Written by Andrew Seale

After shattering his leg and tearing his knee playing hockey for the University of Arizona, Jacob Crow was prescribed opioids. The pills made it impossible to perform in class and slowly he felt himself slumping into a lifestyle at odds with the one he’d had before the injury.

“One of my teammates asked me if I'd ever tried getting a medicinal cannabis card (which) was allowed in Arizona,” he tried it and was amazed at the benefits. “I could do everything I wanted to in class, I could live a normal life without the negative aspects I was getting from opioids.”

It also introduced him to dispensaries, a concept that was just starting to take off in Toronto. When he moved back, the economics major saw a shift in attitudes surrounding medicinal cannabis and the potential hurdles in the near horizon. The long line-ups at the dispensaries inspired him to develop the initial concept for BudTender, a mobile order-ahead app.

He brought the idea to a cannabis business-specific accelerator in California called Canopy San Diego. “We were one of eight companies selected from over 100 to get in,” he says adding that they received funding and a slot in a 16-week program where they got a crash course in the legal cannabis markets in the US and a chance to network within the industry.

But it was the potential for growth in the Canadian market back home that held his attention. So he returned to Toronto to build the company.

“We don't face a lot of the hurdles that US companies face,” he says pointing to the state-by-state approach to regulation in the U.S. “What's beautiful about Canada, is being a federal legalized market which is coming up or even a federally legalized medical market, there are no barriers to scaling your product across the country it’s much easier and much more efficient to do so, because we don't have to worry about these legal hurdles.”

Drawing from his experience with the ins-and-outs of the US dispensary sector, Crow started to formulate a plan beyond just being a mobile ordering application.

“We realized there was a huge gap in the retail environment,” he says. The BudTender platform grew to a full end-to-end solution for retailers, covering everything from inventory and staff management, to customer data and purchasing history.

“With the high level of analytics that you'd get from or an IRI or a Nielsen,” says Crow, adding the data allows retailers to “compare sales levels, to see what your best products are selling, to see which products are selling poorly.”

There’s also customer experience management which allows dispensaries to interact with their customers via SMS message surveys after completion of an order.

“The whole point of our system is it gives us data, touch-points throughout the customer journey all the way from when they're searching to when they purchase, to when they've actually used the product,” he says. The end result is having the insight on how to sell to customers more efficiently.

With upcoming clarity surrounding how cannabis will be sold in Canada, Crow thinks it’s a prime time for etching out some market share. “This industry is only going to get bigger; every day, every month, every year.”

And alongside growth comes gravity; gravity that is apt to pull in innovative minds from other industries based in Toronto.

“It's only going to help this industry’s legitimacy which is what we're continuing to work on every day,” he says. “That's only supported when people start to cross over and see the value of this space – this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be (involved in an industry) on the cusp of legalization.”

Photo credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)