Interview with Michael Apstein, Founding Partner, Primary Growth Partners
On September 17, 2019, Michael Apstein will be speaking at Kahner Global's 5th Annual Cannabis Private Investment Summit New York City . The event will bring together over 150 investors, cannabis entrepreneurs and industry leaders for a day of collaboration and networking.
1. Hi Michael, we're happy to be speaking with you. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I’ve been a mid-market entrepreneur in Southern California for over 30 years, primarily in health and wellness and adjacent segments. I’ve built several companies over $50 million in annual revenue, and created two top 1,000 brands in the U.S. And I love entrepreneurs. I think it’s a courageous thing to wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to start my own thing.” Those brave people deserve our respect and support.
2. How did you come to be involved in the Cannabis industry?
I have to start by owning I’m a Johnny Come Lately. There are real pioneers in the field, that have led the path towards legalization, the recognition of medicinal value, and in bringing certain sophistication to the products, and the way they are cultivated, manufactured, and sold. For me, when legalization was clearly coming in California, and I really understood the power of California from having built several national consumer brands, that’s when I got involved. California is really going to be the worldwide epicenter of cannabis, in terms of cultivation, use, and sales. And California has a longtime history of being a brand and lifestyle leader for the country and the world. I am a firm believer the big cannabis brands are going to come from California.
3. How and when did Primary Growth Partners form?
PGP was formed in 2018 when the three co-founders - myself, Patricio Fuentes, and Chris Hickok - decided to join forces to bring a strong slate of much needed business services to California cannabis and CBD companies.
4. How did you become connected to your co-founders?
Patricio and I have been doing business together for about 10 years. He is a master brander – and has done the branding, design, and packaging work for my last several companies. We met Chris as he emerged as one of Southern California’s really well connected cannabis attorneys. Although the three of us come from different disciplines, we quickly recognized we shared values and viewpoints about the industry and where it’s headed.
5. PGP seems to do it all for startups--everything from legal compliance, to branding, to PR and Communications and more. How did you assemble a team to handle all of the above?
As we formed PGP, we knew the strengths the 3 founders bring to our cannabis clients – cohesive high level strategy, Fortune 100 class branding and marketing, and a level of legal compliance that has won over 100 state and local licenses. Then we focused on the other services we thought cannabis companies needed, and worked with outside providers with whom we have long histories to bring PR, a turnkey ready finance department, and investment banking. And just for the record, few of our clients are startups – some are early stage, and some are also already well established.
6. What was the process for selecting your preferred partners?
Experience – that we have worked with them previously and know they can deliver. It’s overused but we really do believe in under promise and over deliver. We also like promise and deliver. The third option just doesn’t work for us.
7. What sets Primary Growth Partners apart from competitors?
I’m not sure there really is an advisory group out there delivering the services we are, despite the claims being made. I also don’t see them really revealing their experience in having reached high-level success before. But more than anything I think it’s how much we care about entrepreneurs, and the positions we take as a result. For example, we have been trumpeting No Marijuana Markups across the industry. We are sick of service providers charging more, or charging up front, or taking referral commissions simply because it’s the cannabis industry. We’ve pledged No Marijuana Markups at PGP.
8. What do you think was the biggest game changer in the cannabis industry in 2019?
It’s an interesting question because 2018 obviously had some huge game changers – legalization in Canada, California, the farm bill, and the two $4 billion investments into Canadian companies by big tobacco and beer. 2019 has been quieter by comparison, but I think the slate of bills in Congress – Safe Banking, the States bill, and now the new bill introduced by Harris, are a game changer. Whether these bills pass in whole or in part, it’s another indicator of the sea change underway, and that we will reach a re-scheduling federally, probably sometime after the 2020 election. I think the financial troubles faced by a couple of the bigger companies is also a game changer, that performance IS going to matter, and just throwing money around isn’t necessarily the solution. Performance improvement is going to require more thoughtfulness about strategy, branding, and market segmentation.
9. What are you looking forward to as we close out the year, and ahead in 2020?
In line with our belief that the indelible cannabis brands are going to come out of California, and be built by amazing cannabis entrepreneurs here, we are staying focused on selectively building our client base of cannabis companies that have that unique differentiator, and are ready to jump to the next level.
10. Name the biggest piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start a cannabis business in 2019.
Put on bifocals – in other words, look at both the short term and long term market. Short term the industry in still incredibly focused on the daily user, what we call the connoisseur. But long term, there are demo segments really ripe for new product introductions. NYU just published a study that cannabis use for ages 50 to 64 has doubled in the last ten years. But the small print was it is still only 9%! Over 64 years old has increased 700%, huge growth, but is still less than 3% of that age group overall.
11. What’s next for Primary Growth Partners?
We are a very focused group – doing what we know we do well. We are going to take a very small group of client companies, and help them individually, not cookie cutter style, to gain and execute a clear strategy of how to get from their current position to their desired position, which most likely includes an exit or liquidity event.
Because we get a lot of interest in PGP and its clients from investors, we’ve also established a small fund for investors to participate in, as well as invest alongside in PGP clients.
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The Cannabis Private Investment Summit showcases the best and brightest cannabis entrepreneurs in the industry and is the premiere summit for institutional investors, family offices, and ultra high net worth investors. To request an invitation to Kahner Global’s 5th Annual Cannabis Private Investment Summit New York City, being held on September 17, 2019, click here.