Investing in Cannabis: Q&A with Eddie Miller, CSO of GreenRush.com
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With changes to law reform across the US and Canada over the last years, investing in cannabis is a hot topic. And why shouldn't it be? In early 2015, the Huffington Post found that if cannabis were to be legalized at a federal level, the overall market will reach in excess of $30 billion annually by 2020, making it the fastest growing industry in the US.
The report referenced by the Huff Post surveyed hundreds of medical and recreational marijuana retailers, business operators, and cultivators, for a total of seven months in states where cannabis had been legalized.
It found the US market for cannabis in those states grew 74% in 2014 to $2.7 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 2013. And there are plenty more figures like that circulating the internet.
In September 2015, Time reported that Colorado, one of the first states in the US to completely legalize marijuana, raised $70 million in tax revenue from cannabis in one fiscal year alone. That was almost double the amount of taxes the state raised from alcohol in the same year.
[caption id="attachment_1087" align="aligncenter" width="933"] Image courtesy of Arcview Market Research.[/caption]
Most recently, Arcview Market Research found that national legal cannabis sales grew over 23% between 2014 and 2015, fueled by explosive growth in the adult use market brought about by recent legislative changes. Arcview projected national legal markets to grow a further 26% over 2015.
Such growth will also provide huge employment opportunities, which is already taking place today. In January 2015, Weedhire, an online board for cannabis jobs, reported an average of 70.25% growth in employment opportunities across four main sectors of the cannabis industry.
Indeed.com, another online job board, currently lists over 480 cannabis jobs, advertising positions in sales, marketing, team leading, content creation, and much more. And finally, the Marijuana Business Daily reported that the number of marijuana-related occupational licenses issued in Colorado grew over 60% from 2014 to 2015. For more information, check out our latest post on cannabis jobs and make sure you attend Join The Green Rush, California's biggest cannabis jobs fairat The Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on April 30th. For more information, click here.
However, regardless of the figures, possible investors are still riddled with questions, and rightfully so. The industry is still very much in its infancy, and finding the right time, place, and method of investing in cannabis is by no means easy. And just to top things off, marijuana continues to be an illegal substance according to federal law.
To help guide us through the murky waters of the cannabis industry and find some of those key investment opportunities, we sat down with Eddie Miller, CSO of GreenRush.com and founder of eCann Media.
Eddie has been an entrepreneur for 15 years. He has owned 29 business, and currently owns 18,000 domains. He started his first business, PromTime.com, when he was just 16 and quickly found his niche in the nightlife and experiential commerce market. In his twenties he built PubCrawls.com and began running the world’s largest pub crawl across 136 cities, reeling in over 650,000 guests annually.
By mid-2013 Eddie began investing in cannabis, and by October that same year he had acquired eCannabis.com. Less than a year later, he began building GreenRush.com, California’s largest medical cannabis delivery service, and a company which is currently showing over 50% average monthly growth in sales.
Given his track record, we asked Eddie for his top tips for investing in cannabis. Here’s what he told us.
For more information about the cannabis industry and investing in cannabis, make sure you attend Join The Green Rush, California's biggest cannabis job fair, at The Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on April 30th. For more information, click here.
From nightlife and event production to cannabis, that’s quite a change. What inspired such a drastic shift?
Really I had a plan to continue building experiential commerce businesses like California Nightlife and BallDrop. But in 2012 hurricane Sandy struck the eastern seaboard of America, and that nearly wiped me out because I do so much business in that area. I am based in New York, and I run alot of parties, events, and pub crawls along the East coast, especially around Halloween. So by 2013 I was looking for other opportunities outside of events that I could sink my teeth into.
My business partner Boris Tsilbaum and I had connections in San Francisco through one of our businesses, SFNightlife.com, and we were visiting San Francisco regularly to attend conferences. Here we met our current CBO, Lawrence Michelson, who first floated around the idea of me investing in cannabis.
What was it that first drew your attention to the cannabis industry, and how did you become involved with GreenRush?
I was very reluctant at first, mainly because I didn’t want to do anything illegal. Lawrence came to New York in July 2013 to try to convince Boris and I to get into the cannabis industry, and we spent about a month talking to lawyers to figure out the legal issues around that..
I have a specific business model that I apply to all of my businesses. I start by buying great domains and brands that are targeted to a specific niche, and that are geographic and category defining, like CaliforniaNightlife.com, for example.
Once I’ve done that, I provide these domains and brands with my strongest core competencies, which are:
- Structure: Through SalesForce and various other tools and infrastructure.
- Strategy: One of my biggest competencies is identifying ways to make businesses profitable, and
- Technology: Boris has been coding/developing since he was 19 years-old, and he manages a great team of developers that allow us to build high-quality technology to build out these brands and domains.
Around the beginning of September, Lawrence had convinced Boris and I to apply these principles to the cannabis industry. We had hired a couple of good lawyers, and so we started buying cannabis domains.
In October 2013 we acquired eCannabis.com and began developing it, and I began telling my network, which includes Paul Warshaw, the current CEO of GreenRush.com, about my involvement in the industry.
In April 2014, Paul and I travelled to Denver, Colorado for the 420 holiday. We saw that there was a real industry there, and we decided we would be investing in cannabis by building an on-demand platform to cater to this market.
By early June we had been incorporated, by July we acquired the name GreenRush.com, and by August we had started building out the platform.
How confident were you initially about GreenRush's potential for success?
We were all super confident about GreenRush because we live in an on-demand world. People get everything delivered. In fact, just before this interview I got a few cases of water, garbage bags, and even paper towels delivered to my apartment. And I all I did was press two buttons on Amazon.
GreenRush is just a natural extension to this on-demand world. Alcohol gets delivered across the planet, and so does food, groceries, and even your dry cleaning and laundry. Everything now exists in this on-demand sphere, and so we were 100% confident that there would be a market for cannabis delivery. And that is why we invested over $1 million of our own money in bringing it to life.
As soon as I had talked to the lawyers and saw that I could operate legally and apply my core competencies to this new industry, I knew this was going to be a success, and my confidence only grows on a daily basis as I see sales on GreenRush come in every 4 minutes, and as we pass political milestones that'll help to grow the industry.
Having seen the market develop over the last years, where do you see key investment opportunities in the cannabis industry?
I’m a big believer in infrastructure. During the Gold Rush, the people who made the most money were those who sold picks, shovels, pans, and all the other necessary mining equipment to the miners.
These entrepreneurs were at the core of infrastructure for the industry, and my idea is that there is a lot of potential in providing infrastructure for a booming industry that is filled with thousand of businesses. There is a vast array of infrastructural projects that the cannabis industry requires in order function efficiently.
Some examples of types of infrastructure that currently exist in the cannabis industry include:
- The Cannabis Investor Summit: A cannabis technology summit.
- The Green Card: A loyalty rewards platform for cannabis customers.
- MMJ.org: A platform for medical marijuana doctors to advertize their services to consumers/patients.
- High Roller Tours: A marketplace for cannabis tourism, and
- Powerful Brands: A packaged goods company to help the cannabis industry develop brands.
I believe a safe way to go about investing in cannabis is by providing quality infrastructure that helps cannabis businesses to function effectively. Not only will the investor find success, but they'll also be contributing directly to the growth of the entire industry.
Are there any particular ‘picks and shovels’ that you see are still missing from the cannabis industry?
Right now there is one other market besides GreenRush that I am putting my money into and that I believe will be very successful.
We are currently investing in the Cannabis Hemp Exchange, a formal commodities exchange that will connect cannabis wholesalers and retailers to formally trade cannabis like any other commodity on the planet.
We plan on building infrastructure that allows wholesalers and manufacturers in the cannabis industry to sell their products to retailers, much like how we currently connect consumers and retailers via GreenRush.
I strongly believe that the biggest opportunity for investment in the cannabis industry is in creating interfaces that allow consumers to interact with retailers, and retailers to connect with wholesalers.
[caption id="attachment_1095" align="aligncenter" width="877"] Cannabis laws are changing fast, allowing for greater regulation and growth of markets and investment opportunities.[/caption]
Regulation is a term that creeps into almost every discussion on the cannabis industry. What do you make of the current regulation standards as well as proposals for stricter regulation in the future, and how do you believe regulation will affect the industry?
I am pro regulation. I think that in order for citizens and consumers to be comfortable with cannabis as a commoditized and mainstream product, regulations are vital. The problem is that regulations are complicated, and that they change from time to time and place to place.
But the truth is that if it weren’t for regulation, this industry would be moving backwards. Regulation allows for the industry to evolve and come out of the shadows. I believe that the cannabis industry will be worth $40 billion by the year 2020, and regulation is necessary for that to happen.
Competition is another term that investors in the cannabis industry are interested in. How do you see competition in the industry, and how does it affect investment opportunities?
Competition is good. If there is competition, that means there is an active market.
This industry is going to grow exponentially on an annual basis for the next 30 years. While this is happening, and while the market shifts from being illegal to legal, the opportunity is massive. That’s why I think NOW is the time to act.
I believe investment right now is much more probable to yield a positive result than investment when the industry has matured. Today is the time to invest in building technology for the industry, and there is enough room for everybody as the cannabis industry is still so young.
What do you see to be the biggest risks to investment in the cannabis industry, and what steps can investors take to minimize those risks?
The biggest risk at the moment is that cannabis is still a federally illegal substance in America. That’s why building technology and infrastructure is so attractive, because the investor isn’t involved in ever handling the product.
This is also why I spent so much of my own time working directly with lawyers to understand the legality of investing in this industry and to figure out how to navigate these waters.
What would you say to possible investors who are put off by these legal challenges?
It is really about staying focused and understanding all the different legal boundaries, and how you can work within them.
I point all possible investors towards InvestInCannabis.com and tell them to attend one of these investor summits for more information.
Have you got one final tip for anyone interested in investing in cannabis?
Yeah, get a lawyer. Better yet, get multiple lawyers.
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