Cannacurio Podcast Episode 63 with Shahbaaz

On this episode of the Cannacurio Podcast, Ed Keating chats with Shahbaaz Kara-Virani, Principal at SKVentures. They dive into Shahbaaz's unique career journey from Salesforce to the cannabis industry and discuss the key challenges and trends in cannabis business operations and technology. Learn about the importance of actionable data, the evolving cannabis tech stack, and how to navigate the fast-paced cannabis market.

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Cannacurio Podcast Episode 63 Transcript

Ed Keating: Welcome to the Cannacurio podcast powered by Cannabiz Media. I'm your host, Ed Keating, and on today's show, we're joined by Shahbaaz Kara-Virani, the principal of SK Ventures. Co -founder of Canacquire and Cannabis Collective. Shahbaaz, welcome to the show.

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: Ed, it's such a pleasure to be here. I can't tell you how lucky I am and grateful that I'm here. So thank you for having me.

Ed Keating: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, we got a chance to meet back in Miami a couple of weeks ago at a really interesting conference and had a great conversation there. So I'm looking forward to continuing it, uh, today. Where I wanted to start is, is kind of your background, cause it's pretty unique, you know, and looking back at where you've been, you were at Salesforce, sort of traditional corporate, and then Lift, then Dutchie, then Kind. Like, how did you go from there to here?

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: Uh, before we get into it, and that's a fantastic question. Before we get into it, I wanted to Uh, let everyone know who's listening that, uh, our meeting, our chance meeting was one of the most beautiful conversations, uh, and the start of an amazing friendship. So thank you for, uh, you know, however, it was that we jumped into that conversation.

It was just. It was lovely. So I just really appreciate it. And now we're here. So, um, thank you for the question and thanks for the opportunity again. Um, so I guess I've always, I subscribe to the notion of the more, you know, the less you know, um, and you know, or the more you ought to know or whatever the case is, but as you get more information, um, you know, your world starts to open up significantly and, you know, there's always more to learn.

Um, I didn't come from the CPG world. I didn't know what CPG was. I didn't know how a bar of soap got on, you know, a shelf. I didn't know why my mom was always buying, you know, Tide or, you know, why she was going from one grocery store to the other grocery store. Um, I didn't realize, you know, the power of a brand or anything like that.

Um, I took finance degree in school in, uh, Canada at a spot called, uh, Western. It was known for, it's the only Canadian school on, uh, Playboy's Party list, which is right behind me. Um, but I also play soccer there, which is amazing. So athletics and education have always been part of my life. Um, right after school, I didn't know what to do and I went to sales force and that's kind of really where my like world started to open up.

Um, I graduated with a finance degree in organizational, uh, management, uh, degree, and I didn't even know what that meant. I didn't know economics. I didn't know what I didn't know what I was studying, which is crazy to think, but the life skills I got from university, uh, and thecompetitiveness I got from sports kind of led me to salesforce.

I was at salesforce for six years and my primary, um, roles over the years were, uh, understanding organizations, how they move, um, how they ebb and flow, uh, you know, figuring out organizations, um, all the way from mid market to enterprise, make decisions. And then from there being able to attribute, um, you know, problems.

or the problems that they're going to have based on the changing industries that they operate in and then selling them a suite of technology. And I fell in love with Salesforce, the best company in the world. Are you, you're familiar with Salesforce? Oh yeah. Salesforce amazing training company. Um, you know, they're a technology company.

Second, they're a sales company. Company first, the amount of guidance you get, the amount of at bats, you get the amount of opportunities you have to sell within that organization was awesome. And I was a generalist. I sold all of the products and I quarterbacked a lot of different deals. Uh, and, um, I was going through my career.

I was about 25 years old, 26 years old. I'd been there for about six years, seven years. So I was 26. Um, I'd been there for six years and, uh, I got asked to be part of this global accelerate leadership program, which is, um, basically a program designed for individual contributors, um, who are getting into leadership.

Um, because one of the problems that Salesforce realized was that, uh, sales leaders aren't don't necessarily make or individual contributors. High performers don't necessarily make the best sales leaders. So this was designed to make you a, you know, uh, it was like a hundred thousand dollar investment.

Like you go, you fly to different offices, you learn a whole bunch of stuff. It's a 12 month intensive program, you know, your leadership purpose, your why, all that sort of stuff. And it was actually designed to keep you at the company. Um, after I went through that, I was, no,

Ed Keating: it didn't work?

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: No it Did not, it did not work. Um, for a, like I learned a lot, but I also learned that I just, you know, my.

At the time I was playing pro beach soccer and we were leaving to go to a trip to Italy. My brother was on the team. We, the Canadian beach soccer team, and we were talking and he said, you know, he was the one who got me into Salesforce. And he was the one who said, you know, like, what's the greatest risk you've ever taken in your life.

And, you know, I, I'd always been afraid of failure. I think failure as like a, as like a thing as like this concept is like so frowned upon when you're growing up. Um, you know, at least it was in my house and I had all this pressure to like, do all the good things, make all the teams, get the A's, you know, do all the things, but it's like, We never got to embrace failure or share the journey.

And so I started to get into this mode where I used to, you know, ask myself, like, am I actually good? That's the answer. That's the question. Everyone asks when they're in salesforce. It's like, are you good? Are you not good? And I was like, am I actually good? You know, I've made club. I've done some cool things.

I've been here for 6. 5 years, but like, I want to build my own team. I want to understand different concepts. I want to help take a company public. I want to learn different That was my journey at Salesforce. Any questions before I move on to my wonderful, wonderfully grateful cannabis journey?

Ed Keating: Yeah, I'm curious. I'm curious about the, the, the cannabis journey part, because that's a, it's a, it's a big jump, you know, something I can totally relate to you being in very traditional industries and then suddenly being in this one. So, so go for it. How did, how did you, uh, leave Salesforce and then go on to these other great companies?

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: The way I left Salesforce was, um, the way I never thought I'd leave Salesforce. Um, it was July. Uh, and it was, you know, our half year end, half year end, fiscal year end, you know, company like Salesforce, like those are the you're selling. Um, I left to go on a trip to Italy right before I left. I closed a big deal with a plumbing company, uh, had never been really heard of before.

Uh, I had, you know, my, my plaque, uh, in my office, you know, the president's club thing. I already lined up a job to be a manager. Um, and, uh, I got this offer from lift and co, which is a Canadian, uh, Canadian company, not sure how much you know about them. I'm assuming lots. Yeah. Um, they were the darlings of the cannabis industry in 2018.

Uh, there were a medical, uh, blog, uh, more than a second. I got a job as a head of sales. Um, you know, you think, you know, everything coming from Salesforce, you turns out, you know, nothing, um, because I didn't know so much about CPG cannabis, anything medical market, whatever the cases, um, flew to Italy. We played a game.

I had two offers on the table. Um, you know, I'd already kind of taken the Salesforce offer, but then I took the Lyft offer and I had to come back and call my manager and tell him that I was no longer going to be at Salesforce as a manager. Uh, he got, you know, pretty upset with me, uh, at the time. Uh, I get it because it had counted already, you know, the teams had already been set, et cetera.

But the same day I was supposed to start at Salesforce, I actually started at Lyft was in 2018, September 4th. And that was right before, um. Cannabis went legal recreationally in Canada. Well, the time lift was a big event org. Um, and my job was to come in and turn it into a SAS org. Um, you know, monetize three new products, train a sales, train a sales team.

Um, oh yeah. And, you know, help take this company public in the midst of maybe the biggest thing that's ever happened in Canada since. You know, a long time, uh, which was to take, you know, turn this thing into a recreational lens. Um, and I was like, simple, sure. Let's go. I'm not, yeah, I know. Um, anyways, fast forward, was able to kind of help, you know, take that company public.

We did some great things. We launched cancel, which is government mandated retail training program in Ontario. Um, that was kind of one of my babies. Um, and you know, it was there for a solid 18 to 19 months. Um, COVID. You know, it was a challenging time. Uh, and, uh, unfortunately, you know, lift had to kind of ship gears a little bit.

Uh, and it was in that moment where, um, I found Dutchie and Dutchie found me. Uh, Ross Lipson, um, fantastic leader. Um, you know, great, great person to have so many amazing things to say. About what he's done for the cannabis industry in general. Um, you know, at the time, uh, they were looking for a country manager of Canada.

Um, I'd never sold e commerce before. And so I, uh, I went to Duchy and helped kind of lead the Canadian charge, which was a huge, um, reason why Duchy was able to, you know, actually raise, you know, win the race to raising at the time. Um, Oh, sorry about that. I think it froze when, when, uh, when the race to raising at the time.

And so it was the country manager there for about a year. And then I switched to building the Dutchie plus, uh, platform, which is kind of that Shopify platform. Um, experience native e com, you know, um, you know, ability to customize no longer I frames just giving a wall to wall experience for an e commerce solution in the cannabis industry.

Um, and then we started to acquire. They actually start to acquire Leaflogix and, you know, some, uh, green bits and kind of that, that game started to turn on. And, uh, you know, I learned a lot of, you know, one of the reasons I took that job was I wanted to learn how to, uh, sell internally, um, you know, Canadian.

Um, you know, how do I fi that I need internally at that's growing, building It's also where I realized be in the states and that need to kind of look at b The nice thing about the Canadian market in Ontario specifically is it's a beautiful canvas for beta testing and, you know, an innovation center is what I like to call the Canadian market.

Um, before I move on from Dutchie, any thoughts, obviously I know you're pretty familiar with the, with the organization. Yeah, no, no.

Ed Keating: I mean, it sounds like a very interesting evolution. I know as I've looked back on my career, there are times when I realized that you know, because of the training and the path, it was, you know, Truly that medical model of see one, do one, teach one.

And it sounds like you followed maybe a similar thing where you get that great training, practice it, and then you get to run your own shop. And that's always a lot of fun to get to that stage.

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: Big, big time. And the, and the beautiful thing is, you know, um, a, we use Cannabiz Media, um, as a key tool for, uh, expansion and scale across different states.

So. You know, shameless plug, awesome tool, awesome solution would highly recommend it if you're a sales leader and, you know, scaling across different markets, each market is different. Um, but the, the other piece is like, I've always been a skill chaser, like money, money is a motivator money. Uh, of course you have to kind of make a certain amount to, to, to live and breathe and do what you need.

But, you know, I really believe in that graphic that as soon as you make us that certain amount, there's this, you know, this trade off between time and energy and. things. And my motivator has always been skill chasing. Um, so I can learn and then I can help multiply success and kind of help, you know, grow the next generation of talent because I had some really amazing people do that for me and believe me.

And I'm a huge believer in believing in people because oftentimes people are one, you know, belief Uh, away from like greatness kind of thing, but they just don't have that level of belief from anyone. So I kind of want to be that person and for me to do that, my leadership purpose and my leadership philosophy is I have to go understand how to do certain things and learn them, uh, so that I can, you know, at least be in the trenches and I believe in ground game basically.

Um, and so I, uh, I went from Dutchie. Uh, I wrote about this the other day on my LinkedIn post, but I went from Dutchie after they had just raised 600 million value to 3. 75 billion to a print magazine called kind media. Uh, and events as one

Ed Keating: does, right? That's that's what everybody does. So, yeah,

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: you know what I, that's, I said, every therein lies, like I've always kind of just made great moves, but then had scratching moves for some.

And, you know, my parents, my dad, especially has always just been like, Just go. He's always believed in me. Everyone was like, you're leaving sales for us. You're leaving Dutchie. You're it's like, Oh, hold it. We'll hold the, hold the phone here. Uh, and so, uh, I went to, um, I went to kind, uh, kind of as a, a magazine.

Um, I had some experience obviously throwing trade shows. Um, I love the founder, Josh Nagel. Um, Again, just to, you know, I hate to always kind of reference Playboy, but Playboy is, um, you know, a really important part of, um, you know, our kind of culture in, you know, North America, um, because of what they were able to represent.

Like they, Playboy was the first kind of, uh, publication to bring, you know, black and white people together on Playboy's penthouse. They published, um, you know, Martin Luther King's last will and testament. Um, and they did that and they, and they were, you know, they were, uh, against the Vietnam war as well.

And they gave people a. Uh, an opportunity to kind of, you know, build this counterculture. Um, but you know, their vehicle was obviously, um, you know, based on kind of sexuality and things like that in a conservative time, whereas, you know, the vehicle I was thinking of is, you know, this was during COVID COVID was a very scary place for the world.

There's a lot of fear driving, um, a lot of different things. And so I thought to myself, um, after watching that documentary in a Mexico city apartment, I said, um, you know, there's something greater here. And like, You know, the missing currency in the world is kindness. And if we can, you know, bring a little kindness, bring a little love, sprinkle that with some weed and some lifestyle, maybe there's an opportunity here to change minds, bring people together and make them feel good.

And then for the last two years, basically, I set off on this journey to, um, to build, Kind, um, you know, one of the best event companies in the world, extremely experiential, creative. You know, we, um, we wrote the playbook on butt tender sampling in Canada. I wrote it at my desk and then we administered it.

So if you're a butt tender, you come to one of kinds events, you get up to 30 grams of cannabis sampled by all of these different amazing brands and a passport. Um, you know, it's for consumers, it's for retail executives, it's for. You know, regular people, right? The first year we did a cannabis carnival, um, you know, where each brand, the brief was, you have to kind of bring a game type theme.

So that idea is that like you lower the barrier of entry because cannabis is very, still a very spooky place for consumers and things of that nature. And then after doing that for two years, um, I've always been building side. Businesses getting ready for my own type of venture firm, because I also believe that, um, there's a disconnect between the top and the ground.

Um, you know, there's, you know, the venture capitalists and the, you know, the family offices, um, then you have the sea levels and you have, you know, and there's, and there's all these breaks and it's just, you know. You have to be on the ground and be able to, you know, take that ground level knowledge and push it up.

Um, whereas also you have to be able to make decisions that understand, you know, um, macro kind of movements and, and, and the strategies to, to really understand kind of where the margins are to win in this industry. And so. Um, I've been having this idea for quite some time, uh, and I've, I've built SK Ventures, which is basically, um, I like to say, you know, I'm originally from East Africa, um, Kenya.

Uh, have you ever been, Ed?

Ed Keating: No, no, not yet. Not yet.

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: Not yet. But you'll like this analogy, I think. So, um, Maasai Mara, the Savannah, you know, it's, uh, it borders with the Serengeti, um, you know, there's a bunch of different animals and species in that, in that, in that Savannah, um, all coexisting and living. They go to the watering hole, you know, there's, uh, this, uh, amazing collaboration of different species.

Um, you know, they're getting marshlands and all sorts of different things. Uh, and so, um, I'm trying to be essentially the, the reservoir, um, and the, uh, the, the, the ecosystem that you kind of tap into, uh, and, you know, based on what you're trying to do or tap into. I can help you grow or, you know, uh, help you scale or help you, you know, make an introduction or hire the right person kind of thing with the, with the notion that one day I'll have the right, you know, level of funding to actually, you know, be able to reinvest back to these organizations to help them grow to the next level.

Ed Keating: So it's kind of a connector role, if I can sort of paraphrase that, right?

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: Perfect. Exactly. Yeah, exactly.

Ed Keating: Yeah. So, so, so, um, what kind of challenges do you solve for your clients? I mean, You know, there's connecting and that can be done on a lot of levels, whether it's, you know, time, treasure, talent. I mean, there's all the things that you have to offer.

So, so, so how do you help your, your, your clients at, uh, at SK ventures?

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: Sure. So it's really mainly four, um, ways. So the first one is revenue enablement. Um, you know, I'm finding a lot of organizations haven't, uh, you know, they're, they're having a hard time transitioning from founder led sales and building the right teams.

A lot of organizations are only thinking about their sales. Products and how they think about them versus, uh, the problem they're trying to solve. So, um, inverting that messaging, um, three is building really, really good sales engines and sales teams. So everything from, you know, I'm a, I'm a nerd when it comes to CRM.

So everything from, you know, uh, mapping out, you know, the process of how things should, you know, funnel and build in the pipeline, um, to, you know, how to service and prospect the right customers, how to, how to scale into new markets, how to. understand enterprise selling. A lot of people don't understand how to sell to an organization.

You know, as these organizations scale, maybe they were sold a specific solution. But when it's time to rip and replace that solution or it's time to add on to that solution. Well, now there's 10 more decision makers. Now you have to create champions. Now you have to, um, you know, build evaluation cycles. Uh, and not many know how to do that, nor have that confidence.

So the first way is really you. You know, hiring, um, hiring, good people, building good teams and showing them how to execute in a consistent, repeatable manner. Um, because revenue cures all problems.

Ed Keating: That is true. So as you talked about selling and revenue enablement being at an all time low, you know, is that part of just because of what we're seeing in cannabis was sort of this market contraction.

I mean, we've seen customers go out of business, run out of money or just leave the industry. They're like, it's too small, too volatile. I'm out. So is that what's driving that? That. That brokenness, which is not really a noun, but I'll use it.

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: No, I love that noun. And it, is it a verb? Brokenness? No, it's a noun.

Ed Keating: No.

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: Noun. No. Um, it's that and a couple other things. Um, you know, at Salesforce. Um, even though we were on monthly driven quotas, there was always time for enablement, lunch and learns, social selling, um, the ability to understand how you're conveying different pieces, the ability to strategize, map out because cannabis has this race.

Uh, this, this pace to it. Um, you know, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's constant sprints, constant sprints, constant sprint, and everyone's looking for immediacy in their, in their, uh, their revenue or their actions. Um, no one's thinking about, uh, you know, my, my, one of my favorite bosses used to say there's doing it and there's doing it right.

Right. As a soccer player, it's like you can show up to a game and, you know, you can shell up and, you know, you can just defend and kick the ball away and hope you get a goal, or you can actually figure out, you know, the tactics and the, and the energy required and, you know, to feel the good team so that you can play a game and play to win basically.

And so, um, You know, a lot of the time right now, everyone's so focused on what's in front of them that they're not looking at, you know, the head or six months or 12 months or whatever the case is. And so there's no enablement. That's number one. Second, there's no internal enablement. The second thing is, is that every single person, depending on the market is either inundated in some fashion or jaded in some fashion, right?

They're all there. It's either the market's opening up and, you know, things are going crazy. Take New York for an instance. A retailer gets a zillion calls a day being like, Hey, do you want this? Do you want this? Do you want this? Do you want this? Do you want this? How do you cut through the noise? For instance, in Canada, they're jaded.

You sold me this technology and you never talk to me again. Right? I can't even reach. I can't even submit a case, right? Um, you don't care about us. You care about the market share kit. So there's this notion that it's. There's no enablement from the perspective of, um, you know, do you care about your customers?

And are you trying to solve your problem? Their problems? Great. That's absolutely fine. But are you, are you meeting them where they're at and how are you new to, to build that kind of like value equation across the customer life cycle?

Ed Keating: That's an interesting point, especially about the, uh, The notion of the race, uh, or that frenetic pace.

I mean, I think it's, I think it's ebbed a bit in the last couple of years as money's gotten tighter, but sometimes for others that just accelerates it and makes it even worse, but really trying to understand, you know, what the client needs is such an important part of, of sales. So it's great that you're there to sort of guide people to sort of remember that because sometimes people forget it's not.

Nobody cares about your product. It's, you know, it's what solution do you have? Like people don't want to drill, they want the hole, you know, it's, it's, so you, you got to really think of that, that, that solution. Now, um, one of the other things you talked about is sort of this partner ecosystem and how it's broken.

And I was wondering if you could riff on that for a minute, just, you know, what do you view as a partner ecosystem and, and why is it broken?

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: It's such good questions, uh, and, and, and a big statement. So I guess I got to back it up. Um, well, because, um, You know, if I, so there's this, there's this, you know, right now you have two different sets of organizations.

You have the organizations that are trying to do it all themselves, be the centralized solution, and you have, uh, the, you know, the, the tool. Um, that's trying to integrate with everyone open APIs, you know, everything along those lines on both sides. You need good partners for these, you know, the centralized resource in that place that that that partner, um, that central player, you know, POS or whatever the case is.

They don't have good partner mechanisms. Partner driven leads and referrals are where it's at. I was one of those companies. I would be leaning so hard into that. And the challenge is, is that if you don't have a good mechanism to, you know, tear your partners, you don't have a partner onboarding program, you don't have these different types of things.

Well, then all of a sudden, those partners aren't going to talk well about you in the room or whatever the case is. Or simultaneously, what often happens is, um, you know, I'm a retailer and I have, you know, three services with one technology provider and then, you know, 10 with other 10 other technology providers.

Well, who the hell do I go to? Um, and how do I get the answer I need to? So from the perspective of the partner ecosystem is broken. I think it's from the retailer, um, outward. Um, first and foremost, because of the retailer, there's some pains there. The second thing is with all these different partners, um, connecting, you know, the, the, the 10 in the, in the ecosystem, the 12 in the ecosystem, whatever, everyone has to sell with the same values.

Everyone has to have the same service values. Everyone, everyone has to have the same customer life cycle values. And because everyone's running so fast and there's this immediacy, that's Like, like, you know, you have a partner here and you have a partner here, but guess what? This thing right here is a living, breathing relationship.

It's a value system. It's a whole thing. And it's like, you're not focusing on that. Um, well then it, it doesn't make sense. So if I sell something and I refer you to someone else, then. And that person doesn't sell the same way, then, you know, you, you've already lost your reputation or you've lost whatever the case is.

So that's why I think perhaps it's not broken because it's obviously still happening and I'm seeing it. Uh, perhaps it could be, um, it could be, uh, infused with, uh, with some, some, some better material, maybe.

Ed Keating: Well, in part of it too, I think, you know, while I bristle and people say, oh, cannabis is a new industry.

Well, it is and it isn't. But I think there are a lot of nuances and challenges that, you know, make it harder to just import what worked elsewhere into the industry that you and I share. And, you know, sometimes it really requires that lateral thinking of, okay, Yeah, there's some lessons we can learn from, let's say, alcohol or CPG or even tobacco.

But there's also some unique things that we have to grapple with, uh, as well. So I'd like to shift back to some of the trends because, you know, when we met last, I was just really impressed with sort of your views and perspectives on where the industry, uh, was heading and some of the challenges, um, and especially since you work, uh, across two jurisdictions.

So, One thing I just want to ask sort of a simple question since you work with clients is, you know, as you work across the industry, are there any truly unique or perplexing problems that you're seeing that that, you know, are really interesting for you? And you're sort of, you know, jazzed about trying to solve them?

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: Yeah, I mean, um, you know, I have this theory and something I want to wipe board and run by you one day and maybe get get out some content together. But there's this notion that, you know, cannabis fits within You know, the cannabis industry fits within like four or five kind of market patterns. Um, you know, you have kind of the, you know, the, the initial kind of hope.

Then you have the boom, then you have kind of like the, Oh, this isn't what we were made for. Uh, we were, you know, sold a dream. Uh, you have the winners come, you have Darwinism, you have the winners come to fruition. Uh, and then, you know, you have some consolidation acquisition and then it steadies out, plateaus, whatever the case is in a, in a, in a 15 second nutshell, that's what I'm going to try and draw out, um, for our next conversation.

Um, but the one, well, the first thing I'd say is that, you know, there's, um, there's this concept of, so, you know, so what, who cares, like, so what, who cares kind of thing, all this data, there's all these different things. And, you know, at the end of the day, people just want to be told what they need to do. Do right.

Like it's fine to have all these, uh, this, this, this information, you know, this, this, this analysis on your customers and things like that. But it's like, so what, who cares? What are the insights of this? You know, I think about a lot of the time, the apps I use, uh, you know, uh, my banking app, for instance, my banking app has impressed me lately because before I used to get on and you used to say, Hey, here's a static view of all your accounts.

But now I get monthly reports that are like, Hey, you, you. You know, you spent X amount on Uber last week, or this month, or you spent X amount. So, you know, that allows me to then, okay, maybe I can, you know, take a budget and set limits, whatever the case is. And so I'm seeing a lot of, um, opportunity in the insights portion.

And that's why Canada data con was so important.

Ed Keating: Yeah, you read my mind. So that actionable data and, you know, I was talking to one, uh, speaker there who was on a couple of panels and he runs a chain out in Colorado. He came from alcohol businesses and others. And one of the final things he shared with me was retail is retail is retail, Ed.

And, and yeah, there's all, you know, there's some different things in cannabis, but there's so many lessons there that have already been solved that we don't need to reinvent the wheel. And, um, you know, to, to the extent that, you know, we can harness all that actionable data that people were talking about in, uh, at Canada data con, I think it'll help move the industry forward, you know, quite a bit, you know, especially for, you know, both our clients.

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: Big time. And the second thing I'd say just on that note is that gosh, no one learns from anyone. Um, and you think you'd like, it's just like, you know why I'm relevant in New York, truthfully, as a Canadian, that doesn't really happen often. It's because I've kind of seen the future in like in Toronto and Ontario.

It's like, It's, it's crazy. And it's, and it's just like, you know, I wrote this phrase down. I'm like, what's the point? What's the point in knowing the future if you don't do anything about it? Uh, you know, some, some, there's some, obviously some, you know, some, some different type of spirituality and, and, you know, embedded in that.

I'm sure we can go into, but that's the truth. Cannabis follows very similar patterns. And I just think that as the world starts to legalize and, you know, I have, uh, some ideas around Europe and, you know, one of the reasons I got into the industry is I obviously love the plant. Uh, two, I love the business cannabis and creation of cannabis, uh, businesses and commerce.

And three, I really believe that this plant has the ability to kind of, um, you know, bring certain parts of the world together. And I think it's a beautiful way to kind of almost be a global citizen, but It's funny because none of these countries, none of these jurisdictions want to learn from each other.

Everyone has their own way of doing things, right? Which is fine. That's based on, you know, anthropology and sociology and like so many different things and so many different history, historical precedents and the way people think. But like Team, like it's out there, like it's done, like at least take some best practices and just like Go to somewhere else and just see what they've done Yeah, when you're doing your thing and that holds true for like all these retailers and all these brands, you know See what happened california.

See what happened in colorado. See what happened, you know, toronto See what happened in you know all these different places and take best practices and apply them and then the fourth thing would be You know Be really careful who you take money from, um, because you take the wrong person and it's based on some, you know, crazy, uh, that like crazy forecast or projection or whatever the case is.

It's like you're writing yourself, you're writing yourself a death warrant and it's just like, you really got to make sure that you're setting expectations accordingly. So those are kind of some of the things that I'm, I'm, I'm seeing.

Ed Keating: Interesting. One of the, one of the first articles I read that. Help me even be aware of the cannabis market was in the New York Times, and it was probably back in the 2012 or 2013, and they interviewed, I think it was Brendan Kennedy,

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: yeah,

Ed Keating: privateer holdings, and It was, you know, he left private equity to go do this.

Did it a great time. I think did very well. And I heard him speak a number of times. And one thing that really stuck with me is he said exactly what you did, you know, says you got to go out, you got to have feet on the ground and they need to be your feet. And he talked about, you know, he went to Israel and saw what's going on there.

California went up into the hills. Like he really did sort of the hard work to build up his own perspective and opinions and insights so that, you know, he was able to do a great job, uh, in, in terms of, you know, building out what he wanted to build out. So I think that's, that's very interesting. One area I wanted to focus in on with you today, especially given your background in technology and.

And is the cannabis technology stack. It's something that I've always tracked since I've been at cannabis. I, I looked at every vendor that is on the metric list and categorize them all, figured out who was growing, shrinking, and really trying to dig into it. Obviously there's been a number of acquisitions in the last couple of years.

Um, do you see, where do you see this going? Like, are we going to wind up with just a handful of, uh, providers? Cause we don't need, as my last report said, you know, 75 point of sale vendors in the U S alone.

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: Funny. Is that how many there are? 75? About it.

Ed Keating: About that. Yeah. And the top five probably have about 70 percent of the share.

So everybody else is fighting, you know, the other 70 are fighting for 30 percent share, something like that.

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: Jeez Louise. Um, gosh, the tech stack and the old tech stack, man. Okay. So there's 75, 75 POS providers that have 70 percent of the market. That's bananas. Um, it's interesting because, you know, there's this company, it's called G2 Crowd.

I don't know if you've ever heard of G2 Crowd. Um, I think you'd really like G2 Crowd, but G2 Crowd is an aggregator of technology, um, within, uh, you know, the, the, you know, non cannabis tech space. And it's, uh, a technology, uh, aggregator that kind of reports and, and, and showcases kind of like all the technology.

Yeah. You'd really like that, I think. Um, you know, maybe we can create a similar one. Uh, I think that would be really cool. But, um, So, so there's that, right. And there's always going to be all these tech stack, you know, providers, but it just depends on kind of how they start to layer out and what they do, you know, to make sure it works before I kind of dive into that.

Um, you know, I was listening to a podcast the other day, um, and they said that on average, like a mid market company has, um, like 660 different pieces of technology or something like that. Sales reps today are, you know, You know, using a bunch of stuff. So do I think that there's always going to be a zillion tools?

Uh, absolutely. Do I think that there's going to be a few players who own those tools? For sure. You look at Alpine, you know, they just acquired dispense. Uh, you know, I was a Dutchie, obviously the consolidation happened, things like that. But here's the danger. Focus. You got to be able to do something super, super, super well, number one.

And oftentimes the allure of kind of that acquisition and that consolidation, um, is a pretty shiny thing. The second deal, deal

Ed Keating: fever is what I used to call it at a past company where everybody was just focused on that and they forgot about running the business. So

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: exactly, you know, deals, I'm gonna have to write that on my whiteboard, deal fever, um, deal fever, ed, uh, I always have deal fever.

Um, but the second thing is. You know, exactly that. Like you forget about the people process systems. Um, it's awesome to see a PE firm, you know, come together and be like, yes, accretively on paper, this looks wonderful. We'll acquire that and we'll receive this market share and perfect, perfect, perfect. But then what about the people, right?

What about the solution? And the third thing is these tech stack providers sometimes. Scale too quickly for their own customers. Um, they're quicker on the market than their customers. So, um, do I think there's going to be a ton more consolidation? Absolutely. I think the companies who are going to get it right, uh, are the ones that focus on their people that focus on the acquisition of culture, uh, the acquisition of strategy and decision making the acquisition of understanding their customer's problems before their customers.

Even know their problems and that provide one to one customer success and onboarding. Um, and that's the, that's, that's the reason I have this ecosystem plays because I only want to work with who I deem in my version or evaluation of who's, who's worthy. Um, it's ridiculous as that sounds. Um, the. Best players kind of thing and the ones that can bring, you know, the right value who are trying to do it the right way, going back to that sentiment from my old boss.

So, um, that was a very, uh, long non answer.

Ed Keating: Yeah, no, no, I appreciate that. All right. Final question. And the important one that I've been asking everybody in the last couple of months is has the industry hit bottom? And, uh, If not, when do you think we'll be out of this craziness that we're in?

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: Oh God, Ed, that's such a good question, man.

Um, I want to ask you the same thing, but I'll save it for my interview. Um, no, the industry hasn't hit bottom. Um, I think about it all the time. There's been times where I was like, ah, I could just go back to Salesforce or I could just go do this or do that. And speaking of those other technologies, companies haven't even come in yet.

Right. And so when's that going to happen? So no, I don't think the industry has hit rock bottom by any means. I think that there's a lot of hope. You know, I had some friends, some consumers talking about brands the other day and I was like, Oh shit, um, things are happening. So, uh, the industry has not hit rock bottom.

There is. Um, a long, long, long way to go, but that's going to take a long, long, long time and a lot of consolidation, a lot of heartache. Um, but there are, there are, there's opportunities for winners. There's arbitrage everywhere. There's such a magnificent, um, you know, uh, by this thing called timing, this, this moniker timing, territory, and talent.

And I believe that, you know, Those three together can provide just an amazing opportunity, you know, globally, it's going to, you know, continue to pop open. However, where I really do see a challenge is in the factions within our own industry. We aren't just one industry. We're four industries. We're an illicit industry.

We're a hemp industry, or we're a recreational industry, and we're a medical And there in lies the challenge for our industry kind of thing. So I don't think we're hit rock bottom, but I do think that there's a lot of heartache ahead and I don't think there's any unifying force around, you know, the plant for, um, normalization if our whole industry is infighting, um, and we can't sort it out.

And so I believe that there's an opportunity and that's why I'm still here. I believe there's a large one. But it's going to be a challenge.

Ed Keating: Great. Well, Shahbaaz, thanks so much for joining us on today's podcast. It was really fun having this conversation and I look forward to continuing in the future.

Shahbaaz Kara-Virani: I can't wait, Ed.

I'm going to interview you, man. And if there's anything I can ever do for you or Cannabiz Media, um, please don't hesitate to let me know. Excellent. Will do. All right. Cheers, my man.

Ed Keating: Cheers.

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