Published on
May 21, 2020

Alex Speiser | COO, Orthogonal Thinker

Alex Speiser is COO of Orthogonal Thinker. He is an emerging leader in the psychedelic space, bringing to bear his experiences from successful endeavors in renewable energy and venture investing. Psychedelic Finance interviewed Alex to learn more about Orthogonal Thinker, his perspective, and his take on the current psychedelic industry.

What is Orthogonal Thinker? It seems like so many things at once.

Orthogonal Thinker is a plant medicine platform. We are vertically integrated and own multiple businesses that are trying to innovate the mental health and wellness sectors (among others). The core pillars of our business are: 

1) Emotional Intelligence Ventures (Ei.Ventures): a medicine company that holds our psychedelic compounds and the patents for psychoactive and non-psychoactive IP

2) [in the process of acquiring]: a CRO that oversees high-quality clinical research trials and offers expert regulatory support for the nutraceutical, cannabis, and psychedelics spaces

3) Orthogonal Advisors: a full service advisory firm that addresses regulatory compliance and incorporates a staff of top tier specialists

4) Brands such a Maui Raw: educates on the lifestyle and provides a way for people to truly engage with the platform.

5) Ei.Foundation: a foundation that works with psychedelic communities and grassroots organizations and provides grants and resources needed to ultimately fuel education and advocacy within the psychedelics space.

Recently, we have referred to the goal of Orthogonal as “optimizing optionality.” The phrase captures how we are building the infrastructure for not only our proprietary compounds to thrive but also for collaboration with others in the plant-medicine and psychedelic space. The business model is untraditional, but that’s what I like about it! It’s our way of thinking more “psychedelically” about the psychedelics space. Boy, we are off to a buzzwordy start (ha).

Unpack that a little more, what do you mean “more” psychedelically?

We are talking about psychedelics-- why be traditional? Especially when it comes to business models or practices-- because who wants to repeat the norms of today?! I’ll get into more how our Foundation plays into this in another question, but because I know you guys are the “Finance” guys, let’s look at a forthcoming acquisition ours.

We are in the midst of acquiring a contract research organization (CRO) with a rich operating history. The CRO gives us the opportunity to be vertically integrated. It gives us the opportunity to ensure quality and compliance, while also addressing the variety of infrastructural barriers when it comes to establishing things like a supply chain. While these aspects are certainly traditional, we are approaching it untraditionally in how we intend to use the CRO as an ecosystem where we not only service Ei’s compounds but also where also players in the space have a central place that they can utilize and be represented well from formulation, to GMP, to compliance aspects with our Advisory company, and onto things like clinical trials. So with the CRO, we want to reframe things like competition in the space. We want to avoid the typical lifecycle of a pharmaceutical drug from a bench to the doldrums of antitrust litigation.

Yes, we have our IP which we believe is the best. Yes, we want to legitimize these compounds and be vertically integrated. At the same time, we want to harness parts of our platform like our CRO to encourage industry players to work with us from a variety of standpoints. Especially if their formulations are somehow better than ours! This will inevitably be an imperfect process, but I am confident it will be an evolution from the typical business practices of other industries.

What made you interested to get involved in psychedelics ?

I think psychedelics is the most revolutionary and transformative space one could be involved in today. The scale of the afflictions we can tackle in mental health and so many other systems is beyond inspiring.

For years, I had studied psychedelic science and history. I also experienced tremendous spiritual and personal breakthroughs as a doser, so when businesses in the space began coming onto my radar, I felt a very strong sense of calling. Especially, after I connected with David Nikzad (founder of Orthogonal), I felt such a strong propulsion to commit completely to the business. Since psychedelics as an industry is so young, I really wanted to go all in because I feel a special and elevated duty to do my part to achieve as much of the positive transformation in this space as possible.

What is the most exciting opportunity you see when it comes to Psychedelic medicines?

To empower others to empower themselves. 

From there, the second and third order effects are beyond exciting. As an environmentalist, I am particularly excited by Robin Carhart-Harris’ finding showing psychedelics foster an individual’s sense of connectedness to nature.

What problems are you working on solving within psychedelics?

A lot of my focus has been on how Orthogonal Thinker can create equity and access through our model, our fundraising, and our supply chain. In particular, that is why we have launched Ei.Foundation. Our mission for the Foundation is to uplift community organizations and thought  leaders who are working hard every day to ensure safe, legal, and affordable access to plant medicine.

While I’m begging questions that are not yet “problems” because we are barely in the first inning of the psychedelics industry, I think we ought to establish deep roots and do our best to counteract the inertia of the status quo. I believe the Foundation’s funding education, advocacy, and community organizing initiatives will hold us accountable and keep our priorities straight. More specifically, I think Ei.Foundation will help Ei.Ventures safeguard, serve, and uplift aligned voices, so that we can do our part in protecting ourselves/this industry from our lesser selves.

It makes a lot of sense to me intuitively that psychedelics might be a space where we can align capital with entrepreneurs and impact in a creative new way, such that what we can be as Orthogonal and the effect we can have culturally is really different than traditional models. Some may say this is idealistic or even impossible for all intensive purposes, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! 

Can you explain what EI.Ventures’ whole plant approach means? 

Orthogonal Thinker’s business model is founded upon a holistic perspective to wellness. This ethos extends to Ei.Ventures' approach to medicine and how anything we do or will do starts from whole fungi/plants. We have a very strong commitment to the fungi/plants, protecting their stewards, and also the environment. 

What is Psilly?

Psilly is our psilocybin compound that includes other natural molecules to increase efficacy. The formulation is the culmination of decades of work, particularly related to how natural fungal extraction and to how blending of other compounds leads to a more synergistic effect. We believe that Psilly is true to the essence of psilocybin mushrooms and true to the legacy of psychedelic science. And! We believe we achieved our goal of a compound that is “better” -- by which we mean things like much easier to digest, less of a margin of error regarding the therapeutic applications, and more-- while still possessing the heart of a psilocybin mushroom. 

At the end of the day, as members of our team say, we believe products like Psilly are the equivalent of heirloom tomatoes whereas synthetic psilocybin would be the equivalent of GMO. While of course we see the efficacy in synthetics and would be the first to point out that having some tomatoes is better than having no tomatoes even if their GMO, we think it is vitally important to be true to the fungi/plant medicines whenever possible. All of our compounds will demonstrate a 360 degree approach from the source, to the purpose, to the methods of producing.

Is there something you have found personally transformational about psychedelics?

I have been transformed by how psychedelics have empowered my sense of mindfulness and self-reflection. I was transformed by this sense of mindfulness, and learned things like how to focus on the intention behind what someone’s saying instead of the expression of how it came out. Someone should do a double-blind trial on psychedelics and rage quitting conversations! I’d bet psychedelic would be a positive predictor of trying to better understand an opposing viewpoint… I digress.

My bottom line is that knowing how much psychedelics have empowered me and the ones I love I believe they are critical to us being able to move forward as a society. And that's the mission that I believe I have been given the privilege to help steward forward. 

Who would you like to see Psychedelic Finance feature next?

The interviews have been great and, honestly, I’m flattered that you would ask me and that any reader would make it this far in my answers to read this (so thanks reader!). 

I’ve been on a pretty idealistic bent all interview, so I propose an ideal next Psychedelic FInance spotlight: Ann Shulgin. It’s a long shot, but boy would it be amazing to hear her perspective. If you’re unable to get Ann Shulgin, my next request would be Peter Thiel. He’s been awfully quiet about all the waves his investments in the space have made.