Wikileaf is the Startup Stoners Everywhere Will Love
Money: It’s everything.
Pot: It’s EVERYTHING.
Put the two together — save money on pot — and you’ve got EVERYFUCKINGTHINGEVER (okay, minus the sex and good music — but you can obviously add those to the mix on your own). So why not a “Priceline of pot,” as Seattle-based Wikileaf founder and CEO Dan Nelson has dubbed his comparison shopping website? The reappropriation of the price comparison and consumer bidding model for pot smokers is the conceptual equivalent of a donut burger or a quesarito or last week’s Chinese leftovers sprinkled with the contents of your pantry. In other words, it makes total, absolute sense. Well, to pot smokers anyway.
It’s all pretty simple, really, which also makes it pretty damn indispensable. Space cadets can go to Wikileaf to find dispensaries in their area, name their desired price and strain of pot, and then wait for the results to roll in. As well, Wikileaf supplies a very handy color-coded periodic table for weed, with each strain’s compound break-down and usage recommendation available for further study when clicked.
I decided to check in with Dan, who told me he is 31 and doesn’t succumb to the munchies, to find out what the Wikileaf hubbub was all about and to also get the real dirt — what he smokes and his best pot story.
So let’s start off with, how does Wikileaf work?
The model Wikileaf uses is what’s called a ‘reverse auction.’ This means the consumers specify how much he/she is intending on spending and then all the vendors (in our case, dispensaries) put up the highest amount (in grams) that they can currently offer for that specified price.
And how did you come up with the idea exactly?
The idea originally came to me back in 2008 when I noticed another site I was competing with in the banking vertical using it for savings and money market accounts. The concept was so consumer-centric that it got me excited and I began thinking of other industries it could be applied to. The stars perfectly aligned when the legal cannabis industry began to take form as I knew it would be a perfect fit there, and I was also passionate about the cannabis industry (far more than I ever was about banking).
What are your personal views on pot? Do you do it recreationally a lot?
Personally, I’m very excited about the direction the country is taking towards legalizing marijuana both medically and recreationally. I think it just makes sense to legalize, regulate and educate people about the plant, rather than treating adults who enjoy it as criminals. However, I also know that a lot of research still needs to take place to fully understand the long-term, potentially harmful, effects it can have on people, and especially those who start using it in their teenage years.
Personally, I use it recreationally fairly regularly and prefer it over alcohol especially in the evenings when I’m staying in and relaxing. I would much rather sit down to watch a movie with a joint than with a few beers or a glass of wine or two, but that’s just me. I know we all have our own personal preferences.
Tell me your funniest/craziest pot story.
Well, I don’t want to get into too much trouble here, but I think the craziest story probably takes place back at Washington State University when I was 21. A few buddies and I were sharing a joint outside of our dorms and out of the blue we were swarmed by a half-dozen campus police officers. Without much thought we all decided to run and were chased into the woods for a good 20 minutes before we were all rounded up by the officers. Fortunately, someone threw the joint away and we didn’t have any cannabis on us so we were let go, but it was a frightening (crazy) experience nonetheless. And while I never recommend running from police officers, had we stayed put we have all undoubtedly would’ve been arrested for cannabis possession — which at the time was a mandatory minimum of one day and one night in Colfax county jail (along with thousands of dollars in legal fees), so I’m glad we sprinted! It’s funny to look back on that now, especially since our state has legalized cannabis, and know that this is what people were subjected to just 10 years ago in parts of my state. It also reminds me how far we still need to go, as individuals may still be experiencing this in other parts of the country to this day.
What’s your favorite way of smoking?
Lately I’ve been all about the vape pens. You’re inhaling vapor rather than smoke so it’s much easier on the lungs.
Have you ran into trouble with people taking you seriously because of the industry you’re in?
Not in Seattle. Its an emerging billion dollar industry, and that kind of money is always taken seriously.
How have the offers for investment that’ve been coming in look so far?
We get investment inquiries regularly and haven’t looked into too many offers in depth as we don’t currently need the money. Back when we launched though I flew to NYC for a proposal that came to us that would have made us a publicly traded penny stock. We ultimately decided that was not the best route for us though and declined the offer.
As of right now we aren’t taking on any investors because we know we can still push Wikileaf much further along without any outside capital. However, this may change come 2016.
How have you advertised for the company so far? And in the future, how do you hope to go about it?
Thankfully we’ve been able to get a decent amount of national exposure from media outlets since we launched. We’ve also been doing a lot of grassroots marketing — attending some festivals, giving away swag, being active on social media, etc. In the future we would love to have advertising campaigns on Google, Facebook and Twitter but rules still need to be loosened before this happens.
What’ve been the biggest challenges thus far for Wikileaf?
Not going faster. We know exactly where Wikileaf needs to be in one year, two years, even five years, but we can’t rush it. We need to make sure everything is done right today so that it can scale seamlessly tomorrow.
You have a banking background. How exactly did that background help you, and can you compare and contrast the two industries?
As I mentioned above we actually got the concept for Wikileaf from a competitor of mine in the banking vertical back in 2008. I think the way people shop for the two online have a lot in common and I think that cannabis consumers should feel entitled to price transparency and that’s what we’re aiming to do!
Is Wikileaf currently pulling in any profit? How do you plan to bring it to profitability?
Although we’re asked by dispensaries all the time for additional advertising options, we don’t currently charge anyone a dime. However, we do plan on providing options for dispensaries and delivery services seeking additional exposure sometime in late 2015. And we’ll be charging for that.
In what ways do you think Wikileaf will grow? Are you planning to branch it out further than being the “Priceline of pot”?
Of course! Comparing prices is just the tip of the iceberg. We have countless features and add-ons we’ll be implementing over the next several months and years, but we don’t want to give away our hand too much. So I guess the best I can say is stay tuned!
What do you think is coming for the pot industry in general?
I think legalization on a national level is inevitable and that it’s just a matter of time. I think both the evidence for legalization is too overwhelming and that public opinion has already tipped. The way in which it rolls out state by state though still remains to be seen. I think each state testing their own ways of implementing legalization will strengthen the overall implementation on a national level though because we’ll have so many different systems to look at as examples.
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