Succeeding In The Cannabis Industry With Software & Social Media

How growing up in the age of information will allow the cannabis industry to become the best version of itself


When I joined the cannabis industry three years ago, I was immediately surprised at the rate which the industry was adopting digital solutions.

Up until 2017, I had never stepped foot in a cannabis retail store or dispensary as they were called back then, in fact, I hadn’t even seen cannabis in person up until this point.

I had researched the industry and understood how a store would look, however, going from working in a grocery store with tills that were considerably older than myself to then using brand new iPads in a cannabis retail store was quite an unexpected change.

Throughout my time in the cannabis industry each of the four companies that I worked for made pretty significant investments into establishing an online presence.

With this in mind, when I discovered that there are 136 cannabis retail stores open here in Canada that don’t even have a website I was very shocked to say the least.

I have my own opinion on why it’s absolutely essential for every cannabis company to establish a presence online, however, for today’s publication of 4PM there are the added perspectives of both Shahbaaz and Andre, two highly experienced executives.

Andre De Pampe is the former Director of Brand & Marketing for Cineplex and Red Bull and is currently the Co-founder & VP of Marketing at Cannoe.

Matt: Does every cannabis retailer need to establish a digital footprint online to remain competitive?

Andre: Any competitive retailer needs to focus on a great experience and relationship with their customers, and that can manifest in many ways. A strong digital presence is a huge part of that, and it’s most successful when it harmonizes with all other customer touch-points.

Matt: Both Facebook and Instagram have gained a strong reputation for taking down cannabis-related accounts - in spite of this, should cannabis retailers continue to invest their time into these platforms?

Andre: Having a good brand presence on those platforms is definitely beneficial, but equally important not to put all efforts into one platform, as many of them have shown to be precarious. With that said, efforts in any platform to have direct communication with customers is worthwhile for cannabis brands to help navigate within the marketing regulations. The good news is there is an above-board and compliant way to exist on these channels as a cannabis brand if you can adhere to their specific rules.

Matt: As a former director of marketing for Cineplex and Red Bull, have you been impressed with the digital solutions that are currently available to cannabis retailers?

Andre: From an operations standpoint, there are some great cannabis-specific digital tools for POS, e-commerce, and CRM, so that’s been very encouraging. When it comes to brand marketing, the two dominant players, Google and Facebook, are mostly off the table for paid advertising.

This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the industry. We are left with fewer obvious advertising options but we can be leaders in developing and demonstrating alternatives to the tech giants, which is much needed for all brands, in all industries. I hope to see some more innovation in that space as the cannabis industry matures.

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani is a former Sales Leader at Salesforce, Head of sales at Lift&Co and is currently the Canadian sales leader at Dutchie.

Matt: Coming from a fortunate 500 company into the cannabis industry, have you been impressed with the digital solutions that are currently available to retailers & producers?

Shahbaaz: Ample Organics in the early days stands out for helping LP’s scale by providing them with a seed to sale ERP. There still remains some huge gaps as many companies have rushed to market and lack focus.

Either the people, the products or the technology isn’t in place at these companies and I was very spoiled coming from Salesforce where I took all of this for granted. Most importantly we had a technology that produced tangible business outcomes, and we practiced what we preached by using it ourselves.

Matt: Dutchie has gained a strong reputation as the market leader in e-commerce solutions for cannabis retailers, from your perspective why has Dutchie achieved such a high level of success where many others have failed?

Shahbaaz: Having been a Dutchie for six months it really comes down to two things - a relentless focus, coupled with a relentless evaluation of opportunities and unless these opportunities tie into our singular goal which is to create the best e-commerce solutions for cannabis retailers (which is our north star) then we won't pursue them.

When I worked at Lift&Co I saw what it was like to chase many different opportunities at the same time, and I saw how difficult it made it internally to service all of those opportunities at the same time.

Matt: The cannabis industry is currently unable to advertise on platforms like Facebook & Google. Given the over dependence many other industries have for these platforms, is this necessarily a bad thing?

Shahbaaz: No I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing even though it does limit how fast the industry can build a bigger consumer audience on these platforms. Personally I think it’s an opportunity, as it forces leaders to get creative and use non traditional channels and it creates an opportunity for the leaders of these brands to become more public facing through various means such as Instagram, in store, on LinkedIn and being present at conferences giving their perspective and driving that brand forward.

Where to from here?

The cannabis industry seems to be standing perfectly poised to benefit from the growing public desire to become less dependent on large social media platforms like Facebook & Instagram.

As a result, I personally think that we will continue to see new and innovative solutions being created, and continuously improved upon to serve what is already a multi-billion dollar industry - that will continue to grow at an exponential rate.

At the beginning of the year we saw many digital solution providers step up to provide cannabis retailers with the tools they needed to remain open, and remain in business.

While this is the type of impact that we know digital solution providers can have on the cannabis industry in the short term, I personally think that their long term impact on the cannabis industry will be vastly greater than this.

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