Whether shopping online or in a marijuana store, less-experienced cannabis customers might not know what to ask a budtender. Likewise, experienced consumers can waste a lot of time researching strain descriptions and still not end up with what they want.
Those are the types of problems Andrew Leber, a biomedical software creator, set out to solve with StrainBrain. The company in Hamilton, Ontario, launched AI Budtender, a software program that recommends marijuana strains.
“Our core-value proposition is that there are going to be users—not only new users but even experienced users—who come to your menu and just see a sea of products,” Leber said, adding that the number of choices can overwhelm consumers and keep them from finding a product that is a good match.
Leber, who built StrainBrain with business partner and engineer Graham Bohm, further posited that consumers without guidance would make less informed choices and potentially dislike the products they picked, which could “taint” their shopping experience and dissuade them from revisiting the store.
How it Works
To use StrainBrain, consumers fill out a survey on their local retailer’s website, selecting their preferred effects, flavors and desired product strength. The program makes recommendations based on the user’s choices in conjunction with the inventory available at their chosen retail location.
So far, AI Budtender can suggest only flower strains, but Leber is looking into incorporating other products such as vape cartridges. The AI Budtender is integrated with each store’s inventory-tracking system, so it will never recommend a strain that is out of stock, he said.
Stash and Co., a nine-dispensary chain in Ontario, Canada, was the first business to try StrainBrain in early 2020.
“I thought it was really interesting and something new in the industry that we should try,” said Stash and Co. Chief Operating Officer Joe Glynn, who was approached by Leber about the software.
Glynn asked his budtending staff to test the AI Budtender, and they were impressed.
“It was great. It made some really good recommendations,” Glynn said. The budtenders “all said that a lot of the strains that were being picked for them were actually strains that they would normally go with.”
The retailer’s rollout of StrainBrain coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing business lockdowns. In that situation, the AI Budtender proved its mettle, Glynn said.
“It was a really great feature to have come on board during the pandemic, when most of my customers were only ordering online and they weren’t able to talk to a budtender,” he explained. “It was a great resource to have.”
Glynn stressed that the AI Budtender isn’t supposed to replace human budtenders but, rather, help customers inform themselves about products before they come face to face with real budtenders.
“Most of our customers want to talk to somebody. … They want to ask some questions. They want to learn more about cannabis,” Glynn said. “Our budtenders are my experts. So this was going to be an opportunity online to help guide a customer through their shopping experience.”
Leber anticipated StrainBrain would be in about 50 locations in the United States and Canada by late August. The company makes money via a subscription model, and Leber said the AI Budtender costs about $450 per month, per store.
StrainBrain was easy to integrate with Cova, a common point-of-sale system in the Canadian cannabis industry, according to Glynn. He also made a deal with Leber that allowed Stash & Co. complimentary use of the AI Budtender in exchange for metrics to see how consumers are using the program.
Glynn is awaiting data from StrainBrain about how many people are using the software and how many users are being converted into purchasers. “I don’t have a full understanding of how many customers are actually using it,”
“I’ve had a lot of customers tell me that they really like the program,” Glynn said. “They’ve used it, and they think it’s really exciting.”