Dan McMahon is no stranger to technology or the cannabis industry, specializing in the exciting and complex area where they both meet. He has been in some subset of the cannabis space going back to 2006, at the age of 18, forming his first “grey market” collective in Washington State to help fellow patients.
This was his first, but nowhere near his last pivotal role in connecting quality products and growers with consumers in need. Fast forward another 7 years and he became a pioneering member and the (former) Chief Industry Officer of a once giant seed-to-sale tech company, BioTrackTHC, where he personally oversaw the launch of the world’s first government cannabis track and trace system with API interoperability as well as the majority of system project implementations still held by the company today.
Helping to make it the largest CSTS commercial system of its time. After the startup was acquired by another firm, he was added to the parent company’s board of directors. Subsequent to poor management, Mr. McMahon and Patrick Vo, former BioTrackTHC CEO, parted with the company only to form a highly successful (no pun intended) cannabis technology and compliance consulting firm, that services multiple sects of the industry including larger retail operations, cultivation facilities, laboratories, legislators and numerous government agencies both domestically and internationally.
Despite being one of the most sought-after cannabis consultants in the US, this still wasn’t enough. After seeing tech start-up after tech start-up in the cannabis space miss the mark on connecting consumers, he decided to create and launch BudWiz, the rest is history in the making.
Where did the idea for BudWiz come from?
For me, it was actually several things that just built up over time. First was the fact that I always enjoyed learning about changes in the industry, trends, laws, or just general cannabis information.
The more I researched using sites already out there, the more it felt like I was trying to make something from a recipe website where I had to get through 6 ads and someone’s life story before getting to the figurative meat and potatoes.
I wanted to do something that did what some other people were trying to do too but without overcomplicating it. Once I got that down and made those features the bare minimum, it just took on a life of its own and evolved.
I gave it a consumer experience focus in ways that other platforms neglect. I work with a lot of cannabis businesses directly as well as several great user groups and get to see and hear feedback right from the mouths of folks that use the platform, which honestly makes my job a lot easier.
How did you get started in your industry?
I guess my interest started as far back as the 9th grade when I wrote my first paper brushing up on the potential economic benefits of legalizing cannabis and ultimately hemp in the United States.
As far as getting started, at 18 I became a medical cannabis patient to treat severe Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. Soon after, I began meeting other patients and joined several networks of patients helping other patients get access to cannabis as alternative medicine.
Soon after, several of us got together to fit into the framework of the laws at the time and formed a collective. Then, seeing an opportunity to help legitimize the industry further, I joined a handful of hopeful fellow entrepreneurs and we began providing inventory management, point of sale, grow house management, and record-keeping software for cannabis businesses and eventually several governments. As the industry continued to evolve, and mature, so did I.
Why do you think that PR is the tool you need to implement in your business and how does it help to grow your business?
The best tool for marketing anything will always be word of mouth. Most of the time all it takes is for the right conversation to start. PR is a must-have catalyst to get those conversations started. We live in a very ‘out of sight, out of mind’ world these days and without PR, you’re not too likely to move into the right line of sight.
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your business?
We actively participate in the cannabis industry every day, whether it be at local, regional or national events or in online forums and makeshift communities.
We partner with great companies and thought leaders in the space and lift one another up. We do very little paid to advertise, but a lot of that is because you can’t. Mainstream media platforms continue their attempts to censor and hinder the cannabis industry.
We are incredibly proud to have grown our app users organically without throwing gobs of money into advertising mediums with uncertain and indirect ROI. It’s our users telling their friends and family, and we’ll forever be grateful for the support.
What are the three biggest challenges you have faced growing the business and how did you overcome them?
“If you build it they will come” does not ring true to new technology. We are constantly bombarded by noise and pay-per-click ads everywhere we look, telling us what to buy or download, and it really gets in the way and shows a lot of distrust and skepticism around solutions they legitimately need.
Finding your name based on keywords alone isn’t enough anymore, especially with the censorship issue on conventional social media. So, we started partnering with like-minded people in the cannabis space such as the great folks at The Dab Roast, who despite doing something totally different had the exact same user base.
In the software sect, this can mean several things, but for us, it was simply where we focus our time and effort. Coming from an area of expertise is extremely helpful, but it also comes with blinders. I have a vision and I stick to my guns for the big picture, but for the real details I had to learn that 99% of the time it doesn’t matter what I want.
It’s what the end users want and it’s about being practical instead of wishing for immediate perfection.
People automatically assume that canna-businesses are making money hand over fist, and some of them are… but for most that are not the case. As such everyone expects anything and everything in the industry to be a money grab.
So when you offer them something powerful and engaging like our app, and then tell consumers, brands, and stores they can have a free account and jump right in it are easy to discount it as too good to be true.
As an entrepreneur, what is it that actually motivates and drives you?
That’s easy, I want to know my apps are making a difference in someone else’s life for the better. Last year in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, I admittedly came close to giving up and had actually not done any new work in roughly a month.
Then I walked into a dispensary in Olympia, WA, and about 4 people ahead of me in line (socially distanced) a gentleman I had never seen before, looking to be around his 40s, started asking the budtender why they never update their specials on BudWiz, and I literally shouted in the lobby.
As soon as he bought his product and was headed out the door, I stopped him for a second and tossed him an extra BudWiz Lighterbro. He seemed more excited about that than the actual product he just bought, and was visibly giddy and that’s when I had this instant passion come back. So to that random fellow stoner last year in May, thank you.
What social media platforms do you usually use to increase your brand’s awareness and why?
For consumer app-facing engagement we use Instagram, but the level of censorship against cannabis is getting unreal. We’ve had our account deleted and restored 3 times (so far). But it’s still sadly the closest major platform to the cannabis culture side of things.
For the strictly business-to-business end of the company, LinkedIn is the go-to for sure. You’re at least a little less likely to deal with unprofessional companies and thus far haven’t censored any of our content once.
What is your experience with paid advertising, like PPC or sponsored content marketing campaigns? Does it work?
I actually do not have much experience in this matter.
What is your main tactic when it comes to making more people aware of your brand and engaging your customers? How did your business stand out?
My main tactic has shifted to direct contact. Email and Direct Messaging on social media. I think what helps is that I don’t jump into a sales pitch. I often try to engage with the brand a little on social media as well. It makes the whole process easier and more fun if there’s trust and some good old-fashioned conversations. I never ever try to get a brand or store to blindly sign up on the first day.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
Direct Marketing and communication seem to be the winners as far as actual sign-ups. Especially if I can be at an event in person and just grab my phone and show them everything and that it really works.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
Deciding whether or not sponsorships and booths for certain big named cannabis business events were worth doing. While we certainly have a marketing budget, it’s far from unlimited and these events are sometimes like exposure on steroids for a platform like mine, but other times they can be a huge time and money pits. We wish we could do them all, but we can’t.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from (or something you’d do differently)?
Don’t buy things you don’t or might not need for running your business, especially too early on. We spent more money trying to figure out the right tools and opportunities for us than on the actual tools themselves. It’s better to go slow and figure out what you actually need first.
What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
Stop using what others are doing as a springboard for what you want to do. You’ll never be able to innovate and stay ahead of the competition if you’re just following the same trends as everyone else. Niche innovation is more important than momentary popularity.
What excites you most about your industry? Where do you see it heading in the near future?
The cannabis space is constantly evolving. New states legalize and regulate it every single year now and it’s inching towards federal legalization and adoption. While some federal guidelines do exist, the states have ultimate say over how it’s grown, tested, manufactured into other forms, packaged, and sold and no two states are exactly the same. One thing is for sure, at this point it’s not going away.
In many states, it generates more tax revenue than tobacco and alcohol. We are slowly starting to see more technological integrations and automation in every single field of the industry. The opportunities are there, they can’t always be seen without jumping in a bit, but they are certainly there.
What is one piece of advice you still remember and that has practically changed your life?
If you can’t change something, move on. Dwelling on the inevitable does no good and you’re bound to suffer through it twice, a waste of energy and time. While that’s easier said than done, you can slowly train yourself to do this by actively acknowledging the situation out loud and being quick to focus on the next task.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
I would make sure I wasn’t so afraid to take risks with new things. Change can be terrifying, but it can also be gratifying. I suppose I would also make sure I invested a good deal of money into cryptocurrencies.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Get a CRM, something to organize your clients, your files, and your SOPs. You might think you’re organized but scaling your business without a decent CRM in this day and age is setting yourself up for failure.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Stop accepting criticism from people you would never go to for advice.
What is your brand’s philosophy?
Helping folks get off mids since 2016.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
Be as organized as possible and don’t try to skip steps in the process. As tempting as it may seem to cut a bunch of corners to get it done sooner, it pretty much never turns out well.
Email, SMS, and more — Klaviyo brings your marketing all together, fueling growth without burning through time and resources.
Deliver more relevant email and text messages — powered by your data. Klaviyo helps you turn one-time buyers into repeat customers with all the power of an enterprise solution and none of the complexity.