“5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”, with Michael Sassano and Len Giancola
The cannabis business is a complete dedication and you must make large sacrifices for it. It is very fast paced entering into an area that affects many areas, from government to big pharma, to drinks to tobacco. All want to get what you have and make it difficult for you to get where you want to be.
As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Sassano, the Founder and CEO of Solaris Farms, a high-tech hybrid greenhouse supplying top shelf cannabis to the Las Vegas market. When fully built out by 2020, Solaris Farms will be approximately 350,000 square feet of an advanced high tech desert hybrid greenhouse. Already, they are boasting yields of 25–31% THC, 35% cannabinoid counts and over 15mg of terpenes. Mike is one of the early cannabis industry investors and has partnered in many grows, brands and cannabis companies which were public, went public, or were sold to public companies. Three years ago, he invested, designed, built and manages Solaris. His vision of the industry, depth of investment knowledge for companies in the cannabis space, and happiness to share with others has helped him to get world wide exposure. Mike has a vision for the pharmaceutical markets of Cannabis in EU and, in 2019, became the Head of the Board at Soma Pharmaceuticals, a Dublin, Ireland-based company distributing medical cannabis products to pharmacies across Europe.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was working in real estate development and investing heavily in technology companies until the recession of 2008 caused me to rethink my current path. Cannabis growing was a very small space then, but they were not affected by lack of banking. Even today we are succeeding with no-banking.
By 2015, after a few small investments from early movers and a lot of sweat equity, I was ready to go industrial sized. I toured Tweed’s large facility they had just bought, which was 300,000 sq ft of greenhouse. I traveled around the world visiting large scale traditional greenhouse grow facilities learning about different technologies available and methods of growing. By 2016, Solaris was formed as the first hybrid greenhouse in a desert. I have since worked with many companies, private and public, around the world to bring large scale cannabis growing into the light. And I am just getting started.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Each day has a new interesting story. Once I gave a tour of Solaris to a famous businessperson and I had no clue who he was until after. I warned him of all the pitfalls and he was absorbing everything I said and wouldn’t stop asking questions. What normally takes 15 minutes took two hours, so I told him I had to end the meeting because I had more important things to do. His people started to protest saying something to the effect of “don’t you know who he is?”. I replied, “don’t you know who I am?” He stepped in and said he respected that I was busy and that I was correct to cut the meeting. I didn’t even get a picture when I found out who it was. We talk regularly today though. So, my advice is to give your best to everyone you meet, because you never know…
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It’s only funny in retrospect, I would like to clarify. We were raising our genetics and making our crosses in an indoor facility that I built behind the construction site of our new greenhouse. We achieved a few strains showing 30% THC results and excellent cannabinoids and terpene profiling. So as soon as the greenhouse was ready, we rushed to bring them in to mother. Because we are a hybrid greenhouse, we didn’t factor in shadowing and the mothers started to flower. We didn’t have enough light in winter. At the time it was devastating, but now we have learned how to regulate and monitor light. Computers and sensors save the day.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Yes, although it is still very much at the starting phase. After over one year of researching, I am ready to enter the challenges of the European cannabis market. My plan is to start small, rather than build the Taj Mahal, and expand only as the market grows. Solaris is geared to make high-grade medical flower and standardized products like ticintures and gel caps, which can help a variety of medical conditions. Recreational west coast growing has been a fun learning experience, but that same product knowledge can reach the entire world by tapping into demographics far beyond recreational wants. The West Coast knowledge of production far exceeds any other in the world, but we cannot lose sight that there are billions of people that don’t know the healing powers; neither do we, really. Helping to educate the world sounds like an exciting idea.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
That’s an Emmy question right there! I’d like to give a shout out to my mom, my dad, Ron, Chris, Gina, Danielle, my family, Fred, Sonia, Andrew, Mellanie, Eddy and Mike, Bob, Lisa, Peter, Eric, Paul, Paris, Dimitri, George — oh who am I forgetting? Earnestly, I do want to thank everyone who has been with me through all my periods of struggle. They are the biggest part of the story of who I am today. My best friendships are many decades old, and they all helped along this great ride.
This industry is young, dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
Openness is our approach. We concentrate on industry professionals and allow people to peek inside what we do. Largely, cannabis has been in the dark ages of marketing as it pertains to large recognized platforms and ability to market on them. Also, it’s important to note this is a medicine for adults. Thus marketing must follow careful procedures much like the pharma industry and the alcohol industry.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
Most exciting to me is the exploration of the actual medicinal effects of various cannabinoids that can help people in a variety of ways. The technology involved to grow and process precisely is also of fascination. And, can’t forget the great people you meet along the way.
Most concerning is the lack of transparency, education and understanding.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
The five things I wish someone told me:
- The cannabis growing business is hard to keep profits in, since you’re always growing.
- The cannabis business is challenging at industrial size levels, since there are so many variables to growing, to curing, to producing products and departments you never thought needed creating.
- The cannabis business takes precise data to grow high quality bud consistently, there is no other way.
- Scaling up has great challenges, especially processes in post-cultivation which require manuel quality controls.
- The cannabis business is a complete dedication and you must make large sacrifices for it. It is very fast paced entering into an area that affects many areas, from government to big pharma, to drinks to tobacco. All want to get what you have and make it difficult for you to get where you want to be.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Solaris has one of the lowest turnovers ever seen in the industry and we have over 50% diversity of ethnicity and gender within our team. My advice is to create an environment that makes people want to stay. Create an environment that celebrates diversity of ideas. Pay attention to people and show them you see and care. And most importantly, create a future that everyone believes in and work daily to share that vision to every employee you run into each day.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I have so many movements I want to start. One example: although medicine, doctors organizations, and government programs like Medicare are important, the current regulatory environment isn’t working for the people that need it today and will need it in the future. I would like to see a serious movement, including the youth, to push for an overhaul that would allow for speedier trials and adoption of new medical devices, procedures, and drugs. The rules are archaic to help people of the future.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Linkedin is by far my strongest social media asset that gets the most attention with over 25,000 connections. Linkedin for Solaris and Facebook for Solaris are also great since i am featured on there also. We also post videos on Youtube.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!