Rob Tankson is a career tech innovator and founding partner of PrestoDoctor, an online medical cannabis recommendation service based out of California that puts patients in contact with cannabis-friendly doctors.
Rob joined cannabis activist and Spark the Conversation podcast host Bianca Green for a live interview during the Emerald Cup. In this podcast episode, Rob and Bianca discuss the founding of PrestoDoctor, the medical cannabis recommendation process in California, the ongoing development of telemedicine laws around the U.S. and what it can mean for patients, and much more.
Listen to the episode below, or scroll further down to read a full transcript.
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Bianca Green: Welcome to the Spark the Conversation podcast in partnership with Ganjapreneur.com. Today I’m speaking to Rob Tankson of PrestoDoctor. Some of his former experience in the tech space is pretty impressive. He’s the COO of PrestoDoctor and is responsible for multiple facets of the business. He has a proven executive management track record with several years of experience driving market growth in the technology industry. Worked with Google and was responsible for the transformation of the Google Chromebook project, gathering market research that would grow sales 50% year over year.
He has an extensive background in that space, it’s really interesting to speak to him as a part of our Emerald Cup series. And listening how he developed the concept and had it come to fruition. Rob was the doctor on site at the event that I threw that launched my bus tour back in November, prior to the election last year, where we had celebrities like Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner. He’s a great person. Really offers a wonderful service that allows patients to not have to leave their home to get their recommendations so that they can get their medicine straight from the dispensary. Very interesting guy and drops a lot of knowledge.
Hi, this is Bianca Green here at the Emerald Cup live with Rob Tankson.
Rob Tankson: Hey, how’s it going guys?
Bianca Green: Good. PrestoDoctor. I just got my rec yesterday and I’m really excited because I love the formula that you have. I think that it’s so great and revolutionary. It’s so discreet and you don’t have to feel uncomfortable going into a doctor’s office and not knowing what kind of a doctor you’re going to speak to. Tell us a little bit about PrestoDoctor and how you got into the industry.
Rob Tankson: Yeah, sure and thanks for speaking with me. Excited to be here at Emerald Cup. We’ve been around for about two years at PrestoDoctor and basically what we do is we bring the process of getting your cannabis card entirely online. So kind of solved a lot of pain points, some people don’t have time as far as going into a doctor’s office, waiting around. Some people are physically disabled, they don’t have the ability to go into a doctor’s office. Everyone else it really saves you time, it’s very discreet. Some people don’t want to go into a place that screams “weed doctor”, who aren’t aren’t really out about their usage yet. We kind of solve all the pain points I think of cannabis patients.
Bianca Green: What was it exactly that made you want to get into this field? Were you in the medical field prior or…
Rob Tankson: No, so I was actually working in tech in San Francisco. I wanted to get into it moreso because we saw a problem. Went to get a rec on a lunch break and it was one of the worst experiences ever. Waiting around and then you get to talk to this guy, and he’s almost a joke. Didn’t really know anything about weed. Wanted to find a better way to do it. It was place where if my grandmother or my mother was sick, I wouldn’t want to bring them there. That kind of started us thinking.
Bianca Green: Interesting, were you an advocate for the plant prior to this?
Rob Tankson: So growing up in the Midwest, I was kinda part of the DARE years.
Bianca Green: Yeah, yeah, so was I. In California.
Rob Tankson: So you thought it was evil right? That it was the worst thing ever?
Bianca Green: Yeah, the devil’s weed.
Rob Tankson: Yep. Not until a little before I got into the industry that I really started to educate myself on the medicinal benefits and just continued to learn about it.
Bianca Green: Interesting, what was the catalyst for you?
Rob Tankson: Catalyst was for me just thinking about the fact that it could cure cancer, and there’s been research to show that cannabis oil teaches cells how to die again when they can’t from cancer and tumors. And just thinking about people in my family I’ve lost because of cancer. Thinking like the what if. What if I can make that difference in someone else’s life.
Bianca Green: And being able to be given the choice, right? That’s just one of the most important things. People to choose a safe alternative to pharmaceuticals. Yeah, it’s super important. So tell me what some of the challenges have been for you getting into your, I guess you wouldn’t even consider ancillary, you’re tech and in the medical field. Have there been challenges because of any of the legalities and how do the doctors that are under your umbrella feel about being doctors in this space?
Rob Tankson: Sure, so there are definitely challenges to the cannabis space. First of which is marketing. Coming from a traditional marketing background at companies like Google, and other ones in the Silicon Valley, it was a situation where we could freely market anything and spend as much money as you want on ad words. And the more money you spent, the more you make. In cannabis, unfortunately, that’s not allowed. We were able to kind of sneak some stuff through Google for a little bit, but it’s one of those things it’s like a job managing it. Cuz once it gets taken down you have to go back on.
Bianca Green: What was that like? Have you been taken down?
Rob Tankson: Yeah. So we were running ad words for about five months. And we would maybe get taken down once a week and just had to build it back up, set the ads live. That was one of the challenges, continues to be marketing. Just traditional avenues. Another challenging is legal for us, because when we’re expanding to a state, the telemedicine laws have to match up with the cannabis laws. States like Colorado for example, you can’t talk to a doctor about weed online. So that’s a very interesting one right?
Bianca Green: Yeah, I didn’t realize that.
Rob Tankson: Yeah, so.
Bianca Green: Like, at all? Or you can’t get your rec online?
Rob Tankson: Yeah, you can’t get a rec online.
Bianca Green: Yeah, interesting. But there is a law that you can in California? Or is it something that people are just doing?
Rob Tankson: No, so it’s definitely a law in California and in Nevada. Basically where the telehealth laws match up with the cannabis laws.
Bianca Green: So did you hire consultants to come in to help you with the medical side of it, since you come from a tech background? What was the putting of the pieces of the team and puzzles together for PrestoDoctor.
Rob Tankson: Sure, so myself and Kyle, we worked together previously, so we started together.
Bianca Green: Kyle’s your partner?
Rob Tankson: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Bianca Green: And what’s his background?
Rob Tankson: His background is in tech, he’s a web engineer.
Bianca Green: Okay.
Rob Tankson: Yeah.
Bianca Green: So you guys started…
Rob Tankson: Mm-hmm (affirmative), started together. One of Kyle’s really good friends from home lives in San Francisco and he’s an attorney. So he kind of helped us with the legal stuff getting started, for a few beers.
Bianca Green: Yeah, yeah, nice.
Rob Tankson: But besides that it was recruiting doctors. Which we thought would be impossible. I had no idea what I was doing. But we found some really great ones luckily using Angel.co has been my savior. I don’t know how doctors come through Angel.co but it’s like the best recruiting tool that’s free that I found.
Bianca Green: Really? And when they come to you do they, is there a responsibility that you have to them being under your umbrella? Or do they do recs? Like are you the same as a regular doctor’s office that keeps you in a group? I guess that’s what doctors do, right? The groups?
Rob Tankson: Oh, so group is like you mean grouping patients together?
Bianca Green: Yeah. I mean, I guess essentially. There’s doctor’s offices that offer kind of different things, or there’s general practitioners that have six doctors in that group. Are your doctors able to work with other, either groups and/or types of patients that are not cannabis related?
Rob Tankson: Sure, yeah. I’d say maybe half of our doctors do it full time, the other half have individual practices and then kinda do it as a part-time thing. But it’s not a situation where we limit them. We encourage working together with other groups as well.
Bianca Green: And the cannabis expertise that some of them have. I mean I did my rec yesterday and I don’t remember that he asked me if I knew how to use it or anything. It was more specific to what my ailments are and why I would be using medical cannabis. But what happens when you actually are more specific from a doctor’s perspective on how to consume it. Is that legal? No? Cuz I know it wasn’t. But the law has changed so rapidly I’m just curious to the comfortability of doctors now.
Rob Tankson: Sure, so it’s definitely something that we do offer. What he went through is through our event mode and through the main system we usually, we also offer free event mode after the fact. We give patients a treatment plan. And so that kind of breaks down the ways of consumption, the milligrams we suggest, types of cannabis. It’s definitely something that we do recommend.
Bianca Green: So are you able to give more information on different strain activity and consumer feedback? Does that help the people that are coming in and getting doctor recommendations understand more how to use it? Cuz that’s the weirdest thing about the doctor side of it. I go into my regular physician and he gives me a pharmaceutical and there’s a pharmacist that tells me how to use it, the FDA that tells me how to use it. There’s all of these things, and what milligrams to use. A lot of patients have to go in and talk to budtenders. Now they’re stepping up the game with the budtenders and the consumer experience on a sales level. But even that, I know, was illegal at one point for budtenders to tell- like if you walked in and said, “I have this ailment. I have chronic pain and I take Vicodin, what can I use to replace it?” No one was ever allowed to tell you. “Well we can’t legally tell you, but other patients have told us that this works”. Like that’s always the narrative.
Is that changing, are the laws changing for patients to have more information so that they know how to trust what they’re trying?
Rob Tankson: Yeah, so definitely laws are changing in that aspect. The cannabis doctors, and all doctors, fall under the medical board of each individual state. And the medical board does advise in cannabis or any other evaluation to offer patients that treatment plan. So from a medical perspective it is something that is allowed legally.
Bianca Green: Well that’s good. ‘Cause we’re evolving. It’s just there were a lot of doctors that were at the forefront that had their licenses taken away. That’s just, it’s terrible. Some of the things that people have been persecuted for trying to help people. It’s just so disheartening. But your branding is really great, you went real mainstream with it. Tell me about that process. How easy is it to brand a medical marijuana doctor program?
Rob Tankson: So luckily for us Kyle’s girlfriend is an incredible graphic designer and so she whipped this up one night, and it’s perfect.
Bianca Green: It’s awesome, it’s awesome.
Rob Tankson: We’re lucky to have her.
Bianca Green: What are the goals for PrestoDoctor throughout the next few years as cannabis legalization is implemented, and do you have any fears that with the new administration things could go backwards. Tell me your thoughts on that.
Rob Tankson: Yeah so as far as the legalization goes, we are actively expanding. A goal of ours is to be able to help as many patients as possible with the easy use of our platform. As far as states go, we’re in California and Nevada now, we’re expanding to Florida and Arizona in, probably by February. And then a few more states throughout the year. As far as the current administration goes would be, there’s been at least two people I’ve known so far that are anti-cannabis. I don’t see it, at least for now, being an issue. Because it’s still on the state level. I think even with, if Hillary had won, I still think it would’ve taken a lot longer for a federal level legalization program. But it’s kind of one of those things, you gotta wait and see.
Bianca Green: Does PrestoDoctor do any advocacy in the community?
Rob Tankson: Yeah. So we work with Weed for Warriors is one of our partners we work with them. We’re really strong believers in the drug and what it does for patients with PTSD and other symptoms that a lot of vets come with. You know a lot of them in Weed for Warriors can’t really afford the recommendation, so we’ve been donating a lot of recs to them to kind of really help them out and drive forward that cause.
Bianca Green: That’s a wonderful tool. I know that vets because they’re under a government program, medically, a lot of them have been afraid to get their recommendations. What are the legalities on that now? Are they able to get their recommendations under federal law?
Rob Tankson: So they’re able to get their recommendations, the only thing is they’re subject to drug tests. We don’t report anything, PrestoDoctor is HIPAA compliant. California being one of the only states, maybe the only state actually, that doesn’t require you to go to the state level after talking to a doctor. You can go right into a dispensary with your card. Other states, like Nevada for example, patients are afraid to get a Nevada card because of the fact that they can’t have a permit for firearms. So that’s a really big concern for a lot of patients, especially military vets. A lot of them do carry weapons.
Bianca Green: Wow, that’s so crazy. I mean the same goes with, I think, cannabis growers. You’re not allowed to, I mean it’s so strange, civil liberties is such a big part of this. I don’t even think people consider it. Can you have opiates, or Xanax, and benzos, and be able to carry a firearm? ‘Cause those have far greater symptoms of people losing their shit. It’s the irony in that, is pretty insane. One of the things that I think businesses can do is really speak to those issues that generally people have not considered and advocate for.
What is it that you think PrestoDoctor advocates for the most in the community that speaks to your brand message?
Rob Tankson: So I think PrestoDoctor, we mostly advocate for access for all cannabis patients. Our perfect world, anyone would be able to speak to a doctor about anything cannabis related at any time. Just ask a question. Thinking about doing some concierge things. Just basically being able to have access to a doctor is one of our biggest things we’re advocates for.
Bianca Green: So what’re you gonna do next? What’re the steps for PrestoDoctor?
Rob Tankson: So next steps are, we’re currently closed out our first round of funding, and then we’re going to expand pretty rapidly through build hiring and hopefully be in a couple states by next year.
Bianca Green: Yeah. What is the opportunity for you to be in all states? What are those steps to make that opportunity work?
Rob Tankson: So steps for us is basically researching the patient-base to see what it looks like. And then doing the legal work as far as finding out when the laws match up so we can actually provide evaluations online. And then from there once the legal is done, it’s just about starting the marketing there. I’m sorry, actually gotta get the doctor’s licensed there first. Get em all trained up. And then once the doctors are trained and ready to go, then we can start marketing.
Bianca Green: What’s the training process for a doctor?
Rob Tankson: Luckily, some of our doctors actually come from cannabis backgrounds. Two of our doctors are actually sisters and their parents evaluated patients for cannabis growing up. And they both learned a lot from their parents and also, of course, through their own experience. That definitely helped, and they were two of our early doctors. Another one of our early doctors was a lady from San Francisco who owns 12 clinics around the Bay Area. So we definitely lucked out with doctors that have a ton of knowledge. Newer doctors what we do is we give them a CME accredited course on cannabis, so they’re able to learn through that. And then also speak to our other doctors about their experiences as well.
Bianca Green: Wow, that’s big. Knowledge is such great information, and the spreading of it. Do you gather data on PrestoDoctor.com about your patients and are you able to help put that into any market research possibilities for people to understand the patients more?
Rob Tankson: Sure, yeah. So we do take generic, generalized data from patients. We are actually working on some pretty cool models and stuff that we’ll be publishing early next year.
Bianca Green: Awesome. It’s super important that we understand more of why people consume it and what sort of ailments help. I wish the dispensaries and whatnot had more opportunities to create data on what patients use what for ailments. Because you’re obviously on here is what patients are here for, but then it would be so great to more information about not only are they here, but this is what they’re consuming for what. Because it’s really impossible to have a doctor explain it. But it’s the same thing with medication. Anti-depressants, I’ve heard some people say, “I had to try seven before I found the one that worked for me.”
Unfortunately I’m like, “Well, get off of it. Get on cannabis, and get high.” Because you’re depressed because you’re trying all these damn anti-depressants that are giving you all sorts of whack-a-doodle things. Where cannabis, if you consume one that you don’t love, can take three to six hours to kind of be over. Similarly, pharmaceuticals take thirty days to sort of quote unquote “kick in.” It’s such an interesting paradigm right there is the medical field and the way that you articulate to a consumer what it is they should use.
So the doctor’s portion of it is probably, there’s a lot of high pressure on that scenario. I mean you’re here in California and people are way more familiar with cannabis. But I can imagine if you guys open up in Idaho there’s gonna be at some point, not if but when you open in Idaho. That consumer’s gonna want a whole different experience. You know I think it’s great that you’re advocating for that, you’re thinking about that in your business model. I think it’s awesome that you guys give back to veterans. They’re just so ignored on so many levels. Our project manager Cody’s a veteran. I’m really proud to be an organization that hires veterans as well as tries to create more opportunity. Weed for Warriors, Sean Kiernan, I went to high school with him.
Rob Tankson: Oh yeah? Nice.
Bianca Green: Yeah, so it’s cool to see people that you know, that come grandfathered into your history. And he’s a wildcard.
Rob Tankson: Yeah he is.
Bianca Green: He’s a fun character, but he’s very passionate about what he believes in and it takes people like that to get the message out on a consistent basis. It’s awesome what you do and your staff is really well-spoken and really kind to the customers. You were so awesome to give us some recommendations at one of the events that we did at the beginning of our tour, and that was really awesome. We had a really great turnout to that. And being able to show people that a business model like yours exists, makes people feel a lot more comfortable about the process. Because it’s really about getting people engaged and saying, “This is the first step as a patient.” And then letting them help navigate it. So your first step is a really good one. You really create a good consumer and customer experience.
Rob Tankson: Thank you.
Bianca Green: Tell me, is there anything that you would tell entrepreneurs trying to get into the tech or medical space that you’ve experienced that was either a victory or a challenge?
Rob Tankson: Sure, obviously a lot of things learned. It’s just one of those things that as an entrepreneur you just kind of have to be ready to do everything. ‘Cause starting off, if you don’t do it, it’s not gonna get done. It’s not really the nine to five mentality. Again, it goes with the if you don’t do it, it’s not gonna get done. It’s really a strong commitment. I think if you stick to it, if it’s working and making sense, then you’ll be able to grow a business. But it comes with a lot of challenges, a lot of learning. I feel like I learned something every day. Ups and downs. I used to go from, “This is the greatest thing in the world!” to “Why the hell am I doing this!” But, I’m definitely glad I stuck with it.
Bianca Green: That’s awesome. Well, you’re creating a really great service and let our audience know exactly where they can find you.
Rob Tankson: Sure, so our website is PrestoDoctor.com. You can also find us on social media @PrestoDoctor.
Bianca Green: Do you have any questions for an audience that you might encourage them to interact with you and see if they can contribute any of their fears or excitement about the process of becoming a medical patient?
Rob Tankson: Sure. Question to the audience is, are you guys cannabis consumers? And then the next question would be, do you have a card? If those that don’t have a card, I’m just curious why you don’t? That’s a question I ask a lot of people, and the answers always really interesting.
Bianca Green: Yeah. Well get your card. Get legal, is what I always tell people, ’cause it’s the first step to protecting yourself when you become a new consumer. Albeit we are in California, Prop 64 did pass, and it is legal. It’s, I think, important even for you if you are a patient, or wanting to be a patient, to get into the realm of understanding the patient experience. So thank you so much Rob for being here with us today, live at the Emerald Cup, on this podcast for Spark the Conversation, sponsored by Ganjapreneur.com.
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