Why The Third Wave Became A Public Benefit Corporation

Paul F Austin
May 30 · 8 min read

When we launched The Third Wave in September 2015, we intended to create an accessible resource for mainstream culture to learn about responsible psychedelic use. Then, and still today, there was a shortage of well-designed resources that stripped off the “counter-culture” vibe commonly associated with psychedelics. So, we decided to build The Third Wave with this “lack” in mind. Since launching our first few pieces of content, The Third Wave has grown to become the premier resource on psychedelic information, with 600K+ visitors per month, 20K+ podcast downloads per month, and a newsletter list of 25K+.

With the medicalization of psychedelics slated for 2021 (at the earliest), new psychedelic decriminalization measures passing in Denver and Oakland, and the widespread popularity of Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind, cultural awareness and interest in psychedelic substances is snowballing. The growth of popularity has brought the psychedelic renaissance to a critical inflection point. What happens in the next 18–36 months will determine whether or not these substances make the leap into the mainstream culture without suffering the same backlash as in the second wave.

At The Third Wave, we see our role as cultural stewards who ensure these substances are integrated with intention and reverence beyond the confines of clinics and institutions. By acting as mainstream culture’s front door into the psychedelic world, The Third Wave wants to ensure our culture pays balanced attention to both indigenous wisdom and cutting-edge science. To do this well, and carry out our lofty mission in a reasonable timeframe, we believe it is critical to take on investment capital. By integrating investment capital through our Public Benefit Corporation (PBC), we can provide psychedelic education, tools, and community at a broad scale without sacrificing social impact.

What is a Public Benefit Corporation?

Like any start-up, we’ve gone through inevitable ups and downs. Our path required several false starts before coalescing into our current vision: to incorporate as a PBC, take on seed capital, and begin to expand our offerings to ensure The Third Wave establishes itself as the premier brand in the psychedelic space.

PBCs are businesses that balance purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, community, and environment. Certified B Corporations have met the highest standards of verified performance and transparency.

The intersection of psychedelics and late-stage capitalism presents several striking philosophical dilemmas, most prominently the commercialization of “sacred” substances. After all, how can one put a price on spiritual awakening and the resultant healing emanating from direct connection to the divine? Psychedelics are becoming medicalized in our world of late-stage capitalism. Considering these two truths of our current reality, what middle-ground can we find to facilitate the cultural integration of these substances?

Many years ago, while living in Chiang Mai, I heard a neologism that describes this situation well: satisficing. Satisficing is a decision-making strategy that entails searching through available alternatives until a certain level of acceptability threshold is met. When it comes to start-ups in the psychedelic space, a standard for-profit structure doesn’t feel right. It places too much emphasis on incentivizing financial return, which leads to tricky ethical issues in healthcare and the expansion of drug use. It also leads to cutthroat competition, which is antithetical to the profound lessons learned in the throes of a peak psychedelic experience.

However, going the non-profit route hampers growth and expansion due to a limitation of capital. Non-profit organizations rely on donations and grants to fund their mission. Compared to investment, the written checks for donations are much smaller. Many people interested in supporting the emerging psychedelic space prefer returns on capital, even if the return is minimal. Because the influx of capital is limited in a non-profit, it is difficult to attract top-tier talent to build valuable assets for the long-term.

Incorporating as a Public Benefit Corporation is a decision in satisficing: integrate social responsibility into the foundation of our company while remaining present to the importance of profit generation. Profits drive scalability and growth, both of which are critical at this inflection point of the psychedelic renaissance.

Zebras vs. Unicorns

Over the past couple of years, I’ve also paid close attention to the Zebras vs. Unicorn discussion in the start-up world. The oft-cited mantra of traditional VCs is to “find the unicorn” — the start-up that will zoom to unprecedented success, leading to high returns on an initial seed or Series A investment. However, as discussed in this ground-breaking article, Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break, unicorns aren’t actually real things, meaning the emphasis on disruptive tech and the win-at-all-costs mindset is inherently anti-being, anti-life.

Instead, we aim to embody the qualities of a Zebra, emphasizing three principles of this approach:

  1. Zebras are both black and white: profitable and improve society
  2. Zebras are mutualistic — they actively seek collaboration and to band together. There is resilience in numbers
  3. Zebra companies are built with peerless stamina and capital efficiency, as long as conditions allow them to survive

Point #1: Profitable and Improve Society

To be a sustainable business, we must be profitable. However, we also must remain aware of our commitment to social impact. This is where the requirements of a Public Benefit Corporation come into play. As part of our commitment to being black and white, we plan to donate an undisclosed percentage of profits to research, activism, and education in the psychedelic, drug policy, and wellness space.

Point #2: Actively Seek to Collaborate

Although in many coastal areas, a new cannabis or psychedelic company appears to pop up every week, pharmaceutical companies operating in the old paradigm of healthcare still generate billions of dollars of revenue in the United States. In fact, after oil, pharmaceuticals are the second largest industry in the USA. This means they have tremendous lobbying power, leading to a potentially catastrophic stand-off for psychedelic substances in the push towards mainstream medicalization.

Significant collaboration will be required to unseat the pharmaceutical industry and integrate psychedelics into our cultural sphere. Our plan at The Third Wave is to collaborate with prominent brands in the psychedelic and wellness space, who embody the vision of a new paradigm of self-care: one that recognizes the validity of mind-body connection in facilitating healing and transformation. And, more controversially, that each individual has the agency to heal and transform almost any condition under the sun (including “chronic” conditions, cancer, MS, etc.) through food, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness.

Point #3: Organic, Sustainable Growth

Finally, Zebra companies must weave an organizational web between sustainability, efficient use of capital, and social impact. To ensure our long-term objectives align with short-term incentives, we’ve brought on initial capital from individuals invested in our mission of changing the cultural conversation around psychedelics. Like us, they recognize the potential of psychedelic substances for healing and transformation. Like us, they understand the biggest hurdle to normalizing psychedelic substances is basic literacy. Like us, they see the need to strip the off-putting “counter-cultural” vibe from psychedelic substances.

But also, like us, they understand the process of healing and transformation is a long path. That we must honor the process of allowing culture — as individuals and a larger collective — to step into the container we’ve created at the appropriate pace and speed. Our role is simple: to create space by presenting psychedelic substances in a modern, science-driven, aesthetically-pleasing light. It is not our role to convince or persuade people to try these substances. It is not our role to force any sort of initiation. As we often hear in traditional medicine circles: the plants will find you when your time has come. We honor the wisdom and knowledge of time through our work.

Why Does All This Matter?

The world ain’t going to fix itself. We got ourselves in a mess due to the over-extraction of natural resources, an over-emphasis on material values, and the exploitation of the individual self by merciless corporate culture. In re-connecting our culture with the aliveness, mystery, and beauty of visionary substances, we want to catalyze the process of waking up, growing up, and showing up.

Waking up: opening to a felt sense of interconnectedness, when boundaries between all energy sources dissolve, leading to a sense of one-ness. William James referred to this feeling as a “mystical experience.” Researchers at Johns Hopkins have proven — with double-blind, placebo-controlled studies — that psilocybin induces this singularly important “mystical experience” on-demand, making psychedelics the best available tools to wake culture up in a brief period.

Growing up: taking full responsibility, as individuals, for our past, present, and future. Once we realize our real power as consciousness in organic form, it is upon us to take responsibility for our past, present, and future. Through psychedelic experiences, we come to understand our participatory role in the destruction we perceive around us, and the only way to heal this disconnection is to heal ourselves. Most never get this far as the process of “growing up” requires significant courage, bravery, and honesty.

Showing up: cultivating presence in the face of challenge and difficulty to make a positive impact on the world around you. Stepping into life, regardless of circumstance, and saying “Yes” to whatever comes your way. If we are to build a new cultural story based on the principles of interconnectedness, love, and well-being for everyone, then our cultural leaders must show up as themselves, without exception. Not as a culturally conditioned, ego-driven, shadow of the self. They must show up as an authentic, vulnerable, integrated individual, willing to kill-off specific belief systems rooted in the shared trauma of the western world to help usher in a new way of being.

Wake up. Grow up. Show up.

At The Third Wave, we believe the best way to culturally kickstart this process is to integrate the concept of microdosing as an entry-point to healing and transformation. By taking an approach that is subtle, non-threatening, and shows proven benefits, we want to create a cohesive movement toward normalizing and integrating psychedelic substances into Western culture.

But The Third Wave isn’t strictly about microdosing.

If the “psychedelic renaissance” is to be successful, there must be a container created outside of institutions and clinics that empowers the individual to make decisions about which medicine is best for them. In creating a foundation of education, tools, and community for aspects of the psychedelic experience, The Third Wave will play a contributing role in the creation of our new cultural story.

    Paul F Austin

    Written by

    I'm a social entrepreneur who educates individuals about the responsible and intentional use of psychedelics to catalyze personal transformation.

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