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“Hire smart people and embrace the fact that everyone is different.” – Rob Tankson, PrestoDoctor.

As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Tankson, Co-Founder and COO of PrestoDoctor.
Rob Tankson is multi-faceted entrepreneur, angel investor, and the Co-Founder and COO of PrestoDoctor, a leading telemedicine company that connects patients seeking medical cannabis cards with compassionate, licensed doctors across the U.S. With his leadership and vision, PrestoDoctor was acquired by Cannabis Sativa Inc. (OTCQB: CBDS) in August 2017 at a $11M valuation. Rob currently serves on the board of Cannabis Sativa and the Co-Chair for the Medical Committee for the Minority Business Cannabis Association.
Prior to co-founding PrestoDoctor in 2015, Rob worked extensively in the finance and tech industries, including at Google, ClearSlide and Pacific Wealth Group. While at Google, he managed expense planning, reporting, and analysis for emerging products including Google Chromebook. After Google, Rob went to work on Wall Street as an equity research analyst where he developed a unique forward-looking database to quickly identify changes in industry trends, successfully outperforming the S&P 500 annually.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been a risk taker, and I knew I wanted to chart my own path when I was in my 20s. After years on Wall Street as an equity analyst and a few years in tech at Google and ClearSlide, I quit my job in 2015. That’s the year my colleague and friend Kyle Powers and I co-founded PrestoDoctor.
PrestoDoctor connects patients seeking medical cannabis evaluations to knowledgeable doctors via our telemedicine platform. Being an online service provider we are able to evaluate patients as long as they are within the border of states in which we operate in. The current states are California, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Missoiri and Illinois with many more in the pipeline. Today, PrestoDoctor is rated the #1 online medical marijuana doctor by tens of thousands of medical cannabis patients who have received fully qualified medical marijuana recommendations.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We originally launched our telemedicine service in 2015. Doctors and patients were warming up to the idea and we were able to overcome the tech adoption barrier by really listening to our patients and making speedy changes based on customer experience. One example of this is we implemented a personalized treatment plan for every patient at no additional cost starting in 2016 after we noticed many patients wanted notes from their appointment and also basic knowledge around cannabis.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the funnier stories from my career occured in the fundraising process with PrestoDoctor. My team and I met with a wealthy investor who wanted to fund our entire round in cash and brought it all to a meeting as he thought that’s how the cannabis space worked. He did have a strong point since cannabis companies have had a tough time maintaining bank accounts due to how the plant is scheduled on a federal level. Still, it highlighted how we had to overcome a lot of social stigma as founders to ensure that our company was perceived with more professionalism than was present in the industry at the time.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our business is dedicated to delivering high-quality medical guidance about how to use cannabis.Talking to a professional in what might seem as a crisis moment offers peace-of-mind. Look for a new triage appointment offer that brings PrestoDoctor’s services to new and family-focused markets.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
It’s definitely my wonderful mother. She showed me that we should never settle and always thrive to achieve my goals. My mom always did what we call “level-up” and improved our situation. This eventually helped us move from innercity Chicago to a suburb which greatly changed the trajectory of my life. She was a tough woman and led through action, perseverance and a passionate love for her family.

This industry is young, dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
You might think that 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 non traditional channels to start the conversation and had early success marketing PrestoDoctor with guerilla marketing tactics at local events or fairs. Interestingly, these outlets have huge numbers of patients that we met. We served some of the people we met and others were incentivized to refer patients to us via our affiliate program.
We also deploy billboards, which is not a new idea but it’s one of best ways we find for securing marketing ROI. But, beware, laws vary from State to State and billboards have their own laws regarding location, traffic demographics and what imagery can be used.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
I am most excited about:
Normalization increasing
Medical professionals are interested in learning more about cannabis. More are using cannabis to treat patients.
The community. We’ve been in the industry for over 5 years and in young legal cannabis that makes us the veterans. The cannabis community is very strong and you meet great people with stories of how the plant has changed their life. The community aspect and relationship management are also vital due to traditional marketing limitations on channels like Google and Facebook.
I am most concerned about:
While I’m one of few black professionals in the industry, our family members are in a jail cell servicing time for what would be legal in today’s society.
The focus on separation of the parts of the cannabis plant. I strongly believe that THC and CBD work best together due to the entourage effect and we don’t get the full benefit when using them separately when treating most debilitating conditions.
There is a dearth of educational resources for the medical professional and the patient, and other countries are definitely further ahead in their medical research validating cannabis as a treatment.

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Can’t do traditional marketing
    We got shut down on social.
    Because we were first to market with a company offering telemedicine services for cannabis evaluations we were able to advertise on Google Adwords for the first six months. We had great success but once competition arose they began to report our ads and list their own.
    It became silent reporting war until accounts were banned from Adwords. We had to pivot our entire marketing strategy and saw traffic fall drastically for a month before we found more sustainable marketing focus. Conquering this challenge also led to the events side of our business.
  2. The cannabis business has turned out to be a wild ride. Nothing is certain.
    Since we launched in 2015, we have gone through wild swings of fortune. The ups and downs include opening up our telemedicine services in one state, shutting them down again due to new legislation, and then the emergence of covid19 made telemedicine an essential service, so we reopened the service in that state.
  3. There is a glaring lack of professionalism in the cannabis business.
    We learned by making major hiring mistakes when the company was young. The fact is, it takes more time to find the right partners and find people who are serious
  4. Nothing is standard across the country.
    Everything we do is state-by-state because each operates as its own island with different laws and different medical designations. As a team, we have had to learn all the laws in each state and clearly understand the impact of those regulations on the use of telemedicine.
  5. Raising money is completely different than in the tech business.
    Cannabis attracts lots of charlatans and because the sector is considered ‘exciting and hot’ there are scores of wannabe investors. We had a crash course in how to qualify the funding source after we were wooed by a seemingly honorable investor only to be ghosted. A lot of people are not really serious.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
First and foremost hire smart people and embrace the fact that everyone is different. It is part of your job to actively work to understand each person and demonstrate that you really do care about them as individuals. I consider my employees to be my colleagues. The team knows I want to collaborate with them, and I give them the freedom to do their job as they see fit. Being present when you talk with people and listening to what they are saying builds trust and respect.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
As a Person of Color, if I could do one thing that has an effect on the people I love and I grew up around it would be to tackle the systematic racism that is the 800 lb gorilla in the United States. I’ve been a victim of it and family members have been victims of it. If there was not as much working against us, I feel that there would be more people that look like me in positions of power or authority. I also feel an extra responsibility, which I happen to accept, to be a role model for other young entrepreneurs. I want them to see that there are PoC that start and lead successful companies and inspire others to step up, show up and share what they know.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Rob2chi on IG and Twitter
Prestodoctor_official on IG
Prestodoctor on Twitter

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!