Why Hard Work And Dedication Are The Keys To Business Success
I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Calfee, CEO & Co-Founder of GoFire, a life-science technology company that’s building a new future for alternative health and plant medicine by putting control in the hands of patients, their physicians and wellness-minded consumers. Peter is a health-tech entrepreneur and private equity investor with more than nine years of experience in the life sciences and alternative health industries. He has developed multiple startups and wellness-based companies in Colorado. He also sits on the advisory board of a multimillion-dollar investment fund and on the steering committee of Skipta Health, a physician’s network of over 840,000 licensed practitioners.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I grew up in small-town Vermont and developed an interest in plant-based medicine early on. Within a year of graduating high school at 17, I had relocated to the West and was working as a consultant for greenhouse and indoor cultivation businesses. I transitioned to extracts consulting, advising different facilities on processes, best practices and structuring their requirements. By 20, I was building companies for other people. That experience inspired my own entrepreneurial spirit, and I launched my own extraction company. But everything came crashing down when a funding snafu cost me $70,000. I called my mom with tears in my eyes and she told me, “I think you need to build the bottle, not the beer.”
Just days after that serendipitous conversation, I met a man named John Woodbine, who had a truly great idea — he wanted to fundamentally change the relationship between people and plant-based medicines. John told me he wanted to build a new kind of smart vaporizer. This advanced vaporizer would be used to compile and share data to give control back to the user, revolutionizing dosing, precision and consistency for plant-based medicines.
It was brilliant and compelling. This was the “bottle” my mom had been talking about. So John and I set out to create this innovative new device that could empower patients and help them control their personal medical treatment. We were on a mission to build a cutting-edge smart vaporizer with precision dosing controls and data tracking to deliver a personalized, quantifiable approach to plant-based medicine.
Three years later, that dream is now a reality. With a staff of 16 on the GoFire team, we’re redefining how plant-based medicine is administered and prescribed, and we’re incredibly proud of that.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
One of our company’s most defining experiences happened just four days after I’d received our first funding check. A friend of mine was driving us to Denver when he had a seizure and crashed the car. Thankfully, I was the only one who was injured, but I was hurt badly. I broke my back and had to stay in the hospital for five weeks. Then I was confined to my bed at home for six months.
I had paralysis from the waist down, and the doctors pretty much told me I’d never walk again. I was in constant excruciating pain, and I was doped up on lots of painkillers. Eventually it got to a point where I just couldn’t function on the opioids. So I started looking into alternative therapies, and that’s when GoFire became personal for me. I needed a device that could deliver dependable dosing to relieve my constant pain and eliminate my need for opioids.
The GoFire team seriously rallied. They set up chairs around my bed, and we literally ran the company out of my bedroom. We developed the first iteration of GoFire, and I honestly feel like it saved me. I was able to stop taking the opioids two weeks after I got out of the hospital. My recovery has been astounding, and I credit a large part of that to the success of my alternative therapy.
That car accident definitely sent our company on a wild ride, but it also taught us that there are no walls in life and in business — there are only speedbumps. If we could power through something like that, we could overcome any challenge that might arise in the future.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think we’ve really raised the bar when we talk about what’s truly medical, and what the dosing of plant-based medicine looks like. Our goal with the GoFire system is to re-envision how physicians can help patients integrate plant-based medicines into treatment plans. We want to give doctors the ability to prescribe a dosing regimen for a plant-derived medicine and the chemical profile associated with that dose. And once you can control those variables, you can actually start looking at this as effective plant medicine that delivers consistent, repeatable results — this is the standard of the mainstream medical marketplace.
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?
One person who’s had a major influence on my professional trajectory is Jim Cassidy — he owns the private equity / venture capital holding company Preposterous Holdings. He met with me when I was 17 years old, and we had a conversation about entrepreneurship that resonated profoundly. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without having had that conversation. That was the first time we’d met, and we ended up talking for six hours and diving deep. He’s now one of my lead advisers at GoFire.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We’re in talks with a few different universities that are interested in using the GoFire system for research purposes. For the first time, researchers can easily control all the variables within vaporized medicating sessions, and they can use our remote patient-monitoring portal to render clinical research. We’re already under contract with Colorado State University in Fort Collins. And we’re in talks with over a dozen additional universities about utilizing our ecosystem and health suite for clinical research.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Contributing to the greater good is something that’s at the heart of our business. GoFire was created with a mission of enhancing the medical marketplace by providing patients access to a powerful new product they could turn to when standard pharmaceuticals haven’t worked.
In addition, we’re currently in talks with some folks over at the Department of Veteran Affairs to determine the best way for us to give back to that community through a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. There are upwards of 20 million veterans in the U.S., and many are struggling with the current drugs they have access to and begging for alternative therapies. But regulators within this space are not comfortable embracing plant-based medicines unless they know they can control the prescription and intake, as well as monitoring the patient’s adherence to that dosing regimen. I believe the GoFire device and data system solves that problem, and it might actually open up this marketplace to the veteran community.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
Swiss Family Robinson is my favorite novel because it tells a story of how to make the best out of often uncomfortable situations.
You likely have heard of the famous cliché that in a gold rush the one selling the shovels makes much more than the one who finds gold. This is the modern day “green rush”. Can you recommend to our readers 5 technologies or services that can potentially be lucrative “shovels” for the cannabis industry? Can you give an example for each?
This is an emerging marketplace, so a lot of factors are still in flux. But I think data and technology are hands down the two areas that are largely untapped. The value of new technologies and innovations that make life easier for patients and consumers will grow in ways we have yet to see, whereas a business focused on standard retail, cultivation or manufacturing operations might struggle in coming years. Creating the infrastructure for others to work in — that’s where the value is. Build the road that others can travel down to make life easier.
What 3 things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?
Understanding the difference between leadership and management is vital. Management is telling someone, “We have a table, and I need you to pick it up and move it over there.” But leadership is when you put your hands on the table and help to lift it. Leaders who actually roll their sleeves up and help with the processes of their company are well-positioned to make strategic decisions because they actually know what’s going on at the ground level.
The second thing is that you have to understand it’s not going to be easy. Starting a successful company is hard work. It doesn’t just happen because you want it to. You have to hustle hard, work incredibly long hours and dedicate yourself to making it happen. Even if you’re lying in a bed paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident, like I was, you keep pushing harder than ever. As a founder, you have to understand that it’s going to be three times harder, take three times longer and cost three times more than you expected. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
My final piece of advice is to spend some serious time and effort finding the right team. This is imperative. Ideas are a dime a dozen. But teams that can capture that idea and bring it to fruition are worth their weight in gold. When people ask me what I’m most proud of, without a doubt, it’s my team and my intellectual property — in that order.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Remember that business is easy. Business is just a series of processes. People are much harder. And business can’t happen without people. So it’s really important to take care of your employees. Not just financially, but also emotionally, mentally, even spiritually. That’s what brings it all together.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, among many others — I’m interested in people who are changing the way we think through the use of innovative technology. People who are building systems we didn’t know were possible, but they were just crazy enough to try it. People who see the world as it is now and say, “This could be better.”
Jilea Hemmings is the CEO & Co-Founder of Leaf Tyme. She is running a series on the latest innovations impacting the cannabis industry.