How Meadow Is Building a Company (and Community) Around Cannabis
Meadow, which has been described in the press as the “Uber for cannabis,” connects consumers with doctors that provide medical marijuana prescriptions over video chat, and then connects them to a local dispensary that provides home delivery.
On the heels of the news that Meadow has raised $2.1 million in new funding to build out specialized enterprise software, The Macro’s Steven Chan talked to Meadow’s co-founders Harrison Lee, Scott Garman, David Hua, and Rick Harrison about building a company in a highly regulated (and often stigmatized) space, creating community, navigating political hurdles, and more.
The Macro : How did the idea for Meadow start?
David Hua : Harrison, Scott, and Rick met while they were studying at Penn State – they actually started their first company together in college. Five years ago, they moved out to San Francisco to be the first three engineers at a tech startup here, and that’s when I met them.
We started tinkering with new ideas, exploring big opportunities in real estate, logistics, and even shift management. But then I went to Oaksterdam University in East Bay. We heard activists and farmers talk about how the lack of tools really bound their hands. And we were all patients as well, so we had some ideas of the pain points. Getting deliveries sucked – you can order a meal or get a cab with a click of a button, but medical marijuana delivery was a broken experience.
And so we just got together and started talking about it. None of the ideas we were working on before made us want to quit our jobs. Once we started talking about this particular problem and how we could make a positive impact on the community through technology, we all agreed we needed this. It wasn’t like a cognitive decision. We just gravitated towards this idea.
The Macro : There is a lot of stigma associated with cannabis. How did you tackle it when you first started and how has that changed over time?
David Hua : We were almost a catalyst for people to open up about cannabis. Cannabis is pretty personal, so you never know what people’s interactions with it are. You really see a whole spectrum. Some people have tried it a couple times while others wish it was an option for family members with chronic illnesses.
What’s really interesting about stigma as we’ve delved deeper into this world, is that more and more people are starting to coming forward. And this made us realize how diverse patients and consumers are with this plant. It gave us confidence that we were not alone. The stigma you hear is mostly about “stoners,” but there are a lot of closet patients and people who are fearful because it’s classified as a Schedule I drug with legal repercussions. Because we as a company can be out there in front and take the hits, people are gravitating towards what we’re building.
Harrison Lee: It turns out there are a lot of very interesting, successful, and intelligent people who use marijuana. It’s not just hippies or criminals, which I think is a stigma that is sort of fading. People are starting to realize it’s becoming more mainstream. We’ve focused on education as well. We have an educational website that helps patients navigate the fundamentals. We just want to inform people.
The Macro : When you first started, Meadow consulted patients one-on-one. With the education aspect, now it seems like you’re still consulting people, but at a larger level.
David Hua : Yeah. You’re actually sitting in our community room. We host events specifically for educating different groups within the supply chain – drivers, suppliers, and budtenders. We’ve done a great job of providing a safe space for people to gather and openly discuss what their challenges are. And we take that to regulators.
We believe in small businesses and farmers. We do not believe in big agriculture or corporate takeovers of this industry. We want to empower these people who have been in the shadows for a very long time to come into the light with a set of tools that will make their lives easier. We want them to build something for themselves in this big world.
The Macro : Building a community can be difficult, especially in this industry. Can you talk a little bit about when you first started?
David Hua : It kind of happened accidentally. During YC [Meadow launched out of the Winter 2015 class], we had group gatherings and we were dogfooding our product to our batchmates. We’d bring a doctor who would help facilitate private consultations to help people get a recommendation. It was interesting, because people would start talking and we realized how much they didn’t know. And when you have an encouraging environment, people started opening up. So we started doing more gatherings. We did more than 60 events and we just got pretty good at it. When we started looking at office spaces, we knew we wanted to continue these events and that’s how we ended up here.
Scott Garman : Yeah, we had people use our product to look for bugs and see what we needed to educate them on. And then suddenly people from the industry started hearing about us and we met with them. Then we started talking to them about what their problems were, and then dispensaries gave us their insights. And we just connected with more and more communities.
Rick Harrison : I think what we did really well from the beginning was understand how important relationships are, especially in this industry. It’s funny how we’d meet one dispensary and that would open the door to meet 5 other people. And eventually, we ended up talking to legislators. We never anticipated that but we understood we needed to build these relationships.
Harrison Lee : Which coincides well with our involvement style. I think that we’re really strong and iterative. By staying close to the community, we’re staying close to the pain and we’re able to build better solutions from that.
The Macro : What were some of the lessons you learned from going against policies for certain states? I’m sure there are some unique challenges.
David Hua : One thing we hear a lot is if you’re not at the table, you’re on the table. And when it comes to legislation, regulators are looking for the best ways to write laws. We’ve done a pretty good job of going up to Sacramento to talk about what we’ve been seeing. We’ve also done a good job of sitting down with farmers, dispensaries, and different stakeholders across the supply chain. This two-way communication allows us to be really close to the problem, but also provide possible solutions.
The Macro : Did you imagine having to do that when you first started?
David Hua : No, definitely not. But we quickly realized how important it was when we started seeing Uber’s and Airbnb’s challenges. They never consulted the right constituencies, and now it’s after the fact. We just solidified our medical laws in California and we’re looking toward November to see if legalization for adult use gets on the ballot and if it will pass. We’re beginning to be able to ask people what they think about this. We never thought we’d be doing that.
The Macro : What advice would you give to somebody who is also facing similar challenges with policy or the government?
David Hua : Go meet them. People think that politicians are some gated community that can’t be accessed. From our interactions, they’ve actually been pretty open. Bitching about it won’t get you anywhere. Meet the people, show them what’s up, and find groups of people who share similar problems so you can get critical mass.
That way, you can show up and say, ‘These are our constituents, please understand the language that they speak and the framework that they have.’ And try to sit in their shoes, because politics is a lot of compromise. You won’t get everything you want and some things do not make any sense. At all. And it turns out there’s some sort of backward reason and you just have to navigate around it.
The Macro : What are some of the aspirations that you have for the next 6 to 12 months?
David Hua : I just want all of us to be super happy with what we’re doing – to the point that there’s nothing else we’d rather do. I’m very happy doing what we’re doing and I feel like we’re making a very big impact in the world. It is a marathon, so it’s important for us to stay energized and fill our respective wells. And we all do that differently.
Because we do see this as a long-term thing. It will take time to change the entire country’s mind and the world’s mind on cannabis. And we need to be energized to do that.
Harrison Lee : We can look back on what we’ve done and know that we’ve accomplished a lot. That can help with stress or depression or whatever it is. We all trust each other and we know we can execute, and the only thing is time. We just need more time and we just need to keep working and chipping away.
David Hua : That was a really good point with trust. We don’t have founder issues – but we know batchmates who do have founder issues. We divide everything equally and we don’t have egos. So when we talk about things, our guards are down and we’re open to listening about what’s going on. We try to see things from each other’s perspective. Plus, there’s four of us so we can do more things. For us, the best solution moves forward and if we don’t know we test it out.
It’s extremely important to be humble and honest with each other. You need to know where you’re at and understand when you need help. And not to push beyond your means. Sometimes you have a deadline, and it’s OK that you won’t hit that deadline because it’s made up anyways. We’ll just remake a new one, and reset expectations.
All photos by Steven Chan.