Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know that cannabis is rapidly becoming a multi-billion dollar industry—in spite of existing regulations. To learn more about the companies fueling this growth, we’ve done a series of profiles of startups, including Strainz, Eaze and Dixie.
Our latest profile is on Duby, a social network built around cannabis. The company allows users to create content, or "Dubys," they can pass around to the people closest to them.
I spoke to Alec Rochford, CEO and Co-Founder of Duby, about why cannabis and social fit together, and how the company came about.
How Duby works
Duby's algorithm allows users to create content that can quickly make its way through the entire community.
Users are able to find other Duby users nearby to share content with, be it photos or videos they made themselves, or something that was passed on to them, allowing the content to be easily spread around to anyone using the app.
"It was a unique way to share information. It was challenging at first to figure out, and it took us two years to do it, but it's a fun way to share. It goes out to the people who are closest to you, which allows you to pass the Duby on further. That gives us the ability to create trends, based on popular content, and influencers, quicker than other platforms," said Rochford.
"With Instagram, for example, it only goes out to those who follow you. Even if you use a hashtag, it ends up in space. That is what separates us from everyone else. We can distribute popular content quickly, and everyone who uses the app is on the same playing field to have their content go viral."
The target audience for Duby is anybody who enjoys cannabis, no matter what their age. Duby is not only trying to target young users, he said. While 40 percent of the 75,000 people who currently use Duby are between the ages of 20 to 34 (the app is age restricted to those 18 and above), there are plenty of 34 to 44 year olds using it as well.
"While the typical user experience on social tends to focus on a Millennial-looking app, we made ours lightweight and easy to use. It's for everybody in the community, and we have a diverse demographic," Rochford said. "Having such a diverse community makes it cool. So many new social networks are heavy toward Millennials, but ours goes along with the entire cannabis community."
The first time that users try Duby out, it's mostly out of curiosity, especially since the cannabis industry has been in the dark for so long. This is generally the first time that they will be able to easily meet people who have the same interest and explore the community.
Once they get used to it, though, then they start chatting, messaging and making new friends. Some have even started dating based on connections made over Duby.
Duby sees a higher engagement rate than other social networks, with users spending an average of 20 minutes per day. That's more than Snapchat and Twitter, which both see roughly 18 minutes a day on iOS, and Instagram which sees 15 minutes a day. It even comes close to Facebook, which sees around 22 minutes. Duby's numbers go up to 25 minutes a day on Android.
Part of that has to do with the app's gamification aspect, according to Rochford. Each user has a score that goes up or down based on how popular their content is, and it encourages them to try to get their score up by creating the best photos and videos.
"We are unique in that regard. With others it's all about the followers, but on Duby its the score that dictates how you're doing."
The origins of Duby
The idea for Duby came about for personal reasons: the son of Russell Thomas, co-founder and CTO of Duby, who is married to Rochford’s cousin, was diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome, a form of autism.
"It was difficult for his son, Jack, to do things, even to eat. We tried all of these prescriptions, but once we tried CBD nearly overnight Jack was eating more and walking and talking. It was amazing, and it brought us into the industry in general," Rochford told me.
"More than what we perceived from the media, it was that personal level, and emotional experience, that brought us here."
That led to Rochford and Thomas brainstorming ideas for how to create an app for the cannabis community, and Duby wasn't the only idea that they came came up with.
"We originally used Invision, which allows you to create little apps so people can test them, and you can get feedback quickly. So we put out a Craiglist ad, seeking cannabis consumers between the ages of 20 and 30 who had an iPhone, and we paid them for their time," said Rochford.
They limited the group to 10 users, and presented them with three or four ideas. One idea was for a trending app, to show users which products were popular, and then offer deals and specials. Another was all about serving up information about dispensaries, showing users the deals they wanted to see after it learned what they liked.
"We came up with the idea for Duby in Russ’ garage. It was the dumbest idea we came up with, but people liked it. They saw it as a fun way to meet others with like-minded interests. They're now using it for over 20 minutes per day," said Rochford.
"We've been working on this for two and a half years now, and we really try to focus on what makes us unique. Our algorithm is almost like a social network had a baby with a game. It's very cool."
How does Duby make money?
So far, Rochford told me, making money hasn't been a focus for Duby; instead, the company has been putting all of its energy into building up the product, rather than any kind of marketing or monetizing.
"We believe the best product will win and we love working on the app," he said.
That is going to change very soon, though, probably within the next few months. The plan is to focus on brands and dispensaries, connecting them with more users, in more targeted ways. That means that a user would be able to find a dispensary by location, then look at its product and deals.
"It's like advertising, but it's not going to feel like advertising. Our advantage is that we're in a vertical who audience is all in and who really wants to see this content," said Rochford.
"They're already seeing ads. We have 200 to 300 businesses already posting content, but we can help them target users better, with improved analytics, and by helping them build their profiles. We can also have maps, so you can create a Duby and track it on a map. With Facebook advertising, the most micro you can go is zip code. With brick and mortar, it has to be more accurate, so they can pinpoint the users who are closest physically to them."
The company plans to begin these efforts in early 2017, which he said would be a “big year” for Duby.
The future of Duby
I've written previously about some of the problems facing companies that are trying to use social media to promote their cannabis companies, and why they need services like Duby, which focuses exclusively on cannabis. They include an inability to advertise on traditional social media, as well as feeling of general distrust between cannabis and those services, which some have seen as attacking them for the industry they're in. That's partially why Duby has become popular with those businesses that are currently using it to promote their brands.
For social networks like Duby, though, they don't face many regulatory issues, since they never go near the plant itself, or sell any kind of cannabis products.
"Since we're hands off the plant we don't have any trouble. We don’t have any issues with anyone. We’re lucky in that regard. Back in the day, and even earlier this year, Apple was rough to deal with, but everything's fine now, and Google’s been great to us," said Rochford.
As for what will happen to the cannabis space going forward, Rochford believes cannabis is on its way to becoming mainstream.
"I don't think anyone knows what's going to happen, but it's going in the right direction. I think cannabis will be rescheduled in the next 24 months, and that will allow the industry to grow more, making it easier on the business end, and for those who handle the plant," he said.
The DEA, it should be noted, just recently declared that it would not be rescheduling cannabis. It denied two petitions to reschedule cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. It had been widely speculated, and hoped for, across the industry that the DEA would reschedule cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II under the CSA.
Still, Rochford believes that as more states come on board to making cannabis legal, the tide will shift with the Federal government as well.
"I'm not sure where it's going beyond that, but I think more states will legalize medicinal cannabis, and some will recreationally legalize. It will continue to grow state by state. There won't be any issues from the Federal side since it’s already there. It's growing, making money, and creating lots of jobs. I don't think there will be any issues on that end," he said.
"I don't even think it matters who the President is. They won't have that much power. It's going state by state. Half the states that are medically legal, and, as that grows, the overall votes for wanting to reschedule will grow too. I think it will get a lot better over the next five years, and we're really on the right path."
(Image source: duby.co)