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 Ryan Porter, the CEO of Grassworks Digital. Ryan’s passion for digital marketing is only surpassed by his skill, and he’s driven to help businesses succeed.
At Internet Brands, he managed over 125 website acquisitions. During his time at CarDomain, he leveraged affiliate partnerships to help grow revenues by 50% and pushed monthly page views to over 70 million. While at AutoNation, he was in charge of dealer websites and customer acquisition, was responsible for over 50,000 organic leads per month, and supported over 300 new AutoNation vehicle franchises.
When Ryan isn’t working for the man, he’s still working. He’s personally launched more than 250 websites and published more than 5000 pieces of content. He finds the end of the internet every week.
In our interview with Ryan, we asked a variety of questions to gain further insight into being a cannabis entrepreneur:
Ryan, congratulations on being this week’s Entrepreneur of the Week! Can you please share with our reader’s a bit more info on Grassworks Digital?
Ryan Porter: Grassworks digital builds technology and marketing tools to help cannabis retailers. We create efficiencies which help our clients reduce labor costs, drive automated marketing for their businesses, and ultimately provide a better experience for each customer. We also pair our technology with managed services, because we recognize that not every cannabis retailer has the right people to use such tools.
It sounds like you are really helping solve a need for cannabis businesses. What other ways do you see Grassworks Digital helping move the cannabis industry in a positive direction?
Ryan Porter: Grassworks Digital concentrates on helping retailers because we feel that without robust, professional cannabis retailers, the industry will spiral into failure.
Of course, since we’re retailer-focused, we also have a tremendous opportunity to make an impact on the end consumer. Our Online Ordering system — which makes ordering cannabis as easy as ordering a pizza — has allowed customers to get in and out of the shops very quickly, and see a store’s live inventory before they even walk through the door.
Providing great experiences for our clients and their customers is our ultimate goal, and along with the direct feedback we get from individual shops, we’re also seeing great reviews on Leafly and Google.
Now going more into the entrepreneurship aspect; who would you say is your role model?
Ryan Porter: Elon Musk. It’s astonishing what he’s accomplished, and his talent is agnostic. He went from banking to automotive, to launching rockets, and he’s fundamentally changed each industry. Right now, Tesla is more valuable than General Motors. That would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
What would you say are the three top skills someone needs to become a successful entrepreneur?
Ryan Porter: Humility, Resiliency, Salesmanship
What is the best piece of advice you would give someone who is looking to launch a business in the cannabis industry?
Ryan Porter: Done is better than perfect. I think a lot of fellow cannabis entrepreneurs don’t value speed enough. The ability to execute an idea quickly and get back data to see whether it’s working is key.
I appreciate that reply as I believe that many entrepreneurs get stuck trying to perfect their idea. Which leads me to my next question; what is the hardest part about running a startup?
Ryan Porter: Communication. For most technology companies, it’s normal to sit behind computers all day and communicate via email — but that’s not how our clients operate.
They’re in year one, two or three of running a cannabis business with 30 to 50 employees, and their day is very reactive. So to see things from their perspective, and find the right way to meaningfully connect, that was a challenge.
Did anything surprise you about being an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry?
Ryan Porter: Not particularly. Coming from the automotive industry, I anticipated a recreational shop would have a lot of parallels to a car dealership, and the more I immersed myself in the cannabis industry, the more parallels I saw.
Fortunately, the Grassworks Digital team has worked extensively in automotive, and everyone is familiar with high-turnover, inventory-based businesses led by general managers. So I think we knew what we were in for.
Life as a founder, we are bound to make a mistake or two, what is one mistake you made as a founder that turned into being one of your biggest learning lessons?
Ryan Porter: Not getting enough face time with our clients — and that comes back to communication. We now put a priority on face-to-face meetings, as opposed to telephone calls or emails.
Is there a book you have found that has helped you, that you would like to recommend to our readers?
Ryan Porter: I’d recommend Zero to One by Peter Thiel. It talks about promoting change, and how the idea of going from zero to one — from nothing to something — is so astronomical. A great example would be Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, which sounds like science fiction until you realize teams of talented people are working on building functional examples.
A lot of the exciting things happening in the cannabis industry are zero to one-type concepts, in that entrepreneurs are doing something which hasn’t been done before. That makes it easy for some people to accept hearing no, or accept the idea that something can’t be done, but that just means more opportunities for the rest of us.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Ryan Porter: Tesla. I love the ability to fight the norm and push the boundaries — even when the laws fight you back.
I would like to chat a little about raising capital. Where did your organization’s funding come from and how did you go about getting it?
Ryan Porter: Bootstrapped from idea to traction in year one. We got seed investment in year two when we knew it our concept was working.
Any tips or suggestions to founders who are looking to raise capital with investors?
Ryan Porter: Do everything you can to not fundraise. But if you end up at a point where you want to seek to fund, make sure you have the right team to execute the story you’re selling!
You have definitely provided some great insight, now to end this interview I would like to end with this question. How can we as an industry continue to make a positive impact in society?
Ryan Porter: Over the years, there’s been a lot of misinformation circulated about cannabis, and our community needs to drive the conversation about the incredible possibilities regarding recreational cannabis. It’s up to us to drive the new narrative.
So one of Grassworks Digital’s missions is to produce content that’s driven by storytelling and communicates what cannabis professionals and consumers are like to those unfamiliar with the culture, the industry, and the potential. We have to flip the script, and can’t rely on mainstream news organizations for help.
Thank you, Ryan, for the great interview. And congratulations on being featured as this week’s Entrepreneur of the Week. Before I let you go is there anything we missed in our interview that you would like to end this interview with?
Ryan Porter: Cannabis needs collaboration. It’s important to work with fellow companies and develop your staff to build great businesses of their own.
To learn more about Grassworks Digital, you can go to https://grassworksdigital.com/
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