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Alberta Yield: Dro is connecting cannabis retailers with online clients

When Damir Knezevic went to buy pot on Canada’s first day of legalization in 2018, he described the day as chaotic.

It was a monumental moment and the day was sunny and warm.

“We didn’t mind for three hours, the sun was shining, people were being interviewed – it was a good time,” he said.

Once he reached the front of the line, he was put in another line. You place an order, you pay and they gave you your bag of goods. One of his products was replaced with another type.

“I quickly brought it up and it was chaotic, so I didn’t want to make a big thing about it,” Knezevic said, adding that they were tallying everything with a paper and pencil.

“That second you get that Dragon’s Den moment where there has to be a better way.”

His company, Edmonton-based Dro, is an e-marketplace that centralizes licensed producers, retailers and clients on one platform.

It drew on his prior experience working for a “Kijiji-meets-Ebay for car dealers” where he got his first taste of the tech world and startup life.

That was when legalization was coming forward and he wanted to capitalize on the opportunity.

The platform

Knezevic said in as few words as possible, it’s taking cannabis digital.

He said since the early 2000s, the way to get cannabis was mail order through illegal online marketplaces. Technology has always had a place in the retail side of it.

“For me, Dro is just a way to kind of create this cohesiveness and centralization amongst the industry because so much of it is brick and mortar at the moment,” he said.

Knezevic said many of the smaller retailers don’t have the capital to build out an online presence. Nor do they have the time to maintain it. He said the retailers can open a portal through Dro where they have a digital marketplace.

Because of the Alberta rules around sales from producer to retailer, they can’t conduct that transaction, so it’s mainly retail-facing.

Dro users can navigate the system in two different ways: Retailer based (where you find the closest one, scan through and purchase products, or product based (search the product you want and find who supplies it).

Users have a one-stop approach to purchase the cannabis product of their choice and retailers benefit from a pooled system where they don’t have to handle the online portal or the marketing.

Dro takes a small fee for each transaction.

Slow it down

Knezevic said that, like most entrepreneurs, he’s wearing a lot of hats at any given time.

“You generalize a lot of the information and you generalize a lot of the processes, just for the sake of time and efficiency,” he said.

That’s where Alberta Yield has benefitted him the most. 

“It’s helped me kind of slow it down and really try to understand the depth of these various processes,” Knezevic said.

He said he’s been in accelerators like this before. Alberta Yield is broken it down for him into fine details where he can continue higher with the business.

And expansion is where Knezevic has his sights set.

He’s perfecting the system in Alberta where the restrictions are quite prohibitive. But the three-year plan is to set up Dro in all Canadian provinces, respective of their rules. Knezevic said it’s actually quite easy to create an API for each retailer’s point-of-sale system. Provincial regulatory hurdles are what stand in the way.

Knezevic is still fighting, of course, the stigma around cannabis sales in Canada. He said a recent meeting someone commented that he looked quite professional  for someone his age in cannabis.

They picture someone like Cheech and Chong, Knezevic said.

Once firmly established, one of his corporate goals is to put cannabis in a good light. He wants Dro to stand out from the crowd.

“It’s the gold rush of my generation, so I wanted to place myself and my company in a way that would benefit myself, but also the people in the space,” Knezevic said.