There are so many exciting businesses in the cannabis industry, each addressing a unique need. In this series, CUE Cannabis is speaking to Founders and owners within our network of partners. We are highlighting not only what their business does, but what they are excited about for the future of the cannabis industry.
Today, CUE Cannabis speaks with Best in Grow Founders Andrew Duffy and Jake Levin. Two years ago, they saw a problem in the industry, that consumers didn’t have enough information about the products they were purchasing. Andrew and Jake decided to address this problem with their online platform and app that harnesses the power of the budtender to improve the dispensary experience, and also give cannabis brands more visibility and influence into how their product is being sold.
CUE Cannabis: Tell me a bit about Best in Grow and your roles within the company.
Andrew Duffy: Best in Grow is for both retailers and brand. It is the one-stop-shop for optimizing your entire dispensary workforce. On the dispensary side, it’s extremely important to have everyone from the budtenders, all the way up to your corporate employees working together effectively. We’ve built the web platform and IOS and android app to help do just that.
Best in Grow aggregates data from the dispensaries so on the cannabis brand side they can understand who is selling their product. 92% of consumers walk into the dispensary and take the exact recommendation of the budtender. For a brand to survive, they need to understand, educate, and potentially incentivize those budtenders. Through our state-of-the-art platform, we are creating a network of industry influencers.
In my role as Co-Founder and CEO, my primary focus is setting a vision for the company and managing account partnerships and key account clients in order to keep the company humming.
Jake Levin: The cannabis industry is so fascinating because of the role of the budtender. They hold a profound amount of influence around which products are moving off the shelves. This is really due to the regulatory barriers in the cannabis industry, and the fact that brands are really hand-tied around how they can sell to consumers. Often consumers walk into a dispensary, and they are overwhelmed by the number of products, and they don’t have the experience to make an informed decision. They rely heavily on the budtender. This role is a new type of employee in that they have so much influence over how consumers identify which product is right for them.
Best in Grow is all about brands investing in these influencers. Soon, we are rolling out ‘Sparkplug,’ which is a flagship tool that allows retailers to see scorecards and metrics about their own sales productivity and empower that frontline influencer.
My role as the other Co-founder and COO is to take care of marketing, product development, user design, and anything related to our company culture.
CUE Cannabis: What are the most significant industry problems you are most excited to solve?
Andrew Duffy: We solve problems on behalf of brands and dispensaries, but anything we do at this stage in this industry is all about improving the customer experience. Anything we can do to make the budtender’s job easier so that the customer encounters the most educated and engaged budtender they possibly can. Budtenders are a great chokepoint to influence the quality of experience a customer has.
CUE Cannabis: How did you guys get the idea for Best in Grow? What is the mission that is driving you now?
Andrew Duffy: Well, it started off in a different way, as many startups do. We started off trying to solve the problem of asymmetry for the customers. Consumers would have no way of understanding what they are buying, the quality of the label, or if it is true or efficacious. Initially, we wanted to create a consumer report for cannabis. But as an entrepreneur, you have to fall in love with solving a problem rather than falling in love with your own solution. We found that the customers weren’t demanding this type of consumer report information; they were happy to learn about products at the time of sale. So we pivoted a bit and focused on the dispensary as a conduit for information.
Jake Levin: Andrew and I went to Harvard together and studied behavioral economics and psychology. Andrew worked at a hedge fund, and I worked in private equity, and this background really influenced Best In Grow. When entering the cannabis industry, we became fascinated with the in-store experience and the dynamics of the industry as it moves from illicit to legal. We thought there was room for technology to support the legitimization and professionalization of the industry and people who work in the stores. Our mission is to solve this asymmetry of information by focusing on the budtenders so they can provide the best possible experience for the customer and make each in-store experience excellent every time.
CUE Cannabis: What types of challenges do you see dispensaries struggle with, and what advice would you have for them?
Andrew Duffy: There are two types of problems that dispensaries could have: process problems, and people problems. The process problems are ones that are associated with things like inventory management, making sure you have all the right products, that your accounting is all settled, and the underlying infrastructure of your dispensary is working in such a way that doesn’t require you to get your hands dirty every day.
We really like to focus on the people side of things. As the data shows, frontline employees are critical to customer experience, and managing these employees can be extremely difficult. The average lifespan of a budtender at a dispensary is about three months, their turnover is massive, they burn out extremely quickly because it is often their first retail job, compliance can be challenging, there are a lot of products that they have to understand, and they have to give customers effective recommendations. Plus you are getting paid minimum wage. Your workforce is one of your biggest assets; we wanted to address how can we make people the biggest strength of the dispensary rather than a liability.
Jake Levin: Another challenge in the space is an emphasis on data and analytics and the confusion we see when putting this data to use. Any technology a dispensary is using is producing a wealth of insights in terms of consumer behavior, employee behavior, insights, and trends. Most operators are drowning in data and don’t have a clear and actionable way to put these to use. We want our product to take the complexity out of this and help data be used in as a prescriptive way as possible.
CUE Cannabis: What do you find most exciting about this industry?
Andrew Duffy: This industry is exciting because it offers us an opportunity to build tools that, outside of cannabis, might have been more difficult to create. In cannabis, we can build tools that are useful for this fast-growing market and will also address challenges in other markets. Everyone faces competition from online and delivery services that create a new type of competition and a new role for brick-and-mortar. We’ve created a software retail platform that can address these challenges, and in another industry, ideas like this would have been squashed or pushed out by bigger companies. There is a lot more you can do with the technology we develop in this industry
Jake Levin: The only thing I would add is that brands spend a lot of time thinking about getting people in the door and don’t spend their time thinking about an internal culture where employees love showing up to work every day. Universally every study shows that investing in culture and people is a great way to provide an excellent customer experience. And that inside out approach is something we see more and more dispensaries adopt.