John Yang, CEO and Co-Founder of Treez, talks tech opportunities in the weed business.
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Tell us about your company.
Treez is an enterprise retail management software platform that serves dispensaries across the state of California, as well as in Florida, Nevada, Arizona, the District of Columbia. The platform gives customers the ability to reduce unnecessary labor, reduce manual errors and reduce growing pains, allowing operators to significantly improve productivity and sales. The system addresses inventory, purchasing, reporting, taxes, and employee management. Treez also helps track the key metrics that operators need to optimize operations, such as inventory, customer information, and employee productivity; as well as providing a variety of other tools that dispensary owners can use to improve their operations.
What inspired you to launch your business?
Shareef El-Sissi, my business partner, had spent ten years in the cannabis industry, whereas my background was in software development. Shareef asked me to build a solution for his high-volume dispensary, The Garden of Eden. There were many inefficiencies operating a dispensary that could be solved with the right software, such as implementing scanners that could capture all patient intake information within seconds, creating easy front-end tools for budtenders to allow them to quickly and easily check inventory, provide discounts, and check out customers. It was a pretty easy marriage of our talents. He’d present me with a problem, such as how to automate discounting, or how to track employee productivity, and I’d solve it with software. This happened over and over and before long, we had a whole system in place. From there, it didn’t take us long to figure out that we should go bigger with our scope and offer Treez to the general public.
How is your organization/business helping the cannabis industry in a positive way?
The cannabis industry has historically operated under uncertainty and fear. Many cannabusinesses did not understand and comply with local and state regulations–resulting in fines, forfeitures, and/or closures. One of the core visions of Treez is to use our software to automate compliance for our operators by providing easy integration with the track-and-trace systems being put in place in markets such as California, checking in customers and patients, ensuring their credentials are captured and vetted, correctly calculating different levels of taxation by location and by patient type, limiting purchases to stay within prescribe daily limits, etc. By alleviating operational uncertainty, we empower our operators to focus on what they do best.
What are some challenges you faced early on and how’d you beat them?
Funding, selling, recruiting and scaling. These challenges are similar across any early stage startup but the most difficult in the cannabis industry is recruiting talent. Finding and mentoring talent is what ultimately transforms a startup into a business. We succeeded in this by executing on our vision–an unrelenting passion to bring better software to the cannabis industry. The success stories triggered talented individuals to find us, those who shared similar beliefs in cannabis and technology changing the world. Our success in this area is one of the things I am most proud of. I believe what drew the talented individuals to join us, instead of taking higher paying jobs elsewhere, is a combination of excitement about being involved in the cannabis industry and the double bottom line of both working for an exciting startup and doing something that genuinely helps people. This coupled with our culture of empowering employees to contribute as much as they can.
What is the best piece of advice you can give to others looking to launch a company in the cannabis industry?
Find real problems through the lens of the users experiencing the pain. What has made Treez successful is that we were able to deeply understand the pain points faced by dispensaries, due to Shareef’s experience and vision, and then combine that understanding with the knowledge of and experience with building the tools necessary to address those issues. The cannabis industry is growing incredibly rapidly. Those looking to launch in the space should first understand what the critical issues are, and then figure out a creative way to solve them.
What’s the hardest part of founding and running a startup?
Finding compatible co-founders who complement each other. At Treez, Shareef understood the problems that enterprise cannabis retailers were facing: software that can handle high-volume of customers and be reliable when flaky internet strikes. was able to develop solutions through our mind mesh sessions. The daily back-and-forth allowed us to sharpen our mental fortitude that drove greater focus and positive energy (critical combination to running a successful startup).
Is there anything that surprised you about being an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry?
The industry is incredibly tight-knit and receptive to innovation. People crave disruptive ideas because they have been largely neglected over the past two decades. Traditional means of technology, services, payments, etc. have been largely shut off simply by word association. This is rapidly changing and we are at a tipping point that will see cannabis challenge the dominance of tobacco and alcohol as recreational safe havens.
What book has inspired you the most?
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Catch 22s are generally created from human’s tendency to be close-minded. It takes a great deal of positivity and perseverance to break this mold, and this is very much the mentality needed to slay the goliaths as a startup.