Data-Driven Work Cultures: Ryan G Smith On How To Effectively Leverage Data To Take Your Company To The Next Level

An Interview With Pierre Brunelle

Pierre Brunelle, CEO at Noteable
Authority Magazine
Published in
7 min readApr 24, 2022


Organizations must continue to drive accountability towards data-driven decision-making by giving the team examples to track against. At the same time, they must not empower wholly subjective decision-making by requiring data to back up all assumptions.

As part of our series about “How To Effectively Leverage Data To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan G. Smith.

Ryan G. Smith is the CEO and Co-founder of LeafLink, the world’s largest online wholesale cannabis platform connecting over 10,000 licensed cannabis brands, retailers and distributors. Smith brings experience in creating and managing B2B firms and online marketplace investment in highly-regulated spaces as LeafLink’s Chief Executive Officer.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started LeafLink with my co-founder Zach Silverman in 2015 with the intention of streamlining the cannabis supply chain with a single tech-enabled platform that manages the entire lifecycle of an order, from its creation, to payment, fulfillment and delivery.

Zach and I were interested in bringing the efficiencies that consumers benefit from every day using e-commerce and marketplace technology to a B2B scenario. B2B transactions have primarily relied on legacy processes and disjointed systems that waste time and money for operators. Simultaneously, we observed the cannabis industry gaining momentum in some of the early legalized markets. We saw an opportunity to help shape the industry by building a modern B2B platform leveraging the best parts of e-commerce and marketplace experiences to optimize the cannabis supply chain.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

This isn’t exactly a mistake, but just a large learning curve for ramping up on cannabis industry language. When we first started LeafLink, we all had to do a lot of Googling to ensure we knew what all the industry terms meant, from 710 (a cannabis industry holiday celebrating concentrates — 710 is “OIL” upside down), to flower, to rosin. It took me some time to learn how to speak the language of cannabis.

Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Whenever you enter a new industry, especially when you have aspirations to help move it forward, it’s essential to spend time learning the culture and respecting its history. That’s also how you build great relationships and make sure that what you’re building will actually be impactful for the operators who were there before you.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you?

The Strangest Secret, by Earl Nightingale

Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

It’s really about the importance of having simplified and agreed-upon goals — willing and executing the future. An analogy in the book said that if a ship leaves port without a destination, it will never get where it’s going. There’s only direction if there’s a destination that everyone has aligned on. That really stuck with me, and at LeafLink, we’ve implemented the concept of a north star metric, which is one measurable thing that we’re looking to impact; it gives the team a simplified focus and ensures we’re all rowing in the same direction.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

I’m excited to expand the Retail Fulfillment solution we just launched in California. We built the solution specifically to solve the pain points that cannabis retailers face today. The cannabis industry is only getting more competitive as more operators enter the space. Having the right products on hand can make or break a sale for retailers.. Our Retail Fulfillment solution gives retailers access to volume discounts from leading brands, a network of partner warehouses to store that inventory outside of stores, and payment terms for those large orders. While reducing stock-outs by ensuring retailers always have the right products on- hand, we’re also saving them time and money spent on operations, so they can specialize and focus on their strengths and grow their businesses.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about empowering organizations to be more “data-driven.” My work centers on the value of data visualization and data collaboration at all levels of an organization, so I’m particularly passionate about this topic. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly it means to be data-driven? On a practical level, what does it look like to use data to make decisions?

To me, being data-driven means using relevant data, both quantitative and qualitative, to make your decisions. At LeafLink, we’ve built out a team that focuses exclusively on data in all its forms. Regardless, it takes time to transform into a genuinely data-driven organization. There’s

a cultural shift that has to happen where you prioritize making decisions based on looking at patterns in the numbers instead of just listening to the loudest voice or the squeakiest wheel.

At LeafLink, we use data to inform decisions of all sizes, from determining which markets to enter to building specific features to help solve client problems. This practice can take time to build muscle around, especially for startups looking to grow rapidly, but it’s worth it. When we were an earlier stage company, we enabled teams to learn SQL to access data themselves. We now have a centralized team focused on empowering the rest of the company with the data they need to make better decisions and support our customers.

Which companies can most benefit from tools that empower data collaboration?

As companies grow and mature, they need greater efficiencies, and data can be beneficial to make surgical and pointed decisions, rather than broader ones companies make at an earlier stage.

We’d love to hear about your experiences using data to drive decisions. In your experience, how has data analytics and data collaboration helped improve operations, processes, and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.

As our company has grown, we’ve become much more data-driven in our recruiting processes. We look at the recruiting funnel similar to a sales funnel to understand areas where we can improve things, such as sourcing and candidate experience.

Data is critical for determining how we build and improve the LeafLink platform. We often rely on data sources such as customer interviews, platform analytics, and Fullstory (a tool that allows us to watch how users navigate the platform) to continuously enhance our platform.

We also recently restructured our client-facing organization to improve our customer experience and internal operations based on several data sets, including published data on sales organizations, internal interviews, and customer interviews.

Has the shift towards becoming more data-driven been challenging for some teams or organizations from your vantage point?

The biggest challenge is building out the processes, tools and teams you need to be more data-driven as a company. As we’re building out our team, we look for people who have been successful in standing up data-driven organizations in the past, and who know best practices for methodology and tools that can help us.

What are the challenges?

Part of the shift is prioritization. We have a lot of data, but not everyone knows where to find it today. Additionally, with so much data accessible, it can be challenging to focus on the most critical data points that tie back to our north star.

How can organizations solve these challenges?

Organizations can solve these challenges by improving cross-functional collaboration between team leaders and their data team to make insights accessible to the broader team while also shining a light on the most important metrics to analyze.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, What are “Five Ways a Company Can Effectively Leverage Data to Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Invest in your team

2. Invest in your tools

3. Prioritize your reporting and focus your data

4. Hold yourself accountable by reporting on progress

5. Integrate data into planning processes (budgeting, goal setting, etc)

The name of this series is “Data-Driven Work Cultures”. Changing a culture is hard. What would you suggest is needed to change a work culture to become more Data Driven?

Organizations must continue to drive accountability towards data-driven decision-making by giving the team examples to track against. At the same time, they must not empower wholly subjective decision-making by requiring data to back up all assumptions.

The future of work has recently become very fluid. Based on your experience, how do you think the needs for data will evolve and change over the next five years?

We’re following external data provided by thought leaders around remote work, and productivity.

Does your organization have any exciting goals for the near future?

We’re focused on expanding the entire LeafLink platform to new markets as they begin cannabis sales and bringing our payments and logistics solutions to the 30 markets in which we currently operate to create a better experience for our community. The goal is for our customers to capitalize on their strengths while leveraging LeafLink’s scale to handle these operational functions, ultimately allowing them to reach their goals faster and more efficiently.

What challenges will you need to tackle to reach them?

We’re updating our team structures to better serve our customers by centralizing their experience with LeafLink, both from a product and go-to-market perspective. This will also help us break down silos across specialized team efforts.

How do you think data analytics can best help you?

We’re relying on data to inform how our new teams are structured so our entire company is connected and aligned with our north star moving forward. Additionally, we are using data to inform our recruiting process, build out and improve the platform itself and refine our customer experience and internal operations.

How can our readers further follow your work?

● Ryan’s linkedin

● LeafLink Linkedin

● LeafLink Twitter

● LeafLink Facebook

● LeafLink Instagram

● Careers page

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!



Pierre Brunelle, CEO at Noteable
Authority Magazine

Pierre Brunelle is the CEO at Noteable, a collaborative notebook platform that enables teams to use and visualize data, together.