The world's largest online cannabis finder, WeedMaps.com, rebooted its website and apps on iOS and Android in mid-August, in a symbolic and very real attempt to re-orient the site toward mainstream America. The sixty-person, Southern California- and Colorado-based company has ditched its weedy, original logo for a much cleaner, more neutral one: "wm" with a smiley emoticon underneath. The site itself is faster and less cluttered, though we experienced some crashes on the iPad app, and app reviewers report some annoying bugs.
Founder Justin Hartfield said the private company, which grosses about $1.5 million per month in dispensary ads, was worried about abandoning its stoner aesthetic with the update. But the future beckons, and it's decidedly more staid. "We wanted to be more inclusive, and we found out our old logo was offending certain folks," he said. "We wanted to be brighter, happier, less cartoonish, more professional, and reflect what marijuana is in our culture."
WeedMaps.com started in 2007 when Hartfield, a veteran search engine optimization marketer, sought medical marijuana in Southern California and was unsatisfied with online directories. Today, the company has two offices, lists 3,500 dispensaries nationwide, hosts 30,000 strain reports and 60,000 weed photos, and sells 60,000 products. Sister site Marijuana.com rakes in 2 million pageviews per month. But WeedMaps had also become a technologically creaky visual madhouse before this summer's reboot.
Hartfield said the company spent three months rebuilding the site from the ground up on the "super-trendy" database platform Ruby on Rails. "We've made a lot of performance improvements and now we have a clean slate to run really quickly," he said.
The site runs on a Google Maps interface. Launch the app on your iPhone in the East Bay and it pinpoints your location and shows San Francisco and Oakland covered in dispensaries and delivery options on a map. Swipe your finger east past the Berkeley hills and the deep East Bay is all delivery services. Cities like Moraga, Walnut Creek, and Concord maintain blanket bans on all storefront dispensaries, but WeedMaps connects patients in those suburbs to a vibrant array of not-so-clandestine pot clubs on wheels.
WeedMaps users review such services heavily, providing some of the only available information on services' reputation and wares amid the totally unregulated, hyper-libertarian dystopia of California medical cannabis. But the site's old look was off-putting for new users, Hartfield said. The old WeedMaps icon was a bud leaf under a magnifying glass.
"Our branding was so in-your-face," he said. "It was a product of 2007, when dispensaries were a rebellious act. It was still very much a Cheech & Chong stoner culture. Now that it's moved from pot culture to pop culture, we wanted to represent that."
The new logo's smiley face evokes the happy feeling you get finding and using great weed, he said. WeedMaps is planning a slew of features for its dispensary partners, and for restaurants, and other food delivery services. "So many people are interested in being on the map," he said.
So far, early responses have been positive. The app has 4.5 out of 5 stars in 96 reviews in the Apple App Store. Hartfield said the site was down for 30 hours during the changeover, but traffic is back to its pre-launch levels of about 100,000 unique viewers per day via desktop and mobile platforms. "If nobody leaves, that's a success," he said.
In regards to WeedMaps' new branding, Hartfield acknowledged that some of the site's longtime users "have been alienated by it" and still prefer the old logo. "They love the pot leaf in the magnifying glass," he said. "I love that logo."
But new reviewers also say things like: "I can now move this app out of a folder (due to the plant itself not being a part of the App's logo anymore, LOL!)"
WeedMaps users mostly check out menus after work, looking for what's new and tested, and sharing "what they are smoking on," Hartfield said. The site retains some stoner features like a 4:20 alarm.
Due to a policy issue with Apple, WeedMaps can't show weed prices in the app. You must click on a link launching a web browser, which is clunky. Reviewers also report a variety of bugs: menus not displaying; the app crashing; maps malfunctioning. Hartfield said more technical changes and updates are to come.
The young entrepreneur has also branched out. One of WeedMaps' ancillary companies runs inventory management software for nine hundred clinics. And Hartfield's new venture capital firm Emerald Ocean Capital is creating even more new businesses. "The deal-flow has been tremendous, as has the attention that we're getting, the amount of investors that are interested, and the entrepreneurs' business plans we're seeing," he said. "We're seeing heavy hitters from Ivy Leagues."
And WeedMaps is looking to the 2016 election in California, hoping to be involved in a broad coalition that will legalize pot in the Golden State. That means less stoner antics at WeedMaps and more appeals to the soccer moms coming into the movement.
"We've got to change because the industry is changing and more and more people are discovering the beneficial effects of marijuana. The demographics are changing us."
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