Leading a cannabis technology company is a difficult, bumpy and sometimes lonely road filled with ups and downs, especially for those looking to blaze new paths through a crowded field. For women, who hold only 28% of leadership positions in technology businesses, according to Forbes, and only 8% of CEO positions in the cannabis industry, according to Weed Week, that road can be even more challenging.
But Cathy McCorquodale, CEO of Mary Jane Menu, knows quite a bit about overcoming challenges.
McCorquodale and her family fled the political and social upheaval of a civil war in Zimbabwe in the 1980s, emigrating to the United States for the hope of a better life. Settling in Denver with no connections or family ties, she learned nothing would be handed to her and that education would be essential to achieving her American Dreams.
Even after graduating from UCLA and getting an MBA with a concentration in information technology from the University of California, McCorquodale still faced challenges trying to make her way in the male-dominated world of software development in the late 1990s.
But more than 25 years later, she has overcome every obstacle in her path, working in all aspects of the business, including with Fortune 500 companies and clients around the globe, before joining with Standard Insights to co-found Mary Jane Menu, a new ordering platform for distributors, cultivators and brands.
“As I see it, Mary Jane Menu is the second generation of canna-tech platforms looking to turn things upside down,” says McCorquodale. “Ask yourself, would you rather be AOL or Google?”
Marijuana Venture talked with McCorquodale about the new platform, the importance of owning your data and how her struggles paved the way for her success.
Marijuana Venture: How did your family’s move to the United States affect your outlook going forward?
Cathy McCorquodale: We lost everything, so my mother and father started over in America. It wasn’t easy as a young girl, watching the family struggle as we adapted to a new culture, but we knew we were one of the few lucky ones to have gotten out of Zimbabwe with the clothes on our backs and our little family unit intact. Many lost not only their homes but their lives. So I have always been motivated to make something of my gift of being in this country.
Growing up, I always sought to challenge myself, particularly in academics. Despite passing advanced college calculus early on in high school, I was encouraged as a “girl with a good presence and strong communication skills” to pursue a liberal arts education. I regret allowing myself not to embrace my love of all things technical, but I am thankful I learned about other cultures and languages as it does help me be a better leader as I serve and support my team and customers.
Back then, as it is now, in technology, I’m often the only female in the room. Persevering and learning to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations has been a blessing as it continues to help me thrive personally and professionally.
MV: How did you get your foot in the door of the technology industry?
CM: College graduates in the ‘90s typically applied for jobs in two ways: mailing/faxing one’s resume or walking into a company and talking to the receptionist about your talents and experiences. I chose the latter for one of my first jobs out of college.
I identified a tech company I wanted to work for, marched in and spoke to the receptionist. I got a job as the receptionist’s assistant. Though far from ideal, I saw it as a pre-internet opportunity to network within the company, as in the movie “The Secret of My Success.”
I took every chance I could get to work on anything technical. I would stay late, talk to the programmers and offer to do any mundane technical stuff they didn’t want to do. I became the company’s technical writer and website creator, which was the jumping-off point to more significant responsibilities in the tech sector.
MV: What’s something about you that may not readily be discernible on your LinkedIn profile?
CM: I like to bake and had my own cookie company as a side business at one point in my career.
MV: What is the story behind Mary Jane Menu?
CM: One of my clients, a former pro athlete, needed help improving his cannabis delivery and wholesale operations. I heard Standard Insights on the Cannabis Marketing Association podcast on how artificial intelligence can help drive growth for cannabis-related businesses that want to leverage their data to drive top- and bottom-line growth. Upon reaching out to them, Standard Insights presented a viable, custom-developed solution for my client to help develop a customized delivery system powered by AI. With my technical background and my client seeing results with AI, I wondered if we could solve the problem of making the ordering process efficient for distributors, cultivators and brands where everyone gets access to their data. I approached the Standard Insights leadership team about creating a specific platform we could spin into a different company, which we now call Mary Jane Menu.
MV: This is a crowded field. What makes your company different?
CM: There’s tons of competition, which makes us better. Growing up in Colorado, I was a downhill ski racer in my younger years. I thrive on competition. Now, you see first-generation canna-tech companies laying off staff by the masses. They took easy venture capital money, were given outrageous valuations, and were under the gun to grow at all costs, forsaking profitability. We want to run the business on our terms, starting with empowering these cannabis businesses to take ownership of their data.
MV: Can you explain what you mean by taking ownership of your data? How does that help someone’s business?
CM: I remember reading a Forbes article about AI and cannabis being the next big thing guaranteed to make money over the next decade. However, to take advantage of the predictive power of AI, you need access to your data. Many of the current ordering platforms don’t allow that to happen. They are making money off your hard-earned first-party data. Other analytics companies just send out surveys and repackage them, none of which are hyper-focused on helping your business drive growth. We see this in the restaurant business, where third-party ordering platforms like Uber Eats and DoorDash are profiting from the restaurateurs’ data in an industry known for low margins, putting these businesses in peril.
We’re changing that with Mary Jane Menu, putting data ownership in the business’ hands, where it belongs. Being data-driven is more critical now than ever as the cannabis industry has its comeuppance, mainly due to unbridled greed.
By leveraging your data, we can help predict your customers’ profitability and buyer behavior on macro and micro levels. We can also help with inventory level forecasting — predicting how much a product will sell in a given day, week or month. In addition, we enable you to execute omnichannel campaigns that target the right person with the right product. We also give you the ability to handle inventory management and bulk ordering on the wholesale side of things.
MV: What’s your advice for young women wanting to enter the tech or cannabis fields?
CM: Get rid of distractions. Nothing is easy. You’re going to get knocked down and fail. It’s part of the process. The world fills you with negativity, especially in today’s news and social media world. They’ll tell you can’t do something, where playing the victim and complaining is the most viable option for growth.
American society, though at times imperfect, isn’t as horrific as the media would like you to believe. Take a chance, throw your hat in the ring, and you’ll surprise yourself with the great things that can happen.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.