Cannacurio Podcast Episode 2 with Taylor Jones of Blackbird

In this week's Cannacurio Podcast, join my co-host, Amanda Guerrero, and I as we catch up on data trends and news from the Cannabiz Media License Database and speak with Taylor Jones, Vice President of Sales for Blackbird, a software and operations company and distributor servicing the cannabis industry. Taylor shares insights about the cannabis industry, sales, data, and surviving and thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Cannacurio Podcast Episode 1 Transcript

Announcer: This is the Cannacurio podcast by Cannabiz Media, your source for cannabis and hemp license updates directly from the data vault. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Cannabiz Media newsletter and follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Stay informed of future episodes and data releases.

Amanda Guerrero: Welcome to the Cannacurio podcast by Cannabiz Media. We’re your hosts, Amanda Guerrero and Ed Keating. For today’s show, we’ll be joined by Taylor Jones, Vice President of Sales at Blackbird. Before we jump in with Taylor, let’s check in with Ed and see what he’s learned from the data this week.

Ed Keating: So, this week we’re taking a departure from the other data updates we’ve been doing where we’ve been reporting on different states releasing new licenses and that type of information. So, what I want to talk about this week was all the social data that we have in the product, which is all gathered by hand.

So right now, we have over 45,000 points of contact in our database, and that doesn’t even include Leafly, Weedmaps, and AllBud, which is another 7,600 data points. So between Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and website URLs, we’ve really built out some very complete profiles on a lot of the license holders we have in the database.

And we put that in there for a reason, which is really to help our customers figure out ways to engage and connect with the license holders they’re trying to reach. One of the big trends in marketing is really trying to focus your efforts, and it’s often called account-based marketing where you really try and go after sort of a key account strategy, which is very different than what a lot of people do, especially in the cannabis space – which is often referred to as spray and pray emails where they just keep sending out the same message to the same people.

So to help our customers move beyond that, we’re really trying to help them by providing a lot of other data. So, with account based marketing, it really helps you define a set of targeted accounts and then reach out to them, and essentially a personalized way to get hold of them.

So Amanda, you’re sort of a good example here, because before joining Cannabiz Media you were a customer. So, I’m curious how you utilize these data points.

Amanda Guerrero: Yep, that’s right. Before I joined the team here at Cannabiz Media, I actually utilized the platform when I worked for a staffing and recruiting firm here within the cannabis space. So, some of the ways that we would utilize the data would be around the email campaigns as well as the social media links.

You’ll find prospecting within the industry, there are a few different avenues that you can choose to obtain data and information, but the best way we found to communicate with some of these license holders was not only through traditional routes of email marketing, but it really was through reaching out over Instagram, Facebook, as well as sometimes old-fashioned picking up the phone and cold calling these clients or these prospects and seeing if they were interested in our services.

Ed Keating: Yeah. Well, just to sort of putting a fine point on the data is that, with email, it’s kind of an on and off thing. You send it and you’re done and there’s really not much beyond that. But as I’ve been evaluating Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and even websites, it gives you the dual ability to both research and engage. So, I think that’s a pretty important way to go beyond just hitting the one button.

Now, in addition to providing the social information, which is a great resource and asset for our customers, as we help them work the sales funnel from suspect to prospect through closing the deal, we’ve also added information on trade associations. And Amanda, this really speaks to one of your key roles here at Cannabiz Media. So, I wonder if you could tell us more about which associations we’ve brought in and how that’s useful to our customers.

Amanda Guerrero: Yeah, absolutely Ed. So, in terms of our current trade association partners, we’re working with the National Cannabis Industry Association, the Minority Cannabis Business Association, Humboldt County Growers. We’re also working with a group in Arizona called MITA, Marijuana Industry Trade Association, and a few others that have really provided us with not only quality data in terms of their partnership with us, but also too has really been a great partnership to help build community relations within each of those markets.

We’re getting to learn more about the business demographics within each space as well as the breakdown between license holders and are helping to bring awareness to various associations within those markets through our partnership.

If you are a trade association and would like to learn more about our partnership program, feel free to reach out to me. I’ll have our contact information included when we post this recording here. So, definitely reach out. We’re looking forward to onboarding more of you guys this year.

Ed Keating: Well, that’s great. The data team will be ready, able, and waiting to bring them online. And also, just to alert everybody that the next Cannacurio data post I’m going to write is going to be more about the social and all these other elements that we’re highlighting in the platform.

Amanda Guerrero: Well, thanks for that Ed. Can’t wait to see what you guys come up with next. We’re going to take a quick commercial break here, and when we come back, we’ll be joined by our guest, Taylor Jones. So stay tuned.

Amanda Guerrero: Well, welcome back to the Cannacurio podcast. Today we are joined with Taylor Jones. Taylor, welcome to the show. How are you today?

Taylor Jones: I’m doing great Amanda. Thank you and Ed for having me on.

Amanda Guerrero: Thank you for coming on. We’re very excited to have you. As I’ve mentioned previously guys, he is the VP of Sales at Blackbird and is one of Cannabiz Media’s longest users here.

So Taylor, I know all about your background, but share it with our guests here. How long have you been in the industry and what were you doing before?

Taylor Jones: Yeah, so I graduated college from the University of Kentucky, and I definitely knew I wanted to get into some type of technology role. I started working for an Oracle partner and began learning a lot about ERP systems. And one night I just kind of had a light bulb moment where I was curious how the cannabis industry was dealing with the supply chain and what technologies were involved in that.

So in 2015, I began my career in the cannabis space with BioTrack THC, and I worked there for about three and a half years before coming over to Baker Technologies, and then through our merger as Tilt Holdings in the acquisition of Blackbird, which is now our go to market brand after we combined our people and software. So, it’s been about five years, but it feels like 15 or 20, to say the least.

Ed Keating: A lot of people do talk about these years being like internet years or dog years, so that’s no surprise. I was hoping, Taylor, that you could tell us a little bit more about Blackbird’s set of offerings to the market, because it looks to be a really compelling suite.

Taylor Jones: Yeah, totally. So Blackbird provides software and operations for the cannabis space, so essentially touching every point in the supply chain. So really starting with the operations side of things.

We are a licensed distributor in the state of Nevada and California. So we essentially move product from A to B. So either from cultivator, manufacturer to retailer, or directly from… In the state of California, everything has to go through a distribution license. So, essentially really logistics on that side of the business.

And then furthermore for operations, we also do home delivery services in the state of Nevada right now as well, which has been pretty crazy the last couple of weeks, obviously, with the current situation in the country with the COVID-19 virus. The actual governor of Nevada has issued no pickup orders at dispensaries in Nevada, and so it’s strictly delivery. So we’ve been quite busy the last few weeks with our current retail partners there.

On the software side of things, we have essentially an all-in-one solution for retailers. So we can provide a point of sale that integrates with our e-commerce tool but also comes with a very robust loyalty and texting program. And that combines all kind of in one central solution, which also can get you a space on our marketplace, which is Blackbird Go.

So really trying to take each point in the supply chain and give retailers the tools they need to be successful to keep people engaged. And with recent events we’ve all seen that clients and retailers have really kind of taking note of how important their digital presence is online.

Ed Keating: That’s great. It really seems that you’ve got a comprehensive end-to-end solution and whenever you can help a customer sort of own their workflow, that’s usually something that’s really valuable and a product that they want to keep around.

Now jumping over to the data side, we look at all the data that comes across our desks and through our systems. I’m curious sort of what insights you’ve got from the COVID crisis, because you mentioned Nevada, I’m sure there’s some interesting data points that you’ve got insight into.

Taylor Jones: Yeah, so at a high level, across the board with our clients, we’ve definitely seen a spike in the number of online orders. If you look at most states, the medical dispensaries that were deemed essential businesses, most of them are doing either pickup only or what they’re calling curbside orders. So, that has definitely been popular.

Obviously when those orders are running through our system, there’s a major spike. But I think the real interesting piece has to do with the average order size, and what we’ve seen is that has increased significantly. About two weeks ago, we actually launched the cannabis industry’s first e-commerce tool that has integrated loyalty and rewards.

So what that means is from a consumer experience, how typical, where consumers would redeem their rewards in store via our iPads set up, they’re actually allowed to do that online now, which the timing couldn’t have been better because you’re not disrupting that consumer experience from your online presence as well now. As well as the ability for customers to opt into text messages on the eCommerce tool as well. So we’re really excited about that.

But as far as data, yeah, so obviously the spike in online orders for pickup, but really, I think the most interesting thing is we’re seeing people stock up on product, very similar to how they’re stocking up on other goods. The whole toilet paper thing has been kind of funny recently in news, but people are buying a lot of product to make sure that they’re stocked up for who knows what could happen next, essentially. Yeah.

Ed Keating: That’s right. That’s right. Well, it sounds like you guys are really hitting it on a lot of cylinders. As you look back, what would you say has been the biggest achievement in the last 12 months?

Taylor Jones: Yeah. So, in late 2018 when we announced our merger with Tilt Holdings and then acquiring Blackbird in February of 2019, 2019 was really a year of combining our people in software. So, that’s definitely our biggest achievement. I don’t think there’s another company in the space, or two companies in the space, where you take two leaders in their vertical and you’re able to combine their teams and their software offering.

So essentially all of Baker’s technologies, customers, we essentially rebuilt Baker inside of Blackbird. We merged and moved all of those customers over to Blackbird’s platform. And then you take in the merging of people and internal process and what internal tools do you use and how can you eliminate and cut costs and be able to kind of combine the company. That was definitely a major challenge for us in 2019, and it’s something that we’re super proud about to kind of come out on top and go forward as Blackbird, as one team, and one offering that we feel is extremely competitive in the market.

Ed Keating: Well, and the timing sounds like it really was great because of that merger. It sounds like you went through a lot of that contraction, rationalizing, zero-based budgeting kind of things that we’ve all gone through at other companies well before everybody else who suddenly got perhaps surprised by what was happening with access to capital last year and now certainly with the COVID crisis. So hopefully that puts you really in good shape looking forward.

Taylor Jones: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think, with the COVID virus happening right now. It’s a tough time for a lot of startup companies. And if you think about it, every cannabis company in some cases is a startup company, and we have either the luxury or the trouble of servicing startups as well.

So, we’ve seen recent layoffs announced in the last week, and it’s a sad thing what’s happening. And hopefully, as an industry, we can just come together and try to get through this thing together.

Amanda Guerrero: Yeah. Well, that’s actually kind of a perfect segue here, Taylor, for… I’d love to kind of learn a little bit more about some of the ways that you’re utilizing Cannabiz Media, but before we get into that, we just want to make sure our listeners know that while the times are troubled and our sales teams are adjusting to a completely remote life, our tool is here to help you generate leads and to generate revenue during this time. So, definitely reach out to us if you want to learn more, if you have any questions. But Taylor, so what are some of the ways that you and your team utilize Cannabiz Media?

Taylor Jones: Yeah, absolutely. So, I’ve actually been using Cannabiz Media since I came over to Baker in early 2018. So, I love how Amanda called me a power user. That’s kind of funny. But I’ve worked really close with Larry and Ed throughout the last couple of years, and it’s been an extremely value add to the point where, I tell other companies that we don’t compete with to use Cannabiz essentially, just because I really feel the ROI that we get out of it is simply incredible.

So, the way we use Cannabiz is… I sum it up in a couple sentences. I really think the biggest value add is it’s a time saver, and as a sales rep and as someone who manages a sales team, time is the most valuable asset you have as someone in sales.

So if you can do anything to become more efficient in your process and streamline things where I can give my team data at their fingertips to where they’re not searching the Department of Ag or Department of Health websites trying to standardize all this stuff, that alone right there, there’s a return on that simple investment of just our time.

Now kind of going into, how quickly do we see the ROI when using Cannabiz? I’ll give you an example. So, Missouri just issued 192 dispensary licenses. Out of those 192 licenses, 87 companies own those licenses. So once those are issued, those are getting posted on the Department of Health website of Missouri. That’s great and all. But what we were able to do with Cannabiz is as soon as those get hit, right, we’re exporting those out of the system or using it in… We’re able to call those phone numbers and start to engage with those clients prior to them making decisions on technology.

So from a technology perspective, a lot of the licenses that get issued, these business owners, especially in new markets, they’re very unaware, to an extent, right, of what solutions are out there. So if you’re not knocking on their door, how do they know you exist? Right?

I mean, SEO these days for point of sale, for instance, there’s 50 plus cannabis point of sales. Right? Is a client going to go and do demos with 50 companies? Probably not. However, we just attended a show in St. Louis right before the virus thing started actually, and it was super encouraging to have a ton of license holders come up to our booth and say, “Hey, we’ve heard about Blackbird. You guys have either been calling or emailing us information about your system. We want to learn more.”

So, really what we do is, from a new market standpoint, we’re able to engage with those license holders pretty much immediately once they’re issued. Now, in growing markets, California for example, as they transferred from temporary licenses to annual licenses, it really gave us the ability to create a list in Cannabiz, set alerts to where I could wake up in the morning and I can get an email of every single license that was issued with contact information in most cases, and have the ability to contact that license holder, hopefully faster than our competitors.

And as the cannabis space has evolved, at least for me the last five years, sometimes getting to a prospect first could get you the deal. Right? And once they move forward with that particular software, it might take them a little bit of time until they feel pain points, until they start looking for another vendor. So, that’s really how we use it from that stand point of view with the list piece. But really it’s just accessing it all in one.

Ed Keating: Yeah. One point I wanted to make is that in places like Missouri and just recently in West Virginia, we try when we can to get applicant data to help you out even further. So, to sort of warm up some of those people who have applied for a license. They don’t know if they’re going to get one, but they’re certainly hoping that they do.

And that’s another way to start to warm up some of those people, whether it be through phone calls, websites, emails, to just let them know that, “Listen, we’re a service provider,” and especially with the company that you’re with, “We know this space really well and we can help you out.” And I think for, if you will, sort of newbies in states like West Virginia, they really welcome an introduction to somebody like you.

Taylor Jones: Yeah, absolutely.

Amanda Guerrero: Yeah. No, Taylor, that was a really great, great, great, great response and great answer. Prior to this we talked to… And Taylor said he didn’t want to give away all of his tools and tricks, but I think he just did everybody so pay attention. But going along with what Ed had mentioned earlier in our data highlights, Taylor, do you use our social media as part of your research or your outreach strategy?

Taylor Jones: Yeah, absolutely. So, it varies across license types. Right? For most retailers, and on the software side, we’re able to find their website. We have an understanding to an extent of what type of digital tools they’re using based off what’s on their website.

On the distribution side, not every cultivation has a website, and not every cultivator has… It’s hard to get that contact info. But most cultivators have Instagram because they want to take pictures and show off their grow. So social media definitely is something that we’re using specifically for growers and distributors, manufacturers on Instagram.

From a LinkedIn perspective, I think for myself and our team it’s more about getting directly to the decision maker. For instance, in California a lot of the budtenders are very trained to kind of… And I think it might go back to when it was a gray market and their boss had told them like anyone calls and asks for the owner or asks for someone in charge, don’t pass me the phone or give out contact information. So that’s always been a struggle in more kind of OG markets that went from gray area to now they’re a legal market officially.

But yeah, LinkedIn is extremely effective. I think there’s a way to use it where you can combine finding those names on Cannabiz where you guys have that LinkedIn link, because not all the times, there’s a few times where maybe their attorney applied for the license, so that phone number is the attorney.

Well, if you’re pretty upfront with people and honest when you make that super cold call and they’re like, “How did you get my number?” That happens all the time. Those are usually my favorite calls. If you’re just honest and upfront and you’re there to help them figure out if your company’s even a fit. Right?

I think if you take that approach, you really have an edge over the competition. That’s just, the car salesman type that’s calling and just pushing sales, sales, sales instead of really understanding and trying to build a quick relationship to understand it, if you guys can help out them at all. So, that’s been super effective with LinkedIn messaging as far as social media.

Ed Keating: Good insights in terms of how to make the most out of the tools and information that we provide. Pulling back a little bit, I wanted to ask about sort of your view of the trends in the industry. Like any markets that you think are interesting? Like Canada is one that we still hear a lot about now. I was curious sort of, what Blackbird is doing in Canada?

Taylor Jones: Yeah. So Canada’s an interesting market. I think from a regulation standpoint it’s very separated by province. So for instance, loyalty is kind of looked down upon. There’s marketing restrictions in Canada, so you can’t discount based on how much a client purchases.

One thing that’s been interesting with a few clients we have is they have moved more towards a visits-based loyalty program. So they’re not necessarily incentivizing on spend. It’s more based on how many times you come to the store, you can earn points. And maybe they’re not giving away products, but they’re giving you the ability to access swag or some type of accessories.

What I see happening in Canada today, I think there’s around 800 dispensary licenses roughly, currently. I don’t believe all of those are active right now. I think the most interesting province to me currently right now is Ontario.

Ontario kind of went the government route where they had this online store, and now it’s kind of gotten back to the point where there’s been enough conversation where they didn’t have enough way to actually meet the demand, and the black market was still thriving that now you have an opportunity to issue 1,000 to 2,000 retail licenses in a very heavy populated place like Toronto, where that becomes a much bigger opportunity than…

If you look at California right now, what, there’s only call it 700 dispensers in a 39 million people in the state. As well as a lot of local municipalities that actually haven’t even approved recreational cannabis in California. So, Canada had its own issues. I think the slow rollout of vapes and edibles and stuff has also hurt their market in general.

But from what I’m hearing, that’s starting to pick up, and that’s how you fight the black market, right? Consistency with dosing and edibles, consistent clean vapes, those are the products that you can beat the black market with. And I think that’s starting to happen.

Here in Colorado for instance, I don’t believe our black market’s as strong, and I think as you see a market mature and the prices start to come down, and hopefully they start to tax it less, so you can compete from a price point perspective, it just helps the industry overall.

Ed Keating: Well, that’s a great spin of Canada. And one of the final points I wanted to touch on was you have been one of our longest using customers, definitely a power user as Amanda described, and you were also the inspiration for a lot of the data reporting that we’re now doing in Cannacurio. You approached us early on and said, “Hey, we’d really like to look at dispensary retailer growth in the US by state by month. Can you do that?” And we figured out a way to do that, and that really laid the groundwork for how we’ve been doing these other Cannacurio reports basically every month or every quarter depending on the license activity that we’re covering.

So, I wanted to thank you. I couldn’t have this podcast go ahead without putting that note in there, because it’s really helped us use our data to tell a story in ways that we hadn’t been. So, thanks for giving us that idea, probably like 18 months ago.

Taylor Jones: Yeah, yeah. No problem at all. You guys have been a tremendous help to us as well. And really just trying to, helping us figure out our strategy. Right? It’s interesting to look at how states are issuing new licenses and we always appreciated, myself and Glenn McElfresh who actually was a part of making that request, getting that customer report sent to us. So, thank you as well.

Ed Keating: Excellent.

Amanda Guerrero: Yeah, I mean, Taylor, you’ve been one of my longest friends here in the industry. We met each other back in 2015 and just to kind of watch your career grow and to just have your support here at the Cannabiz Media team. For all of us, thank you for joining us today. We so look forward to publishing this podcast so the rest of the world can hear what your experience has been, as well as hopefully getting to see you after quarantine, after COVID, and we all get to laugh about this over cocktails at a trade show.

Taylor Jones: Yeah, absolutely.

Amanda Guerrero: Thank you for joining us today.

Taylor Jones: Yeah. Thanks Amanda. And just one more note, I just want to, with everything happening with the COVID-19 virus, a lot of our trade shows have been canceled or moved out to the fall, which if you’re in sales or marketing right now, you should be changing your strategy.

If you can’t get in front of customers, then your outreach and your cold calling has become even more important than it ever has before. And I would just highly recommend, not to our competitors, but to every other cannabis company that is targeting operators, that you should subscribe to Cannabiz Media.

Amanda Guerrero: Well, you heard it here first folks, Cannabiz Media is the tool to help you stay connected to license holders during this virtual remote time. Thanks again for joining us Taylor.

Ed, bringing it back over to you. What do we have to look forward to next week?

Ed Keating: So, as we discussed earlier in the pod, really focusing in on the social data, how people can use that, best practices, et cetera. And we’re also in the process of getting a lot of hemp data starting to come back in as we’ve reached out to the states, because most of these licenses are now operational because it’s April 1, people are trying to put seed in the ground. So we wanted to wait to request this information from the states when there was a full set of data to be received. So we’ve brought that in.

We’ve also been adding in selective violations data. I just recently put in some from Connecticut, got more for Maryland, and a few other locations as well. So we try and get that information where we can. Really hard to get, typically have to request it from the state, and some will provide it, and some will just laugh and say, “No.”

Amanda Guerrero: Well, I hope they don’t say no. But I guess as is with anything in life, perseverance is key, and I’m glad that you and the data team are on it.

Thanks again everyone for joining us on the Cannacurio podcast sponsored by Cannabiz Media. We are your hosts, Amanda Guerrero and Ed Keating. Hope you all have a great rest of your day. Thanks for tuning in.

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