When John Yang, CEO and Co-Founder of Treez, sat down with Entrepreneur, he let his proverbial hair down and opened up about what ignited his spark for the cannabis industry; the importance of positive mental fortitude; and what it’s like to be a first-time ganjaprenuer.
At its roots, the idea for Treez grew out of a seed planted by CPO and Treez Co-Founder, Shareef El-Sissi. As a decade-long industry veteran, El-Sissi was frustrated with the lack of software options available to him that were capable of boosting operational efficiency at his high-volume dispensary, The Garden of Eden. That’s when he approached Yang.
With a background in software development, Yang was no stranger to framing solutions in the form of tech, stating, “it was a pretty easy marriage of our talents. He’d present me with a problem, such as how to limit shrinkage, or how to track employee productivity, and I’d solve it with software. This happened over and over and before long, we had a whole system in place.” Going on to say, “from there, it didn’t take us long to figure out that we should go bigger with our scope and offer Treez to the general public.” And they were right.
While the fledgling startup has only been around for little more than a year and a half, you wouldn’t know it by looking at their heavy-hitting client list. Which has attracted some of the industry’s biggest movers and shakers. So, what’s differentiated this early-stage startup and allowed Treez to support many of the biggest fish in the pond? Amongst other things, it’s their relentless attention to accountability and compliance.
Historically, the cannabis industry has largely been a black market industry, which has “operated under uncertainty and fear,” notes Yang. So, as new state and local regulations began to surface, cannabusinesses were hungry for a solution that would ensure their compliance and help them avoid lofty fines, forfeitures, and/or closures. “One of the core visions of Treez is to use our software to automate compliance for our operators by providing easy integration with the track-and-trace systems being put in place in markets such as California...” states Yang. “By alleviating operational uncertainty, we empower our operators to focus on what they do best.”
And that they have. Not only is the product littered with compliance strongholds, like purchase limit trackers, configurable visit and age restrictions, and document validation resources, it’s shining light is a groundbreaking tax module. In fact, Treez is the only POS provider on the market today that can seamlessly handle both types of excise tax calculations (arm’s length and non-arm’s length) in a single transaction, “while also allowing retailers to break arm’s length excise tax out below the subtotal,” explains El-Sissi. “In addition, we designed our module to incorporate the sales tax exemption quirks surrounding the CA medical marijuana identification card (MMIC), provided the ability for each layer of tax to be levied on cannabis, non-cannabis, or all products … and [developed] a master tax calculator, which gives eCommerce users a correct tally of sales tax by district based on the final delivery destination,” he concludes. Not too shabby.
With an active client list of fewer than 100, top Treez operators boast daily gross sales amounts comparable to the Home Depot's, Walmart’s, and Target’s (per location)of the world — with exceeding less square footage than the aforementioned retail giants. Meaning, the dynamic duo behind this seedling business must be doing something right. But it hasn’t been without its fair share challenges along the way.
While the majority of startups share the same initial woes, learning to navigate the rocky waters of funding, selling, recruiting and scaling, the cannabis industry presents its own unique challenges. According to Yang, “the most difficult … is recruiting talent.” Given the stigma the industry still carries, coupled with the relatively young age of legalization — which, newsflash, is still fighting uphill battles of its own — it’s no surprise that finding worthy comrades can be difficult. Luckily for Treez, Yang and El-Sissi have been able to overcome the greatest initial challenge every startup faces, “finding compatible co-founders who complement each other.” Because of this, they’ve been able to successfully execute on their own vision, which they believe is one of the main reasons talented individuals have found their way to them. Which, according to Yang, is one of the things he’s most proud of.
The thread that ties this company together, however, goes far deeper than the talent it’s fostering, and truly rests on the co-founder’s unrelenting passion to bring better software to the cannabis industry.
As an industry-insider, El-Sissi had a front row seat to “the problems that enterprise cannabis retailers were facing: [finding] software that can handle a high-volume of customers and be reliable when flaky internet strikes.” Ultimately, the ability to see problems through the lens of the users, helped them to refine their focus when it came offering creative ways to solve them. Yang attributes their early success to daily “mind mesh sessions”, which encouraged them to sharpen their mental fortitude. And in turn, drove greater focus and positive energy — a critical combination in running a successful startup.
As those in the industry will attest, it’s a tight-knit bunch, but very receptive to innovation. “People crave disruptive ideas because they have been largely neglected over the past two decades,” states Yang. “Traditional means of technology, services, payments, etc. have mostly been shut off simply by word association. This is rapidly changing and we are at a tipping point that will see cannabis challenge the dominance of tobacco and alcohol as recreational safe havens.”
At the end of the day, while Treez is deeply rooting itself in the fabric of cannabis tech, it’s not solely the idea or the talent or the co-founders behind it all that makes this company stand out — it’s a culmination of all three, infused with an unshakeable will to succeed and the vision to do so.
If you’re interested in helping to shape the future of the cannabis marketplace, Treez wants to hear from you! Apply for available positions.