“Never count an investor as ‘in’ until the deal is closed” with Joel Milton and Fotis Georgiadis
Never count an investor as “in” until the deal is closed. When you’re fundraising, particularly in the early round(s), it’s easy to talk to 15 investors and get 10 of them who say they like the story. Then you stop looking for new ones and focus on those 10, only to find out 9/10 never materialize — at that point you’ve lost all of your momentum and need to start building a new list from scratch, which can be a major setback.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Joel Milton. Joel is the CEO and co-founder of Baker Technologies. He has been involved in a number of early-stage startups, as an employee, a partner, an advisor, and a founder. As CEO of Baker Technologies, he is responsible for driving the company’s technology side of the business, including strategy, business development, and M&A activity. Joel started his career in business development after graduating from Colgate University. Since then, he has been helping companies develop growth strategies, fundraise, and execute operational success.
Can you share with us the story of what first introduced you into this business or helped you get interested in the business?
Baker officially launched in 2014 in the middle of the on-demand economy boom and I was living in New York City at the time, where I was building applications and advising early stage startups. Colorado had just passed recreational marijuana use, but there were still a lot of POS problems.
An order-ahead weed app seemed like a good idea, so we — me and my two co-founders, David Champion (now CPO) and Roger Obando (CTO — initially pitched Baker as an idea to order ahead. We knew there would be a lot of issues specific to the industry, and we saw there were few entrepreneurs with technical backgrounds trying to tackle them. As a result, we built a minimum viable product and then quickly realized there was a far bigger market and opportunity out there.
We were accepted into the 500 Startups accelerator in Silicon Valley in 2015. In 2016, we raised the first half of its seed funding (around $1.6 million) and refocused from an online ordering app into a set of tools for dispensaries. Today, Baker is being used by one-third of legal dispensaries in the U.S. With Baker, dispensaries are generating an additional 15% of revenue per month, raising conversion rates by 12x, increasing the average order size by 40% and doubling the number of repeat customers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
This industry is full of surprises. From randomly running into friends from college at industry events to hearing amazing stories of how some of our clients got into the industry there’s rarely a day that goes by that isn’t interesting. One funny story I like to tell is back in 2014 (before cannabis was nearly as mainstream as it was today) I was working on an airplane and the person next to me must have seen something about cannabis. They asked me what I did and I told them. Within minutes, my entire row, and the rows ahead and behind of me were all talking about cannabis — people ranging from their 20’s to their 70’s were talking about how they liked to consume, why they enjoyed it, etc. Back then people viewed cannabis use as more of a secret, but as soon as someone broke the ice everyone came rushing in to join the conversation.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Mistakes are rarely funny, though they often prove good learning experiences.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
At Baker, we recently announced a merger with three other top cannabis companies in the U.S. and Canada (Briteside, Sea Hunter and Santé Veritas) to form a vertically-integrated infrastructure and technology cannabis company, TILT Holdings. Our vision through TILT is to provide value throughout the entire supply chain, from assistance with operations and capital support, to improving cannabis yield and growth efficiency or building and increasing customer engagement. TILT is here to help cannabis businesses effectively scale.
This industry is young dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
Partnership marketing and thought leadership content. Earlier this year, Baker spearheaded the production of a thought-provoking short-film with eight other leading cannabis companies on the Future of Cannabis Retail. It was a collaborative grassroots campaign that we debuted at a the MJBizConNext show in New Orleans last May.
We wanted to create something that everyone in the industry could relate to whether you are a business owner or consumer. It was a visual representation of the progression of the industry and communicated the future of the industry is reliant on working together to set a new standard for the industry.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
1. Rapid growth and development.
2. Every year revenue exceeds projections and states are changing their laws faster than we could have imagined.
3. Passion. Everyone in this industry is so passionate about what they do.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
It’s extremely important to be mindful of your cap table in the early days. When the company isn’t worth a lot and you’re struggling to get off the ground it’s easy to convince yourself it’s worth 2 or 3% to a really good advisor or partner who can help you — but, you never get that equity back! If all goes according to plan, years later you will look at the cap table and regret that decision, especially if that advisor or partner didn’t end up being as helpful as you thought.
Secondly, never count an investor as “in” until the deal is closed. When you’re fundraising, particularly in the early round(s), it’s easy to talk to 15 investors and get 10 of them who say they like the story. Then you stop looking for new ones and focus on those 10, only to find out 9/10 never materialize — at that point you’ve lost all of your momentum and need to start building a new list from scratch, which can be a major setback.
Lastly, I’d say to be forward thinking and not be afraid of change. In established industries it’s easy to get comfortable. In cannabis, no one is comfortable since everything changes so quickly.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us!