How software can help psychedelic practitioners: Maya Health CEO and Co-founder David Champion

Greg Kubin: [00:00:00] Welcome to a Business Trip, a podcast about psychedelic entrepreneurship. We explore the business models and origin stories of the most interesting companies in psychedelics. I'm your host, Greg Kubin. In today's episode, I'll be speaking with David Champion co-founder and  CEO of Maya Health, a software company for practitioners of psychedelic assisted therapy.

I'm excited about this episode for three reasons. First Maya has a compelling business strategy that helps patients, practitioners, and the research community. Their software allows practitioners to create custom protocols and track their patients progress. Maya will also anonymously aggregate this data and make it available to their global community of practitioners, as well as research institutions that can use this data to power their own studies.

The second reason I'm excited about this episode is because we recorded it while David was fundraising for Maya's $4 million seed round. So we figured it'd be a great opportunity to peek behind the scenes of what it takes to fundraise for a psychedelic company. David previously built and sold a software company for cannabis dispensaries, and has fundraised multiple times. So he shares some gems in this interview. 

The third reason I'm excited is because I actually decided to invest in Maya Health through a syndicate I put together with Matias, the co-creator of Business Trip. A syndicate is basically an investment vehicle that lets people invest alongside you. We're investing because we see it as one of the ways we can help the ecosystem grow to expand access to psychedelic medicine. On an upcoming episode of business trip we'll give you more details about the syndicate, what it is and what kind of companies will be investing in. But for now, let's get into this episode of Business Trip to chat with David champion of Maya Health.

What is your relationship with psychedelic medicine? 

David Champion: [00:02:07] Well, I began my relationship with psychedelics in my mid-twenties. Some would say that's early, but in many of the social spheres that I moved through that relatively late, but I'm actually quite grateful that I only came to psychedelics at that age.

And the reason is that within the first year or so of exploring, I found myself in a very, very deeply challenging psychedelic journey. One that gave me an experience that I think could be likened to the symptoms of mental health conditions of a psychotic break. I had a, a few hours during which I wanted to end my own life because I thought it was the only way to end what I was going through.

And it was just in that moment, such a traumatic journey that I don't know if I would have been able to move through it if I were in my teens. I came out of that journey, I spent a month integrating and that means journaling, meditating, thinking very deeply on what I had gone through and what I came away with was at once a fascination to understand why that psychedelic journey had gone in that direction.

When others I had had with the same compound, same dosage, had gone in very different directions, beautiful vision quests, glorious scenes with friends and laughter and joy. And so, that was the first time I learned through the camp Zendo Project, which is a subsidiary of MAPS where they offer safe spaces for people who are experiencing challenging psychedelic trips.

And so I learned through them about this concept of set and setting and as a technology entrepreneur and kind of a data geek, I really wanted to understand if we could learn more about how to use psychedelics effectively so people can avoid dangerous journeys. And so that was the kernel of, of Maya really in its earliest earliest form. At the same time, because I had experienced something that felt like a psychotic break, it felt like having a mental health disorder.

I became very committed to helping people who have to endure those type of symptoms every day. 

Greg Kubin: [00:04:18] I guess fast forwarding a few years out here we are now at a place where psychedelic-assisted therapies are becoming more widely understood. I would love to know where the idea for Maya came to you.

David Champion: [00:04:33] Initially I was, uh, as a technology entrepreneur, I found my way into the, the cannabis space. And for me, what that represented was potentially knocking down the first domino that might lead to other psychedelics becoming adopted, again safely and effectively by mainstream healthcare. And so that was 2014.

I committed to work on that company Baker over the course of four years, built it to be very large. We're at 250 million valuation, a hundred person team, 50% market share 14% month over month growth on average. And so we accomplished a lot in a short time. I learned a lot, did a lot wrong, as well and learn from that too.

And what I thought would take 10, 15, maybe 20 years for psilocybin to enter the public conversation that we were in 2018 and already Denver, which is where I live now is, uh, looking to reform psilocybin policy. So I became one of the campaign leads in that group. And we did succeed in having Denver passed decriminalization for psilocybin.

Greg Kubin: [00:05:42] Quick reminder that in episode two, we discussed the paths to expand access to psychedelics. And what happened when Denver decriminalized psilocybin. Here's a refresher. There are three paths to expanding access to psychedelics in the United States: decriminalization, medicalization, and legalization. 

Decriminalization means that an offense becomes the lowest priority for policing and prosecutions. Possession is still a crime, but the local police and DA are told not to prioritize it. 

David Champion: [00:06:14] And while I was doing that, it was of course, meeting many people in the community who are also interested in this future. And we have two of them Del

and Heather. We started a nonprofit to research how people can use psychedelics safely. And so not does a psychedelic work, but again, this idea of set and setting, which many of us know is so important, but I think very little is understood about the details, the characteristics of what makes for a positive, safe, and healing journey with psychedelics.

So we started this nonprofit to create research, looking at how people are using psychedelics across the world, whether with therapists or practitioners, clinicians, or even ceremony leaders, and to make sense of that data. And as I was building that research study in collaboration with Johns Hopkins, which are

really at the frontier of this field. I was very, very privileged, honored to be accepted into a partnership with them and we co-designed the study. So then in 2019, I'm out in the world talking to therapists and clinicians about how they are working with. Psychedelic compounds, mainly ketamine in America and other compounds elsewhere.

And time and time again, these practitioners are telling me that they wanted to be able to do this type of science themselves. I, they wanted to be able to measure the baseline health and wellbeing of their clients or patients. And then, the health and wellbeing of that same person after the intervention so that they could understand whether they were offering the optimal quality of care.

And that was like I said, early 2019, when the, the realization came to me that we have this global network of extremely talented practitioners operating legally in many territories, and they want to be able to measure the efficacy of their work. But they don't have the resources of the tools to do that.

And so that's where Maya comes in. We built a software platform that directly meets the needs of these practitioners so that they can measure and manage the journey that they bring their patients through or their clients through. And therefore produce the type of clinical evidence for, for the efficacy of their work.

Greg Kubin: [00:08:36] Within the platform is part of the idea that if you have information about an optimal protocol. Would you then, would there be a portal for the practitioner to access that information and enable them to make modifications, uh, to how they're administering care? 

David Champion: [00:08:56] That's exactly it. Yeah, so many practitioners right now have their own protocols that they've developed. Most practitioners who haven't gone through a training program like MAPS or CIIS have really been.

On their own to cultivate and develop their own protocol.

Greg Kubin: [00:09:13] Like MAPS, you'll probably hear multiple guests mentioned C I I S or the California Institute of Integral Studies. That's because C I  I S has played an important role in the development of psychedelic medicine. And it's one of the first organizations to offer a certificate in psychedelic assisted therapies and research.

The Institute was founded in San Francisco in 1968 and its roots go back to the American Academy of Asian studies started by Alan Watts, amongst others. 

David Champion: [00:09:43] And so many practitioners have found incredible success with their protocol and they've been sculpting it for years and they're very proud of it. And it provides an amazing output of care for their patients.

We don't want to change that for a second. And so Maya becomes a global community and a platform for that practitioner to share the protocol that they've sculpted with their peers. So with other practitioners around the world now on the other end of that coin, there's brand new practitioners that maybe, maybe have been working as psychotherapists for a long time, but they're new to working with psychedelic compounds and perhaps they're opening a clinic, they're

hiring staff and they're designing the protocol that they're going to bring their patients through. Right now, what if they could learn from the global community of practitioners that have spent those years fine tuning and sculpting all these different methodologies. And if they could pull the protocol down from

maya, and as you say, make any changes or modifications that they see fit to them, they think might map better onto their patients. Then that gives them a huge leg up, but it also gives the patients a huge leg up and higher likelihood of receiving world-class care. 

Greg Kubin: [00:10:58] So you're streamlining the workflow and the protocol, and at the same time aggregating data across

all the clinics, or all of your users, such that you can then surface insights and things like that. Could you, could you give some examples around the data aggregation of like what kind of conclusions or insights that you hope to generate? 

David Champion: [00:11:22] I'm often careful not to hope for any specific insights to come out of the data.

I think there's one thing that a scientist should generally try and do is stay away from their own personal bias, kind of potentially influencing. If I can say one goal that I have, I think vision for Maya is that there is enough evidence from across tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of journeys, protocols treatments. If we can gather that many journeys, then through data science, we will be able to detect patterns, but what's much more interesting to me is making this data on a completely anonymous aggregate basis available to the research community. So universities, nonprofits, folks who have told me over the course of the last year or two in conversation, that it is very difficult to recruit enough participants into a study that they can generate the kind of insight they need.

And so what Maya can become in that sense is a distribution platform for scientists to be able to ask their own questions and distribute those through our network of practitioners so that any practitioner in the world can invite their clients to participate in that study with informed consent and then generate that sort of valuable insight back to the research community.

Greg Kubin: [00:12:51] And how do you think Maya ultimately becomes the system of record for practitioners? 

David Champion: [00:12:57] That's a tremendous question. The practitioners do have different needs. So a private practitioner, which might otherwise use a practice management tool. And those are often in the range of sort of five, $6,000 a year.

Then once you're talking to a clinic where they have multiple practitioners under their organization, they're more likely to use an EHR EMR. The two are actually not interchangeable, but have to narrate they're used interchangeably.

Greg Kubin: [00:13:26] EMR stands for electronic medical records and EHR stands for electronic health records. Both EMR and EHR are digital records of patient health information, but they're different and EMR

contains a patient's medical and treatment history from one practice and EHR contains patient records across multiple doctors and provides a holistic view of a patient's health. The market for digital health records is worth more than $30 billion. 

David Champion: [00:13:55] So, EHR EMR. You might be looking at a $25,000 price tag on an off the shelf system

there, and then for a retreat where we were talking about in other territories where various compounds are offered legally by retreats, that there's a, a different paradigm there, where there isn't as much of a paradigm around capturing health data or measuring health baselines and outcomes. Um, but there's the sense of the hospitality and the sort of the care journey that's being offered often for weeks before somebody actually enters the retreat and then four weeks afterwards in their integration process.

And so we like to think of ourselves as bringing together the best of those different mindsets, because there's something to be learned. And for example, if a private practitioner has the tools. Uh, Maya that makes it easy and straightforward for them to engage their patient or their client through a longer process, maybe a eight week, 12 week or even a six month process of preparation and, um, and intention setting and grounding and, um, measuring of health based lines and wellness baselines, but then also integration for, uh, for weeks or months after

a psychedelic intervention, then we all know that there's going to be a higher quality of health outcomes, but it's just so time consuming right now with the, with the current tools that many private practitioners simply don't have the bandwidth to do that as much as they want to. And that just means that they don't get to spend as much time in session actually facilitating

the, the treatments for their clients and patients. And so we're hoping that this technology and we're what we're seeing already from initial pilot testing, is that our platform can help automate, add a lot of that management and measurement work processes so that the practitioners can spend more time doing what only they can do as human beings, which is being there either in person or over Zoom with their, with their clients and patients.

Greg Kubin: [00:16:06] I think we should change gears. Uh, very excited to announce that our syndicate is going to be investing in Maya. And that is because we believe in you, David. And also we think that the business you're building is quite interesting and necessary for the ecosystem to really, uh, thrive. Uh, and so wanted to start by asking about how do you approach the fundraising process? Do you have a method? 

David Champion: [00:16:36] Well, I was given advice once by an advisor that I should be very highly methodical about this fundraising process. Now I've, I've raised many rounds over the last 10 years of my career through raising that many rounds of, I have tried it a number of different ways, but recently, um, at the beginning of Maya's journey, I was given advice to

inventory, every single investor, I speak to. Log details of them from my research and conversations. Uh, like they're, the size of their pockets, their track record with other startups, their level of sort of press exposure, community and networks and that kind of thing. And then essentially score and grade everyone that I meet.

I didn't even start doing that because I don't know, but I thought I should really try that. And as a sort of person who's running a data company, you would think that that might be a, an approach I would take, but it simply didn't make sense for me. It didn't work. And I'm really glad that I didn't go in that direction because over the course of this year, and speaking with quite a number of investors, the opportunity to.

Actually make friends and to really learn about these people, asking them questions about what made them interested in investing or what brought them to this space. Of course, is a very, uh, clear, obvious question. But more interestingly than that is. What are their wishes and their desires and how can Maya become a piece of that.

And I think in learning about all these different individuals and what brought them to investing, it's genuinely given me a much better understanding of how Maya can become a business that not only meets the needs of our mission, but also supports our investors. I mean, these essentially our team members of mine, another piece I'll just say is that I think, and I hear from entrepreneurs in my circles that they often feel that they have to be slightly dishonest about either the level of progress of the company or their own credentials.

Uh, there's this sort of art form, I guess, in conveying yourself as an entrepreneur and your company in this highly glamorous light. And I think a lot of investors look through that, but it's also, it's, it's something that I think is cultivated by a lot of investors. And I was led to a straight on that path years ago, just briefly and

it just, again, didn't feel right. The more I did work on myself and cultivated my own practices and how I want to show up as a human being. Integrity, honesty is absolutely fundamental. I have not intentionally told a lie in the last couple of years of any type, not even a small fib. And so I take that level of transparency into my conversations.

Greg Kubin: [00:19:22] So you are raising $4 million this round. How did you come up with that number?

David Champion: [00:19:32] We have an initial financial model from the beginning of the year into, into Q2 that I thought was extremely complex, but I give my VP strategy and operations, Adam so much credit. And so through that exhaustive effort that lasted in in whole, maybe several months, we ended up with a financial model that paints one picture.

We all know that that's not going to be exactly the picture that Maya lives into, but it paints a realistic and well-considered picture for the way that Maya could develop. And what emerged from that was that as a company that can raise a slightly higher amount of capital than if it were my first business

and as you say, if I were 22 and just figuring this out from scratch, um, that affords us one very, very important thing in my eyes, which is a year or more. And for us, it's actually 18 months closer to two years, but at least a year where as a CEO, I can focus just on making a successful business and not having one foot on the kind of investor landscape as well.

And it's just proven time and time again. And that when CEOs have to have a third of their calendar, if not more in investor conversations, there's only two thirds of the time left to create successful sales, market traction, product market fit initially, you know, KPIs on revenue, traction, and that kind of thing.

Greg Kubin: [00:21:00] I find startup valuation interesting cause it's, I would say probably more art than science. In terms of the investors could you share what kind of attributes you look for in investors? 

David Champion: [00:21:12] You, I have to, I will answer in relation to the conversations we've been having so many with your team, and I've really enjoyed the, that you've had some form each of you, I think in, in entrepreneurship yourself, there's definitely an attractive quality as an entrepreneur and having investors that get what it's like to go through this journey, and how

they can show up and really help through challenges in a way that I think is, is unique test to somebody it's almost a rite of passage, isn't it being an entrepreneur. And so there's, there's something that builds rapport very quickly there, but. Overall, I look to create a level of diversity across investors.

So diversity in their opinions, their ways of processing problems. I've got some investors who are so analytical, you know, I get on the phone and they're grilling the asking really challenging questions. Diving deep into the nitty gritty details. And it's not comfortable by any means for me, but I always reflect positively.

that by going through that, uh, that, that gauntlet in a way I was now able to represent the company more intelligently. And then, I have other investors who are big picture thinkers. They want to brainstorm on the vision with me. They want to weigh in on opportunities that I might not be seeing.

And I think having that diversity, that's just one paradigm that, to give an example, but there are many like that. 

Greg Kubin: [00:22:42] Yeah. I think that perspective comes with experience because my first time fundraising with my company, uh, I, my mindset was like, I'll take, I'll take most checks. Oh, you want to invest? Here's my term sheet.

Uh, here's the closing date versus being more deliberate and thoughtful and really making sure that there is alignment. So, uh, I think that's a really good piece of advice and something to consider. One other question about fundraising, which is what is the hardest part about fundraising? 

David Champion: [00:23:14] It takes grit.

It really takes grit. I think there's a very rare entrepreneur that just goes out, gets a bunch of yeses and closes the round a month later. I think in most cases there is a journey and I've noticed a bit of an arc that's fairly consistent across the many rounds that I've helped raise. And that's that you come out of the gates and there's so much excitement and momentum and you get a bunch of yeses very quickly.

And so you go into the sort of call it second phase of the fundraise with a tremendous amount of confidence and almost, almost in a sort of a cosmic joke, you know, you have this artificial confidence because essentially a lot of investors are saying, yeah, they're really excited about what you're doing, but you haven't actually asked them to sign on the dotted line.

So then you're in the second chapter having to grapple with the fact that you're getting more nos, all of a sudden, because then investors start asking for details. They want to push on the terms or on the business plan, the economics and what have you. And, going into that phase of starting to get nos can be very disheartening.

It can be really easy to give up or to really change the business model, change the business completely, or get put off completely. And, and. I think it takes the grit that Silicon Valley talks about to move through that chapter. And often I find that once 70% or 80%, so yeah, 75% of the funds are committed and terms are being confirmed.

That lasts 25%, even not even more can come in really, really quickly at that point. And that's for obvious reasons, but also because I think there's a sense of accomplishment as an entrepreneur, you learn so much from those investor conversations. I mean, I I've, I've talked a little bit about how an entrepreneur might not want to shift and change their plan every single time they get a request or advice from an investor,

but I need to say as well, that some of the best decisions that I'm making for this company are coming out of my conversations with investors. And so there's, there's value in it in both directions. 

Greg Kubin: [00:25:25] What other tips would you have for founders who are raising capital? 

David Champion: [00:25:29] Stay honest, be committed to the core mission.

Be committed to the person that you're trying to help in the world with your business, but be willing to be wrong about your exact, your exact approach. Whether you end up changing your approach or not based on a conversation. I think being in that conversation with a wise investor and being humble, being willing to be wrong, even to say, I don't know.

What do you think I'm asking them questions rather than just. Sort of being in the interview, hot seat as it were and making a two way dialogue that really feels like you're creating and cultivating a friendship, I think serves well. 

Greg Kubin: [00:26:15] So final question. Do you think psychedelic medicine will change the world?

David Champion: [00:26:19] Oh, absolutely. It already is. It already is, you know, um, I don't think anyone's psychedelic will be a magic medicine that can fix mental health disorders at large forever. But I do think that the grounding and the compassion and perspective that these journeys offer when they're provided safely and responsibly.

Just one person at a time. We're already seeing the marked shift in, in how people treat each other as human beings. And so I'm really excited for the opportunity for more people to access them. And again, I do think that will sustain a more compassionate kind and expansive world.

Greg Kubin: [00:27:20] While most software startups like to move fast and break things, david is building Maya with the touch of an artisan, whether that's the attention to data security from day one, or his intent on ensuring each practitioners protocol fits them like a snug shoe. With the current growth of ketamine clinics and the expected additions of MDMA and psilocybin, Maya wants to be the software solution that powers the psychedelic therapy ecosystem. 

This is Business Trip, a podcast about psychedelic entrepreneurship. If you liked this episode, you can help us by subscribing to the podcast and leaving us a review. Also, help spread the word by sharing our social media links with your community.

You can find us on Twitter and Instagram at businesstripfm. And if you're building a company in psychedelics, or looking to get more involved in this space. Send me an email at greg@businesstrip.fm. On the next episode of Business Trip, we'll talk with Flor Bollini, a healer and medicine woman turned entrepreneur.

Flor is building a company that will help define the protocols for psychedelic assisted therapy. Oh, and if you're interested in learning about our syndicate or our investment in Maya, send me an email at greg@businesstrip.fm. We'll have more news to share in an upcoming episode. Business Trip is created by me and Matias Serebrinsky. Producer and engineer is Jonathan Davis. Music came from Blue Dot Sessions and our theme music is by Dorian Love. This is Business Trip. Thanks for tripping with us. We'll see you next time.

David Champion: [00:29:04] That type of a deep dive into pure essence of consciousness outside of all the stories that we learned to tell ourselves over the course of our lives was enough to make me want to understand more about these experiences, understand what makes for a positive healing psychedelic journey.

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