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The Home Grow System you Control from your Phone Called Leaf

yoni-ofir-leaf

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Yoni Ofir returns to Cannainsider to give us an update on how his super sleek, plug-n-plant home grow solution called Leaf. Soon you will be able to grow your own cannabis from your phone. The Leaf smartphone app will interact with the Leaf grow cube and allow you to adjust temperature, hydration, nutrients and share your grow recipe with the Leaf community.

Learn more at http://www.getleaf.co

Key Takeaways:
[2:20] – What is Leaf?
[3:09] – Yoni talks about his background
[6:30] – Yoni talks about developments with Leaf
[12:10] – Hardware iteration process
[15:40] – Yoni talks about the tech industry in Tel Aviv
[21:24] – Does America have a puritan streak
[25:28] – Yoni talks about the features of Leaf
[28:58] – Yoni talks about the other co-founder of Leaf
[32:08] – Launch date and cost of Leaf
[33:51] – Approximate ROI with Leaf
[37:04] – Yoni talks about the social aspects of Leaf
[43:32] – Will Leaf stink up your home?
[45:30] – Drying and curing process
[47:34] – Yoni talks about lessons learned as a CEO
[52:52] – Yoni answers personal development questions
58:39 – Leaf contact information

Important Update:
What are the five trends that will disrupt the cannabis market in the next five years? Find out with your free guide at: https://www.cannainsider.com/trends

Read Full Transcript

I am pleased to welcome back Yoni Ofir, CEO and Co-Founder of Leaf, the “Plug N’ Plant” system that automatically grows cannabis from the comfort of your home. Yoni’s self-contained grow system won Product Hunts 2016 Hardware product of the Year. Yoni has been featured in Forbes, Vice and Tech Crunch. Yoni, welcome back to CannaInsider.

Yoni: Thanks Matt. Thanks for the awesome intro.

Matthew: Sure thing.

Yoni: It’s so good.

Matthew: Give listeners a sense of geography. Tell us where you are today.

Yoni: Right now I’m in Tel Aviv, Israel. It’s raining a little bit which is pretty rare over here, but that’s where I am and it’s where Leaf’s headquarters is as well.

Matthew: Okay. Give u a high level overview of what Leaf is for people that aren’t familiar.

Yoni: So Leaf is “Plug N’ Plant” system that automatically grows cannabis and is controlled by your smartphone, and you could think of it as a beautiful mini fridge that stocks itself with high quality cannabis, and we help you grow it in a fun and interactive way.

Matthew: Gosh, what a great visualization. The only think I like better than a stocked mini fridge is one that self-replenishes itself. Sounds like Star Trek.

Yoni: Yes exactly, and it’s completely pesticide free. No harmful chemicals. So that’s also awesome.

Matthew: Now you were on a couple of years ago on the show, but for new listeners can you give a little background about yourself and what you were doing before Leaf and how you came to start Leaf?

Yoni: Yeah so Yoni Ofir. I’m 28 years old, originally born and raised in Long Beach, California and have been living in Israel for about 17 years on and off. So at a young age kind of moved here with my family. I was in the Israeli military. I served there for three years as a safety NCO and non-commissioned officer. What I did in the military was basically our unit was responsible for all of the safety within the ground forces. So that could be anything from training safety, combat safety, what degree of vision you’re allowed to fire at in order to not accidently hit friendlies, anything from there to vehicular safety.

A big issue when I was in the military was drunk driving, unfortunately, and most of the soldiers are between the ages of 18-25, youngsters. We give them so much responsibility but still we’re still young and there’s a lot of drunk driving issues within the military. A friend of mine that we were both in the unit togtether we set out to solve this by creating after our military service a product called (4.37 Alcohoot?) which was the world’s first microphone breathalyzer, a police grade, consumer, pocket, beautiful breathalyzer that connects to your smartphone and can easily within seconds give you your accurate blood alcohol reading. Our goal was to allow people to have this affordable device that would allow them to test their alcohol levels at any given time and prevent people from getting behind the wheel when they shouldn’t.

So that was my previous company. It went very well. We had a lot of success with official partnerships with Heineken, with (5.17 unclear). The product was placed in retail stores like Target and Bloomingdales and Walmart. We really did bring the conversation to drunk driving and we sold that business at the end of 2014 and a little bit after that I started Leaf, about three or four months after we sold that, my partner and I. I’ve been doing Leaf since about March 2015. Sort of slowly at the beginning and then getting more and more involved as time went by.

Matthew: Now when you first started talking about Leaf back in 2015 and I met you it was really just a prototype. You had this box and you were talking about it and it really gathered a lot of attention even way back then, this concept of what you were building, but take us back to 2015 to where you are now. You were going around to investors, showing them this prototype and where are you today versus back then?

Yoni: Yeah so 2015, it was a totally different world. Completely different world just in general but also in the cannabis space and also in with Leaf. We had very basic prototypes. The sort of essence of the product when we started was basically a box that had sensors inside and the sensors could remotely transfer the information to a mobile application or to a website or whatever we decided it would be. So remote kind of sensor and monitoring. The idea was we could tell you hey, temperature is out of wack. You need to fix this and this is where you want to be and always give you notifications and that’s how we started.

We sort of started from there. That concept had gotten a bit of attention. Most people felt it wasn’t enough. Yeah that was kind of a marginal improvement and of course the design was much nicer, but our tagline was “Plug N’ Plant” Cannabis, and we really wanted to achieve that. So from a product perspective, if we look at back then and today, today what we’re talking about is a system that is almost fully automated. It’s not just sensing and telling you hey the temperature is too hot. It actually has an air conditioning unit, a heating unit, a dehumidification, humidification unit. So it’s really a bunch of products into this box, let’s call it, into this system. There’s nutrient dosing. There’s PH balancing and more and more. It not only has the remote functionality, the remote monitoring functionality, but there’s also a remote control. There’s an actual control.

So it doesn’t actually tell you what to do. It does, and I think that that was thee important change in the evolution that the product has made. Of course a lot has also happened on the way. We’ve shipped units, beta units of that first generation. We learned so much from the customers and partners that had used them and we iterated and we evolved and grown our team and the whole industry has evolved into something that even the most enthusiastic proponents of this industry couldn’t believe how quickly it’s been growing, and I’m really happy to be a part of it at least in some form.

Matthew: So if we were looking at a Leaf right now in front of us, it’s roughly about five feet tall, two feet wide and two feet deep. Is that about right?

Yoni: Yeah.

Matthew: Okay. How do you feel, like your background with Alcohoot, your breathalyzer product helped you with Leaf? Was there a lot of carryover there?

Yoni: Yeah. The main thing that you need to understand here is that we’re creating a real hardware product, something physical, that actually needs to be manufactured and that iterations take a lot more time and cost a lot more. Going through that process just kind of once with anything, it doesn’t matter if it’s as complex or not and it’s really… it was not as complex as Leaf by any stretch of the imagination, but just going through that process of sourcing components, finding a manufacturer, building an assembly line, going through the quality control process of the assembly line, logistics of moving between different counties internationally because we’re manufacturing in China. We’re bringing it to the US. Just that whole process is something that going through it and having done that successfully and just getting the product on to the market and it working and being of high quality is tremendous. It’s tremendous and pretty much necessary.

So in that form it was very helpful. We also had Alcohoot was sensor based product. We had one senor in it, the sensor for the alcohol and we have several sensors in Leaf so there is a little bit of carry over there. So those kinds of principles really help. In addition to that, Alcohoot was my first business, my first startup period. So hiring a team, managing finances, raising money, marketing, everything, business development, just everything you go through in a business. Patience, patience is a big one. So all of those things really really helped, but Leaf has been its own journey with its own set of challenges and a lot of new things that have been very interesting.

Matthew: You mentioned talking about hardware development. It is difficult, especially compared to software because the iteration cycle takes so long. How do you keep up with morale and keep the team encouraged and excited when some of these cycles in improving a product like Leaf, it just takes longer than you might like. How do you keep the team engaged in moving in the right direction as they wait for these iterations?

Yoni: Yeah we haven’t had really a big problem with morale because the reason why I think that’s the case is because everyone really loves this product and what we’re doing, and the team is so connected by our shared passion for this. We know there’s going to be speed bumps and things like that, but really there’s always something to do. We’re still in a stage where the product is before manufacturing and there is a lot of things to do even while we’re waiting for something to come from the factory or a component to come from overseas or whatever it is. You’re just like okay, I got three or four days to wait, but there’s a long backlog of things that we’re working on all the time, and morale has not been a problem. We do a lot of stuff with the team that has nothing to do with the product.

We go on trips. We go on educational trips. We were just recently here in Israel. One of the largest malls in Tel Aviv, there’s about 750 square meters, excuse me for all the US listeners, I’m not exactly sure how much that is, but a huge mall. The entire roof, almost the entire roof, they’re growing hydroponically. They’re growing vegetables, about 10,000 heads of lettuce a month which is great. So we take the team on trips like that and we learn about sustainable agricultural practices within cities. There’s a lot of ways to keep morale up, but not necessarily something to do with the product, and I really like that about our team. While yeah we’re doing a product that has to do with cannabis and growing, but there’s so much more complexity to our team and fun stuff that we like to do and morale has been great.

Matthew: So 750 square meters for the US listeners is about 8,000 square feet.

Yoni: Yeah and that’s one mall on one roof that’s providing 10,000 heads of lettuce a month, 10,000 heads of whatever it is, lettuce, spinach and whatnot. So it was just a cool trip and we do a lot of those things every few weeks. Morale is up and morale is great. It doesn’t hurt also being in this industry and it seems like, I’m sure you know this, it seems like every week there’s several great headlines coming from all over the world of some advancement in the science of cannabis, some advancements in legalization and so on and so forth. That it really feels like the wheels are turning and they’re moving very quickly. So that keeps the energy level very high all the time and I like that and I think our team really likes that.

Matthew: How would you describe the tech scene in Tel Aviv? I hear some interesting things coming out of Israel all the time, but I don’t know. I don’t have boots on the ground idea of what it’s like. I mean I heard that (15.36 unclear) Conference is really cool there, but how would you describe it?

Yoni: The Israeli tech scene is very unique. If you look at Israel just as a country we’re talking about roughly 7.5 million people in an area the size of New Jersey, yet more venture capital money per capita than any place in the world, more patents per capita than any place in the world, most Nobel Prizes per capita than any other place in the world. So there’s sort of culture of innovation in Israel. It’s always been that way. We all go to the Army. That’s one of the big reasons, and we have several technology units in the Army which has helped kind of grow the tech scene around here.

In addition to that, Israel does not really have any natural resources. We don’t have a lot of physical space so it’s always kind of been that our natural resources people, ingenuity, innovation, things that you can make better and not necessarily… oil, diamonds, whatever it is. This has been going on forever. This isn’t just a new thing. We’re talking about advancements in science, in medical devices, in high tech startups and agriculture, in water desalinization for example, the leading country in the world. So all this innovation is in Israel. Tel Aviv is sort of the hub of that. Tel Aviv is kind of our, let’s say, San Francisco, Silicon Valley area in which you have startups all over. When you do end up coming here to Israel Matt, I’m sure you will com time soon, I’ll take you out here to Rothschild Street. You will walk on one little stretch of street and you’ll have 800 startups. It’s just ridiculous. Big, small, and everything in between. This is Israel, this is our people.

There’s also a form of Israeli (17.46 unclear). I don’t know if you’ve heard that term. Basically the audacity, kind of the audacity to just go for it. So we have that and I think that’s really important for an entrepreneur. On the cannabis side it’s very interesting because the cannabis part of this equation, if you look at Israel, Israel is kind of a conservative country. So it’s kind of weird that we’re very very advanced in medical research with cannabis, but what happened was in the early 60s a young researcher at the time called (18.25 unclear), he had the idea to start researching hashish and the story kind of goes where he actually went to the local police station. He told them, this is 1963, I’m a researcher from a Hebrew university and I want to get a five kilo brick of hashish for my studies. He just literally went to the station.

He knew the chief of police there. He sat, he had coffee with him and by the end of the meeting he gave him a five kilo brick of Lebanese Hashish from the safe and he tells the story. He’s pretty funny. He put it in his book bag and at the time, I think ’63, he didn’t have his own car. I think he took the bus. It reeked. No one really knew what this smell was because it wasn’t so prevalent back then, at least not in Israel. He’s just this researcher. Funny story, but long story short, that’s how it started. This researched (19.24 unclear) THC. For the first time they discovered THC. The later discovered the endocannabinoid system, and just through that there started to become a culture of this little team that grew and grew and grew of researching cannabis in Israel. There were clinical trials, small instances of them, even with children with cancer in the 70s and it’s amazing.

Today all of the knowledge is already here and there’s a situation where there’s sort of a every country wants this knowledge immediately. They don’t actually allow to do the research so they come to Israel. Now when you pair this sort of mentality or this history of cannabis research with the innovation and the high tech that’s already here and the agricultural practices and the bio science and everything, I think Israel, you know a lot of people call it the startup nation, I would call it cannabis nation because really all the pieces are here in this little country; agriculture, science, cannabis research and medical devices and everything. So this is how Israel became a powerhouse in medical research for cannabis and also in high tech, let’s call it the cannabis tech.

Matthew: Wow that’s interesting. Do you think there is anything to do with there being no… in the United States there’s this kind of Puritanism where we have hang-ups about cannabis and alcohol. We have a higher drinking age than the rest of the world. Do you think the fact that we have kind of this Puritan streak holds us back a bit compared to other countries like Israel?

Yoni: Well I think I said this earlier. Israel is actually typically a conservative country, more on the conservative side. And of course Israel in one way or another a majority Jewish and so that sort of goes all the way to the top. So we do have kind of that similar roots as in the US where I believe it’s back in the day it was predominately Christianity and so like you said, Puritan, we do have that here. So I’m not exactly sure that that’s the reason why, but with that together there is in Israel a very high regard for science.

In Israel it’s still illegal, cannabis is still illegal. It’s not even decriminalized, although recently they said that they would decriminalize, but that’s only recently. There’s been other countries for example in Europe and even states in the US that it’s been decriminalized for decades now, like in California or other places. Just the decriminalization part. So I think just the high regard for the scientific aspect and saying hey we have a theory, we want to test it. We’re not saying that this needs to be given to every single person, but that sort of regard for science is important here, and I don’t see it as much in the US unfortunately, but here we have it. I’m pretty proud of it because until you test something, really how do you know. How do you know what’s good, what’s bad, what works, what doesn’t. You need to test and it needs to be done with science.

Matthew: I think there is a certain amount of it too that has to do with the density of people. You have all these people that are technologically savvy, but they’re in a dense area, kind of like San Francisco or New York City. The more dense these people pack in, these ideas kind of spill over from one coffee table to an office and then down the block all in one day and it kind of starts this flow of things happening that you can’t always chart.

Yoni: Yeah and also if you think about it Matt Israel, like I said, small country. It’s basically like a state. It is the state of Israel, but if you imagine like a state in the US and it’s easier to get things done on a smaller scale. For example in California, they’re very very liberal about cannabis, and maybe if they weren’t bound by federal law then they would have already allowed research and they would have already allowed all these different things. So it’s easier to get things done on a smaller scale when there’s kind of less people, less hoops to go through, although it’s not always the case in Israel. People will make it difficult here in some things. That’s just kind of the nature of Israelis, but that’s also if you’ve ever met any Israeli, than that’s also kind of a (24.36 unclear). So in your face, tell you how it is, get things done kind of mentality.

Matthew: Hutspa.

Yoni: Hutspa yeah pretty much.

Matthew: I’m going to be using these terms all over the place here. Schlepping. I use that one all the time. I kind of like that one because it’s like an onamonapia. You can kind of visualize what the word means just by hearing it.

Yoni: Yeah exactly.

Matthew: Well let’s circle back to Leaf here. We were talking about the science and technology coming out of Tel Aviv. Tell us a little bit more about the cutting edge design and technology features in Leaf itself because there’s a lot of things going on here. Controlling temperature, moisture, odor, just walk through some of the features you get asked about the most or people think are the coolest.

Yoni: I can tell you what I think is most important and what is most important for the plants because bottom line is we want to get an amazing crop and an amazing medicine come out of this. Climate control number one. Temperature, humidity, the moisture, as you said, that also goes down to we’re a hydroponic system and even the temperature of the water is important to allow the roots to properly soak up nutrients and things like that. So that’s number one, and that’s a system on its own. Most people are familiar with cannabis grow systems and the fact that you need to circulate air from the outside and bring in new air because you want to have a consistent CO2 level.

The plant will take the CO2, use it for photosynthesis, convert it into oxygen and that’s always happening. So it becomes really difficult to control this environment. Imagine your refrigerator, my mom used to always yell at me when I used to kind of lurk in front of the refrigerator with it open because then it would lose its temperature, this is kind of similar. We need to maintain a specific humidity and temperature while essentially the door is “open” because you’re getting new air every minute from the outside. So it’s complex in its own way. We’re talking about a very small grow area. Normally you don’t really have systems that are off the shelf but then heat or cool the small area. Normally air conditioning is for at least the size of a small room, not the size of just a refrigerator. So that’s one of the systems.

We have a system with capsules, nutrient capsules. Imagine kind of like an ink inside of an ink jet printer that you can kind of click them in and connect it to pumps. Those nutrients on the schedule times or dynamically, depending on what grow recipe you’re using. There’s more basic recipes. There’s more advanced recipes and that works also with the PH. You mentioned odor. We have an active carbon filter that deodorizes everything. Our lighting, you can change the different intensities dynamically at any given time. And there’s more and more and more. Really we sort of thought through every little thing, and nothing from what existed in previous growth systems that were commonly used or grow tactics and strategies that were commonly used. We didn’t take anything for granted. Like hey everyone has been doing this for 20 years. Let’s just do that. That’s already done. We relooked at everything and that’s why I believe that we’ve created something that is completely unique to the market and I think people are really going to enjoy it.

Matthew: Tell us a little bit about your co-founder because it sounds like he’s probably involved in a lot of the day-to-day kind of nuts and bolts of how these things are worked. I know you are too, but tell us about his skillset and what he brings to the table and how it’s impacted the design and range of Leaf.

Yoni: Eran is my co-founder. He’s our CTO. He’s the tech guy, the hardware, mostly hardware guy. First of all what he brings to the table is that he’s awesome. He’s awesome, he’s always in a good mood no matter what’s going on. That’s the number one thing really, but his background is in product design and manufacturing. So he’s the head of company, boutique firm for industrial design and engineering and manufacturing of products. They’ve done consumer products, medical devices and anything. He’s brought several dozen products to the market that you can go and find in stores today, and that’s really important.

Anything from manufacturing technologies to when you’re thinking in a design process there’s more than just making it cool. There also needs to be a manufacturing process attached to every cool thing that you want to physically make. So it’s really really great having that experience on the team and actually leading the team because then we don’t waste time with things that are just unrealistic. We want to try and move as quickly as possible. We’re creating really a home appliance. It’s also certified, all the safety procedures and certifications are of a home appliance, just like your dishwasher, your refrigerator or anything that is supposed to work for years and years.

His experience is really bar-none from any person that I’ve met in my professional life, and it’s been an honor to partner with him and we’re both fully immersed in this 150 percent. We love it and he’s also a great friend. He’s a great friend. We worked together on Alcohoot, not as partners. His company did the industrial design and then he sort of taught me the ropes of how to kind of manufacture and how to build the quality assurance process for a manufacturing line. I’ve just learned so much from this guy. He knows how to hire the right people and he knows how to get the job done which is fantastic.

Matthew: Oh that’s great to have such a synergy with a co-founder. How big is your team now? How big is the Leaf team?

Yoni: We are 21 people. We’re 21 people and I am the only non-engineer. There’s 20 engineers on the team. It’s crazy. It’s absolutely crazy. Maybe that just speaks to how deep we’ve gone into the technology here to make it something that will be totally relevant ten years from now.

Matthew: Now when’s the launch date? When will people be able to actually buy Leaf, and what will it cost?

Yoni: People can already preorder. We launched preorders late in December, and it’s been going very well. You can put a deposit down today of $300 and the balance of the unit will be in September when we start to ship. The balance is $2690. So the total price is $2990. That includes the first round of nutrients and filters and basically everything that you need to start growing an excellent crop.

Matthew: Okay, so putting down the deposit kind of guarantees your place in line.

Yoni: Exactly, exactly. You’re basically putting a deposit on a unit that’s going to be manufactured for you. We’re not asking you to take the financial risk or anything. Of course you can get a refund on that deposit up until we ship the unit, but we do want kind of a serious (33.08 unclear) so that we know we can know when manufacturing, know how many units approximately order needs to be and you know this is really a brand new product. It’s an appliance. It’s something new that doesn’t exist, and so I think this is a great way to gauge the interest of people and also succeed in our business goals of knowing how many to manufacture, not too many, not too little and so on and so forth.

Matthew: Well now that we know the price let’s talk a little bit the return on investment. What kind of yield can a customer get from homegrown cannabis with Leaf would you estimate?

Yoni: With Leaf you’re going to get easily four to five ounces worth of high quality cannabis. That is per growth cycle. A growth cycle is three to four months depending on the strain, depending on if you started from a seed of a clone, but let’s just say three to four months. So that’s four or five ounces, let’s say three times a year. In the first year the unit will pay for itself. So that’s pretty awesome because most technologies that you buy, whatever the cost is, it’s sometimes difficult to gauge exactly what it’s worth. For example my laptop, I don’t know how to gauge it. I mean it’s definitely worth it for sure.

Matthew: But you can’t measure it exactly like you can like hey I spent this much last year buying flower. Yeah that is nice, especially for someone that’s consuming a lot. It’s like a no brainer.

Yoni: I think that the number one reason, I don’t just think this, we talk to our customers. It’s not the number one reason why people buy this is to strictly just save money, and quite frankly let’s be honest for the people who are just looking to just save money and it’s all they want to do, they’re going to go and build a grow room, a little grow room for themselves. They’re going to invest the time in understanding it, if that’s all you’re worried about. If you’re looking at this from a perspective of getting the highest quality bud that you can get, the highest quality medicine that is completely chemical and pesticide free and just doing that consistently and having a fun experience while doing it.

This product is sort of like a game in a way. It’s like a new video game except you’re not just getting digital trophies. You’re getting a real live plant which is super awesome. So I think those are the main reasons to begin. Then when you think about it hey you know in the first year it’s paying for itself anyway so that’s kind of a logical reason to back it up. Yeah it will pay for itself in the first year.

Matthew: I’ve grown my own tomatoes and jalapenos and different plants and it may be totally psychosomatic but there’s something about growing your own plants and then consuming them and like wow this tastes better than I imagined and it’s better than what I can get from the grocery store or dispensary and that could be totally in my head, but there is something there. It’s kind of a pride of ownership and especially if you have friends that they Leaf, they’re growing their own plants. You kind of compare notes which leads me to the social component of Leaf I want to talk about a little bit because you were telling me before the interview about the recipe builder which you mentioned, how you can take pictures and so forth. Can you talk a little bit about kind of the social aspect, the sharing and even it’s somewhat of a gamification of growing where you’re showing people your recipe hoping they use it and so forth. So can you kind of give some highlights there on how that will work?

Yoni: Yeah totally. Gamification is really a great word. We really love this kind of artisanal experience of growing cannabis and it’s been going on for years and years and traditionally people have been basically sharing their techniques, their grow recipes, if you will. It’s been done from word to mouth for years, on forums, kind of in different ways. We love that artisanal experience, and we wanted to bring it into Leaf. Out of the box Leaf has default recipes for a bunch of different strains or strain types, since we can’t really test ever single strain, as you and imagine, but in addition to that, you can also build your own grow recipe. So if you have for example a strain that we’ve never grown, and you got your seed and you planted them you can start building out a recipe. For example what is the intensity of the light at different stages. How much nutrients at different stages? What do I want the day time temperature and humidity to be versus the night time temperature and humidity at different stages? At what height or at what day do I switch to flower.

You can get as deep as you want with this. There’s a built in HD camera within Leaf that actually records your process as you go and you can also see a live stream during the grow. What’s really cool is after, when you’re showing off your grow recipe on our community function, you can show off these time lapses in addition to the recipe. So there’s sort of more, here’s what actually came out of this and this is how good it looked. People can sync, with one click, that recipe into their device. So if they have the same strain, they’re going to get very very similar results. You can rank the recipes. The top recipes are shown within the community. I expect people to be competing with each other. I expect people to be trying out new things that our team has never thought of, and this community function is something that is going to be updated weekly. Not just something that we’ve built and just going to let people go with it.

We’re going to allow people to go with it, but we want to highlight our growers. We want to highlight our community members and give them a spotlight. Of course, you don’t have to show off your grow. Everything is completely anonymous if you want it to. You don’t have to have access. You don’t have to even have the camera on if you don’t want. As you can imagine, people want their privacy and we respect that completely, but if you do choose to, then there’s going to be a whole new world for you to explore. You can also just consume recipes. You don’t only have to show them off. You can just say I just want to see them and sync them, and I don’t want to maybe rate them, but I don’t want anything else beyond that. That’s fine too. That’s fine too. In general you’re getting a full recipe, we call it a grow recipe builder, with the app and a community tab that you can see all of these and rank them and et c.

Matthew: That would be very helpful. The first time right when you get your Leaf and be like hey for this first harvest I want to just copy a recipe from someone that’s already having success with this or it looks like it will be easy to do. Watch how it happens and then maybe I’ll create my own recipe the second go around or the third go around.

Yoni: Yeah and we have our default recipes, the Leaf ones that most people, I think, will probably opt to use those to begin with even before you get into the app, the community functions. There’s our recipes that we show, but you know what Matt I’ll tell you honestly, you heard it here first on this show if there’s going to be a community recipe out there better than our defaults, we’ll change it. I expect that thousands of growers are going to be able to do a much better job than the dozens or hundreds of even test grows that we’re doing, and I would be pretty proud and excited if we changed our default recipe to something that a community member made. That would be awesome.

Matthew: Yeah a lot of pride there for sure. I remember playing Nintendo as a kid and thinking I was great and then you see some of these people around the world, their high schools and you’re like holy cow. It makes you up your game quite a bit when you realize there’s people out there that can get 10X the score, they’re playing on a different level. Not to say that Nintendo is the same as growing cannabis, it’s just that it does. It does something when you can kind of see what your peers are doing, and not just about points, but just like hey I’m helping someone to have a better experience. There’s a lot of value in that.

Yoni: Yeah absolutely and the key here is is because every Leaf is so tightly controlled. It doesn’t matter if you’re growing in the winter in Canada, in the summer in Miami or whatever it is, you’re all going to get consistent results using the same types of nutrients, same growth space, same light, same conditions. I think that’s really powerful, and the gamification part of it is fun, interactive and awesome, but also imagine there might be a specific let’s say very high CBD strain that’s pretty rare, but someone made a recipe for it and it’s very good and then people are going to be able to get their medicine that is specifically tailored or works for them and they’re going to be able to get that in a very high quality even if our team has not been able to specifically calibrate to that strain. That’s also something that opens up a new world that just doesn’t exist right now and we can’t wait for that. We can’t wait for that.

Matthew: You mentioned that you have a filter for the odor and for the people that want privacy and they’re worried about their landlord or neighbors or anything, they don’t want the odor to go too far. Does it sequester the odor entirely or is it just kind of pull the order within a few feet? I guess that really depends on everybody’s different circumstances and where they live and airflow and things like that. I mean to what extent do those filters sequester the scent?

Yoni: So this is how I always say, in order to smell it you would need to literally come up, put your nose touching the crevices of the unit, the little small, there’s not even openings. It’s all air tight, but you would need to literally put your nose up to it to smell a little bit of hint of cannabis. But if you’re standing even a foot and a half away, you’re not going to smell anything at all.

Matthew: Okay.

Yoni: Because all the air that is in the system all passes through this filter and it clears up 99. Something 9 percent of the odors and also a few other particulates. So that part is pretty… that also exists in a lot of systems today. So we didn’t invent carbon filtration. We put a little spin on it to work for us. The caveat to that is that the active carbon gets used up and if you don’t change the filter for a very long time and there’s no more active carbon to deodorize. So these filters need to be exchanged, but we sell them. So you can purchase them from us. They cost what you would pay for a gray carbon filter at your local (44.55 unclear) shop which is $39 and it’s also $39 for a whole set of nutrients that last for a full grow. So $78 for a full entire grow. The filter even lasts a little longer than a grow. So that’s the caveat, if you don’t replace it, but the Leaf app tells you when to replace it, when it recommends to replace it and you can order that directly from us, gets to you quickly and odor free. Odor free.

Matthew: And what about the drying and curing process, all done within the unit as well?

Yoni: Drying is. Curing is a process that takes a long time in that it’s done within jars. It doesn’t need to be done within the system, but we show you how to do it, and drying, you also dry within the system. So basically we show you how to harvest the plant properly, how to cut it down, what to cut down. Some people are confused, do I cut it off the entire stem? Do I cut it down to the branches and just individual flower. So we show you how to do it. We put on thsese individualized racks inside the system, close it up and you hit dry mode and it changes the temperature and the humidity to a level that will optimize the drying process in terms of speed and consistency.

What’s also super cool is that there’s still a continuous air circulation. So all the fans are still working, and it’s still deodorized right. It’s really smelly when you’re drying, as anyone who has dried cannabis knows. That’s when all the aromas are coming out and also even other things. Chlorophyll is starting to leave the plant. So it’s really smelly and it’s nice to have it in this entight closure that cohesively kind of dries everything. So everything is dried in the same way and you’re not getting some that are very dry and brittle and then some that are still wet. Everything happens really nicely. Once you’re done drying, you can put it into jars and you can cure from there as long as you want. It’s ready to consume after drying, but I like to cure it for taste and better taste and better flavor.

Matthew: Okay.

Yoni: You could start consuming immediately and continue to cure as you go.

Matthew: Have there been any lessons you’ve learned about being a CEO in moving forward that have been perhaps hard lessons to learn but meaningful that you would like to share?

Yoni: Hard things? Well I will say something that is specific kind of to the cannabis industry and that is the consumers, the people, the customers for your products, they are ready for these products. People consume cannabis and I think that’s not really a secret to anyone. Even if you don’t look at the sales numbers of retail cannabis you know because we live in society and we see that people consume this all the time regularly and as part of a normal, healthy lifestyle. The business communities, investors and things like that, not everyone is 100% sure how the market is going to react to everything.

So one thing I’ve learned is you really need to recognize that … I came from a tech background, hardware and tech and there’s just a certain way that things work there. It doesn’t work the same in cannabis. That’s been something that I’ve needed to learn. There’s a bunch of specific takeaways but one of them is if you’re raising money from investors you need to really pinpoint the people that sort of get it, as opposed to trying to convince people that it’s going to be something. So that’s one thing.

Then a general thing that I’ve learned in business is that the team is the most important thing. Team, the culture is the most important thing because there’s good products and there’s good ideas all over the place. In as startup, as they say, things are going to hit the fan no matter what. It’s going to happen, and a good team will survive and then thrive after a very difficult hurdle. Teams that are not very, I won’t even say good, because sometimes there’s very talented people in teams, but there’s no cohesiveness and there’s no culture and things just don’t mesh well. So I would say if you’re an entrepreneur, your team is the most important thing. Not how much money you have in the bank, of course sometimes you need a certain amount, but without the team it’s going to be very hard to succeed. So bring in people that are smart but that also there’s good chemistry and that they are really a part of the mission.

Be transparent with your team as much as you can, especially as an early stage startup. Normally you’re one to twenty, one to twenty-five people which is still a small company. Be transparentwith your team. You’ll be very surprised if you have the right people that they will help you come up with solutions that you never even dreamed of and it’s not always up to just one person at the top to say hey we’re doing this, we’re doing that. We’ve had a lot of success involving our team in everything that we do, I mean, pretty much everything. That’s some advice I think that people should hear.

Matthew: How about if you could wave a magic wand and make one of the more difficult things about Leaf be solved right now and forever, what would that be?

Yoni: Well if I could wave a magic wand and get whatever I want, there would be a lot of things. But if it was only regarding specifically Leaf, then I think that we have a bunch of different… we’re not getting to technical. There’s a bunch of different sensors and things that are just difficult to work with and this has been kind of a problem in growing. Growers will know that sensing PH and TBS and calibrating those sensors and things like that. It’s something you need to learn and something you need to build with. We had to go through almost a year, three people just working on re-engineering sensors to make them work for something that will be easy, and we have done that. I’m really proud of that, but in the early days I wish I could have just waved a magic wand and just had it ready. So that’s just kind of one little thing, but honestly I think it’s all about the journey anyway, everything in life.

Matthew: Yeah. Also it makes it harder for your competitors behind you if it’s that difficult.

Yoni: I don’t know. Do they also have the magic wand?

Matthew: No. We’ve only lent it to you temporarily.

Yoni: Okay only to me. But in all honesty yeah there’s just a lot of technical challenges that I wish, I don’t wish, if we didn’t have them that would be easier on us and certainly would have had a few less gray hairs but like I said, all a part of the journey and we’re thankful for it.

Matthew: Yoni, I like to ask a few personal development questions to help listeners get to know you a little bit better. With that is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you would like to share?

Yoni: You know I don’t really read that many books for pleasure. I like to learn things as I go in life. I also have horrible ADD that I just can’t sit and read a full book. So don’t really have any tidbits there, but things that have always helped me in my career, in my life is just sort of looking around, listening, and taking the things that sort of meshed well with me and my life goals. Sometimes when you hear something you can hear someone talk about something and one thing that they said really sticks out to you and you really like that. I just take up those types of things from everywhere, from every person that I meet, from places that I travel, places that I go, other businesses. I’ve seen use cases.

That way you start to kind of build your own business personality and just the way that you like things done. Some people want things done really really quickly and later you can figure out the quality. Sometimes there’s people that the quality needs to be perfect the second it comes out. There’s all these different types of things. So for me it’s always been about just listening to other people and taking away the things that I think are good from what they’re saying. Some people I listen to more than others, but I can tell you that just a person that I listen to a lot and that I really like is Elon Musk. I know I’m not the only one there. That might be pretty common, but I really do like a lot of what he talks about, what he’s done. Tesla is one of the companies that we really looked at at the beginning and we made an inspiration board and Tesla was one of the companies that we really felt that inspired us to kind of push the envelope on innovation and what a lot of people think is very very difficult or a huge challenge that might not be worth investing the time, energy and money to solve we feel like we’ve taken a lot of inspiration. He’s just someone that I kind of look up to and there’s a lot more, but from a product perspective I think he really has hands, his companies and specifically Tesla, speaking of they really do a great job.

Matthew: How about is there a tool web based or otherwise apart from Leaf you consider really valuable to your day-to-day productivity?

Yoni: Oh yeah, there’s one that I talk about a lot that I really like. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with Leaf or I use it all the time. It’s called Similar Web. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. Similar Web is a really interesting website. They have a Google Chrome extension that I use literally every single day. Basically what it is is you can go to any website or you can type in any website and you can see the data of how many visitors approximately are coming to that site per month in different months, where the traffic is coming from, the name of the sources, the geolocations of the users, referrals, things like that. It’s really great for a lot of things.

It’s kind of there on my extension bar in Google Chrome and it’s just easy to click it and see it. Once you start using it you realize that you can learn a lot of different things and it can take you on many different pathways when you’re researching whatever. It shows you different ads, audiences, things like that. So Similar Web is one thing that I use every single day.

Matthew: Wow that’s cool. I haven’t heard of that. I’m going to check that out for sure.

Yoni: Yeah it’s Similar Web. It’s an Israeli company. Actually I didn’t know that until months after I started using it. Really cool.

Matthew: Yoni where are you in the investing process? Are you taking on more investors?

Yoni: Well you’re always sort of investing money in a startup but are we looking for investors? Right now we’re taking investments on a Series A round. People can contact me. I’m sure if people are interested there’s going to be all my information here at the end of the show. There’s still a little bit of space left in the round.

Matthew: Is there a minimal commit for investors?

Yoni: Yeah there is a minimum commit. I don’t want to talk about it publically right now about the actual terms or anything like that, but again I think the serious investors can probably get a hold of us pretty easily.

Matthew: Okay, Just a super quick interruption to this interview because we forgot to actually say Yoni’s email. It is jofir@getleaf.co. Now back to your program. So that would probably be for a credited investor it’s going to be for. So people who aren’t familiar with that term, just Google that.

Yoni: Exactly yeah.

Matthew: Okay tell us one more time when Leaf will be available so everybody knows and also your website.

Yoni: Yeah so Leaf is available for preorder right now. The website is www.getleaf.co, just like it sounds. A $300 deposit secures a unit today. The balance when we ship. It’s fully refundable up until then, and there’s still units available. We have a limited manufacturing run that’s still open. We’ll probably still have within the next month or two, but it’s still available right now, and if you guys are interested, I urge you to go take a look. We have awesome videos showing how the product works on our site. A lot of in-depth information about how the systems work, etc. Of course there’s a live chat that you can ask us any questions that you want right then and there on the website.

Matthew: Yoni, thanks so much for coming on CannaInsider today. We really appreciate it and good look with shipping the first units. This is really exciting.

Yoni: Thank you , thank you and thanks for having me again. We’re closing a circle here right now.

Matthew: That’s right. Alright, take care.

Yoni: Alright Matt.

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Packaging Options for Cannabis Infused Products

cannabis packaging assurpack

Interview with Nancy Warner the founder of Assurpack.com.

Nancy leveraged her background in pharmaceutical packaging to bring child-safe packaging and automation to the cannabis industry.

Learn More at, Assurpack.com

Key Takeaways:
[2:08] – What is Assurpack
[2:31] – Nancy talks about her background
[4:52] – High-level overview of where product packaging is in the cannabis space
[5:44] – Nancy talks about what can happen with poor packaging
[6:20] – Different packaging options for infused product companies
[8:18] – Nancy talks about where she fits in in a company’s lifecycle
[11:33] – Nancy talks about designing packaging
[13:38] – Price ranges for packaging
[15:32] – Timeframe for custom packaging
[17:39] – Process of packaging
[20:18] – Nancy talks about the evolution of the packaging industry
[21:53] – Transitioning from the pharmaceutical to cannabis industry
[25:10] – Most common questions Nancy gets from prospective clients
[27:39] – Nancy answers some personal development questions
[30:24] – Nancy’s contact information

Important Update:
What are the five trends that will disrupt the cannabis market in the next five years? Find out with your free guide at https://www.cannainsider.com/trends

Read Full Transcript

Packaging is a huge consideration for cannabis infused product companies both in terms of having a child-proof and safe product but also in terms of maintaining a visible brand identity that resonates with customers. Here to talk with us about packaging in the cannabis industry is Nancy Warner of Assurpack. Nancy, welcome to CannaInsider.

Nancy: Thanks Matt. Great to be here.

Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?

Nancy: I am in northern New Jersey. A few miles from New York City.

Matthew: Okay great, and I’m in Edinburgh, Scotland today.

Nancy: Cool.

Matthew: So Nancy what is Assurpack at a very high level? Tell us what it is.

Nancy: Assurpack is a packaging company that provides custom engineered child resistant packaging solution, both components and some equipment, for mostly infused and edible products.

Matthew: Okay. And what’s your background? How did you get started with Assurpack and then get into the cannabis industry?

Nancy: Okay well I’ve been in the packaging industry my whole career. I have a degree in package engineering so I’ve been doing this a long time.

Matthew: I didn’t even know that was a field of study. Where do you go for that?

Nancy: I went to Michigan State but there are probably about 10 different universities around the country that have this program.

Matthew: Oh that’s cool.

Nancy: And I started out on the corporate side and I was actually at a pharmaceutical company as the manager of package engineering and then switched on to the supplier side and worked in the pharmaceutical contract packaging industry and business development and sales for most of my career. So I pivoted out of that corporate sales environment to try and do some more entrepreneurial ventures and ended up starting Assurpack when I saw an opportunity in the cannabis space with my background in child resistant and pharmaceutical packaging.

Matthew: Good timing. Good timing there. Now I mean in the case of pharmaceutical companies they have such a huge margin on their product that it really does make sense to look at how to impact the perceived value of consumer’s choice. Did you take a lot of that away from your experience in the pharmaceutical industry and bring it over into the cannabis space?

Nancy: Well what I find is interesting Matt is in the pharmaceutical industry all the packaging is geared towards high speed automation. Okay, and the packaging is not that innovative when you look at it because of the required automation and speed at which these packages have to run on machines. So what I did was kind of look at how to reverse engineer some of these packages used in the pharmaceutical industry into simple components that don’t require high speed machinery to bring it to the cannabis industry. Also now it’s opened up a lot more opportunity for creativity because we don’t have the demands of running on high speed machines right now.

Matthew: Yes it’s too small for that. Give us a high level overview for people that just don’t understand or they’re just getting into the cannabis space or they’re in it but they don’t really understand where we are at a high level in terms of where is cannabis product packaging right now if you had to give someone a quick summary?

Nancy: Well I would say the quick summary from my perspective is that we’re moving beyond what I would call simple bottles and bags and I think the industry started out with simple Ziploc bags and pharmacy type bottles and now you see a lot more creative child resistant packaging that is really doing some beautiful branding with the packaging out in the industry. So I’m very excited about it.

Matthew: Now a lot of people spend a lot of time thinking about hey I want to get this much THC or terpenes or such and such into my product or I want to have the most tricomes per square inch or something like that and they’re not thinking about the packaging. What’s at stake if packaging is not executed or is poorly executed? What can happen? What do you see? What are the outcomes?

Nancy: Well I think one of the outcomes is that you’re limited in your choice of what type of packaging you can use. If you don’t start looking at the packaging options and how you plan to package and what you need for your package when you start thinking about your product development, then you’re going to leave the packaging options until the end and then you’re going to be scrambling and just take whatever is easily available and readily available to help you launch. So my suggestion to people is always start early.

Matthew: Okay. And walk us through the different kinds of packaging there is for infused product companies right now.

Nancy: Okay well one of the packages that we’ve been bringing to the cannabis industry is a unit dose or a single serving blister package, and in order to make that blister package child resistant we use a patented blister card that was developed for the pharmaceutical industry and I brought this to the cannabis space. That card provides what we call an F1 Certified Child Resistant feature meaning it’s the highest rated child resistant package. If you get into one blister cavity, one dose it’s considered a failure in the child resistant protocol test that we have to go through.

So this blister package has allowed a process in a manufacturing operation where people can have a machine. They’re using blisters, not little single blisters, but we try to give them a good manufacturing process to get some better output and a reliable speed at which they can package their products. Also the dosing becomes more reliable. We’re engraving the Colorado required symbol into the bottom of the blisters so people are actually using our blister as the mold for their candies. So they’re pouring the hot candy into the blister and the symbol is at the bottom so when the product sets up in the blister that symbol is on the candy itself, and then we use that for the blister inside the package as well. So you’re not having to pour candy into a mold, take it out of the mold, put it into a package.

Matthew: Okay. So it’s flush. The candy is flush in the blister pack if they make that mold or they thing ahead of time. That makes sense. Makes it kind of a perfect fit as possible.

Nancy: Right.

Matthew: Now do you work mostly with startups or mature companies? Where do you fit in with different sized companies in their life cycle?

Nancy: Well we’ve been working with a lot of startup companies, some of who have grown very large and some of whom have not. The type of packaging that we provide, especially in the blister packaging where you need some equipment and it’s manufactured on high speed machinery, you need some good volume in order to justify the investment to do that type of packaging because there’s custom molds and some small machines involved, but we’re also supporting some of the larger brands as well. What we do is very scalable. So we can start out with small, very semiautomatic type of systems and as we get bigger we can help support people into very high speed applications for these type of packages.

Matthew: So when you say you need some minimum size or quantity, in your mind, what is the kind of threshold where your services start to become more important?

Nancy: Well we have a threshold of about 25,000 units for our custom packaging, but this past year I’ve spent the year developing some new packages which are more stock items. They are injection molded, and these packages have been developed specifically for the concentrate products. So we have a little recloseable box with a silicone lining for wax and shatter and some of those type of product, and another size and shape of a similar package for prefilled oil cartridges. So those packages don’t require any machinery and also you can buy ver small quantities of those packages. So I’m trying to expand the product line to offer different types of packages to people.

Matthew: And it’s not required that a smaller or newer infused product company be able to do 25,000 units at once. They could do three months worth that could make up 25,000 or something like that, correct?

Nancy: Correct, correct. Yeah, and we also are working with companies to try to encourage them to look for customization in a simpler form such as a custom folding box to put a stock bottle into a very uniquely designed folding carton that can be printed and have a shape that’s very unique on their own. We give you the branding opportunity and it doesn’t necessarily require you to have a custom inner child resistant package.

Matthew: Okay. Now obviously everybody with an infused product really wants the product to stand out. Some people really have a knack for this where the design, there’s something really visceral about it where you have a connection that resonates with you and others just look like they were designed in a basement with low light with little thoughts or care at all and there’s such a huge spectrum there. Can you tell us anything about you or your customers where you look at the end product wow, this was properly done and maybe an example of when it’s not properly done. How to contrast those two things so listeners can stay on the right side and do things the correct way and have a product that looks great.

Nancy: Sure. Well what we do is mostly structural and what I would look at in terms of what you’re discussing as far as the branding is the graphic image and this comes from good graphic design. We don’t do graphic design, but we work with graphic designers who are using our packages and doing their graphics for these packages and I think the best branding comes from the best designers and that’s true in any industry. So I encourage people to seek out some good design help, either graphic or industrial design to give them input to create a brand because you can’t create a brand without some people who know how to do that. I think looking at getting the best help you can and the best services from people who you can look at their portfolios and see what they’ve done and select the right design agency or group that fits your needs.

Matthew: And do you refer out contacts in this way when people reach out to you for graphic designers?

Nancy: I do. I do if people ask me.

Matthew: Okay. I’ve also used 99Designs in the past and have been very happy. You create a design contest for packaging and you only have to pay if you like one of the designs. It’s a pretty clever system. So I encourage people to give that a try.

Nancy: Yes I’ve done that for a logo when I did that for one of my businesses.

Matthew: Yeah what did you think?

Nancy: It was a lot of fun. It worked.

Matthew: Yeah, can you walk us through one or two examples of what your service is and packaging might cost at a high level so we can digest how to budget for it because people have investors or they’re setting out budgets for the rest of the year and so forth and they just want to know how to properly think about this so they can say I’m going to sell this product at this price. I have to allot this much for packaging and so on and so forth. Do you have some real high level math there?

Nancy: Well it’s really hard to say Matt because packaging is really volume related especially when we’re doing custom packaging so something could cost 25 cents or it could cost up to a dollar. It really depends on what you’re doing and the size of the package and how many colors, but on the stock packaging we’ve created price lists for some of the items that are more standard and they range anywhere from 25 cents to 65 cents depending on what it is. So people want unique packages. I’m working really hard to find that solution.

One of the issues for me in development is that it’s so expensive to develop a child resistant package. You have mold cost, you have child resistant testing cost. I would say on average it costs me between $30,000 and $50,000 to develop a new child resistant package from scratch.

Matthew: Wow.

Nancy: It’s not inexpensive and it’s a long process.

Matthew: And you want to be sure you create a design that you can use for a while then if it cost that much.

Nancy: Yes, yes. I mean there are other less expensive versions of it. So maybe $20,000 to $50,000 but it’s a large investment. So companies like myself are taking that on so that smaller branded companies can have the advantage of having some of these unique packages.

Matthew: Okay. So let’s walk through typically, I know every case is a little different, but a client reaches out to you. They have some infused product and they want to work with you and they want to get some custom packaging done and want to automate it to some extent. How long does that back and forth take and what kind of information do you need from them and then finally when you have everything you need, if you do a run of 25,000, how long does that take?

Nancy: Oka we tell people that we can usually do a custom package in about eight weeks which is really not a long time for the blister packaging. For other packages that we do it could be less time than that. If we’re just talking about printing plates and dyes for a unique folding carton or if we’re talking about a pouch that we do that’s a single serving child resistant pouch with an opening feature. And as far as the stock items that we have we can do labeling application and decorating to customize those packages as well. So our timeframe doesn’t really go beyond eight weeks when we start working with people and they’re ready to commit and get going.

Matthew: Okay.

Nancy: We need information like the size of the product, what kind of tolerance is on your product. If we could recommend a size change slightly in the shape or the size, you might get a better layout and a more cost effective package. We need to know how many colors you’re going to print and what kind of graphics you want to utilize. So a lot of these questions come up in the beginning based on my experience and I have a colleague based in Colorado and she’s also from the pharmaceutical packaging industry. We know how to do this very quickly because we’ve been doing it a long time.

Matthew: Okay. Good. Now to what extent are humans involved. This is still somewhat pretty manual since the size is small. I look on one end of the spectrum you have Elon Musk in the Tesla factory that operates in the dark because it’s all robots and robots don’t even need light for eyes. This is a different thing. This is more elementary and you have a human involved.

Nancy: Correct.

Matthew: So if we were looking at a blister pack assembly for let’s say an infused gum, something like that, what does that look like?

Nancy: From the beginning, what does it look like?

Matthew: So you have the gum on one end and then how does it make its way through the gum getting into this packaging and sealed?

Nancy: Okay. We provide pre-form blisters and you would load your gum into each cavity and we help people how to do that in a process that’s not placing each particular piece of gum into a blister but there’s different ways to have a hand feed operation that’s a little better than one at a time. Then we would provide also the foil backing that matches the pre-form blister, and then there’s a heat seal machine that’s either a table top or larger versions that you would then seal that blister with the plastic and the foil with the gum inside into a sealed package.

Then the second step would be to put it into a child resistant package, either a blister card or a recloseable child resistant carton and that would maybe either require additional machinery or not. There’s recloseable cartons that you would then just attach the blister in that printed carton or our blister cards are a second heat sealing step where you would take the card, bottom card, place the seal blister with the gum inside of it with the foil and then the top card and that gets sealed together and when you take that out it’s a finished carded blister package ready to go.

Matthew: Okay. So we mentioned gum there, but can you just kind of rattle off the top packaging you do? Is it gum, gummies? What are they?

Nancy: We do gummies, packaging for gummies, for caramels, for chocolates, from mints, for chews. So many different types of products. For oil cartridges people want a blister card and also the blister card allows you to put it on a rack in a dispensary. So it gives you good display options in a dispensary.

Matthew: Do some people like to have a transparency window so you can see through?

Nancy: They do but then in Colorado the child resistant packaging is required to be opaque. So it depends on the state regulations of where you’re selling your product.

Matthew: Okay. And where are you helping provide packaging? Is it just in Colorado or are you in multiple states now?

Nancy: We’re in multiple states now so it’s pretty exciting.

Matthew: Okay so pretty much anybody can reach out to you if they’re interested if they’re in the United States.

Nancy: Absolutely.

Matthew: Okay. And how do you see the cannabis packaging market evolving? I mean you mentioned a little bit about the bags and how we’re moving away from bags somewhat. What do you think it will look like in three to five years from now?

Nancy: I think we’re going to have the most creative child resistant packaging in the cannabis industry that’s available in the market today. One funny thing that’s happening to me, a few of the packages that I’ve developed for the cannabis space I now have some pharmaceutical colleagues wanting these packages for pharma which is an opposite direction of where I was headed, but they don’t have these creative packages so I just find it really interesting what’s going on.

Matthew: There’s something about the cannabis industry that spawns creativity I think is what you’re saying Nancy. I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

Nancy: No it’s true and it’s very exciting to be a part of it.

Matthew: Yeah. You and I met in 2014 at the Marijuana Business Conference. I believe we were standing in line at the Starbucks there and at that time you were kind of doing your due diligence on the industry and wanted to bring your expertise to the industry. Can you tell us about your journey and transitioning from the pharmaceutical world. Because as I talk to you now, you’ve got both feet in this industry and you’re doing well with this and you have a strong foundation and it’s worked, but there’s a lot of people that are listening that are like wow, Nancy has this magical confidence but that’s not the case. I mean I try to paint a picture that it’s just people are building this brick by brick and there’s no magic wand. So could you just talk a little bit about your transition maybe from the pharmaceutical world, how you made that transition, how you went to shows and how you kind of made this happen step by step?

Nancy: Okay. So basically I had a small business in New Jersey, a pharmaceutical contract packaging in business that due to FDA regulations was not going to be able to grow because there was a huge fee that the FDA imposed on us. So I found myself in a position where I had a new business, relative young business that the business model was not going to succeed. So we were trying to look at different options of what we could do and my family from Colorado was at my house for a holiday in New Jersey. My sister-in-law and her twin sister own the oldest head shop in Boulder, Colorado. I’m going to shout out to the Fitter here.

And talked about what’s going on with legalization and some of the issues with some of the overdoses with edibles and it got me thinking about well they need child resistant packaging and after they left I started looking into it and there were regulations requiring child resistant packaging. This was in about April 2014. So I started thinking about what can I differently because bottles and bags were kind of boring, and I said there’s a different way to do this.

So in my mind I thought about the institutional pharmacy market and for those of you who are not aware of it, institutional pharmacy market is a big industry that is an industry that’s regionalized like the cannabis industry is and what people do there is they buy pharmaceutical products in bulk and then they have small machines that they’re buying preformed blisters and cards and they’re packaging patients’ doses for a 30 day one month dose with multiple products in servicing the prison industry, the nursing home industry, nursing homes, things like that. So that got me thinking because it was an interesting business model for this industry, and what I needed was a child resistant blister card because those cards are not child resistant.

So I knew the owner of a packaging company here in New Jersey who has the patented F1 Child Resistant Blister Card and I approached him and I said would you give me exclusivity to take your IP and your packaging that you would manufacture for me into the cannabis world. And because he’s known me a long time, and he trusts that I would take care of his IP and know what I’m doing, he said sure Nancy go ahead. So that gave me the basis to have something unique to go out and start selling, and I had to put the whole supply chain together of how to do this, create it, and then I had to go find customers.

Matthew: Sure. Yeah and that’s a good point. How do you go find customers? How do you do that?

Nancy: How do you do that? Well you just go to trade shows. You go out, you start talking to people. I’m constantly reading and listening to your podcast and other avenues so that I can learn about people and I just reach out and cold call, just put yourself out there.

Matthew: Yeah. What are the most common questions you get from prospects when they approach you at a trade show or they want to know what you do and how you can help them?

Nancy: Well I guess the questions that we get most are how do these packages work, like you were asking. And it’s not a simple story to tell and I wish I had it down in one sentence that would describe what we do and how we do it, but because it’s custom and a lot of it is custom engineered and there’s a lot of parts to it, we’re having to teach people what we do and what the packaging process is and how to do this.

Matthew: Okay. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing over the last few years since you’ve been in the cannabis industry about your approach or your technique or how you got into it, would you have done anything differently with that one wave of the magic wand? I like to stump here on CannaInsider Nancy.

Nancy: You know I’ve had few mistakes. I think one of the big issues has been getting the right professional support to help me from a business perspective. Not necessarily the packaging. I know the packaging part very well, but getting the right lawyers, getting the right accountants, financial support, getting people to help me with my supply chain. All those types of professional support has been challenging.

Matthew: Okay. You know I have people reach out all the time saying they want to get into the cannabis industry. It sounds like there’s a very specific need in your type of operation. If you were to hire somebody, what type of background do they need to have? What’s ideal?

Nancy: Well I think a packaging background is very helpful but not necessarily required because I can support people on the ground who aren’t technical with the technical support they need. So I think you have to be good with people. You have to be good with details. Follow through. I consider myself very professional and like to present myself and my company that way and want people on the ground who also do that.

Matthew: That’s good. So you’re saying as long as they’re professional and have some competency, you might be able to mold them into the right fit into your business.

Nancy: I think so.

Matthew: Okay. A few personal development questions to help listeners get a sense of who you are personally. So with that is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you would like to share?

Nancy: Well there’s a series of books that were written by a childhood friend of mine Iris Krasnow and her books are kind of a coming of age series and she started in the 90s until the 2000s and her first book was Surrendering to Motherhood and then she had a book about Surrendering to Marriage and then Surrendering to the Self, and she was a journalist and has interviewed people, women and have their stories and her stories. It’s just really a wonderful support system. When you’re by yourself it’s something to read and feel not alone and to listen to other women’s journeys and experiences who are similar to yourself and maybe give you insight and maybe how to think about something differently.

Matthew: Well that’s pretty cool to have such a meaningful book be written by a friend. Did you boomerang back around to your friend Iris and say hey, ask questions and talk about it a little bit?

Nancy: When we get a chance. She’s very busy as I am, we like to connect.

Matthew: Is there a tool web based or otherwise you consider indispensible to your productivity you would like to share?

Nancy: I think Google and all my Apple products. I think about this a lot because I’ve been in packaging and sales and business development for many years. Started out way before we had these tools and I’m so appreciative. I could not have this business today without these tools. There would be no way that I could pull everything together that I need to do on a daily basis without this. Finding resources, finding information, finding people. It’s just amazing to me.

Matthew: Yeah you’re not kidding. There’s one tool that I use called Jing and it’s this little thing that sits on my desktop. I press a button, a square pops up and then I can start recording something on my desktop and then I press finish and it gives me a url and I can share it with people. That tool has saved me probably hundreds of hours because I can show people what I mean instead of typing it out and hoping they comprehend what I mean and then can translate that into something. So it’s such a big deal. I don’t know how I got by without it. Now it’s just part of my day-to-day life. Every day I use it. It’s crazy.

Nancy: Sounds great.

Matthew: Yeah. It is. I asked you to share one and then I shared one too.

Nancy: Okay thank you.

Matthew: Nancy in closing how can listeners find out more about Assurpack and connect with you and find out about your services and so forth?

Nancy: Well they can go to www.assurpack.com. You can send an email through info@assurpack.com and we can get back to you with information and we would love to hear from people.

Matthew: Now are you going to be at the next Marijuana Business Conference and Expo?

Nancy: I am. I’ll also be at the next NCIA Trade Show in Oakland.

Matthew: Okay great. So look for you there then.

Nancy: I’ll be in D.C. in May with Marijuana Business Expo and then Oakland in June.

Matthew: Perfect. Well Nancy thanks for coming on and educating us about packaging. I wish you all the best.

Nancy: Thank you so much Matt. I do appreciate your connecting me with your audience.


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The Five Disruptive Trends Shaping The Cannabis Industry Now

Protect your Cannabis from Prying Eyes Interview with SneakGuard Founder Graeme Gordon

sneak guard

Graeme Gordon invented SneakGuard, a humidity controlled hand-held mini vault in response to his daughter that almost found his stash. This device is really very clever.

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Visit: https://www.cannainsider.com/sneak

Key Takeaways:
[2:00] – What is the SneakGuard
[2:31] – Graeme talks about his background
[3:17] – Functions of the SneakGuard
[4:53] – Graeme talks about a former name for SneakGuard
[7:58] – Specs of the SneakGuard
[8:46] – How does SneakGuard defend its contents
[10:27] – Graeme talks about the optimal moisture levels for cannabis
[12:47] – Why is vacuum a key benefit in storing cannabis
[13:31] – Feedback from customers
[13:54] – New product development
[15:54] – Graeme talks about working with manufacturers
[18:20] – Graeme talks about his experience at Arcview
[20:32] – Graeme answers some personal development questions

 

Read Full Transcript

Other industries with high value, sensitive materials have a lot of security options available to them to secure their goods. Cannabis is starting to have more options as well. I’ve invited Graeme Gordon to tell us about his product called the SneakGuard that can help you secure cannabis. Graeme welcome to CannaInsider.

Graeme: Hi Matt. Thanks for having me.

Matthew: Sure thing. Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?

Graeme: I am in lovely Tampa, Florida.

Matthew: Oh good. I’m in Austin, Texas today. So what is the SneakGuard?

Graeme: So SneakGuard is the only smell proof cannabis storage container on the market that combines a lock with a vacuum fresh sealing lid.

Matthew: Okay.

Graeme: So it’s mainly designed to prevent ingestion of cannabis but it can also be used for traditional medication. So it’s got a good mainstream appeal.

Matthew: Okay. What’s your background? How did you get into this industry and developing the SneakGuard?

Graeme: Well my background is actually rooted in corporate America. I was a creative entrepreneurial marketing executive for about 20 years. I worked a lot in global manufacturing and I know retail marketing so that was my past background, but I have always been a serial inventor. Kind of followed in my grandfather’s footsteps. So I’ve always enjoyed inventing products that make our everyday life easier.

Matthew: Good. Yeah so dive into the SneakGuard a little bit for me because when I looked at it initially I thought I was looking at a safe, and it does have a safe function, but there’s other things going on there. Can you just describe those a little bit more?

Graeme: Sure. So I actually invented SneakGuard out of necessity. I caught my four year old daughter snooping around in our bathroom and she was able to open one of those push and twist medicine bottles. Yeah it was a scary experience. Luckily she wasn’t hurt but it certainly could have turned out a lot worse. So I’ve always been inventive and decided to see if I could look around and find something to solve the problem and there really wasn’t anything on the market that suited my needs. So I did a lot of research and decided this was something that I wanted to do.

I felt like the push and twist had been invented and patented in the late sixties. So I thought this is something that could be improved. It would actually keep my kids safe and would be easy for adults to use while maintaining a good sense of security which I thought I had from the push and twist, but apparently my kid could open it.

Matthew: At four did you say?

Graeme: Four years old, yeah.

Matthew: That’s pretty amazing.

Graeme: Yeah. You know it’s remarkable, when I did my research I found out that there were plenty of cases out there of children even much younger than that that were able to do this. So it’s fairly common problem.

Matthew: Okay. You formally had a different name for SneakGuard. Can you tell us about that?

Graeme: Sure. So as I had mentioned I had caught my daughter snooping. So as a marketer and a brander I was trying to come up with a name for the invention. I did a study of several different names and came up with Snoop Guard because I thought it had addressed what the product solved which was snooping. So I proceeded down the normal entrepreneurial path. Block and tackle. You get your patents and your trademarks in line and I trademarked the name Snoop Guard and the US Patent Office actually granted me the mark. So at that point I owned the mark and moved forward into production and actually took orders.

This was back in October of 2015. We attended a trade show and about two weeks after that we received a cease and desist from a well know rapper or this rapper’s attorney and we sort of hit a brick wall.

Matthew: That’s kind of a funny thing though because you got the trademark legally and then it just becomes a battle of lawyers and who is willing to spend the most on lawyers essentially is what would happen. I imagine this rapper who everybody probably knows who it is would just have a lot of resources to throw at this compared to your average startup entrepreneur.

Graeme: Yeah it certainly hit me hard as a person because at that point I was really trying to affect children’s lives. I had a safety product and that’s what I thought you know, that was my focus. Safe, responsible storage, and I had to quickly put on my CEO cap, if you will, and think more about a business decision. Did I want to slug it out in the courts which would take up a lot of time and certainly a lot of financial resources or do I want to pivot and stay true to what I was trying to do which was follow the mission of safe and responsible storage. So I ended up with a quick pivot and we branded the company, changed the name to SneakGuard.

Matthew: And a karma would have it this rapper is in a trademark dispute with the Toronto Maple Leaves right now over his first cannabis product. I don’t know if you’ve read about that.

Graeme: Yeah. It’s amazing.

Matthew: It’s interesting how that goes around.

Graeme: It is.

Matthew: I do enjoy his music so I’m not going to be too hard on him.

Graeme: That’s okay. These things happen for a reason and we made a quick, fast recovery so things are actually going very well now.

Matthew: Let’s dive into the specifics. What’s the approximate size of the SneakGuard. If I was holding it, what would it look like and feel like?

Graeme: Okay so it’s a round container. It’s about 6.5 inches in diameter and 6 inches tall. So it’s got a stainless steel wrap. It’s really solid. It’s double walled so it’s got a lot of insulation. It can be stored in the refrigerator. It’s got a plastic lid that’s BPA free and it’s got a really cool design but it’s a very ergonomic design, very easy to grip and grasp and very simple to use.

Matthew: Okay. So it protects visually as people can’t see into obviously. That’s kind of the first line of defense, but how else does it defend your cannabis or other medicines you might hold in there?

Graeme: So the two major categories, most people have problems with cannabis storage is really either the safety or the freshness aspect of it. And the cannabis safety it’s a key point of pain among the public, the media, the industry and even the government. It’s actually one of the eight priorities listed by the Department of Justice. This is the safety side. So we got a resettable lock that’s actually built into the lid, and then of course like you mentioned the opaque stainless steel exterior which they both sold for the safety side of this.

With any sort of medication it’s always good to keep it out of the reach of children and adding a lock is just basically buying you insurance. So with the safety side taken care of we kind of started to look into the storage. When you’re storing cannabis you’ve got heat and moisture, light air and then handling that can all cause problems with cannabis. So we took the aspect of storage and took it a step further than just your normal air tight container and we added the vacuum pump and then the humidity control capability. So we’ve basically combined the two to control the environment from a freshness standpoint and the security side.

Matthew: Okay so let’s go into a little bit about the moisture. Why is moisture so important and what is the optimal moisture level for your typical consumer or cannabis enthusiast out there that wants to keep their flower at kind of the right moisture level?

Graeme: Okay well moisture in general when you’re talking about interacting with anything that’s organic including cannabis, moisture can cause mold and bacteria growth. So what you want to do is you want to control the humidity in a similar fashion that you would look at Sagora [ph] if you will or a Humadore [ph]. And each substance has a different requirement for humidity and cannabis, the general range you want to be in is between 55-65 percent. That’s a relative humidity percent. This is very easy to control with a closed system and what we use are Humidican packs [ph], and they are basically plug and play. They’re like little, if you will, sugar packs that you would find in a restaurant. You just drop them in and they automatically add or take out moisture as its needed. So it keeps it at the relative humidity based on that pack and you can buy it in that 55 percent or you can buy them at 65 percent. Either way they really work really well to stabilize your cannabis. You don’t have to worry about it going too dry or going too moist. It’s just automatic, put it in and you’re set.

Matthew: That’s pretty clever. I mean I can visualize this taking out or putting in, but how does it achieve doing both? Do you know about the specifics of that?

Graeme: Absolutely. There are different manufacturers that have similar processes. The ones that we use is a gel pack. It’s food safe. You can actually touch the material. You don’t have to worry about it. In fact there are some of the reps for the brand that we use which is Integra Boost who actually put it on their tongue. It’s harmless, but it’s a gel. Some other products use a salt type of substance and it’s literally a gel pack that’s in a paper wrapper and it automatically takes it in or out based on the chemistry of the gel.

Matthew: Okay. And what about vacuum. You mentioned the vacuum nature of sealing. Why is vacuum key or important benefit?

Graeme: Okay. Again, it goes back to anything that’s organic and this applies obviously in the food industry. We know oxygen is the enemy of freshness so by removing the oxygen your cannabis is protected from the deteriorating effects of the oxygen. That’s the purpose of the vacuum really is to remove that accelerator of decay and by doing that you can maintain freshness and you can maintain how long your product is going to last and the potency because over time everything decays.

Matthew: What’s the feedback been like from the early adopters?

Graeme: It’s been terrific. Once customers have this thing in their hands and they actually feel it and touch it and see that it’s substantial and something that they can use every single day and they don’t have to worry about anything, it’s really been tremendous.

Matthew: Are you working on any other cannabis security products at all?

Graeme: We are. Actually we have two products that are in the pipeline. One is about 80 percent through development and it’s an exciting skew. What we’ve done is the current model of SneakGuard uses a combination lock that you can reset. It’s a full wheel combination lock, and we have developed a biometric version which replaces the combination lock with a biometric fingerprint sensor and it holds up to 300 passwords or fingerprints that is. So what this does is it creates a chain of custody if you will because we’ve added a smartphone app via iPhone and the Android operating system which allows the administrator to open and close the container with their iPhone but also administer all the fingerprints. So you can tell who has accessed the container and when they’ve accessed it. This is something that we’re really excited about. I’ve seen the prototype. It works. It’s fantastic and we’re really excited about releasing that hopefully in 2017.

Matthew: What are the price points for both the SneakGuard and your new product here?

Graeme: So the SneakGuard, we call this the CombiFresh for the combination lock. It retails for $119.99 and the BioFresh which is our biometric version we haven’t actually priced it yet but we know it’s probably going to be in the $200 range.

Matthew: What’s it like working with manufacturers to bring your vision to reality because I know it’s sometimes difficult to iterate and to get them to see your vision and to trust them and to source the right materials. Just to do everything just the way you would want it done? Can you tell us anything about that journey?

Graeme: Well yeah it’s an exciting journey. I’ve worked in manufacturing in China for many years, but despite that fact it remains a journey and a challenge for anyone regardless of your experience. You always have to build a relationship with anyone that you’re working with, but when you’re working on a product that’s never been done before you really have to take a lot of time and energy to translate your vision. In our case with SneakGuard it’s such a complex solution even though it seems like it would be very simple. Just simply combining a lock with a vacuum, but working in a vacuum presents a whole set of challenges and also the usability.

You want something that’s going to be very easy to use. So again it was a lot of relationship building. Looking at a lot of factories that have different strengths. I always go back to the product never existed before so I couldn’t exactly go out there and say okay I want to find a factory that makes a container with a lock and a vacuum. There was no such thing. So I really had to work hard to find the right one that would work with me and also take the risk. You’re talking about a product that is not a toy. It serves a purpose that has to deliver on safe responsible storage. So I had to be very picky.

Matthew: Has there been any dispensaries that have shown interest in carrying this?

Graeme: There have absolutely. We’ve got dispensaries in Washington and Oregon, that area. Those seem to be doing very well. It’s sort of early in the game with the dispensaries. I think a lot of dispensaries are very preoccupied with moving the product that they’re there to sell. But in my opinion as prices settle down, they’re going to need to find margin dollars and ways to differentiate themselves and I believe that non-plant accessories will become a big part of their assortment.

Matthew: Sure. You recently presented at the Arcview Group. What was that like?

Graeme: The Arcview Group, that was amazing. It was such a terrific experience for me. First of all it was really exciting to see the energy and the sheer scale of the industry. It was so concentrated. The level of expertise and the knowledge all in that one area. I don’t know for your listeners who aren’t familiar with Arcview they do a really good job of qualifying perspective products and services for investors. So they know the industry ins and outs. They know the data. It’s sort of an industry that’s so new and there’s so much room for opportunity. Unfortunately there are a lot of opportunists out there when it comes to investing in the business, but they are one of the few that are really professional. They’ve got a lot of integrity. So for me it was a great honor to be selected and it was just a lot of fun to be there.

Matthew: Graeme where are you in the investing cycle post Arcview?

Graeme: We pitched Arcview the week before Thanksgiving. So we’re in our Series A right now. We’re definitely seeking investors. Our current round close is at the end of January and we are generating revenue. We started our sales in April 2016 with our launch and we are distributors, sorry, we have a distribution in 26 states, Canada and the UK. So we’re off to a great start.

Matthew: Great, great. And investors that are interested in connecting with you, what’s the best way to do that?

Graeme: The best way to do that is to reach me directly at my email address. It’s ggordon@sneakguard.com.

Matthew: Graeme I like to ask a couple personal development questions to give listeners a sense of who you are. Is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you would like to share with listeners?

Graeme: Sure, absolutely. One of the books that I’ve really enjoyed, I’ve read it a couple of times is Insanely Simple by Ken Segal. I was in the advertising business in corporate America all of my life, both on the agency side and the retail or client side. So I’ve always been a fan of branding and companies like Apple. So this book was written about Apple and really how Steve Jobs worked on the basic premise of keeping everything simple. Ken worked for an advertising agency that did a lot of work for Apple. So he was alongside of Steve Jobs the whole way, and he brings a really interesting perspective into the word simplicity and how you can use these principles that he lays out to guide you not only for your product but your advertising and really throughout your entire organization.

Matthew: I haven’t heard of that one. It sounds really interesting. Apple’s certainly done a masterful job of that.

Graeme: Yeah absolutely. For me it really hit a chord, especially with the simplicity side because simplicity is really important but it’s not easy to sit down and be simple. I think things that are intrinsically really simple or products have a lot more complex work behind them to get them to be simple versus some products or organizations that truly are very complex. Now Steve Jobs was a very complex person but everything that came out of there and to the point today still has that same feel of being very simple and for me that was really important for what I did and still do with everything. Not just product design but everything that I have as a touch point with a customer and my wholesalers, my distributors, my media partners and things like that. I think keeping it simple is key.

Matthew: I hope they can continue that radical simplicity with the car. It just sounds like they’re acknowledge developing the iCar. That’s a big jump from a phone or a computer to make a car, but I think it should be interesting to see them jump in and compete with Tesla in that domain.

Graeme: Absolutely. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. It’s exciting stuff right.

Matthew: Is there a tool web based or otherwise you consider indispensible to your day to day productivity that you would like to share?

Graeme: Yeah for me it’s a general tool. If I look at what I do I’ve developed a new product and kept a very flat organization through development and production because I want to scale the company but I like to be very nimble and I use a lot of outside vendors where possible. So for me my go to is actually the Adobe Suite which now resides in the cloud because content, I’ve got a new product and a lot of what I do is about education. Educating people why safe, responsible storage is important which means I need a lot of content and for me Adobe fits me very well. I use their entire suite all the way from web to audio, getting ready for pitches and things like that.

Matthew: Very cool. Is it the Adobe Cloud Suite then?

Graeme: The Adobe Cloud Suite right.

Matthew: Okay got it. Well Graeme thanks so much for coming on CannaInsider today. I really appreciate it and good luck to you with SneakGuard.

Graeme: Absolutely, thank you so much.

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