LeafLink, the New York-based online wholesale marketplace for the cannabis industry whose platform links and provides services to over 40 percent (10,000+) of the industry’s brands, distributors, and retailers, recently announced the addition of Artie Minson to its executive team as the company’s president and chief operating officer. Minson, whose most recent employment was a…
The post From WeWork to Weed: Artie Minson Joins LeafLink as President, COO appeared first on Cannabis Business Executive – Cannabis and Marijuana industry news.
LeafLink, the New York-based online wholesale marketplace for the cannabis industry whose platform links and provides services to over 40 percent (10,000+) of the industry’s brands, distributors, and retailers, recently announced the addition of Artie Minson to its executive team as the company’s president and chief operating officer. Minson, whose most recent employment was a 5-year stint at WeWork, where he was hired as president and COO and left in 2020 as co-CEO, will be based out of LeafLink’s New York City headquarters. During a call with CBE shortly after the announcement, he talked about the serendipity that precipitated his move into cannabis, and why he is so excited to be joining LeafLink at this particular point in time.
“It’s actually a small-world story,” recounted Minson about how, thanks to LeafLink co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith, the cannabis bug came to bite him. “Ryan and I went to the same high school in New York City, although about 20 years apart. But it is a high school that has a very strong alumni network, and through that we got connected. He had reached out, and it’s funny, I initially said, ‘Look, it’s not for me.’ He was looking to bring in a CFO and a CEO, and I said I knew some folks, let’s just get together and meet and tell me about the company and I can point you in the direction of some folks that make sense. Since I left [WeWork], for the previous 18 months I had been working with a number of VC firms and private equity shops, advising and co-investing with them, and I was not really looking for a full-time job. But I met with Ryan, and I guess – since we’re on the phone here today – I was obviously super-impressed with what he and the team had built.”
Minson is well-acquainted with technology-based businesses at scale. “For the last 25 years, I’ve been in what I would call tech-enabled subscription businesses, whether at AOL, Time Warner Cable, and WeWork,” he added. “How do you use technology to bring a better customer experience, and then once you have a relationship with a customer, how do you deepen that relationship and sell them additional products and services?”
Always in a b2b environment? “Great question,” responded Minson. “At AOL, we had both a consumer offering and a b2b offering on the advertising on the ad tech side. At Time Warner Cable, that actually started as a consumer business, and then we started selling our products and services increasingly into medium-sized businesses and enterprises. At WeWork, we started with small businesses that were really consumers, a lot of sole proprietorships and small companies, and then sort of morphed into enterprise. So, this concept of being b to c to b has been something that I’ve been around a good part of my career.
“Another thing that was sort of unique as Ryan I talked about it,” he added, “was that whether it was at
AOL or cable – but particularly cable, which was a highly regulated business, where you had federal regulators, local and state regulators, and local and state competition – you have a national product and a national go-to-market strategy [in cannabis], but you’re really competing in a local market and often a local zip code. So, as we thought about LeafLink and how we bring customers on, deepen those relationships, and navigate on a state-by-state basis, it wound up being a lot of the same things that I had done in the past.”
Regarding what it was about the industry that appealing to him, “I’m a huge believer in the benefits of legalization, whether it’s the social benefits, the economic benefits, or it’s going to increasingly be the medical benefits,” said Minson. “I felt like the states have increasingly made the decision that this needs to be legalized, and therefore needs to be highly regulated. I thought at this point in my career, to actually join a company that’s helping shape the industry was a really interesting opportunity. So that’s what led me to join, and I also spent a lot of time with the team and came away super-impressed with Ryan and his vision. I also spent time with the board, what they thought the opportunities were at the company, what things they thought I could be helpful on, and it just wound up being a good fit what we think we needed at this point in time and what happen to be my skill sets.”
Those skill sets also helped define the titles that would best describe Minson’s role within the company. “I have been the president, and I’ve been the CFO, and I’ve been the CEO of a couple of different companies,” he explained, “and as Ryan and I sat down and we constructed the role that we both thought made sense, I will have a number of the corporate areas; for example, finance and legal and regulatory – those are more I would say traditional and on the President’s side. But at the same time, I’ll also have the go-to-market pieces of the business, so as we got into it, the President and COO role just sort of evolved out of those conversations.”
Minson will hit the ground running at the end of April following several months of preparation. “Ryan and I began to meet in early January, and I spent a few months learning the role LeafLink plays in the industry and talking to lots of people about all the different benefits legalization would bring,” he said. “I certainly went through my own education process and came away with, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“Technology Needs Scale”
As Minson prepares to enter an industry defined by its ever-shifting nature, I asked about his perspective on LeafLink’s role in it and also where he thinks the industry is in terms of marketing brands and delivering those brands to market.
“If you think about LeafLink’s role in the marketplace,” he said, “what they basically said is, ‘Let’s open the b2b marketplace that connects the buyers and the sellers, and let’s begin to make the purchasing and selling a lot easier whether you’re on the buy side or the sell side.’ And what they have done is increasingly bring a technology-in-a-box solution to people, saying not only can we help you with the marketplace, but we can help you as you think about enhancing your business, we can help you think about the supply chain side of your business, and we can help you on the data and analytics side. So, whether you’re on the branded side or whether you are on the retail side, having technology that can facilitate those things is critically important.
“Also,” he continued, “because this business is so segmented – where you go from the large, often publicly traded MSOs to the mom-and-pop retailers – and LeafLink has had to build a suite of products and services that serve all of them. It’s really the technology engine on the back end of the industry. In five or six years they have built roughly a mid-40 percent market share, and increasingly as states roll out and issue licenses, LeafLink can play a unique role as a partner in those conversations, saying to the person we’re issuing the license to, ‘Look, you’re getting a license, and here are all the benefits of being on the LeafLink technology platform.’ It allows someone to get their business going without having to make any of these technology investments on the back end on their own.”
Founded in 2015, LeafLink operates in about 30 states, which means abiding by 30 different regulatory regimes. I asked how LeafLink deals with that complexity and also if there are particular environments that are more amenable to LeafLink’s services.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “On the federal side, I think it’ll all get sorted out with legalization. But to your point, the states are not going to have 50 different solutions to the problem. I think they’re all learning and iterating, but if I’m putting myself in the mind of a regulator, making sure that these businesses are set up for success is super important. And look, technology investments require scale, and particularly when we think about some of the social equity programs, they’re not going to be able to afford the technology investments on their own. Making sure that there are partners like LeafLink – which, for example, can bring our financial solution to bear, or we can bring our warehousing solution to bear – I think our products are applicable to every market. There will always be market specific dynamics, but I think there will be a couple of technology solutions that take hold in the space, because technology requires scale. And when you have that scale, you can continue to invest and build the best technology out there.”
I asked Minson what it was about LeafLink’s SAAS technology that made him such a believer. “There’s a couple of things that I believed in,” he said. “One is, I believed in the overall growth of the market. Last year, they did roughly $5 billion of GMV (gross merchandise value) on the platform, and do I believe that we’re going to continue to see exponential growth in that? Yes, and I think every state budget has those projections baked in. As we continue to see state’s roll out on recreational medical, that’s just going to continue to grow, so their GMV is going to continue to naturally grow. What I saw was the opportunity to go to market, not just with individual point solutions of would you like to use our financing product or would you like to use our supply chain product or marketplace, but with a full suite of services for all of our customers. I think companies on the buy side and sell side are going to look to holistic solutions so that they don’t have to deal with a number of different technology providers, and that’s what I’ve done in the past – figure out ways as we go to market to go from selling in individual point solutions to getting customers using 2-3-4 of our services and our entire full suite of products. So that’s when I saw the opportunity of exponential growth in GMV, and exponential penetration of our products and services into our customers.
Minson was similarly optimistic about the competitive nature of the space in a time of increased M&A. “I think what Ryan and Zack (LeafLink co-founder Zack Silverman) were really smart about when they started the company was focusing on the b2b wholesale marketplace,” he said. “And while there are a lot of technology solutions out there – and some great ones and some large ones at scale on the
consumer-facing side – just look at the market share that LeafLink has garnered on the wholesale side of the business. I think their product is the de facto technology that people used on the wholesale back-end. So, I think they’re really well positioned there, and they’re well positioned to continue to add products and services to that suite. Do I think there’ll be consolidation in the space? Yes. I think it’ll be a really interesting decade ahead across the spectrum of companies in the space, but we feel really well positioned with our offering in the marketplace. Ryan and Zach have set this up for growth going forward.
“It’s interesting,” he added, about the competitive nature of the space. “At cable and AOL, we worked in some very competitive spaces, and this will also be a really competitive space, no doubt. But I think the most important thing for us to focus on is not necessarily what the competition is doing or not doing. Given where the industry is, we are rightfully focused on the growth ahead of us, and what is it that the customers need, and how do we best deliver that to them. I think if we do that correctly, and I’m confident we will, we will continue to build a really successful company. It’s an industry that is evolving as we’re on the phone, so it’s different from some of the normal competitive dynamics I’ve seen. I think the most important thing for us is to continue to focus on what is going to make our customers successful, and how we continue to bring really great products and customer service to the industry. That’s what I’m focused on.”
Has he had time to get a sense of what customers need? “I think it depends a little bit on the customer, whether they’re a large enterprise or a small retailer with one or two licenses,” said Minson. “I think what we’re trying to get to in this industry – and I think it will continue to evolve – is everyone specializing in what they are best at in the value chain. So, if you’re a brand and you’re specialized in building your brand and bringing it to market, or you want to provide the best retail experience, we want to let people do that and take the headaches out. Whether it’s the technology back end with us or partnering with someone else on the consumer facing side, if we can get to a point where everyone is allowed to specialize in what they do best and continue to innovate in their particular part of the value chain, I think that’s a win-win for the industry.”
LeafLink never touches the plant, but its software powers its delivery. “We partner with local warehouse providers and transportation providers,” explained Minson. “We are the software that helps power everything from a warehouse to the shipping supply chain, but we are not leaf touching.”
Partnerships vary. “We will partner with someone who has [a warehouse] and can help them do that,” he added. “Generally, they have found the warehouse, but we can also go in for people who are looking to develop a warehousing or a shipping solution in cannabis and partner with them, or they may have been in an ancillary business or industry, and we can help them get into the marketplace.”
One of LeafLink’s core services is marketing a challenge in any industry but especially daunting in cannabis. “Yes, I don’t think there’s any industry today that faces some of the issues that players in the cannabis industry face because it’s still illegal on the federal level,” said Minson. “Even though, as you said, you can have a brand across state lines, the products have to be grown in different states, and it creates a unique set of issues and challenges. But I do think that you’re going to see, as you’ve seen in other CPG industries, the emergence of brands. You will see the emergence of very local brands, and you’ll see the emergence of national brands, and I think that’s great. That’s exciting.”
I wondered if Minson thinks any of LeafLink’s products and services will out-performer the others, but he said no. “I think all of them are going to perform really well. I think there is a huge need for our financial products, I think it’s really important that there are scaled solutions in warehousing and supply chain management, and I think our marketplace product is best in class. So, yes, I expect that across the board, but also because we’re going to market not as individual point solutions, but as a full suite of services.”
What about rising interest rates? Did he see any issues related to capital availability and allocation as stock prices tank and the industry seems to be taking a bit of a drubbing in the public markets? “I’ve spent a lot of my career in the capital markets,” he said. “I think there is a lot of pent-up demand from entities who would like to have more exposure to this industry. There are questions given some of the banking regulations how they can best play, but I think people see that this is an industry that they can deploy capital into wisely, and so there is definitely demand. I think it’s how we work with partners who can play in the industry to best play.”
With all of those SKUs flowing through the LeafLink system, delivering all of that sales data regarding trends and preferences at the local and national level, I asked how the company uses the terabytes of data that stream incessantly through its platform. “We really do have a unique visibility into the performance of different brands and different retailers, and that has allowed us also to be a really meaningful player on the financial solutions side,” he said. “We’re going to use it in a way that we can figure out what additional products and services we can extract from this data to figure out how we can best partner with folks.”
Does that mean that if a promising brand is identified, LeafLink can provide capital to that brand? “Yes, we can be a financial solutions provider,” said Minson. “If they need more liquidity, for example, that’s something that our financial products allow them to tap into.”
LeafLink is a private company, but I asked Minson what he could share regarding revenue or debt. “What we have said publicly is last year we did about $5 billion of GMV on the platform,” he said. “That’s not a revenue number, but it was the transaction value on the platform. We’ve raised $130 million of equity to date, and we’ve also raised a $250 million credit facility. We use that credit facility as a financing solution for our partners.”
The company also is hiring. “We’re certainly hiring engineers,” offered Minson, “and we’re hiring people on the sales and marketing side.”
Before we hung up, I asked about the role of customer service in the cannabis industry, and how important it is to establish relationships based on trust and reliability on the software side of the business. “I think it’s super important,” said Minson. “I think your partners want to know that you’re well-capitalized, that you’re focused on their best interest, and that you’re focused on them growing their business. I think increasingly this laser focus on customer service you’ve seen in industries over the last decade or so is really what separates winners. So yes, we are going to be really focused on that. We will take a customer-centric view on the technology of what works for our customers, and that’s what you’ve seen us do over the years. What started as a marketplace is now a full suite of services, and I expect us to continue to add products and services to that suite.”
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