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Simplifying The Retail Cannabis Space: An Exclusive Interview With Yobi Founder and CEO Jeremy O’Keefe

Jul 19, 2018
A PotNetwork Exclusive

It’s not often that one associates an Electronic Warfare Technician with the up-and-coming cannabis industry, but that’s the path that Air Force veteran Jeremy O’Keefe took before founding Yobi, the latest in secure and scalable enterprise-grade software solutions for the retail cannabis space.

“Like many in tech, I followed the growth of the cannabis market closely,” O’Keefe said, recalling his background before entering the sector.

A graduate of UNLV with a degree in Computer Science, O’Keefe brought his skills to both the public and private sector before branching out on his own. He’s worked on $850 million infrastructure projects at the state level and as a lead engineer on some forward-thinking projects as well.

Then, as most big ideas in tech do, Yobi began as the answer to a problem. “When I learned the current state of software options in the cannabis space, I saw an incredible opportunity to make a mark in an enormous market with my skill set and experience,” said O’Keefe.

But more than just a skill set, O’Keefe sees this moment as an opportunity to change perceptions as well. “For families torn apart by the drug war (mine included), it’s refreshing to see Cannabis’ perception change in mainstream culture from the lazy do-nothing gateway drug to a titan of industry dominating the front page.”

In speaking with O’Keefe, it became evident that this idea of changing perceptions permeates everything that he, and by extension, his company Yobi hopes to accomplish.

Yobi Founder and CEO Jeremy O'Keefe

“Cannabis has whole other set of challenges…”

On Tuesday, Yobi announced the release of their latest point-of-sale (POS) system for cannabis dispensaries, touting the ability to migrate from legacy systems to have a retail operation up-and-running in under one hour. It’s a bold statement but one that O’Keefe backs up with a measurable, detailed plan.

In short, clients starting from scratch receive an activation code to set up the store themselves with a walkthrough, while those migrating from previous systems send the team at Yobi a spreadsheet that includes a hard count of their inventory and a customer list. Using a migration tool, the data is uploaded automatically.

“To migrate a client list of about 35,000 customers takes about four minutes,” O’Keefe noted. It’s an impressive feat in a day and age where four minutes can be the difference between a customer coming into your dispensary or deciding to move on to the next one.

And while the cannabis industry mirrors mainstream retail in many ways, it also comes with its own set of unique issues. Yobi, in fact, is premised on the notion that larger POS systems have yet to change their perceptions when it comes to the retail cannabis space.

“The issues that we solve are found in a lot of retail operations, but cannabis has whole other set of challenges that come from state and local regulatory compliance as well as a split customer base of medical patients vs. adult recreational users,” said O’ Keefe. “To our surprise, those weren’t even the biggest problems! Rather it was the inability to find a software platform to track inventory correctly, use the proper rounding with taxes, and to have a consistent and reliable platform that’s guaranteed to be up and running.”

He added: “This showed us there was a foundational need for a software platform that performed the core business operations correctly.”

Yobi gives cannabis dispensaries a cloud-based software program that is secure and scalable. As O’Keefe noted, it can retain data on customers, process transactions, keep track of a store’s sales history, and manage its inventory. Moreover, Yobi can create real-time reports for any need, both internally and for state-compliance purposes.

“Yobi is the most comprehensive and easy to use system available, hands down.”

As Yobi noted in their announcement earlier this week, cannabis retailers face a slew of different problems not seen in the mainstream retail space. They need secure and stable systems free from crashes and downtime, and they need to meet strict regulatory requirements that, in most cases vary from state-to-state. Each state has different purchase limitations, tax structures, reporting requirements, and more.

Asked how Yobi is able to handle the tapestry of different requirements for each state, O’Keefe leaned on his team’s experience as a tech company.

“First, we read everything and make sure we are up to date on the latest regulation requirements, and then we upgrade/audit our system to maintain compliance for our clients, said O’Keefe. “We’re able to iterate on our platform and push out releases far faster than anyone we’ve come across.”

Once again, O’Keefe backs up another bold statement with some hard evidence. “For example, we’ve pushed out over 112 updates in less than a year. It’s because our engineers are in-house, experienced, and have built our platform (and others) from scratch, so we’re more able to make changes quickly as we have total control and deep knowledge of everything from front to back.”

O’Keefe notes that this quick ability to make changes has been a strong selling point for the company, with cannabis dispensaries praising the team’s efforts. And it’s not Yobi’s only selling point. After all, what makes the system stand out is its ability to conform so well to the cannabis industry.

“Yobi is the most comprehensive and easy to use system available, hands down,” O’Keefe noted. “We offer the ease-of-use of a system like Square or Shopify, but with all of the regulatory and reporting frameworks in place as well.”

It’s important to note, as well, that some of those features are not just nice add-ons, but necessary for the retail cannabis space. For example, O’Keefe listed off some of the more essential elements available with Yobi:

  • Purchase limits - a customer can only buy a specific amount within a specific timeframe. Yobi tracks this and will alert the budtender if a customer is at their limit.
  • Combination of retail vs. medical products - there are different dosage regulations/taxes on the different product types. Yobi calculates this automatically.
  • Combination of retail and medical customers/patients - there are two separate client bases which are subject to different tax rates depending on their purchases. This information is saved in the customer’s profile in Yobi and orders are processed accordingly.
  • Extensive chain-of-custody tracking - all items, packages, transfers, and sales must be reported nearly in real-time to the state compliance API. This varies state to state, but Yobi is certified by the states requiring this and is set up to handle it seamlessly.

Moreover, O’Keefe noted, Yobi is customizable to the needs of each dispensary. “We give our clients the flexibility to change their operations completely. For example, they’re able to pass off orders at each stage to handle remote fulfillment, separate cashiers, or any combination they’d like; all with a couple checkboxes. If they have an event off-site, they can create a location, assign products and associates to it, and handle sales just like they were in the store.”

“‘Seed-to-Sale’... I have to say I think it has lost context.”

The most important phrase in the cannabis industry today is “seed-to-sale.” Some experts say, at least in the U.S., if you master that issue, then it could really change everything. In other words, until U.S. lawmakers are satisfied that they know where every single seed of cannabis comes from, and where it is going, marijuana will remain illegal at the federal level.

“Seed-to-sale” has also become one of those buzzwords thrown around buy startups and established companies alike in the cannabis space; a phrase to make one sound like they are saying something. Because a system like Yobi sits in that “seed-to-sale” universe, O’Keefe has his own thoughts on just what the term means.

“Seed-to-sale is absolutely an important phrase that we all often hear when it comes to cannabis, and I have to say I think it has lost context,” he said. For O’Keefe, the issue is one that should be handled by State Compliance APIs rather than the industry itself.

“Some experts believe that if you master this term, that you could dominate the market. I don’t believe that. I don’t know of any tool in existence that can handle cultivation, harvesting, testing, manufacturing, logistics, sales, and compliance all-in-one for any other commodity. There are simply too many variables to solve for each phase to do it well at this stage,” said O’Keefe.

Yobi, for its part, focused on the core competencies for retail operations. “[We developed] an open API to plug-in with services that are provided to cultivators, manufacturers, or whomever they wish to complete the ecosystem. I guess in a way, that is how I would solve the issue. By ensuring we have a basic level of standardization to allow all platforms to communicate quickly and securely,” recalled O’Keefe.

“The ultimate solution to ‘seed-to-sale’ is a more collaborative environment with stable providers that can solve specific portions of the supply chain and communicate with one another,” he added.

“If the people lead, the leaders will follow.”

Yobi, in a sense, is set to make a name for itself due to perception. Earlier this year, Shopify flew under the radar when they cut ties with some companies in the cannabis space in the U.S., it’s assumed due to the plant’s status at the federal level. What the larger companies in this space perceive as a problem, Yobi sees as an opportunity.

“I’m not surprised Shopify, Square, Lightspeed, etc. have stayed on the sidelines in this market,” said O’Keefe. “These companies generate a large share of their revenue through swipe fees I’m sure, and this is not possible since cannabis is cash only. Due to this, there is no real reason for these companies to take the risk in entering the market until it is profitable for them, which as you said, creates a wonderful opportunity for us as we’re the only team that’s done this exact same thing before.”

“The federal government is being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and cannabis is no different,” he added. “Oklahoma just voted to legalize cannabis for medicinal use and was the 30th state to do so. I think that really solidifies cannabis isn’t going anywhere.”

“I’m not sure of the source, but I remember a saying, “if the people lead, the leaders will follow,” and I think we’re doing just that,” said the former Electronic Warfare Technician.

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