Interview with Christian Nitu, Co-founder of Weave. Weave is both a cannabis search engine, but also an analytics and insights platform for dispensaries.
Learn more at http://www.useweave.com
[1:18] – Christian talks about his background and starting Weave
[3:15] – What is Weave?
[4:37] – Weave from a dispensary perspective
[6:12] – Christian talks about what Big Data and cannabis
[8:31] – Do you see the need for express lines in dispensaries
[9:35] – Christian talks about integration capabilities
[11:42] – Weave from an individual perspective
[13:11] – Who can access the dispensary analytics
[15:23] – Christian discusses possible delivery options for Colorado in the future
[16:49] – Health related queries
[17:43] – Becoming a Weave alpha user
Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday and Wednesday look for a fresh new episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. Are you looking for a fulfilling and lucrative career in the cannabis industry? Visit www.cannainsider.com/careers. That’s www.cannainsider.com/careers. Now here’s your program.
Weave is a search engine that helps customers find cannabis products easier. Weave allows customers to view real time menus and place orders online for in store pick-up. For dispensaries Weave is a resource planning tool to make sense of sales information and buyer behavior. Weave’s data analytics platforms transforms cannabis data into money making reports and easily digestible information. I’m pleased to welcome the co-founder of Weave Christian Nitu to CannaInsider today. Welcome Christian.
Christian: Hi Matt. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here and talk about Weave.
Matthew: Cool. I want to jump into Weave and everything you’re doing with it, but can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to start Weave?
Christian: Yeah sure. So was a student here at the University of Colorado back in 2011. So I started my first company here in Boulder, and that was around the hardware IOT space. So we developed a company called the Snow Gate that produced an electronic locker system that could be controlled by your phone. So I ran that for about three years and that’s where I got my experience with entrepreneurship and startups and technology. And it just kind of captivated me into getting more information about technology and how people used it as consumers for products and product development, and that’s where I started getting really interested.
But we ended up selling that company to the largest locker manufacturer in North America last year. And that kind of freed up my time and so I started to do some consulting for an ad agency in Boulder, and they were looking at the cannabis space as kind of a new business. And so I started to work with dispensary owners and managers. And just noticing different trends on the retail side, I started to figure out that there were a lot of pieces from a technology aspect that were missing in the industry that could really help clean up a lot of the inefficiencies from managing your inventory to helping consumers find the right products and then also, I mean, one of the biggest glaring problems that we saw was that there was this huge information gap. You have millions of customers going into stores asking for certain products to feed a certain need, but they don’t have any quantitative research or information to get that from.
So that’s kind of where we started to piece together Weave, and I started that company in September of last year with four other co-founders. So right now it’s just us five. We have our headquarters in Boulder and we’re just getting ready here to launch pretty soon.
Matthew: So Weave is pretty ambitious. Why don’t you tell us what it is and who should use it.
Christian: Yeah sure. So, you know, from your description you have it down to a “T”. The only thing I would add to it is that Weave is very focused on the localized approach. We see other search engine sites for this space, you know, gathering a lot of information on stores around the whole United States. Where Weave is focused is really providing kind of a localized experience. So getting as much information as we can from our POS API that we’ve developed from getting, you know, inventory results, starting to work with lab companies to get testing results, and really starting to track kind of buyer behavior and consumer behavior. Figuring out what people want so that we can help customers find the right products for a specific need and then help them reserve it through our service. And then we can help businesses make sense of all this data that they’re already gathering, and now being able to make business decisions on data driven information.
Matthew: Okay so looking at it from a dispensaries point of view first, Weave integrates through a API into the software at the dispensary at the point of sale, and collects that information and produces it into easy to understand reports and insights.
Christian: Yeah. So that is our first product that we are developing. It allows the dispensary managers and owners to see a very intuitive, simple way of the data that they’re already capturing. We allow them to kind of parse through that data in a very easy manner. The other products that we’re developing already is going to be allowing for a more full experience on the data side. So that will be separate from the POS integration, kind of our own platform of products coming to market.
Matthew: What kind of insights would a dispensary manager or dispensary owner be able to get out of using Weave that they might not typically be able to have if they were just, you know, looking at some spreadsheets or something like that?
Christian: Sure. So I think one of the biggest key values that Weave has is being able to gather all the information they’re already gathering, but being able to forecast that and make sense of the historical data so we can find out product trends around their particular store, product trends around particular geographic locations. We can help them with staffing, but more importantly the consumer side allows us with the technology that we’re building, we’re capturing search queries and we’re making sense of certain words that people are asking about cannabis. So if people are typing in beverage, we can figure out what products they’re actually looking for or what stores they’re looking at to find these products. So we can connect the consumer behavior with the data that they’re already capturing on the storefront and connect those two together.
Matthew: Now we hear that term “Big Data” thrown around a lot. What does that mean to you?
Christian: Big Data means that there’s a lot of unorganized data pipes out here in the cannabis industry. Right now, I mean, it’s still an industry that’s growing so a lot of people haven’t been able to kind of settle down and look through all the data. So you have stores collecting information on sales records. You have product, new companies trying to understand their inventory flow, and then you have people that are trying to figure out how to capture customers’ information, figure out how they’re buying things in stores and looking for certain products. So with Big Data with cannabis it’s being able to connect all of these different data points together and produce something that businesses can make decisions on.
Matthew: Now is there an aha moment when you’re talking to a dispensary owner where they kind of have, it clicks and they get what this can do for them? Is there one bullet point where they kind of say oh, okay this makes sense. I see the benefit for me.
Christian: Yeah sure. So I mean on our reservation product which is going to be in beta later this week in Boulder, we’re going to be giving that out for free. So we’re not going to be charging any dispensaries to upload their digital storefront. So I think the aha moment is when we’re telling them this piece. They are able to kind of see that as a great online marketing tool, being able to go and find people online in a way that adheres to the law and being able to get their customers online driven into their stores, and it’s at no cost to them. So I think that’s kind of the benefit from our first product.
Matthew: Right, there’s a huge value add there because the average dispensary customer spends $1,000 to $2,000 a year, and if they get frustrated having to wait on a Friday afternoon at 4 o’clock to get their order, that could be… the lifetime value of that customer is enormous that they’re losing. But this can only go well, this order ahead if the dispensary says, you know, we’re going to treat people that order ahead a little differently. We’re going to have a express desk kind of like Harbor Side Health Center has in Oakland where if you know what you want and you order ahead, you can just come in and pick it up. Do you see the dispensaries welcoming the idea of an express desk or something so people don’t have to wait in line, like people that want to talk to a bud tender?
Christian: Sure. I see huge value and we’ve already talked to stores about that. You know there are a lot of customers that are going into stores already knowing what they want. So they want to be able to cater to those customers’ needs as well. So I think initially, you know, they want to test it and make sure that it’s being used and it’s not disrupting any of the workflow that they’ve already established with their employees. But I think over time what they’ll see is that it actually reduces the inefficiencies. So with staffing being able to know when to have employees there with certain products trending faster throughout the day or whatever it is, but being able to reserve a spot, kind of an extra station for a self-checkout experience. It think they’re already… we were to have seen stores here in Colorado already doing that. So I think it goes in line with where the retail side of this stuff is going in the future.
Matthew: And is it pretty easy to integrate with Weave then? Let’s say if I have M.J. Freeway or Bio Track or Adolis or the big software packages out there, how do I integrate with Weave?
Christian: So right now we do have one integration partner already settled. We’re already working on a couple others as well. From the standpoint of the technology companies talking to the software providers, it’s very easy. We handle, we prefer kind of a rest API, that’s how we integrate with our technologies, but we work with the software company to build a bridge between Weave. And on the storefront level it takes a manager about two minutes to set up. They just have to go into their dashboard with whatever software provider they have, whether it’s Bio Track, M.J. Freeway or Adolis and then simply turn on our API key, and then we go ahead and we go ahead and we sync that. I think right now with what we have in our beta database, we have about 5,000 products and it takes us about 2, less than 2 milliseconds to kind of sync all of those together and figure out what’s where, you know, what quantity is where.
Matthew: Sometimes I feel like the cannabis software industry is a little bit closed. Like they don’t see the value of having an ecosystem, partners, but really if they let someone like Weave in that only strengthens their offering to the end user and makes them more sticky and less likely to leave because hey we’ve got our weave integrated with our POS software and our seed to sale software. We’re happier. We’re not, you know, there’s no threat.
Christian: Right exactly, and that’s kind of what we’re trying to make aware is that we’re helping bridge consumers to the stores in an online fashion. So for the POS systems we see them as a great source of technology in the backend for operations side on the storefront level, Weave helps bridge the gap with the customer end. So we kind of go in sync and provide partnerships that are beneficial for both parties.
Matthew: Now looking at Weave from a individual’s point of view, they’re just going to Weave and it looks like a Google search bar. There’s like a flashing cursor, like what do you want to know. So maybe you would type in, you know, autoimmune inflammation strain or something and you might see search results that would say here’s some information around that that you might find useful. Is that how it works?
Christian: Yes, so that’s the goal of it. The first alpha version that we’re releasing right now is going to be allowing people to just search by product name or store. But we’ve already started developing and we’ve been working on this for a while, kind of the core technology of the Weave search engine which we think makes us distinguishable is really on the natural language processing and machine learning techniques that we’re using. So you know we’re gathering data on what is exactly available at stores, knowing the quantity, knowing all of that information.
We’re starting to track user queries, kind of the words that people are asking bud tenders as if they’re in the store. And then we’re working with cannabis doctors as well as test lab companies and hopefully at some point research companies, people who that are doing, you know, the clinical research studies on things like PTSD, child epilepsy and different diseases. And taking all that information and we compile our own algorithm to help find the right product for that search query . So that’s kind of the evolution of where the search engine is going to go, but for right now we’re focused on just providing a simple service of being able to see exactly what’s in the store before you get to it and then as we collect more data the engine will get more powerful as time goes on.
Matthew: So with all the data that will be collected at the dispensary, will you be able to generate reports or something for the industry with insights about what’s happening for people that don’t own a dispensary but are interested?
Christian: Sure so I think… our main concern at Weave is definitely privacy. We take a very hard approach about what we’re doing with people’s information. You know from a consumer perspective we don’t capture anything that’s incriminating. We don’t require you to give us an email address or require you to give us any personal information other than a phone number when you’re ordering, but we redact and erase that information within 24 hours to 36 hours. So we don’t keep anything on the personal side.
What we’re being able to aggregate though are the questions and the reasons why people are reserving certain products. So from an industry perspective, I think that’s very valuable to know insights into consumer behavior. On the store side, you know, what we’re doing is we’re pulling together a lot of product inventory levels and understanding the flow of business through a dispensary, but again we don’t want to be, you know, exposing all that kind of information out to the public. So we’re going to be aggregating all of this stuff and displaying it in a way that people will be able to see kind of generalized approaches of edibles are trending here, you know, certain products are doing well over here, and these are the questions people are asking in these areas.
Matthew: Okay so there’s a predictive component to it where a dispensary owner would maybe say okay it looks like Girl Scout Cookie strain is going to be popular for the next ten days, make sure we get more of that over here, start curing more, you know, they make decisions around that so that they have more available in the next couple of weeks. Is that how you see the dispensaries using it more?
Christian: Yeah and I think it’s going to go in line with how this industry is working. I mean right now people are still figuring out the supply and demand issue and getting their operations to a point where they don’t run out of inventory. So that’s what we want to do. We want to be that layer of service that helps them plan and forecast, kind of like resource planning tools.
Matthew: So there’s an order ahead component which is, in Colorado, unlike California where you can have cannabis delivered that meets certain conditions. In Colorado that can’t happen, do you see any kind of delivery option in the future or is that just too far out?
Christian: So for our immediate roadmap, it’s not on there. We would welcome actually the opportunity to talk to other companies that are providing this service. But I think the mission really for Weave is to get information out there into the public sphere about cannabis products. You know, the landscape of consumers are changing. You don’t have your typical stigma of what a consumer is anymore going into stores. You have moms, doctors, lawyers, people from the past that have used it before and now are coming back. And some of their questions, some of the stuff that we’ve been capturing already, it’s interesting; 75 percent of the search queries are related to health and wellness.
So being able to help people find products for health and wellness reasons I think that’s a very good mission that Weave is trying to achieve. So being able to get that in a quantitative fashion, I think that would be… any service that helps us get there, I think that would be a benefit.
Matthew: Yeah, and there’s a lot of… there’s a certain demographic of people that are interested in cannabis but still kind of have this nagging bias in their head that it’s something that’s wrong, that they’re trying to get over and this is a good first step to educate themselves before going into a dispensary as well. So what kind of health related inquiries or queries do you see that maybe surprised you a little bit?
Christian: Sure. I mean we have, you know, some of the most common ones are obviously things like back pain, insomnia is a very big one. There are things that go along with finding high CBD strains. I think a couple of interesting ones are finding things that affect, you know, finding out cognitive effects. Finding out what can help with eye strains. And another interesting thing is we’ve had a lot of queries around athletes and sports. What is good for running? What is good for lifting? Things like that that you wouldn’t kind of equate to being a cannabis user. So you see there are multiple applications for the plant, and if we can help people find the right products for that reason, I think that’s a very good thing to offer the industry.
Matthew: Now you mentioned that Weave is in alpha, if listeners are interested in becoming an alpha user, how can they do that?
Christian: Yeah sure. So they can go ahead and go to our website which is www.useweave.com. We sometimes have a problem with people just going to weave.com and seeing a bunch of hair products. So we just want to make sure that people know to go to the www.useweave.com domain. Go ahead and enter an email address and we’ll add you on our list to check out our staging site, but we’re going to be releasing that here in Boulder this week with about four stores, and then the hope is that at the end of April we’ll have been in Boulder, Denver and a couple other locations that we’ve been talking to.
Matthew: Great. Great, and how about investors? Are you still open to new investors?
Christian: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s every entrepreneur’s job to always be open to getting more money. So yeah, so we’re definitely very much in our seed round still. We raised a small investment early, late last year and now we’re looking to bring in some more money so we can add some engineers. I think the cool thing about Weave is that we’re very engineering heavy and we’re very tech focused. We have about three engineers on our team, and we’re looking to add more and Boulder’s a great hot bed for attracting great talent. So we’re looking to raise some more money this month to get us out and going. But if they’re interested in contacting, you know, please reach out to me at Christian@useweave.com and I would be happy to field any questions.
Matthew: Great. Well Christian thanks so much for being on CannaInsider today.
Christian: Yeah, thank you very much Matt. I appreciate our talk and thank you for having me.
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