Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Michael Cassini and I am the founder of Cannabis Cactus Magazine headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona.
The Cannabis Cactus Magazine is America’s only 100% independently owned & operated monthly cannabis publication. Our magazine has +25,000 readers in Arizona and +55,000 worldwide. Our content is distributed in the Apple and Google Play stores, online, and in over 250 businesses and colleges in the Southwest US. Our goal is to educate and entertain cannabis consumers so that they might drive a healthy market. Our growth has been achieved through a monthly print edition, website, social media presence, mobile app, and community interactions.
The majority of our readers are between the ages of 18-44, educated, employed outside of the cannabis industry, and have a family.
Since 2017, The Cannabis Cactus Magazine has been a source of education and entertainment for the southwest United States.
Based in Phoenix, Arizona, we serve the 2nd largest medical marijuana community in the US and have expanded to include national readers. We have built relationships with the community and industry by remaining patient-focused and staying engaged with our readers.
Our monthly revenue has grown to over $20k per month and we maintain a regular staff of about 12 office positions. About half are full-time paid positions, the other half are part time positions and volunteers.
We have built out our 3000 sq. ft. office/studio/warehouse into zones such as retail merchandise, print room, mailroom, 17’ green screen, instrument/music space, and loft area with two 15’ x15’ audio/video studios. This is where our entire print and sales operation takes place, save for our writers and ambassadors who live out of state and abroad.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I grew up in Plano, Texas where my family owned the costume and magic shop called Queen of Hearts. We were open from 1982-2010 and I spent most of my childhood and early adult life working as a magician and salesman. The skills I learned in our store shaped who I am today and how my company runs here in Arizona.
In my twenties, I began to play poker seriously, a game that I loved and studied since age seven. During this time, in the early 2000s, poker was exploding in popularity and my poker friends convinced me this may be our retirement plan. I found myself living in Las Vegas, playing medium stakes cash games, along with the World Poker Tour (WPT) and World Series of Poker (WSOP) events around the world.
I was really enjoying living in Las Vegas because of the Medical Marijuana Program, which allows patients to buy an allotted amount of cannabis each month. This was heaven for a cannabis user like myself. Cannabis helps settle my stomach and is my medication of choice for nearly all ailments. Anyway, after about a year of living in Las Vegas, the state of Nevada voted, in the 2016 federal election, to legalize cannabis.
I was exposed to the hurdles, joys, and pitfalls of a legal cannabis market. I paid attention to the market like a poker tournament and thought about how this experience could help me start a business in another new cannabis market.
I visited Arizona, on a whim, and saw they had a bustling Medical Marijuana. I estimated it would not become recreational until 2020, which just passed on November 3, 2020. The state had a great cannabis economy but no reliable media to report on new cannabis products, cool new businesses, or cannabis education. When I visited each dispensary I would see fliers scattered for each type of cannabis company. ‘Visit our Blog’ or ‘5% off Purchase’.
My idea was to create a beautiful magazine that would serve as an accredited, centralized source where companies could display their advertising, along with entertaining & educating content from the surrounding community.
The first name I chose was Phoenix Cannabis Magazine but this didn’t accurately reflect the uniqueness of what the Southwest represents.
After driving back and forth from Phoenix to Las Vegas, I realized that I love the Saguaro Cactus...the way they look, they have so much personality and they represent strength and resourcefulness, which appealed to me.
During this moment, while driving on a dark stretch of Arizona highway, Cannabis Cactus Magazine was born.
I ended my lease on my house in Las Vegas and packed up for Arizona with my dog Pickles and my last 100k bankroll. My only validation for moving to Arizona was that during my road trips there I had secured my first few accounts. I closed my first client account while pulled over at a truck stop heading into Phoenix. The largest edible brand in the state, Baked Bros, agreed to a full-page advertisement if I would allow them to pay after the magazine was printed. I agreed.
The client wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to just skip town like the monorail guy from the old Simpsons episode. Closing the first few agreements gave me the courage to make the move from Las Vegas to Arizona.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The first mistake I made was trusting some people, in Las Vegas, who sold me the idea that they could help staff and run a turnkey magazine operation.
Starting a business means agreeing, willingly, to wear a frown for several years, after which, the frown will finally turn upside down.
I employed a local magazine to design my magazine layout and create my first website. I was gullible to pay $15k upfront for one year of these services. I realized right away they weren't the brightest company but thought at least I would have a tangible product that was 100% mine.
However, when the first magazine arrived, on the inside cover, it said, ‘Published by Bill Shanahan’. I realized that this person was taking credit for my work and my materials. They even went so far as to have their attorney threaten my ownership and rights to my own company.
I walked away and chalked this up to a bad experience and moved on...which was the best move I ever made. Arizona is beautiful and I feel more at home here. My attorney here advised me to never look back and just continue to make Cannabis Cactus Magazine as successful as possible.
Our first printed issues had plenty of mistakes but people rarely noticed and it never affected our client’s retention rate or satisfaction.
My staff has continued to get better at drafting articles, interviews, cover designs, templates, and infographics. The challenge is more fun every month and has become easier as we go.
The hard part is always to cover the print costs but this is what sets us apart from a blog or any other strictly digital publications. The print costs are usually about 50% of overall revenue. I pay 10%-20% for accounts sold and managed by my sales team.
Initially, all my labor was done on a volunteer basis, including the magazine layout and articles. We focused on spending all the available revenue money on printing 5,000 copies each month, complete with a full-color glossy cover, perfect binding spine, and 68 richly colored, content pages.
Describe the process of launching the business.
This part was just me simply going door to door to smoke shops and dispensaries in the area.
The first magazine was printed with only a few paying clients, which was not enough to cover the cost of the print. However, this allowed me to bring something tangible to each business and this got a lot of attention from readers, writers, business owners, etc.
Every sale and staffing opportunity came from making the entire first magazine myself with a couple of other writers. By the second issue, we already had a handful of new clients and writers.
By the end of the first year, we had the core staff in place that we still have today. This includes Joseph Cassini on the layout design and account management. Joseph is my brother who lives in Madrid, Spain. He married a Spanish woman named Irene and they just had their baby boy in 2020 named Hernan. Austin Cabral works full time in the Phoenix office and has been with us since 2018. He is 22 years old, loves BMX, and is a wizard on Adobe suite design products. My girlfriend Michelle keeps my soul warm and helps me so graciously. I'm taken care of from all angles and have a great team to help me process my thoughts into actions.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have about a 90% customer retention rate over the last three years. Many of the same customers who helped start our business are still supporting us today. Most new customers find out about us through double or triple indicators resulting from word of mouth, seeing the magazine in person, and social media. We get about 5 sales deck requests on our website each week. Our website currently sees about 400 visitors per day. We are not linked to any content sites and choose to make all of our interactions authentic.
We do track all analytics but we do not use these for sales. Our analytics for print, web, and app stores are available to all clients for market strategy. Our Instagram account has 14.2k followers and our app received 2k downloads in the first month. Each push notification sent from our app gets opened an average of 500 times in the first hour.
Our social media accounts like Instagram get flagged often for cannabis content even though we are not selling anything ever. Due to this, we built our own app to function as a home for our giveaways, coupons, news, and monthly magazine/blog content.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, we are ready for expansion to new states in the U.S., with magazines and promotional content for the APP. We expect to reach one million in revenue before federal cannabis legalization and five million directly after. We will host cannabis media for such mainstream clients as Volkswagen, Rolex, Best Western, Modelo, Hilton, MLB, NBA, and many more. Our mainstream current partnerships include the Phoenix Suns, iHeartRadio, and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Our current monthly revenue is about 15k from our advertisers in the medical cannabis market. In the next year 2021, we expect a bump in this due to marijuana becoming recreational in Arizona and other states. We grew by almost 100% in our first year. Our 2018 revenue was roughly 120k and 2019 was 225k but 2020 revenue has been down 25-40% monthly since covid started.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The main thing I have learned is to trust and act according to my instincts. This can be hard but instincts are necessary for survival. For me, this was apparent when I would feel something and not act on it. I watched my office environment devolve into near chaos because I was afraid to fire the problem employees.
Once I finally fired the bad apples, the vibe in our office changed for the better immediately. Every other employee was happier and my confidence was restored in our overall mission statement of providing a comprehensive and classy magazine.
One decision I made early on that has been amazing was to sign the lease for our office warehouse. I have met so many amazing people who come through our office doors to visits. We sit in our office and the world of musicians, artists, cannabis growers/sellers, financiers, investors, fans, and friends all move past us.
In the beginning, people asked why we have such a large office if we are not more profitable. I believe that this image along with the beautiful print is what made us instantly legitimate within the community. Clients all come right to my offices, many times without appointment, and they spend additional money during these visits on both advertising and merchandise. These chance meetings would not be possible if I had chosen to run the business from my apartment instead. I would have to rely on meeting spots and phone conferences. This is called the principle of prepared space. Build it and they will come.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use HubSpot, Maz, Instagram, Shopify, Adobe Suite, Route 4 Me, Facebook, Google Drive, Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Premiere, Photopea (Awesome browser-based photo edit engine). All photos in our magazine are been taken on a Samsung S9 (which needs to be replaced lol).
Our store is hosted on Shopify.
Most importantly, we use our own app where we host giveaways and have all of our information in one easy to read and accessible place.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I can’t remember the last time I read a book or listened to a podcast. I have been so busy since starting this business. Just trust your gut.
The Nike co-founder book, Shoe Dog, is a good one.
My favorite books are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Grapes of Wrath by Kurt Vonnegut, White Noise by Don DeLillo and I love old black and white movies. I heard the Queen’s Gambit on Netflix is good, maybe I’ll check that out.
I love game theory and puzzles.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Starting a business means agreeing, willingly, to wear a frown for several years, after which, the frown will finally turn upside down. :) You will always be fulfilled if you are following your instincts and dreams. Do not ever feel trapped anywhere! There is always a solution no matter what.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are seeking the following openings for part-time positions:
- Delivery Driver ($4/stop. TX, NM, CA, NV, AZ)
- Sales Positions (Commission based)
- Web Design ($22/hr)
- Web Integration ($22/hr)
- Show Host ($500/month)
Inquire at: [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
Please Check us out online and in the app stores by searching Cannabis Cactus.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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