Hammond Potter couldn't have predicted the series of events that led to the deliberately under-the-radar launch of his cannabis delivery platform, Pot Mates, on 4/20. But he's certainly shown the tenacity to endure them.
"It was rough, but it kind of trained this market to start thinking about delivery, right?" he says. "But even still, when we launched on 4/20, nobody knew who we were."
Pot Mates was first conceived in 2017 when Potter, then an Apple Store employee and longtime cannabis enthusiast, conceptualized a delivery service aimed to fill a specific gap: marrying the personalized approach of a pre-recreation-era weed dealer to the contemporary tech of a burgeoning cannabis industry.
He recruited co-worker Hakon Khajavei, who also worked as a part-time business consultant, to help build a business plan for what would soon become Pot Mates, an online dispensary intent to set a new standard for delivery services: prioritizing quality over quantity, centering user experience by analyzing testing data and offering streamlined pricing structures, all while maintaining an aesthetic that was more in line with a lifestyle blog than an online cannabis catalog. The plan, the build-out, and the licensing took close to three years to complete and was primarily funded by Potter.
"Luckily for me, when I worked at Apple, I got in on their employee stock purchase program," he says, "and that their stock has just taken off over the years is pretty much what has funded 90% of the business"
But just as Potter and Khajavei approached their official launch, now joined by a third partner, Jason Hinson, COVID-19 arrived in full force, essentially undercutting their big coming-out party.
"When COVID hit, all of my investors, except for one, pulled out," says Potter. "I had just enough money to get inventory and pay for licensing and stuff like that. We launched with a $5,000 budget."
It certainly doesn't feel that cheap, though. Scrolling through the curated inventory feels more like skimming through a cannabis influencer's personal stash. The site itself has the feel of a lifestyle blog, with poetic descriptions of each product, photos staged with a maximum commitment to aesthetic, and a lexicon that largely eschews complicated stoner lingo, replacing commonplace classifications with one-word descriptions of potential effects like "Relive," "Dream" and "Flow."
Unencumbered by lengthy lineage descriptors, phenotype explanations, and pie charts detailing contextless terpene percentages, the site feels far more in tune with the wide swath of modern cannabis users who fall somewhere between cannabis as a casual hobby and cannabis as a full-fledged lifestyle.
"Every product that's in the seed-to-sale system that the state uses and reports to has testing results associated with the terpene profile." says Potter. "We use that terpene profile to design a system based on how the customer wants to feel."
Pot Mates also avoids the concepts of "bottom," "middle" and "top shelf." Even the shopping cart has an ease of use that prioritizes customer contentment: no uploading an image of your ID, no waiting for approval before being allowed to order, no getting bounced offsite for payment processing. Everything is sleek, easy to use, and emphatically on-brand.
But for all the sophistication of its platform, Pot Mates is also very much like hollering at your erstwhile weed dealer—albeit in a cleverly specific way.
"The pricing that we have is as straightforward as possible," Potter says. "You won't see us price based on perceived quality. I really tried to keep that old-school dealer feel to our pricing. Back in the day, that's what we were used to. We didn't go to our dealer asking for a gram of this and a gram of that." That pricing structure also makes it possible for Pot Mates to deliver anywhere inside city limits with no minimum order.
That Potter is Black has only recently become integral to Pot Mates' brand.
"At first, I really didn't want to advertise that too much for various reasons," Potter says. "But people have really taken to supporting local Black-owned businesses. And that's actually made me feel really positive and proud about slapping 'Black-owned' on my company. We stand for something. We're actually out there in the community trying to connect with people and just making a positive impact. So it's not just about selling weed and making money to us. It's about making a difference, being a leader in the community, and helping push this industry forward in Oregon."
GO: Order from Pot Mates at potmatespdx.com.