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Alphagreen: The digital CBD marketplace hoping to corner the sector

The start-up aims to be a one-stop shop for customers and businesses as the industry booms

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Alphagreen founders Viktor Khliupko and Alexej Pikovsky

Founded in 2019, Alphagreen is an online CBD marketplace created by Alexej Pikovsky and Viktor Khliupko.

Cannabis Wealth spoke to Alexej about his journey so far, his plans for the future – and why he has no plans to float Alphagreen on the stock market.

What is your background and how did you get involved in the industry?

I was born in Russia, educated in Germany and came to UK for university; I studied at Loughborough, which is renowned for sport, and I was a keen waterpolo player.

After leaving uni, I spent 10 years working in finance, giving advice on mergers and acquisitions, working in tech company investments. 

I really got into CBD through being very involved in sports, sports science and supplements; it was through this that I became aware that medical cannabis was a thing from fairly early on, although I never looked into it in too much detail.

But when I was working in private equity, the market in cannabis was going crazy thanks to what was happening in Canada and the US, which got me interested in the legal market, I wanted to know what I was missing.

Having spent time as an investor looking at different industries and different companies, I knew that being right in terms of timing is critical.

It was when I attended a party hosted by Chrystal Capital in May 2019, where there were lots of cannabis investors, that I realised there was no deal flow for cannabis-based businesses, the only company doing anything was Prohibition Partners.

Alphagreen co-founder and CEO Alexej Pikovsky

I found that interesting, as there was clearly huge investor interest but no targets.

So I thought, if I go to the US and Canada and find these interesting cannabis companies, I can create my own deal-by-deal cannabis fund. And so that’s how I got into the CBD space, more as an investor in the first instance, leveraging my background and experience.

Of course, when I got to the US, everyone wanted to meet me, because everyone needed money and I soon realised that every single firm, whether medical cannabis or CBD businesses, wanted to expand into the UK market.

That’s when I decided to create a platform to allow customers in Europe to get educated and get access to the best quality products, and have US and Canada to bring their brands over.

I was lucky, having been in venture capital I had interesting ideas and a great support team, including Victor, my co-founder.

We launched in October 2019, and I contacted a lot of previous investors to see if they were interested in coming on board, which meant we had the team, the idea and the money, we went from zero to 100 quite quickly.

In fact, we became the largest marketplace in Europe in the first six months, with 150 brands and 2,500 products online.

However, we don’t hold stock ourselves – we’re more of a tech platform than an e-commerce one. Instead, we take orders on behalf of brands, then when the brand delivers the product to the customer, we give them 70 per cent of the retail price, taking 30 per cent in commission.

What challenges do you face, and how have you overcome them?

Payment issues can be a problem, with shady payment processes and weak technology, so that took a while to iron out. We use two platforms now, in case one goes down.

However, one of the biggest issues is spreading the word, especially online. The CBD industry isn’t allowed to advertise, which means no PPC – we can’t put £100k into Google ads and get £100k revenue.

Instead, we have to grow through the search engine, so we need a lot of content, a lot of backlinks, a lot of PR – we need to be much smarter than usual brands. 

This is a challenge in itself, as traffic from Google is not always linear so we have to be very close to Google algorithms and constantly produce content. 

We’re producing 400,000 words a month, both on unique content, product descriptions, link building and backlinks – it’s a huge operation. 

Also, Google is getting smarter, so this all needs to be good content, referencing medical publications, on a quick, sophisticated website. We’re indexed for more than 7,000 keywords, so if you google CBD benefits, we’ll be on page one. That’s one way we’re directing people to us.

The second way is through influencers – we give them the product, they tag the products and they also tag Alphagreen – although sometimes it does just end up being the product. That’s why we’re launching our range of gummies, to find other growth channels.

What other developments do you have in the pipeline?

We’ve recently launched the Nuoptima platform to increase our offering and help brands grow their own digital footprint.

The idea behind it is to simplify the marketing process, with one agency able to handle all the PPC, SEO and influencer marketing.

This saves brands, especially the smaller ones, having to work with different agencies for different things, while also giving them a marketplace to sell their products.

Setting up with a new name allows us to be clearer, and also helps us to talk to the US market about everything else they need, because, as it stands, they’re not able to be on the marketplace yet. 

What do you see as the wider impact of supporting smaller brands in this way?

Ideally, we are creating an ecosystem for the best brands, because the main problem in the industry at the moment is that, every few weeks, there’s another CBD brand popping up. 

We’re very selective about who we allow on Alphagreen – we’ve almost stopped UK brand admission because there are just too many, and ultimately many may have great branding but they don’t have the means to generate sales by investing in the above marketing.

So Nuoptima is an instrument for them to improve as well, and it helps us make more money – all part of our 10-year game. We want to surround ourselves with the best brands, helping them by not only generating sales on Alphagreen but also by really helping them grow as a brand and bring traffic to their own domain.

Alphagreen offers services to businesses as well as selling to customers

What do you look for in a brand?

Initially, we were focused on getting brands from best marketplaces. Then we got them all.

However, we still look at rankings of brands and work on acquisitions – as a marketplace, we need to have the most popular brands on our site and that is always evolving. We’re constantly talking to people and investors are always introducing brands to me, so we have various channels we go through.

Are you considering floating on the stock exchange?

We’ve already been approached for both the London Stock Exchange and the Stockholm NASDAQ. My thinking has always been that there is a lot of retail happening, retail hype means stock price goes up, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the company has a lot of cash or can do anything with that value.

There are only about ten people trading the stock every day, which is nothing. If tomorrow, I started shorting the stock, it will crash because there’s no volume there, so any impact will be detrimental – just look what happened in Canada in 2019.

The market crashed by 90 per cent and the companies had a hard time raising more money and investors got a really bad experience. As long as you’re building a good story, you don’t need to go public.

What’s next for Alphagreen and the industry in general?

For Alphagreen, we’ve got a strong international market opening up; we’re now open in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Sweden, and we’re launching in Poland next month, then also Japan. 

We’re seeing that, although there’s still a lot of regulatory noise, we do see a stronger acceptance in those markets.

Medical cannabis will also be a big focus for us over the next year or so. We launched a subsidiary in 2020 but with the pandemic, we thought it would be very difficult to educate medical professionals and they had better things to do.

Plenty of the brands we already stock offer med cannabis too so it makes it easier if they can talk to us for that too. 

We’re also excited about a data product we have coming up, because we know that the industry doesn’t have any reliable intel out there.

The beauty of Alphagreen is we have 2,500 products on the marketplace, so we can really extract the data about what products people are buying, and what they’re paying, so that’s another service we can offer brands.

This means they don’t launch, say 50 SKUs, 40 of which nobody needs; they can understand what are the best-performing SKUs and what are the gaps in the market – ready to be filled.

It’s all about helping brands perform at their best  – which means Alphagreen will perform at its best too.

Leadership

New CFO Ranjan Kalia appointed to Curaleaf

Kalia joined international provider of cannabis products Curaleaf Holdings, Inc. as CFO on 19 July.

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New CFO Ranjan Kalia appointed to Curaleaf

Curaleaf thanks former chief financial officer (CFO) and welcomes new appointment of Ranjan Kalia. 

Kalia joined international provider of cannabis products Curaleaf Holdings, Inc. as CFO on 19 July. He succeeded Michael Carlotti who has stepped down for medical reasons.

Commenting on the appointment, Curaleaf CFO, Kalia, said: “I am truly honoured to be joining the Curaleaf team at this exciting time in the company’s evolution. As Curaleaf has established itself as the global pure play cannabis leader, the company remains in the very early innings of its long-term potential development in this dynamic and fast growing industry. 

“I look forward to partnering with the entire Curaleaf team to continue executing on its track record for financial performance, strong balance sheet and robust engagement with the financial community.”

Leadership expertise

Kalia will bring a wealth of expertise to Curaleaf after having served as executive vice president and chief financial officer of Virtusa Corp, a global provider of digital strategy, and extensive experience and knowledge across corporate tax regulations, US SEC regulations and Sarbanes Oxley compliance requirements.

He has also spent eight years with EMC Corporation serving in various roles including vice president of finance and chief financial officer – Asia-Pacific region, and has held senior financial controller and audit positions at GE Capital, Pepsi Cola Co., and Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

Boris Jordan, Executive Chairman of the Board of Curaleaf, commented: “On behalf of the Board of Directors and the executive leadership team I want to personally thank Mike for his tremendous commitment and contributions to Curaleaf. During Mike’s tenure as Chief Financial Officer he delivered exceptional financial performance management while ensuring the Company maintained its commitment to a strong balance sheet to help drive our business and meet our goals. Mike played an important role in setting the foundation for our future success; moreover, he’s an exceptional professional and friend. We wish him all the best for a prompt and full recovery.”

Joseph Bayern, Chief Executive Officer of Curaleaf, commented: ”I am pleased to welcome Ranjan to the Curaleaf executive leadership team. With over thirty years of experience in executive finance positions at complex multinational companies, Ranjan brings a wealth of expertise which will be instrumental in helping fuel our continued growth. He’s joining us at a very exciting time for our company and I look forward to working with him.”

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VIDEO: Behind the scenes with British cannabis firm Avida Global

The company is on track to become a world-leading, vertically integrated seed to sales operation

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Avida Global's production facility in north east Columbia

British cannabis firm Avida Global is on track to become a world-leading, vertically integrated seed to sales business. CEO David Kirby reveals the highs and lows of the journey so far.

Founded in 2018, Avida Global is a producer of high-quality medicinal cannabis oils for the worldwide medical and well-being markets​.

While its management team – hailing from backgrounds in business, horticulture, banking and finance – is headquartered in London, its production facility is in north east Colombia, a region renowned for its natural growing advantages.

But in a fast-growing, highly-competitive market, what sets Avida apart?

CEO David Kirby, who has worked for the likes of Capgemini and Shell, takes Cannabis Wealth behind the scenes.

 

Avida Global is currently fundraising via Seedrs and has already overfunded its £1 million target by more than 137 percent.

This is Avida Global’s first crowdfunding campaign having already raised more than £6.1million to date.

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‘We’re still at the very beginning’: Cannamplify and state of the cannabis industry

We spoke to the CEO of Cannamplify, a brand management firm helping companies get a foothold in the complex sector.

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Cannabis Wealth spoke to Shaan Mahrotri of cannabis brand management firm Cannamplify to find out what goes on behind the scenes.

How did you get started in the industry?

I’ve worked in finance and investments for my whole career, after starting to do the books for my parents’ business while I was at school. I’ve been a CEO or COO for all manner of businesses – you name it, I’ve helped build it or destroy it.

In recent years, many of the businesses I’ve been involved in were early-stage investors in the cannabis industry in the US, landing all along the chain, from cultivation to extraction to consumer.

In 2017, I and one of my partners started to bring over interesting and mature CBD brands from the US, just when the industry was kicking off in the UK, and we ended up forming Cannamplify in 2019.

The business is a suite of different things. In the beginning, we functioned as the administrative and operative partner for companies coming to Europe, supporting them with everything from warehousing and logistics to setting up websites.

We then set up our B2C offering, Nabino, which is essentially a shop front for the brands we were bringing over.

We also act as a B2B wholesaler, supplying CBD brands to a number of outlets in mainland Europe, with some registrations in Japan, although the events of 2020 slowed that element down a lot.

We also have a The Bosky Agency, which is our marketing side, focusing on what and how we’re we’re allowed to advertise to consumers.

We always say we deal with everything from the end of the production line to when the product reaches the consumer’s hands.

The company was set up as a partnership between three different operations.

Where do you think the industry is at in 2021?

To be honest, at the moment the industry isn’t as big as anyone thought it would be.

We’re still at the very beginning, everyone is relying on the traditional, existing vertical supply chains – there’s nothing specially for cannabis, so it will take a while for the world and the industry to catch up with each other.

At Cannamplify, we focus on the end of the value chain as that’s where we see the value being, in the branding, movement, operations.

Outside of that, I sit on an advisory board of a high-risk payment company that focuses on cannabis and vape; banking in the sector is non-existent and it’s not long ago that everyone had to deal in cash.

I remember a farmer in Oregon once showing me his two barns; one was full of his crops and the other was full of his cash, as no bank would touch it.

The industry is starting to get legitimised now, but it’s still at the point where there’s a black market – CBD is very much grey.

The professionalism you see in other industries is still trickling down, but there are still too many bad actors, people jumping on the bandwagon – not just in the product, but also behind the scenes.

There are a lot of opportunistic things going on, so we need to inspire that trust – which will take time.

That’s why I believe that starting with a focus on the medicinal benefits of CBD is the right thing to do.

Much as I’d like to be able to walk down the street and buy some weed, it’s only right that we focus on the very real medical benefits of CBD for the time being. Look at Canada; they tried to do everything at once, and it’s just too much.

The cultural shift will take generations, which is why education is so important – for retailers, not just consumers.

What do you see as being the key developments over the past few years?

As there has been more acceptance of hemp, there has been more focus on using every element, with an awful lot of awful lot of R&D into ideas like using hemp for building materials and bioplastics.

However, like everything, it all comes down to scale – you need that outlay before you can develop a product, and it’s only then that you can begin to market it, which means it can be slow progress.

In terms of collaboration within the industry, everyone is still finding their tribes at the moment, although there should definitely be more of a sense of working together than there currently is.

While admittedly it’s a small industry and everyone knows everyone to some extent, there’s still a way to go.

Having said that, cannabis years are like dog years – you learn an awful lot in a short space of time.

Who is your business inspiration?

It might sound cliched, but definitely my parents, who are first generation immigrants, working as traders and businesspeople. I definitely get my drive for business from them; I started my working life doing their businesses books in the holidays, so it’s always been in me.

I never had any doubt that I’d go into business – I’ve always run my own things and never been a 9-5 person.

What are the key qualities you need to succeed?

I’d say that surviving on very little sleep is the main thing. The world has changed a lot; in the early days, you could switch off – there were no emails from LA or calls from India – so the stamina you need is very different today.

I also think it’s important to be reasonably good at everything and not excellent at one thing; for me, a business always needs someone looking at the big picture.

The best advice you’ve been given

Someone once said, you’re not a doctor, you’re not a fireman – nobody’s going to die because you made a mistake.

Whether an email went out with a typo, or the servers are down, it doesn’t matter – deal with it and move on.

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