Featured Cannapreneur: Darren Roberts Co-Founder of High There
Feature: Darren Roberts
Location: New York, New York
Darren Roberts has always had a business focus, but cannabis was not his first business experience. He started out in the real estate industry – where he was very successful – and stayed there for 15 years. It wasn’t until he and his friend, Kenny Frisman, started looking into creating their own business that the idea for High There was born.
Darren and Kenny both had people in their lives that used medical cannabis and they wanted to provide them with a platform where they could meet people who wouldn’t stigmatize them for their cannabis use. The result was High There – an amazing platform that has created countless connections between cannabis users in the two years since it has launched.
I had the chance to catch up with Darren and learn more about High There and the technology side of cannabis. He also gave me some insights on how he thinks cannabis has the opportunity to progress.
Here’s what he had to say…
CM: Hello! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today! We’re so excited for our readers to learn more about High There!
Darren: Hello! Thanks for having me! It’s very nice to meet you as well!
CM: So as you know, we like to focus our features on entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry. We were so excited when we found your company because people are always talking about there being a cannabis dating app and High There made it a reality!
Darren: I’m glad you found us! That’s awesome.
CM: Me too! So what we like to do is give our readers a little perspective on where our featured cannapreneurs started out. Can you tell us about your life? Where did you go to school and what were your first career choices?
Darren: I was born in New York and raised in Maryland outside of Washington DC. When I graduated I went to the University of Hartford in Connecticut. Pretty much right after school I got involved in the real estate and finance world and spent about 15 years there.
CM: Nice! And what did you major in while you were at the University of Hartford?
Darren: I majored in communications – with a minor in theater.
CM: In theater? So why did you go into real estate?!
Darren: Well actually, I got into the Lee Strasberg Theater in New York and I called up my parents and said, “Great news! I got into the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute. I’m really excited. I’ll come home for the summer and then go back to New York.”
And they said, “Really? That’s awesome! How are you going to pay for it?”
It turned out that I ended up heading home – which was fine because everything happens for a reason – and that’s when I got into the real estate purchase, management, and financing side of business.
CM: I see! So how did High There come into the picture?
Darren: Well, my business partner, his name is Kenny Frisman, and he and I have been friends for years. Neither of us was in the cannabis space traditionally. My background is real estate and finance. And Kenny’s background is managing. He basically manages public equities in his family office.
What ended up happening is that we ended up spending a lot of time together. The exact, precise thing was that we were training together for the New York Marathon in 2012. And we were constantly just talking a little bit about business ideas. Then the marathon was canceled because of a hurricane so we spent another year training, spending more time together.
We would just continuously talk about ideas, and we both were affected with people in our lives that had dealt with some medical issues that had turned to the use of medical cannabis as a way to help them cope and help them treat some of the ailments that they had and we really saw the impact that it had on people’s lives.
CM: Is that when High There started to formulate in your minds?
Darren: Yeah. When you take that, combined with looking at the industry as a whole, as a true business perspective, you know that if you’re going to bring something to the market, number one you want to make sure that there’s value – that there’s a need.
So, based on our own personal experience in terms of having family members and friends who used medical cannabis, combined with the fact after doing some research, we saw a big void in the market for the cannabis consumer to really be able to connect with like-minded people., we decided we were going to go out and we launched High There.
We launched a little bit under 2 years ago. And that was really our thought process. We wanted to be able to bring, without any stigma, a place where the cannabis consumer was able to come and understand that the basis for meeting people no matter how things turn out.
CM: That’s amazing! What was the response you got when you first launched?
Darren: When we launched we were labeled the ‘Tinder of Tokers’ or ‘Tinder for Tokers’, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But what you do realize and see is that over time, there’s a lot more substance to what we’re doing.
CM: So you think it’s transcended the dating app and become a support app as well?
Darren: Yeah, I think it’s a community app.
CM: So since you’ve launched and people have had time to explore the app, what kinds of responses do you get from users now? Have you had anyone meet and get married?
Darren: Well actually it’s funny you should say that. Ironically, we were out in Las Vegas for Life is Beautiful and we had a a couple come up to us and say hi and introduce themselves. They actually met on our app and they’re getting married in July.
CM: That’s awesome!
Darren: Yeah! We’ve actually got the video on our website. It’s pretty cool. We’ve had so many connections. There’s been marriage – dating obviously, and also just connections from individuals.
I got an email from a woman who lives in Sydney Australia who met a gentleman from New York. She sent me a very detailed email about how they spent the night on a park bench overlooking the Hudson River and how it was one of the best nights of her life.
CM: That’s really beautiful! It’s great that people are having so many wonderful experiences! What has been one of the most impactful outcomes of High There for you?
Darren: One of the first profiles we had on the platform, which was very powerful, was a woman who said, “I have terminal cancer and I’m using medical cannabis. I’d love to meet other people and talk about experiences.” And that’s when I really knew we were really doing something special.
“Because it’s one thing to really get involved and build something but if you can create value for people I think ultimately that is great.”
CM: I agree. I’ve seen companies provide amazing services to the cannabis community and I’d definitely say that High There is one of them. What is something that has really impressed you about launching this app for the cannabis community?
Darren: The cannabis community, which you probably know as well, is so beyond the just date date date date. There’s a lot of substance that I’ve learned to it, and there’s a lot of depth. You know with guys – if there’s a heterosexual guy on the app, there’s no concern on him communicating and connecting with a heterosexual guy on the app as well. There’s a lot of depth to it.
CM: I agree. The cannabis community is full of a lot of amazing people! Can you tell me how you see High There developing?
Darren: Our goal being in the technology space our goal is really just to develop our platform. Create other options. Options where people come to the High There community and feel like they want to stay. Not only to meet people, but through really good content and other valuable aspects.
CM: I think that’s great. I’m curious to know how you think technology and cannabis will continue to interact. Do you think it will continue to hold a significant role in the industry?
Darren: Yeah I do. First and foremost, the idea of being able to connect people from around the globe with a touch of the button and for them to communicate and chat I think is fantastic. There’s also so many other areas within the cannabis space itself where you can see it working, whether it’s more information about different strains, information about dispensaries, information on the ability to not only meet people but get prescriptions and then get things delivered.
Technology plays a huge role in the cannabis space. It’s about timing, and it’s going to be the way to connect the majority of people.
CM: Tech and cannabis – it’s a beautiful pairing!
Darren: (laughs) Yeah, I’d like to think so!
CM: You know, I’m curious. You and Kenny obviously put in a lot of work to bring your product to market. Did you face any difficulties on the way?
Darren: Yeah, when we first started we came out at a time when Apple itself was not really allowing any cannabis companies into the store. And when we first started Apple did not accept us. It was going on with a lot of different platforms as well.
Fortunately, shortly after that it was not an issue. For the most part, outside of the traditional working hard, and technology, improving, dealing with the things it takes to get up there. There really have not been any roadblocks in terms of what we’ve been doing so far.
CM: That’s very fortunate! Now, I know from what you said earlier that you worked in real estate. Have you worked in any other industries before going into cannabis?
Darren: No, my whole background has been real estate.
CM: Okay, that leads me to my next question. When you compare cannabis to other industries, do you think it’s different in terms of business and interactions?
Darren: That’s an interesting, it’s a very good question, because I think what I’m seeing in the industry, you know businesswise, is I think you’re coming in, and you’re seeing a ton of people that are very very excited about the opportunity to get into the cannabis space. It’s very quote unquote sort of like the ‘sexy’ industry right now because of the potential growth and anticipated growth
So from that perspective, I think there’s a lot more enthusiasm initially when people talk about the industry and the space. But at the end of the day. I think the bottom line is that whether it’s myself and my business partner or anyone else getting involved in the industry – at the end of the day it comes down back to the basic principles of business. You have to see how you can go ahead and look to generate revenue and what your ROY will be cash flow needs and so-forth.
However, there’s also the fact that from a federal perspective cannabis is still not legal, and it’s so new. Dealing with that and the newness of the industry, you’re dealing with significantly higher risk factors whether its investing in technology or the plant itself. But I think a lot of people see the opportunity – you know, with risk comes potential reward.
I would say from my experience it’s been that there are a lot of doors that are very much open. A lot of people have been very interested, but at the end of the day a lot of those interests go by the wayside, because people realize this is a business, whether it’s in technology or other areas.
CM: I feel you. I’ve seen a lot of people go into business with no experience and then everything goes haywire.
Darren: Yeah, it’s a valid point. You’ve got individuals and they hear cannabis and think “hey it’s a gold mine.” You can hear real estate at certain times and think it’s a gold mine, you can hear other industries at a certain time but at the end of the day you’ve got to be able to execute.
And I think there’s a lot of people that have gone out and gotten involved in the industry and realized, wait a second – even though this has cannabis as part of the industry, this is not a layup, it’s not easy, and you’ve really got to come back to the core principles of business.
CM: So what do you think the future holds for the cannabis industry? What products do you think are doing the best?
Darren: I’ll speak from more of a data perspective for you. It’s amazing how much the edible market has increased significantly. It’s just unbelievable the amount of data we’re seeing in activity within the app and different things on that front where people are really talking about the edible market. They’re even doing things now, which maybe you’ve heard of, on the edible side of things called micro dosing?
Darren: So you’re familiar with it, good. I think really different ways to consume or partake in cannabis are out there. And you see a lot of stuff – believe it or not, it’s pretty interesting – on the pet side of things. CBD and cannabis, THC infused pet things.
But I would say that the edible side of things is pretty strong. And I would also say there are constant vape developments, there are a lot of really really poor vaporizers that are out there – trying to get that claim to fame – but within that too there are a lot of vaporizers that are being established with really incredible technology. I wouldn’t be surprised down the road if they sort of became their own smartphones.
CM: Yeah, I can see that! There are some pretty impressive vape products! And speaking of products, I’m sure our readers are curious to know about how cannabis plays a role in your life. Do you consume cannabis yourself, or was High There your way of giving back to your friends and relatives that used cannabis medically?
Darren: I’ve definitely partaken consumption in the legal environments and back in college I definitely enjoyed my fair share of consumption. For me, depending on where I’m traveling and where I am it’s definitely part of my life – but only in areas where there’s no concern from a legal perspective. But I spend a lot of time in Denver and I also spend a good amount of time out in California.
I do think there is a balance. I wake up every day and I’m running a business. It’s not on a consistent basis at all [cannabis], it’s based on the right environment and right location, but that’s my preference.
CM: I definitely understand you there and I think that’s important. It’s good that you’ve found a healthy balance. Do you have any advice for others out there that are interested in becoming a cannaprenuer?
Darren: I think from an entrepreneurial perspective you really want to look at what your idea is and what the audience is, their level of interest. Understand your competitive landscape if you will. Find out really who is out there, how have they done it, what’s successful, etc.
However, it’s also exciting that historically we don’t know a lot about the cannabis consumer. So you’re getting a lot of additional data and different things. Really, just come up with a good plan. Understand how you’re going to generate revenue. Understand what the opportunity in the market is. And just because it’s cannabis doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be successful.
“If you can execute, and really work hard and there’s a need for what you’re doing, I think there’s a good opportunity for success.”
CM: Awesome advice Darren! Thank you so much for interviewing with us today! We look forward to seeing what new things High There has in store for the public and wish you the best on your journey as a cannaprenuer!
Darren: No problem! Thanks for interviewing me today!