Sysamone Phaphon is a leader and advocate for diversity and inclusion in the technology, healthcare and cannabis industries. Prior to joining Vertosa, the Oakland, CA-based cannabis technology company providing customized nano-emulsions for infused products, she spearheaded Growth & Partnerships for Better Inc, which helps patients retrieve reimbursements from insurance payers for out-of-network claims. She also founded the agency FilmHero, where she worked with award-winning filmmakers to help magnify the social impact of their work. She is a catalyst for change and has executed more than 50 different diversity and inclusion events through major partnerships with tech companies like Google, Yelp & Twilio to help women thrive in their careers in the tech/startup industry. Sysamone is also a brand ambassador for Mothercoders, a nonprofit organization helping women with kids on-ramp to careers in tech so they can thrive in a digital economy.

As the Head of Growth for Vertosa, Sysamone implements strategies to increase workflow efficiencies so the company can continue to scale and achieve new successes. Her role touches every department, from operations to sales to branding. 

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

I began my professional career in the cannabis industry this year. I’m passionate about working towards living in a world where cannabis is completely de-stigmatized, decriminalized and accessible to all adults who wish to consume recreationally or for medicinal purposes. I decided to delve into the cannabis industry and join Vertosa to utilize my healthcare policy experience and do my part in expanding access to cannabis for treatment of medical conditions and responsible recreational consumption.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people? 

Yes! At Vertosa, we’re continuing to establish our company as the go-to THC and CBD infusion partner for both mainstream and niche brands, including startups House of Saka wine, Tinley Elixirs and GoodDay Beverages, and household names Humphry Slocombe ice cream and VitaCoco. We are also proud to announce that we recently closed a $6 million Series Seed funding round that will empower us to continue to improve our services on a daily basis and help propel new infused products and brands to market. 

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am a big advocate for women thriving in any professional industry. A movement that I continue to pursue is helping to ensure that every company has a woman at the leadership table, proactively engaging and adding to the company’s long-term growth goals. My vision is that these women leaders have been properly recognized for their hard work, experience and significant contributions. 

I want women to remember that it is the female cannabis plant that is the stronger, more desired gender in cultivation. All the wonderful benefits that people enjoy about cannabis are the fruits of a female cannabis plant. I want to inspire and empower women to thrive as leaders in this industry. Embrace the power of the female cannabis plant and go be the boss that you deserve to be! 

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t have any specific interesting story because this whole industry is interesting. I will say that I am always entertained by the ideas people come up with for infused products. I learned pretty fast not to be surprised at the innovative ideas that people can come up with and just go with the flow. The possibilities are endless from infused beverages to infused lube. 

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At Vertosa, we have a fridge filled with our formulas and some infused beverages. I made the mistake of pouring myself a cup of infused THC instead of CBD lemonade towards the end of the work day. My co-worker came over to ask me a question about our CRM system and ended up asking if I was okay. She said “usually you look so serious when explaining how to use the system but today you are so happy”. Lesson from that incident: do not talk on the phone while pouring yourself a drink and always, always look at the bottle to double check what it is infused with.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry? 

Yes, my mother was so excited! Growing up she used to make us pho and part of the herbs she used for the broth was a tiny marijuana bud. When I explained to her what we do at Vertosa, she responded by asking if we can create a formula for her pho broth. 

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story? 

Yes, I’ll credit my success in the tech industry to my mentors specifically to our CEO, Ben Larson. He has been a champion of my professional development and continues to provide me with various opportunities to thrive and lead. He started off as an Advisor for my startup. When I decided to move on from that, Ben made a connection for me with health tech startup-Better, to lead as their Head of Growth, which then led me to lead growth at Vertosa. 

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the  main core of our interview.  Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry.  According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?

Be Self-Aware of your own gender biases and intentionally work on making cognitive corrections until you are free from bias thoughts. The hardest part is unlearning what society has taught us about gender roles but the first step towards this is to own the fact that we all have biases.

Champion Us for major projects, leadership roles and our opinions on national and global decisions. We cannot achieve gender parity if we are often excluded from participation or consideration of our perspective.

Use your Influence for Good especially when you are a man with a strong title or sitting at the leadership table. Volunteer your time to support women initiatives and see it to fruition. Less talk about being a male ally and more doing. Actions speak louder than words.

You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each. 

I am still learning daily about the science side of this industry. Thankfully my colleagues help me with rapid education sessions. However, some of the basics I learned that may be helpful for those just entering the industry like I did. Here is my list:

Know the difference between Hemp and Marijuana. Even though both are derived from the cannabis plant, they have different applications and concentrations. 

Know that there are more than just the two popular cannabinoids (CBD and THC) that provide different effects. In mainstream market, we only ever hear of these two but there are over 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant and I am learning their specific properties daily.

Know the different effects and uses of the other types of cannabinoids currently being rolled out slowly in the market: CBG (food suppressant), CBN (Sleep aid), CBC (anti-fungal). I actually got to experiment with CBG and I didn’t lose weight but I wasn’t hungry, so still TBD. 

At Vertosa, our emulsions are customized for each product maker. If anyone tells you there is one formula for every product, that is untrue. Every product is packed with its own specific active ingredients and in order to create an accurate product, the emulsion must be customized to be compatible with your active ingredients. There is no such thing as a one size fits all approach in this industry.

Know that this industry is continually evolving and the regulations will continually change/improve. Creating an infused product is not black or white, it’s a colorful process that involves: distributors, co-packers, manufacturers and various licensees. Creating an infused product is not as simple as stating you want to create an infused lemonade. There are more steps to the process but Vertosa is here to be the expert that guides your idea to product launch and we do it with full transparency regarding what you can and cannot do. 

Can you share 3 things that most excites you about the cannabis industry?

The potential for innovation. There are so many opportunities and uses for cannabinoids. I’m excited to be part of a company that is continually evolving with every new learning. 

The potential to solve social injustices towards people of color through decriminalization. There are still too many POC in jail while others are profiting for the reason they are behind bars.

The potential for being part of the change that creates more access for people who need it for medicinal purposes. 

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? 

It concerns me that there is still a significant amount of people, especially POC, in jail for possession of marijuana when there is a high amount of people getting wealthy, legally from this industry. Honestly, I’d like to implement more than 3 ways to reform this industry. I’d start with creating and implementing initiatives that focus on things like; decriminalization, de-stigmatization, diversity, equity and inclusion. Vertosa recently began a partnership with the NPO – The Last Prisoner Project to support their efforts in getting people out of prison and helping them transition back into society, as well as reaching them through job training programs to further help their workforce and career development so they can get their lives back on track. We all know how hard it is to re-enter the workface with a criminal record and at Vertosa we are starting with supporting fundraising efforts for reentry programs through The Last Prisoner Project. 

What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?

I would share the following CDC Facts:

Opioid related overdoses are killing close to 50,000 people a year. 

Alcohol induced deaths are killing close to 30,000 people a year. 

Cigarette smoking is responsible for killing close to 480,000 people a year.

But fatal overdoses from marijuana use are Zero per year. I think these are pretty clear data points that should persuade a Senator as long as he or she isn’t purely focused on their own agenda. 

Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?

There isn’t a black or white answer for this question. I know I’m a broken record with that statement: there are too many factors to consider for how to regulate cannabis. However, I believe there should be a difference between the two because cannabis and tobacco smoke are not equal in negative consequences. Based on various studies, cigarette smoke has been linked to various types of cancers whereas smoking cannabis has not. Cannabis compounds have actually been shown to kill various types of cancer cells. They aren’t equally carcinogenic and should not be classified in a similar status just like marijuana should not be a schedule 1 drug like heroin. Let’s make more sensible decisions when it comes to classifications; let’s circle back to the data and research to help us make better regulations and classifications. 

Can you please give us your favorite  “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? 

My favorite life lesson quote is “Lead by example”. Actions speak louder than words and we can only expect those who follow us to do as much as we are willing to do. I never request anything from anyone, that I have not done myself or am willing to do myself. A true leader can get down and dirty with everyone when necessary.