AI In Cannabis With Travis Steffen
As cannabis business starts to expand like wildfire across the country, AI is preparing to show up as an incredible tool that will take it to the next step. Chad Burmeister’s guest for this episode is Travis Steffen, the CEO of GrowFlow. Travis discusses with Chad how GrowFlow plans to release AI to help customers transact business more effectively. AI can help retail customers ensure their shelves are restocked with their best possible products that sell through the fastest. Join in the conversation and discover how you can integrate AI into your own business. Dive in!
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AI In Cannabis With Travis Steffen
I’ve got a guest with me, Travis Steffen. Travis was the mentor to the two cofounders of this company. Because of the industry, the company, everything was so exciting. He decided to join them after two years of being in the business. Travis, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me.
Travis is the CEO of GrowFlow. GrowFlow gets involved in all things around the cannabis industry. As cannabis takes off around the country, there were a couple of states like Colorado where I’m from being one of them, where the test cases now it’s starting to expand like wildfire. New York passed and before you know it, it feels like this is going to be a nationwide rollout. As a kid, I remember growing up like, “Is cannabis and marijuana a faux pas word?”
I’m realizing things like the opioid crisis. That’s a pretty tough situation for a lot of people in the country might actually be able to be solved by other things like cannabis because they’re not addictive. There’s a lot of positive things. I’m curious to dive into the conversation and understand where does AI play a role, both in your business and in your sales motion. Let’s kick off here. Before we get into what you’re working on, I like our audience to understand your background. If you think when you were younger, maybe in your teens, maybe even before you were ten, what was your passion in life? You’ve obviously become a CEO. What do you like to do when you were very young?
I grew up in the Midwest. I was born and raised in Iowa. The only real thing that mattered there when I was a kid was sports. That’s what I was involved in at a very early age. My family was incredibly blue-collar. My dad worked manual labor his entire life. My mom was a teacher. We were incredibly interested in all things sports, watching sports, playing sports, everything. That was my life for the vast majority of my upbringing. The school was an afterthought. I did attend and did fine. I got into college but my only priority in college was college football. That was what life was like until probably my late teens and early twenties.
I did go to my first Ohio State game a couple of years ago and I couldn’t believe the sea of red everywhere in that audience. It was something to see because I went to Colorado State. My brother and sister went to CU. I thought the fans at CU were pretty rowdy but the Ohio State, it’s like a religion out there.
Iowa and Ohio State play every year. They’re both in the big ten and a powerhouse over there so we always try to win if we can.
Quite the rivalry. Think about your understanding of sports, living it on the ground, maybe there was some coaching interaction. What’s the blue thread? If you think of between then and now, how does what you learned as a kid relate to what it is you’re doing now?
I would say the biggest thing that I take from sports as a kid and in college was structure. Making sure that there’s structure around my day and I’m not running around trying to remember things with no structure. One of the most under-appreciated facets of becoming successful in any area especially in the industry if you’re a CEO or someone who’s a high performer, is managing your own psychology. If you’re in a high pace, high-stakes, sometimes high-stress profession, that becomes even more important than almost anything else. Unfortunately, for busy professionals, that’s the first thing to go by the wayside. Their performance really suffers, as a result, their stress levels go through the roof and they eventually burn out.
You need to find a customer segment that has money and is willing to spend it on solving important problems.
For me, I know that that’s the vast majority of most of my days. That’s just the way it probably will always be. Self-care is non-negotiable. Every day I’m getting exercise. I’ve got all my healthy meals prepared. I’ve got time for meditation and decompression. It’s all carved out and scheduled. I can devote as much of my time, effort, and attention to solving big, complex problems as possible without having to worry about the nuances of living my life as a human. That was one piece.
Another is, you probably have a lot of people on the show that always talk about mindset. I was like, “Let’s pretend that I talked about that and we’ll skip that piece because it’s done to death.” I personally think being able to relax and work the problem. whatever it is, being able to not necessarily allow external pressure or even internal pressure influence your ability to make sound decisions and to treat your team well and so forth.
Those two things were big crossovers from sports. Being able to think clearly but also if you’re a coach, if you’ve ever participated in sports, you’ve always probably played better when there’s a coach that is overseeing your play. That you would run through a wall for, not one that you’re afraid of getting disciplined by. It’s always important as a manager and as somebody who has a large team to make sure that my team feels as though I’ve got their backs and that I believe in them, etc. Those are important crossovers I would say.
Have you heard of this app on the phone called 75 Hard?
I don’t believe I have.
It talks about structure in your life. It’s a 75-day course if you will. You do two workouts a day, 45 minutes each. You drink a gallon of water. You read ten pages in any book that you want and then the one that’s most hard for the Midwestern folks is no alcohol for 75 days. That’s usually about where I lose a lot of people. They’re like, “Nope, couldn’t do that.” I did it for 75 days with the last day being December 31st. The level of clarity that you have by going through those motions and really does not take away or impede your life. It’s the opposite. It gives you this level of energy that you’ve never had before. You’re on to something with the feedback there. For anybody on the phone, it’s 75 Hard.
They lost me on day 76 because I thought it would get easier like, “Let’s take it now from down 2 to 1,” and it added about fifteen more steps. I was like, “No, I’m not adding fifteen on top of what’s already hard.” Think about AI and let’s talk about the first artificial intelligence within your platform and then we’ll flip it and we’ll look at how your sales team might be leveraging artificial intelligence. A lot of teams use it these days and they may not know they’re using it. It’s just under the hood so to speak.
On our platform, we’re starting to introduce a lot of artificial intelligence. We don’t use it as much as we should historically because we have the datasets that would allow for it. We didn’t have for a while the product death of a lot of companies is getting bogged down in feature development and not necessarily staffing for things that are a little bit more innovative. Thankfully, that’s a little bit more on our roadmap here moving forward. One of the things that the platform is about to do is, for example, cart recommendations has a wholesale marketplace. GrowFlow at its core, we do compliance, inventory management, point of sale, analytics, sales tools, a wholesale marketplace, you name it. We help operators up and down the supply chain management grow their businesses in cannabis.
One of the things that’s always important is ensuring that they have, for example, our retail customers need to make sure that their shelves are restocked with their best possible products that sell through the fastest. What our products about to do is informed customers exactly what those are or will be at any given time based on benchmarked behavior across all of our customers that cater to consumers that have the buying appetite that there’s do. Beyond that, ensuring that not only are they stocking their shelves with the correct things but also, they’re making the best ancillary purchases possible. For example, if they’re buying 10 pounds of bulk flour, which is a lot for a retail location, they would need a certain amount of ancillary products to go along with those jars, rolling papers, you name it.
Being able to ensure that you have the proper number of those in stock to go with your perishable inventory is important because if you don’t, you’re going to lose sale opportunities and revenue could suffer as a result. Ensuring that we can match all of their purchases that they’re already making from our wholesale customers with the product that they would need to best increase that revenue as much as possible for their consumer level. Customers are critical. Those are a couple of the ways that GrowFlow is about to release. AI to help our customers transact business more effectively.
I talked to GrowFlow a few years ago. There’s a Director that I worked for at WebEx by the name of Kris Duggan. Does that ring a bell at all?
It does not. I would not necessarily be the best person to ask about that.
I think he was advising the original founders three years ago right when you guys came to market and Kris said, “You need to talk to Chad. He’s the pipeline guy.” I had an early conversation with them.
That was before me. I would not have been in the loop on that one. That’s entirely possible.
You’ve only been around for a few years and presumably, you’re doing a lot more revenue than I am. We got to $1.4 million at the end of 2020. It’s interesting product-market fit, scale, sales, marketing, you mentored people in an accelerator program and obviously, you’ve seen a lot of CEOs do it right and probably more do it wrong. What do you see are the top couple of tips that you would give to do it right?
Thankfully, I’ve been very fortunate to have had a lot of those experiences myself. In my time as a founder or CEO, I’ve had a handful of successful exits and a handful of others that haven’t gone perfectly. I was able to learn a lot of lessons firsthand and start to impart my wisdom to portfolio companies and venture funds that I work with or the various cohorts of the accelerator programs. I’m an advisor and mentor, too.
What I see more frequently than anything that I feel personally is a mistake based on my experience, there are a million ways to succeed in business so I’m not trying to preach, “This is the one way to succeed.” What I’ve seen has been contributory to failure. Have been founders that come into a business that they want to start because they have an idea. That seems like a weird thing to say because most people say, “Doesn’t every founder need to have an idea?”
No. The most successful ones, the fastest path to that is actually no. Instead, the founder needs to come in and say, “I need to find a customer segment that has money that they’re willing to spend on solving important problems,” and to sit down with those customers and to find paternalistic responses over several dozen deep conversations without leading them in the direction that you want them to go and allow them to describe their problems in intricate detail.
Outsource as much of your normal life as you possibly can.
You, as a founder, are able to sit down and find patterns in that response. As you start to find patterns and conceptualize potential solutions, you’re co-creating those solutions with some pilot customers. If you’re able to follow that path, your path to success is a lot faster, less of a risk because you’re not getting married to an idea that you believe with all of your might is the most amazing thing in the history of humanity. Instead, this is a need that your customers are actively willing to pay for now. You know where to find those customers and how much the service is worth to them. You’ve had the solution that’s been co-developed by them and you also know how they’re describing the problem, the language that they’re using.
With all of those things combined, it’s a huge shortcut that most people don’t follow because most people start businesses because they’re like, “I need an idea.” The unfortunate part of that is there are a lot of big, gigantic success stories that are written about a lot in the media of people who have succeeded because they personally had an idea. Unfortunately, that’s the case because it leads people down this very risky path too frequently.
There’s a lot of problems in the world that need a solution that people are willing to pay for. I remember going into RingCentral and that was my whole goal. It was, “Let me go in and figure out what SDRs and BDRs are having a challenge with now in the world.” Two and a half years in, I recognized, “There’s the pattern. That’s what’s broken.” I went out and figured out, “What am I going to design that solves that unique business problem?” COVID hit and everybody needs that solution that we’ve solved. The timing was interesting. I see that a lot with founders, too. They create something and they think, “Build it and they will come.”
A friend of mine spent $100,000 on an app and it was his vision. He’s like, “Chad, this is so cool. You should check this out.” This is a smart guy. I saw it I was like, “I used two apps last week that have 500 more capabilities than that app has.” It was such a narrow solution that solved one little problem that cost him $100,000 to solve. I was like, “You’re so smart. Use one of these other packaged, shrink-wrapped software that is out there and go solve their problem then write the code after you’ve solved the problem.” That’s dead-on. That’s great advice. What about from a sales perspective for your team? There are the baseline tools, CRM, most people have a LinkedIn Navigator account these days. They probably have marketing automation. If you go above the baseline, what are those other tools where you say, “If I didn’t have X, Y or Z,” what are you using that changes the game for you?
We do as much as we can in HubSpot. I know it’s not the most exciting answer in the world but we do like as much as we possibly can in HubSpot. It’s like having one single source of truth for everything. Having one source for automation and integrations, having one source for data on our pipeline activities. That’s been incredibly helpful. I know we use Kixie as an integration there in terms of the way our reps call out. That makes things a lot easier and faster in most cases. Those two are the primary items in our stack. We have a number of other solutions that we use throughout our entire process but I would say for our sales team, specifically those two stand out like the one in charge.
That’s good feedback. There was a customer that I worked with a couple of years ago and they’ve been since acquired by IBM. They were using a lot of disparate solutions and then they brought in HubSpot. The CEO, CMO and CRO said, “I get it. There are dozens of options, in fact, thousands but if I can’t see it in one place then I can’t manage to it.” In some cases, certain tools, maybe it’s a 9 out of 10 or even an 8.5 in some cases but it’s better to take a nine but be easy to use an integrated than take a ten but it takes you three months to enable and thousands and thousands of dollars.
Honestly, it is any of these sales CRMs are garbage in, garbage out at the end of the day. If we populate the incorrect data in those tools, then the tool is not valuable. It’s important that all of our reps are using it in the same way anybody on our activation team or customer success team is using it in the exact same way. We have data consistency and that is a huge part of it so it’s not just the tool, it’s also how we use it.
Last question and this is more of a future state. Thinking about Alexa at home when you talk to your Amazon Alexa and order something, Google or Apple, there are so many options these days. Think about AI in the sales motion, where do you think things will be a year from now or five years from now? Do we even need humans in the loop anymore in five years?
For us anyway, every single conversation that we have is so nuanced. Every operator’s having different challenges, all of them use different little spirit tools throughout their current process. There are so many things that our solution does for them. Everyone talks about the product-market fit but most people don’t talk about message-market fit. That’s also as important for our customers. When we go into a new state to sell to the customers there, we find that the way that our sales team is forced to talk to those customers and what resonates for them is oftentimes very different than a state that stands borders them. That has to do with the competitive mix there, the various problems and the certain licensure nuances they have and what they’re able to do and not able to do versus other states.
A lot of them still, even in the same state, they’ll have a lot of homebrew solutions that they use with spreadsheets. Some of the problems are not as big of problems for them as others. For us, I think it would be difficult for at least at this stage in the game for AI to take over completely. I think where AI can probably take over completely for us is follow-up. Inevitably being able to automate and unleash AI on following up the perfect times and the perfect ways based on data that we enter about the customer upstream would probably be the first step in the robotic lanes taking over so to speak.
It makes me think of when I moved from San Francisco to North Carolina, years back. When I first got to North Carolina, I spoke in front of a group of 350 execs. I said, “How many people here use Salesforce?” It was like 15% and in San Francisco, it was 85%. What are the repercussions of that? If you’re HubSpot shop versus Salesforce, very different entities, cultures, how the things plug in the different applications. You’re right. What I’m hearing as a common theme in these conversations is tools that augment very good salespeople, it makes them better. If they’re having two at max a day, if I can use technology to get them 8, 10 or 50, I’d rather have that smaller team of amazing superstars than a team of 50 non-superstars.
Now, a good metaphor for me in my life, I outsource as much of my normal life as I possibly can so I can focus as much as I can on the things that only I can achieve and accomplish. Things like cooking my meals, cleaning my house, running errands, any of those things and paying my own bills. I don’t do any of those things because there’s somebody else that’s trainable that can do all that. I can do a fair bit of that through technology and one of the things that are interesting is our Salesforce is the same, being able to ensure that they’re spending as much time as possible demoing our products to prospects. The more often we can do that, the more capacity we can get per head.
This has been an enjoyable conversation, Travis. I appreciate you investing some time. I assume you’re growing so if there are any salespeople, sales leaders, probably all of the above you’re going to need over the course of the coming weeks and months. How can people get ahold of you if they want to reach out?
You can reach out through GrowFlow. Head over to GrowFlow.com, set up a demo or set up a time to chat with one of our team members. I’m not a big-time social media user. I know that that’s a no-no in business but I’ve found that it’s dramatically detrimental to cognitive performance. I can’t afford for that to happen. I am on the platforms, I just don’t typically post or engage. Our PR firm is not happy with me for that but that’s me. Feel free to reach out through GrowFlow. Hit me on LinkedIn. I do often basically accept requests on LinkedIn so that might be the best place.
The cannabis industry is growing. It sounds like AI is coming soon to a cannabis software company near you so congratulations on your growth and continued success.
Thanks so much, Chad.
Thanks, everybody for joining. We’ll catch you on the next AI For Sales Show. Signing out.
- 75 Hard
- LinkedIn - Travis Steffen
About Travis Steffen
Travis Steffen, bestselling author of Viral Hero, is a serial entrepreneur with 7 successful exits (and a few crash-and-burn failures) to his name. Travis serves as CEO of GrowFlow (growflow.com), a cloud-based software suite for cannabis businesses. With customers ranging from growers, producer/processors, and retailers, GrowFlow is the market leading cannabis software solution in several states.
As a growth engineer, he specializes in building products that grow themselves. After over a decade of growing both startups and more established brands, Travis began to adopt a different way of building products by building the viral loops first, then finding product details that fit inside those structures. After seeing this strategy work, he set a goal to gain a deeper understanding of viral marketing mechanics so he could create a resource to teach founders and growth engineers how to use creative product architecture to grow their companies – rather than burning giant piles of cash. The result is Viral Hero.
Travis is a life-long athlete with a Masters in exercise physiology from the University of Northern Iowa. Outside of his professional life, Travis is an NPC physique athlete and an ultra marathoner. He enjoys poker, space, fantasy football, film, and a good rack of ribs.