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Coopetition in the Psychedelic Community: Maya & Osmind

November 18, 2020

Introduction to Maya and Osmind

If you work in the field of psychedelic mental health or ketamine therapy, you may have heard of  two technology startups focused on helping psychedelic therapists serve their clients more efficiently and effectively: Maya Health and Osmind. Both of our companies are Public Benefit Corporations, are well funded, and are run by savvy teams. We have a shared audience of psychotherapists, and we’re both working towards similar respective missions: “... to maximize patient access to innovative treatments.” and “...to create a new paradigm for mental healthcare.”

Pressure to Compete

As the founders of these two companies, we’ve both experienced similar pressure from investors, advisors, and even customers, to out-compete each other. Investors have the plain motive of market share dominance for their portfolio companies. Advisors want to feel like they’re backing the winning horse. And customers want to feel assured they’ve made the right choice and shouldn’t be jumping ship to the alternative service provider.

All of this is understandable when viewed through a certain traditional lens. But there’s a problem with this perspective of scarcity. In a nascent and emotionally-charged industry such as psychedelic mental healthcare, there’s a natural bias towards under-estimating the market size and potential. Case studies of the movie streaming, hair-growth, and digital sleep enhancement industries all serve as a reminder that a combination of psychological biases contribute to this phenomenon. This can lead to a fear that there might be a small and finite number of customers in the target segment, and that only one service provider will be able to “win” by accomplishing the dominant market share. 

We’ll move quickly past the reasons why this mindset is usually not accurate, and focus on why it’s not helpful. When an entrepreneur is asked by a prospective investor: “how is your company going to beat your competition?” they are being asked to play a depletive game that constrains the size of the pie, rather than a constructive one that expands it. Often the entrepreneur will internalize this question as a directive to focus on strategic thinking that is centered around winning a competition, rather than achieving their own mission. As James P. Carse writes,

“A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.” 

This mindset engenders a dangerous level of secrecy, misinformation, gossip, and drama that can pervade an emerging industry and distract the collective from true priorities, values, and goals.

A New Paradigm for Competition

This is why we, the founders of Osmind and Maya, have decided to take the path less traveled and design a new paradigm for competition, which we hope can inspire others in this community. 

Earlier this year, I (David) wrote to Lucia one Saturday to share an idea. My email had the subject line “Playing together,” and continued: 

“It seems we’re all equally committed to this idea of channeling the paradigm-shifting nature of the psychedelic journey into our ways of working; elevating the style of business-making we hope will inspire others that come into this space. Dave McGaughey [of the North Star psychedelic ethics pledge] put it really well in his WhatsApp post, which you probably saw this week: ‘Psychedelics have been disproportionately impactful on society. I believe psychedelic business will be as well. We have an opportunity to be role models not only for transforming mental health but for a transformation in business and the exchange of value too.’ With all this in mind, I’m writing to ask you how we can look even more deeply at creative, new ways to set this example. Investors instantly think of us as competition and it would make a bold statement if both of us could respond thoughtfully to describe the intentionality we agree to bring to this relationship, in service of the community.” 

I (Lucia) was delighted to receive this message and responded the same day:

“I too enjoyed our conversation a few weeks back and have been thinking of ways we can build on it. I would love to think long-term how we can collaborate. The more I think about it, the more I think we can be partners and not ‘competitors’ - to your point, I do think we bring different backgrounds and skills and have different models/strategies. I don't know what shape this collaboration could take, but I do agree we have the power and responsibility to humbly set precedent in the field of psychedelics by supporting each other. As a start, I think issuing a joint blog post could be an interesting way to encourage the market and our field to collaborate for the greater good.”

With this alignment, we agreed to co-author this post, along with a set of agreements we would sign as our commitment to each other. We call it the “Coopetition Covenant.” 

Coopetition

Since that day, we discovered that we are not completely alone in this ideal. We discovered a term coined as early as 1913, being used to describe the nature of business relationships between dealers of the Sealshipt Oyster System, who were instructed to cooperate for the benefit of the system, while competing with each other for customers in the same city.

“Often coopetition takes place when companies that are in the same market work together in the exploration of knowledge and research of new products, at the same time that they compete for market-share of their products and in the exploitation of the knowledge created.”

We are especially fond of Investopedia’s definition of the term:

“Coopetition is a business ideology taken directly from insights gained from game theory. Coopetition games are statistical models that consider the ways in which synergy can be created by partnering with competitors. The tactic is thought to be a good business practice between two businesses because it can lead to the expansion of the market and the formation of new business relationships.”

Before discovering this term, David came across a thought-provoking article in the Harvard Business Review by Rory McDonald, entitled The New-Market Conundrum. The piece discusses key differences observed in a new and emerging market, as compared to existing entrenched industries. 

McDonald suggests that due to the uncertainty of new markets, the most successful companies at the forefront of a new market often operate in a fashion termed “parallel play.” Parallel play is a term created by child psychologists from observation of preschoolers playing together in a social setting. It was noticed the children (three- and four- years old) would play near one another but usually not together. 

While building something like a sand castle or a tower, they would be focused on their own project while keeping a keen eye on the other’s. Often they would copy each other and iterate on the other’s creations. But they would also lend and borrow blocks and buckets to help each other. The relationship between the two was almost always constructive and additive, not destructive. By playing together, they could each learn and grow more quickly than they could alone.

Beyond this neat analogy, the data supports the approach. An extensive study by the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute found that this kind of collaborative competition, when it lasted from three to five years, had more than a 50 percent chance of mutually reducing company costs.

A fascinating study looking one layer deeper on this topic is “Coopetition for radical innovation: technology, market and business-model perspectives.” In his findings, Paavo Ritala asserts that coopetition did not benefit innovation on the technological front, so much as it informed innovation in the business model and market segmentation. Ultimately, the practice showed strong correlation with enhancements within each organization and its own product design and marketing & delivery channels.

Many examples of coopetition in action exist. Among the most striking is that between Apple and Samsung. While Samsung’s Galaxy and Apple’s iPhone are competing products, Samsung is concurrently one of Apple’s main hardware suppliers.

The Coopetition Covenant

Grounding this theory within the context of Osmind and Maya, we are excited to introduce our Coopetition Covenant; a simple set of agreements that bind the two companies in our commitment to support one another, while serving the same audience. 

We vow to:

  1. Remain open and positive in support of our respective missions.
  2. Never speak negatively nor pessimistically about each other’s company.
  3. Internalize each other’s successes as a source of inspiration and not as a threat.
  4. Create a channel to communicate one another’s research findings and discoveries.
  5. Share in past accomplishments and disappointments as a way to learn faster.
  6. Proactively offer resources, introductions, and opportunities to one another.

As part of this covenant, we encourage companies to consider becoming Public Benefit Corporations that allow them to focus on a public benefit mission, not just pure profit and competition. Beyond these agreements, we pledge to bring a spirit of co-elevation to one another’s businesses and the respective impact we are both making for this world.

Conclusion

We at Maya and Osmind are grateful to our shared duty of bringing technology to improve care delivery and research in psychedelics and related fields. We feel honored to share this mission and have nothing but respect for each other. We have chosen to share this covenant and the accompanying post with our communities in the hopes we can inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs to focus on what matters to them and their missions. We believe that will always lie in the abundance of creation and not the limitations of scarcity.

When health and wellness are at stake, it’s even more crucial to approach business decisions with thoughtfulness and intention. And, in any field with exponential growth and opportunity, these decisions will only be amplified, so we must do things right from the start. We understand we have a lot to learn and welcome any feedback, ideas, or questions on how we can best promote the Coopetition model. Please feel free to reach out to both of us, david@mayahealth.com and lucia@osmind.org.

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