Management software may not sound like the sexiest component of your business, but it’s certainly a vital element in your company’s growth. One progressive cannabis start-up, Trellis, has created an intuitive platform for managing the back-end of your grow operation, helping to streamline processes and create more efficient management practices.
The company, funded by a venture capital firm co-founded by Snoop Dogg, created a cannabis seed to sale software platform that tracks plants from their inception to their final harvest by assigning each plant their own barcode. The barcode enables the software to track crop samples, alert the grower when the crop is ready for harvest, and track individual room conditions, creating efficiency and accountability at every stage of the grow.
We spoke with Trellis CEO Pranav Sood about the company’s involvement in the first-annual GrowUp Cannabis Hackathon, held last September, as well as the role of cannabis management software in creating an efficient grow operation.
Pranav Sood: It’s an inventory tracking system for the supply chain (which is cultivation, extraction and distribution). So we don’t do point-of-sale, retail type of software. We do everything on the back end. And I think that’s part of what makes us unique. We’re one of the only platforms that focus on the production side.
And then the other key aspect of our software, and why we’ve been successful in the market, is that it focuses more on operational efficiency and just the workflow in the facility. Whereas a lot of our competitors or other solutions in the market really just focus on compliance, and they built their systems based on those requirements.
We initially did that as well, but once we got our initial partners operating we went into the facility, we watched them do every step of the action from starting to plant seeds, all the way to growing plants, harvesting them, trimming them, packaging them, testing it for lab testing and then ultimately selling it to their distributor or their wholesale customer.
While we were watching them we really focused on designing the system around how they operate. So, when you jump into Trellis now, from a platform perspective, as an operator it’s very similar to exactly what you’re doing in the facility: down to moving the plants from this room to that room.
So, when you do that there’s a very intuitive action in the software to record that action. And that’s all throughout the process. So, from a product perspective it’s very intuitive and it’s much more focused on making our clients more efficient from the operation side. And by doing that we end up getting all the data that’s required for compliance and managing that for our clients as well.
And down to things like tracking the data around – which plants are dying, where they came from, the mortality rate – that helps our clients make decisions on when it’s time to replace their production mother-plant that they make clones from, when those clones are becoming less productive and those types of things.
So, those are the types of things that regulations don’t necessarily care about. They do care about how much waste is being created in that process, but they don’t care about “is your mortality rate going up or down?” That’s kind of an operator problem. And that’s where we really focus in order to help drive those business decisions.
PS: Absolutely. So, basically from the Hackathon we set-up platforms for each of the teams and then we created a dummy-database with data that would be similar to what our clients would have in their system. And then they’re leveraging the API to pull whatever data they need through the API, and then they’ll use that data to create visualization tools.
So, that could be dashboards or reports of the data that’s presented in different ways. It could be taking the data, doing some trend analysis and then presenting that trend analysis in a different way. It could be predictive type of stuff, where all the data indicates that you grow your plants in a certain stage for a certain number of days, and that ended up yielding more yields. But when you switch the number of days to two days more, you end up getting 30 percent more yield.
PS: We’re currently in eight to ten different markets: we’re in Australia, Jamaica, Canada, six different states in the U.S. including California. So, we’ve seen a gambit of different regulatory framework and those types of things, and we work very closely with them because ultimately, yes, we want to make our client more operationally efficient, but if they can’t maintain their licenses and stay compliant then it’s all for naught.
That’s certainly a big part of what we do and why we created Trellis, but in that role we need to definitely be up-to-speed with how regulations are changing, what the recording requirements are and then finding the easiest ways of gathering that data and then making that data accessible. So, we definitely work with regulators in all of the markets that we play in to ensure that the product meets those requirements.
But what’s been really interesting for us is that we started as a Canadian company – we were formed in Toronto, our entire development team continues to be based out of Toronto as of today – and so we started with this foundation of compliance in Canada and then we expanded out to California in 2016, with an office in Oakland. And when we went there, it was a very different market dynamic.
Most of the operators in California, at that time, were focused on their operations and were much less concerned about regulations, mostly because those regulations hadn’t been firmed and finalized and enforced. So, most people were like “I don’t really care about the regulations until they say get everything finalized, but what I do care about is the fact that my business is growing rapidly to an extent that we can barely manage and we need the technology and tools that other traditional industries have and often take for granted. But we need that here in Canada to help manage the business.”
So, as we expanded out to California it was really helpful and eye-opening that most of the folks that we started working with were really interested in helping us build a more operational tool, rather than compliance. And they looked at us as subject matter experts in the compliance field, because we come from Canada. So, being able to combine both of those experiences really helped us be in a really fit position to work with regulators.
Regulators in California leveraged our experience from Canada and how it was set-up here, and how technology can help manage the regulations and manage the compliance requirements. And in California, from an operator perspective, they also see value in that as well.
And then here in Canada as we’re going back, it’s so interesting how it’s looking more like some of the U.S. markets that we work with. Previously, the medical market in Canada was vertically integrated, like the producers which ship directly to patients. But with the recreational market opening up, there’s a whole new class of licenses that include retail, that include distribution, that include all these different kind of channels, very similar to markets like California.
So, now that we’ve spent two to three years in California and built all the functionality and the tools that the customers needed there, we’re now being able to help a lot more Canadian clients that are now scaling their business since licensing is rolling out. So, having both experiences put us in a really good position to work with the regulators in each of the markets, and we bring something unique to each of those markets.
PS: There are kind of two answers to it. From our side, what we noticed was, and kind of the secret sauce of the software, is with our ability to bubble up the track-and-trace requirements in each of the markets and make a pretty generic framework that ended up working in all of these different markets.
And from a logical perspective, understanding what’s core here and what we’re really focused on — identifying each individual plant and then tracking it all the way until it’s grown and harvested. And there’s only a few ways you can slice-and-dice plants. They’re generally grown, they’re harvested, they’re packaged, and they’re sold. So the concept of track-and-trace is very consistent across all of the markets.
There is just how you want to execute it, how you want to display the data and receive the data from a confined perspective, but the actual operation and the core of the platform have really been consistent across every single market. So, in that sense it’s been really good and I think getting our initial steps in both Canada and California really helped prime us for being able to scale across all of these different markets.
Now, in terms of working directly with regulators and how that process has been, honestly it’s been very collaborative and very positive, in my eyes. The general sense that I’ve gotten from most of the regulators that we work with is, “Look these are aggressive timelines to implement new sort of regulations and frameworks that are really led by public interest and public demand.”
So, everyone is moving forward at a very fast pace. And in certain places, like California, you’re dealing with extra elements of an existing grade of black market that’s been around for 15 to 20 years, and these operators are now transitioning towards a regulated market. So, that chat poses unique challenges to a market like Canada where it was a very methodical role-out of the program and licensing and all those types of things. So you don’t really see a similar type of issue in Canada and California.
In both of those markets, dealing with the regulators is different. Here in Canada the questioning or the advisement that we can provide is “Look this is what we’ve seen in California, in Colorado, in Australia. Some people are doing GMP, some people had unique packaging requirements, etc. etc. and these are the reasons and the rationale for why they made those compliance or regulatory decisions.” And then in California it’s more like “Oh, Canada’s federally regulated, there’s mostly a medical market, how do they do it?”
And the other really unique aspect of these markets is, most markets fall under two categories: you’ve got certain markets that force licenses to use a state-run system to report in all the compliance requirements, and in the U.S. many of the states are using the system called ‘metrics’. So ‘metric’ is a government system, the customer is the government, and it’s essentially a database that all licenses have to report into.
So, in those states we have an API, the same API that hackers are using today, that reports all the required data into the state system. And then the second category of market are what we call ‘self-reporting’ market, and those are like Canada, Australia, Jamaica. So, those markets are where licenses, they can use whatever technology they want, they can use no technology if they wanted, as long as they can produce the reports that are required by regulation. So, in most cases it’s in the best interest of the operator to use some sort of technology, because it’s the fastest and most efficient way of managing that data and producing the report.
Those are our two segments, and here in Canada up to now it’s a ‘self-reporting’ model. So, in this case we’ve been able to kind of advise “Well, in other states they have a central system. This is how it works. This is how operators can leverage our tool and then we can feed the data into the government, so that it’s a seamless, real-time view of the requirements.”
So yeah, it’s essentially different things for different regulators, but all-in-all it’s very collaborative and everyone is very open to understanding the industry perspective. And I think we play a crucial role where we work very closely with operators and then we have line of sight and communication with the regulators, and often we can bridge the gap on the understanding and how each side understands the other.
Same on the operator side, the number one question is, “Why does the government want me to track how much wet weight I have, and then how it dries out to be? Why can’t I just cut my plants down, let it dry, and then once I get my finished product I’ll tell the government how much product I get?”
I help operators understand, “No, they want to know, is your moisture log above what average moisture log is? And if that’s the case, maybe someone’s stealing it and putting it into the black market. So they want to avoid that.” Things like lab testing: they’re forcing everyone to test for certain pesticides and heavy metals and solvents and these types of things that are for the public safety and the public good, but as an operator it might not be something that you would press for otherwise. So here, I’ve been able to help educate both sides of the industry.
PS: Absolutely. But honestly speaking, I think sustainability has various definitions to different people. In our eyes, we’re seeing the industry in its infancy. We’re seeing all the tools and the foundation around the industry being fairly young and immature as well. So, I think the first phase that we’re going to see is both operators becoming more mature and consolidation is probably going to start to happen, and is already happening. So, you’re going to start seeing people drive towards economies of scale, very similar to any other industry that you’re looking at.
That also applies on the technology side. There are going be players that continue to innovate and mature and push the envelope on the product, and their services and their software, to help the industry grow. But, I think that’s just the nature of the industry becoming more mature and more investment coming in through the space. And that will certainly drive the sustainability of the market. It’s certainly going to drive not only the efficiency of the operations, but our hope is that it drives better quality products in the market, safer products in the market, and a more efficient mechanism or way of getting that product to the people that need it the most.
We really started this company back in 2014 focused on the medical market and focused on getting the best quality product to the people that need it the most, and making that process not only as efficient as possible but as enjoyable as possible. We understand that our users are on our software for hours every single day and we want that experience to be positive, and that’s really why we got into it.
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