WebJoint is carving a unique niche in the cannabis tech space. As the only software company in the world that focuses entirely on cannabis delivery services, WebJoint offers brands the opportunity to connect directly to their consumers by allowing them to link inventory with retailers, get reports, and track ROI.
We caught up with the company’s Cheif Operating Officer Hilart ‘Art’ Abrahamian to learn more about WebJoint, its plans for the future, and more.
ForceBrands: How did you come up with the idea of starting a cannabis software company?
Hilart Abrahamian: It didn’t happen overnight — starting a cannabis software company was our third pivot. Chris (the CEO) and I got into business together in 2013, and WebJoint wasn’t born until late 2014. Our original plan was to make a software company in the education space, and in order to do so, we needed to make money somehow to fund the development. So we did the only thing we could with the skill sets that we had: start a web design and SEO company.
Along the road, one of Chris’s longtime cannabis clients approached our web design company and asked us to make a website for his new dispensary. After making that website, our eyes opened up to the potential of the cannabis industry and the gears in our brains started spinning. At this point, we were still gung-ho about the original software idea in the education space, but we figured we’d be able to raise the money more quickly with our web design company if we specialized in cannabis. So we did just that!
At this point, we were on Pivot No. 2, and we finally started to find some success. The customers were easier to find because we were specialized in an industry that not many were focusing on. Not to mention, the industry itself started to peak our interest the more we dove into it. After working with a dozen or so cannabis business owners, we started to identify the needs that they had that could be filled with software, and that’s essentially how the idea for WebJoint came about. We ditched the original idea of building software in the education space, and decided to pursue WebJoint full-time instead!
FB: Can you walk us through a few tools that you offer to your customers/brands?
HA: WebJoint is the only software company in the world that focuses entirely on cannabis delivery services, and as such we’ve gained the largest market share of cannabis deliveries in California. When looking to build new tools and features, we first look at what our target customer needs.
Currently, our software includes features such as:
- An online, white-labeled, website/menu
- Full inventory management system that’s compliant with state laws
- Driver accounts, and automated dispatching
- Delivery kit functionality, with drivers carrying inventory in their vehicle
- Automated cannabis tax calculation per order/zip code
- Customer Database
- And more!
FB: A cannabis software company seems to be a pretty niche category. How did you go about building your brand, raising awareness, and making a name for yourselves?
HA: We’ve experimented with just about everything to date. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to marketing. The key in this situation is to really understand your target customer. Who are they? What do they like? Where do they hang out?
In our case, our target customers are businesses, not consumers. So that already throws out a ton of mass marketing tactics that would work for consumers, but not businesses. Just with that shift, the outreach is completely different. The images and messaging are completely different. It’s night and day.
Diving a bit further, we don’t cater to just any business. We cater to businesses in the cannabis industry. Again, the outreach, images, messaging, etc… all completely different. For example, because it’s cannabis specifically, we can’t advertise through traditional methods like Facebook and Instagram.
Finally, it’s not just any business in the cannabis industry, but licensed delivery services. With that in mind, as of typing the answer to this interview, there are a little over 400 businesses that can actually be our client. And over half of them aren’t even in operation yet!
With all of that being said, what’s worked best for us, with our extremely small total addressable market, is good-old-fashioned meeting people in person. We do this in two ways. One, our team attends events in the cannabis space on a weekly basis. We try to cover as much ground as possible and go where the owners of these licensed delivery services would be! With only 400 businesses, it’s extremely possible to meet every owner within the span of a few years.
Two, since we couldn’t advertise through 90 percent of traditional methods, we had to get creative. In 2018, we hosted the first-ever California Cannabis Awards (CCAs) and invited all the cannabis business professionals from around the state. The award show ended up being a hit, and we had over 1000 professionals in attendance. This really helped cement WebJoint’s name in the cannabis industry, and we’re still recognized to this day for it!
FB: You founded the company before you both were not of legal age. Did you have any fears or concerns about how that could affect building a company in this category/ building credibility? How did that influence your leadership style and the way you run your company?
HA: Honestly, I think it worked more in our favor than against. When you’re young, you’re naïve. And all jokes aside, being naïve is great for confidence! We had no idea what we were up against, and in our heads, there was literally no way our business could fail. It’s not until you grow older that you start to see more of the world and realize some hard lessons. Business do fail, people can lose their livelihoods, and rock bottom does exist.
One part that was tough was learning how to be a boss and a leader, especially with employees that are older than you are! Thankfully, it wasn’t until we were both 20 years old when we hired our first employee, so we had a few more years of experience under our belts. But really, the way we learned was by diving into the deep end and figuring it out as we went along.
FB: What is your leadership style?
HA: Chris and I have similar leadership styles, although I’ll admit I’m a little stricter than he is. By default, I feel as though I have to be as the Chief Operating Officer, to make sure things are moving forward appropriately. Overall, we’re pretty hands-off as we only hire employees that are able to be autonomous and excel at their job without constant attention. I saw a Steve Job quote once that said something along the lines of, “You don’t hire smart people so you can tell them what to do, you hire smart people so they can tell you what to do!”
We both touch base with the department heads that we’re directly in charge of once a week for a one-on-one. During the meeting, we discuss what they accomplished that week, as well as what they’re going to be working on next week. If they need any help from us in order to be able to do their jobs they let us know as well; It’s a two-sided conversation.
FB: How would you describe your team culture and work environment?
HA: Our team culture is stronger than ever, and I’m hoping it stays this way for a long time. Everyone gets along and we hang out fairly often, even outside of work hours! The key was to find people that were willing to work hard and pull their weight. Everyone relies on each other and trusts their team members, which leads to a great work environment. When you feel like everyone else has your back, it’s easy to continue pushing forward full-force.
FB: How did you go about building your team? Who were some of the first employees you hired in 2015?
HA: Our first few hires were salespeople. Although Chris and I did sales in the beginning when we had to, I’ll be the first to admit that neither of us was very good at it. We wanted someone that could focus on sales, while we could focus on the rest. From there, we hired a customer support rep, and some extra developers. There wasn’t any one tactic that we used when hiring. Some of our employees we found through word of mouth, others we found online through various websites, and some we met in person at local cannabis business events.
FB: What are some of the complications/challenges you have to face due to the services you are offering to the brands/the category you are operating in?
HA: I would say the main complication/challenge comes down to legislation. We’re in one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world! What is legal one day, is illegal the next and vice versa. And what is legal in one state, might not be legal in another. Everything down to purchase limits, age restrictions, and more varies everywhere you go!
This creates a ton of headaches for everyone in the cannabis industry. For software development specifically, each little change in regulation means weeks of planning, design, development, and bug testing. And to enter into new states, it can be months of development just to ensure that our software is compliant with their specific set of laws. This is both a good thing and a bad thing, as it also stops competitors from entering into our market(s).
FB: What’s in store for WebJoint? Which part do you see your company playing in the future of the cannabis industry? What excites you most about the future of cannabis?
HA: The future of WebJoint lies in our brand platform. Over the years of specializing in cannabis delivery software, we’ve been able to build a network of delivery services all throughout California. About 25 million California’s are within reach of a cannabis delivery service that uses WebJoint! With our network, we’re able to create an e-commerce platform for cannabis brands, in which a customer can visit their website anywhere in California and place an order for delivery. It’s never been done this way before, and up until now, brands have actually had no easy way of helping their customer place an order. In the cannabis industry, brands (manufacturers) can’t sell direct to consumer; they have to sell it to a distributor, which then sells it to a retailer, which then sells it to the end consumer. With our software, we’re still within the legal guidelines because the retailer is making the final sale, but now we’re giving the brand the ability to facilitate that order through their website and marketing efforts.
Going back to my point about changing regulation, we’re able to be the first software company in the world to launch this type of software because cannabis brands didn’t exist (on the scale they do now) until early-2018. California created legislation that said all cannabis products must be prepackaged, and the underlying effect of that was that all cannabis products became branded. On the topic of delivery services as well, that’s another thing that California cemented in their new legislation. Without delivery services, our brand platform wouldn’t function either. The moral of the story is that just how adversity creates character, uncertainty creates opportunity. We were able to come up with the brand platform by being in the cannabis industry for five years and watching it grow and change. We could not have built this at any other time in history. And because the dust hasn’t settled yet, we don’t have to worry about major competitors such as Microsoft or IBM entering the space. That’s what’s most exciting about all of this. You never know what’s going to happen next and what opportunities will open up. The best you can do is keep pushing forward and adapt to the changes; one day when the “big dogs” do decide to come in, they’ll be knocking on your doors with a purchase agreement!
Learn more about WebJoint here.