Originally published by the Ottawa Business Journal on October 18, 2018.
Former Dragons’ Den panelist Brett Wilson is arguably one of the best-known faces in Canadian business, but Wednesday night even he couldn’t compete with the star power of Ottawa’s celebrity CEO of the moment.
The Alberta businessman and philanthropist, in town from Calgary for a series of speaking engagements, shared the stage at a panel discussion with local serial entrepreneur Steve Cody and Cody’s good friend and neighbour, Bruce Linton. The event was hosted by Ottawa’s eSAX networking organization.
Linton, of course, is the co-founder and chief executive of Canada’s largest cannabis company, Canopy Growth. On the day Canopy’s product finally became legal for recreational use, he still took time to show up at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park for a half-hour Q&A that drew a captive audience of more than 100 – many of whom were eager to grab some face time or a selfie with the man who might have been the most quoted person in the country on Oct. 17.
“It is quite unusual, isn’t it?” Linton told OBJ after stopping for dozens of photos and chats with a crowd that gave him the full rock-star treatment.
Ottawa’s 2018 CEO of the Year estimated he spoke with more than 40 reporters from around the globe on Wednesday during a media blitz at Canopy’s headquarters in Smiths Falls. He did TV spots with the BBC as well as networks from China and Japan, and he was late arriving at Lansdowne Park because he was being interviewed by CNN host Anderson Cooper.
Cannabis might be the hottest topic in business right now. And as head of its biggest producer with a market capitalization of more than $14 billion, Linton is one of the industry’s marquee names.
“I would say the amount of media I’m interacting with right now might make our story and our company the No. 1 current global business company in terms of media coverage,” he said. “That’s quite remarkable.”
Still, even the normally tireless Linton was beginning to show the effects of fatigue from a gruelling schedule that saw him start his day at midnight Newfoundland time, where he helped ring in the first legal sale of cannabis in Canada in 90 years.
Canopy’s Tweed store in St. John’s made the historic transaction, and Linton managed to get there just in time after a nasty storm delayed his flight from Ottawa.
Sipping on a beer Wednesday night, Linton said he was struck by how grateful customers were that their drug of choice has finally emerged from the black market.
“For a lot of people, this has been a lifetime thing,” he said. “For some of them, it was very emotional. I don’t think I prepared myself for how emotional it would be for people. It’s been a lifetime of burden for some people. So it was a big deal.”
Less than 24 hours after Canada became one of the first countries in the world to legalize cannabis for adult use, some private retailers were either sold out of supply or were tending to long lineups and expected to run out by the end of the day. Ottawa-based Shopify, whose e-commerce software had been chosen by provinces such as Ontario and several private retailers, said Canadian cannabis websites were processing roughly 100 orders per minute.
None of that surprised Linton.
“The effect of 90 years of prohibition has obviously been that an awful lot of people would like to buy cannabis now legally,” he said. “Every store was lined up, every website was crushed. And it’s going to happen again tomorrow, it’s going to happen again the next day. And that’ll be the new normal and then it’ll slow down a little bit and then new products will come and it’s gonna get that way again.”
All in all, he added, it was “a perfect first day” for legal weed.
“For the most part, we didn’t have rain happening across the country, so lineups weren’t getting soaked,” Linton said. “People didn’t get in fights. It didn’t (end up) like a Black Friday on Thanksgiving. It was all kind of proper.”
Oct. 17 was also a red-letter day for Cody.
His latest startup, online rental marketplace Ruckify, made its official debut on the Apple and Google Play app stores in Canada on Wednesday night. Cody said the chance to share his big moment with Linton and Wilson – who are also investors in Ruckify – made it all the more special.
“As an entrepreneur, it’s really hard to be patient and wait a year and a half to actually put something to market,” Cody said. “The team executed flawlessly. We did everything we wanted to get done for this launch.”
Ruckify operates in a similar way to Kijiji, except that items posted on the platform are rented rather than sold. Cody said about 3,000 items are now available for rent in the Ottawa area – everything from tents and hunting gear to heavy equipment such as Bobcats and even a helicopter – and thousands more are ready to be added.
The platform also allows users to set up their own rental websites within Ruckify, referred to as proStores. Cody says people across the country have launched more than 60 such sites, with dozens more in the works.
“Our team can’t keep up,” he said. “We thought the marketplace was going to be the big thing. We weren’t planning on going international quickly, but we have to because we’re getting too much inbound (traction) with these proStores.”
Once the Ottawa market gets established, Cody said, Ruckify plans to expand to Wilson’s home turf of Calgary in the first quarter of 2019. The 14-person firm plans to start offering the app to customers in the United States on Jan. 1 and take it worldwide by the middle of next year.
Other investors in the venture include Wind Mobile founder Anthony Lacavera and Dean MacDonald, the former chief operating officer of Rogers Cable.
“It’s about letting the market pull us and not forcing anything to happen,” Cody said. “We’ve got all the funding we need.”
– With files from the Canadian Press