iToke® Recent Press
Buy your cannabis online...
(Independent, 30 October 2000)
By Gail Robinson
So far you can only get the T-shirt, but the founders of iToke think it's just a matter of time.
The image of a typical cannabis smoker uncannily matches that of atypical Net-user thirtysomething members of the slacker generation looking to rebel, but in a mild way.
Tim Freccia and Mike Tucker are such archetypal Generation X-ersthat they could have stepped straight out of a Douglas Coupland novel they're both in their thirties, were born in Seattle and work in new media. These guys are also the founders of iToke (itoke.co.uk), an Amsterdam-based website that aims to make the whole process of buying pot safe and respectable.
Pay a visit to the iToke site and you'll see why some Amsterdam coffeehouse owners have accused them of attempting to Amazonify the coffee-shop scene. The stylish iToke website has been designed to look like a mix of Apple's online store and Starbucks' coffee site.
The buying process seems simple, you get yourself a rechargeable iToken, which works much like a phone card. Then you place your order via the website or over the phone or by using a WAP phone (two grams max, I'm afraid). A bicycle courier delivers your cannabis and if it doesn't get there within 30 minutes then, just like pizza deliveries, you get your goods for free.
The only problem is that this revolutionary service was meant to launch in Amsterdam on 1 September, but currently the only thing that you are able to buy is an iToke T-shirt. Co-founder Tim Freccia explains: "We made a strategic decision not to launch for a couple of reasons. The biggest was because of the amount of publicity we'd had over the last few months, we thought we would have a media circus. The second reason was we were getting mail from a certain sector of the Amsterdam coffee-shop community that seemed to indicate that we were being misconceived."
The original plan had been to sneak the service into Amsterdam, where cannabis is, of course, legal in small amounts, and to provide a working example of the iToke service in action. Freccia and Tucker hoped a service in the Netherlands could pave the way for further test beds in the UK, Canada or the US. But their plans were foiled: "I don't think it's possible now because of all the attention we've received. We learned a big lesson in Amsterdam and that's not to announce a launch date," admits Freccia.
But the guys haven't given up and, even without the e-commerce side of the business up and running, it's obvious iToke has struck a nerve among Net users. Since the site went live six months ago, it's already had 100 million eyeballs and continues to attract around 30,000 visitors a day. Freccia claims the response has been overwhelmingly positive: "We can count the negative responses on one hand."
So they've got the traffic and they've got the publicity. The other great advantage these guys have is they're first to market and Amazon's Jeff Bezos will tell you all about the vital importance of being first to market in a burgeoning e-commerce sector. Richard Branson might have claimed Virgin would brand cannabis as soon as it became legal, but iToke got in there first.
Freccia and Tucker recognise that if cannabis is legalised around the world then iToke could turn them into billionaires overnight. "We figure it's going to be legalised, it's not like pot laws are going to get more strict anywhere and we wanted to get in there first. In any location where pot becomes legal, we're going to be there," said Freccia.
This is a duo that has already got some very ambitious plans for iToke brand extensions. They want to set up a series of cafés around the world, which will go under the brand name iTokeo and will be alternatives to the likes of Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Café.
"iTokeo is a physical manifestation of this freedom of lifestyle mentality. Say a group of software executives want to hold a meeting, there's something seedy about coffee-shops and there's something cheesy and old-fashioned about Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock. Instead they'd come to iTokeo," explains Freccia. The pair are already "talking to people" in America's West Coast with a view to setting up the first iTokeo café.
It might sound like one huge potential cash cow, but these guys claim they're not just in it for the money, they see themselves as spokespeople for a generation. "We wanted to set up a business that our contemporaries would respond to the Generation X or Slacker generation who all of a sudden have found themselves in the forefront of the new economy. We realised the people we grew up with are probably now Seattle tech workers pulling in a joint salary of around a quarter of a million dollars. They've got houses and kids but they still smoke pot in the basement. We figured it was time to upgrade that image."
Ever the optimists, Freccia and Tucker believe that cannabis will be legalised soon. "In the US and UK this is a very timely issue. In the US gambling was illegal 20 years ago, but that's all changed now. The world moves much quicker now and we believe the legalisation of cannabis could happen quickly."
Right now, though, the guys seem to have reached an impasse. The Netherlands is the only country in the world where they could launch a pot delivery service immediately and their plans there have now ground to a halt. So where do they go from here? Freccia explains rather cagily that iToke is in a state of "strategic planning" and that they haven't completely abandoned their plans in Amsterdam.
"At the moment, we're trying to engage in dialogue with municipal governments as well as influential lobbyists. We've decided this is too big to walk away from," he says.
Founders Dream Of High Demand On iToke Net Site
(San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, August 31, 2000)
Benny Evangelista, Chronicle Staff Writer
Call it a cross between Webvan and a cannabis buyers' club.
Two budding entrepreneurs behind a firm descriptively named IToke LLC hope to launch a Web-based marijuana delivery service in Amsterdam as soon as tomorrow.
The unusual e-commerce company promises to deliver orders within 30 minutes, using fast, friendly "iTokkerista" couriers astride a fleet of green-and-white bicycles.
For 10 Euros, or $8.94, per gram, customers will be able to place orders by computer, phone, fax or WAP-enabled wireless phones. And they will be able to pay for the pot with prepaid "iToken" smart credit cards that can be refilled at Amsterdam kiosks.
Founders Tim Freccia and Mike Tucker, two Seattle natives, also plan to open a chain of "toke style" clubs in London, New York and Tokyo that will "celebrate a pastime that is as American as Silicon Valley."
"Our biggest mission is to change the perception (in America) of what marijuana culture is," Tucker said during a telephone interview from Berlin.
Tucker, 33, said he has taken hits from critics who dismiss IToke as a joke. Online portal Yahoo even lists the site, itoke.co.uk, under "humor."
But Tucker said he and Freccia, 35, aren't just blowing smoke. Tucker insists IToke is a serious e-commerce enterprise that hopes to make marijuana a respectable brand by "repackaging it, by commercializing it, by making it an actual product."
The Web site, for example, was designed to look like a combination of Apple Computer's online store and Starbucks Coffee's Web site.
"At the end of the day, who do you want to buy from? Some guy in an alley in Barcelona, or from a company that not only delivers premium products, but also shows an interest in the community and its employees," Tucker said in an earlier press release.
Allen St. Pierre of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said IToke could run a legitimate business in Amsterdam, where the laws and social mores regarding marijuana use are less strict than in the United States.
"Sounds like all they need are the growers and the bike riders," said St. Pierre, executive director of the NORML Foundation, the nonprofit education and research arm of the Washington, D.C., lobbying group that is trying to make marijuana legal.
"If this service was available in an unfettered way in the District of Columbia, they'd be zillionaires," St. Pierre said.
In the United States, though, Freccia and Tucker would be considered major illegal drug dealers and tossed in jail, St. Pierre said. Pro- and anti-marijuana forces are battling over the question of whether pot should be legally distributed for medicinal purposes.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an emergency order baring the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative from distributing marijuana to seriously ill patients.
But in the Netherlands, marijuana can be sold legally in small amounts from licensed coffee shops, although it remains to be seen whether a fleet of ganja couriers runs afoul of those laws, St. Pierre said.
"Many people who use marijuana (medicinally) are so physically incapacitated that if they could call someone to have it delivered to them, this would be a godsend," St. Pierre said.
For starters, though, the iTokkeristas will only make deliveries in Amsterdam, and only a maximum of 2 grams per order. Tucker, who owns a DVD post-production company in Berlin, said final details may not be nailed down in time to launch the service tomorrow as scheduled.
The startup's biggest problem in Amsterdam has been the brick-and- mortar coffee shop owners who are not pleased "with what they see is the Amazon-ization of something they feel is theirs," Tucker said.
But Tucker, who says he doesn't touch the stuff, said he can already smell the interest in IToke, especially from the average 30,000 unique visitors who already access the site daily.
"You can call us what you want, but I really think that we're on to something," he said.
E-mail Benny Evangelista at [email protected].
© San Francisco Chronicle