How Weedmaps’ parent, a cannabis SPAC, plans to grow: Q&A with WM Technology CEO Chris Beals

Image of Chris Beals

(This story appears in the September issue of MJBizMagazine.)

WM Technology went public in June after merging with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Silver Spike Acquisition Corp.

WM Technology now trades as MAPS on the Nasdaq exchange.

Cannabis consumers know the Irvine, California-headquartered company by its popular Weedmaps platform, a digital dispensary directory with features including retail menus and online ordering.

In addition to listing their cannabis businesses on Weedmaps, WM Technology clients use the company’s software to manage everything from retail point-of-sale to wholesale transactions.

MJBizMagazine caught up with WM Technology CEO Chris Beals to learn more about the tech firm’s plans for the future.

WM Technology reported gross proceeds of $579 million from the Silver Spike merger. What are you doing with that capital?

There are all these new states that have moved forward legislatively, and they moved forward faster than we would have expected with legalization.

(We have) capital to launch products, adapt products, expand products within those new jurisdictions. But then we’re also seeing the pacing of licensing increase in all of these jurisdictions that were already legalized but don’t have enough licenses to effectively meet consumer demand or to suppress the illicit market.

It takes capital to make sure you’re providing your offerings to all these new businesses as they come online.

We’re always surveying the landscape for potential acquisitions or M&A targets.

We have the ability to look at technology companies that have really interesting and strong technology that’s being used outside of cannabis and figure out how to bring it into cannabis.

(We’re) investing in our people, continuing to attract the best and brightest engineers and product people, and other folks like that, and increase our pace of hiring. We have really ambitious hiring plans for this year and a ton of open roles on our website.

There’s lots of excitement about possible U.S. federal legalization. How are you preparing for that possibility?

There are a ton of really interesting products, product features and revenue streams that we simply can’t go after right now because of federal illegality.

For instance, think about things in the area of how you help brands better reach consumers, use coupons or that sort of thing. It’s really difficult when we cannot provide any sort of payment services or sit anywhere in the chain of commerce.

We can provide all this really powerful software to help businesses succeed and grow. But federal illegality definitely puts constraints on what we feel comfortable offering from a compliance viewpoint.

However, I think the sobering reality is that I don’t see any of the forms of federal legalization, or bills that are currently on the table, as really having any chance of passing, whether it be this year or potentially even during the first term of this presidential administration.

Weedmaps’ business is based around not touching the plant. Is it possible that that could change? For example, would Weedmaps offer cannabis delivery?

That I can answer pretty easily, and the answer is no.

With the breadth of software that we offer and the tools that we offer, I think it’s a far more scalable position to sit in to provide businesses the software they need to be really successful at servicing customers.

The actual touch-the-plant delivery space is incredibly complex, incredibly rigorous. How it is accomplished varies not just state by state but city by city. Federal legalization isn’t going to change that.

What’s interesting for us as we look at federal legalization is: How can we help those businesses with things like payment solutions? Or how can we help them better administer programs like loyalty or (customer relationship-management) software?

I think a lot of our customers really appreciate and respect the fact that we’re there as a growth partner from a software viewpoint, not a competitor.

In a December 2020 investor presentation, WM Technology hinted at some future functionality for business customers. Can you say more about those upcoming features?

Our general philosophy on new software is that it should have a natural and tangential relationship to the software we already offer, or to the Weedmaps marketplace platform.

We’re really investing heavily in partnerships and integrations with third-party (point-of-sale systems), with third-party loyalty and (customer relationship-management) software providers.

We’re actively looking at offerings and tools we can provide to help make it easier for brands to reach new consumers, build affinity, build loyalty, but then also manage their sales lifecycle with retailers.

In the past, Weedmaps has run into trouble related to carrying advertising for unlicensed cannabis retailers. What steps is Weedmaps taking to ensure that its retail clients are licensed?

It’s really important and critical that we make sure that the businesses who are using that software are validly licensed.

We have what we call our enhanced verification program. That’s rolled out in all jurisdictions.

For businesses to be on the platform, they have to go through a vetting and verification process with our customer success and safety team.

With respect to that program, we’re always looking at interesting ways to expand it. We’ve had some states reach out about direct integration with their licensing systems, which is really interesting to the extent we can reduce manual labor in that process.

While it costs time and money to do that verification, I think it positions us really well for the future, and I think sets the flag in the sand for who we are as a company.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.