This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online or at a store near you.
Founder and CEO | Stemless | Portland, Oregon
The digital revolution is changing every sector of retail in the U.S.
Across the country, brick-and-mortar stores of all varieties are struggling to maintain foot traffic as web-based alternatives offer a level of convenience that can’t be matched elsewhere. It seems like only a matter of time before consumers demand that level of efficiency from cannabis retail as well.
Several states, including Oregon, California and Nevada, have already approved marijuana delivery services, and dozens of tech companies and cannabis entrepreneurs are rushing to fill that need — somewhat similar to food delivery apps like Grubhub.
One trendsetter looking to bridge the gap between traditional retail and modern convenience is Koushi Sunder, the founder and CEO of Stemless, an ordering platform that allows customers to buy marijuana online for in-store pickup or delivery.
Customers can browse and purchase cannabis directly through the Stemless website (www.stemless.co) or through a plug-in hosted on the retail store’s website, eliminating the need for cash on hand. After making their purchase, customers can either pick up the product directly from the retail outlet or have it delivered to their home, if the store offers that service.
Retail shops pay a monthly fee to access the platform, and Stemless offers automated inventory uploads.
Sunder, who has an MBA from Dartmouth and a background in financial services, began developing the concept for Stemless shortly after her first time visiting a recreational cannabis shop.
“At that time I was living in New York and it seemed so far out there to go to a dispensary and just buy cannabis by showing somebody my ID,” she says. “It was super exciting. We were tourists. It was going to be great — and the experience was anything but.”
The lines were long, most customers needed a lot of personal attention, every purchase required cash and the budtender scoffed arrogantly at a simple mispronunciation of a strain name.
Recognizing the need for a more efficient process, Sunder launched Stemless in April 2016. There are currently 25 marijuana retail stores in Oregon using the platform, including Maritime Café, Farma, Bridge City Collective, The Grass Shack and Serra. Stemless is available in every state with legal cannabis.
In addition to managing the day-to-day operations of the company, Sunder spends a lot of time keeping an eye out for new talent. She says it’s important to have people in mind for new positions before it’s critical for the company to hire — and prospective employees have to “bring more to the table than your love of weed.”
“For us, we nerd out on things that other people don’t necessarily get excited about,” she says. “For me, if someone has a passion for logistics, that’s very exciting.”
Having worked for more traditional financial service companies in the past, entrepreneurship is a new challenge for Sunder, but it’s one that fits her personality.
“It’s a different beast and I love doing this,” she says. “At the end of the day, a lot of the skill sets you pick up throughout the course of your career are applicable to starting a company. Even though it’s stressful, the highs are way higher — no pun intended — than when I was working for someone else.”
Now that she is her own boss, Sunder’s best piece of advice for people looking to get into the cannabis business is to do it only if it matters to them. Don’t do it just because of news articles that say cannabis is the fastest growing industry in North America.
“If you are an entrepreneur, there are going to be a lot of late nights and a lot of early mornings and for a long time nobody’s going to care what you’re doing, nobody is going to be interested,” she says. “You’re going to be the only one who cares, so you have to care. During those dark days of starting out, just keep going, keep doing the right things, don’t cut corners, don’t take shortcuts.”