Ep 336 – Cannabis Jobs Are Booming, CEO of Leafly Gives The Details

yoko miyashita leafly 1

Covid-19 has not only accelerated advancements in technology but also the types of jobs needed to support the cannabis industry. Here to tell us more is Yoko Miyashita, CEO of Leafly.

Learn more at https://www.leafly.com 

Key Takeaways:

[48:11] An inside look at Leafly, the world’s largest cannabis information resource

[1:41] Yoko Miyashita’s background as a lawyer and how she got into the cannabis space

[4:20] How consumer behavior has shifted in cannabis over the last five years and where Yoko sees it heading

[5:37] How dispensaries leverage Leafly to increase foot traffic and drive sales

[9:41] Leafly’s partnership with Jane Technologies to create the most comprehensive and customizable product catalog in cannabis

[13:20] Leafly’s annual jobs report and how it’s making jobs in cannabis more accessible

[15:39] How cannabis jobs have exploded over the last few years to outstrip professions in dentistry, electrical engineering, and more

[23:04] The most hirable skills in cannabis right now and Yoko’s advice for those looking to enter the space

Click Here to Read Full Transcript

Matthew Kind: Hi, I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday I look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com. That's cannainsider.com. Now, here's your program.

COVID-19 has massively accelerated advancements in technology and the types of jobs needed to support the cannabis industry. Here to tell us more about it is Yoko Miyashita, CEO of Leafly. Yoko, welcome to CannaInsider.

Yoko Miyashita: Thanks for having me. Great to meet you, Matthew.

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

Yoko: I am in my bedroom today in Seattle, Washington.

Matthew: Great. What is Leafly on a high level for people that aren't familiar?

Yoko: Leafly is the world-leading cannabis information resource and consumer marketplace. We've been around for about 11 years, and we started as a strains database. If you think about the cannabis world 11 years ago, no information, no information online, no data, no science. We started as essentially an Excel spreadsheet where consumers could share information about strains and the different effects it had on them.

Being able to bring that critical information to consumers, which we've then added over the years with news and additional lifestyle coverage on cannabis, and then connect to them with licensed retailers in North America, that's just proven to be a really critical tool to help consumers navigate their cannabis journeys.

Matthew: Can you share a little bit about your background and how you got into the cannabis space and joined Leafly?

Yoko: Yes. Like many others in the space, I'm actually a lawyer by training. I spent 14 years prior to joining Leafly in the digital media space. For me, I'm a policy junkie. I love meeting policy issues where the legal and policy issues are at the center of a business. For me, that was IP in my previous career. When I was looking to make a change coming to Leafly, that brings together both this highly regulated industry, cannabis plus media, where I have a deep experience, was just this amazing opportunity to pursue both of those interests. I started here at Leafly as the general counsel and took over the role of CEO in the summer of last year.

Matthew: Yoko, just so to give people a sense of what Leafly apps like, if they were looking over your shoulder the first time they open it up the app, what would they see?

Yoko: They'd find a search box. This idea here is to be able to answer consumer's questions about cannabis. I just found this strain in the store, and I want to learn more about it, or I'm looking for this product, or I'm looking for this dispensary or brand. We start your journey with the questions that you have and navigate you to the information you need.

Matthew: Why explore strains at all? Why is that important?

Yoko: I think that strains are fascinating, thousands of strains, and we've got about 5,000 in our system, but we look at this-- This is where I think cannabis gets super interesting because prohibition has prevented so much research from being done. As we've seen legalization come through, what we have now is so much lab data to inform our understanding of cannabis, and that's the root of our strains information. We take strains information that have different cannabinoids, different terpene profiles, that complexity within the plant itself, informs the cannabis consumers experience.

If you're talking about I'm trying to use cannabis for this reason, whether it's recreational or for a medical application, this idea that you can actually dial into the experience you're looking for, that's why strains are so important. It's not just indica, sativa, hybrid. You have to go the next layer deeper of understanding cannabinoid profile as well as terpenes to get to the effects you want.

Matthew: Great point. When we first had Cy Scott, co-founder of Leafly, I think six or seven years ago, back then, it was really a lot more about the THC level of a flower. There was some talk about the CBD-THC ratio, but it was still very early. How much is the influence of cannabinoids and terpenes really influencing purchasing decisions for people in the Leafly app?

Yoko: We think so much about how to bring consumers and the millions in the wings waiting to try this into the world of cannabis. We actually look at that experience and say, "The idea of bringing new people in is all about making sure we help them find the products and strains that are right for their intended uses." If you look at the Leafly app, we talk at a strange level. We have the world's largest database of consumer aggregated effects.

Consumers tell us, "Did this particular strain-- Did it have the intended effects? What were some of the negative effects?" This idea of being able to help consumers pick and choose and find the strains and products they want are all tied to breaking down the science of this plant.

Matthew: A lot of retailers in the cannabis space dispensaries, they rely on Leafly to get customers in the door, the foot traffic. The customer start on Leafly. They're exploring, they start to decide on a strain. If you were to stop and just visualize one dispensary in your mind that does a really good job of leveraging Leafly in the best way possible to create a holistic market plan, what are they doing? How are they using Leafly? How do they leverage it to get more revenue and happy customers?

Yoko: I love that question. It really goes to what can Leafly do for this community, this ecosystem of everyone playing in the cannabis space. I go back to the complexity of the plant, and that's a high barrier to entry. It's not you just go and pick a red or white and pick your flower, but because of this inherent complexity of the plant, if we can help break that down for consumers, get them in the door, give them a basic understanding of the plant, how the plant works on your own individual biology, and then take them through the selection process. That's key.

We consider this as the top of the funnel. We bring more consumers into cannabis. This idea then of being able to bring them into the doors of retailers ties directly to how retailers show up on the Leafly website. We've been able to break this down as to what makes a retailer successful on Leafly. It starts with having a robust profile, your address, your business hours, what services you have available, and that can all be managed on the back end on the weekly platform.

The second thing is making sure their menus are up to date. You can update your menu through Leafly menu solutions, leveraging our 30 POS systems integrations, or you can manually manage your menu.

But this idea of managing your menu, one of the issues we have in this space is that inventory. Inventory and supply chains are complicated, so products aren't always on the shelves when you go into your store. If you think about the consumer experience, this is a situation where we have some online, but a lot of these transactions have to be concluded in the store. If that's going to happen, and if that's going to happen in a way that's going to be beneficial to the consumer, you got to make sure when they place a reservation on our site, that product is on your shelves when that consumer comes in. Part of that is maintaining your menu and keeping that up to date to ensure that consumer knows what is or is not available into your store.

Reviews. Reviews on Leafly are huge. Again, I think a lot about what is this experience-- It's one thing for a seasoned cannabis consumer to come in and shop, but if you're really new to this, and you're one of these new people who are like, "This looks really interesting. I've heard a lot about cannabis. I think this can help me," Again, you need additional information to make you feel confident in your purchase. Reviews do that.

The other thing we see a lot of is our deals. Consumers like deals. Think about what we see in our regular experiences, e-com shoppers. We want to see if there's something on sale. We've been able to dial into all of these ways to manage your profile on Leafly to make sure you're the most welcoming and efficient place for consumers to come in and conclude their purchase.

Matthew: If you were upgrading a dispensary, what kind of promotions would you create and entice people, free dogwalker? What would you say?

Yoko: In markets where you can offer deals, people love percent off, BOGOs. BOGOs are huge. [laughs] The hard part about this is it's a market-by-market variation depending on what the regulations allow.

Matthew: Leafly recently partnered with Jane Technologies, we've also had on the show. They offer a lot of different tools for retailers. Can you talk about that partnership and the synergies either?

Yoko: Yes. For us, this was an opportunity to combine the education and know-how of Leafly with the best in class product catalog experience of Jane. Maybe we could go back with our previous question around how can retailers make sure their presence on Leafly is optimized. I talked about the Jane product catalog because that goes to the core of this experience, which is the menu. What Jane has been able to do-- I got to back up two steps to talk about some of the challenges with product catalog that you'll see in this space. Product catalog is each individual store uploads their products into their POS systems to essentially drive their menu.

The problem is because you don't have any standardized product descriptors, like a UPC that's widely adopted in this industry, you end up with the same product being uploaded by different retailers to their menus with different metadata. It might be called differently. You might have a variation in the name of the product. You'll have a variation in THC content, or CBD content, or you may have some fields empty. What happens if you don't cleanse that data is that, on a site like Leafly, where you show a ton of different menus, the same product can manifest in totally different ways.

If you're a consumer-- I have a favorite topical balm. If product catalog data is not cleansed, that same balm that I know I've bought looks a particular way shows up with different kind of information across different menus. Then as a consumer, you're left wondering, "I really liked this product. I have it here. I know what it looks like, but is this the exact same thing that's showing across from this store to that store to the third store?" That really undermines consumer trust in shopping.

What Jane has done is cleanse the product catalog, so that when they're seeing menus for multiple retailers with these products that look similar, they can match, cleanse, and align to a single description of the product with a great product image, so when the consumer sees that product manifested on menus and platforms like Leafly, they say, "That's it. That's what I wanted, looks exactly like the product I bought. I know this is the one I want to order."

That's a very long-winded description of what they've been able to do, but when that powers menus across retailers, what we've done is then taken that menu and integrated it into the Leafly platform. If you're a Jane customer, and you're a Leafly customer, you can basically update your menu in one spot that's on Jane and push that through Leafly.

Without that integration, they would have had to maintain two separate menus. You can imagine what kind of duplication and potential opportunity for mistakes that that situation poses.

Matthew: Do you think there's going to be some consortium in the future of big players that get together and say, "Hey, let's standardize some things here?" Just the naming of it.

Yoko: I think that would be a fantastic idea. Ultimately, if you think about this is an exercise in building consumer confidence in the cannabis shopping experience, that is absolutely where I think we should go as an industry.

Matthew: Now, you recently launched a jobs report. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Yoko: Oh, yes. Let me talk about the genesis of the jobs report. This is something that Leafly has been publishing since 2017. We published this because the federal government doesn't. Think about that for a second. Your job, my job and any other industry would be counted in Federal Labor Statistics, but because of federal prohibition, there's no separate next code. There's no separate categorization for jobs in cannabis. That's where the jobs report came out of.

What we've been tracking now is jobs created in the US from legalization, and those numbers are massive. This year's report covering 2020, we've got 321,000 jobs in cannabis across this country. That's 32% year-over-year growth from 2019. I want to go back to how you started this. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on our economies and our jobs, but this sector, this is a shining light in our economy.

Matthew: Agreed. I wish we could talk about that more on a national level, but hopefully, that's going to start to happen here. I noticed that there's, I think, three senators pushing for some legislation that's hopefully going to move this ball down the field a little bit, but cautiously optimistic.

Yoko: It's interesting. We had with the green wave in November and New Jersey going wreck, we'd made some statements around that's the dominoes falling, and you just see the eastern seaboard lighting up.

This morning, I read about Connecticut. Virginia's legislature has moved legislation so quickly through their both chambers. I think when you see that kind of momentum, you see massive population areas basically saying, "We don't want to miss out on this," this is something that the federal government needs to listen to. We've got to make it easier for these businesses to grow, to grow state coffers and to essentially continue to create these jobs to drive our economy.

Matthew: Is there one or two bullet points from the jobs report that really stuck out to you as a cocktail party snippets that you could share?

Yoko: Oh, totally, tons. We've got more jobs in cannabis now than we have dentists in this country. We have more jobs in cannabis than we have electrical engineers and EMT and paramedics. I saw another state specific stat, which I thought was absolutely fascinating around more jobs in cannabis than police in Michigan.

Matthew: Wow. [laughs] That one's particularly nice.

Yoko: I think it's time to wake up to the opportunity here and act on it.

Matthew: Job seekers that are listening, and they're trying to figure out what category of jobs are there? Is the job's report have any detail about what kind of jobs there are that are interesting and making cultivator, extraction, lab scientists, trimming, all those things? Is there anything else that's on top of mind?

Yoko: We don't do a breakdown of job categories by job, we do do a breakdown of the states in the report, but just as a participant in this industry, I love the way you asked that question simply because it is the whole breadth of what it takes to support an industry and an opportunity to get involved, not just in plant touching, but looking at cannabis technology company like Leafly. You've got everything from marketers to finance people, to lawyers, to salespeople. I think that's what I love about this space, which is come one, come all. We need your expertise.

Matthew: How about Oklahoma? It seems like things are just going nuts in Oklahoma. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Yoko: Oklahoma is amazing, and it starts with the regulatory structure there, where they basically said it was an open market for getting licenses. That's so different than state by state. What you then have is adequate supply for all the consumers who are looking for products there. I think this is one of the biggest barriers right now that we've got to work there from a regulatory perspective in each of the states, where our store-to-consumer ratios are off in a lot of our biggest markets like California. This is just something where-- I think we can't get ourselves.

We're still fighting stigma, and we've got to get our local regulators on board and understanding the opportunities that cannabis presents. I call it the cannabis Boogeyman dispelling those myths around "the harms that cannabis legalization brings", some of which we've dispelled, for example, real estate properties actually increase when you've got a cannabis dispensary in your area. But that was a long-winded way of saying yes, Oklahoma is hot. I think it shows this great demand that consumers have for the plant.

Matthew: Any other jobs numbers that stick out at all?

Yoko: I think the jobs numbers, we also have to just look at sales numbers. We focus solely on the license market. The jobs exist because this industry drove $18.3 billion in sales in 2020. That's a 71% increase over sales in 2019. The other side, I should just mention about jobs. These are massive, massive sales growth, but this number, this growth in jobs

is-- We are the fastest growing employment segment in this country.

I'm going to just flip-flop back to that sales number. There's another interesting COVID stat. Again, you started here, and I think that's such an interesting space. This essential industry, what we saw with consumers in 2020 was that basket sizes are up 33% in 2020.

Matthew: I wonder if there's more shopping or deeper shopping, meaning I don't shop as much, but when I do, I get for a longer period, it's like a mini hoarding internal narrative because I might be in my house for a long period of time. I want to make sure I have a big stash. You know what I mean?

Yoko: We definitely saw some toilet paper hoarding behaviors, similar to toilet paper at the start of the pandemic in our own ordering info, but what we've seen is that as you track COVID and through the spikes we saw, things levelled down. People stopped hoarding, but what I do think it's driven is this shift in greater adoption of online ordering. Again, when we are talking about reducing in-person contact, this ability to actually leverage technologies like Leafly to order and then pick up, I think this is driving a massive consumer shift and really creating this more broader acceptance around shopping online for cannabis.

I was having this great conversation with someone about, a lot of the times you're shopping for cannabis, these are really personal and private issues you're trying to deal with. There's personal health issues that you may not necessarily be comfortable walking in and talking to a bud tender about. If we can help you with information and the news you need to do some of that exploration on your own, in the privacy of your own home, it just makes it somewhat easier when you walk into the store to pick up your product.

Matthew: In Seattle there, are they doing the trunk open delivery in the cars?

Yoko: No, we are a no-delivery state.

Matthew: No-delivery state.

Yoko: Yes.

Matthew: Is that changing?

Yoko: There's a movement but not in this session of the legislature.

Matthew: Interesting. Well, that leads me to the next question here. Where do you think the whole cannabis industry is going in the next three to five years in a national way?

Yoko: Oh, I call it the most bipartisan issue in our country. You've got 67% broad support for cannabis, COVID's devastated state budgets. We need tax revenue. Equity issues, criminal and social justice issues are at the forefront of all of our minds. Cannabis sits at the center of solving so many of those problems. All I see is opportunity, opportunity, opportunity, as well as an opportunity to do it right and to be inclusive, to be equitable, and give the people what they want.

Matthew: You're the CEO of Leafly. There's a lot of listeners that are new to the cannabis space they want to get in. What do you think are the most important skills that are hireable right now?

Yoko: Oh, like in working in the cannabis space to doing everything with one arm and a leg tied behind your back, tenacity, and curiosity. I think the opportunity in a space like this is that it hasn't been done, and it's yet to be defined. There's a level of intentionality that you can do that we should be doing. I think combining that you aren't reinventing the wheel, you're inventing the wheel. That's going to be difficult.

We actually have this conversation internally. If you want just a job, this probably isn't the place, but if you really want to be creative problem solvers, we have so many problems for yourself.

Matthew: Well, Yoko, I want to ask a few personal development questions. Is there a book that's had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you'd like to share?

Yoko: This one is a question that differs on the day you asked me. Today, I'm thinking about Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

[laughter]

Matthew: Tell us why.

Yoko: I think it's one of those things I read it super early, like many listeners may have had too, and probably in high school. I think it just gave me a framework for thinking about life and back to some of the challenges you were talking about, where it actually gives you some levity and a sense of humor to address all of the things that come your way in life.

Matthew: What do you think the most interesting thing going on the cannabis field is besides what you're doing at Leafly?

Yoko: I'm so excited by that question, but then having to reduce it down to the most exciting, I am super passionate about this ability to tackle equity and business opportunity all in one. There's such a unique history to cannabis and prohibition and this intentionality that we are all trying to bring to say we can solve for all of this. It's not a zero-sum game. There can be winners across the board. That is hugely motivating and what makes me super excited to show up to work every day.

Matthew: Now, the last one, what is your favorite comfort food?

Yoko: Ramen.

Matthew: Tell us what that is.

Yoko: I'm Japanese. Comfort food, Japanese noodles, soup base. You start with a very rich-- or actually a custom-made broth. It can be a bone broth. It can be a soy sauce-base broth. It can be a salt-base broth, and noodles. On top of that, you can add anything from vegetables to slices of meat. It's just savory, hot noodle soup.

Matthew: Nice. Well, Yoko, as we close, can you tell listeners how to find out more about Leafly?

Yoko: Absolutely. We encourage everyone to just come to leafly.com. Just start with the news and information. Start with this discovery. Start with learning more about the plant, the science, the news, the lifestyle commentary, and dive in. It's a journey that will take you to so many different places. If you're interested in advertising on Leafly, you can find the link at the top of our website that says advertise on Leafly and click through.

Matthew: Well, Yoko, domo arigato for coming on the show and educating us and give me a little Japanese lesson before we hit the record button. Thanks and good luck with everything you're doing in 2021.

Yoko: Thank you so much.

[background music]

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