From Cannabis Investor to Business Leader
With so many regulations around cannabis, compliance technology is one of the most important aspects of the industry. Seed-to-sale tracking has become a staple, allowing companies to keep track of their products from cultivation to production to the consumer. A little over a decade ago, Jessica Billingsley, now CEO of MJ Freeway, began her journey into cannabis with an investment, and ended up creating one of the most prolific seed-to-sale tracking companies in the world.
In this exclusive interview, Billingsley discusses her original investment into cannabis and how MJ Freeway continues to innovate the industry.
Cannabis & Tech Today: How did you first become involved in the cannabis industry?
Jessica Billingsley: A little over ten years ago, I was invited to invest in one of the very first legally licensed operations here in Colorado. And at the time it was a crazy thing to choose to do, right? Or at least most people treated you that way, including my family. But I did choose to make that investment and I had a key firm at the time and they asked me to pick what we were building out and they asked me to pick which house we would use to run the operation. And I was not able to find anything that really met the need of cannabis. So, that’s where MJ Freeway was born and we invented seed-to-seed tracking over nine years ago now.
Today, we’re really the only cannabis technology company that truly operates globally with clients from 12 countries. And we’re also the only seed-to-sale cannabis technology that serves the entire supply chain compliantly in every single jurisdiction.
C&T Today: Why did you choose to take the risk and invest in that first cannabis company when everyone was telling you it sounded kind of crazy?
JB: Anybody who was involved in cannabis in the earlier days was either a true believer or a risk taker. I would categorize myself now as both. But initially I started out as a risk taker. I was one of three women in my computer science program in school. I recently pursued professional rock climbing. I think I’m just wired to take on a little bit more risk than most people.
But I will say, I very, very, very quickly became a true believer… Very early on I met a man
who had been wheelchair-bound prior to cannabis. And when I met him, he had just completed a 5K.
Especially in those earlier days, that’s why I think we all did it. Where I thought I could bring unique expertise was with my technology background and really understanding the need for compliance and regulation. I understood that the way forward would be enabling compliance and regulation, so that it could be treated as a regulated substance and also so patients and consumers understand what they’re getting.
Because you want to have a consistent experience and understand what you’re getting and that starts with tracking.
C&T Today: How has MJ Freeway remained competitive in the face of all these other companies entering the seed-to-sale field?
JB: At the end of the day, it comes down to really thinking about core values. In fact, one of MJ Freeway’s three core values is: “Be part of the solution,” and that really speaks to innovation because it speaks to, not just what the client is asking for, but what is their actual problem and how do we solve that better?
When you’re lucky enough to have a seat at the table from the very early days and to be at the tip of the spear, if you will, you’re able to see farther and understand the evolution better than most. And then, of course, you have to actually translate that into execution of your product and how we’re continuing to build for the future industry rather than just serving the industry and its state of need today.
C&T Today: To speak to your global reach, how are foreign markets different than the American or Canadian markets?
JB: We see a number of European markets that have legalized; they have a legal model to import the medicine, but not to actually produce or manufacture it in their country, so that’s one difference we see.
Then, the next biggest difference that I like to touch on is what we would call, “the rise of Latin America.” So, in particular Columbia is leading the way, establishing a federal license program with the ability to import and export, and so, what you have are conditions that are very favorable for growing cannabis at a very favorable cost structure. I recently visited a couple of clients down there and I was just blown away by the sophistication as well as the obvious cost advantage enjoyed by their operations and I was just thinking about what that means as the market opens up into a true global market with export and import available in most countries; which I don’t think is that far away. It will be a global market.
C&T Today: How are you leveraging MJ Freeway’s data to further innovate the cannabis space?
JB: Well, we really believe in providing value back to our consistent customers first. So, today we’ve really focused on leveraging our data for our clients to provide predicted analytics and benchmarking services. So we’ve been doing that for a couple of years and now we’re investigating other ways in which our data can be helpful and valuable as the industry expands and grows.
We collected some very interesting data on 4/20 that we’ve been sharing. I mean, it was the most profitable 4/20 to date. It was 4/20 on a Saturday, but interestingly we really saw sales across Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. And Saturday, 4/20 itself had 80 million dollars in sales in the U.S.
Feature Image: Jessica Billingsley (standing) leads a meeting with the MJ Freeway team