AROYA’s Grower of the Month series is an opportunity to shine a light on a craft cultivator whose resourcefulness and innovation we find inspiring. Each month we feature a grower who found ways to scale, break new ground, and consistently produce high-quality product—true markers of success in the cannabis industry.
Our Grower of the Month for January is Sean Oganesyan, Senior Vice President of Cultivation with STIIIZY. Four years after the 2017 launch of its proprietary vape pod resulted in a cult-like following for the company, STIIIZY has been crowned the third best-selling brand in the US and the number one brand in California - the largest cannabis market in the world. Under the guidance of its vertically-integrated parent company Shyne Group, this award-winning LA-based lifestyle brand has expanded its offerings to include flower, edibles, extracts, twenty retail locations, and a presence in multiple states including Nevada and Washington.
For Sean Oganesyan, joining STIIIZY more than two years ago was the natural progression in a career that started in the gray market of California’s medical program. Inspired by OG growers, he went from building out his first grow to, a few years later, establishing a business cultivating cannabis for medical dispensaries and their patients. Sean sat down to speak with us about what he learned during those influential early days, some of the ways his cultivation practices have evolved over time, and how data from AROYA helps him manage multiple facilities from a single location.
Get the full STIIIZY story by visiting their website, stay up-to-speed on what’s coming down the pike for the cannabis lifestyle by giving them a follow, and read on for more from our chat with Sean.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
AROYA: Thanks for joining on, man.
SEAN OGANESYAN, SENIOR VICE PRESENT OF CULTIVATION: Thank you for having us.
AROYA: How did you get started out in the industry, and why are you so passionate about what you do?
SEAN: I saw a buddy of mine growing in a house in a six-light operation, and the guy was probably growing since the late nineties with some of the old school growers out there that you guys might know about. There was a group of those old school guys that led the way, but I saw them in the house and just kind of got drawn by it, and went and got a 10,000 square foot warehouse and built out 5,000 of it and 150 lighters and started cultivating. This was the end of 2006, beginning of 2007.
I built the first grow with my partner, and after the first harvest we figured out that there's rules and regulations set in place that we can play in between the gray lines. [We] established relationships with a bunch of licensed dispensaries - some of the old school dispensaries - created this co-op and we just started cultivating for all the dispensaries. By the end of 2009, beginning of 2010, we already had a thousand lights operating, full workers’ comp, health insurance - we did everything back then, running it like a regular business.
AROYA: It's crazy for somebody like you to see the growth in the industry, from something that had to be under the table at one point in time into what’s now a legit operation.
SEAN: Yeah, the start of it was under the table to really grasp the idea, and understand that once you get the idea and the vision of the business and where the culture was headed, there was no way that we were stopping that train. And I've had the same vision from the first minute I started seeing that plant grow.
AROYA: When did you join STIIIZY?
SEAN: About two and a half years ago.
AROYA: Gotcha. And obviously, STIIZY has established itself as the number 1 cannabis brand in California. At what point were you looking around and thinking, "Wow, this is really starting to pick up steam"?
SEAN: Three of the founders got together and they put in all their work and all of the knowledge that they had gained from all the experiences. The guys that are behind STIIIZY, they're grassroots guys. They created this brand. They saw a market, they grabbed that market share, and they went full force at it. They worked day-in-day-out and were able to create a really solid, structured cannabis company in the vape side. Then me having the background I come from with cultivation and the different brands that I've consulted for throughout the years, and bringing that piece into the company and joining that force so we not only have vapes and multiple retail stores, but also the cannabis flower itself coming into the picture sets us apart from a lot of other companies out there.
AROYA: How did you first get introduced to AROYA®?
SEAN: I've kind of been playing with automation and fertigation for a very long time. Even with my first grow, you had a light switch that you’d just click on and then the pumps would turn on from the other end—because you had a two-way switch - it turned on the pumps, you would turn on the nozzles over here, and they would just start feeding the tables. I started growing in Rockwool too, so I was able to understand Rockwool and how Rockwool penetrates, how water flows through the Rockwool, how the fibers are activated with the 24-hour soaking process. Just making sure that you really understood what you were doing and the products you were using.
AROYA: How has AROYA® changed your cultivation practices, and what have you taken away from the platform that you look to implement in every facility that you guys bring on?
SEAN: Through having multiple thousands of lights operating, it's helped me get a lot of data to where now I know exactly in what percentiles they need to stay at with the plants, the amount of coverage I have within that one room with AROYA all connected to it. Now that I even have BACnet access to AROYA with my fully controlled system, I'm able to communicate with my controls with AROYAs sensors, and able to give out the recipes that that plant calls for that day, depending on what ECs the plant needs and what ECs it's reading in the substrate. It's giving me full control of my irrigation cycles. I have the full analytics team behind it continuously monitoring multiple locations. All my grows are literally run through my headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.
AROYA: For really large operators like yourself, you can only be in one place at one time, so it makes it a lot easier for you to manage multiple facilities, assign tasks, and know if at anytime your grow is operating outside of certain thresholds. While we're speaking about controls, are there any other companies that you want to give a shout-out to real quick?
SEAN: [Commercial cannabis automation company] THC Controls. We have a fully customizable system. It's like the difference between going and ordering a Rolls-Royce or going and ordering a Honda Civic - understanding what you expect from that grow and what you want to control. You could control anything from different types of ACs, how in-depth you could control that AC, control your irrigation - however automated your brain can see that facility, you can add that control to it.
AROYA: Right on. And you're a big supporter of sensor density and the whole concept around why that's important. At what point were you guys like, if we have more sensors in here, we're going to get at better results and our decisions are going to apply better?
SEAN: I've been a big advocate of AROYA because it's helped me be in control of variables. I don't like variables. I to dot all my i's and cross all my t's - that’s my military background. I need answers, I need to know exactly what's going on, I need to be in full control of a situation, and that gave me control. That's why I'm comfortably sitting here and talking to you today. I'm not going around somewhere in a plane or flying to some different state because somebody fucked something up in my irrigation.
AROYA: Right, exactly. You need to be able to account for everything that's going on inside your facility, and even if you have the tightest controls, there's still going to be variables that are just inherent to the cannabis industry - plant variation, things like that. What do you guys have planned for 2022? What are your goals going into next year?
SEAN: Some of them are surprises. We have some new states coming online. But I will tell you, on a serious note, that it’s 15,000 lights and works across the nation.
AROYA: Big plans! It's really exciting to see you guys grow and we're super excited to be able to grow with you guys. It's been a pleasure working with your team. You've been super open to like the ideas that we've brought in and you've definitely shown that you've been able to master the way that AROYA is supposed to be used for sure. What was the biggest selling point for you when going with AROYA over any other system?
SEAN: If you got a company that makes sensors and you got all the other companies buying those sensors, white-labeling those sensors and want to put their name on it, I just go straight to the source. it's always been like that throughout my career in the cannabis industry. If I can't get something, I will figure out a way to get to the source, The communication between [AROYA] and me was very wide open, we both understood what we have to gain from each other, and I actually bring a good product to the market and really know how to use it. We both have our success.
AROYA: Right on. Appreciate your time.
SEAN: Thank you, man.