As the closest major city to Silicon Valley, San Francisco is home to some of the brightest minds in the tech industry. Over the past several years, successful entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley employees have capitalized on the area’s booming legal cannabis industry. Some have grown up as cannabis enthusiasts, while others are simply seeing the opportunity of a new market and applying their technical acumen to the “budding” industry.
Bay Area entrepreneurs are penetrating the marijuana business in droves, attempting to make an early entry as the trend toward legalization continues.
The following are a few of the hottest cannabis tech companies in San Francisco:
A chance meeting at a San Francisco party led to a revolution in vaping technology. Sasha Robinson and Mark Williams first became acquainted with each other in 2007, during an offshoot party of the famous Burning Man music and arts festival. At the time, both were in the middle of impressive careers in Silicon Valley. Robinson was an engineer for Cisco products, while Mark Williams was a designer for Apple.
Over the next several years, the two friends kept in contact and shared ideas about life, the arts and innovation. They felt the current vaporizer technology was outdated and aimed to put their collective experiences at Silicon Valley toward creating a portable handheld device that looked and smoked better than any of its competitors. From Williams’ history at Apple, he learned the key to any successful technology is to make it simple to use. The two developers wanted to make sure their product passed The Grandmother Test, as it was called.
Enter the Firefly vaporizer, an innovative device designed by Sasha Robinson and Mark Williams. The vaporizer hit the market in 2013 and was greeted with immediate praise. The original Firefly felt almost like an iPhone in the smoker’s hand, which was no accident, and it used a convection heating technique, which is different than the other vaporizers on the market at the time. The Firefly’s chamber could heat cannabis up to 400 degrees in a matter of seconds, allowing the user to have a unique and healthy smoking appearance. The Firefly was largely designed for the tobacco market, but it became an instant hit in the cannabis community (again, no accident).
At a $269 price tag, the Firefly aimed for the upscale community; some have called it the Tesla of vaporizers, while others continue to liken the device to an iPhone. Robinson and Williams followed up the success of their flagship product by releasing the Firefly 2 in 2016. The Firefly 2 improved upon its predecessor in several facets. It is 55% lighter and 33% smaller than the original Firefly, with a quicker battery charge time. It has customizable temperature settings, and it comes with a smartphone app that helps the user set their preferred heat level. Gizmodo called it the Best Overall Vaporizer in 2016. Sasha Robinson and Mark Williams have built quite a machine for the cannabis community, and they were certainly frontrunners in the migration of Silicon Valley workers to the legal marijuana industry.
Dubbed the Uber of cannabis, Eaze is a marijuana delivery service that brings online orders to consumers in a matter of minutes. Eaze launched in July 2014 and has undergone two rounds of funding. In 2015, the company received $11 million in Series A venture capital. That was followed up by the announcement of a $13 million Series B funding a year later, which made Eaze “the highest-funded startup in the history of the cannabis industry,” according to Forbes. The fundraising contributors include Doll Capital Management, a company that focuses on start-ups in the business software and digital media industries, along with Snoop Dogg’s Casa Verde Capital and Fresh VC.
The user experience with Eaze is quite simple; anyone with a medical cannabis card in San Francisco can log onto the Eaze website. It will automatically determine the user’s address before sending the user to a full menu of cannabis options including flower, concentrates, edibles and accessories. Once the user has filled up their cart and completed the transaction, the Eaze algorithm finds the closest delivery driver and sends them to the user’s location. The company prides itself on delivering cannabis within as little as 10 minutes after an order is placed.
Eaze founder Keith McCarty is another example of a successful tech entrepreneur that later transitioned into the cannabis industry. In 2008 he helped David Sacks create Yammer, a free enterprise social networking service used for intracompany communication. Yammer was acquired by Microsoft in 2012, at which time Keith McCarty was taking notice of the rapidly expanding legal cannabis marketplace. As an aficionado of services like Uber and Lyft, he decided to try his hand at building a marijuana delivery service.
Today, Eaze is used by tens of thousands of cannabis patients. The app is available for iOS and Android, and the service is free for consumers. Eaze generates cash flow by charging dispensaries for lead generation. “We work really closely with the dispensaries,” McCarty stated in 2015. “Obviously we model our service off of the other on-demand consumer services that are out there like Uber, Lyft, Postmates, etc. We’ve learned a lot just being in that tech hub, in that tech community.”
In December 2016, Keith McCarthy stepped down as Eaze CEO and settled into a new role on the company’s Board of Directors. Jim Patterson, the company’s chief product and technology officer, was named McCarty’s successor at CEO. Patterson hopes to continue the company’s growth in his new position of leadership, with the ultimate goal of expanding into new markets as more states loosen restrictions on the cannabis industry.
The Peak Beyond
The Peak Beyond is an evolution of the retail experience. It a “smart table” interface that currently runs on Windows 10, whereby customers in a dispensary can use the technology to find out more information about the products they are thinking about purchasing.
Here’s how it works: the customer places the cannabis product on The Peak Beyond tabletop screen. The product will be scanned, and then a smart table will pop up with more information about the product. For example, the customer may take a glass jar with a giant bud of Jack the Ripper that contains a sensor at the bottom. The Peak Beyond will scan the sensor and a detailed description of the strain, its typical effects and treatment cases will subsequently appear on the screen.
The Peak Beyond was created by three residents of the Bay Area. John Capogna is a coding expert that previously worked with IBM and BitTorrent. Jeff LaPenna is a branding strategist that has been hired by Google, Pepsi and famous musicians like Nas and The Shins. Bill Stark is a serial entrepreneur that has started a martial arts academy as well as ventures in the retail health and interior design businesses. The three co-founders hope that test runs of The Peak Beyond in select California dispensaries will prove to generate more sales for the pot shops and a better, more informed overall dispensary experience for the consumer.
But cannabis is only the starting point for these three gentlemen; their goal is to expand The Peak Beyond to serve a multitude of retail industries in the future. Going forward, this type of evolution — tech entrepreneurs testing out new products in the cannabis community before transitioning to the mass marketplace — might be commonplace. It is certainly a trend worth watching.