Interview With James Yi
Describe your product or service
“Leaf Trade is the leading cannabis wholesale marketplace and payments platform in the US legal cannabis market. It is the leading provider of a fully compliant B2B marketplace that connects licensed wholesalers of cannabis products to dispensaries in today’s highly regulated legal cannabis markets. Leaf Trade streamlines sales, order fulfillment, and supply-chain management by providing a CRM, essential integrations, and other enterprise tools that save time and help grow cannabis businesses while ensuring their legal compliance.”
Describe your company culture in 3 words
“Transparency, Intention, Connection”
Describe your company values and mission
“Our mission is to connect wholesale cannabis sellers and retailers through technology that streamlines the industry’s supply chain and business operations.
We fuel — and are fueled by — connection. We connect the supply chain not only with technology but with relationships. Both our success and our customers’ success [are] derived from the strength of these bonds. In an emerging market, we collaborate to understand the needs of and provide solutions for the industry.
We grow with intention. We operate in a highly regulated space, which means we have to be very deliberate about the manner in which we build out our offering. While we are agile, we will not rush. We help our partners grow; they help us grow — we grow together.
We realize that optimizing business processes does not go hand in hand with added complexities. Our customers have enough to contend [with] without having a technology system that takes a doctorate to use. So, we simplify.
We know that a pioneering product has to be iterated upon to stay a pioneer. We’re committed to creating a product that meets your changing needs, and thus we will continue changing our offering in tandem.
We believe in fostering trust within our organization and with our customers. In a fractured industry, we provide a single source of truth to guide all stakeholders.”
What are you ultimately hoping to achieve with your business?
“We will be the integral tool for growth and scaling your cannabis business.
Short term, you will feel relief from the frustration that drove you to switch to Leaf Trade. Long term, you will feel secure in the continued success of your business.”
How are you funded?
“VC [venture capital] funded.”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them.
“We have a team of 30 employees. About half of those are in Chicago, and the other half are remote and live across the country. We come from very different and diverse backgrounds and are super respectful of each other, and we all are passionate about the work we are doing to make the cannabis industry more efficient to all involved.”
What is the greatest challenge you faced in starting your business, and how did you overcome it?
“The greatest challenge is something we still deal with today — people who are tech or platform adverse or worried technology will replace their job or responsibilities. But what Leaf Trade replaces is the mundane and manual processes which will enable people to do their jobs better and more efficiently.”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“Before I launched Leaf Trade, I actually had launched other technology-driven B2B businesses that served restaurants and hospitality, as well as healthcare business segments.
The technology I developed aided efficiency efforts, and when Illinois began taking its first steps toward launching its recreational cannabis market, I already was consulting with license holders on ways to streamline their operations, too. I spent a few years learning as much as I could about the cannabis industry … especially about how it was being developed in Illinois.
Once I realized there existed technical solutions for some of the pain points affecting the industry, I knew I could use my past entrepreneurial knowledge and mindset to affect some positive changes in the cannabis industry with Leaf Trade.”
How did you develop and refine your idea/concept? How did you decide to actually act on the idea? What gave you confidence that you were on the right track?
“When I was learning the ins and outs of this highly regulated industry, I saw how inefficient a lot of supply-chain tasks were at the time. I was intensely curious about how I could help solve some of those tasks with the technological know-how I had used with my other projects in restaurants and health care. And I leveraged my technology teams to create something to especially target the way orders were happening between retail dispensaries and cultivators and processors.
The first month we launched in Illinois in 2017, 30% of the entire state signed up to use our service, and that told me that we were on to something really important in affecting the industry, and that’s been the case ever since, as well.”
How did you come up with your company name? Did you have other names you considered?
“Those two words just perfectly sum up what we’re all about: Leaf Trade. When you hear it for the first time, you probably already know what we do for our customers – we help them in the wholesale cannabis trade. The name came about early in my thoughts about the kinds of technical innovations I wanted to bring to the cannabis industry that was forming in Illinois at the time.”
What makes your company unique?
“Our foundation for growth has always been listening to our customers. They are truly our partners and guide the evolution of Leaf Trade. We work with the best in the industry, and we strive to make their lives easier so they can focus on making the products which
help so many people.”
More on Leaf Trade
We have developed this list of five creative and impactful ways to support wholesale cannabis startup Leaf Trade.
Leaf Trade, a startup that has created an incredibly successful cannabis wholesale marketplace, has received $5.5 million in funding.