Startup Stories – Cannabis Benchmarks CEO, Jonathan Rubin
We sat down with our friend Jonathan Rubin, CEO of Cannabis Benchmarks to discuss leadership, the nuances of cannabis business, and how data plays a role in making the cannabis industry great.
Hi Jonathan! Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to speak with us. We’ll get into a variety of topics to learn about you as a leader, and about your company. Let’s start by talking about your company, Cannabis Benchmarks.
Jonathan: Yeah. Absolutely.
Okay cool. What is your company’s goal or mission?
Jonathan: Our goal is to bring transparency and efficiency to cannabis markets through independent, standardized, wholesale price benchmarks and market intelligence.
That is bad ass. What does it do and why?
Jonathan: Very little data is available for understanding the economics of the cannabis industry. The wholesale price of cannabis flower directly impacts the revenues, expenses and profitability for many cannabis businesses; but the wholesale price is not static, it changes over time. By using statistical and econometric methods to analyze buy-sell transactions, we are able to report the wholesale price of cannabis, and how it is changing over time. This allows industry participants with exposure to wholesale prices to have a continuous view into wholesale market dynamics and the potential impact on their financial performance now and into the future.
What is the meaning of this?
Jonathan: In an industry where there is little verifiable data,
regularly reporting valid wholesale prices, the underlying drivers of price change, and doing it in a granular way, allows players across the spectrum to make informed, data-driven decisions.
Awesome. What about your company are you most proud of?
Jonathan: I’m most proud of our recognition as the benchmark of record. There is no other company in this sector that is focused exclusively on collecting and analyzing wholesale prices. Without Cannabis Benchmarks there would be no transparency now into wholesale price movement, and more broadly, the price erosion that we’ve witnessed over the last four years as the market has expanded and commoditized.
You speak with powerful language. I like it. What are you most proud of about your team?
Jonathan: I’m most proud of our team’s experience and enthusiasm in executing on a day-to-day basis. Everyone on the team has direct and specific experience either in commodities and commodity data services, or in marijuana and hemp and cannabis, throughout the value chain, from cultivating to processing to dispensing and retailing. Everyone on the team has meaningful experience which is a core competency, and they bring that together enthusiastically week after week to bring transparency to the market.
How has your company managed to differentiate itself from other would-be competitors?
Jonathan: There’s really three ways to differentiate. One is through product leadership. Another is operational excellence. And a third way to differentiate is through customer intimacy. We believe we are executing against all three of these market disciplines.
Additionally, we bring with us an understanding of the core mathematical, statistical, and econometric methods used to analyze commodity data. We’ve done this before with a variety of different commodities; from energy commoditiessuch as electricity and natural gas, to petrochemicals and plastic feedstocks, to rare earth metals. We are leveraging our collective experience and core competencies.
Whoa that was interesting. Three ways to differentiate—as stated by Jonathan Rubin. Applying your core competency to the cannabis industry sounds like a big feat. Someone out there may be looking for ideas for how they can enter the cannabis industry. That was a phenomenal answer.
Now let’s get a little taste of the man leading the mission. First, who are you?
Jonathan: I am a passionate commodity industry professional who is an advocate for the plant, an advocate for the industry, and someone who wants to facilitate and catalyze the maturity and evolution of this industry to be a modern commodity agricultural industry. I want to do everything I can in my power, with my passion, and our team’s, to bring professionalism and legitimacy to this industry as a legitimate agricultural commodity that also has an enormous existing and potential medicinal benefit.
Fantastic. What are your top three values in life currently?
Jonathan: My top three values would be integrity, trustworthiness, and reliability.
Why are those three important to you?
Jonathan: Because whether we are talking about the professional world, which for me has three stakeholders: our customers our employees and our shareholders; or we’re talking about the domestic world which is my family, my children and my friends; for both of those worlds, which are separate but overlap, integrity, trustworthiness, and reliability—knowing that I’m going to be there for them, with integrity and honesty, and reliability, that I’m there when they need me.
It’s important to me that the values that I bring forward are shared and bridge across my personal and professional life.
I love it. Knowing you have a family which is core to you, that’s huge. Being able to trust that the people that care for you are going to be there is so important. So important.
Jonathan: That’s not an easy question.
No, it’s not! Now that we know what the company does, let’s get to the WHY. Why do you do what you do? Why is it important to you?
Jonathan: I do what I do because I am an advocate for the plant, and what has transpired over the last couple of decades starting in California in 1996 with legalization for medical uses to the more recent development of recreational markets; these events represent a once in a 50, 75, 100 year event getting into a new industry at the ground level.
As an advocate for the plant, as an entrepreneur,
I looked at the industry and said, “Not only do I need to be part of this movement, but how can I best bring value to this movement?”
While there might be more fun in certain aspects of the business such as the retail aspect and the entertainment aspect and interfacing with the end-use consumer; the value I can bring is most focused in the business to business area of wholesale commodity price assessment and commodity price analysis, specifically because this is a core competency I have had for 25 plus years in my professional career.
Stellar. If there was one skill you could have developed five years ago had you known back then that you would eventually want to have that skill, what skill would that be?
Jonathan: More start-up experience.
Okay cool. And why?
Jonathan: Because start-ups have a unique set of challenges, and while this is not my first start-up, there are significant lessons learned with each one. Like anything, the more experience you have doing it, the more confidently and competently you can do it, and the more prepared you are to potentially foresee hurdles or challenges that need to be navigated coming.
Excellent. That point will probably really speak tall of the entrepreneurial spirits out there. It’s so core to navigating new ventures.
In your time with the company, whether on a company-wide level or on a personal level, what has been your single greatest challenge as a leader?
My single greatest challenge as a leader is managing different expectations across a diverse set of stakeholders, which means meeting the needs of our customers, balancing the objectives of our shareholders and investors, and understanding and reflecting the input of our employees in our operations and strategies.
Follow up to that question. What do you think is the most important thing to keep in mind when facing such challenges?
Jonathan: Not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. That in the initial moments, or when you’re in the midst of solving a problem, it’s easy to lose perspective. Upon further reflection, issues and challenges look differently. What may appear to be a mountain in the moment, upon reflection will be a molehill.
So stay calm, cool-headed, and address challenges thoughtfully, knowing some of the times you’re going to take the right approach, and sometimes you’ll take the wrong approach, but all businesses—mature and start-up—have hurdles they address on a regular basis. Again, when you examine the broader perspective, problems may only appear bigger than they really are.
Thank you for that insight. That can be a hard thing to keep in mind when you’re in the weeds, but it is SO important. Jonathan, is there anything that we haven’t touched on that you want to make sure we do touch on?
Jonathan: This industry is, as we all know, one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, Canada, and in other emerging markets. There is significant opportunity for virtually anyone who wants to get into the industry, and that my advice and guidance is leverage an existing core competency. If somebody has been a great wedding photographer for 20 years, then become a great cannabis photographer. If somebody is a great retail marketer in automobiles, then be a great retail marketer in cannabis. If they are great chemists somewhere else in the food chain, then be a great chemist in the cannabis and hemp food chain.
Leverage your core competencies. There is enough new things to learn about the plant, about the vocabulary, about the regulations, about the players, about the networks. There is no need to reinvent oneself. There’s enough hard work that’s going to need to be done anyway, so position yourself fast by leveraging what you’re already doing well, and transport that to the cannabis industry.
That’s some really great advice.
Jonathan: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.
All right Jonathan. Thank you so much for your time today.