Entrepreneur Basem Hanna on the Art of Rolling the Dice
Successful entrepreneurship requires a certain degree of disagreeableness. You have to be willing to embrace what others are too afraid to. You also have to be able to be willing to balance momentary rewards with constant monetary risk. Of course, most aren’t equipped for this turbulent lifestyle, where the pressure-cooker never ceases and the future is always clouded in relative uncertainty. But for those who are, entrepreneurship becomes a part of their very identity. Canadian cannabis and real estate entrepreneur, Basem Hanna, has become one such figure.
“I haven’t worked for somebody since I was 26 years old,” he says. “I started my own real estate company because I knew that I couldn’t work for other people, as bad as that sounds. But you just have to know who you are. I’ve always been that way.”
Hanna left his day job behind to embark on a real estate career that would offer him the autonomy he craved. At the time, Canada’s medical cannabis market was nearly non-existent, so he went to a realm ripe with entrepreneurial opportunity. But he soon found that real estate’s old guard wasn’t as receptive to newcomers as he would’ve hoped.
“Real estate is an old boys club,” he laughs. “It was when I first entered the space and it still is. The mindset is essentially, ‘Oh, you haven’t been doing this for 20, 30, 40 years? Come talk to me later.”
Still, Hanna pressed on, buying a series of properties and expanding his capital. But even as his real estate prospects continued to flourish, Hanna’s mind was already moving towards a cannabis market slowly beginning to bloom.
“I saw the medical marijuana market expanding and compared it to my real estate experience,” he explains. “I thought, ‘If this hits, then no one’s going to tell me that I’m the young guy’ because I would’ve been there since the foundation. I felt like no one else in that space had my level of business experience or education. I had entrepreneurial tendencies. I had capital. So, I rolled the dice.”
And while “rolling the dice” reflects Hanna’s entrepreneurial spirit, it also undermines the calculated process he took on before entering the space. He first heard about the expanding market from his lawyer during a celebratory closing dinner. Hanna realized that she was either “out to lunch” or on the brink of the next big investment opportunity. So, he looked into the legislation and, not long after, he projected that the cannabis craze was right around the corner. Years later, with his companies Trec Brands and TerrAscend firmly integrated into Canada’s cannabis market, Hanna is reaping the rewards of his “dice roll.”
Still, in a cannabis realm that continues to become increasingly saturated, Hanna understands more than most just how quickly the market can flip. But, if you ask him, such turbulence just comes with the territory.
“The space is so saturated now. The landscape is so different from when we first entered. You’re going to see a lot of people in the cannabis industry go broke in the near future and Trec is not immune to that. Everyone has to be careful. […] But I’ll always bet on experience, and we have more than anybody,” he says. “It’s not a friendly market to be in – especially right now – but if you can’t handle risk, you probably weren’t in the right business to begin with.”
As for how he thinks he’ll fare in the uncertain waters of the cannabis industry, Hanna isn’t too worried. After all, now he’s cannabis’ old guard.
“That uncertainty keeps me alive,” he says, adamantly. “To be a good entrepreneur, you can’t just endure the stress and uncertainty. You have to thrive on it. You have to be okay with the rockiness that comes with making big moves and not being 100% sure that you’re going to make it out on the other side. But you also have to know that if it’s not going to work out, you did absolutely everything in your power to make sure it did.”
Even through our video call, Hanna’s passion becomes palpable. The reasons that others avoid entrepreneurial endeavours – the doubt, the unknown, the constant risk – is precisely what keeps him so singularly focused.
“That’s how I handle the stress; if I ever have to tell an investor that we’re down in an investment, I know that I can look them in the eyes and tell them that the team did everything they could to avoid losses. But that’s an inevitable part of the business. You just have to have the courage to keep moving forward.”
Today, Canada’s cannabis market is as volatile as it’s ever been. And while Hanna’s business – Trec Brands – aims to give back by donating 10 percent of its profits to various charitable initiatives, he attests that producing consistent profits remains an uphill battle for everyone in the space. Even with one of the market’s founders at the helm, no company is immune to the inevitable highs and lows that come with entrepreneurship. All you can hope for is to be led by someone like Hanna; someone sharp enough to project the future and still brave enough to roll the dice.