Weedmaps may well be the most influential ancillary company in the entire legal cannabis industry. With 14 years in business, going public on NASDAQ last year, and acquiring several high-profile entities that provide business solutions, Weedmaps (and its parent company WM Technology) is the retail connector and innovator for the cannabis marketplace. Add to this their astounding content bringing cannabis culture to the mainstream, and you’ve got one singular unstoppable force.

Watch Honeysuckle's full interview with Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals at CWCBExpo!

For 2022, Weedmaps came out swinging with its content. There was the viral ad “Save Brock Ollie,” which despite being denied the chance to air at the Super Bowl made national headlines. In April, the company announced the premiere of its first travel docuseries, Tumbleweeds hosted by rapper Killer Mike, which started airing on VICE in time for National Cannabis Day, 4/20. Weedmaps is also in partnership with NBA player Kevin Durant and his venture capital firm 35 Ventures, developing numerous projects. Most recently, they collaborated with the queer-owned cannabis brand Cann for a celebrity-filled video honoring Pride Month. The Taste So Good music video, featuring vocals by Hayley Kiyoko, Ke$ha, MNEK, and VINCINT, spotlighted RuPaul’s Drag Race cast members Kornbread “The Snack” Jete, Kerri Colby, Willow Pill and Jorgeous enjoying the brand’s infused drink. Fun cameos by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Patricia Arquette, and Gus Kenworthy made the short one for the books.

But what’s next for Weedmaps, and what makes this juggernaut tick? Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals, a legend in the cannabis space, sat down with Honeysuckle after his keynotes at CWCBExpo for an exclusive interview and a glimpse behind the magic.

Chris Beals (C) Weedmaps

Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals On New York's Cannabis Industry

CHRIS BEALS: I’m an LA resident now… but I’ve been following the New York scene closely. I've been trying to stay abreast, talking to a bunch of the legacy folks who have been operating here. And then some of the folks who are not legacy, but are hemp farmers and [other professionals] who have been trying to figure out how they're going to make the path forward. So I'm really excited for this state. Whenever new markets open, just generally, I like to go visit stores; I like to talk to people. I think it’s pretty important to talk to as many people as possible when a new market’s opening, especially one like this, and see what’s happening. Every state that opens is different. And I think it's interesting here because there’s such a big but organized legacy market. It reminds me, in a really exciting way, of early California. There are a lot of people coming up who are in process to get their license. They’re talking about branding or they have a cool product and they’re proud of what they’re making. It’s energy that brings me back to my earlier time in Weedmaps, when there were a lot of new states opening up and they were bringing in these legacy operators.

How many states have you seen and participated in opening?

I feel like this is aging me. We have 37 states legal – well, 38 now with Rhode Island – I’ve probably witnessed 30 of them. I’ve been involved with and done advocacy and lobbying, or early foundational meetings [in states like] Florida and Michigan. So I’ve seen it in a bunch of different places.

Will New York end up like California?

I think it’ll end up better than California. California still has about 70 percent of cities and counties that don’t allow cannabis retail. Right off the bat, about 55 percent of cities in New York will allow cannabis retail and many times consumption lounges. I could see by the time licenses are issuing, being well over 60 percent of cities and towns in New York being open. The towns are generally much closer together; they can do delivery into other towns. And they’re making sure that the social equity licenses get up and running first. We’ve never seen that before. I think that’s really critical when you have such a big legacy market, that you’re making sure you’re letting the true incumbents come in and get an opportunity. During the NBA games, New York State actually ran an ad promoting that cannabis is good and it’s overdue. I can’t ever remember a time where a state government has run an ad saying, “This is what we’re doing. This is the right thing. We’re doing the right thing moving forward.” Not to sound overdramatic, but it kind of choked me up. It paused me for a second when I saw that ad, because I’m so used to having to explain why legalizing cannabis is not a bad thing. To see that – it gave me the feels a little bit.

(C) WM Technology

The Launch of WM Business: Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals Talks Cannabis Business Solutions

It's been a huge year for Weedmaps! You’ve made several acquisitions, gone public on NASDAQ, and you launched WM Business. Can you tell us more about that and why we haven’t seen something like WM Business represented in the cannabis industry before?

So obviously everyone’s familiar with the marketplace side of Weedmaps, and we’ve always had a suite of business software and solutions that we’ve focused on pairing with the marketplace. It’s making it cost efficient for a business to find consumers, get those consumers to shop, then compliantly help those consumers complete shopping with delivery and logistics, and get those consumers to come back again with loyalty, deals, discounts. The WM Business suite is really an end-to-end suite that’s there to help these retailers and brands manage the end-to-end consumer lifecycle. We had elements of that before; leading up to and going public, we acquired a CRM solution, Sprout, and added it to the portfolio. That was the first. We added in-store kiosking and digital display with Enlighten. For delivery and logistics, we have Cannveya. We had software called Dispatch which did that before, but this is a deeper, broader suite. Then we have an integrations and connectors tool that helps businesses stitch all these different pieces together. We also have WM Store as an e-commerce embed.

I think [WM Business is] like Shopify for cannabis and really the goal is to ease the business costs [through an] omnichannel approach. Letting us go in to integrate with their point of sale, cleanse their data, add a bunch of rich brand data, consumer feedback, reported effect data, and then have it work in store displays on Weedmaps, and on their own e-commerce and website as well. We also have a suite of solutions for brands. So it’s been a big year. I’m really happy with the portfolio we have. We’re launching a lot of cool new things that are effectively combined offerings. For instance, we’re letting the CRM solution do direct inbox messaging to followers of a business within the marketplace.

Would that mean each business can have its own sort of customized mobile monkey setup?

Yeah, basically a business has a business listing on Weedmaps, whether you’re a brand or a retailer. One of the hardest things for brands is to get people to follow them or to build an audience and be able to communicate with them about stuff they care about, like deals, new products, items that were out of stock – that really fire flower that went out of stock and is now back, that you better move quickly. The idea of rarity in cannabis is a whole other topic that is not understood by outsiders, but the point is that now, businesses that use Sprout [through WM Business] can cost effectively message all of their followers. Soon we’re going to be releasing functionality where they can message people who shop for flower in the city where they’re located, stuff that’s never existed before. For brands, that’s really powerful. And for retailers, sometimes the hardest thing is letting [customers] know, “Hey, I have this, or we have a new deal or discount. You should check it out. Or looks like you haven’t been here in a while, come on back.”

[The cycle] is fascinating when products run out because for really high-value products, a store can carry rare items and have doorbusters. You have a line down the block and everyone’s there. That’s new for East Coast states; we don’t have that yet in New York. But we have features that currently support that and we’re building out more to support doorbuster limited-time [deals], or effectively communicate to people, “You need to get down here right now, because something really cool is happening.”

How do you think the tech evolution that you’re going through at Weedmaps is reflective of the cannabis industry as a whole?

I think part of it is we’re all growing, the tech and ancillary providers to cannabis. We’re very fortunate in that [Weedmaps is] the biggest tech provider out there, which gives us a little scale and lets us move a lot faster. But I think generally it’s reflective of the fact that we’re getting more sophisticated [and so are] customers, primarily in longstanding states like California and Colorado. They want more power features. It’s getting more competitive out there and if you can do the same thing with half as many people in terms of marketing, if you can use data to be more effective with the deals you decide to run, you should definitely do that. But also it’s getting to be a very tough market out there. We may unfortunately see some tech companies having to do layoffs or downsize if they can’t do that profitably. I think that’s something we’re going to be hearing a lot of, “Are the tech companies in cannabis profitable?”

Part of it is the recession, gas prices, supply chain issues, but generally based on what the public wants from the tech community [shows] a rush toward safety, toward companies that are profitable and have weathered storms before [instead of small-vehicle businesses]. That might cause some ripples and disruption.

The Cann x Weedmaps Pride collaboration. Left to right: Willow Pill, VINCINT, Kornbread "The Snack" Jete, Gus Kenworthy, Hayley Kiyoko, Kerri Colby, Jorgeous, and Patricia Arquette. (C) Cann

Weedmaps Honors The LGBTQIA+ Community: Cann, Pride Month, and Cultural Content

That’s all the tech side of Weedmaps, but what about your media side? You have amazing content like the Taste So Good video with Cann featuring LGBTQIA+ trailblazers. You’re very on the pulse with cultural commentary.

It’s a real testament to the team. Actually the amount we spend on media is quite small but we just have good reach, good distribution. With 14 years of experimentation, I think that allows us to make content that generally resonates and feels authentic because we’ve been doing this for a long time. Generally our content side is pretty nimble, because we’re trying to present what’s happening in many different states and places. It’s not a single-state industry anymore. With the Cann video, that was a collaboration where that was really their campaign and we were happy to support it and be a part of it. We helped with channel distribution and reach. It was a fantastically produced ad that they put together.

Watch the full Weedmaps x Cann music video TASTE SO GOOD!

It's great that Weedmaps is determinedly standing on the side of LGBTQIA+ rights.

The thing you have to remember is, you have Red and Blue states opening in the industry. It’s not homogenized in terms of politics and worldviews. But we as an organization are very big supporters of the LGBTQIA+ community. We have many employees who are part of that community. But more than that, the rise of the legal cannabis industry has its roots in the San Francisco community, the AIDS crisis, areas where it was being used for palliative care and to help people who didn’t have anything else that they could afford to help them cope with the ravages of HIV and AIDS. Cann is LGBTQ-founded, and I think companies with LGBTQIA+ founders are building these great inclusive cultures. They’re a natural partner and let’s be honest, it’s a great product too.

(C) Weedmaps 

Chris Beals On Tumbleweeds, The Weedmaps Show Hosted By Killer Mike

You also just launched the travel documentary series Tumbleweeds with rapper Killer Mike on VICE. How is that going?

The reception and reach from it was great. There’s really two aspects to how we think about marketing, who we are and how we reach consumers. We need to let them know there’s an online marketplace for cannabis through which you can safely place orders with licensed cannabis businesses. That is frankly kind of a mind-blowing concept. We do something like Tumbleweeds, and we really focused on East Coast states or states that were newer, like Illinois, and it’s education consumers around the fact that there’s a culture, there’s a history to cannabis. But there’s also a Weedmaps marketplace. Here’s who we are. It’s really easy to find and buy cannabis because that’s such a novel concept, especially in newer states. That obviously differs from a bunch of maybe drier WM Business marketing that’s focused on enterprise solutions; that’s a separate category.

Weedmaps And Gen Z Cannabis Consumers

How do you see the strategy extending to Gen Z?

It’s interesting, because I think one of our biggest claims to fame is that we’ve done an incredibly good job of capturing actual cannabis consumers – people who consume once a month or more, daily consumers, those groups represent the majority of our active users. Well over 90 percent of our active users report consuming monthly. In other industries, you might be able to segment and say, “Gen Z is where it’s at,” but cannabis is being so widely used. We’re seeing the older generations as high-frequency, high-basket size purchasers. It sounds strange to say. I do think Gen Z is really important. We’re doing a lot of focus with Gen Z; we’re seeing people substituting or reducing alcohol consumption to consume cannabis, which is really cool. We’re seeing an affinity toward different types of products. I think we’ll see consumption lounges whether there are cannabis beverages or they’re taking near beers and things like that, using tinctures to make them medicated. Things like that are going to be really cool for the Gen Z segment. On the side of the 55 and older community, we’re doing a ton of work to make this understandable for medicinal purposes. People just are realizing that the stigma around cannabis was all hype and nonsense and “I'm comfortable consuming cannabis. Where can I find the best deal?” And that's where we come in.

I think it’s also different in that Gen Zers aren’t quite as drilled in with the stigmas… There’s going to be more robust emphasis on brand discovery. And I still think there’s a very low recognition of cannabis brands or what the brand is associated with in almost every jurisdiction. That’s really where we’re going to see the roots of consumers saying, “I liked this brand.”

Gen Zers also tend to be mission-based and look for brands they can support, whether that’s LGBTQIA+-owned brands or organic-focused companies.

Same thing for us. We’ve had one of the longer-running programs and done longstanding policy work on social equity programs and making sure that we’re supporting, through education, free tools and software, the social equity businesses as they get up and running. I think that resonates a ton with our employees. Internally we’re a very mission-driven organization, but to the extent that people know we do it, externally it resonates with them as well.

Chris Beals On Weedmaps' Partnership With Kevin Durant and 35 Ventures

Kevin Durant recently went viral for his interview with David Letterman about his cannabis consumption. Can you tell us more about your partnership with KD and his company 35 Ventures?

So the Kevin Durant partnership has been fantastic. It’s part of a longer-term view that he and 35 Ventures have been focused on [investing in the cannabis industry]. Then KD just happened with the Letterman show, coming out with “Yeah, I’m a cannabis consumer.” We wanted to be part of that journey. You have an active NBA player who’s saying, “Yes, I’m a cannabis consumer.” I think he is the best player in the league right now. And he says, “I’m a high-performance athlete who uses cannabis to help me de-stress, relax, sleep, manage pain.” What a cool thing to be part of, because we’ve not seen that in any other major sport. To boil it down succinctly, that’s what that partnership is about. Both Kevin and [his manager Rich Kleiman] are very thoughtful and frankly curious about where the industry is going, separately with what happened with KD coming out about consuming. That was a really brave thing as well. Let’s not forget, [the NBA] was doing cannabis drug testing very recently. So I don’t think people appreciated what a bold statement that was. That was another feels moment.

The Future Of Weedmaps And Favorite Cannabis Strains

What’s the long-term roadmap for Weedmaps?

As we look down the road, I’m really interested in opportunities to help power better loyalty for businesses. We just launched payments in Canada. We’re not offering a payment solution, but we’re supporting whatever payment rails they’re using… And analytics, there’s a huge need for analytics, helping stores decide what deals to run, pricing for products, which products are driving traffic at other places. We’re sort of creating these roadmaps as we go. And there are good data companies out there, but the fact that we have the breadth of 14 years of first-party transactional data, there’s a lot that we can do that frankly nobody else can do.

We’re in a great spot with the portfolio. Enlighten, Sprout, Cannveya, CannCurrent, these are the products required and we brought in a really strong relationship with the founders on down where there is a natural affinity with the team. What you see [at CWCBExpo, where everyone is together] is a natural offshoot of that. Everyone’s so meshed in that you don’t realize it’s all WM Technology.

What do you think makes it all work together?

Well, for me, a good CEO’s job as you get more senior is setting the pace in terms of expectations of growth and excellence and quality, to support the culture and values that the company has. A good CEO [is] there to make sure people can do their jobs as well as possible, to set the tone on direction, vision, idea. What’s the north star, and then helping to make sure that everyone’s rowing in that direction. That’s the best analogy I can give, and it’s part of why I spend so much time talking to businesses in the field. I’m making sure that that vision and direction is as informed as possible. Any good CEO also has to be relentlessly processed and continuous-improvement-focused. Good CEOs, good leaders, should have micro awareness, but they shouldn’t micromanage.

Finally, what is your favorite strain?

Early on when I came to Weedmaps, a fantastic grower introduced me to this cut he had called Golden Pineapple. I’ve always loved Golden Pineapple and it’s something that I just haven’t really seen much since then, but it smelled great. It was a really unique kind of daytime sativa and I’ve always just had a soft spot for that strain. That would be what would get me up and going.

For more about Weedmaps, visit weedmaps.com.

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Featured image: Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals interviewed by Honeysuckle founder Ronit Pinto at CWCBExpo 2022 (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc.