If one company has its way, Canadians will soon be able to order marijuana as simply as they order delivery from UberEats.
Based in Vancouver, B.C. and founded by a Winnipegger and Montrealer, Namaste Technologies Inc. is one of the largest e-commerce platforms for vaporizers and cannabis smoking accessories in the world, with 24 websites in 20 different countries.
But Kory Zelickson and Sean Dollinger aren’t satisfied with just accessories. They say they will become the world’s largest online one-stop shop for everything a medical (and in some markets, recreational) cannabis user needs. They are being hailed as the Amazon of pot, and this March, their master plan really started to take shape.
On March 16, 2018, their subsidiary Cannmart, a medical marijuana distribution company, received its medical marijuana production license (ACMPR) from Health Canada, allowing it to place initial orders for cannabis from other licensed producers and take the first steps towards being approved for a sales license. Once Cannmart is approved for a sales license, the founders of its parent company has big plans.
“What we needed to be able to do to sell cannabis online in Canada is become a licensed producer, but we were the only ones to apply for a ‘sales only’ license. Even though we’ll be a licensed producer and we could grow, we don’t want to grow – we want to have the ability to sell everyone else’s product,” says Sean Dollinger, president and CEO of Namaste Technologies Inc.
On the recreational side, Canada’s upcoming legislation does not allow importation of different strains of cannabis from other countries, but on the medical side, licensed producers can import, leaving the door open for Namaste to offer different varieties from around the world. To that end, the company already signed deals with medical cannabis producers in Israel, Columbia and Jamaica.
“How cool is it if you’re at a party and you can say, ‘Hey man, I just got this Pablo Lime strain from Jamaica?'” says Dollinger.
The power isn’t in the pot, it’s in the platform
Being able to offer potentially limitless varieties of pot to Canadian patients is in the realm of possibility because Namaste isn’t a place, it’s a platform.
It’s a technological middle man, partnering with and giving exposure to other licensed producers. Since they’re strictly a platform — bringing the product from producer directly to the customer — there are zero overhead costs. Namaste Technologies can import cannabis at a much cheaper rate than brick-and-mortar dispensaries, growers or wholesale warehouses.
But access to international strains is only the beginning for potential customers.
Namaste is also behind an app called NamasteMD. Available for Android or iPhone, the application allows Canadians seeking medical treatment with marijuana to apply for and be assessed for a medical marijuana license right from their smartphone. It also provides Namaste Technologies with a ready-made customer base to buy the cannabis they sell.
All the Canadian patient and potential customer has to do is create an account, choose from a number of common ailments treated by cannabis that they may have and answer questions related to their discomfort and how they believe marijuana could help them. Once that’s done, the user will be able to book a FaceTime appointment with a doctor or nurse practitioner who will then assess them and hopefully approve them for a medical marijuana license, while Namaste covers the costs.
“The way we look at it is if you’re making an effort to connect with a doctor, you’re already consuming your cannabis in whatever way you’re going to consume it, so why shouldn’t we get it to you in a legal way – a controlled way – where a lot of people don’t know, ‘Do I need a sativa? Do I need an indica? What dose do I need? All of the sudden, you have a doctor helping you with that, so we’re trying to make it an amazing customer experience. Not just, ‘here’s cannabis,'” says Dollinger.
But Dollinger says that the truly amazing customer experience will come when each of Namaste Technologies’ individual subsidiaries come together on a single platform – creating the Amazon-like one-stop shop he and Namaste’s shareholders envision.
“Our idea is you could be shopping on NamasteVapes.ca, not even thinking of buying cannabis from us, and a pop-up appears saying, ‘Hey, do you need a medical license?’ Immediately, like Uber connects customers to service providers, we connect you instantly to a nurse practitioner or doctor who will get you your license within four minutes for free,” says Dollinger. “We then throw you on Cannmart.ca where you can complete your transaction for cannabis from any licensed producer across Canada.”
Namaste Technologies’ whole goal is to make the cannabis customer experience so seamless and easy that the differences between buying for medical use or buying for recreational use become immaterial. Dollinger believes the company’s platform and many subsidiaries make the differences on the business side immaterial as well.
Wait…is this legal?
With the granting of their marijuana production license, the short answer to that question in Canada is yes. But when it comes to Namaste Technologies’ approach to the impending recreational legalization and whether they plan to enter the recreational market, the answer is a bit more nuanced. There are different rules for each province around recreational sales.
“In Ontario, only the government is allowed to sell recreational, so obviously the only way we can compete with them is by selling in the medical space. But in Manitoba they’re allowing recreational from private business, so in Manitoba we’ll do both,” says Dollinger.
But Namaste isn’t just in Canada and thanks to their well-established vaporizer business they aren’t just selling cannabis. With an online presence in 20 different countries, majority market share in Europe and Australia, operations in the U.K. and Germany as well as Canada, and new supply channels into emerging markets like Brazil, Mexico and Chile, Namaste Technologies’ is well positioned to dominate even in countries where cannabis is not yet legal.
“The regulations aren’t as tight around vaporizers and a vaporizer customer has a direct correlation with a cannabis customer. For example, in the U.K. where cannabis is illegal right now, vaporizers are not illegal and we’re the largest sellers in the U.K. by a mile with 300 new customers every day,” says Dollinger.
“While cannabis companies can’t even participate in the U.K. market, we’re presently building our database of 300 vaporizer customers a day, so that when cannabis goes legal in the U.K. we’ll be able to use our technology and our virtual clinic to instantly convert customers into patients and give us the lead in the space.”
Namaste follows that strategy in countries all around the world, especially in emerging markets. The next place to get licensed for marijuana production and sale is in Australia where they already have 300,000 vaporizer customers and plans to implement the same marijuana sales strategy currently being used in Canada.
So far Namaste’s online platform strategy is paying off. The company has over 500,000 customers globally, going from $2 million in revenue two and a half years ago to having a run rate of $30 million in revenue in 2018, which is a growth rate of 1,500 per cent over the last two years that Namaste is expecting to double for the next five years.
“In each country around the world, we will have to figure out the framework that will legally allow us to participate in the cannabis side of things in each market,” says Dollinger.
But unlike other licensed producers, for Namaste Technologies legal status doesn’t matter. Whether a country has legalized medicinal use, recreational use or cannabis is totally illegal, Namaste has a way to participate in the market.
“We’re hoping recreational cannabis becomes legal in more countries, but we’re so confident in our technology on the medical side of things that we don’t really care,” says Dollinger.
“We’re going to have so many customers by the end of this year thanks to NamasteMD making the medical side so easy that if governments push back on the recreational side against us, so be it. We will participate in the medical framework, which basically still allows us to sell across Canada and wherever else medicinal marijuana is legal.”