Born in Thunder Bay and raised in Winnipeg, Mike grew up with a single mother and an older brother. He remembers tagging along on his brother’s paper route when he was only seven or eight years old, learning what it was like to offer products and collect money from customers. He’d also help his mom, an accountant, sort cheques into numerical order. “I thought I could learn from professors I chose in life,” Mike says.
Growing up in a low-income family motivated Mike to work, but it also led to a lifestyle that wasn’t the healthiest. With a tight food budget, Mike’s family opted to buy mostly inexpensive, highly processed foods. By the age of 18, Mike weighed 300 lbs.
“I just became sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he says.
Mike decided to make a complete lifestyle change, which led to him losing more than 100 lbs.
“I became very passionate about health,” he says. “Each advancement that I made in food and exercise and healthy lifestyle just made me feel better, and so far away from the sick and tired of the past.”
Mike pursued his new passion by co-founding Manitoba Harvest, a health food company that produces hemp products, in 1998. Though Mike and his business partners, Alex Chwaiewsky and Martin Moravcik, handled all tasks themselves in the early days, they soon realized the value of building a team.
Their first hire was a controller, who took over managing finances so Mike could focus on sales. The more they added to their team, the more time they freed up to grow their business.
By 2009, Manitoba Harvest was making $10 million in annual sales. The company brought on an investor—Avrio Ventures—and just six years later, the company reached the $50 million mark.
That’s when Avrio Ventures initiated Manitoba Harvest’s first sale. After a year-long search for the right buyer, the company sold a majority stake to a private equity sponsor for $132 million. Mike stayed on as a minority business owner, learning a lot about the importance of having an external team in the process.
“I was glad that we already had strong relationships with legal and financial advisors because they were required through that process,” he says. “You need those resources if you’re in business, especially a rapidly growing business, and the sooner that you can organize that external team of advisors and professionals, the stronger you’re going to be.”
The next step was to move products into the U.S., except the U.S. still hadn’t legalized hemp. Mike and his business partners at Manitoba Harvest had also formed the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, which worked with a U.S. counterpart to get government approval. Twenty years after Canada legalized hemp, the U.S. followed suit and was finally open for business.
It was around the time Canada legalized recreational marijuana, which Mike believes set the stage for Manitoba Harvest’s second sale.
“Timing is everything,” he says.
Manitoba Harvest was up to $100 million in annual sales when it sold for $419 million to B.C.-based cannabis producer, Tilray Inc.
As for Mike, he retired. And then, un-retired.
“I always wanted to retire to come out of retirement,” Mike says. “I knew after 20 years of growing and managing a business from zero to $100 million, I wanted to figure out what’s next for me.”
What’s next, Mike says, is becoming an advisor, investor, and board member for other businesses, particularly those based on health and what he calls “Mother Nature’s gifts.”
His latest focus is on making mushrooms mainstream. They’re similar to cannabis products in their uses, he explains, with the potential to treat ailments like PTSD.
Mike’s goal is to make the world a healthier place through his work and to mentor others so they can do the same. He launched Fata & Fleishman Mentorship with fellow entrepreneur, Greg Fleishman, to lend a hand to new entrepreneurs.
It started as a Dropbox folder full of forms and templates and grew into what it is today—a self-serve website with free tools that anyone can access.
It’s a give-back project, Mike explains. Giving back was ingrained in him from an early age, having witnessed his mother giving to others even though she didn’t have much herself.
Mike wants his legacy to be one of giving and helping others succeed.
“It’s not a legacy of all the things Mike Fata’s done,” he says. “It’s a legacy of giving back and showing the community that the more that you give back, the better it’s going to be for yourself, for your family, for your friends and for your business.”
Check out the full podcast to learn more about Mike’s personal and business journey, and how he’s leading the way for the next generation of entrepreneurs.