The nature of disruptive technology is that it challenges entrepreneurs to reconsider what is possible in our continuously evolving technological landscape. Disruptive technology isn’t meant to please complacent companies, it is meant to displace them and create new entrepreneurial belief systems that have the potential to change our world and the way we interact with it.
It seemed TechCrunch had this in mind when it launched TechCrunch Disrupt in 2010. According to the company’s announcement about the inaugural event, “we want to debate what’s really changing in media and technology right now, what’s causing disruption and what we need to do about it to survive and thrive in real time.”
In the real time of 2015, cannabis of some form is legal in 23 states and Washington, D.C. It is disrupting previously held notions of reefer madness. It is challenging what we know about holistic and pharmaceutical medicine. It is proving that stoner stereotypes are nothing more than offensive oversimplifications.
MassRoots (OTCQB: MSRT), a social media app for cannabis enthusiasts, embodies what it means to be disruptive. Isaac Dietrich, the company’s founder, saw a need for members of the legal cannabis community to participate in a social media platform where they could post and share cannabis-related photos and thoughts without fear of judgement by Big Brother and his ilk.
The company overcame its ban from Apple’s App Store and powered toward its listing on the OTC marketplace (OTCQB: MSRT) on April 9, 2015. Nearly one month later, May 4 to 6, MassRoots appeared at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York.
The event’s Startup Alley allows early-stage companies to compete for a spot in Startup Battlefield via popular vote. Startup Battlefield is an event where startups compete for a chance to secure $50,000.
During an interview with Edward Baig of USA Today, Dietrich said, “We’re the largest social network for cannabis consumers. We have 275,000 users.” As a testament to the loyalty of its users, Dietrich also stated that more than 10,000 users sent personal emails to Apple when the company’s app was banned from the App Store.
With the power of that collective voice, it wasn’t surprising to hear that MassRoots won the popular vote; however, according to a public letter on MassRoots’ website, “TechCrunch’s editorial team decided to use their editorial discretion to prevent MassRoots from competing in the Startup Battlefield.”
MJINews contacted TechCrunch for comment, but did not hear back by the time of this publication. TechCrunch Disrupt was founded on the premise of disrupting media and technology and the contradictory nature of its recent decision hasn’t been lost on members of the legal cannabis industry.
“The cannabis industry and acknowledgment of the cannabis culture is the most disruptive area right now. It is literally changing state laws and budgets, patients’ lives and freeing up a burdened legal system. Denying access to the ‘battlefield’ is the most status quo stance a company could take,” said Morgan Paxhia, chief investor for Poseidon Asset Management’s Cannabis Fund.
Douglas Leighton, managing director of Dutchess Capital, an early investor in MassRoots, hit the contradiction at point-blank range. “There is a reason it is called ‘disrupt,’ it is supposed to be technologies and companies that are pushing boundaries. MassRoots is one of those companies.”
Even though MassRoots was prevented from participating in a chance at $50,000, the company can likely turn the situation to its favor. In his letter, Dietrich said, “As disappointed as I am in TechCrunch and its editorial team, MassRoots will continue to do what it does best: connecting and empowering the cannabis community to affect real-world change.”
Dietrich’s response to this event will continue to fuel MassRoots’ ability to be an agent of change. “It solidifies the brand as an authentic voice in the space. They should be lauded in their unapologetic passion for bringing cannabis enthusiasts together,” Paxhia said.
This event doesn’t signify that mainstream America isn’t ready for the convergence of cannabis and technology, but rather that Disrupt NY isn’t ready for it. As Paxhia explained, “The path to broad consumer understanding and legalization is not guaranteed or linear.”