Women Leaders of the Cannabis Industry: “Having a mentor is crucial if you want to grow” with Sarah Mirsini and Len Giancola

Len Giancola
Authority Magazine
Published in
12 min readNov 19, 2019

Gain more experience: The more experience you have, the better you and your business will be. I got a mentor while I was learning. Someone who could guide me and give me advice when I was stuck. I believe having a mentor is crucial if you want to grow in life.

As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Mirsini , Founder of MĀSK. in Norway and Greece, Sarah’s passion for nature, beauty and health was informed at an early age. A childhood spent traversing the globe with her travel agent mother and exposure to different cultures through her grandfather, who worked with refugees, fueled Sarah’s curiosity and honed her strong global aesthetic. Now a resident of NYC, Sarah gains perpetual inspiration from her fellow citizens of the world, and the cacophonous sounds and riot of color that surround her daily. Deciding to go a more holistic route in her way of living, Sarah came into the CBD world 3 years ago and completely fell in love with the plant and its benefits. Having struggled with problematic skin since her early teens, Sarah took matters into her own hands and created MĀSK. A non-toxic all plant based CBD Skincare Company. Her goal was if she could just help one person, she knew she was on the right path.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

I was at a point in my life where I needed to make some changes within myself. I had been struggling with anxiety and finding my place in the world for a while, so I took up mediation and yoga and started reflecting more inwards on what was bothering me. I have never been a fan of pharmaceutical drugs, and my mentor recommended CBD Tinctures to me. I tried and it completely changed my world. I noticed a huge difference in my everyday mood, sleep pattern, skin and my overall anxiety was so much better. I was raised in Europe where Cannabis was very frond upon, so I always viewed this as a “gateway drug”. After discovering CBD I started diving into the plant world and exploring the other cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system. My skin, and having a bad one, has played such a huge role in my life when it comes to my self-esteem and how I view myself. Especially in since Instagram took off. You are expected to be perfect and beautiful at all times, and I was getting tired of it. This is where the idea of MĀSK came and I thought “what do I have to lose”. If I could get one single feedback from a person who got their skin improved by us that was all I cared about. I didn’t just want to create “another” skincare brand. I wanted to create a movement, where the word beauty could have a different connotation than shallow. To feel comfortable in your own skin and accept yourself fully.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

After working for corporate companies for years I knew this wasn’t for me, and I was blessed enough to meet a partner who was in the same business. I can honestly say the year we have been working on MĀSK has been the most exciting time of my life. From testing products, to formulas, visiting hemp farms and meeting all the amazing in this industry. The most interesting story was when we were out in Burbank visiting one of our partners. Their technology and their way of thinking is so way beyond what everyone else is doing in this industry. They have their own shaman in-house to help the employees strive and be their best. The stories he had from being in Australia, the pyramids in Egypt, and travelling the world was mind-blowing. He also read every single member of my team to the point without even meeting us prior. We learned so much that day when it came to formulation, the cannabis industry, product development and how to view business from a different point of view. Their take on the Cannabis and agriculture industry is truly significant and I can’t wait to share what we are working on with them in 2020.

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?

I don’t like the word mistake, I always replace it with lesson. FAIL for me stands for First Attempt In Learning. We had so many bumps in the road when we were creating MĀSK. From spelling errors on the packaging to forgetting to bring products to trade shows. Being an entrepreneur means wearing 10 different hats, and you try to remember everything but that’s impossible. When we did our very first tradeshow here in New York we were so excited. We had a small booth and thought a table and our business cards would be what you brought. Little did we know when we got there that morning all the booths were decked out and we looked like info booth that gives directions. I got so upset and was on about to cry my eyes out, but I am lucky enough to have such an amazing team behind me. They all went to different stores in the city and came back with props, printed images, our product so we could sell. I have no idea how they pulled this off, but they did. I can tell you, from now on we have brought more than we need everywhere we go just to be on safe side. But these are the things you look back on and laugh at now.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?

My mother! When I first told her I was starting in Cannabis she was beside herself. Norway has a different view on this, even though it has gotten better. She told me to stop immediately and asked if I was on drugs. “I can’t believe you are doing this to me”. Today she is absolutely in love with MĀSK and I keep sending her and her friends product. This all goes back to the educational part of the industry. Us as pioneers need to take this responsibility upon ourselves and show that this is not a “drug” that needs to be regulated, but educated. Even the FDA. They could use a day on the farm and see how this industry works from planting the seed to product on the shelves to 6 months after a consumer use it. Then they make a judgement on how this is supposed to be done. But until that, putting rules and regulations are just preventing people with illness and problems from getting the help they need.

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?

My partner, James. He has been the backbone and my rock throughout this. All the nights I bursted out in tears from being tired and frustrated. He has been yelled at so many times I think he is immune to it now, ha ha. Whenever I feel defeated and want to give up he keeps pushing me. There is one particular night I remember so well. We had been working day and night for about five months on the formula and it finally came in the mail from the lab. We went back and forth with them on scent, color, thickness. It never seemed to come out the way I wanted it. James kept saying “its great!” And I would look at him like he had two heads. It was close to midnight and I said “lets look at it tomorrow, I cant do this right now” But he opened the package and made me try it on. It was exactly how I wanted it to be, so perfect and I started crying and I could not stop. He called the chemist at the lab and said “You did something right cause she can not stop crying”. I am surprised he is still with me to this day. Without him there would be no MĀSK and we would not have gotten as far as we have to this day. He is so amazing and selfless, there is nothing I can do to ever repay him.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are working on more SKUs for 2020. We wanted to spend Q4 in perfecting the three types of sheet masks that we have and observe the feedback. Which has been overwhelming. Four days after we launched Bloomingdale’s picked us up and we are now in all Wellchemist sections across the country. Two months after that Anthropologie wanted us, and we are on all CBD approved stores with them. Since launching in April I think we have grown fast, which we did not expect to do as fast as we did. I think this made us think we had to launch sku after sku to be relevant, but we took a step back and decided we want to be the best. And to deliver that promise, we only want few, high quality products you can trust. I can, however, share that we have a Men’s Line and a Travel Line coming out very soon.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?

I think women in general, despite the industry, should be seen and heard more. I read an article that most female workers don’t even get heard in a meeting of majority are men. This pisses me off. We have to drop the whole “stronger sex” mentality, because yes, men are genetically born stronger physically. But this has nothing to do with business and mindset. For job applications, maybe names should be taken out in order to not be judged by sex, race etc. But rather what you have accomplished in your career. I also think women in general need to raise their voices more so they can be heard. The generation after me will not have this issue, and I believe we are doing much better than just 10 years ago. For me, it was about getting over the fear of not being enough and just go for it. Some people might say “easier said than done” but you always have a choice. You either make an excuse or you execute.

You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.

Gain more experience: The more experience you have, the better you and your business will be. I got a mentor while I was learning. Someone who could guide me and give me advice when I was stuck. I believe having a mentor is crucial if you want to grow in life.

Read: Every article, every book. I spent hours upon hours reading about cannabis, essential oils, how the skin works, the industry. Self-education is a must.

Talk to people in the industry: Get different views and perspective of things. The way you see one thing, someone else might have a completely different opinion on.

Learning by doing: Try, and fail. This is the only way! No one got successful over night by knowing everything. Your business may be completely different in a year, and you might end up in a different place from where you started. Expand your mind and go with the flow.

Attend as many events and networking opportunities you can: You never know where a conversation can take you. I have met so many interesting people and gotten help from unexpected sources that I didn’t even know that I needed. I try to broaden my connections by not only attending events in this particular industry, but other ones as well.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?

The growth: Since I mainly focus on the CBD part of it, I can’t tell you how excited I am to see how much this has grown in only a year. People are more perceptive and open and they genuinely want to learn more about this beautiful plant.

The other cannabinoids: I always wondered why CBD was “chosen” to be the first compound, when the other 100 ones are just as exciting if not even more effective.

The possibilities: There are so many ways we can use Hemp. Clothing, tools, electricity, making roads. Its endless. We have to start thinking about a sustainable future and how to save the planet before it’s to late.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?

Regulation, authenticity and quality. I am worried big pharma will take over or the growth of cannabis will lose its high quality once “everyone” starts doing it. We should focus on making high quality products to provide the best possible service to the people who need it. Standards have to be set and the chain of command have to be transparent. I also have 5 CBD retail stores in New York, and the number of customers that come in with a tincture that did not work or contain toxic ingredients are astonishing to me. Synthetic CBD or Hemp grown on toxic soil seems to become a problem. We should stop worrying about who can control this and start focusing on how we can make this the industry it was intended to be: to help and relieve.

What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?

As long as the rules and standards are set I don’t see why this hasn’t been done yet. I believe capitalization is what is stopping everything here. Again, I keep talking about the bigger picture with viewing this as a healing industry, not a mass production one.

Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?

No, because Cannabis does not contain the toxic chemicals that cigarettes do. It’s a plant! It doesn’t contain benzene, formaldehyde or vinyl chloride. I don’t understand how this is even comparable?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My mother told me two things: “You can never understand something you are not” and “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice”. I’ve tried to implement these two things into my life ever time I come across something challenging. Trying to meet a person where they are has tought me a lot. When someone is angry or selfish it usually stems from pain, which we are all in throughout our life. Instead of cutting a person off based on a circumstance, I have always tried to take a step back and view it from their perspective. If I can be the bigger person in a situation I try to be.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

This is my whole ideal behind MĀSK. I don’t just want “another” beauty company. I want to start a movement. By introducing Cannabis/Hemp in an easier way I believe the threshold will change. Let’s redefine the word “beauty” and make it more inclusive. By combining clean products with a cleaner mindset and cleaner outlooks I believe we can change the world. Being more sustainable and mindful is key. This is the core of my business model and I truly believe this is where the world is headed.

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!