The ZAG Story: Part 1

Steve Curtis
Jun 28, 2018 · 6 min read

There have been questions, rumours, confusion, lies, tears, hugs and much more in this particular business. This is the beginning of a series of chapters that will give insight into an innovative purpose driven company that experienced extreme hyper growth, created a new market, went to war, lost the battle, lived to tell about it, and… to fight another day.

This is The ZAG story.

Part 1: The Failure

The thing about failure is that there’s nothing quite like it. As an entrepreneur and adventurer, I felt it many times before. I’ve always seen it as a thing of growth, but I had never really experienced anything quite like this. Standing in front of 100+ people, with virtually 80 more to go later, telling them that the dream I had shared with them, got them to believe in, make countless sacrifices in their life for, working late nights, long weekends, and the stress of making the impossible happen, was about to come to an end. That I, the leader, had somehow steered our ship into treacherous waters and that I would be letting them all go. In a large company, it’s tough — but the path is clear, organized, and simply executed. But in this company, it was much more complicated.

From the beginning the vision was clear; its trajectory, profound and exciting. Following the healing power of plants which I had discovered during my cancer journey, we created a possibility that we could bring a plant into the US market that would change everything. It would heal millions, perhaps tens of millions and liberate more than 100,000 people from the enslavement to addiction. Back then and still today, the US leads the world with the highest level of opiate prescriptions, addictions, and overdoses. Under the economic and political reign of big pharma, death from pharmaceutical use is claiming more lives than in every US war combined since the end of World War II. The ever-increasing levels of stress, anxiety, and proliferation of unhealthy ingredients was causing autoimmune diseases, cancer and other illnesses that rarely appear anywhere else in the world.

The proposition that we could bring plant medicine back to the front, help people relax, live a more peaceful life and deal with pain in a safer and healthier way, was a very exciting endeavor. Fighting the suppressive regime and tyranny of big Pharma, with its controlling tentacles in education, insurance, manufactured science, media control, Wall Street and most notably politics and government, was even more impactful and meaningful for me. Just a few years earlier, I had defied and argued with an oncologist who was so trained to operate within the system, that even upon showing a clinical trial that chemo wouldn’t change my overall survival time, he still wanted me to do it, and wasn’t willing to even read the science. In this process he made it very clear to me like for many others, that a large part of medicine was not about human health and wellbeing. The system, was unfortunately more focused on the profiting of the misfortune of others and forwarding a narrative of powerlessness and victimhood. This model of healthcare that was becoming more and more recognized and to take a leading role in the opposition to it, and lead the world, in defense of this tyranny, was an altruistic and heroic endeavor. To take a lead in that position and to heal a large group of people in a way that we could see the impact on the individual level and to take on the modern-day Goliath, to me and many others was a worthy cause.

Fast-forward, I had become a role model and a public figure. A larger than life story about a guy who overcame adversity growing up as an only child with a single parent and a mother just above the poverty line. Somehow making it through as a high school dropout starting a business and growing it, only to be diagnosed with a terminal cancer, and overcame it by summiting Everest, with no treatment, and just letting the cancer. Through my reputation, I was known as a charismatic leader, living a wonderful life with a fancy car, amazing house, and flying around in private jets. At 32, running what could have been a half billion-dollar business, at $100 million in revenue, with the real potential to be in the multiples of billions. I had inspired the leadership from some of the world’s largest companies to join us. With four offices around the world, and with this team, we pushed forward to what was the front of the battlefield — Washington, DC.

I had asked for their commitment and their sacrifice. I had told them that anything was possible and that we could push forward and grow rapidly. I delivered on this promise, with the hard work of our team, we invested a category and broke growth records, raising no external money, we went from $2 million to $100 million in four years.

But in a very short period of time, I would find myself letting them all go, stepping out of the billion-dollar market we had created, accepting defeat (or what felt like it). I would let them down and crush a dream which we had all worked relentlessly to bring to life. For the first time in my life, I would retreat, although it was well thought out, it would become the most difficult decision I have ever made. In that precise moment, I became a liar, coward, crook, a terrible CEO, and a man and the topic of countless other accusations thrown my way due to the pain that others felt as the result of failure.

Now this kind of pressure doesn’t always bring out the best in a leader, and during those last days I was most definitely not the easiest guy to work with, but we were fighting for everything we had and knew that lives depended on it. Having no investors, shareholders business partners is usually a great thing in business; until things go wrong. It means there is no else — just you on the firing line.

We had given options, profit share plans that encouraged people to continue the fight, reward the countless hours to make this dream happen. I tried to direct people to take their hard-earned bonuses and put them into their savings account or put it towards a down payment on a house. However, many people bought new cars, rented new apartments, and when the bonuses fell through, they struggled personally to an immense degree. Later, I would learn that people went bankrupt, people had to move out of the city to find lower cost accommodations, and their family members who weren’t working had to get jobs to support the family. All of this pain and many of these people needed someone or something to blame for all their pain.

How did this all happen?

To many it was me, the guy that led them there, read more here: GlassDoor.

In reality, there is much more to this story. One, that until now I have only told to a few trusted friends in front of a campfire or over a dinner table.

You see, the things you see in movies are real. In matters of big business, there really are conspiracies, corruption, public hangings, and modern-day unwarranted indictments. People really do die, sometimes mysteriously and suspiciously; sometimes it’s the heroine and sometimes it’s their loved ones.

From the epic highs of flying to meet world class politicians in private jets, epic 400-person parties in my penthouse, to the forty-seven chair boardroom of Big Pharma’s offices, to waking up every ten minutes in the cold sweats of overwhelming anxiety in a small boat with no hot water, or bathroom after renting out my house to help finance the endless lawsuits that come as a result of failure as I hung onto whatever I could. Ultimately to the mysterious circumstances that would lead me to ask myself what I was truly willing to die for.

This is first part of an eight-part series, in which I will tell you my story. A story that many times I have heard should be the plot to a movie. It wasn’t a movie, it was my life.

Stay tuned for the Part 2 of The ZAG Story.

Here are a few articles on status and safety of Kratom — The Therapeutic Potential of Kratom, 8 Factor Analysis of Kratom, Kratom: Why Did the FDA Declare the Herbal Supplement an Opiate?

Steve Curtis

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Investor, entrepreneur, adventurer and revolutionary thought leader.