In today’s hugely competitive market, it’s not uncommon to see tech companies jump the gun on a product release just to stay ahead. That’s not how Cova Software rolls, though. We spoke to CEO Gary Cohen to learn how he and his team have taken the time—and relied on their years of experience—to build solid software solutions to real issues faced daily by dispensaries.
Name: Cova Software
Address: Denver, CO
Phone Number: 1-888-472-6989
Number of years in business: Two
Company motto: Elevate Your Dispensary Experience
Inews: What did you and your partners do before starting this company?
Gary Cohen: We started off building a retail management platform for the most difficult and complex retail environment: the wireless industry. In the past 18 years, our retail solution became the dominant software for retail management and POS, with well over 50 per cent share in 18,000 locations.
Why and when did you start Cova?
The idea and roots of Cova began just over a year ago in Vancouver, Canada, but we quickly established our Cova headquarters in Denver, Colorado. We wanted to diversify into another vertical, one with a great deal of complexity that we could help advance using our strengths as a technology company. The legal marijuana market is one of the fastest growing industries in North America. The energy and excitement within this industry also very much aligns with the attitude and DNA of Cova.
What did you first produce?
A dispensary POS and inventory management solution.
What is your current product line?
We provide a suite of dispensary software solutions: POS and inventory management, digital signage, touchscreen menus, and reporting dashboards. Our solutions are built on a platform, which allows the ability to integrate with existing solutions that dispensaries might already have in their ecosystem.
What has your first year been like? What were some of your struggles as you started the business?
Like every tech start-up I’ve been a part of starting, everyone is wearing many hats, working long hours, and celebrating our incremental steps. But this is different in that we know what the real potential of industry is. We are not building a solution that is looking for a problem; we are building a solution to a real need and issue.
Designing products from the dispensary manager and owner perspectives was a great learning experience. It’s exciting to analyze current practices and know our solutions are going to save owners substantial time and money, and reduce frustration. Most of them have worked with what they have for years and built workarounds for the things that aren’t working. Helping them conceptualize a “lovable state” for the systems they use was new to them and took some time and effort.
How does your company philosophy translate to opportunities?
We have a solid software foundation and technical architecture to develop dispensary-specific functionality. We prioritize (state) compliance capabilities as high as usability and reporting tools. Cova is unique in the ability to look at the entire dispensary experience, end-to-end, and create superior experiences at every touchpoint. The experience begins the moment a patient or customer walks into the dispensary and continues all the way through to the dispensary owner checking their daily performance reports.
“With every new legalized market, the opportunity grows and our path to success amplifies.”
How did you gain market share and recognition?
Market share and recognition comes from a network of dispensary advisors, who are eager to see the results of their input. We also run successful pilot programs, have exceptional support services, and let word-of-mouth spread the word.
With every new legalized market, the opportunity grows and our path to success amplifies.
Where do you distribute?
Colorado and California, for now. We are compliance-oriented and won’t sell into states until our software is nearly perfect at meeting the needs of dispensary owners relative to their state’s reporting requirements. This sets the pace of market roll-outs.
How many people now work for the company?
We have 480 employees, with 60 working directly on Cova.
What makes your employees so awesome?
We are sharing this journey of building a new business in a new industry. We communicate openly about everything: our work, our lives, our progress, and our frustrations. No one is in it alone, and we genuinely support each other across all functions. There is no concept of failing because when someone stumbles, we rally together to treat mistakes as opportunities for learning.
Share your favorite story from a day on the job.
During my first week, my colleagues asked if I had ever been to a dispensary in Vancouver. I said, “no.” So, they organized a field trip to one. I was introduced to many great things that day, including Kosher Kush, and bonding with my team.
What are your company’s strengths?
We come from decades of experience in retail and technological best practices. Hiring quality sales staff, reducing turnover, upselling products, customer relationship management, and inventory management are common to all retailers, and we have a strong foundation to address these needs in the dispensary space. We also have years of experience, from a technological standpoint, to ensure our systems stay up during peak hours and selling days. For example, we stayed up-and-running on Black Friday in over 18,000 locations, across North America, and we utilize the same expertise to keep our systems up during 420.
What are some of your proudest moments?
First, maintaining integrity in sticking to our belief that we will only launch when we can greatly exceed our clients’ expectations. We did this when a market leader crashed and we opted to not cash in by launching a premature product. This proved to be a very good decision. Second, the anticipation in the market for our launch. This showed how well we prepared and positioned for an enterprise-grade POS to hit the market.
What have you learned about starting and growing a company?
Nothing ever goes as planned, so always have a Plan B. Second, earning trust and doing business without an established list of clients is a great challenge. Third, everyone on your founding team must be solid and carry their share of the load because you only execute as well as your weakest link.
What significant things have you learned so far about the marijuana industry?
Stereotypes and caricatures abound about the principals of the marijuana industry. This is an industry that is taking itself more and more seriously, but not in a stuffy Wall Street kind of way. The industry cares about legitimizing itself, optimizing results, and brand building.
What words of wisdom can you share about the business, the industry, or the future of the industry?
Even though it may seem that everyone around you knows more about the cannabis industry and you are late to the party, you’re not. We are still at the very beginning of this industry in 2017.
Anything further you’d like to share?
We considered the typical pot leaf as inspiration for our company name and logo. Instead, we chose to focus on the molecular structure of THC. The name Cova is inspired by the term “covalent bond,” the binding of atoms through the sharing of electrons. It is used to signify the power of our platform, which not only allows our various solutions (POS, inventory management, CRM, digital signage, touchscreen menus, reporting) to connect and share centralized data, but also enables integration with a dispensary’s existing ecosystem. Through a serendipitous moment, we also realized “COVA” stands for “Colorado + Vancouver,” the two geographical spaces we currently occupy. We like to believe it’s a sign we’re on the right track in this ever-changing journey through the dispensary market. And there’s no sign of it slowing down.
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