Michael Sassano is well known as one of the original investors in the cannabis industry. He is celebrated prominently in both mainstream business and cannabis media as an international authority on large-scale cannabis cultivation and medical product development. Michael is also widely respected for consistently predicting long-term market trends.
In July 2020, Michael led a merger of the cannabis cultivation company he built called Solaris Farms, with The Sanctuary, a local Las Vegas brand operating two dispensaries and an extraction facility. In the four years prior, Michael was able to build Solaris out from a bare lot of land with just private equity into one of the largest and most well-respected cannabis cultivation operations in the state of Nevada. As a result of the merger, Solaris is now one of the top ten private vertically-integrated cannabis companies in the state. Michael remains on the advisory board and will help sell the new vertical to a larger company in the future
Michael has since shifted focus to his role as CEO and Chairman of the Board for Somai Pharmaceuticals LTD, an Ireland-based holding company centered on investing in manufacturing and distribution of GMP-certified cannabinoid-containing pharmaceutical products throughout the European Union. Taking with him the superior cultivation and product development knowledge honed in the competitive American west coast market, Somai is one of the first American-run companies operating across legal European markets.
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Before we begin, our readers are interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to be where you are today or was it something you were led to? Share with us your journey.
Michael Sassano: My journey started on Wall Street who went from Lehman Brothers training to the youngest managing director at CIBC, I became a real estate developer and when the 2008 crash happened, I took my skills as a banker and developer to enter the cannabis business. Cannabis was an emerging market that needed infrastructure, and my skillsets developed from an investor to an operator.
Tell us a bit about your current focus. What is the most important thing that you’re working on and how do you plan on doing it?
Michael Sassano: Somai Pharmaceuticals is the most important company I am working on. We built the largest cannabis manufacturing facility in Europe to service the global cannabis market. We are developing registered medicines that will go to clinical trials. But we are also equipped to service the herbal medicine market as well as adult-use markets as they develop. Taking the US market experience and bringing it to Europe is hard work and learning not only new skills but new countries.
Some argue that punctuality is a strength. Others say punctuality is a weakness. How do you feel about it, please explain.
Michael Sassano: Punctuality is a necessary skill that should be tempered with organization and a will to cancel meetings if you are involved in an important task that must be completed. Always hit your targets and the rest will fall in place.
How important is having good timing in your line of work and in the industry that your organization operates in?
Michael Sassano: Having fun at work is just as important as the work itself. Somai creates not only a physical ambiance that makes comic work enjoyable but stresses out-of-office activities like bowling nights to increase the in-office experience.
Founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson, states “Timing is everything in life, and it’s particularly crucial in entrepreneurship. People often equate success with luck, but it usually comes down to impeccable (and carefully mapped out) timing”. Do you agree with this statement? Please answer in as much detail as necessary.
Michael Sassano: Richard Branson is absolutely right! With preparation comes luck and you have to be prepared to grab the luck when it occurs.
As a leader/entrepreneur/CEO, how do you decide when to put the pedal to the metal and when to take a break? How do you time the key moments in your career?
Michael Sassano: This is the art of management. No race car runs at full speed without breaking, the same is with people and companies. You must feel when things are grinding and take your foot off the gas. Pushing too hard will only break the machine.
Branson also states “If you’re starting to feel like you’re just going through the motions and losing sight of why you started, it might be time to take a break”. But how do you decide when to take a break?
Michael Sassano: No leader volunteers for a break, they just take it. The decision comes not while completing an important goal, but rather when the current goals have been accomplished and rest is warranted and needed. Coming back with a fresh perspective whether planned or needed is what drives the ship upwards.
“Timing can be everything when starting up. It can be the difference between building a thriving business and not” How has good timing helped you achieve success in your career or business? Are there any particular examples from your career that you would like to share?
Michael Sassano: My entire career has been market timing. Sometimes you miss the signs and drive off the cliff, but a good timer smooths out the highs and lows. Cannabis is an industry with tremendous upside because we are disrupting a $200+ Billion industry. But in the last 12 years, there have been 4 major corrections. Raising money during the down cycles is next to impossible. Further, entering a state or country early could mean the difference of success or severe losses. Entering Las Vegas as an example, when it just went recreational in 2016 and riding it to $1 Billion in current 2021 sales was the right time and straight up. But it isn’t always like that.
Entering Europe in 2019 was early but holding capital and moving slowly has proven to be the right timing as extracts are just taking hold. It’s all timing and if you are early or late, the most important thing is to adjust your views and make wiser decisions.,
“When you’re thinking of starting up, ask yourself: ‘Is the community I want to serve ready for this idea?’ It could make all the difference!” Would you like to add anything to this piece of advice for all the aspiring entrepreneurs?
Michael Sassano: Definitely if your entering cannabis, make sure the local jurisdictions are ready for you. As an extreme example, you may think China needs cannabis but they may never allow cannabis, so don’t bang your head against a wall trying to change the community. However, the US activists 20 years ago made these efforts that you see now, to be in business then was non-existent mostly, but as states opened up, clear trends emerged showing those communities supported cannabis and the market thrived.
COVID forced many businesses to adapt fast, some did so successfully, others failed, it was a lot due to good or poor timing. What are some of the big lessons you’ve learned during the pandemic?
Michael Sassano: At the start of the pandemic, our plants did not stop growing and our customers needed us more than ever. We never sat down, never stopped working because from day one we implemented safe procedures for our employees to operate. In some way, because we deal in anti-microbial environments, we created an even safer place than going for groceries. Putting employees first and enforcing strict protocols brought us respect from our employees and happiness to our clients.
Your insight has been incredibly valuable and our readers thank you for your generosity. We do have a couple of other bold questions to ask. What fictional world would you want to start a business in and what would you sell?
Michael Sassano: I would love to start a mining company in space, flying around and finding the best metals and elements to create energy for the world.
Before we finish things off, we would love to know, when you have some time away from business, what is one hobby that you wish you could spend more time on?
Michael Sassano: I love hiking everywhere, But nowhere too hot.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Michael Sassano for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Michael Sassano or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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