In a recent insightful interview, George Goldsmith, the visionary entrepreneur and cofounder of Compass Pathways, shared the rich tapestry of his life and career. He has had a journey that unfolded in unexpected ways, defying conventional norms.
This exploration takes us beyond the initial glimpse and dives deeper into the layers of George’s remarkable story, shedding light on the transformative power of blending disciplines, challenging norms, and persistently pursuing innovation.
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Early Years and Technology
George’s early years were marked by a distinct departure from the traditional path. Born in 1955 in Philadephia, he remembers going to a high-intensity athletic school. But not being a jock, George found solace in technology and reading, setting the stage for a unique trajectory.
George recalls going to a summer program for kids at Wharton School when he was just 14, where he ended up actually teaching and mentoring MBA students. His exposure to people at least four to eight years older than him accelerated his learning.
The late ’60s and early ’70s exposed him to the world of computer programming when punch cards and FORTRAN were the tools of the trade. This period of exploration laid the groundwork for his deep-seated interest in the intersection of psychology and technology, a theme that would thread through the rest of his life.
George spent five years in a Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology and was just getting ready to start his internship. Before he completed his dissertation, he realized he would not want to work with one patient at a time. This realization would prove to be a turning point in his career.
Although his decision came as a disappointment for the faculty, George was determined that he didn’t want to be a psychotherapist and researcher. He wanted to do something that would have a greater impact.
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Lotus and IBM: Bridging Psychology and Technology
Since he had always been interested in technology and trained in clinical psychology, George wanted to focus on the people side of technology. That’s how his journey gained momentum with his creation of The Human Interface Group.
This endeavor focused on helping people effectively use evolving technologies. The basis of the Human Interface is to improve performance with people and technology working together, a fusion that became a hallmark of his career. George recalls working on a fascinating project supporting the largest nuclear power plant manufacturer in the world.
However, the plant was based in Connecticut in the US, and the plants were being built in Korea. George saw that the project managers were dealing with faxes that came in late at night and came to the conclusion that they needed to find solutions to the problem.
Eventually, his solutions were into the Lotus Institute, which was an advanced applications group for collaboration at Lotus software. The subsequent acquisition by IBM marked a significant chapter, providing George with valuable insights into leadership and the dynamics of corporate mergers.
TomorrowLab and McKinsey: Navigating the Digital Landscape
George’s thirst for innovation and foresight led him to create Tomorrow Lab, where he envisioned guiding large businesses into the emerging internet landscape. As the CEO of Tomorrow Lab at McKinsey in the late ’90s, he played a crucial role in pioneering online video portals for education.
George looks back at around 1996 when the internet was just starting out. His work at Lotus Notes and collaboration software gave him a unique vantage point that he used to his advantage. Being the senior advisor to McKinsey, he was instrumental in the launch of the company’s eCommerce and mobile commerce practices.
This phase not only showcased George’s knack for staying ahead of technological trends but also honed his problem-solving skills, a vital knack for navigating the complexities of the digital frontier. At the time, McKinsey was creating online video portals for the education of its clients.
Tapestry Networks: Addressing Societal Challenges
George’s passion for transformation extended beyond technology, leading to the creation of Tapestry Networks. At the time, he was very involved in the Young President’s Organization and served on the Board of Directors. That’s when they launched one of the most successful products in YPO’s history called YPO Networks.
Focused on bringing leaders together to address societal challenges, this venture reflected his commitment to fostering collaboration and innovation. The journey with Tapestry Networks underscored George’s ability to leverage his diverse skill set to tackle multifaceted problems. The key objective was how to improve corporate board performance in the US and Europe.
George stresses the importance of picking the right people around a board table. He points out that companies consistently grow, and they need board members with dynamism tempered by a steady hand to run them and not hamper that growth.
Compass Pathways: A Personal Mission Unfolds
The conversation took a deeply personal turn when George shared the genesis of Compass Pathways. Driven by a desire to help his stepson, who suffered from depression and OCD, George and his wife, as well as cofounder, Ekaterina Malievskaia, a talented physician and researcher, explored alternative solutions.
That’s when George recalled his early exposure to the work of this wonderful neuroscientist named John Lilly back in the ’60s. Making the connection with Lilly’s work, the research on psilocybin rekindled their attention, leading to the creation of Compass Pathways in 2016.
George leveraged his experience working with major pharmaceutical companies at Tapestry to look at how they could get reimbursed medicines to patients faster. At the time, he had been working with nine governments across Europe and the European FDA to create parallel scientific advice. This enabled companies to receive advice on how to generate the evidence needed to both approve and reimburse a medicine.
As they were forming Compass, they later used this process to identify the patients who might benefit most and the clinical trials to demonstrate that.
Their end goal was to make affordable treatment available to 320 million people who suffered from depression that was not helped by any existing treatments – in other words, patients who were failed by a lack of innovation. And that led to the development of investigational COMP360 psilocybin treatment, which is currently in phase 3 clinical trials.
Raising Funding For Compass
George’s ability to navigate the complexities of financing cycles and build a team committed to a mission reflects not only his business acumen but a profound dedication to alleviating mental health issues globally.
Initially, three investors backed the company–Christian Angermayer, Mike Novogratz, and Peter Thiel. George and his team ended up raising $450M. Currently, the company has raised more than $600M.
Storytelling is everything, which is something that George Goldsmith was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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Psychedelic Therapy and Beyond: Shaping Mental Health 2030
Compass Pathways focuses on areas of high unmet need, such as treatment-resistant depression. George paints a picture of mental health care in 2030 as evidence-based, data-driven, and seamlessly integrated with AI and digital technology. He paints a picture of mental health care in 2030 as evidence-based, data-driven, and seamlessly integrated with AI and digital technology.
His commitment to transforming the patient experience reflects not just a business goal but a personal mission to eradicate prolonged suffering.
Advice to the Younger Self: Lessons Learned and Shared Wisdom
George wraps up the interview by reflecting on the advice he would give his younger self. His words resonate with aspiring entrepreneurs: “It’ll be okay regardless of the outcome. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.”
He emphasizes the importance of mastery, persistence, and attention to detail, encapsulating the essence of his journey from a curious teenager to a leader shaping the future of mental health care.
George Goldsmith’s journey is not just a chronicle of a successful entrepreneur but a testament to the transformative power of blending disciplines, challenging norms, and persistently pursuing innovation.
As Compass Pathways continues its mission to revolutionize mental health care, George stands as a beacon of inspiration for those who dare to navigate uncharted territories in the pursuit of positive change. His story is a testament to the profound impact one individual can have on the world when driven by a mission to make a difference.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to know more, including:
- His journey began in technology but evolved into a pioneering force in mental health care with the creation of Compass Pathways.
- A unique blend of psychology and technology has been the hallmark of a career, shaping his ventures from the Human Interface Group to Tomorrow Lab.
- The acquisition of Lotus by IBM provided valuable insights into leadership and corporate mergers, shaping an understanding of navigating dynamic landscapes.
- With ventures like Tapestry Networks, George showcased his commitment to bringing leaders together to address societal challenges, emphasizing collaboration and innovation.
- The genesis of Compass Pathways was a deeply personal mission driven by a desire to help his stepson and a commitment to transforming mental health care globally.
- A vision for a future of mental health care in 2030 that is evidence-based, data-driven, and seamlessly integrated with AI and digital technology.
- Advice to his younger self emphasizes resilience – “It’ll be okay regardless of the outcome. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn” – coupled with a focus on mastery, persistence, and attention to detail in entrepreneurial pursuits.