Waterloo startup develops app to have legal cannabis couriered right to your door

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When Evan Adcock told his parents he was leaving university to launch his own tech startup, they weren't too happy.

The fact that it was to develop an app that facilitated cannabis deliveries only made it worse.

"Especially my dad, he's a conservative guy and a reverend — so when I told him, No. 1, that I was dropping out of school and, No. 2, to do legal drug dealing in his eyes, he was not very happy," said Adcock, the 20-year-old CEO and co-founder of Verda Innovations Inc., an app that connects legal cannabis stores with third-party couriers to guarantee same-day delivery to customers.

Once the idea started to gain traction and some interest from investors, his parents started to come around, Adcock said. "They went from not liking it to doing a complete 180."

It was a concept Adcock and his business partners have been working on since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced his government would work to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana.

"We started building (the app) when there were zero regulations in 2016," said Adcock, though he emphasizes Verda is not in the weed delivery business — it simply helps connect stores with customers and couriers.

The three founders — Adcock, Mackenzie Ferguson and Stephen Masseur — attended high school together in Oakville but went their separate ways for university. By January 2018, Adcock had grown tired of working on the app while also juggling his bachelor of business administration degree at Wilfrid Laurier University, so he decided to put his education on pause.

Ferguson and Masseur, who were studying at the University of Toronto and University of Guelph, respectively, followed suit soon after. They're now part of Laurier's Launchpad incubator at the Communitech Data Hub in UpTown Waterloo and have raised a little more than $420,000 in seed funding.

Verda has also expanded and hired four additional programmers.

Once the app officially launches, Verda will give customers the option to have cannabis delivered right to their doors, safely and quickly. Adcock notes it will offer more variety because customers can browse multiple stores at once.

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"When you walk into a retail store, you're looking at one inventory, and if you don't like what you see, you have to drive to another store," said Adcock.

Customers can then place their order, and within three hours, it will be at their door.

Adcock says Verda is the first company in Canada to develop a legal cannabis delivery app, but it has had some trouble navigating strict government regulations around the drug.

Verda is not allowed to operate in provinces that control online sales, such as Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia. Even provinces that do allow private online sales, such as Saskatchewan, won't allow Verda to operate because regulators consider the company a third-party solicitor, which isn't permitted under the current regulations.

Ontario controls online sales through the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS), and all deliveries are sent through the mail. It can take several days or even weeks for cannabis to arrive. Verda is pushing for regulatory changes that would allow it to partner with the private retail stores themselves through a Verda-branded app.

In provinces that permit private online sales, the startup is allowed to build websites or apps for legal cannabis stores — software that won't carry the Verda brand. It has partnered with Living Skies Cannabis in Saskatoon to provide an app with delivery for the store.

It's currently accepting closed beta sign-ups and expects to launch the app in the coming weeks.

"They offered me a simple, easy-to-digest solution that connects customers with us for delivery of their favourite products," said Living Skies owner Cierra Sieben-Chuback. "This is a game-changer in the cannabis scene."

Ferguson, the company's president and chief financial officer, said the added convenience of the delivery app won't come at much extra cost.

"There will be a variable fee on our platform, something like 1.5 per cent. We don't want to gouge people," he said.

To keep costs low, Verda will collect as many as 30 orders per courier and use an algorithm to develop the most efficient delivery route. As the service scales up, it should allow the company to shrink the three-hour delivery window.

The app will also have enhanced security measures that go beyond simply ticking a box confirming you're 18 or older. An ID scanner that uses your phone's camera can verify your age instantly — then destroy that information — and the account holder is the only person who can accept the delivery.

"We built this from the beginning with security top of mind," said Adcock. The startup also partnered with Stelios Valavanis, president of Chicago-based cybersecurity firm OnShore Security.

Verda's founders believe it's only a matter of time before governments begin to relax regulations on deliveries, and they'll be ready when that happens.

"It won't be an overnight thing, but I think the way the industry is progressing, it's like alcohol — it started very stringent after prohibition but gradually loosened," said Adcock.

"This is going to be absolutely huge," added Ferguson. "Just like Uber Eats redefined food, this will redefine the cannabis industry."

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