.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Twitter — @Braingrid
Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/braingridcorp/
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/braingridcorp/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Jilea Hemmings is the CEO & Co-Founder of Leaf Tyme. She is running a series on Leaders In The Cannabis Industry.