With an eye for data and years of experience working for information companies building compliance products, Ed Keating ’87 saw potential gold in the relatively obscure data being reported by the burgeoning cannabis industry.
In 2015, Keating and a friend co-founded Cannabiz Media and began to scout out the cannabis business licenses issued by governments and posted on their websites. It was a mountain of information that could be useful to businesses, and it was not aggregated.
“Every state has its own rules and regulations, which basically turns every state into its own sovereign nation,” Keating said. “So as someone who’s always published in the regulatory space, I’m like, ‘Holy smokes, this is going to be big.’”
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Holy smokes, indeed. Cannabiz Media has built a database of every cannabis and hemp license issued in the United States, Canada, and anywhere else it could find. The licenses now number about 109,000, all but 5,000 issued to U.S. businesses. To augment that data, Cannabiz has collected related information of value to potential clients.
“Who owns these licensees? What do they share on social media? What violations do they have? What news stories? So we started adding to the license records, so that if you were trying to, let's say, make a sales call on one of these businesses, you'd have a lot of good background information,” Keating said.
He is the firm’s chief data officer and his role is to manage the data team that gathers licenses, monitors news stories, violations, and any other information that helps create a more complete picture of the businesses in the cannabis space.
With its data and expertise, Cannabiz considers itself useful to a range of potential clients, for instance, investors, journalists, and academics. In many ways, Keating says, Cannabiz is considered the “database of record” for the industry. Its clients include big-name brands.
He and his team produce podcasts, and he publishes blog posts about the data. “So, for example, we publish virtually every month how many new stores were added nationwide in each state, and people love that stuff. Because if you're the marketing manager at Scotts Miracle-Gro or something, you can be looking at what's going on in Michigan, for example. Michigan is adding licenses like crazy because they approved recreational use.”
Keating, who has a master’s in business administration from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University, majored in Russian studies at Hamilton. Over the years, he has worked for both start-up and established information companies where he has led marketing, product management, and sales organizations. After spending his career in large companies, building Cannabiz from scratch has been fun, as is hunting down data.
“In some ways, it's like a treasure hunt or a puzzle, where occasionally the states don't make it very easy to get the data. We have to do a lot of written requests for information because they don't make it available publicly, or they restrict some of the information. So we get that, and that always makes our clients happy; that makes us happy,” he said.