It's been a week since Bruce Linton was ousted from his role as co-CEO of Canopy Growth (NYSE:CGC) (TSE:WEED), and he has a cold. Not to mention the fact he’s stuck in a line at an Ottawa bank.
But Bruce is Bruce: warm, effusive but still laser-focused on his other projects. His energies will go elsewhere, he explains, but it still stings – Canopy was his baby and the people there feel like family. We chat about our shared alma mater (Carleton University in Ottawa) and swap reading lists. He is, in short, a nice guy.
Linton is a poster boy for the cannabis industry: the most well-known cannabis CEO in Canada (possibly, globally) who built Canopy Growth from the ground up, starting in 2013. Canopy grew from a $100 million market cap to a $15 billion one in a few years. It was Canada's first so-called "cannabis unicorn."
But following Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ) $4 billion investment in Canopy last year, the structure of its board changed and party line was clear: time to make money. Stat. Post-termination, Linton’s non-compete agreement means he can’t work in the Canadian cannabis sector, but that still leaves other jurisdictions wide open.
Proactive Investors caught up with him in a series of interviews over two days to hear more about his reaction to the news and what's ahead, as well as more about his two latest projects.
Q. It’s been a week since the termination. How are you feeling?
I have a cold, which is very unusual. To be honest, I found the last eight months and two days prior to the termination to be very stressful because of the structure of the board having been amended: four from Constellation and three not. I found it difficult to get my footing and understand how do we achieve what we used to achieve so routinely under the prior structure. That whole structure is very tiring because you are accustomed to being a productive person and you're frustrated by a process that is incomprehensible to you.
As soon as the ultimate but not unexpected conclusion occurred, you then finally go 'I'm relaxing' and that's when you finally get a cold [we laugh]. I didn't find anything prior to that eight months stressful, even though it was insane. When I say that, think about it... starting the beginning of 2013, everybody thought it was a terrible idea and I was scrambling to find anyone who would work on it and any place I could get money. Over the course of the next six years or so, we found the need to raise 17 rounds of financing for a total of almost $7 billion dollars. Part of the money was used for 31 acquisitions and part of it was to accumulate 4,000 folks working with me in 16 countries. That was a relatively active period of time.
Q. It sounds like the decision wasn't totally unexpected
No. We've all been in different types of relationships that ebb and flow. Ultimately, as boring as it may sound, I think a lot of this rises out of accounting. What I really mean by that is the US mode of business for many companies, and some in Canada, is every 90 days they measure how it is doing based on earnings per share. It's always supposed to go up. That's a very unusual thing if you're trying to build something substantial that never existed before... I could have been very profitable three years ago. We were seeking to build a globally dominate entity and profit now would be potentially less return later.
Q. You are a Google trend and your name led all the cannabis news. Why?
The sector is known to everybody but understood by no one. When someone over a period of time establishes themselves as logical, credible and knowledgeable, you are no longer speaking on behalf of your company, you're actually speaking on behalf of an entire global sector. I don't know when that transformation occurred but it's been some time like that. The second part is your shareholder base. One of the most fantastic, unintended consequences of making cannabis federally legal and therefore traded on big exchanges, is we had 700,000 shareholders. That's a lot of shareholders by any company standard.
A huge proportion of them had probably never purchased a stock before. People would stop me in the street and say 'I have never bought stock before I heard about Canopy and now I've watched you do this and this.' They are learning to read financial statements and they are into the stock market. And they are generally millennials. I would say the online nature of the medium in which you were seeing me correlated very well with who were the people who sponsored us and followed what we were up to.
Finally, the news was extraordinarily shocking to everyone. Here's a company that is number one in every category. It was created by someone somewhat known and this company that effectively the chairman that did the firing had only eight months, two days earlier said we think everything is fantastic - here's $5 billion - and only a couple of weeks before approved a transaction for $3 billion for our position in the US. Those don't look like breadcrumbs leading to a conclusion of dismissal...
If you ask anyone that works there what's special about Canopy, it's the energy. Most of them have never done what they're doing now and they're doing an outstanding job of it. I feel quite choked up for those people. I have not been permitted to go back into the building, which is kind of odd, given that I bought it but there will be a time that that can happen. I think that will be a very challenging time for me.
Q. It sounds like you were really connected to the people at Canopy
100%. It's my number one thing. I fundamentally made sure that there was not one person there that worked that didn't have a bit of ownership, and the people who performed well got more... Many people if they are given an opportunity feel grateful but they also appreciate if they work in an environment where the leader is someone they can connect to and talk to and feel proud. I was trying to do that.
I was very clear that I did not like anyone to buy new, posh cars. It's not that I have any dislike for luxury automakers but I said: 'if you guys do that sort of thing what you're essentially saying is I'm better and different than your staff buying the culture. I was quite clear: if you want to buy a posh car, I didn't want to see the goddamn thing.
Q. Ha, ha. What do you drive?
I bought a used Ford Flex. It looks like a loaf of bread with wheels on it.
I had a prior version of it when I started the company. I could have afforded a different car but I think it would've signalled something.
Q. You have a certain skill set. How do you decide how to use it?
I find I poke around at stuff for a little while and then it sort of screams at me to do it. You know what I mean? I don't hang out by myself, I interact with a bunch of different people. The biggest thing that's happened with this business is the folks I've gotten involved with -- some of them fly at pretty high altitudes. They've all been extraordinarily kind. They're saying 'you know, you take this time to think but you should do this with me.'
One thing I have been doing is accumulating all sorts of stuff in my inbox to read. My method is to graze through them, put them into buckets and then I figure out what bucket makes sense and how many buckets I can be in at once. Honestly, it's been like a firehose pointed at me but it's good.
Q. Do you have hobbies?
My hobby is leading a group of people to create something. Could that be a hobby? Because that's what I like doing.
Q. What companies are at the top of your list when it comes to putting your efforts elsewhere?
I have two things actively ongoing. Ruckify is one. It's essentially the Uber of things, for example, why have a mixmaster when you could ruckify [rent] a mixmaster? It's an online person-to-person rental marketplace. It's a sharing economy so we're finding people that have small footprint lives in terms of their accommodation but still have needs. We've launched that in two Canadian cities and the next two are Austin and Nashville. The goal is to be in 50 cities before the end of the year. The business already has about $17-18 million of cash already invested in it. It's been at it for four or five years and its gaining momentum.
The other one, which I was the CEO of for about five years, until about a year and a half ago, whilst also doing Canopy, is called Martello Technologies (CVE:MTLO) (OTCMKTS:DRKOF). That one is about 60 people now, operating out of three countries, and has 4-5000 customers. If you're working in an office you're doing a lot of stuff that involves video and voice streaming. The texture of the fabric affects how well your application works. When you start to be a company across geographies, the bandwidth and the processing are not equivalent. You need Martello to figure out what the problems are and some are software components to solve those problems, so you get smooth video conference streaming and high-quality voIP.
READ: Buds & Duds: As cannabis stocks flounder, Martello Technologies stock shines as former Canopy Growth CEO Bruce Linton continues to step up
It's a small company but I think with the right focus should be able to buy several more companies and build a very broad company -- meaning if you have 4-5,000 customers, why don't you sell them more things? If you already have their attention to present to them additional things and they trust you for the first, there's a high probability they'll buy a second, third, fourth. We're organically producing that second, third and fourth but we're also acquiring additional ones because all of these things have a window in time and you need to lean into it and push.
Q. Martello is quite interesting. Terry Matthews, famed entrepreneur and billionaire, is on the board as well?
Terry is the reason I'm there. Terry was actually my very first boss. When I graduated from Carleton University, when I was on the Board of Governors there, there was a gentleman who was very nice to students and actually cared about what we thought: his name was Terry Matthews. I didn't know what he did. He asked me to come out for an interview. He was my very first boss in 1992. I love the guy. As soon as this all went down, he called me.
Martello is a solid company, which can become exciting by transacting and expanding its offering. And that's what it's going to do.
Q. Are you looking south to the US at all?
Well, today I organized my third garage. I re-aligned my garden fencing. I've got my son outside working with me. Today is extraordinarily relaxing. We're gardening with reggae blasting.
Let's just say there's going to be a more substantive additional thing (or two) and for sure one of them will be in the US.
– This interview has been edited for length and clarity –
Contact Katie Lewis at [email protected]