The full legalization of cannabis is approaching FAST and with it a multi-billion dollar industry looms.
Ryan G. Smith is a serial entrepreneur who’s current venture - LeafLink - is a B2B e-commerce platform servicing the cannabis industry.
Ryan, who at 30 years old has built/exited multiple successful startups and is a member of Forbes 30 Under 30, breaks down the current state of the cannabis industry.
We discuss how without federal support each state is essentially operating in its own bubble, when the federal government will legalize marijuana, and which sectors within the industry (retail, growers, brands, etc.) will have the most success.
MPD: Ryan, thanks for joining us today,
Ryan G. Smith: [00:01:48] Mark. Glad to be here. Thanks for having me. Awesome.
MPD: [00:01:51] You started a company right out of college. Am I right on that? Yes.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:01:54] So, uh, second semester senior year, I, um, I started a company that was a way for general partners of alternative real estate funds to manage limited partners.
And it was similar, like interlinks or, um, can you put
MPD: [00:02:09] that in English for people who don't know what a limited or general partners? So when you
Ryan G. Smith: [00:02:13] buy it building, let's say you have like 50 investors in the process of those people investing in the company that buys that building. You need to report back to them.
You have tax paperwork, you have to send them dividend money. You have to collect money from them. All that is usually done hyper, hyper, manually, super manual. And so the company that I started was a way of. Virtualizing that experience. And it was around the time that crowdfunded equity, if you remember this like seven, eight years ago, that was, that was really exciting.
And I thought it was cool to democratize investment through the, through the job, to the jobs act when that was a thing. Um, and so that was the idea of a start. This con assemble a lot of limited partners and investors on a network that we can then, you know, use to purchase. Purchase buildings and, and go through, it was like a virtual it's similar to, it's basically what cadre is now.
Uh, and they've done a great job with it, but we sold that before we, we grew to that size. How big was the exit? Uh, it was single digit millions, so, uh, there was less than 10 people on it, on the, on the team. We only raise 300 K and, um, and I sold it about 18 months after graduating. So it was, it was definitely, yeah, it was a good outcome.
And. I left the day after the year, uh, the company that purchased it, it was a, uh, not a publicly traded REIT. Wasn't really like a place to innovate on the tech side. So I was looking for the next thing. So
MPD: [00:03:35] as a young guy, going a to Z and now, uh, with a few more years under your belt, how do you look back on that experience?
What advice do you have for people specifically in that age group who are going on this journey? Are there things that are different from your perspective now or your age group now?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:03:54] What is, what is the Z? The Z is just like selling something. Yeah.
MPD: [00:03:58] Selling you, you, you completed a process, right? It wasn't a huge outcome, but you, you build something up and you got out and you did it in your early twenties.
What did you take from that? That you think folks listening, who are twenties starting?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:04:15] I think it could learn. Uh, the way that deal came together was a direct result of my ability to stay close with people that I had been introduced to in, you know, the two or three years before that. Um, and just the stars happened to align in a very fortunate way.
There's like a funny, kind of crazy story and how it all came together. But if I hadn't had built a relationship over a few years proceeding with the individuals that queued up the meeting of the company that bought it, then that just wouldn't have happened. And. I mean, I don't think I'd still be doing that either way today, but I think the main advice would be just like everyone's so sometimes touchy about ideas, like they're important or they matter, but they're not.
I think, you know, people are, uh, everyone's very sensitive and delicate on a lot of things. And I think the reality is you need to like force things. You need to like kick things out into the world and get people who are smarter than you. And more experience to basically like. Take a crap all over them and let you know what's wrong about it.
And I think if you speak to enough people, you start to see patterns that are closer to the reality of where you should probably go. And that's some that I, I enjoy doing it, but I think that's probably the main advice is talk to more people. And that actually not just talking to people, but like build relationships from those conversations.
MPD: [00:05:28] you're talking about keeping in touch with folks. One of the things someone said to me early on was build a strong relationship with your competitors. And that was very counterintuitive to my thinking. Uh, the advice I got was that basically the competitors of the people who are most likely to buy your company or to call you, to buy them, you know, and it's, I felt there was always a little bit of irony that the people that you usually have the most in common with people who play the same sport as you or in the same business are supposed to be your biggest enemies.
But, you know, that's, I bet in high school I had a picture of, you know, The other school that we were trying to be on the mirror, you know what I mean? Like their logo. And I had more in common with the people on that team than probably anyone else at the school or my school. You're doing the same thing.
What's your view on building bridges to competitors? Choirs? How do you think about that specifically?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:06:28] Uh, I'm I'm all about that. I, I, I have regular check-ins with. The, you know, the best tech founders in the cannabis industry and actually a few others that I think are interesting verticals, quite similar to us in the B2B marketplace side.
And, and I just, I feel like you'll learn a lot from it demystifies a lot of the, the. Paths, you can go down in your mind of this company you hear about, or know, or some ridiculous article that might go up on a, on tech crunch or something. And, and to know the people behind the company, you can learn a lot about them.
They, they, you and just creates a more complete picture of like how the cards leg, uh, because otherwise it's, you know, I think you're not quite in touch with the reality of what is the, what is the competitive scape and or where are there partnerships to be found?
MPD: [00:07:14] But here's the question everyone's thinking, as you say that.
What happens if they steal one of your ideas or they do something because you drew attention to it, can they damage your business?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:07:27] That's a risk. I think that's part of the reason why, like keeping close, like being diligent about and trying to know the people and like do some character judgments before we like completely opened up.
I think these, some of these relationships take years, I could think of I'm thinking of one example specifically where that has backfired on me. It hasn't yet, uh, had a negative impact. I don't think it has, hasn't had a negative impact on the business, but now I know as a character judgment where those people stand and then my competitive side comes in and it's like, we could have been partners.
Now we will dominate you. And that's, you know, this is like, don't, don't take a nice act and. Yeah. I think people that knock off a lot of the features we provide and things we do to me just like makes us our tastes. And I think some of it's very difficult to ever come back from.
MPD: [00:08:15] Yeah, it does require people to play nice.
But I think the industry is function best when competitors are competing, but in a productive way, because if their company starts to go under, they're going to call you to pick up the assets. And it's a hell of a lot easier to do. If you're friends with them.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:08:31] And our industry is so young as well. The cannabis industry that there's not a lot of comfort.
Like what are the assets that we're buying? I think a lot of cases we're buying someone else's problems of a, of a likely failing operation. Right. Right.
MPD: [00:08:44] All right. So we're next steps, leaf link, correct? Your career. That's right before we jump into it. When you sold that last company and you set out to do leaf link, what was something you swore to do differently?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:08:58] One of my new year's resolutions for 2015 was I need to find a technical co-founder, I'm not technical. And somehow we created something with consultants and sold it and couldn't believe that that's how that played out. But I knew that wasn't going to work again. People who know me like that, I. You know, me managing product managers is, could be a little intense sometimes.
And so I needed someone that had that skillset. So I wasn't going to make that mistake again. And that was where I was lucky to find Zack.
MPD: [00:09:30] Thank you. Yeah. T team is big, especially on the technical side. Okay. So my describing leaf link for all the listeners, for folks who don't know it.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:09:39] Yeah. Leaf link is a B2B wholesale marketplace for legal cannabis companies.
So we simplify the way licensed to retailers, also known as dispensary's purchase all the things on their shelves, um, from what we call brands and, um, what we can talk about the company, but that's, that's the main connection we provided to as a B2B marketplace.
MPD: [00:10:00] Okay. So you're connecting the wholesalers to people, making the product, the people who are ultimately selling it.
Yes. And it's a web interface. And are they, are you holding any of the inventory or you're facilitating the transactions
Ryan G. Smith: [00:10:13] online? We're simply facilitating transactions. We are not, uh, as it's called in the cannabis industry, we're not a plant touching company, so we never, we never take ownership of or participate in the actual transaction.
We just help all the people who are. And, um, and so that's, that's the, that's the main value proposition
MPD: [00:10:30] on the outside. I think a lot of people look at this industry and think it's a bunch of stoners. You found a business model. I don't think that's the case, is that right?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:10:39] There are definitely companies that line up with that judgment.
I think it's becoming less and less true and that's not, I don't think a healthy place for, uh, I mean, that's not a healthy place for the, for the, for the industry to be. I mean, there's things people do in their free time and that's their free time and there's things we do and have to be, you know, fully here for, at work to be the most viable partner we can be to our customers.
And I mean, I said, I don't think people that are working at, you know, patrol or taking shots at the Monday morning meeting. I actually heard that, that that's not that's sometimes it does happen, but, uh, that's not what we want to be. You know, I want to bring the best experience we can to Billy Flynn community.
MPD: [00:11:16] Yeah. And I, I think it's an insane, uh, stigma that people who are acclimating to the change in the marijuana industry, right? No one assumes people working at the alcohol, the beverage industry, or drunk during the day or alcoholics in general or.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:11:33] Fanatics,
MPD: [00:11:35] but there there's, there's a awareness shift that's happening because it's been so taboo for so long.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:11:43] It's it's the result of decades of, of brainwashing, right? I mean, there's, it's, this could be a much longer conversation about all the horrible things that people came to believe about the plant and who smokes it and what they do to society and, and all that. But I think. We're we're still figuring all that out and, and, you know, retrofitting it to be what is actually closer to reality versus, you know, what people's grandparents don't.
MPD: [00:12:07] Why was it illegal to begin with?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:12:12] I mean, there's a lot of reasons. So first is there was, you know, just on the, on the social level, it was being. Used by, you know, minority groups that were, they were looking for ways to demonize them and ostracize. And I think that was one of the main, like social factors that really push making it illegal.
There were, there were business components as well. There's some theories around, uh, Hurst, owning Timberland, and there was, it makes a lot more sense to use hemp fiber versus, you know, wood, fiber to make paper. But he owned all this Timberland. And so he was a large Ponant of donating to causes that outlawed HAMP, and then as well, starting with cannabis, knowing it would roll over to him.
There was that. And I think there's also just not a lot of this is still a problem and not a lot of education on the value of the plan. It wasn't studied thoroughly enough to understand about like medical value and the components of relief that it could bring to patients. So it's all still new and we're figuring out, but I think it was just this, like, Terrible storm of some of the worst parts of our society coming together to, to make it illegal.
And this is back
MPD: [00:13:19] in the twenties, right? Am I right about the decade when they made it illegal? I think it
Ryan G. Smith: [00:13:23] was like, I think like twenties, thirties was really when it, there was a lot of momentum behind making it illegal.
MPD: [00:13:29] Now I read somewhere that the two biggest lobbying groups against the legalization of marijuana are one, the cotton industry.
And to the private jail system.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:13:46] Well, well, the second one is so incredibly dark. Uh, and yeah, I mean the first one cotton's interesting because it actually, it echoes. I, I bet the con industry is probably most concerned about fi like the dynamic capability of hemp fiber is a direct competitor
MPD: [00:14:04] to cost.
Yeah. Will you explain when you say hemp? I think everyone's heard hemp CBD cannabis, marijuana. They don't know. I don't know if everyone knows how it all fits together. Yeah. I mean, very people have interact with any of these plants. Yep. So you explain how hemp is related to marijuana.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:14:19] Think of hemp as a cannabis, as a cousin of a marijuana plant.
Uh, the difference of HAMP is it's typically nearly close to 0%. THC. THC is a psychoactive component in a marijuana plant that people typically smoke. And you know, it has all these other benefits and effects. Hemp is usually like 0.0, zero one. Uh, THC. And so, but just that is enough to kind of lump it all together.
And hemp is for most of human history, like paper, as we know, it made from trees is a last hundred years thing for the first, like two or 3000 years of human history. We were using him and other kinds of like easily to grow fiber, to make paper and bags and material and all these things. I mean, hemp can grow anywhere.
Obviously trees could take, you know, five, 10 years to be ready to harvest. And so I can understand that on the cotton side. So it's
MPD: [00:15:16] more cost-effective
Ryan G. Smith: [00:15:18] definitely. Yeah. And is it a better product for paper? Uh, there's just not a lot of examples of like chem paper, I'd mass production to know the ones I've seen are pretty, uh, artisan looking.
They don't look like the paper we put in our printers. Right. But doesn't mean we can't get there. I mean, if we could get hard wood fiber to become paper, you're tapping into an eco campus stuff and we can make that paper. I'm sure we could, you know, make hemp of equal quality, but that's not companies doing that.
MPD: [00:15:48] more ecologically friendly than cutting down trees because of the. The way the plants grow. Yeah.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:15:52] And there's probably elements too. Of you can grow hemp almost anywhere. I bet cotton is in certain geographic zones and got to ship it and it's just way more complex.
MPD: [00:16:01] Uh, so, so the narrative I'm hearing is way back in the day, people, there was a big political move for people who owned the paper supply chain or the wood supply chain lobbied used some racial leverage and got a drug outlawed.
So that they could dominate an industry. Is that there is that, that that's what I'm piecing together, is that the narrative, or is that
Ryan G. Smith: [00:16:26] that's there three or four different theories I'm kind of stitching, you know, all as, as best I've kind of bought into them, but I think it's the social and business components coming together and pretending to be partners and just this really negative way to make a plant that grows naturally illegal.
MPD: [00:16:44] amazing. Okay. So when you look at this space, just transitioning over to the business side of things, you know, it's so exciting. And so wild West, this is the end of prohibition for a product that, you know, I don't know what percentage of Americans already smoke it. Right? Just like in prohibition, everyone was already drinking.
It's kind of a law that in some ways is a natural cause it's not being enforced. Right? Yep. Where's the money being made. There's there's a whole supply chain here. Uh, you know, I want to, I don't want to go through each of the segments, like when this all settles out, which segment is going to be the profit center or the big place to be, or is it all of them?
So first of all, the agriculture, so the growers and in this space, is that a long-term? And when I usually, when I think farming, I think low margin, right. And right now we're at the beginning of something where people are excited about it. There may be paying more there's shortages. That's all right. At scale.
Is farming farming? Yes. Okay. So the, all the things we think about with the normal pattern of that, and at least speak to
Ryan G. Smith: [00:17:53] normalize. Yeah. We've seen a similar progression. So when States go legal, what normally happens is you can have a great business just growing crops, harvesting them and selling them.
That ages out pretty quickly as the market becomes more competitive. And so our bet is that the, the place of largest, like the largest profit center, ultimately, if you're a plant touching company is in brand ownership, that's where margin. Okay.
MPD: [00:18:19] I want to jump into that. So let's talk about, so when I think about the margin and alcohol, yeah, I don't, I, I'm not an alcohol expert, but wheat, barley, whatever that is, that doesn't sound like.
That's where the margin is.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:18:30] It sounds tonnage. Yeah. Yeah. It's
MPD: [00:18:33] ABMBev right. It's it's buying Budweiser. If I was going to buy a stock, that's where I'd be buying. Yeah. So do we, so that the brand is the place here. That's
Ryan G. Smith: [00:18:42] where the, that's what we think. Yeah. I mean, it's, it's hard to decipher. I mean, right now, because of the regulations, there are a lot of companies that will, one day become houses of house of brands.
But today they do own retail. They do on logistics. They do own production because they can, but I think the long-term game is knowing the future. Assuming this is like every other industry or most other industries, that's where they're likely many of them gearing towards. These are a lot of like the multi-state operators of publicly traded companies.
MPD: [00:19:14] what I've heard is that, you know, people think about marijuana. Their initial reaction is that it displaces cigarettes because it's a smoking behavior. I've heard when people have looked at the actual economics of it. When people choose to smoke marijuana, their consumption of alcohol goes down because it's a recreational behavior.
It's what am I doing on Friday night? And it's this versus
Ryan G. Smith: [00:19:35] that. Do you
MPD: [00:19:37] see the alcohol players getting into this space yet? You know, is it going to be Budweiser and then marijuana brands under the same umbrella? I think they're going to be separate companies. Is there anything legally preventing that?
How is this going to evolve?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:19:52] I understand that thinking or it's like smokes, smoke must equal smoke. I think that the use case of how they're of the actual product is more important. And I think the difference that you're saying here is cannabis is an experiential product, right? Like when you use certain products, it changes, you changes your reality a little bit, and it's a, it's a path you can go down, which is similar to liquor.
Right. When you, when you smoke a cigarette, you're not really, there's no experience there experiences. You're just killing yourself a little bit, right? Like you're not, there's no, it's a physical habit.
MPD: [00:20:24] It's less the intoxication of it.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:20:26] And I think as a result, uh, so I don't think so. I don't think that cigarette companies, I think they probably are more interested in it less because of the smoking use case more around that they have a full supply chain to cater to a harvestable crop.
That you know, has to be dried out similar things to the tobacco higher up in the supply chain. But the companies that I think of in most historic historically the last five years, let's say focus on this space. They've already deployed billions of dollars in constellation made a $4 billion investment.
Uh, North of the border in Canada and canopy growth, it's not happening. Yeah. It's already happening. Every single one of them has either JVs or subsidiaries or has made investments, uh, on the liquor side, in the cannabis space. Because if you think about the whole craft beer movement has leveled. And so for them, they're just at this peak point and unless they create something totally new and there'll be a brand here or there that they buy for a couple of billion dollars, that might be interesting for a hot second, but it's not a whole new category.
And this is. Got
MPD: [00:21:28] it. Very interesting. So, and where does retail fit into this? Because I know that, you know, States are coming online, New Jersey just passed a legalized marijuana. I live in New Jersey. There is a lot of excitement for people who are trying to get the licenses. Yup. Uh, and I look at that and I think you're probably gonna make a lot of money out the gate, but isn't, you know, a retail store going to become a retail store when there's a lot of them.
Is it going to, you know, Is it going to normalize the way agriculture is going to normalize where you're buying, you're buying into a brick and mortar, typical margin.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:22:02] The whole, the whole supply chain will mimic elements of others. I mean, retail is retail. You might be on the higher end of a per square foot sales capacity in this industry versus something else.
But. I don't think it's, ain't gonna, it's not gonna be anything, you know, moonshot exciting ultimately as retail, um, unless it's done at scale. Right. But I think, you know, if, if some friends are looking for licenses to own a shop locally, it's probably going to become something similar to owning, uh, a piece of a local restaurant.
Right. It's it's something to say and experience. Yeah.
MPD: [00:22:36] No convenience store. Yeah. Well, what are we seeing people build chains? Is that happening yet? Because you're saying that. The scale, the quality, the customer service. I mean, there are people who have brick and mortar footprints that obviously a big businesses, right.
McDonald's right. That's big business
Ryan G. Smith: [00:22:56] there's, um, will exist. I think that the one thing that's really challenging about our space right now is, you know, even leaf link, we're a marketplace, but we're not one marketplace. You can't cross state lines with these products. So we're 27 different marketplaces.
Colorado is its own. California is its own. And so for our retail customers, they too have this really hyper regulatory fragmented challenge to scale their businesses, that if they want it to be opened up in Michigan and they're in California, they'd have residency requirements. There's a whole long process to get the license.
It's going to be hyper competitive. In some States, it could be, you know, a few million dollars for a license, depending on how many licenses are available. And so there are chains that exist. They probably begin capping out around 12 or 15 shops. They tend to be pretty regionally focused. That will change in time.
I'm sure. But right now the industry is like super fragment and there's no, there's certainly no McDonald's equivalent.
MPD: [00:23:54] So I didn't realize that people in Colorado cannot buy product from California.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:24:00] That's right. Our P uh, businesses in Colorado. But if you're living in Colorado, you'd go to California.
You could go to a shop.
MPD: [00:24:07] Right, right, right. But I mean, on the, on the business side, the B2B in this supply chain, the agricultural supply, every state is building their own top to bottom vertically integrated supply chain.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:24:17] It's not all vertically integrated, but it's all within state boundaries. Yeah.
MPD: [00:24:20] Fascinating. So when Jersey turns on, they have to not just. You know, do the stores, they have to get farms up and running warehousing, distribution,
Ryan G. Smith: [00:24:29] logistics. Yeah, probably
MPD: [00:24:31] inefficient. What, what is preventing, uh, the crossing state lines is the federal, uh, legal paradigm.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:24:38] Yeah. Th th I think there's some cracks forming in this concept, but the general theme is it's still federally illegal.
And unless you're, it's interesting commerce, your not violating federal law. And the federal government would have to then come into your state where you are following the rules and then, then, then, then, then it becomes a state versus federal cases. And so that's, you went
MPD: [00:25:00] state to state. If you had two States next to each other, North and South Dakota, it's both illegal and both places you can't drive across the line because then it's a federal.
Yes. It's a federal suit that you have to deal with the
Ryan G. Smith: [00:25:11] unknown. Yeah. Everyone's kind of living in the bubbles of their States being legal and they don't want to really go beyond that right now.
MPD: [00:25:19] When do you think the federal government is going to make a move? What do people in the industry think about this?
I mean, how many States can you give us an update? How many States are legal now?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:25:27] Uh, there are 15 legal States over 30, over 30, over 35, definitely over 30 medical in some form or fashion States. And, and, yeah. Sorry if
MPD: [00:25:39] they go medical, is it three years after medical? They're always legal. Is there a pattern
Ryan G. Smith: [00:25:44] here?
It used to be that way. Uh, but now that it was that way in the beginning, like the first, you know, one, two, three, four, five States, but now you're not a pioneer, if you decide to become a legal state. So why not just jump, jump the jump in and collect the tax revenue of these higher margin products. Right?
MPD: [00:26:01] we don't for the 15 or so States that are not legal for recreational use, but are legal for medical. We don't know that they're going to make the leap
Ryan G. Smith: [00:26:10] a lot. Actually, a lot of those States are like Southern more, generally more conservative States. Uh, and they, you know, you need to be dying of some serious diseases to get access to it, but you can't see it.
So there might be some areas where it never makes it completely. I see.
MPD: [00:26:26] Is this a red, red state blue state national issue? I didn't realize
Ryan G. Smith: [00:26:30] that. I think, no, I think it's actually the only thing most Americans agree about.
MPD: [00:26:35] Okay. Interesting. So why is this not legal? On the, on the federal level.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:26:39] Well, assuming assuming DC could function generally on issues even more important than those affecting artists, a massive assumption at this point.
Yeah, I think there, there, there hasn't been anything. I mean, general when, when Jeff sessions was attorney general, the industry was very concerned. I mean, he rescinded the Cole memo and a couple of things that the industry held really dear, but there was really no action beyond that. And I think their inaction caused States to have to take initiative to be progressive.
And so as a result now, um, you know, I think the federal government is playing this catch up game, which as a result of the elections, I mean, if . You're in the cannabis industry, you couldn't have been happier with the way everything, every state that had it on the ballot, blue or red. Affirmed it, uh, for like medical or recreational.
That's awesome. Obviously by the administration coming in in a few days, they've messaged some really strong things around, at least to criminalizing. And then there's a couple of, um, acts, or there's a couple of pieces of legislation that are on hold right now that would legalize certain elements of the financial industry for the space.
And that would be, I think, huge. And so those are things that are, you know, very much cooking. Right. And I
MPD: [00:27:46] assume at this point, you know, most of the leadership of most of the major companies in this space is that right?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:27:52] Yeah. We stay close with all of our clients and yeah. Public
MPD: [00:27:55] companies. There's a lot of money in this.
What's our, is, is there a proper lobby happening? Why is this a, this seems like this is the kind of thing that an industry would put their head down and drive change, especially if there's public support.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:28:11] A few factors in there. So first is there are industry groups like we're members of the NCIA and we go to the, what we used to go to DC and have these days with, you know, congressmen and senators to, to talk about, uh, you know, what's great about the space.
I think the challenge is everyone wants legalization, but everyone also knows that once legalization happens, particularly for I'd say brands, once legalization happens, Constellation Diaggio, AB InBev Southern wine everyone's coming in. And so there's this thing that we will get that we want. But if it takes, I think some companies might say, if it takes another year, that's one more year and build out my organization, grow my brand.
We obviously want all these things. There's a lot of tax impact things that are also really important we can talk about, but, uh, There. So there's industry groups, making efforts, everyone wants legalization, but I think the fact that it's taken its time over the last four years, I think people will look back at the effect of the current administration on the industry.
It didn't approve the space or allow it to go federally illegal, but it did give a huge opportunity to a lot of companies to get their legs beneath them before, like, if they hadn't gotten federal legal four years ago, all the companies I mentioned would be. It would be very much here and we'd feel that we're not, that's not the case yet,
MPD: [00:29:31] but we have a sophisticated private equity market now.
So even if, uh, the large brands aren't rolling up the market, the PE guys and gals are gonna go out and do that. And that's, you're going to buy everyone up. But I guess, I guess if you give one a year or two more, they'll get paid more at the acquisition point. So, but eventually America consolidates.
That's what it does. That's what the market forces drive.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:29:55] Yeah, the thing we need to be careful of in our space is there's elements around how the liquor space came to be. That just ended up hyper consolidated across two or three companies. We want to really avoid that for the cannabis industry, but consolidation is like a natural tier point thing that happens with spaces.
MPD: [00:30:12] So if you were to write some policy, when this becomes federally legal, what would you add in that? We don't see in other industries?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:30:23] I think one of the main things we want to avoid is a forced three tier distribution system, which is what exists in liquor. Basically that means is a brand can also be a distributor and a brand can't sell directly to a retailer unless through a distributor.
And I think that that forcing of actors in certain parts of the supply chain can, can go too much in a certain direction that actually ends up landing on the thing you were trying to avoid in the first place. And so when we're writing up some of these regulations, I think it's really important to consider like companies naturally organically want to specialize.
Why don't you be the best distributor you could be? Why don't you be the most amazing brand or like the most incredible retailer? Let people do a great job of those things, but don't force them to have to do others or own everything else for the margins to make sense. And so I think that's some of the it's really complicated, but I think those are some of like a general theme that we should be working into the rules.
MPD: [00:31:19] So the key you're saying is in the alcohol system, the brands can not be the distributors and the distributors can not be the retailers. Right. That's right. So you're saying that that's a part that creates
Ryan G. Smith: [00:31:30] a problem because it and the brands can't jump over the distributor, talk to the retailer. And so what that means is then you have these distributors that, uh, are the gatekeepers of the, of the whole supply chain.
They own the monopoly. Right. And that's, and then that becomes the monopoly. Yeah. Got it.
MPD: [00:31:50] So, uh, I want to shift gears for one second.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:31:54] CBD
MPD: [00:31:56] it's in everything. I don't get it. I don't get it. Uh, I, I I've tried it in. Oils and otherwise I haven't felt the impact. Is it scientifically proven to do something? Is it, is it snake oil is CBD going to survive in this industry?
What is, uh, and I know there's a lot of people feel really strongly. They're going to be mad that I just said what I just said, but I don't get it. Can you, uh, can you eliminate, do you think this is part of, um, the future of the cannabis industry? Or do you think it's a little bit of a hype.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:32:32] Well, where did you buy?
I mean, so I think there is a lot of CBD. There's a lot of things labeled as CBD because there's no regulation around it. Uh, and that mouth
MPD: [00:32:42] sprays and they taste terrible,
Ryan G. Smith: [00:32:44] which is, and so that is actually, that's probably the equivalent of snake oil because it's not actually CBD. And that is so prolific because there was a lot of hype that you probably got exposure to something that was just garbage, forget about CBD.
It's just the people that created it. Weren't actually putting, it's not actually CBD. Right. Uh, there's, there's definitely research around, you know, regulated. So like for example, CBD companies, we work with them. If they have a THC license in the States that they operate in, because that means they have to follow certain regulations and rules to make sure it is actually what they say it is.
Uh, if you went to a local deli over here in New York or in Jersey and you buy CBD, it's probably, it's probably crap. It's probably not going to have any language that's okay. But there, there is, there is, there is research around like some of the it's not psychoactive, but some of the relaxing, you know, benefits of other there's a future
MPD: [00:33:37] for this.
Cause there's CBD infused everything. Now I
Ryan G. Smith: [00:33:40] think there was a bit of a fad for sure. Yeah. It's a fad, right? Well, it, it has a place. It doesn't need to be in every single thing. It'll be in a lot of things, but I don't
MPD: [00:33:49] think it'll stick in. Where does, where does this last it's going to have longevity in the CBD industry.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:33:53] I think in, in, in pain relief and creams and things that people like can topically apply, especially for like older, older people. I think we've got, I think that's like, because they usually have concerns about THC. This is not psychoactive. They have say a pain. I think there's a. That's one category.
That'd be that there's a lot there's legs there. Okay.
MPD: [00:34:16] Big question. Thank you for that, by the way, because I've been dying to ask you that question. What does the cannabis industry need now? How can the people who are listening, who are, would be entrepreneurs, existing entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs between ventures, how can they help?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:34:34] You call the industry wild West and it still is. I think we're, we're, we're evolving really quickly though, to become this more mature, steady state of, of a really tech first industry. I think what the industry really needs is people listening to this that are not in cannabis, uh, or weren't in cannabis before it was legal to enter the space.
I think like incredible professional, excellent operators. And the cool thing about the spaces. If you're an accountant or an HR person or a salesperson or a lawyer, there's all those jobs exist in the cannabis industry. And it needs that level of it needs more incredible talent to come in. 95% of people we hire at our company probably wouldn't be at, in the cannabis industry if they weren't at leaflet.
And I w I think that's what we need to perpetuate is like more great people to continue leveling up the industry to be polished. Uh, that's the best experience for patients end of day and brands and customers and retailers and tech providers. So that's what the industry really needs.
MPD: [00:35:36] Brian, you have accomplished a hell of a lot in the first 30 years of your life.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:35:43] Thanks.
MPD: [00:35:43] You've got a big path ahead of you with this company, but I have a feeling it's not going to be your last. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:35:55] There's something we're building on the B2B marketplace that is incredibly special in the cannabis industry, because the industry is still learning itself where we say we're defining not really disrupting anything because there wasn't much here before. There is a ton of opportunity to, to bring the things that we're creating on the B2B side to other legacy verticals.
I think it's a much heavier lift. That's definitely things to disrupt, but there are industries that could be so much more efficient if they existed on the foundation of a B2B marketplace, like leaf link, where we're helping a third of all legal wholesale cannabis. Now go through. Goes through our, it was through our marketplace.
I don't know that a hundred percent of what we've built is applicable to the coffee industry, but I think probably 60 is 70% of it could make sense. So 10 years from now, I don't know if it's us doing it or, um, you know, we're, we're, we're partnering with people who do want to do it, or we're just the model that people are looking to emulate in other industries.
But I think that's, what's exciting to me about. Where we're defining this space. And instead of it being the wild West, I want some legacy industry to say, you know who we want to be like in five or 10 years, do we want to be just like the cannabis industry? It's tech first, it exists in this super efficient model and it sits on a B2B marketplace.
And that marketplace is Lee fine when
MPD: [00:37:13] entrepreneur listening to this starts that company. And then after you go public, you buy them.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:37:19] That could be what we're talking about in 10 years, made your way in.
MPD: [00:37:24] All right. So you've had a lot of experience in a very short period of time. You've accomplished amazing things.
What is the most important thing you've learned as an entrepreneur, please help the people listening.
Ryan G. Smith: [00:37:35] Thanks for your time, by the way. But I do very much, like I get a little bit like, that's great, but there's way more to do. And so was like very much just getting started. You know, I liked that you got the, uh, the most interesting thing that I've learned from the business.
That was the question. Yeah. The companies grow faster than people. For sure. I'm sure you've seen this with like your portfolio companies and it, and no matter what stage you're at, if there's always this, like, I think race personally, but also for the older people that we bring on, bring on that we build with, to grow faster than the company, which is incredibly challenging.
And so often, you know, we're looking for people that we bring on that might feel, you know, they're a couple of years to experience for a role, but then a year will pass and it's. Um, we need what's the next level, you know, and I think continuing to find just like amazing people and providing support individuals to help grow and be some people can be dynamic and they can actually grow faster in the company.
It's, it's rare, but it's a thing. And if that doesn't exist and make sure we're continuing to bring in and welcome new people to the company to keep growing that quickly, probably the it's like, it seems like a never ending challenge because there's always, there's obviously always another level. Uh, and we do tend to even build greater speed.
So the challenge becomes sometimes more intense, uh, along the way. It's, it's an exciting, but unsolved, like on permanently solvable problem, is there
MPD: [00:38:58] a breaking point or a rule of thumb you found where you have to scale a certain amount things start to break again and or is it a continuum?
Ryan G. Smith: [00:39:09] Think when we, when we hit, we hit like 40 or 50 people, we really felt pain.
Cause then it wasn't really, uh, as you know, it wasn't. The 20 of us, then everyone works so closely with each other as much. And I think we felt it again, honestly, when we hit like on 120, uh, it's almost like, yeah, every 40 or 50 people there's like this. Cause it just the structure that needs to change.
And all of a sudden you need middle management and do you know, we're allowing people to be managers who aren't managers before. Can they handle that? Do we need to support them? Should we bring in more people that they can learn from? I think those were like clear break points. How big is the team now?
140 people. Okay, cool. Yeah.
MPD: [00:39:48] Cool. Hey, thank you for your time. Thanks for being on
Ryan G. Smith: [00:39:50] this. Yeah, appreciate it. Thanks, Barry. Thanks for having me
MPD: [00:39:57] big. Thanks to Ryan for being on the podcast today. It's going to be super interesting to see what happens with cannabis as it becomes legalized. If you liked what you heard, please hook us up with a like or a five-star review and feel free to share with a friend. You can find me on Twitter at M P D. And to hear more of my conversations with innovators, subscribe on YouTube, Facebook, or any other major podcast platform.
Just search for innovation with Mark Peter
Ryan G. Smith: [00:40:23] Davis.