“My view to business is often about having fun and finding solutions for problems that people might not even know they have” : Interview with Jakob Sons, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Cansativa

Cansativa, founded in the Frankfurt Rhine-Main region, is a pioneer in shaping and driving a new era of legal adult-use cannabis in Germany. 

The startup is working to raise the profile of medical cannabis and to make it usable as an option for treatment. Cansativa aims to ensure greater synergy, logistical infrastructure, pharmaceutical standards and clarity between the individual players on the market. The German market for medical cannabis has several stakeholders – Cansativa brings them together into a strong network, a “one-stop-shop”, offering standard products from many international manufacturers. In this way, they can ensure security, transparency and choice from one single source.

While cannabis legalization is already underway in areas like Canada and the USA, in Europe, it remains less popular. Germany is currently leading the way in bringing the health benefits of cannabis to patients.

We had the pleasure to chat with Co-Founder and Managing Director Jakob Sons about his journey as a founder in a niche industry, and what the next steps are for the startup.

Cansativa is a pretty unique company in Germany, and in Europe more generally,  can you tell us a bit more about the company’s background? 

Cansativa was founded in 2017 by Benedikt (my brother), our father and me. Benedikt brought his experience as a strategy consultant to the company. I have a background in law as I started my career as a lawyer with international law firms. We both left the standard career track to found Cansativa, as we are both very vision-driven founders. Our experience in “new business” areas and regulatory ecosystems was a clear value add in the early days of Cansativa and still is today.

Our vision is to enable cannabis for everyone (who is eligible for treatment or consumption). Cannabis is complex because it is highly regulated. We take care of the complicated stuff and make cannabis supply as easy as online shopping. Now is the right time, because people strive not only for access to cannabis, but for participation in an industry.

Since launch, what have been the main challenges you’ve encountered? Has there been any backlash?

We experienced what every startup experiences over its life-cycle: bad hires, cash constraints, slow execution, poor communication. However, we are proactively working on all those challenges. Benedikt and I are always trying to find the right people for our team that do things better than the two of us ever could. Our responsibility to Cansativa is that we are not ego people, but that we build the right team at the right time to orchestrate the business. We never stop observing and learning from others.

The medicinal cannabis industry is fairly new in Europe – what do you think the next 5-10 years has in store for this industry?

I am confident that over 5 to 10 years, cannabis will be a well-established and reputable industry in Europe. There is a European movement towards plant-based medicine and nutrition, and we see a strong trend towards ESG impact too. In all those areas, cannabis and hemp will find their niche—in food, fabrics, building and construction, agriculture and, foremost, in lifestyle and wellbeing.

What do you see as the long term plan for Cansativa?

Our long term plan is to make Cansativa the leading platform to enable cannabis in Europe. It is about the democratization of cannabis. To empower people to make their own choice. Their own choice for best medicine, best lifestyle and relaxation, best environmental footprint or their own business in some of the areas mentioned. Cannabis must not be a closed shop. Cannabis must be an open source for society—from every angle.

Did you always see yourself as founding a company?

Yes, I did. When I was a teenager, I traded history and politics leaflets and textbooks for our history class in school. I ordered them for free (or only delivery costs) and made one Euro each. Later, still in school, I started building small websites to generate traffic for Google Ads and sold digital avatars for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. My view to business is often about having fun and finding solutions for problems that people might not even know they have. I love the creative part of being an entrepreneur. At the same time, it is invaluable that Benedikt is a master in numbers, calculations and execution of business models. Some years ago, I still felt bad that there are so many things in business that I’m not good at. Today I know that this is okay, as long as I am surrounded by talented and inspiring people who have mastered the areas in which I fall short.

What made you interested in the cannabis sector?

The opportunity to help write the playbook for what is potentially the most regulated consumer industry. Perhaps surprisingly, I am not that enthusiastic about the product itself, but I know that you need people in your team who are.

What would be your top tips to a budding entrepreneur/startup founder?

  1. Team. Do not be an ego-person but surround yourself with people that know more than you, that are more experienced than you.
  2. Balance. As a founder, it is crucial to find a balance between “strategic thinking” and the reality of the team and business. A founder’s main responsibilities are to hold people together and shape the vision and the overarching principles and targets. Maintaining connection with reality—through conversations with people and insights from data—makes this easier.
  3. Curiosity. Try to learn new things every single day. Stay curious—always.
  4. Failure. Allow yourself to make mistakes. It is the best way to learn and to get better.