When faced with the seemingly impossible task of changing an open terrain into a flourishing city, those brave enough to undergo the development tend to replicate what they’ve done or seen done in similar situations before. For instance, building sewage lines and roads sounds like a relatively good idea. The integrity of such early foundations determines what can be built afterwards and, ultimately, the success of the city. The evolving cannabis industry is very much like that early terrain; it’s new, malleable, and its future depends on those who help build it.
However, knowing your terrain, its resources, and pests (cough DEA cough) is crucial for successful development. Even more important is having an understanding of the needs of the people for whom the land is being developed. It would be awfully silly to plot out a series of Italian restaurants if your future residents are gluten intolerant Los Angeles transplants on a diet.
Almost every cannabis startup has taken to creating something that positions them as the “____ of the cannabis industry”. This tactic, much like building a city that has features of previous cities, is prudent in some senses. However, just because a previous city had a particular set of features, doesn’t mean that the new one needs to have them. The same applies for the cannabis industry. For example, just because Yelp has done wonders for the food industry, doesn’t mean that there necessarily needs to be an equivalent technology in the cannabis industry.
How people go about acquiring cannabis has only minor overlap with how they decide on where to order food from on Yelp. Specifically, cannabis is a diverse and complicated plant whose medical benefits vary as a function of its cannabinoid and terpene profile. Product selection also plays a critical role in determining what kind of experience you’re going to have. Thus, while it would be great to see which dispensaries are in your area and what they offer (a la Yelp), such information is of secondary importance to which medical ailments the purchaser is trying to relieve. That’s the most important thing to a cannabis consumer: they want to attain a particular experience. Instead of merely building a “Yelp for cannabis” that replaces restaurants with dispensaries and dishes with cannabis products, the development of a technology that matches people with the right products in their area seems to be a more valuable use of technology development time.
Given the uniqueness of the pain points that surround purchasing cannabis, there isn’t necessarily a technology from other industries that can be recycled for cannabis consumers– requiring a new type of technology to be built. Commonly used services like Leafly seem to have understood this notion; Leafly built a platform around educating users on different cannabis strains. When we set out to build WoahStork, we had a similar understanding that fed our mission statement: build a product that from, start to finish, is tailored specifically to cannabis consumption.
The development of WoahStork’s technology was/is to provide cannabis consumers with an intelligent way to find personalized, appropriate, and effective cannabis products in their area and then actually procure those products in a seamless fashion. This mandated the need for a database that was uniform across dispensaries (i.e. a Kiva Chocolate bar on one dispensary’s menu is the same as what’s on another’s), a sophisticated product categorization schema, and a software that allowed users to act on such information (i.e. verification, order placement, reviews, etc.).
The lack of precedence in any industry of such a technology is what has made the WoahStork development process particularly trying – it’s much harder to conceptualize what the end-product is like without any pre-existing examples to point to (without resorting to phrases like “It’s like if Amazon and GrubHub has a baby”). While a burdensome process, it’s a labor that will go on to benefit cannabis consumers from amateurs to OGs.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and it wasn’t built alone. Legal cannabis has been thriving for over 20 years in California. However, new legislation has created an essentially new industry. Cannabis companies that are contributing to the crafting of this novel terrain should be focused on creating tools that are cannabis-specific. There exist an immense number of problems that remain unsolved and no need for technologies that don’t address them specifically. While it might be attractive to create the “Yelps” and “Ubers” of cannabis to gain investment interest, the adoption of any technology will be fueled by how well it caters to the most important aspects of cannabis consumption: what it does to the end user. Residing within a particularly collaborative industry, cannabis companies should work together towards such goals. Together, we can build the cannabis metropolis that honors this truly incredible plant we’ve all come to know and love.