These Are the 'QuickBooks' of the Cannabis Business

Source: Debra Borchardt, Real Money

The business of cannabis takes more than farms, labs and those "pot shops" popping up around the nation. It needs software.

Cannabis companies -- like any other firm -- rely on software to help handle sales and the keep the books in order. But who's who in the business that's still outlawed by the federal government and has only partial legality among states?

It turns out, only a handful of firms have cornered the market, according to a new report by Cannabiz Media. In fact, just five point-of-sale software companies control 68% of the cannabis market, says the publication. 

But that might soon change as mainstream vendors move in to gain share. 

"Point of Software providers are a critical part of the cannabis economy," said the report titled Point of Sale Software in the Cannabis Industry - Mid-Year 2019 Report. "They are embedded in every dispensary and retailer and help manage inventory, cash, data and compliance."

Unlike big software names, those now dominating cannabis are mostly unknowns: Bio Track, Green Bits, Flowhub, MJ Freeway (now known as Akerna (KERN) ) and Indica Online. Only companies with active licenses in the United States were included in the report.

Denver-based BioTrack is owned by Helix TCS Inc.  (HLIX)  and is the leader with a 24% market share. The report breaks down into several categories and BioTrack placed either No. 1 or No. 2 in most. The company reports its earnings on Wednesday, but at the last quarter's results in May, revenue nearly doubled. Investors should know that Helix TCS is made up of other companies as well.

Oklahoma & California Singled Out

Los Angeles-based private company Indica Online ranked fifth overall, but when Cannabiz Media dug into Oklahoma, it came out on top. The Sooner state's cannabis licenses are the least expensive at $2,500 and the application process is easy, causing the state to issue more licenses per capita than any other. The report said the competition was fierce, even though there are a limited number of patients. BioTrack came in second place.

The only other state Cannabiz cited was California, which has changed significantly as the state quit issuing temporary licenses. Lots of companies with those temporary licenses have applied for permanent ones, but the backlog has left them in limbo.

The state has also seen a surge in point-of-sale vendors as the market has grown 55% to 28 from 18. Counting just "active" licenses, with Treeze leading the way followed by Indica Online and BioTrack. Treez is an Oakland-based private company that raised $11.5 million in 2018 in an early round of funding led by Intrinsic Capital Partners.

When reviewing California's active and inactive licenses, Cannabiz Media said that Indica Online came in first, followed by Treez and BioTrack.

Medical Only & Recreational States

When looking at medical only states, BioTrack is back on top with a 29% share down from 53% in 2018. It is followed by Akerna -- formerly called MJ Freeway -- with 16% market share, also down from 29% in 2018. Indica jumped from zero-market share in 2018 to 11% and Flowhub jumped from .5% in 2018 to 7% in 2019.

The report also noted the growth of vendors in these states as well. "In the October 2018 report, we had only 15 vendors and are now up to 34," it said, adding that Oklahoma had caused the increase.

The states that have legalized adult use were reviewed, as well. Green Bits came out on top, this time with 28% of the market share, followed by BioTrack with 20%. Flowhub was third in this race. Green Bits is a private company based in San Jose, California. It raised $17 million in an early funding round in 2018, led by Tiger Global with participation from Casa Verde. Denver-based Flowhub is also a private company that has raised $3.8 million, according to Craft company website.

Crowded House

Some cannabis companies have created their own proprietary software giving these top vendors competition. Plus, mainstream vendors that shunned cannabis in the early days are now interested in winning the business. New vendors in the space, according to Cannabiz Media, include NCR Corporation  (NCR) , NetSuite owned by Oracle (ORCL) , Quickbooks and Inc.  (CRM) . Square (SQ) is also mentioned, but the company's website states that it doesn't work with companies that do anything illegal under federal law. 

"We have been intrigued, but not surprised to see some mainstream companies like NetSuite, Salesforce, Square and Quicken showing up as point of sale choices. None of those vendors have significant share yet," said Ed Keating, Co-founder & Chief Data Officer Cannabiz Media. However, QuickBooks is used by 92% of respondents as their accounting software. As the most widely recognized and accepted accounting and finance solution for small businesses they are the likely choice."

Sean Doyle