a story

for the psychedelic movement
Leary was twenty eight when she founded her psychedelic business.

She called it Gaia Health. For more than a decade the renaissance in psychedelics had been the center of her life. It was, she knew, her calling.
Ever since Leary was a girl she felt that she lived in a troubled world. In her earliest memory she stood on a playground,
ashamed, in silence, after her mother separated her from another child. That
little girl, she was told, was too dirty. It wasn't until later that Leary realized she
was too poor.

Even in her youth Leary was aware not just
of war abroad and violence at home but apathy, disconnectedness and inequality. This is a world in pain.
Leary first took LSD when she was a senior
in high school, with two friends in a field
under an oak tree. The world
disintegrated, along with her sense of
self, into billions of bodies dancing
on threads at the hem of Shiva's
robe. The great deity rattled and twirled,
spinning as the stars, woven into a dance
of eternity. How can we live in so much
pain when the universe is dancing?

Leary witnessed her father's death. She met
her future child. She cried over the beauty
of the sunset. She cried again over the fact
that she had let herself miss so many.

All the while she had not
left the oak tree.
After that experience Leary gave the first
real hug of her life. It was the I see you;
your pain, your aspirations, your fear.
In this moment I hold you exactly as
you are, imperfect, perfect.

The hug was with her father, who was
grateful but couldn't understand
why she was crying and why
she seemed to squeeze so hard.
Leary was not the first person to believe
that, in some way, psychedelics could help
the world. In fact she wasn't even the
thousandth. That's the funny thing about
psychedelics - you come to them your own
way, broken down, opened up, turned on.
You become aware that there is more than meets the senses - something out there, profound, eternal, waiting for you to
look. You come to understand, you
are not alone. Thousands of people
are on this path, maybe more.

Leary discovered a whole new world.
It was filled with extraordinary people
striving to bring a measure of healing
to the world.
Leary was twenty eight when she founded her psychedelic business.

She called it Gaia Health. By this point the landscape of psychedelics had shifted, with new medical frameworks for MDMA and psilocybin. Leary was not a therapist. She was a marketer; a storyteller. But she was passionate and charismatic. She painted a vision. People bought in. Leary found a team of therapists with years of experience as psychedelic guides.

Her plan was simple - to build clinics for psychedelic treatment, from intake and preparation, through psychedelic experiences themselves to the work of integration: the process of making meaning of what happened and applying the lessons to your life. Gaia's clinics were going to be beautiful - sun-lit, plant-filled. They would be sanctuaries of contemplation, introspection and healing.
In those early days Leary barely slept. She would lay awake, the troubles of the world seeping through the curtains of her mind like sirens passing on the street.
Scroll animated word changes: Refugee Crisis: Climate Crisis: Sexual Violence: Inequality: Homelessness: Apathy: Apathy: Apathy: Ego
Other nights it was the thrum of possibility that kept her awake. Here she was on a frontier of systemic change, building with each heavy brick a bridge to a better world. Gaia Health was going to bring psychedelic medicine to humanity.

When business planning overwhelmed her Leary would go to that place in her mind; one illuminated with hope for what the world could be.
Gaia Business Planning:

When a patient walks into Gaia Health she will feel that she belongs. The feeling will be a sense of comfort; of being loved and held; of safety. If Gaia lives up to its potential then these patients will carry that feeling with them when they leave. Gaia will be a sanctuary.

Someday we will have a treatment center in every city. In smaller towns we will have outposts. We will ensure that everyone who could benefit from sacred medicine will have access to it.

If we become known for anything it will be for our care and compassion for the people who we treat. Gaia will bring this healing to the world.

Gaia Health Investor Pitch Deck
It felt surreal when the first investor handed her a check. $250,000. Access to his network. Leary couldn't help but focus on how sweaty her hands were, and how loud her heart was beating.

Before she knew it she had raised $2 million and Gaia Health was breaking ground.
Tilda Publishing
The very first patient of Gaia Health was a woman Leary's own age. She had been a victim of sexual assault. Three months later Leary received a letter.
Dear Leary,

For the first time in over 10 years what was a prison of gray walls now seems to have a window. Light is streaming in, warming my face, warming my body, telling me that I am loved. On the other side of that window is the life I could have been living all along. Each day since my journey the window has been growing. Some day it may be big enough for me to climb through.

Three months ago I breathed deeply for perhaps the first time in my life.

It is not enough to say thank you. This was not
a favor. It was not even a gift. It was a blessing. There is grace in my life today.

I think you'll know what I mean when I say "everything is". It is. It is. But you made this, and this has changed my life.

With love and admiration,

It doesn't appear that there is such a thing as a flashback from LSD. But for a moment, as Leary put the letter down, she felt as though she was again at hem of Shiva's robe, a body among billions of bodies among billions of stars, swaying in a cosmic dance. I am living my purpose in this world.
Gaia Health was successful from the start. When her clinic in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, developed a waiting list of a year Leary decided to build a second one across the bridge. By this point she had proven her "concept" enough to raise a second round of funding. This time it was $7 million. She moved quickly to expand -- Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, and Denver.

In her whole life Leary had never felt so charged. Each moment was on fire with possibility. People everywhere needed psychedelic medicine. Gaia Health was bringing it to them.
Tilda Publishing
(newspaper headline font)

In the span of two months four competitors launched across the country, Eleusis, Cosmosa, Aspire and Project OM.

Each one was founded by newcomers - psychedelic outsiders with business credentials and strong financial backing - who saw in the psychedelic sphere an economic goldmine.
Business Opportunity in Psychedelic Space
Leary was startled when ads started appearing across town advertising services like hers at a fraction of the price.

How was this possible? Here were sleek ads covering New York City subways promising to give what Gaia gave at a substantially better rate. Leary felt the chill of a fear the depth of which she could not quite place.
It was bigger than her business.
It quickly became clear that Gaia had a problem. As the competition grew the waitlist halved and then halved again. In some markets it completely went away. For the first time since its first days, Gaia had empty treatment rooms during peak hours. Gaia was nowhere near to meeting its projected growth rate. To make matters worse, with expansion plans in motion across five major cities the company already needed to raise more funds.

It would be an understatement to say her investors were concerned. Nearly $10 million had gone into Gaia Health. Now they faced the possibility not only of not seeing a return on their investment but of losing their money all together.

Leary felt small as she stood in front of her investors. She felt like she had been pretending: a girl play acting the part of businesswoman. When she asked them for more money they told her to speak up.

Gaia had to adapt, to grow or die. At this moment it was that simple. The possibility of psychedelic treatment had become a market for it. That market had already segmented: prices coming down to meet mass demand, prices going up to provide a more boutique service. Gaia was stuck in the middle. It was losing on both sides.

Her investors presented Leary with a series of demands.
Required Competitive Adjustments: Gaia Health
Leary did not answer them right away.
Tilda Publishing
Leary sat in her study at home. Her husband brought her tea. She said she didn't want to talk.
It seemed clear that turning her investors down meant failing. This would mean facing everyone she loved - her husband, her family, her friends and mentors and telling them she wasn't good enough - that she had failed. Her whole world had been wrapped up in Gaia for four years now. It was, she felt, her life's work. What's more, the company now employed more than sixty people, all of whom counted on her for their livelihoods and those of their families. More than a dozen employees had told her this
was the best job they'd ever had, doing the most
rewarding work that they could think of.

On the walls around her were dozens of letters from
patients of Gaia Health - people like Dee, people in pain
and darkness, who through their psychedelic treatment
had seen a little light. These were people she would
never meet - folks from across the country, with life
stories she would never know, who took the time
to find her and write her only to
say thanks.
Scroll animated word changes:
I remembered how beautiful it was, everything around me, every moment. I wondered how I could have ever forgotten that ---------------------- I feel I have been wearing a weighted vest and yesterday I threw it off ---------------------- I saw my mother, now deceased. I felt what it was to be her -- to love your child so much and so poorly, how guilty she must have felt. I told her that I forgive her ---------------------- You have changed my life. I cannot express how much this means.
Leary started crying.

What other option did she have? Abandoning this path meant abandoning these people - her employees, her patients and everyone in all of their lives touched by the work done at Gaia. And abandoning them to what? To clinics backed by Big Business. To private equity-powered healthcare. And, inevitably, to the clutches of Big Pharma.

Leary did not know her competitors personally. All of them had backgrounds in finance or consulting. She didn't trust them -- their intentions and motivations, their principles and ethics. If she was gone who would be left? Abandoning this path meant ceding the psychedelic landscape to those people. What remains of hope for psychedelic transformation -- for true systemic change -- in a world of for-profit psychedelic clinics run by MBAs?

Besides, with the company's finances as they were she could have thirty percent less of Gaia Health or she could have nothing.
In the morning Leary made up her mind.

On a pad of paper she set out writing all the ways Gaia would adapt to meet this moment. She wrote in pencil. She erased often. By the afternoon she was ready to present to her investors.
Gaia Health: Adaptation Plan
Her changes worked.

Gaia was back to increasing market share. Leary was startled, however, to see how quickly her competitors caught up. In fact, three months after her rollout Eleusis and Aspire cut their prices by an additional 25%. Both also accelerated their own expansions, each opening on average four clinics per month across the country. The pace of change was simply astounding.
The more she learned about what her competitors were doing the more skeptical Leary became. Eleusis in particular seemed to be ruthless in their appetite for growth. They already had the most competitive rates, even after Gaia's changes, and Leary couldn't imagine how they had cut their prices so much yet again.

She got some idea of it when a friend texted her a photo from a recruiting poster pinned up on the bulletin board of an assisted living facility.
Eleusis was early to recognizing that with such rapid growth the pool of therapists qualified to do psychedelic-assisted treatment was drying up, and so too was the "facilitator" pool of non-therapist guides formerly of the underground, hired to lead psychedelic sessions at competitive rates. In fact credentialed facilitators were a bottleneck that was slowing expansion and growth across the industry.

Eleusis lawyers were the first to realize the gray areas presented in the guidelines around medical use of psychedelics, including who had to be present at what times. On top of this the incredible growth in the industry put tremendous pressure on regulators who simply could not keep up. The risk, in Eleusis's eyes, of a slap on the wrist for poor protocol, was well worth the market share they could capture with their new rates.
Not all psychedelic clinics were high growth startups. In fact, the vast majority were not. Dozens and dozens of therapists and healers had built small clinics across the country, scrapping, pooling resources to make it work. But it was impossible for them to field as competitive rates as their larger competition. They did not have economies of scale. They did not have the marketing budget. Many lacked business experience altogether.
These clinics were facing hard times. Owners of local psychedelic medicine clinics, were struggling to be compete with players that could spend more on marketing per city than the clinic could earn in a whole year. Increasingly it appeared that the appeal for local was not as strong as the appeal for half the price, especially when the large players maintained such beautiful facilities.

Eleusis and Aspire began to buy up as many Mom & Pop clinics as they could, finding it easier to purchase existing clinics - with the infrastructure and permitting in place - than to go through all the work of building everything anew. Clinic owners were suddenly getting enormous offers, in the range of $2 to 5 million, to sell to larger companies. Some resisted. Many obliged.

Eleusis and Aspire expanded quickly, consolidating their market positions, reducing the number of competitors and beginning to claim dominant positions in their markets.
Tilda Publishing
Leary finally ceded to investor pressure to bring on a Chief Technical Officer. The competition to bring technological advancements to psychedelic treatment was heating up. Everyone laughed when the CTO introduced a "different kind of mobile integration."
As Eleusis anticipated, as the rapidly increasing number of psychedelic treatment providers put tremendous strain on regulators, lines grayed around what exactly qualified as prerequisites for treatment. Depression or "general malaise"? PTSD or challenging, possibly traumatic experiences? Alcoholism or a few too many hangovers?

With each small push the market expanded. Changes came. Competitors emerged. Gaia endured.
Tilda Publishing
In the back drawer of a cabinet of old papers Leary found her journal from her youth. In it was her account of her first psychedelic experience.
I felt in that moment that there was no "me"; no field, no oak tree. In their place was, there was... everything. Friends, family, relatives, teachers; continents and oceans; sky.

It was the idea of universe. It was the experience, like a hundred thousand waterfalls, infinite times over. When you feel that it is terrifying. It is liberating too. What would the world look like if everyone could share in that experience? How can you feel that and do anything but love?
Tilda Publishing
Leary read at her desk, coffee in hand, her journal perched atop a large stack of reports. Her inbox pinged in the background like a metronome. The words made her sad. They seemed to be speaking to her from another life.

Just as she finished reading an email caught her attention:
San Francisco - Associated Press

Two of the fastest growing companies in mental health announced a merger today, with Silicon Valley-based Eleusis acquiring Chicago-based Project OM.

"For the past three years Project OM has been pioneering psychedelic retreat centers that have built incredible traction with consumers," said Eleusis CEO Kevin Mason.

"They have positioned themselves as a gold standard brand and experience. Project OM is the LuluLemon of psychedelic medicine. We feel they fit perfectly into our portfolio as we apply our industry-leading pricing model to their system.
Tilda Publishing
The acquisition price was not disclosed but sources close to both companies put it in the ballpark of $70 million.


Below was another email -- a forwarded news article from Leary's assistant.

"Just thought you should see this. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. -- J"

"Psychedelic Medicine Startup & Pharma Giant Partner on Super Psychedelic"
Fast-growing psychedelic treatment startup Cosmosis has announced an exclusive partnership with Purdue Pharma on the rollout of a new, patented synthetic 5-MEO DMT nasal spray.
Tilda Publishing
It was around this time that Leary's investors began to pound the table for an Exit.

By now they had invested over $30 million in Gaia. Leary's dream had turned into a national company, providing thousands of customers with psychedelic treatment every year. Leary had proved savvy and resilient. But the market was changing so quickly, with consolidation, innovation and further capitalization. It seemed to her investors too dangerous to wait much longer.

Deep down Leary always knew this day would come. Somehow, in the marathon of sprinting, she had been able to deny that it would happen. From the beginning of her journey she had leaned on investor capital. She had no other choice. It was the energy that had powered her craft, propelling her forward to national prominence, creating a mental health startup of international repute. Investors need a return. At this scale there were only two was that would happen: sell to a bigger corporation or go public through an IPO.

The one thing she knew was that she would not sell to a global pharmaceutical company. There was no way. Big Pharma, perpetrators of the opioid epidemic, insulin extortionists, misinformation propagandists, drivers of the prescription drug crisis - the corporations who wanted people to be sick and in treatment, monetizing the prolongment of their lives versus curing them and losing a stream of revenue. Gaia Health was the work of her life. It would not end up in the clutches of Big Pharma.

By now Leary had been in this fight for six years; the battle to build the world she dreamed of as a kid. She had joined a renaissance. It had become an industrial revolution - a revolution in the business of mental health. Gaia had been there all along, riding the wave from abstract idea to global industry - the psychedelic industry. As she faced her investors Leary was filled with mounting dread.

She took a deep breath. She looked at each investor in turn. As calmly as she could manage, she told them "no".
Leary was not fired. Not exactly. She was removed from her position as CEO, given a $5 million "transition" bonus, and granted a silent seat on Gaia's board. In her stead a new CEO was brought in - a former partner at Goldman Sachs named Christian White. Mr. White was a master of corporate acquisitions. He had never taken a psychedelic. He had no interest to.

Six months later Gaia Health was acquired by Roche Pharmaceuticals for $410 million. For her remaining 12.7% equity Leary received $52,070,000 and was summarily relieved of her position on the board.
Tilda Publishing
Leary went back, that same day, to the field where the oak tree still stood, a little tired, a little stooped. She brought with her three things: her journal from her youth, the page of the Financial Times announcing the Gaia acquisition, and 200 micrograms of LSD.

She thought of Gaia, with a sadness gnawing at her heart. How had this happened? At some point her company started acting, of its own accord, in the preservation of itself. Gaia had swerved not only out of her control - hell, she had been the Founder & CEO - but of anyone's. There were too many forces, systems and incentives at work on it now. Gaia had developed an ego of its own. There is no medicine strong enough to blow a corporation's mind.
Tilda Publishing
At some point, somewhere, some hours later, Leary rolled over on her back. Above her the leaves of the oak tree rustled in the breeze, swaying to some unheard song softly in the dappled light.

Leary fumbled to the last page of her childhood journal. There, on the yellowing liner of the back cover, she scrawled the thought that had carried through her trip:

What would I have done if I had known that this would happen?
Tilda Publishing
Tilda Publishing
What vision do you hold in your heart for a psychedelic future?

What will you do now, while you can, to see that it is realized?

We will get psychedelic business models - ways that capital will be put to work bringing these medicines to and beyond the people who could use them.

What we need are psychedelic models for business - business that defines new standards for integrity, equitability and ethics; business reimagined with a technicolor glow.

If you believe that future is possible
it's time to make it real…

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