Baker Creates Tech That Links Marijuana Dispensaries With Customers

Baker started out like most startups: with an idea. 

Roger Obando had already been in the startup world for nearly twenty years when he started thinking about marijuana and how new technology could improve the industry. He was living in New York in 2014 when a medical marijuana law passed in that state, and he began to research what would soon become a booming industry. 

Joel Milton and David Champion were working on a different startup at the time. The three had discussed working together, but it wasn't until Obando overheard a conversation they were having about the marijuana industry that they realized they shared a passion. They immediately sat down and started brainstorming, Obando recalls.

When friends in Colorado told them some of the problems this state was experiencing post-legalization, they came up with the concept behind Baker. They decided to create an app that could solve one of the biggest issues that customers were experiencing in the early days of Colorado's recreational sales:  long lines. In about five weeks, they created an MVP, a minimal viable product, that would allow customers to order ahead — and then they came to Colorado to start shopping the idea around town. 
Today Baker employs thirteen people, eight of whom are located in Denver, and the company works with over 100 dispensaries in six states.

"We figured out pretty early on that we shouldn't think we understand what [the industry] needs," Obando says. "We need to get in and figure out what problems they're having, and as they report more and more problems, we can build the tools to help them with those problems. That's how we went from being a single order-ahead application to now being a platform that addresses a bunch of problems that can happen."

The trio of partners continues to work well together. "David is a phenomenal product guy," Obando says. "He does really great design work, he's really great with UX — user experience. Joel is a really great businessman in terms of networking and connections, finding investment, that sort of thing. The only thing that was missing was the tech. They needed a nerd."

And that's where Obando comes in.

While Champion was working on the design and Milton was meeting with investors, Obando got to work creating the product. The partners paired up with Leafly and Weedmaps, which allowed dispensaries to automatically download information they'd already written into Baker's format, making the initial use of the app much simpler.

Today Baker offers dispensaries a smorgasbord of features in what the team calls "The Kitchen." That's where each dispensary logs into the site, customizing the experience to fit their needs. With Baker, dispensaries can do everything from sending out alerts to certain customers to running a loyalty program. 

"Our customers love Baker," says Lindsay Sapowicz, the office-coordination manager at Natural Remedies. "Guests enjoy the convenience of being able to pre-order with Baker, receive texts on specials, gain loyalty points for visiting our shop and view our live menu at any time. As employees, navigating Baker is quick and convenient. We have found that updating the menu is simple, and if we have any questions or suggestions, the Baker team is right there to help us out."

That team regularly checks with current clients to keep making improvements. Product updates and upgrades are available for dispensaries every two weeks. Using Baker costs a couple hundred dollars for smaller dispensaries and can go up to several thousand for larger operations with many locations.
One reason for the company's success is its Denver location. Baker reps can meet with dispensary owners face to face and keep a tab on the pulse of the industry much better than if they were located elsewhere. "The problem wasn't getting people in the door, but it was how do you keep them coming back," Obando says. "Our customers understand we're not a static product, which allows them to make more requests for things."

That fluidity was important for CEO Joel Milton.

"The Baker platform is designed to help engage and retain customers for dispensaries and help them build personalized relationships," Milton explains.

When customers walk into a dispensary that's working with Baker, they'll find an iPad inside the door. They're encouraged to use that iPad to sign up for alerts; they can opt into which alerts they want. This allows dispensaries to send personalized messages telling customers when their favorite strains are in stock and whether they're on sale. 

"If you just check the box for alerts, all of a sudden half the alerts you get are spam; they're noise," Milton says. "So the same way you log into, it recommends products for you... We're trying to help dispensaries do that with their customers."

Milton noticed that whenever dispensaries want to remain competitive, they slash their prices. But they can only go so low, so he wanted to create a way for dispensaries to develop better customer relations and create brand loyalty.

"When you buy sneakers, you buy the brand you like. If you like Nikes over Adidas, it doesn't matter if Nikes are ten dollars more, you're still going to buy the Nikes. But in the cannabis industry, people go for the cheapest. We're trying to turn that into brand loyalty and help dispensaries build these relationships with their customers," Milton says.

One way they're doing that is through loyalty rewards. Customers get loyalty rewards every time they use Baker. For example, each time they go into a dispensary, they might be offered a chance to enter a raffle for a free item. Or maybe once they purchase 100 of something, they start getting a discount. "All of a sudden there's a reason to come back," Milton notes.

According to a recent article in Forbes, the company just announced $1.6 million in new seed investments. 

"This industry moves in dog years. Having been around for two years, we feel like industry veterans.... The companies that have been around for two years and have been doing the same thing for two years are fewer and far between," Obando says. "I feel like we've earned our stripes to a certain extent, where people have a little more respect and they know we're not just going to up and disappear."
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Kate McKee Simmons interned at the National Catholic Reporter, was a reporter for the New York Post, and spent a brief stint in Israel learning international reporting before writing for Westword.