A GasBuddy for pot? Why not?
At least that seems to be the conclusion of one Seattle-based entrepreneur, whose location-based pricing-and-reviews service wants a slice of what he estimates will be an $8 billion industry in 2017.
Dan Nelson started Wikileaf as a guide for those looking to legally purchase marijuana (in all its forms) and become knowledgeable on exactly what an outlet was offering and for how much, compared to those nearby (hence the GasBuddy reference).
Nelson, a 34-year-old WSU entreprenurship grad, started with a rough Website on the subject in 2014 and recently got more serious with the launch of an iOS app that adds a Yelp-like layer for guiding consumers based on “strains” and location and price. And if you need to know the best buy for your “wake & bake” vs “burn and learn” Nelson offers detailed descriptions along with reviews. Medical and recreational dispensaries are displayed as unique pins on a map allowing quick navigation to explore details of the location, including the prices by quantity and whether they sell oils, concentrates, etc.
“We are always looking at new ways to expand the reach of our price comparison platform to help consumers make informed cannabis purchasing decisions,” said Nelson, a cannabis consumer himself, who also recently started a partnership with High Times magazine to deliver pricing.
We caught up with Nelson online, whose company now counts about 20 employees, to find out more on what the buzz was about.
Why Wikileaf? What led you to launch this particular product?
Before Wikileaf I was a financial blogger and frequent traveler. I was out of the country backpacking around Europe and Asia and Africa for almost three years while running a banking blog (from 2009-2012). When I came back to my home city of Seattle I was completely blown away by how far the medical marijuana movement and market had come.
When I left in 2009 I didn’t even know what a dispensary was and when I returned there were several in my neighborhood. As I started to visit them I quickly became aware that there was no real way of knowing what all these dispensaries were offering, and more importantly to those on a budget, what they were charging.
I could go into one spot next to my house and pick up and eighth of an ounce for $45 then walk two blocks down and get the same quality eighth for just $25. Seeing as how I was running a blog that compared savings rates for credit unions and banks, I figured there was some price comparison format that could also apply to this emerging cannabis industry. And that’s when the idea for Wikileaf was formed.
Describe the service and how it works. [I couldn’t test it because I don’t live near dispensaries and, well, that was a college thing…]
Customers open the app and are immediately immersed in their local cannabis market. The app picks up your location and starts off by showing you the most competitively priced 1/8 ounces in your area. One-eighth ounce is the most commonly purchased increment of cannabis from dispensaries — that’s why we set it as the default. Users can then change the amount to anything they’d like or search for individual strains and compare their prices.
How are you planning to make money?
At the moment we aren’t focused on making money and are solely focused on delivering value to our dispensary clients. Eventually we will have premium features available for dispensaries that will come in the form of paid subscriptions.
Who is the primary demographic — mostly medical or recreational?
For us California is our largest user base which is still only medical. However our demographics in WA, OR and CO are growing quickly. I think its safe to say within two years and probably sooner, we will be mostly recreational.
What’s the latest breakdown on where the app works, that is where marijuana is legal.
There are currently eight legal cannabis states (and Washington DC) after November’s election, however the most recent ones to pass legalization — California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine — still have to wait until likely 2018 before recreational sales come about. There are another 20 states that allow for some form of medical cannabis as of November of this year.
Can users request deliveries from the app? Is that coming?
The only deliveries we have currently on our app are medical ones and they are only in locations that allow for it (i.e. certain counties in California). You cannot order from them through the app, you would have to give them a call or text them your order. This may change as laws change.
Where does the qualitative information on the various strains come from?
Strain information is sourced from various places but most of it comes from user reviews, cannabis testing facilities, the growers or producers of the strains or the seed companies.
Viewing the outlets from the map view, it seems most of them don’t yet offer pricing in the map pins but when I dig down the pricing becomes evident… that just an issue with the app?
No, it isn’t an issue with the app — on our current platform, dispensaries must select which pricing to show on the map — generally their most competitively priced. If a dispensary hasn’t selected any an “NA” will show up on the front end.
Where do the ratings come from?
All of the strain and dispensary reviews and ratings come from our end-users.
Did you have any pushback from Apple on the app?
We actually did originally. Until the end of this year Apple drew the line when it came to cannabis pricing. They allowed apps to show medical and legal dispensaries on a map and they allowed for strain information, but they made you navigate outside the app ecosystem to obtain actually pricing.
We had to build a full blown work-around that involved color-coding based on price, until we got word at the last moment that Apple was changing their policy on this issue. We then scrambled to re-build the app the way in which we wanted to from the get go and were still able to launch on time. It all worked out perfectly!
What’s next for Wikileaf?
We have many things in the works at Wikileaf! We’re rolling out some new medical usage pages late this month as well as connecting to POS software to offer hands free menu updating for the dispensary managers.