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Boardroom Q&A: Chad Bronstein

Chad Bronstein has been an entrepreneur since he was 10. Today, he is one of the most influential figures in the cannabis industry.

As the United States slowly shifts toward broader acceptance and commercialization of cannabis, few are making a larger impact than Chad Bronstein.

The 34-year-old former advertising exec is the founder and CEO of high-growth industry compliance and data giant Fyllo, the board chairman of Mike Tyson’s cannabis brand Tyson 2.0, the co-founder and executive chairman of Wesana Health, and more. Bronstein made Ad Age’s most recent 40 Under 40 list and The High Times’ list of the 100 biggest market movers and culture creators in the cannabis space.

Bronstein grew up in Cleveland and immediately displayed entrepreneurial tendencies, buying and flipping Beanie Babies at 10 years old to make money. After college at Miami of Ohio, he moved to Chicago in 2007 and worked his way up Adconian Media Group, which was bought by SingTel’s Amobee brand in 2014 for $235 million. He was an exec there for several years before getting sick and tired of corporate life.

“I gotta go. I don’t wanna work for a big corporation anymore,” Bronstein told Boardroom. “I wanna go start my own company and do something that’s challenging.”

Despite plenty of opportunities and offers from other places three-and-a-half years ago, his wife pushed him to start a company in something he loved, which turned out to be cannabis. So he started Fyllo, which Bronstein described as powered by the largest data marketplace of cannabis and CBD purchase data and the leading regulatory database. Fyllo’s software and solutions are used by Fortune 500 companies and emerging brands in highly-regulated industries. It’s also a compliance-first technology platform trusted by high-growth organizations to target and understand consumers, activate omnichannel marketing and loyalty programs, and navigate today’s ever-changing regulatory landscape.

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It acts as a hyperlocal compliance platform, with software offering knowledge on local regulations, taxation, and zoning for companies trying to open up dispensaries across the country. Fyllo also offers the software dispensaries use for retail or loyalty platforms, while also maintaining a huge data platform, what Bronstein called the largest data set in cannabis, with plenty of big brands buying its data. Major cannabis conglomerates Columbia Care and Verano use its technology, as do Uber Eats, top pharma companies, unnamed sports teams, and its biggest client, Inspire Brands — the parent company of Arby’s, Baskin-Robbins, Buffalo Wild Wings, Dunkin, Jimmy John’s, Rusty Taco, and Sonic.

“There’s all these different behaviors we have that a brand would want to target because it’s the first time ever where they can target a unique data set in cannabis,” Bronstein said. “This is the first time that someone’s said ‘here’s a new data set and a new behavior that you haven’t targeted yet.’”

Over the past two years, Fyllo has been educating Fortune 100 companies on why this data is important to them. For Pharma companies, if people buy CBD products for pain instead of ibuprofen, that’s a problem. Pharma doesn’t want to lose that kind of customer, and it can gain data through Fyllo on how that customer operates and behaves.

As Fyllo was growing at 300% year-over-year in revenue, Bronstein got a LinkedIn message from former Chicago Blackhawks enforcer and Stanley Cup champion Daniel Carcillo. Known as “Car Bomb” as a player, Carcillo got into 160 fights during his career and suffered eight concussions, causing him to retire at 30.

“He was on the verge of committing suicide, and then he found  psychedelics,” Bronstein said. “Daniel’s wanted to be vocal about what he went through and how he fixed himself. And he wanted to bring that to the world.”

So they co-founded Wesana last year, which is aiming to get a psilocybin-based drug called SANA-013 approved by the Federal Drug Administration to help people like Carcillo who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, suffer from PTSD, or have major depressive disorder.

“When people think about mushrooms they think about just tripping. And that’s not the case,” Bronstein said. “There’s so much that it does for people that helps people out in all different scenarios. There’s more and more conversations that are happening about it as well as universities coming involved. So it’s gonna take being loud in education to do the same thing we’re doing in cannabis with psychedelics.”

Wesana is currently on pace for a Phase 1 study on healthy humans for the fourth quarter of 2022.

About 18 months ago, Bronstein asked a former Fyllo employee named Bryan Spears, better known as Britney’s brother, whether he can get him an introduction with Mike Tyson, which he did through Tyson connection Azim Spicer. Both Iron Mike and Carcillo competed in sports that resulted in heavy brain trauma, so they wanted Tyson to join Wesana as a strategic advisor to help de-stigmatize psychedelics (Tyson is a major psychedelics user and advocate) like Fyllo is working on de-stigmatizing cannabis. Tyson was interested, and then Bronstein suggested bringing back his cannabis company, but building it the right way, as he put it, hiring industry veteran Adam Wilks as CEO of Tyson 2.0 when it launched last October.

Now, Tyson 2.0 products are sold in 18 states across the U.S., an unusually wide distribution enabled by Bronstein’s existing relationships with major cannabis operators he forged and maintains through Fyllo. Tyson serves as chief brand officer and is highly involved in the company, making three to four dispensary appearances a month, putting out Hotboxin With Mike Tyson strain reviews, and helping Tyson 2.0 with product design. His ear-shaped edibles called Mike Bites went viral last month.

Not long after that, Tyson 2.0 bought a majority stake in Ric Flair’s cannabis brand, Ric Flair Drip, enabling the company to use the WWE legend’s trademarks and IP.

“We’re tapping into nostalgia because you’re tapping into people’s emotions. A five-year-old knows who Ric Flair and Mike Tyson are, and your grandfather or grandmother saw Tyson fight,” Bronstein said. “There’s memories that are created between the two of them that really tap into creating that differentiation.”

If helping oversee three major companies wasn’t enough, Bronstein is also the agent for UFC champion Julianna Pena, a job he took before she went in as a 7:1 underdog and shocked Amanda Nunes for the bantamweight title last December. His role is helping her on the contract side and negotiating as many opportunities with brands as possible — not easy in the stigmatized world of combat sports. There are also other companies he’s partnered with like Keenan Thompson and John Ryan’s production and talent agency, Artists For Artists.

Bronstein tries juggling everything by having chemistry with the people he works with, trying to provide companies with a strong culture and foundation, and by leading with energy.

“Whether you’re an entry-level person at the company or you’re an executive, it’s important that those people can also relate and see that the founder or the CEO will do exactly what they ask of anybody else,” he said. “That’s highly important in a startup culture or even a larger culture.”

Eventually, Bronstein, said he’d like to start his own venture fund called StartWell, but won’t think about that until after he builds successful companies that in the end bring success to our people and investors.

“I think my skill-set is operating companies and building teams,” he said. “So I like to really work with companies intrinsically from a venture perspective and help them get off the ground with the resources that I have and the team that I have built. So that’s the future for me. If I create success with this stuff I’m working on, that will be my future.”

He thinks he can integrate some of his current companies into that fund

“Technically the way we’re running things right now, it’s like a portfolio. And I do invest in a lot of companies by myself, personally,” he said. “That would be the idea. That I would bring some of the people that I work with currently that are excellent operators. And then that would be the resources for these companies to utilize.”

Yes, just like he was as a 10-year-old flipping Beanie Babies, Bronstein is still out there, looking to capitalize on what’s next.