‘Thankfully We Avoided the Gold Rush Cycle, and Built for the Future’

Paul F. Austin is the founder and CEO of Third Wave, a psychedelics education and community platform that offers training courses, podcasts, and detailed information on psychedelic use. He is also the author of “Mastering Microdosing,” and currently serves as an advisor to Cybin Corp.

Austin recently shared some of his earliest experiences with psychedelics, the vision he had for Third Wave, and how the company has expanded its offerings and evolved during the psychedelic industry’s recent tumultuous years.



How did you get into this whole line of work?

Well, it started at age 16. I grew up in a pretty traditional family in west Michigan, quite religious, morality was determined by the law and the church. My parents were a product of the ‘70s and ‘80s War on Drugs. When I was 16, they found out I had smoked cannabis, and my dad got really upset. He’s a very kind man and we have a great relationship, but he just looked at me and said, “I haven’t been this disappointed since my brother passed away in a car accident 25 years ago.” Pretty harsh. He had never been drunk, never touched weed, never done any of this. He just couldn’t believe it. But for me, I just sat there and felt like I wasn’t in the wrong. I had enjoyed the experience mentally, it was enlightening for me, and incredibly fun.

So that sent me down a path of my own individuation, and at 19, I tried mushrooms for the first time. It was an interesting experience, but not life-changing. A few months later, I did LSD — and that significantly changed the trajectory of my life. The two main takeaways from that experience was: 1) there’s so much we do in life that comes from a fear of death and dying, but psychedelics showed me death is nothing to fear, because it allowed for a lot of my ego and attachment to dissolve and disappear. And 2) life is a miracle and very precious. When we’re given an opportunity to live we should really make the most of it, create and live and explore and not be not living in a box.

So when I was 21, I moved to Turkey where I taught English for a year. At 24, I moved to Thailand and lived in Chiang Mai for a year. Later, I landed in Budapest. Then in 2015, I was doing a higher dose of LSD with a couple friends and we said, let’s start a platform that contextualizes psychedelics for the 21st century, that doesn’t portray them as rave drugs, nor as just clinical tools for depression and addiction. Instead let’s create a fuller richer context and portray psychedelics in the way humans have been using them for thousands of years. And that’s where the name Third Wave came from: The first wave being indigenous use, the second wave being the counterculture use, and the third wave being the current psychedelic renaissance. We wanted to contextualize it for a mainstream audience who is new to it, but if used with intention and responsibility could really benefit people.

So we just started a blog, then a podcast, then a training course, and now eight years later our focus is still on education. We’re training providers so that they are ethical and effective. So much of our suffering in modern life is because of disconnection and alienation. We believe we can really help people find healing and transformation. When I experienced that thing with my dad 17 years ago, I didn’t feel like my authentic self could really come forward. But when people work with psychedelics intentionally there’s all of these aspects of self that come forward. It’s important people feel like they can be seen and heard and loved for who they are.


Let’s go back to that life-changing LSD trip. Can you expand on that experience?

It was with three or four friends on the dunes of Lake Michigan in summer time. We took about 2 1/2 hits of acid each, and we had a designated driver who drove us out to the sand dunes. For four or five hours we hiked around, we jumped in the lake, we just enjoyed the beauty of Mother Nature. I don’t think of it as recreational, we weren’t partying or anything. We were just in awe of the natural world. Honestly it was such a beautiful experience. The core takeaway for me was this connection to nature. It was my first mystical experience, and it happened in one of the most beautiful settings in the world. It was highly influential in terms of my path going forward.


And as far as your dad goes: Did his views change on psychedelics after he saw you dedicate your life and career to it?

So when Michael Pollan’s book came out in 2018, I sent it to my dad, because had read some of Pollan’s earlier work. My dad has actually become quite open-minded. He read the book and actually started microdosing. Then about a year after that, he and I did a journey together. So he’s really come far along on that path. And it wasn’t because I was overly convincing. I just supplied the education, he made his own choice. I think that’s important to emphasize: With psychedelics is it really should be a willful choice, 100% consent, and not a pressure situation. A lot of overly evangelical people try to convince everyone to do it, but I think that’s harmful than helpful. These are really powerful tools, and you need time to step into them on your own.


OK let’s talk about Third Wave. Who’s your audience? People who are aspiring to become life coaches and psychedelic guides? Or is it more people just looking for information about using psychedelics?

I would say it’s pretty evenly balanced between the two. Every month about 250,000 people come to the website for the content. About 10,000 people listen to the podcast. The folks who listen to the podcast are mostly practitioners or professionals who are really interested in this space. Whereas the people who come to our website or get our newsletter are more interested in their own personal healing and transformation. A lot of people also come for our mushroom grow kits that we sell. We try to make it as easy as possible for people to grow their own medicine. We also have a ton of info microdosing.


Does that audience split also reflect your revenue model? Are you making more from the training program you do in Costa Rica or from product sales and sponsorships on your site?

It’s about 50-50. About half our revenue comes from our products, microdosing courses, mushroom grow kits, and sponsorships for our podcast and newsletter. And then the other half comes from practitioner training. It’s a 10-month program, with a six-day intensive in Costa Rica. As far as I know, it’s the only training program for executive coaches and health and wellness coaches. Although the therapeutic properties of psychedelics are incredibly important for some people, I’m really interested in the overlap between psychedelics and, as Michael Pollan says, the betterment of the well. How can psychedelics help us become better leaders? How can they help us have better relationships? How can they help us to be healthier physically? That’s my real focus.


You launched eight years ago. How long did it take to becoming financially sustainable? And how’s business now?

For the first two years, I was running another business, and I would take funds from that and reinvest it into Third Wave. It was more of a hobby then. Everything was free, we had no paid products. Then in 2017, we rolled out our first course on microdosing, and we started seeing maybe $5,000-$10,000 a month in revenue. In 2019 we raised our first little bit of seed funding and really started to evolve our business model, and a few years later we rolled out the practitioner training programs. Over the last few years, our revenue has really grown. In 2020, it was somewhere around $300,000 annually. In 2023, it’ll be close to $3 million. It’s grown 10X in three years.

For us, it’s about building out a new psychedelic space for people to learn, connect, grow. We’re not so interested in touching the substance itself, there’s so much regulation and bureaucracy and restrictions. We wanted to create a platform that supports individuals and providers and engages people in an active community.


So you didn’t suffer the roller coaster ride that other psychedelic entities have faced in the last couple years?

Well I did try to raise quite a bit of funding in 2021, and just couldn’t do it. Partly because we had been around for a while and already had some revenue established. But we were running out of cash in 2021, so I launched our practitioner training program and that brought in an immediate influx of revenue. It’s really become a phenomenal asset and opened our eyes to other possibilities.  

I’ve always wanted to build for the long term. The success of our practitioner training program inspired us to roll out a new brand called the Psychedelic Coaching Institute. I’m really looking at where does this psychedelic movement land 20 or 30 years from now? So when it came to the recent gold rush cycle, a lot of companies became overly diluted taking investor or VC money. Thankfully we avoided that and instead focused on building with an eye to the future. So there’s revenue coming in to support the expenses. We don’t get too far over our skis. We wait, we’re patient. Because even though we’ve already been through a hype cycle, we’re still very early in this space overall.


Looking back over the last eight years, is there any big mistakes that stand out? Or any one thing you’d do differently if you could go back and do it again?

That’s a phenomenal question. Yes, what immediately comes to mind: In 2019, in the middle of the Me Too and cancel culture movement, I had some leadership faults that led to the majority of my team quitting. At the time, we had about 11 people on the team. I went through some leadership challenges and issues, and we ended up with three people on our team. This was because of some things that I didn’t handle so well publicly over social media. It was also because I just wasn’t leading well internally in many ways. So we often learn from our greatest failures. As Nietzsche said, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. There were certainly a lot of hard lessons from that. The relational fallouts that came from that were unfortunate. So if I could do one thing again it would just be navigating that situation with a lot more grace and tact.


On the flip side, after eight years you must experience burnout sometimes. What is it that still excites you about your work? What’s the best part of your day?

I think every founder and entrepreneur goes through ups and downs. But it’s like any long-term commitment — like a marriage, for example — you stick with it because there’s an unconditional love there. It could be difficult at times, it could suck at times. But for me there’s an unconditional love toward the mission we have. That psychedelics, when used with intention and responsibility, could be incredibly helpful for so many people. They are one of the few things that work time and time and time again.

And then there’s another element that really motivates me. As I mentioned, when I had my first LSD experience in the woods, I had profound love for the environment and nature. It’s been just a few days since the fires in Maui have decimated this incredible island. We’re seeing temperatures rising everywhere. We’re really faced with an existential crisis around environmental change. I’ve always thought, if I could pull one lever and dedicate my life to that lever, what would have the greatest impact on this climate crisis? It would have to be psychedelics. Because psychedelics ensure that more and more people will wake up to this truth. So that’s what continues to drive me, the belief that we will have this collective awakening and really understand what it means to really take care of the earth so she can take care of us.