From Healthcare To Head Of Regional Strategy

"It’s my belief that those that are able to blend technology and human inputs to drive the best customer experience will be most successful."


One area of the cannabis industry that interests me the most is the use of large datasets to gain consumer insights to drive better business outcomes.

The insane surplus of cannabis currently being produced here in Canada is a prime example of the existing disconnect between many cannabis producers and consumers.

That said, times are changing and many operators are slowly waking up to the realization that making decisions without having access to data is like driving a car blindfolded.

One company pioneering this space across North America and graciously sharing many of the insights they uncover across their social media channels is Headset, a company founded by the folks from Leafly.

For today’s edition of Four PM, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Phil McDonald, who is the Director of Regional Strategy for Headset here in Canada.

Phil McDonald is a former Senior Product Manager for healthcare giant Medcan and is currently the Director of Regional Strategy for Headset in Canada.

What motivated you to join the cannabis industry? 

Cannabis legalization represents the most important drug policy shift of our lifetime. The opportunity to be on the ground floor as the market transitions to a regulated industry is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and brings me pride as a Canadian to know we are leading the way.

There’s a strong collective entrepreneurial spirit that runs through the industry that creates opportunities for creativity, innovation, and technology. I’m fortunate to be in a position to bring my passion and experience in technology to the cannabis industry through my work at Headset. 

As the cannabis industry becomes increasingly digitized, are there any emerging trends that you're watching?

The benefit of a new industry from a technology standpoint is that it is unencumbered by legacy systems that typically slow down the pace of innovation in more established industries. Just as we’ve seen countries across Africa go straight to mobile, effectively skipping costly landline infrastructure, we are seeing similar leapfrogging trends in the cannabis industry.

For example, technology is becoming core to a retailer’s operations in order to drive a better customer experience, open new customer acquisition channels, and gain deeper customer insights. Whether that’s through digital in-store education and product discovery platforms, data and analytics solutions, or click-and-collect tools, retailers are leveraging technology on day one.

It’s my belief that those that are able to blend technology and human inputs to drive the best customer experience will be most successful. 

The Daily Newsletter For Cannabis Professionals

What's been the most important experience you've had outside of your time in the cannabis industry that's helped you succeed within it?

I’m not sure I can point to a single experience that has helped me succeed, but rather a set of guiding principles gained over time that have served me well both in and out of the cannabis industry. 

The first is humility. The cannabis industry is new to many of us and though I can apply knowledge and best practices from outside the industry, there are limitations. Knowing my blind spots and surrounding myself with people with specific domain knowledge has been beneficial. 

The second is having healthy curiosity. The industry is moving at a breakneck speed and without a deep curiosity to stay on top of emerging trends beyond my day-to-day work, I’d surely miss out on opportunities to add value to clients and peers. 

Third, is building and maintaining good business relationships. This is especially true in a nascent industry as we are collectively working towards building a sustainable industry. I’ve been impressed by the level of collaboration, even among what I’d consider competitors, to move the industry forward. I’m hoping to see this trend continue.  

As you look to the future of the cannabis industry, what has you most excited to be part of this new industry?

Over the last two years, we’ve seen the Canadian cannabis market shift from being undersupplied to increasingly oversupplied due to a wave of new product form factors hitting the market. The average retail store went from managing an average of 300 SKUs in 2019 to over 500 SKUs and growing in late 2020, and licensed producers are sitting on more inventory than ever before.

I believe the next phase of the cannabis industry will be centered on understanding consumer behaviors and preferences to better meet demand. We’re going to see data-driven operators leverage analytics and market intelligence to right-size production, identify underserved needs, and bring new and exciting innovative products to market. 

I’m also bullish on the positive economic impact the cannabis industry will have on the Canadian economy for years to come. I think people outside the industry underestimate the direct and indirect economic activity related to our industry, and its ability to create meaningful employment for many Canadians, though much more work needs to be done to ensure equal opportunity to the benefits.

We would be well served to adopt similar social equity programs found in the U.S. that have been implemented to ensure communities who have been most harmed by draconian drug policies are able to benefit economically from this industry. 


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