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Michael Lewis of SPRIG: “Sustainability and transparency”

It sounds lame but you have to care about your people and treat them like human beings. Take an interest in their interests and figure out what gets them out of bed in the morning to help you build your dream. Every time we hire somebody, I get so excited that this person wants to […]

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It sounds lame but you have to care about your people and treat them like human beings. Take an interest in their interests and figure out what gets them out of bed in the morning to help you build your dream. Every time we hire somebody, I get so excited that this person wants to use their time and talents to build Sprig. It’s really an honor.


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 Lewis, CEO and co-founder of Sprig.

Michael B. Lewis is a recognized expert within the cannabis space and the go to guy for his thought leadership.

Prior to Sprig, Michael was an equity analyst at private investment funds and a frequent contributor at leading investment research website, The Motley Fool.

In 2013, Michael joined WeedMaps as the Director of Business Development, where he met his business partner, Ethan Feffer.

In 2015, Michael and Ethan launched Sprig, one of the first cannabis beverage companies. In 2018, they introduced Sprig’s popular CBD line of sparkling flavored seltzers.

Michael received his BBA in Finance from University of Miami.


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?

Thank you for the opportunity! I can’t say the cannabis industry was my career path from day 1 — it wasn’t even an industry when I began my career (or, at least, a legal one)! After working in finance for a few years, I was looking to do something exciting and more on the cutting edge. I read an article about Privateer Holdings, the company that later launched Tilray. I saw these three guys who did not fit the bill for “weed people” and thought I should look more closely at the space. One thing lead to another, and I ended up working at Weedmaps. That’s where I cut my teeth in the industry.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Where to begin…What never ceases to amaze me is the pace at which this industry, and Sprig specifically, has evolved. In the early days, I’d have to meet some character in a mall parking lot to buy THC oil for our original product line and we could barely convince packaging companies to sell us aluminum cans. The industry was still very much underground. Fast forward 4 years and we are making our CBD drinks at a plant that also makes Pepsi. Our products are on the big red Anheuser Busch trucks from coast to coast. Cannabis is viewed so much differently now.

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?

This one almost ended Sprig before it started. After our first production run, I rented a 26ft truck to drive about 16000 lbs of finished product to our warehouse. When I arrived, my partner and I attempted to offload these pallets with a little pallet jack. I was standing below trying to guide the pallets down from the truck bed, where my partner was steering them. Sure enough, the first pallet started rolling right towards me and my partner couldn’t stop it. I jumped out of the way right before the pallet fell off the truck and spilled 2,400 cans all over the place. It would have brought new meaning to blood, sweat, and tears. I learned to stick to what I know how to do and get help for what I don’t know what to do.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

We have a ton going on at Sprig. We’re launching in new regions, in new retailers (including some well known chains!), and we’re getting ready to introduce new products into the market. I can’t spill the beans yet, but the Sprig family is about to get bigger!

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?

Cheese alert! My wife. She has helped in every way imaginable, and Sprig wouldn’t be nearly where it is without her. She has supported me and the company relentlessly, through all of the ups and downs. She even left her career for a while to put Sprig’s marketing strategy together and launch us in more than a dozen new markets. I’m eternally grateful.

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?

Some typical channels are closed off to the cannabis industry, like digital advertising, so we do have to get creative. We have an influencer program to grow our social media presence. We participate in food and music festivals around the country. Even though we’ve grown a lot over the past few years, we still have a very grassroots strategy of building customers one at a time. We have a great event coming up with the University of Texas in Austin — pouring samples and talking to thousands of students on campus for UT’s Marketplace.

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

  1. Women-led businesses. The cannabis industry is well aligned with progressive movements. I’ve seen dozens of women founders step into the space and put their spin on consumer products, software companies, financial services and more. We need more of that in the world.
  2. Social impact. As states around the country legalize cannabis in one form or another, they’re also looking at past criminal justice programs that have disproportionately affected minority communities. Now, we’re seeing thousands of past marijuana convictions expunged in several states. There is still a long way to go and many people suffering in prisons for possession of marijuana. That has to be fixed.
  3. Sustainability and transparency. Many cannabis companies are taking progressive stances in their packaging, sourcing, and ethos. They understand we have to treat the Earth better if we want to keep living on it. I think it’s helping force other, larger industries to follow suit.

THREE CONCERNS

  1. Ineffective equity programs. For decades, disadvantaged populations were punished for growing and selling cannabis. With legalization, we’ve seen well-funded corporate groups come in and dominate the space. Some cities and states have equity programs to allocate licenses to certain groups of people, but I don’t think they’ve worked so far.
  2. Over-taxation. Everyone talks about this, especially in California. If we overtax the legal cannabis system, prices will be way too high and the black market will continue to thrive. The industry should be taxed, but it should not be viewed as a panacea for municipal and state budget issues. It burdens small companies so much that they can’t even launch their business, giving the consumer fewer, lower quality options.
  3. Bad actors. In movies, but also in the cannabis industry. A lot of folks view this as a gold rush and are quick to put out sub par products, or even fraudulent ones. It cheapens the industry and hurts credibility across the board. Regulation should help that.

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.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

It sounds lame but you have to care about your people and treat them like human beings. Take an interest in their interests and figure out what gets them out of bed in the morning to help you build your dream. Every time we hire somebody, I get so excited that this person wants to use their time and talents to build Sprig. It’s really an honor.

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. 🙂

Will you tell that to my parents? I’ve been trying to tell them how influential I am for years now. But seriously: What about a cultural exchange program? Almost like study abroad, but for anybody. I think Americans need to spend more time in different places and gain a more holistic view of the world. At the same time, it’d be great to bring more people to the U.S. and show them what we’re really about. You can’t gain that perspective from TV or even reading, you have to be there physically and experience it. Is that a good answer? I’ve never been in a beauty pageant so I am not used to this type of question.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Personally, I am nearly non-existent on social media. But please check out Sprig on Instagram — @sprigsoda.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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