Sammy Dorf has set the bar pretty high for entrepreneurs and startups. His cannabis company raised $100M after many months of effort, over the course of one extraordinary weekend, and went on to be acquired in the largest transaction in the industry (at the time), at $850M.
Whatever your opinions about marijuana, Sam Dorf has proven it’s serious business. We caught up for a special episode of the Dealmakers Show where he broke down his incredible entrepreneurial journey. We talked about legal cannabis, the strategy involved in winning licenses, the struggles and big wins of fundraising, choosing your exit, and what lies ahead in the industry.
Wow Moments, Legal Weed
Sam is originally from Chicago, and it’s where he began building his marijuana empire.
Always a fan of the University of Kansas basketball team, he took a small detour there to go to school. When he graduated, he thought he would join his father, a former prosecutor, on the trading floor at the Chicago Board of Trade.
The great recession of 2008 hit, and it wasn’t a fantastic time to be trading anymore. Sam decided to go to law school and build more skills that could help fuel his own entrepreneurial journey.
While many on the outside won’t see the similarities between attorneys and entrepreneurs, there are plenty of recovering lawyers like myself who have found it a great stepping stone to the startup world.
Dorf says it teaches you the art of the deal and what to watch out for. It earns you a seat at the table. It can give you more credibility as a young entrepreneur. You learn to do things on your own and run your own business. Of course, it may save you a few bucks on legal fees when you are bootstrapping your business at the beginning.
While Sammy was at the John Marshall Law School, Colorado started its cannabis program. One of his college friends moved to Denver and opened one of the first dispensaries there. Sam helped with some of his financing and structure. That company began to be a smoking success. It was a wow moment and a clue as to just how big this new industry could be.
At the time Colorado demanded that you be a resident for the past two years to hold equity in a cannabis company. It wasn’t yet legal in Illinois.
Sammy filled in the time with starting his own law firm, as well as buying tax lien certificates and fixing and flipping distressed houses. That gave him some of the revenue he would later need to help find his real venture.
Supply & Demand
In 2014 Illinois got its own medical marijuana program and opened up a merit-based application process for licensure. Sam saw his moment of opportunity. He began networking and going to all the events he could. He tried to meet everyone in the business.
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