Interviews

Conversations In Cannabis: Yoko Miyashita – CEO Of Leafly

We sat down with Yoko to talk about the future of Leafly

Leafly is a behemoth in the cannabis info space. Featuring hard-hitting journalism, complete consumer strain information featuring their new Flower Visualization System, and one of the most robust dispensary menu and order systems across the cannabis space. Having worked almost 14 years at Getty Images in their law division before making the leap to Leafly in May 2019 as General Counsel, and most recently appointed CEO, Yoko has the talent and the passion to help take Leafly into the next generation of the cannabis industry.

We sat down with Yoko a couple of days after she was appointed to the role in order to talk to her about the transition and what the future looks like at Leafly.

Track Breakdown:
  • 00:37* – Pathway To Leafly
  • 03:52 – Favorite Way To Consume Cannabis
  • 05:08 – What Yoko Is Seeing In The Industry During COVID-19
  • 05:58 – Leadership Changes And What We Can Expect In The Future
  • 07:49 – The Core Of Leafly’s Business And How Yoko Will Expand It
  • 09:23* – Which State Excites Yoko The Most For Leafly Expansion
  • 12:18 – The Most Innovative Change Yoko Has Seen To Legislation
  • 13:27 – Social Equity Market That Yoko Thinks Others Should Model
  • 14:34 – The Next Year At Leafly In A Perfect World
  • 16:00 – Future Of Alternative Cannabinoid Market

* Editors Notes *

  • I stated that Yoko was General Counsel at Getty Images for 14 years. Yoko was at Getty Images for 14 years, but not the General Counsel for that entire time.
  • I stated that Leafly has delivery and pickup options in 12 states. Leafly at the time had delivery in 12 states but has pickup options in all states with either medical or recreational cannabis.

Interview Edited For Readability

Nick Gaulin – MRR

I really, again, appreciate you taking the time as I know you must be swamped with the transition. Why don’t we kind of start out with you telling us a little bit about yourself and kind of what your pathway was to reach Leafly.

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

You bet, thank you for having me on. It’s great to meet and to chat with you, Nick. You know, I see my path to Leafly stemming from my career serving mission-driven companies navigating complex regulatory environments having spent 14 years at Getty Images, and really understanding the intellectual property landscape to now shifting into cannabis. I feel like having worked in those kinds of organizations, really being able to navigate complex regulatory environments, helps me advise companies on how to bring meaningful and compelling products to market. Because if you don’t understand that regulatory landscape, if you don’t understand the underlying laws that define the space in which you’re working, it’s really hard to innovate. At Getty, it was photojournalism, here it’s cannabis and its legalization. Combining that with understanding the regulatory framework, that’s what makes me tick.

Nick Gaulin – MRR

So you were at Getty Images for about 14 years* before coming to Leafly as their General Counsel. When you’re looking at the leap from the traditional market into the cannabis market, obviously there are some similarities as regards to certain regulations, the cannabis industry is more heavily regulated if course, but what made you want to take that jump into cannabis from the traditional market?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

You know, I came from Getty, serving content creators and photojournalists. Again, it is that mission of serving something bigger, having a larger purpose than just driving revenue. You see that here in cannabis in spades, this is legalization and all of the opportunities for economic development, for social justice and then to tie these two together as a media company? That just felt like an amazing opportunity to make that shift.

Nick Gaulin – MRR

Well, you just took the CEO reins on Tuesday of this week. How has the first week been for you so far?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

You know, it’s funny because I think it would be, having never done this but I’ll make some assumptions, it would be qualitatively different if I were walking into a new company to take this role. But you know, we’ve been here for the last 16 months and the leadership team has not changed and we’ve been so focused on working on the strategy together, clearly articulating this vision for this community and commerce platform in cannabis. So in some respects, yes, there are a whole new set of responsibilities and conversations that I’m so eager to dive into, but the overarching trajectory and what we’re doing remains the same.

Nick Gaulin – MRR

No, I got to ask. Being that Leafly as a cannabis company. Not plant-touching, obviously, but you guys are one of the leaders in cannabis today. Do you consume cannabis at all yourself, and if so, I gotta know what’s the way that you consume and what’s your favorite strain?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

I just, can I tell you I’m the biggest fan of Leafly’s product and it is because I am an information hog and it has such an interesting way to get into cannabis from the science of it, from the culture of it and just the rich community that shares all their feedback from various products. I’m a super active person and I’m also nearing middle age, which means I have a lot of aches and pains. My go-to is THC balm. That has been life-changing for me. I’m also a huge fan of cannabis for sleep. I used to travel a lot in my old roles and, you know, when you travel across time zones you know how much that can mess up your body. Cannabis has changed my sleeping pattern.

An example of a THC balm. Papa and Barkley‘s Releaf Balm

Nick Gaulin – MRR

Using transdermals, especially in the age of coronavirus, we’ve kind of seen a shift from traditional flower, to alternatives such as transdermals and stuff like that. Being that you guys are such an informational hub, what are you guys seeing from the overall industry as it relates to coronavirus?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

Oh, I think we’ve all seen these amazing numbers coming out of states in terms of cannabis being essential, and seeing the growth of overall engagement with cannabis has been amazing for us. It’s meant our visitors are up and orders are up on our commerce platform. We’ve talked so long about the opportunity and where that point is where cannabis blows up. I just feel like we’re just getting started. This is the tip of the iceberg.

Nick Gaulin – MRR

Well, we’ve seen a little bit of a, an executive turn, so to speak in the CEO position at Leafly over the past couple of years, we had Drew Reynolds, we’ve seen Chris Jeffrey who left the position and then your predecessor, Tim Leslie. I do want to know what was the journey like to the CEO position from the General Counsel position and what can retailers and consumers expect from Leafly moving forward under your leadership?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

We like to call it questions as lawyer so let me take that apart.

Nick Gaulin – MRR:

Of course, I apologize.

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

I’ll give an overall comment on that, which is, listen. Cannabis is changing so quickly and I feel like each new stage of this evolution of this market drive new requirements for what a company needs, right? To take advantage of that changing landscape. So, you know, you could call it churn. Yes, there is volatility. But I think that also reflects what we see is how cannabis is evolving. So that’s my general commentary on it. Give me your other question?

Nick Gaulin – MRR

It was what was the journey from the general counsel position to the CEO position working over the last 16 months?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

I would characterize working at Leafly as working at any other startup. You have one title and you have six different jobs. So I was the General Counsel, and I was the Head of Government Affairs, and Policy Issues, and we added HR to the role, and then we added (inaudible) to the role and again, I go back to where we are a complex regulated industry so you really have to understand, you know, we were working on working in lockstep with our chief revenue officer, our product and engineering leads to build strategy together. So, you know, I don’t look at this so much as, you know, directly from one role to another, but just really coming to bringing the whole team together and just putting equal representation to pull that all together, to continue driving the strategy we’ve articulated.

Nick Gaulin – MRR

And you guys do have an extremely diversified portfolio within Leafly that you guys focus on. You have, obviously your news division, you guys have your strain information division, which is part of what I spoke with your lead scientist, Nick Jikomes, last year regarding the visualization of cannabinoids and terpenes. With you guys moving away from the traditional labels of just stating Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid. What do you see as the core of Leafly business, and what are you going to do in the future to help expand that sector?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

I am so glad that you are recognizing all of this richness that we bring. And, you know when I look at it at the highest level, it’s marrying this legacy of being the definitive authoritative source in cannabis content with this future-focused on commerce. It’s bringing that community together with our ordering technology that serves our cannabis retailers and brands. And it’s bringing consumers through that journey, by connecting them to commerce and I just feel Leafly is so well-positioned because of that trusted position that we have via consumers and that relationship that we have with our cannabis retailers and brands. So what you can expect to see us continuing to build that connective tissue between community and commerce.

Leafly’s Flower System for visualizing Terpene and Cannabinoid content

Nick Gaulin – MRR

*You guys are right now in 12 States I believe with your pickup and delivery options, your fulfillment options so to speak with your dispensary partners, um, which state excites you the most as Leafly and which states are you looking at for future expansion?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

You know, I was just looking at that stat so I do want to circle back with you and give you a more accurate number cause I actually think 12 understates it. In terms of most excited? All states. I can’t pick one. What I would say is I was super excited and looking at the Fall 2020 ballot. There are so many states potentially coming up in you know, what are traditionally red states and that embrace of cannabis? That’s what I get super excited about. The reality is when we see a state legalize, we see visitors to those states basically increase. So it’s that opportunity of leveraging the legalization moment to take our community, grow our community, and bring them through our commerce platform. That to me, whatever state it is, is super exciting.

Nick Gaulin – MRR

As I mentioned, I spoke with Nick Jikomes late last year about the visualized terpene cannabinoid profiles Leafly released. Now that you guys have had that out for just under a year, how has that system been going for you and how has the response been?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

I think, you know, we are super excited about the proprietary technology developed to support the Flower System. You know, I think like anything change is hard, but bringing everyone through and helping them understand the data and science that is just continuing to emerge around cannabis, combined with that the legacy way we’ve talked about Indica’s, Sativas, and Hybrids, our platform married both of them. And we’re just so excited about educating our consumers from that perspective. You can also see a new manifestation on that on our site with our virtual budtender. So I totally encourage you to take a look at that.

Nick Gaulin – MRR

I noticed that you guys rolled out your virtual budtender and I was going to ask you a little bit about that. You know, being able to give recommendations based on area, a radius, and personalized profiling of people and what their desired effects are going to be was something that Nick had actually spoken about last year. One of the other things that he also spoke about was wanting to be able to notify breeders of gaps in the cannabis market. Is that still a goal for you guys is to find gaps in the market and help notify breeders of where they should be growing or has that slightly changed?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

I think that it is all options on the table and that the ability to deliver that kind of informational product, only as legalization increases, lab testing increases and we have that data available. So absolutely. We see that opportunity in information services to be huge.

Leafly’s Virtual Budtender gives specific effect and radius based suggestions

Nick Gaulin – MRR

What’s the most innovative change that you’ve seen to law so far, and what would you like to see some of the more restrictive markets roll out in the next couple of years?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

I can see say from a personal perspective and a personal passion, social equity provisions, and yes there’s a ton of challenges with rolling those programs out and we just need to get better at that, but thinking about those issues from the outset to me is about creating access and opportunity and open market. And that’s what I’m super excited about. And when I look at the various state by state regulations and making my personal assessment of, ‘Hey how are we approaching the legalization question in a particular state? Are we being open?’ Because I think if you’re a believer in open markets you understand that that serves consumers. So that’s what I’m looking for, right? Is this open enough? Is the opportunity there? Do we bring the best options to consumers by opening up an opportunity for entrepreneurs? That’s the big question I have.

Nick Gaulin – MRR

I was going to ask a little bit more in-depth into that. When it comes to the social equity aspect of cannabis, is there a particular place that you see that being done correctly and that you would like to see other areas model after?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

You know, I’m going to answer that in two parts. I’m really impressed at how Illinois started that process in terms of baking it into their legislation, and for that being a part of the conversation to start. I think the proof will be in the pudding. We still need to see the roll-out of that. We still need to see those licenses granted, we still need to see how that portion of the cannabis economy is supported and cultivated. So I think the verdict’s still out on that point. Like, this is the other fascinating part of this industry that we’re in, right? These rules are just being written. We’ve yet to actually implement them and really understand what’s working or not. So this test and iterate mentality, that is what we need to bring to the regulatory space.

Nick Gaulin – MRR

Well, let’s take a perfect world. If you had a blank canvas and let’s say that you could paint whatever you would like to happen, happen at Leafly. What would be the next year for you? What would that look like?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

Give me a second. I have a lot of things I want, so I just want to make sure I articulate these in a way that is really clear. To me, you know, the next year when I look at my immediate priorities. Are we delivering value to the constituents we serve? And, you know, that’s multifaceted. It’s all of the consumers. The people who’ve been with us for the decade that we’ve been in business, everyone new coming to cannabis who’s slightly uncertain, doesn’t have all of the information. Have we made their journey and welcome and entry or continued participation interest in cannabis, the best possible? One. Two, retailers and brands. Are we giving them a platform? Are we delivering return on investment for their participation with Leafly? That’s huge. And then ultimately this potential of when you connect that community with the business side of this, the value we can drive for through that connection is huge. And I want to see that optimized and delivered in a way where we delight all of those constituents across the board.

Nick Gaulin – MRR

I’m a little bit curious about the alternative cannabinoid market. I know I’m running up on the end of my time. You could quickly tell me, um, you know, what you see the future of the alternative cannabinoid market being. Obviously we’ve had CBD at the forefront from the 2018 Farm Bill, what do you see as the future of alternative cannabinoids?

Yoko Miyashita – Leafly

I actually, I would love for you to answer that question for me. Because what I see is that they’re all like, again, it goes back to, you know, Nick Jikomes is my guru here. The data is emerging, the science is coming. We know, and I think at our core we feel that there are going to be medical and therapeutic applications and potential for those cannabinoids that we don’t yet understand. I can’t tell you what it is, but I know there’s something there. Again, I get just so excited about the things we don’t know yet. I put that in that camp, but there’s going to be something special here.

You can find out more about the Leafly visual guide by clicking here. Make sure to get your brand listed by clicking here, or your retail dispensary by clicking here. We hope you enjoyed this exclusive interview with Yoko. Thanks again to Yoko for her time and thanks to the entire Leafly team for their hard work and dedication to furthering the cannabis industry.

Special thanks also goes out to JP Bianchini for the licensed use of his track Upbeat Corporate. You can find out more about JP Bianchini by visiting his website at www.jpbianchini.com

Stay tuned to the next episode on Conversations in Cannabis!

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