In the latest episode of the Cannacurio Podcast from Cannabiz Media, my co-host, Amanda Guerrero, and I discuss hemp license updates, Cannabiz Media’s annual point-of-sale software survey, and more. We also speak with Rachel Fournier, Director of Marketing at Agrify, which develops premium indoor grow solutions for the cannabis and hemp industries.
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Cannacurio Podcast Episode 15 Transcript
Amanda Guerrero: Welcome to the Cannacurio podcast, hosted by Cannabiz Media. We’re your hosts, Amanda Guerrero and Ed Keating. On today’s show, we’re joined by Rachel Fournier, the director of marketing at Agrify.
Rachel and the Agrify team are some of Cannabiz Media’s power users, and we are so excited to have her on the show. But as always, we’re going to check in with Ed and see what he’s uncovered this week from the data vault. Ed?
Ed Keating: Hi, Amanda. So, we’ve been digging into hemp. A lot of the licenses have now been issued, and one of the interesting things that we’re seeing is that in some states, we’re actually expiring some records out. So, people who may have participated in last year’s program are not participating currently.
So, in Colorado, it looked like 1100 licenses that we had have been expired out. And in Tennessee, only about 73, and in Illinois, 181. So, this sort of fits with the theme that I’ve been reading about and also in talking to participants that says that after a rough year of 2019 with a lot of hemp not being sold and still sitting in barns across the United States, folks decided to maybe sit a season out or maybe hang it up all together for a while. So, we’ll see how it plays out through the end of the year and also into 2021.
Amanda Guerrero: Well, I hope that someone is able to help them solve that problem, or at least they were able to get rid of some of their excess hemp before they completely … Their license completely expired. But I don’t know. What do you think, Ed?
Ed Keating: Yeah, it’s been a challenge for that marketplace in some of the research that the team did. We found that for some, it was such a new crop, they didn’t necessarily think through all the way to the end to, “Well, what do I do? Do I have contracts for people to buy this, to process it, et cetera, to get it to market?” And a lot didn’t. I don’t know if they took kind of a laissez faire approach, “let’s see what happens,” or if the market just wasn’t there.
In one panel discussion I participated in, the moderator pointed out that in 2014, ’15, ’16, ’17, ’18, people made good money on hemp and it attracted a lot of entry, as you see in virtually any market and any economy. And we probably hit an oversupply situation.
And now that it’s federally legal, more states are issuing licenses, licenses, licenses. So I think it’s going to be tricky, and over time, we’ll see a balancing out of supply and demand for sure. But there certainly seems to be lots of ways to use hemp, but I think people are going to have to figure out the markets for them as they do their planning.
Amanda Guerrero: Yeah, it definitely sounds very similar to the problems that we faced in the Pacific Northwest a few years back with their kind of oversupply and under demand. So, curious to see how this shakes out in 2020 and moving forward. Looking ahead, we will be speaking with Rachel Fournier of Agrify, and we are so excited. Ed, thank you for the update. Stay tuned, everybody.
Welcome back to the show. As I mentioned, I’m currently joined by Rachel Fournier, Director of Marketing at Agrify. Rachel, welcome to the show. How are you?
Rachel Fournier: I’m doing well, Amanda. Thank you for having me. How are you guys?
Amanda Guerrero: We are doing so well. This morning, very excited to have you on the show. We know you as one of our power users, but why don’t you give our audience some background. How long have you been in the cannabis industry?
Rachel Fournier: Yeah, so I’ve been in the cannabis industry for about three years. It feels a lot longer at this point, but three solid years working in cannabis and loving every minute of it.
Amanda Guerrero: Well, they do say that working in cannabis … A year in cannabis is a year in dog years. So, that’s about seven years. So you’re a veteran now. Look at you.
Rachel Fournier: It feels like it. It definitely … I’m always surprised when I say that to people and they’re like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, you’ve been doing this for a while.”
Amanda Guerrero: Absolutely. Where did you work before?
Rachel Fournier: Yeah, so I spent some time doing freelance branding and marketing for a variety of CBD and cannabis brands. And prior to that, my entry into the industry was with an MSO, Ascend Wellness. So, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with them, but I was working on their marketing for some of their brands.
Amanda Guerrero: Yeah. Quite familiar with Ascend. They’re a pretty well-known group. In my other life as a cannabis recruiter, we actually worked with the Ascend group and made some pretty big placements there. So, very excited to hear that you’re from there as well.
Rachel Fournier: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve had a good run thus far in the industry and worked with some pretty amazing people. So, pretty happy about it.
Ed Keating: Well, excellent. Excellent. Well, now that you’re at Agrify, as we always try and do during the podcast, we like to find out what makes these companies unique. So, tell us a little bit more about Agrify and your claim to fame.
Rachel Fournier: Yeah. So Agrify is a developer of premium cultivation solutions. And one of the reasons I jumped in with them and why I’m so excited is because I really feel like, well, they’re onto something.
I’ve been on the client side. So, I know quite well, some of the, for lack of a better word, some of the struggles that people getting into the space experience, and what I truly loved about Agrify and what I think makes them unique is that they really take a total solutions approach.
And given that a lot of people that are getting into cannabis are new because it is a fairly new industry still, having a partner, and I say partner, because I think that that’s important, that truly understands the entire process is just so important.
And Agrify has done such a nice job at really, no pun intended, but cultivating a suite of solutions in different various types of equipment and also services that really allows us to partner with our customers and get them set up start to finish and helping them put together a process, a cultivation process, that is quite streamlined and efficient and meets the demands of the market and where we also think the market is going.
Ed Keating: So in terms of what you said about new markets or new people in that space, does that affect your go to market strategy? Did you guys, for example, wind up focusing a lot on, let’s say, Missouri and Oklahoma, because those were sort of the newest markets that have come on line most recently?
Rachel Fournier: Yeah. Yes and no. So in some ways, yes, because it’s really important, I think, when you’re helping somebody come up with what their growing system is going to look like, you really need to be there right at the beginning.
So, once somebody gets that license, you need to be a part of that process. A lot of states, they require what your architectural plans are going to look like. They want to know what the build out is. And so, it’s really important that we get in there early because those things all have a cost associated with them and not just a hard cost, but also a time cost.
And I think the biggest thing for everybody is getting to market as fast as possible, especially after what can be a long, grueling licensing process.
So, it’s extremely important that we get in with people when they are really at the beginning phases of planning out their cultivation. But it’s also interesting. So, with that being said, yes, some of the newer markets, especially because we are on the East coast, we focus a lot on Massachusetts and surrounding states.
But also, we do have partners on the West coast that are in more mature markets, which is important, because we needed to get a foothold or rather a foot in with people that were experienced and kind of knew what the downsides were in their processes. And so, we do have customers on the West coast in mature markets, but I think a lot of our focus or where I think we’ll continue to find a lot of success is, in fact, in the newer markets.
Ed Keating: Yeah. It’s interesting. Especially your East versus West coast challenges, because I would imagine that grow practices probably do differ across those kinds of states. I know here on the East coast where I am, a lot of the grow is mandated indoor. They want a door, they want six walls, they want a lock, et cetera, whereas in other places, it might be more greenhouse or hoop house or open field. So I’m curious, from where Agrify is, how do you see grow practices in general really differ across state lines?
Rachel Fournier: Yeah. So I think, it’s funny because I’m in the East coast as well. Our companies here, I’m from here, I’ve always worked, for the most part, most of the brands and the MSO I worked with originally all reside here on the East coast. So I think in my mind, I just automatically assumed everybody was growing indoors, which is so silly. And I didn’t come from … I was aware of the cultivation process, but I wasn’t really, as educated in it as I am now.
So, coming into this, it was when we first started using cannabis, I was like, “Yeah, let’s just look at all the cultivators. That’s all opportunity.” And then our sales team was going through the leads and they’re like, “A lot of these are … They say farm, which usually means they’re outdoor or their greenhouse.” And it was quite interesting, a little bit of my mind blown moment, like, “Oh, wow. Not everybody grows indoors.” But, yeah. I would say that for us, and we’re a pretty new company, we definitely try to not go after the outdoor grows because, I mean, it’s just not low hanging fruit.
The amount of steps … It’s already such a new way of growing and our whole cultivation process and what we are pitching, it’s very original. And so, I think just that additional hurdle of trying to get somebody indoors is really a tough one.
I do think it’ll come with time. I think a lot of people are going to move towards that, because when you talk about heavy … Although people maybe before things were legal, they were growing outside. But now with all the heavy regulations, it’s quite hard to grow outdoors and meet the requirements.
Ed Keating: No, that makes sense. One of the things that I also just wanted to mention is on the hemp side, we’ve been seeing a lot of licenses come in over the last six, seven months as the season has essentially started between licensing from the states and also growing from the farmers. And we’re seeing that people are doing some work indoors. I don’t know what that means. I mean, are they growing the whole cycle indoors, are they starting indoors, et cetera? So it’ll be interesting thing for us to see, but hemp hasn’t really been a big focus for Agrify. Has it?
Rachel Fournier: Not a huge focus. We do have some partnerships and products that would probably be seen as really great solutions in the hemp space. But in my time … I’ve been with Agrify for six months and in my time, I’ve really focused most of our energies on cannabis.
Our proprietary vertical farming unit is … What’s so impressive about it is just being able to have consistency in your products. And we’re really focused on the genetics in the strains and being able to replicate them over and over again by having this controlled environment. And I don’t know that hemp is really … Just given the cost of it and the lower cost, I just don’t know if it would be worth it to grow it in a vertical farming unit or not.
Ed Keating: Yeah, right, right.
Rachel Fournier: I mean, I just don’t know that we’re there yet where people are focused on the genetics of a hemp plant like they are with cannabis.
Ed Keating: Yeah. Well, one thing that we’ve seen from a license standpoint and from a data standpoint is Nevada is, I think, the first state we’ve seen that shares information as to whether a facility is certified to grow both, and we’ve never seen that before. So, that’s kind of interesting. I mean, we’ve seen certainly some companies that have a hemp footprint and a cannabis footprint, but here they’re actually saying, “Well, this facility or this license holder grows both at this location.” Which we think is kind of unique. I don’t know if we’ll see more of that nationwide or if it’s just sort of a data anomaly that one state is happening to serve up.
But it’s great. I mean, it sounds like you guys have a great product and a great path forward. And sort of looking forward, could you share with us sort of any new product launches, markets or initiatives you’ve got coming up?
Rachel Fournier: Yeah. So, I’m not quite at liberty to say what the new product launches are. We do have something well on its way that should be coming out pretty soon. We are always fine tuning and working on finding solutions that pair well with our overall solution. And so that continues to be updated. And we’ve had a few LED lights added to our repertoire, but yeah, nothing outside of that at this point.
And in regards to new markets, I mean, we’re always going after new markets. Like I said, our sweet spot is really those cultivations that just received their license and are in the process of getting up and running. So we’re always looking at new states. -. Oklahoma, Missouri, Massachusetts, New England in general. And we’ll continue-
Ed Keating: And Michigan. Don’t forget Michigan.
Rachel Fournier: And Michigan, yes.
Ed Keating: [crosstalk 00:14:45] They’ve been issuing a lot of cultivation licenses.
Rachel Fournier: Yes, absolutely. Definitely Michigan. So, yeah.
Amanda Guerrero: Well speaking of new markets and identifying prospects, Rachel, I wanted to bring it back to Cannabiz Media and find out what are some of the ways that you and your team utilize the Cannabiz Media platform?
Rachel Fournier: Yeah. So Cannabiz has been an amazing tool for us, for marketing and for our sales team. We pretty much have everybody utilizing it at this point. It’s probably the only database that I’ve come across that really has all of the contacts that we need in a central location.
And what else you guys have that I love is just your different filters. They were definitely carefully thought out, and they allow us to be very specific in our messaging, which is so important. I think just the fact that you can even dwindle down to HPS versus LED lighting, or you can see who’s had violations.
And I also love the email updates. I’m constantly floating them around the company like, “Hey, did you see this?” So, I just appreciate how up-to-date it always is, and I feel it’s endless with info.
Amanda Guerrero: I love that. Yeah. The email updates are super helpful, especially when you’re looking at that prospecting aspect for your sales team and identifying licenses and new markets or who was just granted a license. It can be super, super helpful. Now, in terms of the sales tools that you guys have used before, how does this tool compare?
Rachel Fournier: I would just say that every time we are on a call to look at other sales tools and one, it’s never industry specific, and when we ask them to pull up our category, there’s like 10 contacts. So, it’s really difficult to find other sales tools that have this kind of data.
And even the ones that are more specific or catering towards our industry, I’ve found that it’s a lot of generic contacts, and I can’t always get to a decision maker. And I find that the contacts that you guys have and the categories and the filters that you guys provide are definitely … it seems like whoever’s putting this together, has worked on the other side of things. So, it’s extremely beneficial.
Amanda Guerrero: Yeah. Well, I mean, to your point, the information that we’re tracking, it’s not just what you find off of either the state websites or what’s publicly available. Our team of 25 researchers that Ed oversees, they’re really focused and targeted on finding and verifying this information so that you and your team are provided with the best available data, as well as information to help you guys prospect smarter. Right? Specifically with the violations, I was kind of curious, how do you and your team utilize the violations aspect?
Rachel Fournier: Yeah. So, like I said, our vertical farming unit, what’s so appealing about it is that it’s a completely enclosed growing unit. And so, it’s a controlled environment. So, when you talk about violations, well, why do violations happen? And it’s really important, I think, when we talk about new markets, of course that’s great, but then an opportunity for us to break into some of the more mature markets are people that have had violations. They’ve had some issues. Maybe they’ve had [inaudible 00:18:39] powdery mildew, whatever it might be. And when we present them with a controlled environment, it’s a lot more appealing. Until you’ve experienced the pain of crop devastation, you really don’t know what you’re dealing with.
Amanda Guerrero: Yeah. 100%, because the insurance doesn’t always cover it.
Rachel Fournier: No. And it’s also just the time that is lost. Right? The demand is there. So, you’re losing that time.
Amanda Guerrero: 100%, 100%. Well, are there any tips or tricks that you would like to share with our current listeners?
Rachel Fournier: Yeah, I think it’s really important right now, especially just given everything that’s going on in the world, we’re not in front of our customers, so a lot of people are doing things digitally. It’s really kind of the only option out there. Right? So, I would just say it’s so important to be intentional in your messaging. Know what it is you want to get across, be very deliberate in who you’re reaching out to.
If you can … instead of doing a mass email blast, maybe bring that in more and look at it by state, by maturity level in the market space, and cater and tailor your language to those people because we’re all getting inundated with email right now. So, the more specific and the more custom and just sensitive too that we can be in our messaging, I think the much better response we’re all going to have.
And on top of that, little things like using people’s names, companies’ names, I always find that that helps. Having a conversion path in mind. If people are engaging with your email, know what you want your next step to be before you do that and have different next steps based off of the types of response.
And I’d say most importantly, providing value. So something that Agrify has done, and we’re not the only ones doing this right now, but provide value right now to your audience. Create content offers that matter.
Product brochures are great. They’re obviously … you have to have them, but is there something else that you can do? Is there a video that talks about what your company values, and what is your social responsibility? How are you giving back? People want to understand brands right now and while they’re getting inundated, the more personal you can be, I think the better.
And if you can get other people on your team to also highlight who they are and kind of give a more human element to what you’re doing, the better off I think your company will be.
And back to what I was saying with what we’re doing right now, we’ve been doing a weekly live Zoom recording with our co-hosts from Agrify and also a guest usually in cultivation. And it’s really just … It’s not about pitching our products. It’s just about educating our audience and also educating us. And that’s providing value without asking anything in return. And I think that that’s really important right now.
Ed Keating: Well, Rachel, you certainly sound like a very evolved marketer. If we ever get to having a user conference, I’m probably going to have you come and talk about this is how you need to market. And here’s why, because too often we see people in this space, hopefully not our customers, but who rely on the old spray and pray. Just give me a list and I’m just going to hit it as many times as I can and I don’t care what message it is as long as I get it out, because I just want to feed leads to the Salesforce.
And we have tried really hard on the data side to provide lots of other information, lots of ways to interact with the license holders that we have because they’re hard to find and they do get a fair number of messages. And I think all those things that you just outlined really articulate what an evolved marketer should be doing in this day and age. So, kudos on that.
One of the questions I wanted to ask is we did a little bit of the look forward about new markets. I wanted to do a look back on biggest achievement in the last 12 months? Could be corporate and or personal. We just love to hear more about you and Agrify and the story.
Rachel Fournier: Yeah. So I’ll give you both. So, on a personal level, this is a much more technical set of products. I was used to working on a more B to C, what our brands were going to be, whether it was CBD or cannabis. And so, coming over to cultivation and working with this enterprise equipment, I knew was going to be a challenge, especially with something that is so modern and there’s software involved and some of our growers are from a different time. And so it’s definitely … I knew it was going to be a challenge, but it’s a challenge that I really enjoy and cultivation is so interesting.
So, I think for me personally, just taking on this kind of challenge and expanding my knowledge into the cultivation side is something that I’m really proud of, and I’m continuing to learn every day. And I’m so lucky to have the team that I have, and the people in horticulture that are on our team are just endless breaths of knowledge, which is incredible to have at my fingertips.
And then from a business standpoint, last quarter, we did exceed our goals and we’re coming to a close and have a really strong quarter again. And with all things considered, we still have been able to keep the ball rolling.
The only thing really that I’d say set us back a little bit was just, obviously, COVID had its effects and our clients are going through the licensing process. So, things kind of got slowed down, but we haven’t lost anybody.
I think the Agrify live videos we do weekly, we invite all of those customers to those videos, and I think that they find a lot of value in that and just continuing to receive that education from us.
So yeah. I would say just last quarter and also just in terms of being able to keep moving the ball forward with everything that’s been happening, I’m pretty proud of that.
Ed Keating: Well, that’s great. Congratulations.
Rachel Fournier: Thank you. Yeah. Yeah. It’s been a good year.
Amanda Guerrero: Well, thank you so much, Rachel, for joining us on today’s show. It has been so informative and to echo Ed’s statements, you are so articulate. When you were talking about the email marketing, I could’ve sworn you were reading it directly from one of our help articles, because you nailed it. You nailed it. Great job, but thank you so much for joining us on today’s show.
Rachel Fournier: You got it. Any time.
Amanda Guerrero: And we look forward to seeing what you and Agrify have up your sleeve in the coming months.
Rachel Fournier: Thank you guys for having me and thank you for Cannabiz. I honestly … we couldn’t do it without you guys.
We love to hear that. Thank you. Well, Ed, that was a great interview. So happy that we got to speak with Rachel. Wanted to take a look ahead and see what data and license updates we have to look forward to in the coming weeks.
Ed Keating: Yeah. So, we’ve been doing a lot of cleanup work and we’ve been dealing with some of the challenges of three of the largest states have really changed and reduced what they make available thanks to sort of the riots that were out there. A lot of the states have stopped publishing information about their licenses or they’ve greatly reduced the amount of data they share.
So this is California, Washington, and Colorado. Although Colorado seems to be maybe in a maintenance mode with their tools. So, in some of the largest markets, there’s different data available. So, we’ve been reaching out to regulators, trying to see what we can find and work on. So, that’s definitely been an interesting challenge for us.
And then number two is we’re gearing up for our point-of-sale survey. So we’ve done two point-of-sale software surveys over the last couple of years, 2018 and ’19, where we check in with dispensers and retailers to find out who are they using for that function? And we are going to start that process again.
This year, it’s going to be a little bit more challenging because there are so many dispensaries in Oklahoma. I think well over 1,000, maybe 1,300, and that’s more than several states combined. So, it’ll be interesting to see what we learn about.
And we’re also going to try and do a really good job of trying to track if there’ve been many changes, like did somebody go from provider A to provider B? And we’ll see what that data tells us as we move forward on that over the next couple of months.
Amanda Guerrero: So exciting, Ed. I always look forward to the point-of-sales survey because it also gives us, from a sales perspective, a sales representative perspective, a good prospect list as well. So, excited to get that.
And then, Ed, quickly, I wanted to ask you, do you think that with COVID lingering and kind of all the things that are going on in the world, do you think that the license holders or the states not putting up license holder information on their websites is going to turn into a long-term problem?
Ed Keating: Oh, that’s a good question. I’m not sure. I think some could use it as an excuse to just publish less information, which I think is a little bit tough when you’re trying to make the industry transparent. We’ve seen so many cases where there’ve been shenanigans at the state level and how licenses are given out, and if you don’t know who’s winning those licenses or their relationship to the license issuers, that can be a problem.
So, I think there will probably be a push for it, but it’s really going to be up to each state and we’re just doing our best to try and track down whatever information we can. Sometimes the information may still be available locally, but then it’s a much slower process. And you’re trying to go through zoning board minutes and agendas and whatnot, trying to find out data. And that’s just not an efficient way to keep tabs on a hundred thousand different licenses. So, I’m hoping it’s just a short-term blip and not a long-term headache.
Amanda Guerrero: Well, we will keep our fingers and toes crossed here that it’s a short term blip, but thank you everyone for joining us on today’s podcast. We’re your hosts, Amanda Guerrero and Ed Keating. Stay tuned for more updates from the data vault.
Ed Keating is a co-founder and Chief Data Officer of Cannabiz Media and oversees our data research and government relations efforts. He has spent his whole career working with and advising information companies in the compliance space. Ed has overseen complex multijurisdictional product lines in the securities, corporate, UCC, safety, environmental and human resource markets and focuses on workflow products over the last twenty five years. During that time he has worked for both startup and established information companies where he has led marketing, product management and sales organizations. These companies include Wolters Kluwer/Commerce Clearing House, CT Corporation, EDGAR Online and Business & Legal Reports. At Cannabiz Media Ed enjoys the challenge of working with regulators across the globe as he and his team gather corporate, financial, and license information to track the people, products and businesses in the cannabis economy. Ed graduated from Hamilton College and received his MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University.