Tommy Truong (CPA) is the co-founder and CEO of KayaPush. With over $1 Billion of payroll processed last year, Kayapush helps dispensaries scale through an easy people management platform. Tommy has helped thousands of business owners grow their companies through simplifying workforce management.
In the first of many conversations with Tommy, we discuss growth principles for your bud tenders and dispensary teams. It all starts with investing in the futures of each of your team members and having growth conversations now. This will lead to higher retention rates for your teams and create a more fun place to work.
Tommy Truong will be coming back every month with new cannabis industry insights from his conversations with hundreds of cannabis retailers across North America.
Find our more about Kaya Push:
Tom Mulhern: Today I'm sitting down with Tommy Truong, the CEO and founder of Kaya Push. You know, we've spent a lot of time on the road together in the past few weeks and, you've really been sharing some of the really cool insights that you've had into the industry. And while I'm in Vancouver, here in the Kaya Push offices, I thought we could chat a bit and hear some of your thoughts.
Tommy Truong: Thanks for having me, Tom. So where do we start? What do you wanna know?
Tom Mulhern: I wanna know how all of this started. Give me a brief history of Kaya Push and how it all happened.
Tommy Truong: Before Kaya Push I used to work in a, an accounting firm. We were fairly big, like a national accounting firm, and I hated work. Yeah, I hated work. It wasn't fun. The work wasn't fun, but the environment wasn't fun either.
I was there to pump financial statements and that was it, you know what I mean? And I didn't feel like I was making much of an impact with the work that I was doing. There was a disconnect between financial statements and what is the impact that that I was making in the world.
When we started this company, it was really important for us that we created an environment that was fun. , that was challenging, but that was impactful. Like everybody that works at Kaya understands the impact that they're making with the businesses that we're helping.
Tom Mulhern: Yeah, so in that previous role it wasn't just the job, but it was. The environment that you found draining.
Tommy Truong: You know when you go to work and you're like, Oh gosh, it's Monday. Yeah, I gotta go work. And it feels like work. That's when you know it's, that's when you know, okay, this is probably not for me. This is not the environment that, that I want to be a part of. And that's how we we started the company Kaya and we thought about how do we tackle this issue?
How do we help other companies? Create an environment that's fun through our HR platform.
Tom Mulhern: And you didn't do it alone, right?
Tommy Truong: No. So we have I have two co-founders, two other co-founders Tina and Danny
Tom Mulhern: How long have you known them.
Tommy Truong: them? Oh, gosh. So I've known Tina and Danny since high school.
Tina, fun fact. Used to go out with my best friend, , and then Danny's Tina's older, the brother, so we've known each other for. I hate to say it over 20 years, you know, I'm aging myself here.
Tom Mulhern: And starting a business like, like I have lots of friends that I'm like, we're like, Hey, you know what we should do? We should start a business doing this. But you guys actually did. Created what we have here with Push and Kaya Push.
Tommy Truong: Yeah. It's been an amazing ride. you know, any, Anytime you start a business, there's ups and there's down. And the most important factors when you do is who do you go in business with? Because there are gonna be bumpy roads, there are gonna be ups and downs and a lot of downs before you, you have the high, the highs.
Yeah. And just super grateful that I did it with them.
Tom Mulhern: So now you've been you launched Kaya Push, you launched Push Operations, and what are some of those industry challenges that you're trying to eliminate as a company?
Tommy Truong: Every time that I talk to a business owner, I always ask him this question is, Why should somebody work for you? , why? Yeah. If you think about it, every company out there likely pays competitive wages, right? If you don't pay competitive wages, you probably won't have any employees, right?
So taking wages out of the equation, why should somebody choose you instead of your competitor, right? The really high performing people in this world, the ones that will really make an impact to your business, the A players. They need something more than just salary. Salary only goes it's a very short term thing.
So why should somebody stick around for you? And that's the question I ask every business owner when I meet a man. And it's a question that I think everybody that runs a business should ask themselves.
Tom Mulhern: Yeah, and those for those A players that are in those businesses, if they can't answer that easily, like if they can't say the reason that I. here is because, I'm excited, I'm passionate about the work we're doing. Then it's time to move on,
Tommy Truong: Anytime somebody goes to work and it's not fun or it's not challenging, and they don't feel like they're making an impact, those three, it's very simple. Have potential turnover and also you have employees that are less engaged.
Tom Mulhern: So that engagement piece, how has Kaya worked to create engagement with their employees. Are there certain strategies you guys do or is it just like making a fun place where, people can come and feel like a part of a community or what's your secret there?
Tommy Truong: There's one thing that we've realized that businesses that, that have figured it out, we figured out the matrix. Think about this. If you're a business owner and 90% of your employees, or even over 50% of your employees were as engaged as you were, are in your business, right? Or believe in your business as much as you do.
What would that do for your business?
Tom Mulhern: It would grow like crazy.
Tommy Truong: But business owners, they invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into their business, right? And you can't do it all running a dispensary. You can't talk to every single customer. You can't pack every inventory. So you hire employees to carry out your vision, hoping to pray to God that they care as much as you do in your business, right?
But why should they? Yeah. Why should they, Why should someone care about your business as much as you? So bus like that, it goes back to that question, right? Is how are business owners showing up? And that's really when I talk to other businesses, the ones that have figured out the me the Matrix, they figured out that they have to show up a certain way in order for employees to be engaged.
Tom Mulhern: And now for dispensary specifically. How are they tackling this engagement? Like I know you speak with dispensaries all the time. Yeah.
Tommy Truong: Yeah.
Tom Mulhern: every day you're talking to different dispensary owners, so you know, it's a different sort of a role. So how are they, attracting the best talent to their best bud tenderers and keeping them, how are they getting them to care about what they're doing?
Tommy Truong: It's actually a lot trickier question or problem to solve in this dispensaries and like every owner faces the same problem because the be the Bud tenderer role is entry level. Likely part-time. It's a non, it's a transient role. It's a non-career role.
Unless you're your opening up a new dispensary every other month, there's not a lot of positions to grow into. The role has very high turnover. On average, 55% of your bud tenderers will leave you in the first year. Some dispensaries do a lot better at the ones that figured out.
So that is the problem. The ones that have figured out talk about growth early and often. , they have growth conversations with their team. At the beginning of the onboard, like when they're onboarding the team all throughout the tenure with the company and they do it often.
So the, the rule is, is do it early and often.
Tom Mulhern: What do those growth conversations look like when they're talking like to a Bud Tenderer, that's entry level. Like what does growth look like? Yeah. You said unless they're opening all of these locations what does that like practically look like?
Tommy Truong: And it's tricky too because oftentimes you think about growth, you think about promotions, right? Promotions salary increase, but that's not really what growth means. Growth is developing a skill set that you can use for your a future career. Right? That's growth. Yeah. That's as simple as that, right?
So that's the growth conversation. So the ones that do really well, they, the owners that do really well, they'll talk to their team and ask them, Hey, in five years, what is it that you wanna do? , right? What is it that you wanna work in? What company? What career? It may not be a role that's within dispensary. But where is it that you want to go and talking to your team members you'll understand, okay, if you wanna do this, what are the skill sets that are required for your future role? And then creating an environment and using your business to create a vehicle for your team to develop these skills.
Tom Mulhern: Well, And when those bud tenderers really have a hope and a vision of what the future could be, they're gonna be engaged now cuz they know that you as the business owner is invested in whatever the future holds.
Tommy Truong: It's very counterintuitive. What you're essentially saying is, Hey, how do I set you up so you can leave our company That's essentially what you're saying. But the results are amazing because when people feel like you care about them, And you care about their future, they trust you so much more.
They're just plugged into what you're doing. It's the rule of reciprocity. And yeah, it's very simple. And only a handful, a very small percentage of this dispensaries are doing that today. And that's what we wanna change. We wanna make sure that everybody just understands that there's a better way to engage with your team. And just because this position has high turnover, it's entry level it doesn't give you the excuse not to do anything about it. Right? Because it is harder to do, but there's a path forward where you're gonna have a team that's very engaged and then with that engagement you can build a very high performing team.
Tom Mulhern: Are you seeing a lot of, in, in some of those situations where dispensaries are growing to multi-location, that some of those really engage, really locked in, people are moving up into management roles. Yeah. And. And even, you know, I know it's a new industry, but moving into other, you know, even coming to Kaya.
Push, Yeah. Like, Yeah, that could be, creating a career within the cannabis industry. But you get a start as a bud tender.
Tommy Truong: You started as bud tender and the amazing opportunity that people have being a bud tender is in the bud tender role, in order for you to excel in this role, you really have to have good. Customer service skills. Right? Cause the bud tender role in general is responsible for the entire customer experience.
When I walk into a dispensary, my impression of that brand rests heavily on my interaction with the bud tender. And that's a huge responsibility. But it's also a huge opportunity too because, and also the bud tenders, they're responsible for the entire dispensaries sales engine. So two huge responsibilities in dispensary, but they can sharpen those skills for a future career because those are the two fundamental skills that you need for every position.
Tom Mulhern: They're the knowledge experts. They're the economic engine, but they're also the product experts in the dispensary. Because they're working with so many different people, learning so many different needs, and I think that really is one of those skills that you can bring into whatever career you go into after being a bud tender.
That resiliency of working with someone and figuring out okay, what do you need? And I'm gonna help you get what you need. Like there, there's so many skills that can come out of that role if managers, owners are willing to invest in the future of their employees. So you're really saying that's that secret sauce?
Tommy Truong: You hit the nail in the head, right? Is where we are today is particularly markets that are very mature, is competitive. Margins are low. Oftentimes you're not able to pay commissions, your bud tenders. How do you get your team engaged? And then once the team is engaged, how do you build a high performing team?
What is that structure like? And that's that, that two problem that we're solving today at Kaya Push.
Tom Mulhern: And a peak behind the curtain. That's what you're doing at Kaya push as well. Like you're setting up your team for their future career as well. And I, I don't know if that was intentional in how you guys set up the company, but it seems to be like it's working here and it's working here, like within your own team.
Tommy Truong: It's funny you say that because when we started this company, it was really important for us that we create an environment where people were reaching towards their peak potential. , right? That we create an environment where everybody was having fun, being challenged.
I truly believe, If you're not challenged at work, right? You don't have a you don't have a target to go and there requires effort and growth in order for you to hit that target that you're gonna be bored. Particularly your A players. A players wanna grow.
But also on top of that, they wanna know that they're making the impact. What impact are we that we're making? We're very fortunate that we see the impact that we're making to the dispensaries, right? So with that formula, we see that working in the dispensaries as well , right?
Environment, that's fun. That people are being challenged and they know that they're making impact.
Tom Mulhern: So what would be your like one piece of advice then if you could boil all of that down into like just one little nugget like you're sitting across from a dispensary owner, what would you say to them.
Tommy Truong: That's a good question. First is why should somebody work for you? How are you being competitive and how are you showing up? And oftentimes creating an environment where you care about your employee and you care about their future and you incorporate growth into the equation really helps answer that question.
Create an environment where you have a high performing team. Right. I'm obsessed with talking to dispensary owners and managers and, and Bud tenderers. I try to talk as, as much as possible. Through talking to hundreds of environments.
A high functioning team can be boiled down to four key ingredient. So if I was a, if I was a dispensary owner, I will look into my environment and see does my team have, are they obsessed with their key performance indicators? So that's one. Do they know what the target is?
Cause if there's no target, , there's what are we doing this for? What are we shooting for? And the target should be it should require effort to achieve and it should be achievable. So it shouldn't be so large that, hey, that's not achievable within this timeframe, or you wanna take incre incremental steps, for improvement. So that's one.
What we found is that in environments where employee have a performance target, they're 17 times more likely to be engaged at work 17 times.
With that in mind, there should always be a target. A lot of dispensaries, they're worried that if they set a sales target, for example, that their team would chase short term sales and really ruin long term relationship with customers. But uh, the number one rule is what is a target. , right?
Number two is create a fun environment. And you know, You have a fun environment when you go to work and it doesn't feel like work anymore. Yeah, there's banter, right? Everybody is lack of a better, We're shooting the shit with each other. There's, they're joking around with each other, and it's just fun. You want that environment. That's fun because the moment that somebody just, Oh gosh, I have to go to work. That's not fun anymore. So that's number two.
Number three is the best run dispensaries are customer centric.
I mentioned that high performing people, they wanna know that they're making an impact. And you can't make an impact by not being customer centric. Like everything that we do is for the customer. Like without them, we have nothing like, and that, that goes, that rings true with our company.
Without the customers that we work for, we have nothing.
Tom Mulhern: We have to be obsessed with our customers
Tommy Truong: We have to be obsessed with our customers.
So I'll tell you the story. I I visit the dispensaries a lot. And I try to visit two dispensaries a week.
I went to a dispensary and I saw that they had a strain that I really liked, right? Red Congo. So I ordered that strain and the bud tender, and this is the first time that I was there. The bud tender asked me, Why do you like that strain? What is it about the strain that you like? So I give them my, I have a 30 second like spiel that I, Cause I visit so many dispensaries.
So I let 'em know, Hey, I'm a flower guy. I like sativa. I like to microdose myself or I'm a more of a daytime high type of person cuz I wanna be productive. I like to clean, I like to run, I like to out. I sometimes I like to work. And he suggested that I'm microdose a spray.
There's a, like a two and a half milligram spray, and I've never I'm a flower guy, so I gravitate towards flower and I've never used sprays before and I said, you can microdose this and just see how you feel. You might have, it might, you might be really productive on this. So I bought it.
Think about that. Somebody that asked the right question. Understood. My profile, what I liked, I made and knew the inventory well enough to make a recommendation. , that is a high functioning individual. And so you can have sales targets and be customer-centric. It doesn't have to be one or the other.
Or you can have a both. And I tried it and I liked it. So now I'm a happy customer.
Tom Mulhern: And a returning customer
Tommy Truong: Yeah. So I'm grateful that he made that recommendation. There's a flip side of that. So same week actually, I go to another dispensary and I didn't know anything that they had on the menu.
So I asked the buder, Hey, this is what I'm looking for. Same thing, right? Daytime, high, et cetera. I want something energizing, uplifting. And she she proceeded to go on the POS and read the description of the products that they had, and poor girl, and it just took too long. So I just, just gimme that one.
Just think about the two different environments and think about the last one on how much money is left on the table in that environment, right? One, the customer service is not great, right? Two, there's completely no up sell. And in that environment, you're just an order taker.
There's no value add. So that's the opposite of a high performing team.
Tom Mulhern: Well, and you think about the future of that, the two different bud tenderers, and really. That one that was engaged, that was, knew the KPIs, knew all of that, Like that person might go on and go onto a career in sales that started from, being curious, being insightful in their role as a bud tender and they say, Hey, I love this.
And having a manager that's like, hey, I want to, I wanna help you prosper in this role. Is huge.
Tommy Truong: And the final common traits that I see in high functioning teams is recognition. What we found is that employees, and we've surveyed employees, they don't feel like they're getting recognized enough for their hard work. Statistically across the board, 44% of employees don't feel like they're being recognized enough, and that's a huge factor on in turnover.
But on the flip side, if employees are, if they're being recognized for their achievements and for their hard work, they tend to stay at the company they're with longer because of the impact that they're making.
So there's two parts of recognition. One is just being recognized by your peers, by your boss, by the owners, for your hard work and your achievement.
That hits you in such a deeper level than monetary recognition. Like when somebody takes their time out of their day to tell you how great of a job that you're doing and the impact that you're making that lasts for so long versus here's a hundred dollars.
Tom Mulhern: But it is that verbal recognition and a verbal recognition in front of the team of people saying Hey, Brad is doing an awesome job. Like I saw him interacting with a customer and this guy came in looking for a daytime high. He's a sativa guy.
And Brad said, Hey, you gotta try this microdosing thing. Because that also inspires the rest of the team. So it boosts up the one individual, but it also creates an example for this is what we're going after. This is the matrix of what we want on this team. And so it really has twofold too. And if you just gave like, Hey Brad, you did a good job. Here's a hundred dollars gift card. That doesn't teach them anything. Yeah.
Tommy Truong: That's huge. It's such an easy way to make someone feel appreciated. It's free. Recognition is free. Yeah. But it's not used as often as it should.
Tom Mulhern: How would you kinda wrap this up for the, the dispensary owners and managers that are listening that are like, Oh, this is so good. I'm ready to implement this into my team.
Tommy Truong: I think the first thing that dispensary owners and our listeners, if you run a dispensary or a business right that you should really think about is how are you showing up? Why should somebody work for you? In a dispensary, bud tenderers are not being paid that much. So why should they care about your business more than taking an order?
So I think that's the first step, is what environment are you creating to attract and retain the top talent in this industry and how you're showing up. And the best way, from what I've seen to create separation between you and your competitors is to talk about growth, incorporate growth conversations early and often. That's the best way.
And then I think the second is to think about the environment that you're creating. Cause ultimately, as a business owner or as a manager, you control the environment.
You can dictate what environment that you can set, if you're intentional with setting a fun, engaging, challenging, impactful environment, then you're gonna have that environment. But if you're not intentional with the environment that you're creating, then you know you leave it to the gods.
You don't wanna do that. You invested hundreds of thousands of dollars. Let's be intentional with the environment that you wanna create.
Tom Mulhern: Got up to this point. You got every, you got your compliance, your security, and then you have a place where people don't wanna be. Yeah. Customers will read into that. Staff will read into that and why would you get that far and then, Yeah. Not get the ball across the yard
Tommy Truong: like here's. Half a million dollars. I have everything lined up. Okay, now put it up to chance. I'm gonna pray to Zues.
Tom Mulhern: Yeah, I'm just gonna put it up to chance and hope that it happens.
Tommy Truong: So that, so I would say those are the two things that dispensary owners should really, and business owners, right?
That should really think about is is how am I showing up and what environment am I creating.
Tom Mulhern: I really appreciate you taking the time I. We've talked about this, about getting you on here and sharing some of these insights that you're having from your hundreds of conversations with dispensary owners. So hopefully once a month we'll get you on here, sharing some of those some of those thoughts and things, and yeah, I appreciate it.
Tommy Truong: Yeah. Thanks for having Tom.
Tom Mulhern: Yeah. All right.