PrestoDoctor's Rob Tankson on the Evolving Medical Cannabis Space
Rob Tankson is an entrepreneur, angel investor, and co-founder and COO of PrestoDoctor, a telemedicine company that connects patients seeking medical cannabis cards with compassionate, licensed doctors across the U.S.
PrestoDoctor was acquired by Cannabis Sativa Inc. in August 2017. Rob serves on the board of Cannabis Sativa and is co-chair for the medical committee for the Minority Business Cannabis Association.
Prior to co-founding PrestoDoctor in 2015, Rob worked in the finance and tech industries, including at Google, ClearSlide and Pacific Wealth Group.
We spoke with Rob for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.
Rob, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I'm originally from Chicago. I moved to San Francisco for college on a basketball and academic scholarship. I currently live in Brooklyn, New York, with wife and young son.
Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.
I am PrestoDoctor's co-founder and chief operating officer, and we are based in New York City. A former colleague and I launched PrestoDoctor in California in the spring of 2015, and expanded to Nevada in summer of 2016. PrestoDoctor is the first company to use telemedicine to connect patients seeking medical cannabis evaluations from a knowledgeable doctor. To date we've helped over 175,000 patients.
The company was partially acquired by publicly traded company Cannabis Sativa Inc. in summer of 2017 at a valuation of $11 million and we launched services in New York shortly after in the winter of 2017. I also serve as a director on the board of Cannabis Sativa Inc.
Your earliest cannabis memory.
Sneaking over the train tracks where my neighbors had a secret little clubhouse. This was my first time smoking, so I had no clue what I was doing. I wasn't sure if I even felt anything, but I definitely smelled like weed.
When I was crossing the tracks, my mom just so happened to be across the street, pushing my little sister in a stroller. When I approached her, she must have smelled the weed and was not impressed, then she proceeded to slap me. My first cannabis experience was a painful one.
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.
As a kid growing up with a father and other family members negatively affected by the war on drugs, cannabis was once a negative in my life. Since entering the cannabis industry, it has changed my life. On a daily basis I get to experience the positive effects that it has on helping people with various ailments and improving their quality of life.
A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.
My favorite flower is Burkle, edible is the watermelon gummies from Plus. My favorite brand besides PrestoDoctor is Kiva Confections. I love their quality and consistency and it's my go-to brand for chocolate edibles.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.
You might think Google, Facebook and even Twitter are ideal platforms for marketing medicinal marijuana services like ours, which is not the case. Even in states that have legalized medical use, it is Facebook's policy that ads cannot promote illegal, prescription or recreational drugs in any way. Because cannabis is federally illegal, Google won't allow businesses to advertise. And most social media platforms, including Twitter, routinely shut down accounts that promote the sale or use of medical or recreational marijuana.
Our skin is tough. We think outside the box. We leveraged nontraditional channels to start the conversation and had early success marketing PrestoDoctor with guerrilla marketing tactics at local events and fairs. Interestingly, we met a huge number of patients through these outlets. We served some of the people we met, and others were incentivized to refer patients to us via our affiliate program.
We also use billboards, which is not a new idea but it's one of best ways we find for securing marketing ROI. But you have to be very careful because laws vary from state to state and billboards have their own laws regarding location, traffic demographics and what imagery can be used.
One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.
The world was already moving toward virtual everything, and the Covid-19 pandemic has made the need for reliable, trusted telemedicine more critical than ever. Numerous states have passed emergency legislation to allow virtual doctor visits, and our business plan has evolved to support this change. Our goal is to reach 150,000 patients by early 2021. We are staffing up, adding more doctors, and expanding into additional states where medical cannabis is legal. We believe access to medical cannabis evaluations is an essential service across the U.S. and we're here to fulfill that important need.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.
PrestoDoctor supports The Last Prisoner Project. I'm one of few Black professionals in the cannabis industry, and I know firsthand that people of color have family members in jail serving time for what would be legal in today's society.
A recent project you're proud of.
I'm proud to have recently completed a deal with an insurance company. When I entered the cannabis industry in 2015, working with an insurance company was something that seemed impossible. In a post-Covid world, cannabis was deemed an essential service, and we are excited that cannabis evaluations are being rolled into some employer benefits packages.
Someone else's project you admired recently.
I admire the work being done by our partners at the Weed for Warriors Project, a social justice organization that supports holistic rehabilitation for veterans through community-based projects, advocacy, cannabis education and compassion. Many vets face PTSD and other post-combat tramas alone and are usually offered harmful pharmaceuticals first. WFWP wants to ensure cannabis is recognized as a first option. I truly respect and support their mission.
Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.
I truly admire the Knox family in the cannabis industry. They are pioneers and thought leaders in the industry. We were fortunate to have Dr. Jessica and Dr. Rachel Knox as two of our early physicians. They have established the only cannabis CME course recognized by the American Medical Association. Not only are they the most cannabis knowledgeable people that I've ever met, they are also genuinely great people.
A movie, TV show, music or food you most enjoy pairing with cannabis.
I love eating mangoes while consuming cannabis. It's the perfect pairing, as I enjoy the taste and mango also contain high levels of myrcene terpenes, which work on the same receptors, causing an entourage effect.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
I would still be an entrepreneur. In my 20s, I knew I wanted to chart my own path, and to be honest, Silicon Valley's environment made it easier for me to quit my job. I've always been a risk taker.