Interviews

Blazing a New Path in Cannatech with Chris Violas (Blaze)

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Episode Description

Christopher Violas is the CEO and Founder of Blaze. With a BA in Information Technology, Chris has built a best in class seed to sale cannabis platform that is making cannabis tech easy!

BLAZE is a cannabis software suite providing best-in-class tools for operators in the seed-to-sale supply chain. The BLAZE team is comprised of former operators and industry experts passionate about automating the day-to-day tasks and compliance needed to run a successful cannabis business.

During my conversation with Chris we discussed how Blaze is using cutting edge technology and security to help cannabis retailers blaze a new path forward in the cannabis industry. We also talked about some of the unique features which make Blaze the top choice for most cannabis companies.

Find out more about Blaze here:

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Episode Transcript

Chris Violas: One mantra I've always said and will continue to tell our team is it's all about the right tool for the right job.

Every dispensary should be unique, it should be different. Yes, there's fundamental pieces that kind of flow, uh, in very similar ways in terms of the checkout flow. But what is a thing that's gonna set you apart?

Tom Mulhern: Today we have a conversation with Chris Violas. He is the CEO and founder of Blaze. Now Blaze is a seed to sale solution for cannabis operators. Chris has a lot to share from his history. He's been in the biz for quite a while, and so he shares a bit of his history in the business, his background in technology and how going from a delivery operation

Chris Violas: one mantra I've always said and will continue to tell our team is it's all about the right tool for the right job.

Every dispensary should be unique, it should be different. Yes, there's fundamental pieces that kind of flow, uh, in very similar ways in terms of the checkout flow. But what is a thing that's gonna set you apart?

Tom Mulhern: to building a tech company and solving solutions for what he saw in his day-to-day business really shaped the business that they have now. Chris talks about data and security and all of those things that are so key. And Blaze is really solving some unique issues in the cannabis industry. So let's dive right into this episode.

Tom Mulhern: Chris Violas is the CEO and founder of Blaze with a BA in Information Technology. Chris has built a best in class seed to sale cannabis platform that is making cannabis tech easy. Blaze is a cannabis software suite providing best in class tools for operators in the seed to sale supply chain. The Blaze team is comprised of former operators and industry experts passionate about automating the day-to-day tasks and compliance needed to run a successful cannabis business.

Now, Chris is calling in today all the way from lovely Southern California where you know, it's, it's probably beautiful. So Chris, thank you so much for being on the show. It's great to have you.

Chris Violas: Thank you Tom. I'm really excited to be here. I was excited when I got the invite and uh, yeah. I'm excited to get into all the topics we've got today cuz we've got quite the, quite the list we'll get through.

Tom Mulhern: Hey Chris, why don't we just start off, tell me a bit about your background. You know, in your bio it says you have a BA in information technology. So tell me about your background and how did you end up in the cannabis business?

Chris Violas: Yeah, uh, great question and what a great place to start off. So I'll go ahead and dive right in. Look, I was, uh, going to college, uh, really focused on two things, playing soccer as a D1 soccer player. And two, learning more about technology and how, you know, the intersection of business and what that really means for our, for folks, not just in cannabis, but just in general.

Uh, so that's where I really got started. And through that first couple years, uh, started learning more about technology. Started, you know, really understanding a bit more about business and how those all come together. But for me, the pivotal moment was really, winter break of, my sophomore year ended up having a bad, uh, break on my wrist.

I was a goalkeeper, so I just, I had some extra time and I was diving in my studies at the same time, you know, trying to understand the business going around around me, the world's going around around me. And at that point, my father, who's been in the cannabis business since 2005, really, he's been an attorney, specialized in this space.

I just saw him doing really well and I was curious, Hey, I'm on winter break. Take me on a tour. I wanna go see what you're doing day in, day out. And that's when I saw the dispensary for the first time. That's when I saw the cultivation facilities for the first time. That's when everything was like light bulb.

This is interesting. This is a new industry. I just wanna learn more about, um, frankly, as an entrepreneur and just as a you, as a someone that's just generally curious, I kind of wanna understand these things, especially when they're a bit more taboo, a bit more under the radar. And again, this is about 2011, so pretty early on in California's prop two 15, but, uh, I was very interested in it and so I always had that in the back of my head.

Long story short, that summer just kept visiting dispensaries, kept learning more about everything. I said, You know what? I want to open up a delivery service, the central coast of California, because at that point, there was no dispensaries really on the Central Coast servicing. San Luis Obispo, Pasa Robles, Morro Bay, that whole stretch of the coast there and said, Hey, let's, let's give it a shot. And so, um, started a delivery service going into my junior year and at that point realized, wow, there's a lot of missing pieces from a technology perspective to make this business work seamlessly. There's a lot of friction, whether it be getting orders from customers, routing, drivers handling inventory.

And for me, that's when I really fell in love with this idea of cannabis business technology, meaning that intersection, right, providing those tool sets are needed to run the business. And, uh, ultimately I ran that business for about two years, uh, two and a half years. Sold that, and then went on to go do some really cool things in technology.

Tom Mulhern: So you built this, this cannabis business. How did that kind of shape what you've built with Blaze? Like, you know, there's a lot of people that come from a IT background or a business background, but you came from a cannabis background, took a little break, I think, and then you built Blaze.

And so how did that kind of shape what you built.

Chris Violas: As I mentioned, I was, you know, this was happening when I was in college, and so I was learning a lot around technologists, learning a lot about business and simultaneous right side by side. And so I think one thing that made us pretty unique was, you know, back in the day there wasn't many delivery operators.

And so from an entrepreneurial standpoint, a lot of folks really focus on the point of sale. Right. That's what people think about when they think about retail and technology. And so for us, we just had an inherently different view on the world. Frankly. We were looking at the world through a lens of, Hey, how do we do delivery and how do we do storefront retail at the same time?

We'll get into the whole, you know, what's required to make a retail operation really go. But there's so many pieces, right? And obviously Kaya obviously being a huge piece of that, the people piece, but there's so many problems to go solve. And so we fundamentally approach things differently with that lens.

And I think, you know, it's really helped us get to where we're at today and, really set ourselves apart.

Tom Mulhern: What kind of makes Blaze unique to some of the other solutions that are out there cuz there's, there's different seed to sales software and point of sales system. So you know, what makes you guys unique?

Chris Violas: If you look at a lot of the executive staff down to the management, even in the individual employees that our company that make everything go.

They've actually come from the cannabis industry. And so we provide that view. We're not just technologists trying to go solve a problem in cannabis, It's no, we are cannabis focused people solving technology problems. And so, um, with that, we, I think provide a different lens of, you know, how the workflows are set up, how the store news operate, what kind of optionality is needed.

We also knew we can't do everything right. As much as we want to tackle the world, we can't do it all. And so from day one, Blaze has a huge focus on an open ecosystem. And so what that means is we wanted our system to work seamlessly across all the partners that are needed to make these dispensaries and retail operators go around from the marketplaces, right, from the e-commerce providers that the loyalty CRM folks down to route management, delivery management if needed, down to HR and people.

We took that lens from day one and really built our system on top of that, that open ecosystem approach. So today we've got about 60 ish, uh, technology operators or integrators that are sitting on top of Blaze and. You know, for us, one mantra I've always said and will continue to tell our team is it's all about the right tool for the right job.

Every dispensary should be unique, it should be different. Yes, there's fundamental pieces that kind of flow, uh, in very similar ways in terms of the checkout flow. But what is a thing that's gonna set you apart? We need to be able to service every little requirement that comes in and so through that we've been able to great build some great partnerships.

Uh, we've been able to do some really interesting things together, um, with our customers to get to the end, end goal, which is really providing as seamless as possible of an experience, not only for the consumer, but also for the day-to-day operators running those retailers.

Tom Mulhern: Do you find that creating that seamless experience is difficult? Like you say you have 60 plus integrations. Are there certain integrations that, uh, work better than others to help dispensaries make that tech stack? Or, or how did you kind of get to that point where you said, we can't do it all we gotta find the right people to fit those roles.

Chris Violas: A lot of it is that feedback loop we have with our customers. We're heavily engaged with our customers. We've got a great team of our, uh, account care team is what we call them, but, uh, really focus on just making sure they maintain that relationship day in, day out with that customer, right?

New problems come up, new regulations come up. I mean, you could rewind back to March or April, 2020 when Covid hit. That was a huge boom for a business, frankly, because a lot of these storefronts were like, How do I do delivery? There's all these different events that occur, all these changes in the regulations that we have to adapt to.

And so a lot of it's just coming through the feedback loop customers saying, Hey, you know, we're using this solution over here. It works extremely well. It could work better if, you know, it's integrated on these data points. So a lot of it's coming through there. Obviously we've got our eye on the market.

Our whole team is looking across various solutions and so we definitely figure out which ones we think are gonna be the winners in certain markets and we try to make sure we partner up with them.

A lot of retailers, when they hear something's integrated, they think everything that whole, both systems, whatever, you're using that partner and you are completely tied at the hip, completely dug in, um, all the way. So the reality is that's just not the case in many of these integrations, right? They tend to be, Hey, we're gonna integrate one function or one feature.

And while that's great, there's a lot of other data points that would be helpful across that. And so we try to really focus on that kind of feedback, digging with a partner where we can, and really try to make sure the data is transparent, it's flowing seamlessly across these two solutions, whatever that may be.

But that's just a fundamental difference, not here just to integrate. We wanna make sure it's changing how you're doing day-to-day business.

Tom Mulhern: I'd love to kind of dive into some of the components and the issues that you guys solve. First and foremost, let's talk a bit about delivery. Um, cuz you have the Blaze delivery app. That's kind of like you said, that's your background, that's your history and how is, how is what you guys are doing, kind of simplifying that delivery process for businesses?

Chris Violas: You know, Not every market here in California or in the US right, can do delivery. There's a, about four or five markets that are able to do it. Um, but with that becomes different requirements at each turn. And, uh, no, no pun intended there. But the blade delivery app is really focused on making sure that drivers can do their job and stay compliant at the same time.

And so things like, when you're going out on delivery as a driver, you need to know, you know, obviously what you're carrying to go deliver. But once you get to that location, there's things like capturing a signature and how alcohol would be delivered to your home. Right? We just don't leave at the door step.

We have to get confirmation that it was delivered through a signature. Uh, sometimes pictures kind of like how Amazon would take a picture of dropping off a package, essentially delivery receipt. We have to do these, and that's what this app is really focused on. And not just that because there's so many, there's so much friction, at least on the retail side, especially in delivery when we're doing point of sale transactions.

Where does the payment occur? Is it occurring online, most customers, most delivery services don't have an online payment portal to pay for orders as they come in. So then you're stuck with a driver trying to handle a till, handle a register of cash, right? Give out change.

Our app is doing a lot of that work at the same time. So it's really trying to understand the differences that are unique to the delivery driver in terms of their day-to-day task and just providing a nice interface to, to, to streamline all that.

Tom Mulhern: And I'm sure you saw the news that broke up here in Canada, that Uber Eats is now doing delivery. What are some of your thoughts with some of those bigger companies, you know, starting to make their way into the cannabis industry?

Chris Violas: We gotta be careful with that news. Um, that news is really saying, Hey, this is another channel for orders to go in through. At the end of the day, um, there's again, more regulation when it comes around delivery, especially in Canada. They still need a retail operator to actually facilitate that delivery.

Right? And so same, same thing here in the us. You still have to have someone from that dispensary or delivery service do the actual retail. We don't have last mile fulfillment partners yet. Once we get to that, I think that would be very, very interesting to see. You take a look at the alcohol world as kind of a a similar vertical.

They've had various challenges trying to deliver alcohol. It's been extremely difficult. I think wine is even just getting to the point where it's somewhat regular. So I think we're not there yet, but if that were to happen, I'm all for more channels coming into place orders, right?

I want our, our merchants to have more orders to go fulfill day in, day out. So relatively, I think the direction's great. I want to see it go there. Our job is help increase order volume for our merchants. That is our goal. So wherever we can do to help streamline that, that's great. It's also why, you know, when we talked about that, those integrations earlier in that open ecosystem approach that really lends itself to great omnichannel experiences.

And in the world of retail today, that's what it's all about. It's what's the least route of friction for the consumer to place the order. It just has to work beyond that.

Tom Mulhern: Can you unpack that a bit more for our listeners? How you guys are working in that to create an omnichannel experience?

Chris Violas: For those that are not familiar with that term omnichannel, there's so many different ways for you to sell as a merchant or as a retailer. You know, you've got the in-store experience, which is kind of a primary channel. Someone walks into the retail facility that's dispensary places in order. That's great.

But then there's the digital channels, right? The primary digital channels, which would be your website. I go on online to place an order there. Well, that order needs to come to the point of sale. We need to have real time inventory. The prices need to be accurate. Images, all the catalog things that come with running the e-com need to be accurate.

Well, what about the marketplaces, like WeedMaps or we just announced our integration with Leafly. We want you to sell anywhere and everywhere you can, but not make an extra burden on you, right? And so for us, we, our system and the way we built it is you manage one catalog.

That catalog will go and update every partner along the way, any channel that you're working on, to make sure you got one place to update it. And once it's updated in Blaze, The rest is working seamlessly and these orders will flow through.

You wanna meet the customer at the least amount of friction, frankly. And that sometimes is vending machines in the store, or kiosk in the store, or it's an app, or it's, you know, ordering through online or through these various marketplaces. Or maybe with a brand website, maybe going direct to consumer, which is a new channel we're seeing pop up more and more.

Um, there's just many different ways to get orders, and that's what we're trying to do is break down the barrier and the friction there.

Tom Mulhern: So one of the biggest issues for a lot of cannabis retailers, especially in the United States, is payment. Now you guys kind of offer a solution, Blaze Pay. Uh, how does that work? You know, cause banking and all of that is so difficult. How have you guys solved that or how have you solved that?

Chris Violas: It is a big question, is a big problem, and, uh, it's something we're all focused on as an industry. I would say, uh, wholeheartedly. So look, I I have to speak in payments in, you know, in two different categories. One is, is Canada. Um, we could talk about payments in Canada a little different since it's federally legal.

And then we got payments in the US, which is also different because it's not federally legal. And so with those, come different challenges and different solutions. Because of the Schedule one stance that cannabis is categorized under right now, it really makes it difficult for any type of banking, let alone digital payments to go.

That being said, I think our industry is persistent. We're always trying to find ways forward and trying to find solutions to make that shopping experience for the consumer that much better. One of the solutions that we've really dug into quite a bit is on the ACH side. So that is, uh, it stands for Automatic Clearing House .

It's a really similar to like a Venmo experience where you're gonna connect your bank account to our platform, and then we'll go ahead and authorize the funds to be transferred digitally, um, let's say for an e-commerce order.

Once you have it connected, it's a one tap type of pay after that. One of the interesting things that we did that differentiates us on the Blaze pay side. We said, Look, that's great when you've got your dispensary website, you've got your e-com totally embedded in there and you can pay.

What about these other marketplaces that we talked about? What about these other bespoke partners that are sending us orders? Well, you're not gonna get them to install payments everywhere. So what we've done is essentially soon as the order comes into Blaze, we'll send a text message out to that customer saying, Hey, pay with this link here, and they can go ahead and connect that way rather than having everything completly. Embedded into whatever experience they're into. Cause that's a big task.

And so we've got a different kind of check and balance than most of our competitors out there and how we've thought about architecting the payment solution. Those are just some examples of what we're doing on the online e-commerce side to capture payments.

Tom Mulhern: Are a lot of those solutions built in house or is that an integration that you've partnered with someone to, to build?

Chris Violas: Yeah, no, it's a partnership. It's a deep custom integration into Blaze and what we've done there, um, you know, we're not connecting, we don't have specialists, I would say here, at least in terms of connecting into the automatic clearinghouse. Suddenly in those batches, doing those types of things, what we do know how to do is make it a seamless consumer experience.

And so we take our knowledge there, combine it with our payment processor behind the scenes, and we make a new product that we're proud to put on the market today.

Tom Mulhern: So now with all this data and payments and everything, I, when I was on your website, Saw that you have SOC one and SOC two certification, which is really hard to get. So how important is that to Blaze and how are you guys working actively to protect the data of your customers?

Chris Violas: Yeah, I mean, Tom, you nailed it. Security is priority zero for Blaze. That is the number one thing that we are focused on, beyond some of the other pieces. We're really excited that we're able to get SOC one type one and SOC two type one going.

What that means really is we're, we've got all the processes in place and now we're on the, that next step of the adventure for us, which is type two, which really means, hey, not only do they put these procedures in place, they followed it, they followed those procedures over X amount of time.

So we're just getting started on that piece. But for us, there's not many cannabis businesses CannaTech businesses focus on this, and I think it's a really important thing. Frankly, we've got a lot of sensitive data. Obviously, as you walk into dispensary, most of the time you're scanning your, I. Um, we're pulling that data in, we're creating a profile for you.

And so it's not just that, the transactional data component behind it, the inventory data, the business data that's there. And so we've taken a lot of steps this year to get that in. And frankly, we're still moving. We've got a couple more search we want to get in, but we're really taking the time now to invest into our people, into our processes to make sure that we are set up for the future.

You know, for our customers that are publicly traded and for those that are not, they can come to us and they can feel confident. They know our procedures and how we store data and what we do with it. It's really, really important to me as a former operator that, that we've got that transparency and that, our customers know what we're doing. Right. Cause I think that's a big piece, is that communication.

Tom Mulhern: Well, and also your background in information technology. I'm sure you, you can understand the importance of data security and cyber security in the world that we're in now, It's so, so important.

Chris Violas: It's huge. And we didn't even talk about my tech background, but I worked at, Amazon Web Services for just under four years. And during my time there, I got to work with a lot of companies that have very sensitive data. I mean, um, companies like Credit Karma, Bob, and Personal Financing. You start to look at these bigger financial technology companies and having worked with those companies in the past, understanding how much investment they're putting into this side of the business from the security side and audit side is just so important. So we do our best to take some of those lessons learned from my working at Amazon.

Kai Kirk, who's our chief product officer, has really led the way for us on these certifications has done a great job. He had some other responsibilities outside of Blaze back in the day when he was working for some larger technology companies where he was managing the actual data warehouses and all the data going in and out. So we all have our own, at least at the executive level of, have had our hands in data security somewhere or another. And so we're just happy to bring that forward here and make sure that we're continue to push not just us, but our industry forward in moving that direction.

Tom Mulhern: I mean, There's a double, double stigma. If there was a data breach, like we already have the bad stigma of being cannabis. So if something happened, it's, it's so key to have that security, but sticking on data, you guys offer a business intelligence tool, which again, is another unique thing that I think you guys are offering in the industry.

So what, what does Blaze Insights kind of do, and how can a dispensary use that data to make their company more effective?

Chris Violas: Oh yeah. This is something I'm extremely passionate about. I'm glad you brought up , Blaze Insight. It's something that, you know. As a point of sale provider, we produce a lot of data, with that compliance layer that we have underneath the point of sale. Part of that, part of the challenge here is surfacing the right data back to our customers, right?

In this case, they're operators and so we've got through this data set, you know, we've really been able to look at operations through a different lens. What's really exciting about Blaze insights is we establish a whole team dedicated just to focusing on providing the right tool sets for operators to go look at whether it be transactional reports or operational reports.

This team has really put together what I would call world class product. And rather than focusing on market level data, meaning how many sales of pre-rolls were done in California, we're providing operational tool sets right?

How long did it take to fulfill an order ? How many orders fell off? How many orders were started online that didn't finish ? What was the week over week performance on a certain promotion? Where are we seeing, you know, from a delivery perspective, what geography is delivering the highest volume for us or the, the best margin?

Um, orders like these are things that we look through, right? What's the sell through? But these are different reports and different visualizations and we've been, been able to put into Blaze Insights to better surface that to our operators. And I've just been really excited. It's been a collaborative effort over the last year with our product team as well as our customers and getting them into betas, getting their feedback.

And what we've seen is a lot of our bigger customers tend to have two or three business intelligence tools after working with our insights advanced tool. I mean, they're taking that down to just us. So we've been able to, you know, continually work with them to optimize their reports and one, how they get to 'em, how fast they run, and, uh, just pull on a lot of different data sets, which is interesting.

One report that I was just looking at the other day that would be fun, to look at with you guys, like Kaya is just so, you know, we look at how busy the dispensary gets, right? Where do we allocate the right budtender and the right staffing ratios, and what does that look like on the weekend versus a weekday?

Um, so these are things that we've been digging into and looking at as well, but, It's all to help drive this forward, that's really what Blaze Insight is, right? And with Blaze Insights, you can create custom dashboards and you can do custom reports. I think it's really interesting and really exciting to look at your business through kind of a different lens than you normally do.

Tom Mulhern: What are some of the most, um, important business insights that dispensaries have kind of given you that feedback of like, Oh, we didn't even know we needed to know about this until we started digging in. Like, is there a few that are standout?

Chris Violas: Totally. I think, you know, customers especially, or sorry, I should say Operators, especially in this market, are really looking just given the state of the economy and look at the state of just in general, they're really looking at ways and cut costs, and part of that's also looking at where you're spending money.

And so we've been doing a lot of customer cohort analysis on, Hey, what kind of, if you're doing ads, what are you doing with them? Are they actually driving repeat customers? Are they more driving kind of a bad behavior, which is bringing customer in just to get the discount and then we can't keep them at the end of the day.

And so we've been looking a lot at cohort analysis and finding some interesting insights there. Additionally, you know, if you're just a storefront, have you looked at offering delivery. What's the behavior between someone to walk in to your shop and then how do you keep them over the course of a year or two years?

Is that, is delivery that answer there? In some cases it is. In some certain cases it's not. And so I think that's been really interesting. The last thing I'll put really is just the standard inventory data. While it seems like a no-brainer, people look at their data at the same time. Most of our dispensaries are carrying 800 to a thousand SKUs, and so that's a lot to handle.

Things, just basic things like tell me what's expiring this month. I should probably put it on sale. Things like that. Create a really nice interface to bring those to the front, make sure they know what's going on from an aging perspective, on their inventory. These are just things that I think people have known to look at, but because the data was harder to get to, they didn't do it as normally as they should, and now we're saying, Hey, click this button, boom.

Wanna run it week over week, month over. Last six days, whatever you want to do, it's right in your face. It can be done. And not just that, we'll go ahead and schedule that report to send out right? Every Monday at noon if that's what you want. So, um, I'm really excited about this tool. I think it's really creating some traction here and, uh, there's just so much more to come from this team.

Tom Mulhern: You spoke a bit about inventory, so how does your solutions help with that keeping, dispensaries or retail operations compliant, and if there's a discrepancy between what's on hand and what's in the POS, how do you guys help with that

Chris Violas: Our inventory is best in class. I mentioned from day one we had this kind of focus on delivery and we were one of the first point of sales to say, you can have as many inventory sets as you want. These are virtual sets. But oftentimes when you think about the physical world these are, the vault where the inventory's held, like that's tracked separately than what's on the floor, than what's in backlog, than what's in receiving.

These are different areas, right? They've got 10 drivers, which inventory is in each driver. Right? So we do a lot of work to make sure that we can customize the application from the inventory to match the physical world as best as we can. I know you had Mike Wilson from Temeka Group. We work actually quite a bit because he's setting stores up and we gotta make sure we've got the right tech to back that up.

Trying to match the physical to the virtual world is always fun. We started off with those kind of things, but now we go into it. We've got all these different track and trace systems, right? We talked about inventory discrepancies. Most of the time, you know, what someone has physically versus what the state compliance system has.

They're, they're off. And hopefully they're not. But a lot of the times, whether it's off by one or two, we wanna go ahead and flag those things and highlight them as best as we can. And so we do that through our inventory reconciliation tool to make those adjustments. The other thing that we worked really hard to do was we service about 18 states today in the us.

Of those, some of them are on metric as a track and trace system. Some of 'em are on BioTrack, you know, states like New Mexico and Illinois. These are two different operating systems, and so we've got, we built an integration that works with both of 'em the same way, meaning as an operator if you're in New Mexico or if you're in California, use Blaze exactly the same.

Meaning if you've got shops in different states, so you don't need to retrain based off of what state you're in and what, how you're interacting with that track and trade system. So we spent a lot of time to make sure that those those experiences were the same across each, each, uh, track and trace solution, which has been huge for us.

But at the end of the day, we still have to work with these systems. And part of that is making sure that you can seamlessly receive inventory, reconcile that inventory, and then within your own location, make sure you can transfer balance all these different locations like the vault to the, the floor to receiving or loading up, delivery drivers really quickly With predetermined kits.

These are things that we do kind of day in, day out and the solutions that we provide our, our retailers.

Tom Mulhern: So a conversation that we've been having with, with a few people in this sphere is around the major cannabis marketplaces. Now I know you guys have a partnership with leafly, but how do you see Blaze kind of fitting into this, almost this future of Amazon for weed?

Like, do you guys see a bright future with those big marketplaces that kind of, you know, take the local retailer out of the equation, or, or what do you kind of see as the future for that?

Chris Violas: Yeah. I, I hope we don't lose that. I mean, at the end of the day, those marketplaces were stood up and the fact that they were the only place to go find these small retailers, right? I mean, that's, that's where they really started. And so, Don't we see that collaboration continue? I don't want to see one retailer rule them all.

That's not really what I'm looking for in this industry, and I don't think that's where this industry has come from. I think we'd like to see a lot of smaller regional players doing their thing, and ultimately, if there's different channels to drive orders through, that's great, but it's those, those smaller retailers that tend to build those communities that we, what we, love and know US cannabis communities today, they're very strong.

They're very tight knit. But at the end of the day, if the retailers need to be consolidated, I hope the farms stay unique as well. Um, and the brands stay unique is at the end of the day, there's a lot of that kind of the emotional appeal, that ethos that comes with cannabis. And we just, I, I would hate to see that go personally.

Tom Mulhern: Now I know you guys, recently acquired Greenline, which is a Canadian pos and you're actually speaking on the Canadian market at MjBiz Con correct?

Chris Violas: I can't say enough awesome things about the Green Line team, both the executive level, all the way down to every single person working there. Really phenomenal team from the ground up. They've been winning in a really difficult market, uh, as you know, has had its number of challenges this quarter alone, let alone the past year.

I think they've just done such a great job listening to their customers, getting that feedback into the software, just providing a seamless, easy to use software that does what you want it to do every day and that's keep your business running. So, um, incredibly excited.

We were able to join forces, get a lot of that synergy cuz they're seeing different retail problems that we're in the us. So to be able to get these two teams together, uh, from a product perspective is just so exciting to me.

Tom Mulhern: What sort of bright spots do you see in the Canadian market?

Chris Violas: I think all this is gonna force innovation, and we're talking about that right now in terms of our teams, right? Because people are looking to do more with less, and that's on the merchant level, not just the consumer side. Consumers want easier access, They want quicker access to a lot of things. More consistent access to certain product lines.

We've been seeing a number of supply issues going on up in Canada, on both, on both coasts. For me, I think we're really talking about how do we do, uh, more with less. And part of that is building more tool sets to one, keep the customers coming back. How do we help our retailers do that?

Right? We're not just a point of sale anymore. We've gotta be into that kind of customer management, customer relationship game to keep that, keep that. I think beyond that, really focusing on seamless payment experiences. Obviously you can pay, with credit card up in Canada, right? But how do we make that so much easier where it's similar to like an Apple Pay, Google Pay, right? How do we make that that same experience in store, the same seamless experience online? We're really focused on that whole journey right now of that consumer and what we can do to reduce the friction and keep them coming back. There's just a lot that's gonna come out of this type of market, even though it's a difficult market.

A lot of operators are figuring how to get leaned mean and operate just, extremely efficiently. And so that's challenging us to provide more solutions for these folks. And at the end of the day, it's a welcome challenge.

Tom Mulhern: And it seems like you, you are providing some of those unique solutions that are trying to help retailers or operators find their, their unique selling point in their town when there's five other retail operations around them. So having those, that data, insight, payments, whatever it is to have that in-store experience is, is so important.

So, We're coming to the end of the year. What's kind of on the roadmap? Give us a sneak peek at what's coming up for Blaze. I mean, what else could you do? You guys have done so much. What? What's kind of on the horizon for you?

Chris Violas: Yeah, Tom, I always got a couple tricks on my sleeve. Um, yeah, you gotta keep 'em there. But, uh, look, I'm really excited. I think you're gonna see a lot of us trying to solve, this holistic approach to retail. A lot of the times our team and a lot of our customers think we're just software, right? That's what we do.

And, and within software, there's so many different pieces of that, but I want a holistic approach to retail in general, right from the ground up, from hardware to work with companies like Temeka Group and, and Mike over there. Um, all the way down to working with companies like yourself, like Kaya, Like we really want see a whole dis approach to retail where it's, uh, I wanna say turnkey, but that's as turnkey as you can get.

There's so many more problems that we solve in this space. We've learned a lot over the last two and a half, three years , we plan to take those lessons and bring them forefront in 23. We've got some, some new updates coming out that I'm very, very excited about. More from the insights team, more from the payments team, you're gonna see a lot, uh, about that.

And I think for us, hopefully deeper and better partnerships, right? So we're seeing a lot of good partnerships come to fruition and uh, we want to dig in and go deeper on those, right? To really make sure we've got that wholistic solution for the customer. So they don't need to go find. Just another piece, in that tech stack, right? Which like, we got these things really dialed in.

Tom Mulhern: Now I keep, I keep checking on your shirt. You, you're wearing a shirt that says Blaze Cares. Like, what is, what does that kind of lead to? Is that a social equity program or? Something that you're passionate about?

Chris Violas: We've got a, a number of folks that have this shirt at the company, and it's a program we have internally, frankly, it's how does Blaze give back to the community that we came from, which is cannabis. And so we've done toy drives and, uh, number of things with our customers.

You know, we're doing some beach cleanups coming up. We're trying to do all these pieces moving forward. And frankly, on the social equity side, I'm glad you mention. We've dug in so much with these folks, to make sure that they've got the right solution needed at the right price to get out the door and really have , a clear journey to get to a successful dispensary.

And so all that's kind of within the Blaze Cares program that we're running today. But I'm really excited we're gonna be going outbound with it. You're gonna hear about it more, but it just started as an employee saying, Hey, you know, what are we gonna do for Christmas? Are we gonna help with this toy drive?

Or what, What can we do to help. And that's where it all stemmed from. And from there it's where they've blossomed. So I'm excited to see more, more from it. We haven't done a lot of press around it cause it's more for our employee group internally, to make sure we're giving back to the community. You'll see more and more from us in 23 for sure.

Tom Mulhern: Is there a lot of that in the Blaze community? To try and do good in the community and as a staff team, all of that. Like I know that's core to who we are as Kaya as well.

Chris Violas: Yeah, absolutely it is. For me it's one, it's rewarding. We work so hard day in, day out. We've got such a challenging industry when we get to go hang out with our peers, and whether it's clean up the beach or do whatever you're gonna do, and it doesn't have to be generating money, It could just be giving back to the community through these things.

It just really empowers all of us right, to work together as an industry less us versus them mentality. More of one team, one vision type of mentality. For me, that's so important, right? We are so blessed to be able to operate, especially in the US given the federal stance on cannabis that, you know, we have to take every minute we can to reflect and say, thank you for where we're at.

You know, we still got a long ways to go. There's no doubt about it. But a lot of folks have put in such great work to get us to where we're at. So for me, getting back to the community, being to help out those that are in need, if we've got a platform to do it, we should be doing that. Absolutely.

Tom Mulhern: So one last question here. If you were to open a dispensary tomorrow, somebody gave you 2 million. Chris, go out there. What would be some of the most important things to consider before launching?

Chris Violas: Oh man. I don't know if two million's gonna be enough, but we'll go with

Tom Mulhern: not gonna be enough. 20 million. I'll give you 20 million here. There. Go.

Chris Violas: location, location, location. You've gotta get that right, especially with more, more cities, at least within certain states pushing more licensing out. We just saw a couple cities in California open up soon licenses for students but at the end of the day, location and then community.

What are you doing to build your community around you? All the successful dispensaries I've seen, they're really focused on how do you continue that conversation with the customer once they visit once. And that's, everyone's got their own flair on it. Whether it be, you know, Taco truck Wednesdays or Tuesdays, or, you know, I'm bringing in certain artists, like we've got a customer called the Artist Tree in LA.

They've got local artwork everywhere and it's beautiful. So every time you visit the shop it's just, it's so fun to go check all these pieces of workout. Um, so to me it's how, what's your community that you're gonna build? Because yes, you're a retailer, Yes, you need to sell stuff. Yes, there's a path to do that, but how do you keep those customers coming back to you and build that community?

There's different answers for everyone, but that is my number one piece of advice to anyone, starting a dispensary, is what's the community? How are you gonna build it? How are you gonna maintain it? Yeah. It's so important to keep your customers.

Tom Mulhern: So how can people kind of connect with the work you're doing at Blaze or connect with you? Like we mentioned you're speaking at MjBizCon, so everybody will fill up that session.

Chris Violas: Look, if you wanna get in touch with us, if you're a partner, if you're a customer or someone that's gonna be opening dispensary, like get to know us now, right? We want help guide. You've seen, we've launched thousands of dispensaries. We want to help people get setup for success.

So first and foremost, you can go to our website. It's blaze.me. Pretty straightforward. Um, in that contact form, you've got separate contact forms for partners and prospective customers or just people curious about the industry. On top of that, you mentioned I'll be speaking to MjBizCon. So I do a lot of speaking engagements, whether on podcasts like this or being outta MjBizCon and more the, the bigger stages.

Find us on social. If you're on Instagram, look at Blaze. We'll be up there and, we post quite often our marketing teams active and we like to share our customers journeys with everyone and, you know, share some great stories. So that's what it's about.

Tom Mulhern: Well, thank you so much for. In the time to be on the podcast share about Blaze, we'll definitely have to have you back. I mean, we could have just stayed on data. It sounded like we're too like nerds here talking about data. I could have been there for a while, so we'll have to have you back to talk more about that.

Chris Violas: Yeah, we got some, some really cool updates coming that we'll be able to share in Q1. Tom, I really thank you for the opportunity. Thank you for the platform. You guys are doing some great work. I know we're certainly excited, Our journey's just begun together as a partner, but, uh, we're gonna be doubling down quite a bit on it. So, with that, thank you.

Tom Mulhern: Thank you again, Chris, for taking the time to share a bit about the history of Blaze, your history in the industry, and really your passion for technology and that in-store experience. For taking the time to talk about, you know, data and data security and the steps that you guys are taking, at Blaze to secure the data of your customers and your customers' customers. And so I, I think that's so important and I really appreciate that about, um, Blaze and all of the solutions. I love when tech companies are willing to monitor what's happening in the industry and really find solutions for those challenges that are facing each one of the cannabis retailers that are out there.

Companies like Blaze are really blazing a path, pardon the pun, forward for our industry. And so, again, go check out blaze.me. Go to their website, check out their social media, connect with Chris, and if you're going to MJ biz, If you're gonna wanna connect with Chris and go to his session, find out more about the Canadian industry and how they're partnering with Greenline to really solve some of those issues.

As well, make sure that you come and visit Kaya Push. We're gonna be out there. I'm gonna be there, uh, hanging out, talking to people at MjBizCon. We're gonna be doing some interviews, giving away a bunch of swag. So if you haven't subscribed to our podcast, subscribe to the podcast and you can find out exactly where we are.

Head over to our website, KayaCast.fm. And there you can find out more about where we're gonna be at MjBizCon, how you can connect, how you can get some free Kaya Cast swag. And again, thanks for listening to the podcast. We appreciate every single one of our listeners and want to connect with each of you.

So don't forget to subscribe and review the podcast if you like it, so that we can share what we're doing with more and more.

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