When going out to raise funding, having that [Tuck] connection was really important. It was almost like a stamp of approval as someone who didn’t have a lot of experience.
By Alina Dizik
As a first-time founder in the growing legalized cannabis industry, Koushi Sunder T’13 knows a thing or two about finding her way. For one, she has had to pivot her startup away from online cannabis delivery to focus on marketing services for dispensaries. And she’s also had to figure out how to be an expert in a high-regulated industry that’s still young. As an entrepreneur, being in an emerging industry has had its perks, especially as she was launching Stemless.
It seemed like a great opportunity to be in a market that’s not only new to me, but new to everyone, says Sunder, an Oregon native who founded the company in 2015.
It felt like a place we were all learning together as opposed to a market that had been established.
As she was getting her business off the ground, Tuck was an especially important way to find connections and prove what she refers to as her “dedication to excellence.” Oftentimes she would ask former classmates to vouch for her or to look at a deal sheet, but it was the access to finding investors that was most critical.
When going out to raise funding, having that connection was really important, she says.
It was almost like a stamp of approval as someone who didn’t have a lot of experience. Today, Sunder taps into the point-of-sale system at dispensaries to engage consumers and make sure they keep returning. The platform offers the retail businesses the ability to develop loyalty programs, send automated text messages including birthday texts, and advertise new products or sales. The marketing company helps retail businesses grow their base of repeat customers and is now operating in Canada and across states with either medical or adult use cannabis programs. Sales revenue grew 200 percent in 2022.
Unlike some other small businesses, there are key differences that make marketing even more important in cannabis dispensaries. Since products are part of a highly-regulated industry, the stores don’t have the same marketing channels as other consumer-focused businesses. And dispensary owners can’t legally advertise on social media because the product is still federally illegal. Most of the items also have a finite shelf life, so moving product before it expires is key.
There’s also an educational component that dispensaries say is critical to their success. Many customers are still figuring out THC concentrations, flavor profiles, and what kind of products target their specific needs. And the stigma around cannabis use still exists.
It’s an industry that has a lot of regulations and perceptions around it—and we’re playing a role in dispelling some of those myths, she says.
This story originally appeared in print in the winter 2023 issue of Tuck Today magazine. Read the full article “Meet the Next Generation of Tuck Founders.”
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