Cree Robinson is a woman with a mission. Passionate about technology and equality, Cree is helping change Detroit’s economic landscape. With a background in psychology and a career in tech, Cree and her business partner Louis Masensi started touCanna, a software management system for dispensaries, in late 2019 when cannabis for recreational use became legal in Michigan. In its beta testing phase, Cree is also supporting more women and people of colour, underrepresented in both tech and cannabis, with a series of online talks and events. Through a series of emails and Instagram chats across time zones, I discovered more about Cree’s journey into entrepreneurship, the world of cannabis and tech and her advice for starting a business.
You’re co-founder of software company touCanna, servicing the cannabis industry. What was your journey into both the cannabis industry and tech?
It’s been amazing and different than where I would’ve thought I’d end up. My formal background is actually in psychology. I was in a PhD program for clinical psychology, but dropped out after getting my Masters when I realised that it wasn’t for me. I then spent some time working odd jobs while I mapped out my path. I landed my first corporate role as a trainer where I provided technical and content training to staff. Essentially from here, I “worked my way up” as I landed roles where each was more technical than the previous. Eventually, I’d gained experience in configuration, networking, database design and reporting, and software programming. My journey into cannabis has been beautiful. I’ve connected with so many amazing people who are just so passionate about cannabis, its effects, and making it more accessible to people. The one thing about the cannabis industry that I love is that the majority of people I’ve encountered have seemed genuinely interested in how they can help people. It’s rare to see that so widespread across an industry and I love it.
What prompted you to start your own business?
After working in corporate for a few years, entrepreneurship became more and more of a path that I knew that I had to pursue. I’m a pretty creative person, and am always thinking about new ways to do things, however, I found that the corporate world wasn’t always as welcoming to new ideas. I was often told, “those ideas are good, but that’s not our process.” I wanted to have more freedom to create and help make things better and people’s lives easier.
“I want to help pave the way for others who look like me to be in this space of cannabis tech.”
You’re passionate about disrupting and providing space for women and people of colour who are underrepresented in both tech and cannabis, and over the last few months you’ve been running a series of Clubhouse events targeted at these groups. What do you think are the biggest barriers and opportunities for anyone trying to startup a business in these sectors?
I hate to say it, but capital. Especially for those wanting to build a cannabis business that directly deals with the plant, such as dispensaries and cannabis farms. It’s really expensive to start businesses in those realms, so most people need to seek out the right partners to pool their funds together. This is why social equity initiatives are so, so important. Some states have programmes where the fees needed to apply for a license for these business types are significantly reduced for those who have been harmed by the war on drugs, the majority of whom are minorities.
We both know that starting a business is as much about mindset as it is talent, and you also have a degree in psychology. What are some of the things you do to stay motivated?
I want to help pave the way for others who look like me to be in this space of cannabis tech. People reach out to me all the time asking for advice about how to start a cannabis business and it thrills me to jump on calls and brainstorm together. The thought of being able to contribute even a little to the expansion of minority ownership in the space is what keeps me up at night and what gets me up every morning to keep grinding and pushing forward.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Be honest with yourself about where your skills are lacking, and find someone to fill those gaps. Go fast by yourself or go forward with the people you need to help get you there. Surround yourself with good people, trust them to do what you aren’t able to, and trust yourself to do what you’re a boss at.
Who or what inspires you?
My partner and co-founder inspires me a lot by the way he thinks about things and approaches his goals. He’s so strategic about his goals, while still being one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. I think that combination is really hard to achieve.
What do you like most about working for yourself?
I love that I can let my creativity and innovative way of thinking run free without limits.