The cannabis industry -- in case you haven't noticed -- is positively blooming (sorry, the puns are just too easy). This week's "Startup Of The Week" is Kannatopia and comes to us from the great city of Chicago and the well-regarded startup hub 1871.
Read on as we chat with Kurt Akers and his vision of building the “Facebook for the Cannabis Ecosystem.”
What is your “origin story?” How did you come up with the idea for your startup?
I came up with the idea for Kannatopia while attending one of the very first Cannabis Business conferences years ago. I quickly learned so many different issues that people were facing while trying to connect with others in our space or get exposure for their company. Based on that experience and a few others like my brothers and friends growing up, Kannatopia ended up being created for multiple reasons.
First, one of the main reasons I started Kannatopia was for people like my brother. My brother is an epileptic, who uses medical cannabis on a daily basis to help combat side effects from traditional medications.
Secondly, Cannabis consumers are skidish to use traditional social networks to talk about Cannabis experiences or get exposed to products, dispensaries and Cannabis brands. This is because most networks are to big and connected to many family members or employers that they do not want knowing about their private life choices.
The third reason is for Cannabis businesses and brands. At this very moment they cannot create Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts or Instagram accounts because they violate their Terms of Service. In addition to this, Facebook Ads, Twitter Sponsorships and Google Ads are not allowed which severely hurts and limits online opportunities for this fast growing and emerging industry!
What does your company do? What makes you unique / different / special?
Kannatopia is a Cannabis social network for modern Cannabis consumers, medical marijuana patients and Cannabis businesses.
We are “Facebook for the Cannabis Ecosystem”
We help our users by providing a safe community and unique features that we have created around guides, recommendations and managing their experiences through a web/mobile application.
What makes us unique is our relentless views to put an end to social stigmas and stereotypes that exist for medical patients and adult recreational consumers. Feature set that we have created and our focus on “Connecting the Cannabis World” and “Elevating Cannabis Experiences”.
What is the one thing you love the most about running a startup?
I love being able to solve problems and meet so many interesting people!
What is the hardest or most surprising part of running a startup?
Being able to balance personal family matters and not spending all my waking hours on Kannatopia. (Which I find myself doing and love it!)
Do you have any success stories (big or small) you would like to share?
I would say a success that I value tremendously is that we put together a team of awesome people, diverse skill sets and domain experts for our industry.
How, if in any way, has Foundersuite helped your company?
Foundersuite has been a fantastic tool for us to use. I am used to using excel for a lot of things because of my background in finance, but I find Foundersuite to be so much better in understanding your investors, easily seeing everyone and getting the information all in one area that is relevant to raising capital.
How do you like building Kannatopia in Chicago? How has 1871 been?
Building Kannatopia in Illinois has been great for us as an ancillary company to the industry because of the knowledge and experience to our state that we can provide. Illinois (mainly Chicago) will be one of the main centers for our industry as things continue to progress.
Likewise, 1871 has been fantastic for us and for all the other tech companies. Things have really picked up tech wise in Chicago the past 3 years and 1871 really is the heart of Chicago Tech. It's a huge resource for those of us who can't get out to the Valley or for a business that is focused on the Midwest.
Finally, what is your best tip, hack, or piece of advice for entrepreneurs?
Build a network, read the book Venture Deals & create a startup that solves a problem or problems.