High time for a better marijuana resource online? Startup finds a niche with legal pot retailers
By: TONY LYSTRA
You knew this was coming. After Washington voters legalized pot six years ago, it was only a matter of time before it moved to the web. An online cannabis company called Jane Technologies says it now offers the goods of nearly 50 retailers in Washington online.
Under state law, you can’t yet pay for pot online, nor can you have it delivered to you. But, using iheartjane.com, you can browse the selection of local stores and reserve your order for pickup and payment. You can avoid long weekend lines by pre-ordering on Jane’s website, then heading to a participating store where, after showing your ID, you can pick up your pot.
“On a busy Friday, we can see upwards of 5,000 people in our stores,” said Jennifer Lanzador, director of operations at Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop, which has a fourth Seattle store on the way this year. “It’s pretty hectic at times, so the pre-order process allows them to bypass that.”
Jane Technologies, headquartered in Santa Cruz, Calif., was founded by Socrates Rosenfeld, a former Army Apache helicopter commander and Iraq combat veteran who graduated from West Point and earned an MBA at MIT. Although he was never formally diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Rosenfeld said he found cannabis helped him adjust and relate to people better after he left the Army.
He said he launched iheartjane.com to help pot retailers compete online and to help customers make better-informed choices by comparing prices, reading up on products and perusing ratings and reviews — just like Amazon.
Rosenfeld said Jane, as the company is known, helps retailers increase sales and manage their inventories more efficiently. In the same way that Amazon’s suggestions encourage customers to drop more items into their shopping carts, Rosenfeld said Jane can as much as double customer orders.
Jane’s software is browser-based, not just for customers but also retailers, which makes it easier for stores to get it up and running. And it plugs into just about any retail sales system a store might be using, Rosenfeld said, which means retail supplies are updated for the customer in real time. Jane charges retailers a flat fee of $1 per order, he said.
While all of this is a far cry from the days of buying an eighth of an ounce from your buddy, the fledgling legal cannabis industry is still highly scattered, making it difficult for customers to compare products and for producers and retailers to market their products.
“We feel like the cannabis industry is a ripe candidate to prove this model,” Rosenfeld said. “You have a very fragmented market in terms of retailers whereby there are thousands and thousands and thousands of dispensaries across the country. Not a single (company) controls more than one percent of market share.”
Jane, which closed a Series A funding round late last year, works with nearly 500 dispensaries in 19 of the 33 states where recreational sales, medical sales or both are legal. There is also talk of setting up operations in Canada, Europe and Africa, where Zimbabwe legalized pot for scientific and medical uses in May.
Rosenfeld said Jane is not yet profitable. The privately held company does not disclose its sales figures or revenues.
While it’s tempting to call Jane a nascent Amazon of cannabis, Rosenfeld said he’s trying to make an important distinction between the two companies. Amazon, he said, has pulled business away from neighborhood brick-and-mortar stores and Jane is trying to do the opposite. “As good as Amazon is at providing really cheap products to consumers, what it’s ultimately done is stolen value from local communities and local businesses,” Rosenfeld said. “At iheartjane we don’t want to do that. We see ourselves as partners in that…. It’s to really establish ourselves as tech partners for offline retailers.”
Pot, of course, is still illegal under federal law, and the Trump administration has vowed to crack down in states that have legalized it. Still, software companies ― including Microsoft, which partnered in 2016 with Kind, another software provider serving the marijuana business ― have plunged in, hoping an early presence in the business will result in big gains.
Jane faces competitors, including Meadow as well as San Francisco-based Eaze, which offers deliveries in California, where that service is legal. Seattle-based Leafly offers a directory with information and reviews about marijuana dispensaries and strains. Still, the cannabis business is young, highly fragmented and nuanced, which means no state regulation or software solution is exactly alike. Rosenfeld said Jane is the only company offering “a fully automated e-commerce platform” to retailers and customers.
Lanzador, of Uncle Ike’s, said Jane’s software works well with the other programs her stores must use to meet state regulations mandating that all pot be tracked from “seed to sale,” as the regulation is often called. More still, she said, Jane’s software makes it possible for her stores to provide an accurate description of each product so customers have a better idea what they’re buying.
Uncle Ike’s carries 1,200 different products from more than 100 producers and packagers, she said. Before adopting Jane’s software, Lanzador said employees had to enter an individual description of each product for each store, which customers could read on the retailer’s website. That gets especially tricky because state regulators have placed strict limitations on how pot can be described in promotional materials, and with so many different strains of cannabis on the market, customers, much like wine aficionados, are becoming picky about what they’re buying.
“I’m able to give more accurate information to my customer. It’s really, really important because not everybody’s strain is the same,” Lanzador said. “If somebody said (a cannabis product) was Black Dream and it made me feel great, (and) the next time I bought it it made me evaporate into my couch, those are two different products.”