Cannabiz co-founder and chief growth officer Martin Lane caught up with cancer survivor and tech pioneer Chad Walkaden (in lockdown in Peru) to chat about OnTracka, the medicinal cannabis app he has created to legitimise cannabinoids into patient healthcare.
Martin Lane (Cannabiz): Tell me a bit about your background and why you came to build OnTracka.
Chad Walkaden (OnTracka): I’m a qualified forensic social worker. I’ve worked in mental health for many different years in Australia and the UK. So yeah, I was working in frontline child protection. This is working in East London, in Tower Hamlets. I’m not sure where you’re from in the UK, but there’s some challenges. I remember having conversations with my sister-in-law. “No, why would you do that [smoke cannabis]?” Not even to… This was a young guy talking about it, mate. They were my views and I then got diagnosed with a stage four terminal diagnosis. I had a cancer the size of a football, like think about a rugby league ball.
Chad: 20 centimeters by 15 centimeters. That’s when I was 29. I got diagnosed in the UK, came back to Australia, had surgery, recovered. Took me a while to recover. It was a big surgery. Took out my kidney as well and lost my adrenal gland. There was already some changes that I was making and someone, interestingly, someone who is now my advisor, someone who’s involved in OnTracka with me, came into my hospital bed, my hospital ward not my bed, and said “you should try cannabis”. And I just remember thinking: “What are you talking about, mate? No, no, no, no, no. It’s not for me. I’m already focusing on my diet and my nutrition.”
Chad: Back then, mate, the interesting thing is at the point of diagnosis, 2014, I already had nine months of data on myself. I’d been living in London. Binge drinking culture. So I was already aware where my health was at. I was already tracking my… and this is kind of interesting. You’ll see the clues lead together to what OnTracka is about, but I was already tracking what movement I was doing, what I was exercising and what I was eating. That was just very basic tracking.
Chad: Then when I got diagnosed, told “you’re going to die,” it was like: “Okay, well I need to start tracking everything else. I want to know how often I’m fatigued. I want to know how often I have nausea. I want to know what else is going on for me and start exploring.” Bit of journaling. There were all these things that were starting to emerge and using different apps, not even apps back then really, but just different places where you store this information. But really trying to learn: “How do I feel my best and how do I live?” Because I had a belief I was going to get better, and I didn’t use cannabis at all at the start and I just suffered the consequences.
Chad: I went through daily chemotherapy. I used a chemotherapy which is a derivative of DDT, banned from human consumption in 1972 and was putting that into my body AM and PM. I just think the story, it’s fundamental to where and how this has evolved. So from that, I then got rediagnosed the next year. I’ve lived like a saint, made some significant lifestyle changes, and then got rediagnosed and it spread. So I had the size of an orange here, had two cancers here and another one here. I remember I was in a meeting with my professor and my mum was there, my dad was there and my oldest brother was there. That day they told me I’m never going to live to an old age. I’m never going to be a dad and I’m never going to die of anything else.
Chad: This is me. I remember walking out of there and I remember asking myself the question and it shifted from, hadn’t been that present, I’d started watching a little bit about cannabis, but I remember I walked out of there and just went: “Why not? Why not?” From that moment on, it’s accelerated a course of where I am. I still got… the cancer came back again after I started using cannabis. So I’m very centric with my discussion and the narrative around cannabis and that is that it is a fundamental, it is essential to your health and wellbeing. Why else would we have an in-built endocannabinoid system that only gets activated when it has an interaction with the plant, but we’re not meant to take it?
Martin: Were you taking it for pain relief or to manage the side effects of the chemo? What was the primary function?
Chad: I started taking it, like a lot of vulnerable people out there, there was a thought that it could kill off any remaining cancer cells. So my belief… You’ve got to think about the context. I was vulnerable and desperate to live. You’re the guy who’s trying everything under the sun, mate. Every diet I’ve done in the past. I’ve done all these different fasts. And I still do. Alternative therapy for me is a big part of my life, but also conventional therapy. My biggest passion about OnTracka is legitimizing cannabis into health care. I don’t want to see mums who are doing their best to get their sons or daughters healthy and at the same time they need to hide their cannabis. So then you’ve got poor quality dosing. You don’t have the consistency.
Chad: So the whole thing about OnTracka is, how do we legitimize this into health care? It is essential to be legitimized into healthcare and the biggest… There’s a major problem that needs to be solved and that is the biggest problem that advocates are asking for. It’s the biggest problem that patients are asking for. It’s the biggest problem that doctors are asking for. You know what the problem is? It is we need data. We need more research. Now there’s emerging research about certain seizure conditions. There’s emerging research about the use of cannabis to combat side effects of nausea like I had. Literally there was a timeline, mate, of what occurred in my life and in five months I went from a guy dying of cancer to having no side effects. Once I started taking an oil, I never got side effects again, mate. Life changing.
Chad: We’re going to make many discoveries about the different chemicals and OnTracka is really going to be a tool that helps that research because at the back of what we’re doing is we’re collecting data, but it’s de-identified data and I’ll get to that in a little bit. But really what separates OnTracka from some of the other applications that are available, particularly in North America at the moment, not much in Australia, I think we would say we’re first to market in looking at this as a whole well-being tool, but cannabis is part of it.
Chad: So not only are we looking at sessions and by that I mean, once I take a toke or once I have a hit or once I smoke, what’s my headache and symptoms like or how does it affect my nausea etc? There’s a very good use of that. Really what we’re looking at is, what does your overall 360 view of your health look like with cannabis integrated into it? Because that’s what’s required to give doctors validated questionnaires and information where they’re able to say: “I’ve started taking it here. We can clearly see that since you’ve started taking X product…” Because really what we want to be looking at as well is legitimizing cannabis and supporting the legal framework of it as well, so that patients out there can go: “What am I having?” In Australia, it’s a case at times, it’s indoor or outdoor. A lot of patients… There is some stuff on the green market where there’s choice, you’ve got to be connected, but a lot of the times users don’t know what they’re taking.
Chad: So my whole thing is, how do we get independently tested products that we know can be consistent that users are able to benefit from? And then we can track those products and we can track the effect it has on an individual’s health and wellbeing for whatever reason they’re taking it. Whether they’re using it for medicinal reasons, or whether they’re using it to feel better and they’re going down the CBD path, that’s the choice that I believe individuals would have. We’re providing the technology for them to be able to evidence that first and foremost to themselves for self-tracking and self-awareness. Because obviously… Yeah, I know I’m going on a bit of a rant here…
Chad: …first and foremost for the individual. Secondly, do this for the doctors and thirdly, to change policy at a macro level so looking at systemic change through the collection of data. Sorry, man.
Martin: No, that’s all right. That was great. So a couple of questions on that. Aimed at patients or users, and obviously you’ll collect a significant amount of data. Have you got some sort of targets around user numbers? How many do you need to get a valid data set?
Chad: Really good question. What we believe we can do in six months through the network that we have in the Australian market… So just looking at the Australian market. We will be launching into the US, into the UK and Australia. So really looking at these three key markets to start with, but with a focus on our home market. We’re proudly an Australian company, and I think what we’ve been able to do very well is form a connection with the advocacy groups. So there’s some very strong advocacy groups that are in Australia and we’ve got dialogue and conversations that have been occurring with them for our positioning and how authentic we are to the end user. But at the same time, we’ve got the support of the New South Wales government. We’ve got formal support from the New South Wales government now, plus we’ve got conversations with many of the leading companies in Australia as well.
Chad: So we’ve got the whole landscape of users. We’ve got some of the best academics in our country as well, who have already endorsed our app and who are wanting to give this to their patients. So I think for anyone who knows the cannabis space in Australia knows that it’s very divided at times. I think what OnTracka is doing is speaking to them because we’re focusing on the patient and that is their focus, right? So that is then the capacity for us to have this consistent, authentic message that: “Hey, here’s the technology to help your cause because your cause is to feel better. If you’re a company and we’re talking to you, that means we believe your interests are to support your patients. And then we believe government, while there’s a lot of things that they need to work through, we believe they want to create a legal framework as well.” So in answer of your question, we believe OnTracka will have 80 per cent of the legal market using OnTracka within six months of launch.
Martin: When you get to those kinds of numbers, what will you use that data for? What’s the primary purpose of having that data set?
Chad: Well, what we need to be able to do is really define our strategic partnerships. So what we need to be looking at is… To answer that it’s simply coming back to what our mission is and who we’re about. And it is, how do we legitimize cannabis into health care? That means that we need to be utilizing our data and then getting that in partnerships to look at how we can publish that information, but also the route to get your information and then to publish that, if you’re going through… Because you need to be looking at clinical trials as well, but the collection of real world evidence and then having strategic partnerships to influence the public and influence public opinion is equally as important. Particularly if you’ve got a company that is credible, that you can get information to say, “we’ve seen X amount of people, these are the trends that we’re seeing” and you publish that information for free to be able to change opinion about how people are seeing cannabis.
Chad: The biggest thing that we want to do, and the biggest thing that we think is essential, is re-imaging cannabis. The story that is consistent between you, Lucy and I is that we all had certain views about cannabis and we’ve only changed through personal experiences. I think that’s how many people have changed, through personal experiences. But what speaks to us in 2020 is science. Science not only in cannabis, but across all different areas. So we need to be able to collect that information, ensure that it’s credible, ensure that it’s safe, ensure that we put the privacy of users as priority number one. The era of collecting data and looking at personal information is long gone.
Chad: We can’t say that we’re for the end user and at the same time sell their data. That’s just not on. But what we will do, and I’m very happy to say, is that we’ll be looking at trends and we’ll be anonymizing our data. And we’ll be looking at how we can learn from that information to support the end user, to support companies as well, to better understand how their products are used, who’s using their products, not through private information but through trends and demographics. The user has the choice to opt out of that as well. So a number of different ways that we’ll be utilizing our data.
Martin: It’s obvious just talking to you how passionately you feel about this and the reasons why, but it’s a business at the end of the day. What’s the revenue model and how are you going to sustain it?
Chad: Yes. Good question again. Always got a commitment to the end user, which is our patients for free app. We don’t believe in the freemium model. We believe that patients have already had a hard time and we believe that they’ve been let down by traditional healthcare. One of our primary goals is to disrupt mental health services. We’ve got a global mental health system which is failing and that’s evidenced around the world by every 40 seconds someone committing suicide. Or if we’re going to the States, one of the key populations is veterans. They’re losing 11 veterans a day to suicide. Now there’s a responsibility to be able to ensure that we can provide better services. So the way that we’re monetizing is, first and foremost, not going to the end consumer. We’re not going to charge the consumer to use the app or to access our mental health resources that we’re putting inside of the app as well.
Chad: So there’s the expert resources that we’re putting inside the app. So what we need to do is create strategic partnerships and that’ll be supporting different companies to place products inside our app, and then to learn about how their products are used. So there’s really a focus on collating real world evidence and getting out analytics to start learning how their products are used. Because we also need to understand, there’s a responsibility to say, if we have these products inside our app and then we’re looking at different trends but it’s not looking at these key indicators such as pain, nausea and stress and looking at wellbeing and not having an impact, we’ve got a responsibility to then say, “hey, call this out” in some way. This is early, but that’s my plan. We don’t want to put products inside of our app that we then push out to individuals, but there’s no information to support it.
Chad: So really what we see our responsibility to do and how we can accelerate the industry to grow and then on the back of that, we do good work because we are for profit. We are a company. We’ve got a very, very big social mission, which you can probably tell in how I’m talking. But the way we’re able to achieve that mission is by supporting different companies and then by looking at a longer term play with how we can use our information to advance, to change policy etc.
Martin: And launching when?
Chad: Next quarter [Q1 FY20]. We’re also very interested in the clinical trial aspect as well, so we don’t just have one aspect or we don’t have one product. We’ve got several different products that we will be selling. One will be targeting doctors as well, so improving the information and reporting the doctors can have. That’ll be another way that we monetize as a business. Looking at data and then looking at reselling products as well, supporting the user journey inside of the app, making it very easy, but then supporting the ecosystem as well. So yeah, those are some of the ways that we’re going to be making money and monetizing and ensuring that really what it’s about is, as an individual, whether it’s in the Australian market or the US market, it’s saturated.
Chad: That is, if you look at the green market in Australia, there’s some great products, there’s some good products and there’s some very poor products. But people are very vulnerable. They don’t know where to go. In the States as well, it’s the green rush, right? Back in the day, everyone left their jobs and headed to California to dig for gold.
Chad: Now everyone wants to start a grow. Everyone wants to do something in the cannabis space. A lot of that is question the authenticity and credibility of the industry, I believe. And so as a user, you’re like: “Well, what do I get and who do I go to?” There’s such a… Not only in the cannabis space, but the branding and the power of influence at the moment. You can simply have a really good campaign and do great Facebook ads and you’ll be able to attract people, but we don’t know what sort of quality it is. Particularly if you’re looking at a CBD product. How do we know that’s good? So really what our focus is, is providing that credibility and that legitimacy for individuals. So if they know there’s products inside of our app, they’re like: “Well, if it’s in OnTracka, it’s legit, right?”
Chad: Users wants legitimacy so that we can cut through the noise. We can ensure these products have been independently tested. We can ensure… Like the question you ask at the doctor, right? If you ever go to the doctor and you say: “Doctor, what’s wrong with me?” Never going to ask that question, right? But just bear with me. But if you say: “What would you take? What would you give to your son or daughter?” Rather than what you’d recommend me as your patient. And the doctor’s authentic – which probably he or she questions whether they would in that relationship, but just use it as an example. Rather than: “What would you give to me? What would you take yourself?” Now, if we apply that to me, with my health and what I’ve been through in the past, what products am I going to put in my own body?
Chad: Anything you’re going to see in OnTracka and someone… I eat plant-based. I’m very conscious about my health. I’ve got a very strong message in what I believe in. There’s only going to be products in OnTracka that I’m going to put in my own body and that’s going to ensure that we’ve gone through a process. We’ve independently been able to test these products and we’re going to be confident that the products inside our app are legit. And then I think in terms of that, there’s co-branding opportunities as well. So yeah, there’s different ways that we’re going to be able to sustain a business model, to do the good work that we need to do in the mental health space.
Martin: What does success look like for you in 12 months’ time?
Chad: For Chad or for the company?
Martin: Well, I guess both.
Chad: Yeah. Success is a really good question. I personally think my whole view about success is in this pursuit that I’m on to be at this table or this vision in the future. I’m there with a lot of people that have come up together. It’s a collaborative process for me. I think success would be now. Success for me was two weeks ago. Success for me was hanging out with this guy and he’s like, “man, loving what you’re doing with OnTracka”. And I was like, “yeah, thanks”. There’s a way that I can tell if people use the app or not. When I see their app in the history page, if there’s a blue dot next to the, that means they’ve tracked that day. And he said, “man, without this through quarantine, I don’t know where I would have got to”.
Chad: And I was like, “okay”. So I came a bit closer and had a look at his phone and he’d tracked every day for the past 90 days. There was a blue dot there. And I was like, literally man, I paused and I gulped and I said, “cheers”, to him. It was a moment for me where I was like, “wow, someone’s benefiting from this and it’s keeping him on track”. So that’s success for me.
Martin: So that’s people who are beta testing the website (sic) at the moment.
Chad: Yeah, the app at the moment. So we’ve got a number of different people utilizing the app at the moment, but really as a company where we… Sorry, it’s a long way of defining it.
Chad: Obviously when I say it’s not about us, we want to still be here. So we need to create revenue and we need to grow as a company, but really 12 months we’ll be looking at a global brand, OnTracka being established as a global brand. Doing some really good work in the mental health space for free through our app. Having a strong presence in Australia, as I said, having 80 per cent of the legal market and the green market, but that’s a different story. But having 80 per cent of the legal market in Australia utilizing OnTracka. Having a fairly good footprint in the UK and then having extremely strong relationships with several companies that we’re working through at the moment in the US. So global positioning, targeting several different countries, but a core focus on that end user. So that’s going to be quite fulfilling in 12 months as a company, for sure.
Martin: Well, it sounds like you’ve got a real passion for it. If passion counts for anything I think it’s going to be a huge success. So thanks for chatting to us.