As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ross Lipson.
Ross Lipson is CEO and Co-Founder at Dutchie, the world’s largest and fastest-growing online cannabis marketplace. He has over a decade of experience in advanced and equitable delivery services for a variety of industries, such as online food ordering, which has led to two successful exits, including GrubCanada.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started my career over a decade ago when I moved to Toronto, Ontario and launched GrubCanada, the nation’s first online food ordering service in 2008. The business quickly started to scale across the country, becoming a recognized household name. I sold the company in 2012 to Just-Eat, one of the world’s largest online food ordering services at the time. In 2017, I co-founded and launched Dutchie with my brother, Zach. Today, Dutchie is the largest and fastest-growing eCommerce and online ordering solution for the cannabis industry.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
My ”Aha Moment” came when cannabis was first legalized in Oregon. Every dispensary had a full parking lot and a line out the door. That was the moment that I knew there was a need for an online ordering solution. There was literally no way for a consumer to know what the dispensary had in stock, nor the ability to learn about the cannabis products or actually order them, before getting to the store.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
A cannabis business is very difficult to scale because every state operates differently from a regulatory standpoint. You’re constantly having to retweak the product and process and the configurations you’ve built in for dispensaries. For every two steps forward, you take one step back. It is natural for a founder to consider giving up at least once, but I have trained myself to let negative mindsets go in one ear and out the other. It’s important to remain relentless in your pursuit.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Today, Dutchie processes 10% of all legal cannabis sales worldwide, processing over 75,000 orders a day and our software powers more than 25% of dispensaries across North America. The pandemic has changed the cannabis industry and has increased the need for retailers and customers to adapt to new ways of purchasing cannabis.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The mindset I had coming into the industry was my biggest mistake. There was a perceived “green rush” and I thought by just being in it that we would be successful. But the truth is that it’s one of the most nuanced industries out there. The whole experience has been like running a marathon in quicksand, and also in sandals. The biggest and most important lesson learned from that is to be humble, and don’t let your excitement outsmart you.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Dutchie is very client-focused. We understand the needs and wants of our clients and their consumers. We know that without the dispensaries, we would not be here so we take the time to get to know our clients and establish a solid relationship with them. It’s really important to us to not only hear but feel what they’re going through so we could holistically solve their problems.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Focus on what you do best and try to stick to that. Most cannabis companies see many voids in the industry and jump to trying to solve them. It’s better to try to perfect or solve one piece of the industry, instead of solving a multitude of problems. Pace yourself and stay focused.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My brother Zach, my Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder has always been the person to play devil’s advocate for my ideas. There’s no better person to help you look at things from both sides than a sibling, right? The closest people in your life are mirrors and they show you a reflection of yourself. Although it hurts sometimes, they are there to help you improve, in my case, both as a person and in business.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
We serve over 1,300 dispensaries across 25 states plus Canada, power over 25% of the retailers in North America and process approximately 75,000 orders a day — all numbers which continue to grow. The main steps needed are to really aim to provide value for our clients and customers. Focus on the relationship that you have with your client and don’t just hear the customer, but feel the customer and understand firsthand with them what they’re trying to solve.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
We charge dispensaries a flat rate per month to use our software. This has been the best option for our clients, so we have not considered other options.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Stay focused on your mission
It is easy to see others’ success and want to jump headfirst into the newest trend or the easiest route. Decide what your core offering or product is and stick to it. Don’t try and do too many things. Once we start spinning too many plates, we’re bound to drop some.
2. Don’t get stuck in the boardroom
I think the meeting is the death of the startup. I think we spend a lot of time in bloated meetings and having meetings just to have meetings. It may feel like we’re being productive, but in a sense, we tend to talk in circles.
3. Manage your team
At Dutchie, every other month, we do an anonymous happiness survey where we allow our employees to have that feedback loop back to us and really explain how they feel. And it’s amazing the information that we get out of that. Fortunately, our team is very responsive to it. It’s really important to make changes based on what the employees’ needs and thoughts are. There’s no company that’s better than their team and it’s important to make sure that they’re optimized and successful because at the end of the day, that’s what makes a company successful.
4. Be aggressive
If you really believe in your goal and feel that you have a realistic shot, then give it all you have. We believe that Dutchie can be the largest online cannabis ordering platform in the world. In the first three years, we’ve hired over 100 employees and raised 53 million dollars to date. With that being our goal, we’re going to give it all we got and go for it as fast and as aggressively as possible.
5. Shoot for the moon
Set your big picture goal astronomically high. This will make sure there is always room for improvement and there’s always room for growth. We always want to leave room for growth and opportunity.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
One movement that I would like to see is dealing with the impacts of the failed war on drugs and overly incarcerating people, particularly communities of color. What I’ve really enjoyed about the cannabis community is that it really is a community first. Providing a leg up and equal opportunity to those who deserve it the most is something that I’d like to see and I think our industry prioritizes.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Company Website: https://www.dutchie.com/
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/getdutchie/
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/getdutchie
Company Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wearedutchie/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!