How BigMike Conquered The Cannabis Business
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Mike "BigMike" Straumietis is the founder of Advanced Nutrients, a top agricultural products manufacturer. He talks about how he built his company, the origin of his name, the secret of his social media success (he has millions of followers), and his current efforts to get face masks to the needy. Check out a lively conversation with one of the giants (literally, he's 6'7) in the industry.
Jonathan Small/Host: Hey everybody. Welcome to the Green Entrepreneur Podcast. My guest today is a legend in cannabis and cannabis cultivation. "Big Mike" Straumeietis, the founder and CEO of Advanced Nutrients, which was founded in 1999. Today the company generates more than $100 million in the annual sales in 104 countries.
BigMike is 6'6." He has served as an advisor to TV shows such as Weeds and CSI. In 2020, BigMike founded Advanced Hemp inc, which is a company created specifically to optimize the value of hemp through innovations in fertilizer. He also just launched the Advanced Nutrients Starter Kit, which we're going to talk about today.
Mike thank you so much for coming on the program today. For those of our listeners who might not be familiar with you, tell us a little bit of your origin story.
BigMike: It was 1983. I was 23 years old, and the two guys that worked for me at a lawn care company at the time kept teasing me about, “Hey, you want to make some extra cash? This is right up your alley. You can do this.”
One day they took me down to a basement. They opened up the door and there was this, well, pretty ugly grow. But, this is back 1983, and there wasn't very much information about how to do it, but there were some plants growing, and that was the start of it all. I started Advanced Nutrients in 1999, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I was able to get a license to study cannabis from a country. I was able to get a license in Bulgaria to study cannabis. I've had that for the last 16 years.
So do you think that's been your competitive edge that you really understand the plant?
One hundred percent, I realized early on when I started working with UBC and BCIT in Canada that science is the answer. I've always been fond of science and, sure enough, science held the answers that I was looking for to make superior products.
How do you think you've been able to scale to this size?
I've been doing it for 21 years. Everyone thinks I got into cannabis, hit the easy button, and I found some kind of secret. No, it's just hard work. And really studying science. Science gave me the edge over everybody, and it still does to this day. I've got a world-class team of scientists: guys from Harvard and MIT. Exciting in the space really.
You have a huge following on social media. Did you make a decision to do that, or did that just sort of happen?
When social media and it hit big, I said, social media is the future. Start paying attention to it and start doing it right and put it out there. That means connecting with the audience. At first on Instagram, I did little click-baity things to get the traction going, but I've always been about science and education. My sites are set up for people who are serious about information. I try to give them value every single time, and they learn something or find out something new.
You also created this personality of BigMike. Were you always this persona, or did you create this persona?
I didn’t create it. Everybody just started calling me BigMike. When were were out in the fields growing, and during what I call, the dark ages, that's the nickname I got from, from my team. It stuck. There's a story behind it, too. One day I was in a seminar, and everybody was introducing themselves and I said, “You know what? I'm gonna use my nickname just for the hell of it.” And I used it. And people afterwards came up and said, “You're the only one that I remembered your name.”
A little light bulb went off. Oh, okay. People can remember that a lot easier than Straumaetis.
Tell us about this organization called Humanity Heroes that you started and how they are helping out during this coronavirus crisis.
We started Humanity Heroes in Los Angeles about four years ago, and we've handed over 9,000 backpacks, that were just stuffed full of essentials,. that the homeless people down on Skid Row would need. So that’s what Humanity Heroes does. It's about finding the most marginalized, impoverished people and helping them out. When the coronavirus hit, we knew backpacks filled with essentials would be good, but it wouldn't be an answer that would possibly save their lives. And so we said, “What can we do to save their lives down there?”
And so we said: To stop the spread of the disease, we need to get them washable, reusable masks. We had a local company make them, and we passed out 17,000 masks. And then also we went to Providence St Joseph's hospital and passed out 795 masks.
We also got together with Jordan [Lams] at Moxie, and we put together what we call our “cannabis stimulus package.” We're giving out $50 worth of free cannabis products to 200 people. We have to charge them one penny, because there has to be a legal transaction. You can't just give it away in the state of California.
One of the things that I believe is that if a company is doing really, really well, it has an obligation to give back to the community in which it directly receives its income and then to society as a whole.
And that's exactly what we've done in this instance for the coronavirus.
Why did you start Humanity Heroes in the first place? Why was the goal of it to help people who are impoverished and homeless?
It started actually in Bulgaria. Remember I said I got a license in Bulgaria to study cannabis. One Christmas I said, “I want to donate and help out here, and they looked at me like I was from Mars and they said, “There are no charities here that you can give to. There's a couple of scammers out there, but they're not really charities. And I said, “Well, we're going to start a charity.” And they said, “No, you don't understand. You're American, we're Bulgarian, and it's a bad thing to do, and it's not going to work.” And I said, “You don't understand I’m American. We do things a little bit differently.”
So from the time that we had the idea to the last box of food that was delivered to impoverished families there, that was 21 days. That was a start of Humanity Heroes. Ten years ago.
How are you managing your business during the pandemic?
Advanced nutrients just had a record month. An all-time record month was this last month of March, and we're heading for a record in April, as well. We're fortunate that we're considered essential services. I have a lot of gratitude for that
I’m making sure that I keep my workforce healthy and protected. And one of the first things I did, I made sure that they had masks and gloves, and others things to protect themselves in our production. And we set up virtual teams before they locked us down in our houses.
We were already set and prepared. I also said to be prepared for losing half of our workforce at any one given time to be cycled through. Right now, everyone's isolated. They're in their homes. We're working as virtual teams. Obviously in our production facilities, they're practicing safe, social-distancing.
We're sanitizing every evening. We're keeping the environment as safe as we possibly can. So far, up in Woodlands, Washington, we have had no coronavirus cases for any of our team members.
What do you attribute this success to?
Looking after your team members; trying to protect them as best you can and making a safe work environment and I believe that when they see that and they understand that. they were willing to go the extra mile for you. That's treating your staff extremely well.
What about sales? Why do you think consumers are buying so much product?
It's growing season and spring is planting season. They want to make sure they get their orders in, and no matter what happens, they're going to be able to grow. Let's face it—the black market is still strong out there. A lot of these guys will be out there in their fields in the woods self-isolating themselves with all the supplies that they need to get their plants in the ground and get growing.
You mentioned that cannabis has been deemed an essential business in many different cities. Is that sort of bittersweet for you? I mean, you've been in this game for a long time, you know that it's an essential business, but the fact that governments are now coming around and actually saying that officially. What's your feeling about that?
Well, it absolutely solidifies the fact that we are an essential service, that we're needed, and we are medicine. Bittersweet? Not really. I'm just glad that it's finally accepted, and what can we do to get it more widely accepted across the United States and the globe?
Do you think cannabis will ever be nationally legal?
One-hundred percent. It'll be after the election. 2022 or 2023— federally illegal in the U S absolutely. Big money is involved, and that big money has political sway.
Tell is about your new product, The Advanced Nutrients Starter Kit.
Well, it's curated products, some of the best products we have. We put it at a special pricing into a small kit for the home hobbyist to get started, to sample our products, or just to grow two or three plants. And that's the first time that we've come out with this. We're really excited. By the way, the sales are tremendous for that particular item. I wish I would have brought it out two or three years ago.
What inspired you to create that product?
Home hobbyists. I realized that the marketplace is going to be kind of divided into two sectors: You have your licensed producers and then you have your home hobbyists. We're getting ready to put hemp seeds into hydroponic stores in packets and start selling them as well. Things are changing and a lot of these hydroponic stores are now dealing with people who want to grow hemp.
Is this legal everywhere?
The law says I can ship those seeds all over America. Hemp seeds. The starter kit is for the touch side of the business, but you could very easily just use it to grow hemp as well.
What has been your secret sauce? What do you tell people getting into the business about how to be successful?
Play the long game. Don't look at the short-grab money game. A lot of the money guys come in here and say, “I'm going to be out in three years. I'm gonna be out in five years.” I don't really have an exit strategy. I love the business that I'm in. I want to build better products all the time, continually improving. Don't stop improving your products.
What’s your daily ritual?
I’m usually up somewhere between 4:30 and 6 am. I’ll usually read a book. Then I go work out. I box five days a week, and I'd do some strength-training so I've got good circulation going and my brain's pumping with all the fresh blood going through there. And I start the day after that. Before I go to bed, I usually give myself an hour to three hours to think what happened during the day and plan the next day. I write it down on a piece of paper so that I have a list of things to do every day, and I start with the hardest thing and move down that list.
Do you schedule your social media?
Yes, I have help on that. We block out certain times to shoot videos. Some people say, “Oh, well, I do things spontaneously. I don't make a plan.” Well, if you don't make a plan, you are planning for failure. Everything is planned out, and I stick to the schedule.
You mentioned that you read books. Are there any books that you're reading now that you would recommend?