As an Apache helicopter pilot serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq, Socrates Rosenfeld maintained a level of intensity few civilians understand. When he left the military, he said he had trouble turning the intensity off. So, he did what any other patriotic, red-blooded American would do: He turned to cannabis. “It wasn’t until I tried cannabis for the first time, at 29, that I finally found some relief,” he said. “It allowed me to reconnect with myself and my loved ones. I found other veterans were struggling with similar issues and finding cannabis brought them much-needed relief, as well.”
That discovery and a desire to expand access to plant medicine, particularly for veterans, set Rosenfeld on a path to cannabis entrepreneurship. The West Point graduate separated from the Army in 2011, then earned a master’s degree in business administration from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management in 2014. By 2015, he and his brother and fellow MIT graduate, Abraham, were deep into developing the vision for Jane Technologies Inc., an end-to-end online marketplace. The company launched in 2017 with Socrates Rosenfeld as chief executive officer.
Today, IHeartJane.com is among the largest consumer platforms in the industry, serving more than 1,700 dispensaries across thirty-one U.S. states. The company employs forty-five people whose goal is to make online shopping for medicine as simple and sophisticated as shopping for anything else.
There’s a momentary disconnect in the listener when a battle-hardened soldier talks about a plant, industry, and company in terms that include “love,” yet that’s exactly how Rosenfeld describes his, and Jane’s, mission. “That’s why we chose the gold heart as our logo,” he said. “It’s part of everything we do, and it helps guide us. Love for what we do. Love for each other, including teammates and partners. And love for the plant and what it represents: community, equality, wellness. It’s the secret sauce to the company’s success.”
What was the impetus for Jane Technologies?
Jane came from a personal need. When I got out of the military, I thought it would be an easy transition back to civilian life, but it wasn’t. I wanted to provide safe and smart access for other people in need. I was fortunate enough to be joined by a group of founders who had the know-how and the shared vision to elevate the industry, celebrate the plant, and create win-win models for dispensaries, brands, and their customers.
How did you prepare for cannabis entrepreneurship?
Upon leaving the service and returning to my hometown of Boston, I was fortunate enough to pursue my MBA at MIT. While there, I split my time between the classroom, where I learned about things like fast-growth tech, and my personal time, where I learned about cannabis. From there, I joined McKinsey & Co. in Silicon Valley, where I studied the largest and most sophisticated online aggregators in the world—all while continuing my personal research in cannabis. The idea for Jane was born in 2015, and we launched in 2017. We are now the largest consumer platform in cannabis, proving win-win models can be successful.
A lot of tech companies have entered the retail cannabis sector. What sets Jane apart?
First is our ability to automate and integrate with other systems. Our real-time integration allows us to plug into any [point-of-sale] system in the industry, eliminating any need for the dispensary to manually update their menus. Our software serves as a hub where many systems meet and communicate with one another from [enterprise resource planning], POS, and [customer relationship management] to fleet management systems. Jane connects disparate systems into a single, powerful e-commerce solution.
Secondly, we provide our partners with actionable consumer insights and market-basket analytics. For dispensaries, that can mean understanding which products to carry and how to price them. For brands, it could be understanding who their customers are on a deeper level in order to continue to create products that meet their needs.
Lastly, Jane is unique in that we are dedicated to raising the profile of the entire industry. A partner success team is assigned to every dispensary that partners with us. This team assists not just with technical issues, but also real-world business challenges. We can provide insight into best practices when it comes to implementing digital payments or setting up curbside pickup or even transitioning from medical to adult-use. In addition to technical support, we serve as thought partners; we believe collaboration strengthens the entire industry and propels it forward in the best way possible.
There must have been challenges along the way.
I’ve found our challenges and successes are closely linked. The initial challenge was to build a virtual marketplace that connected the consumer to every available product in their area without creating more work for the dispensary. From there, we created software that helped dispensaries keep track of inventory, sales, and operations, and eventually rolled out adjacent technologies for our brand partners.
What does Jane do to help retailers optimize sales and retain customers?
The analytics we offer provide deep insights to the market and help businesses optimize their operations. Retailers can understand how to optimize SKUs and what to stock in their stores based on real-world, real-time consumption trends in their local region. Brands are able to better understand how their customers shop, to include the appropriate complements and substitutes to their SKU sets.
Likewise, our ability to integrate into the systems already in place at dispensaries makes it a nearly turnkey experience. Instead of being an add-on that creates more work, our software connects all systems to streamline and optimize existing operations.
Lastly, we offer advertising and digital merchandising that create a curated experience for consumers based on previous shopping behavior. It creates a win-win scenario where brands can merchandise products while dispensaries can shift their virtual shelves, putting the right product in front of the right customer at the right time.
These things combine to create a well-integrated shopping experience. Increased sales and customer retention are a natural side-effect.
How do you market Jane?
All our resources go into the development and implementation of new features for the platform. That has paid off because we have reached the majority of our dispensary and brand partners through word of mouth, and that goes for the consumer side as well. Thanks, Reddit.
What have you learned about retail cannabis since launching?
Cannabis is unique among industries because of the incredible variety of brands and products and the rapid rate of inventory turnover. The shelves can look completely different from one week to the next. Our software allows customers to locate exactly what they’re looking for and for dispensaries to connect that customer with their products to provide a seamless and positive experience.
Regulations dictate business operations, and those regulations are ever evolving. Working across different states has given us experience with all types of regulations, so we are able to help dispensaries prepare and respond to the rollout of new laws, so they don’t skip a beat.
Name three ways to retain consumers.
- Listen to them. We recently launched verified product reviews so brands can hear from real, verified customers about their unique experiences. They can learn what the product is best used for, whether it be for sleep, pain, or something else. This gives brands a firm grasp on how customers feel about their products and how to roll out future products that meet the needs of those consumers.
- Test and iterate. The best brands are in a constant state of evolution and growth. They have efficient methods of testing, validating, and rolling out new products. Through our digital merchandising module, brands can trial variations of a product. Companies with a growth mindset can more easily meet shifting consumer demand.
- Build trust. Developing trust takes time and a high level of brand authenticity. For consumers today, the value of a brand includes the values of the company behind the brand. What does the brand stand for? Where does it source its ingredients or products? The brands that cultivate the most loyalty tend to be mission-driven, transparent about their practices, and provide consistent quality to their customers.
Name three ways to find new customers.
- Leverage analytics. Regional data can tell where consumers are coming from, where to build a new retail location, and even where to focus advertisements. Online data can reveal top traffic sources to a website. Data doesn’t lie, so use it to your advantage.
- Don’t disregard a soft launch. Premier brands are savvy with how they introduce new products. Offer a limited supply in select locations. Use influencers. The more you can learn from an initial launch, the more effective a mass push will be a few weeks later.
- Grow the cart. Product recommendations based on basket data introduces customers to new or ancillary products they may otherwise have missed or skipped over. Don’t underestimate the power of these algorithms to introduce products to new customers.
What have you heard from dispensary owners and managers who use Jane?
Recently, the most powerful feedback has been about our response to the pandemic. Dispensary operators have taken the time to share not only how our automated software enabled them to accommodate for the increased online demand nearly overnight, but also how our team helped keep their doors open during a stressful and uncertain time. And once again, it was the need of the dispensaries that drove us to create the curbside pickup feature. We truly value the experiences and insights from dispensary operators. They push us to find innovative solutions and redefine what’s possible in omnichannel retail.