Each week we highlight entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry for our viewers to learn more about the leading cannabis executives of our time. This week, we highlight John Yang, Founder of Treez.
Meet John Yang
Yang is CEO of Treez, which he co-founded in 2016. Born Hai-Meng Yang, he is an experienced information technology management expert adept at analyzing, designing, consulting, deploying and managing software development applications for various sectors. He is exceptionally skilled in business analysis, process and application assessment, requirements gathering, and solution design.
DCN: John, congratulations on being featured as this week’s entrepreneur of the week and for all that you do! Can you please share with our readers your elevator pitch for Treez?
John Yang: Treez is a seed-to-sale enterprise software platform that serves dispensaries across the state of California as well as in Florida, Nevada, and Arizona. It is the only enterprise software company in the cannabis space that can truly handle the high volume required by large cannabis licensees. More than just a software product, Treez is a partner in addressing issues that dispensary owners face in the most efficient and productive ways possible. TREEZ software is designed to adapt to a variety of cannabis business models. The platform is revered by customers for its ability to reduce unnecessary labor, reduce manual errors and reduce growing pains. The system addresses inventory, purchasing, reporting, taxes, and employee management.
DCN: What ignited the spark in you to launch your business?
John Yang: I met Shareef, my business partner, through a mutual acquaintance. He [Shareef] asked me to build a solution for his dispensary, the Garden of Eden. We both crave problem-solving and there were many inefficiencies operating a dispensary that could be solved with software. It was an exciting opportunity. Shareef and I have the same level of drive, energy, and passion for everything we do, so it was a pretty easy marriage of our talents. He’d present me with a problem, and I’d solve it with software. This happened over and over and before long, we had a whole system in place. From there, it didn’t take us long to figure out that we should go bigger with our scope and offer Treez to the general public.
DCN: When you finally decided that you wanted to launch a business in the cannabis industry, what was your experience like when telling your family and friends? Were they supportive?
John Yang: My family and friends were extremely supportive, this is why early seed round investments are called friends-and-family rounds ;).
DCN: How is your organization/business helping the cannabis industry in a positive way?
John Yang: The cannabis industry has historically operated under uncertainty and fear. Many cannabusinesses did not understand and comply with local and state regulations – resulting in fines, forfeitures and/or closures. One of the core vision of Treez is to use our software to automate compliance for our operators. By alleviating operational uncertainty, we empower our operators to focus on what they do best: providing world-class hospitality and educating their customers on the positive benefits of cannabis.
DCN: As we go into 2018, what is one huge accomplishment that you or your team achieved last year that you would like to share with our readers?
John Yang: We grew a lot in 2017 (customers, team, product and much more). But this defining story captured our growth: a newly deployed dispensary was frantically pacing itself for a city auditor’s visit. Any misstep in the compliance checklist would result in business closure – sometimes for weeks! Passing half of the checklist, the city inspector engaged in the software systems portion of the audit. Upon learning that the operator just deployed Treez, he quickly responded: “Oh Treez, they have been installed everywhere recently and passes all of the city requirements, you’re good there, let’s move on”.
DCN: What are some challenges you faced early on and how’d you beat them?
John Yang: Funding, selling, recruiting, and scaling. These challenges are similar across any early stage startup but the most difficult is recruiting talent. Finding and mentoring talent is what ultimately transforms a startup into a business. We succeeded in this by executing on our vision – an unrelenting passion to bring better software to the cannabis industry. The success stories triggered talented individuals to find us, those who shared similar beliefs in cannabis and technology changing the world.
DCN: Did you raise capital to fund your business or what creative strategies did you use to execute on minimal cash flow?
John Yang: We bootstrapped early on. A chain of fortuitous events allowed us to deploy our software to reputable dispensaries which made an impression on our early angel investors. The key to minimizing cash flow is to apply a can-do culture across a prioritized list of todos. Plan, execute, learn, re-prioritize, repeat.
DCN: What did you give up to get where you are today?
John Yang: Friends and family time but I mostly enjoy every minute of what I do today. It is more of a sacrifice to live a day and then regret what I could have done instead – this is how I felt towards the latter years of my consulting days.
DCN: What is the best piece of advice you can give to others looking to launch a company in the cannabis industry?
John Yang: Find real problems through the lenses of the users experiencing the pain. There are two types of operators: diehards who have been hustling in the industry for the last 5-10 years and entrants from other verticals who are tackling the space for the first time. The two will converge eventually, but the eventuality is what creates the opportunities for entrepreneurs.
DCN: What’s the hardest part of founding and running a startup?
John Yang: Finding a real problem that has a scalable solution. Finding compatible co-founders who are great at your own flaws.
DCN: Is there anything that surprised you about being an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry?
John Yang: The cannabis industry is incredibly tight-knit and receptive to innovation. People crave disruptive ideas because they have been largely neglected over the past two decades. Traditional means of technology, services, payments, etc. have been largely shut off simply by word association. This is rapidly changing and we are at a tipping point that will see cannabis challenge the dominance of tobacco and alcohol as recreational safe havens.
DCN: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
John Yang: Be humble, be persistent, be bold.
DCN: How do you stay balanced?
John Yang: I used to enjoy playing a lot of basketball until waking up painless became the trade-off. Now I enjoy watching the NBA, boxing and playing poker.
DCN: What book has inspired you the most?
John Yang: Catch-22. Catch 22s are mostly created from human’s tendency to be close-minded. One needs to learn to break out of that mold with positivity and perseverance.
DCN: Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
John Yang: I admired my father’s computer store but it wasn’t very profitable or scalable ;). Now I admire companies like Clover and Stripe. Both entered a very saturated point-of-sale and payments market but are thriving through their disruptive differentiations.
DCN: How can we as an industry continue to make a positive difference in society?
John Yang: Continue to push education on cannabis. If the general public is privy to the medicinal benefits of cannabis, they’re more likely to see cannabis for what it is, rather than a “drug.”
DCN: Thank you, John, for sharing your story and offering such real and insightful advice! It was so great being able to feature you as this week’s entrepreneur of the week!
For those looking to learn more about Treez, please check out Treez.io!