Claudio has over two decades of experience in numerous technology sectors worldwide and is recognized as an inspiring technical leader. He has been heavily involved in numerous entrepreneurial roles throughout his illustrious career, ranging from network modeling to SAAS. A repeat serial entrepreneur with a history of successful exits to boot. Some terms that have been used to describe his previous works include “Genius” and “Powerful”.
Weedguide.com is Claudio’s entry in the emerging Cannabis market. Weedguide is an AI powered, vertical search engine purely targeted at the Canna sphere. Weedguide.com is the largest source on the web for Cannabis information. Quite frankly, we are damn excited about it here at Cannabizdaily.
Rumor has it, he’s pretty handy at Jiu-Jitsu as well!
Claudio, give us a brief of your background.
I originally went to school to become a physician like my father. I was young and impressionable and met many interesting people with different points of view and gravitated towards politics and philosophy. After college, I enrolled in graduate school with the thoughts of going on to teach but a job offer at a computer company changed all that. I didn’t know much about computers at the time but was immediately fascinated by the possibilities. I developed a keen interest in some things we take for granted, like how email works and how you can chat with people on the other side of the world. It began my obsession with networking technology and I started devouring anything and everything I could read about the subject. I got certifications from Microsoft, Cisco and others, designed and built networks and end up teaching networking concepts at schools while I worked for network simulation and design company. That work took me all over the world and I had a chance to learn more about the field and roll that experience into a software product. That’s when my eyes really opened up about the impact that my knowledge could have in solving real world problems.
So I started building software products. Everything from network simulation and performance tools, to content and digital asset management systems, vpn services and even a search engine.
You have worn many hats in your colorful career, from Venture Capital to heavy technical roles. What has been your most fulfilling role to date?
I have been extremely lucky in that professional development mirrored my personal life. Every role I took on I built up from experience and never had to do anything I didn’t love; it all came at exactly the right time. As for my favorite role, I would say tech support. I know it sounds funny. Tech support is really the cornerstone to helping you understand any business. You learn about your customers and their issues, help the company address the problems through product or support and then communicate and manage expectations of those customers. Along the way you learn to deal with everyone from the customer to product manager to the engineer to senior management. By exposure to all areas of the business you gain an understanding of how organizations work and how to work within them. I was able to leverage this experience into my entrepreneurial efforts and help impart some advice on our portfolio companies while I was working on the venture fund.
Possessing a Venture Capital background, with vast experience in advisory roles, finding gaps within the cannabis sphere must have come natural. What were your first impressions when you researched the market?
I was pretty knee deep in other projects in Europe and the Middle East and I didn’t really think much about it until a close friend began investing in the space. He started asking me technology related questions and trying find solutions to problems by adapting existing products to his use use. Trying to do some research on his behalf, I started to the picture of an emerging industry that had many, many opportunities.
Tell us how weedguide.com materialized?
After I spent some of that time on behalf of that friend doing some research. That same friend, asked me why it was so difficult to find the answers to the questions he was looking for. My first response was, “You must me high.” But seriously, when I started digging in a bit deeper, I found a lot of people with similar problems. In short, it was hard to find what they were looking. If they were just looking to learn about cannabis. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that the industry is relative nascent with respect to authoritative content about cannabis. Only a few sites are surfaced by Google that have relevant content. Leafly dominates the content game for a number subjects and then of course Weedmaps with respect to dispensary locations. But there a lot of other content out there that doesn’t rank well for a variety of reasons; poor SEO practices, semantic challenges (pot, weed, cannabis, MJ, marijuana), lack of authority etc. etc. But something else really stood out in my investigation; There is a ton of content on Google and finding anything useful was challenging for any topic. Right around that time, a study came out that stated that 67% of all product searches originated on Amazon. The light bulb sort of went off and I started thinking about the problem as a general search challenge. “How could I make is easier for people to locate the information, products, business etc. I started investigating this concept of a vertical search engine. A vertical search engine is site/app that has a focus on one specific industry or topic. It differs from a traditional website in that it locates and indexes content from across the web. That they are looking wh then became incredibly clear to me.
You have just raised almost a $2 Million investment for weedguide, what are your plans with the capital?
The project was initial funding by the founders as a proof of concept and to get the product “market ready”. While we were developing the product we began to seek best in class software and cannabis professionals to help map out our strategy. Funds have been used to bring a world class team together and to push the message through traditional and digital media as well as to organize a grassroots effort to show the value of our service.
Currently weedguide.com is free for every user, what is the Monetization angle?
Weedguide is a free search tool for everyone and will always remain that way. Due regulatory issues digital advertising is challenge. Our hope by being an airport, a hub if you will, there will be an avenue for cannabis brands and services to advertise. The longer term goal is to gain real insight into online cannabis behavior and connect it to offline behavior. Meaning, when people are search for something cannabis related, can we help them find the product and service and if so where; what are the most popular products in a region and why. These will be valuable insights that we can provide businesses as they try to serve consumers.
With nine U.S states having legalized cannabis for recreational purposes and the vast majority medically legal along with Canada, what are the heights for the software industry in relation to the cannabis space now that cannabis is going global?
Cannabis is a global industry not only faces the conventional challenges associated with an emerging sector, but has to eliminate the stigma to ensure steady growth. I think the impact that technology will have in this industry is substantial. Technology has the power to bridge gaps in distance, language and culture. Cultivators, manufacturers, retailers and other in the supply chain will benefit from software that improves efficiency and transparency. Customer facing platforms will help educate consumers and understand availability. Social platforms will help consumers find products, services and retailers that are “vetted” and approved by the community as well as eliminate the stigma and biases that exist.
What is your advice for any first time entrepreneur entering the Cannabis community?
Do your homework. Surround yourself with smart people and listen to them. Take calculated risks. Learn from your mistakes. Always be authentic.
What are your views on Jeff Sessions war on drugs and the federal law in the USA?
Apart from the fact that his views are antiquated and uneducated, his words are divisive and his policies, rooted in ignorance are unlikely to substantially prevent the near term end of federal prohibition – I don’t have much of an opinion. 🙂
Due to Canada’s liberal approach and nationwide legalization pending, U.S investors are turning to their northern cousins for opportunities. What are your views here?
Investors both institutional and retail will likely continue to flock to Canada with the uncertainty in the US market. The capital markets and investment strategy follow a more traditional model familiar to investors. The risks will certainly be lower but the rate of return will be lower as well. Those willing to accept more risk and make sound investments will certainly be rewarded much better.
An arm wrestling match between Spiderman and Wonderwoman, who would win and why?
The most controversial question of them all. Wonder woman. She’s quicker, stronger and more experienced. Want proof? Check out the Spiderman/Superman cross over comic book from the 80s. She kicked his butt.