I write this piece of history with hopes of enlightening the public as to why the Pangburn Philosophy corporation folded back in November 2018. The false narrative that has become common belief is the reason for writing this article. I wish no ill will or negative backlash to anyone involved in this and will be the first to protest any form of cancel culture. Social extremism has blown this story into fantasy land, so here's the truth.
We were in the midst of the Sam Harris vs Jordan Peterson era. The June 23rd and 24th events sold very well and we were poised for Dublin and London. Vancouver events were not big money-makers for the company, but a massive win for the war of ideas with a large financial return for the speakers. In general, successful. There were some uniquely horrible sound issues in the venue for these events which were embarrassing for both the venue and my company.
This was not what I was accustomed to, as I had full trust that my Technical Director would have the basics sorted by the time I showed up to the venue with the speakers. A lot of time is allotted to my staff and venue staff to sort out issues such as these. This was one of the first signs that something wasn’t right. This was the most highly anticipated event in our small company’s history... If nothing else, the sound must be good.
I had three core staff: Executive Director/Technical Director, Director of Media and Director of Audience Services. I had worked with the Executive Director for many years on different projects in various capacities. I always viewed her as a strong asset to any team. The Director of Media is someone I sought out as I was impressed with what he had been able to accomplish with some of his online communities. The Director of Audience Services is someone who had worked for me in the past and is a veteran in the live music ticketing scene.
The executive director's boyfriend (a relationship I wasn't aware of initially) was brought on by her to help with events and he eventually gained experience in other Pangburn Philosophy roles. I thought this person was kind of strange, abrasive at times, creepy at times and I didn't like the boyfriend-girlfriend dynamic, but I was willing to give it a shot as the executive director was adamant about his work being top-notch. I also had reports from other speakers that he was giving them the same “vibe”. He wasn't really around that much so I allowed him the opportunity to succeed, knowing at any time I may be proven wrong. I didn’t like much of what I was seeing, but consistently tried to be encouraging, as it seemed important to my executive director.
I had noticed that the Executive Director/TD's work started slipping around the time of the audio failure on June 23rd. Not that this was entirely her fault, but part of a TD's job is to fix these issues or have back-up plans for such important things like audio quality. This event in particular required her best possible performance, with fail-safes in place.
July 10th was a very strange day in the office. Most of us were flying out the following day to Dublin for Harris vs Peterson. D of Media, D of Audience, TD and her boyfriend were all there. They had managed to leave acquiring venue insurance for the Dublin event to the last minute and were scrambling to get that in order. It was a high stress day to say the least. I gave them some easy options to rectify the problem.
Everyone was shifty-eyed that day and seemed to be hiding something. I had asked the TD to come into the office when she had a moment to speak, but she acted as though she could not hear me. It was absurd. I finally did get to chat with her and she assured me that everything was okay. I had done the same with everyone else in a different way trying to open up a conversation about what had everyone on edge, but everyone said that all was fine. We all left the office that day with a plan to deal with any outstanding tasks and to get excited for these two upcoming world-class events in Dublin and London.
At 10:36 pm that night, as I was falling asleep, my phone lit up. I looked at the notification and it was an email from my Executive Director with the rest of the team cc'd. The email contained ultimatums that "need to be addressed to our satisfaction, in writing, BEFORE we are able to depart for Ireland and the UK".. Which was the next day.
*I have decided not to publish the email as I think it is good practice to avoid publishing emails that others have sent to you. I must be clear that my intention isn't to hurt anyone, but to draw attention to the truth. However, if necessary at any time, I will publish the email.
The email of demands contained questions in which they already knew the answers; some seeking clarity, some seemingly based in anger, some vitriolic and some just flat-out crazy insinuations of improper practices by myself.
In order for the event to go forward I worked through the night to deal with the insurance issue that they had been given months to figure out and were unable to solve. I could not believe that instead of finding a solution to this task they were sending me an ultimatum..
By 6:58 am the next morning (communication was slow) I had connected with a free speech group in Dublin which allowed me to move forward with the event insurance process, with them as a partner. The insurance company I was pursuing needed a local address and entity on the insurance. There was a lot of scrambling after that point, but it got done. One of the most stressful nights of my life.
According to other staff reports, the TD and her boyfriend had been trying to convince the two others to leave Pangburn Philosophy and join a new company that they were secretly starting. The evidence showed, without doubt, that the TD and boyfriend had been internally sabotaging the company staff for months. D of Audience was very apologetic for not coming to me with this sooner and understood he may lose his job. I told him that he would be fired, but would be offered a chance to come back in a lesser capacity. He accepted and said that he would like to come back. After this, as he decided to stay behind, I entrusted him with changing the locks in the office and taking care of some things for me while I was in Dublin. Something important to point out: The staff were never required at these events. I simply wanted them there for the experience and as watching eyes to protect patrons, speakers and my investment. I made this frequently clear to them. It was team- building and I believed in the inspirational power of these events.
After appeasing the supposed concerns of the staff, the other three agreed to attend the events in Dublin and London if I signed these new contracts at the airport that they created (which included some nice new perks and raises)…. I signed, as I knew I was signing under duress and the contracts were not official in any way. At that point I was not sure what I was going to do about all of this, but I was very angry that these staff members would do this when I had given them amazing work opportunities and always treated them well. The thought that these particular people would conspire against me would have never occurred to me in a million years. I think they were trying to be strategic with their rockin' new contracts, choosing this moment in time. Thinking that I would need to honor them? I noticed that they were not sure how to act around me after this all happened, as if they knew they had done something wrong.
The Dublin event brought out 8500 people. It sold out and was an extraordinary event for patrons. This event made some money for the company, a ton of money for the speakers and was a huge success for the war of ideas. I chose a massive venue in London: the O2. We were able to attract around 7000 audience members, but had to do some price reductions in order to hit that number. There were some major ticketing issues with the venue that really pissed potential patrons off and hurt sales. We were in the process of seeking a financial settlement for this, but our staffing problems took immediate precedence and the O2/AXS ticketing reps were being very slow in their communication regarding this issue. Once bills were paid, the event resulted in major loss… a full, running kick to the financial balls.
On July 17th, the day after the London event, I sent this email to all staff:
Sneaking around, hiding things from me, recording my voice without my knowledge, absurd questioning of my motives and practice, feeling urges of physical violence towards me, citing things from my past work relationships and using that as fuel for your cowardly motives, long conversations on Facebook to plan to confront me on issues in group think, thinking your have admissions of some kind of guilt from me etc etc etc........ Some of you came to me to report this insanity, but much too late. You had already contributed your drivel to this failure.
You have all disappointed and failed me. (TD's) email of demands exposed your callousness and/or cowardice. I have no use for cowards. You will never be forgiven, as far as I can tell, for the stress & pressure you put on me and my family the night before my flight to Dublin. You disgust me in your carelessness. My trust for each of you has reached absolute zero.
-All of your current contracts with Pangburn Philosophy are terminated. The contract you had me sign under duress at the Vancouver airport is null and void and was never active.
-Your Pangburn email addresses have been deactivated.
-You have no permission to access any Pangburn Philosophy credit cards, PayPal, social media accounts or anything else owned and operated by Travis Pangburn or Pangburn Philosophy.
-The locks, alarm system & surveillance at the Pangburn Philosophy headquarters have all been changed. You are not permitted on the premises, as you are no longer a member of the Pangburn Philosophy team due to your contract termination. If you have personal items left behind, you can schedule a pickup time with me through your personal email.
-You can send me final invoices from your personal email, that are based on your standard operating contract prior to me being put under duress from Masha's email of collective demands.
-If you have in your possession anything owned by Travis Pangburn or Pangburn Philosophy, make arrangements to return those items swiftly.
A dim light from this precipice:
Each of you has the opportunity, this Friday, July 20th, to call me to attempt to stay on with Pangburn Philosophy in a lesser capacity. If your reasons for calling are outside of your love for the Pangburn Philosophy or myself, don't waste my time. If your reason for calling is for the love of working with the speakers or artists I pay for, don't waste my time.
Do not respond to this email in any way. I have no time for your excuses or explanations.
*Any distribution of this email or any other Pangburn Philosophy communication marked confidential will result in fierce legal action. This also includes any contacts that were shared with you confidentially.
President & CEO
CONFIDENTIALITY: This email message (including attachments, if any) is confidential and is intended only for the addressee. Any unauthorized use or disclosure is strictly prohibited. Disclosure of this email to anyone other than the intended addressee does not constitute waiver of privilege. If you have received this communication in error, please notify me immediately and delete this message. Thank you for your cooperation.
After the firing, the Director of Media and Director of Audience Services took me up on my offer to discuss coming back in a lesser capacity. I required that they disclose exactly what was happening behind closed doors and they did. More text messages, Facebook messages and emails were provided. Neither of them had good answers as to why they fell into this trap set out by the TD and her boyfriend to sabotage the company. They said that they were led to believe that I was some kind of monster and that they were very sorry. When I asked why they didn’t come and speak to me for clarification, they said they wished they would have. I decided to give them another chance.
If the TD and her boyfriend would have wanted to speak with me, I would have, but almost certainly I would not have given them another chance. If they had any concerns with anything, why not come to me right away? There was obviously another motive here, which was unveiled in the documentation I received.
My appetite for trusting staff had now fallen to below freezing.
The Conference Project.
The conferences were a project that Neuroscientist Sam Harris and I built together as a continuation of our endeavor to bring important conversations to the world. Our previous dealings were non-stringent and flexible, with a willingness to adapt. All events were very successful for Sam financially, and some were for the corporation as well. This next project would be a group of conferences.. an exciting full-day experience for patrons to have full access to Sam Harris and other guest speakers.
We both worked together to solidify speaking talent for these events, negotiated fees for other speakers, made important decisions and promoted the events in the best way we could. Around two months before the first conference, Sam brought on new business management. This is when things began to change. At that point, it started to feel like things were becoming more about making money and less about the conversations. This was a disturbing and abrupt transformation that became hard to reconcile or navigate. It alarmed me.
I initially signed contracts with Sam for these conferences that were based on the largest possible fee for him that could be achieved in an 'original ticket price' sell-out which was a mistake. The "dream fee" represented in these initial conversations weren’t ever supposed to be signed to a inflexible contract. The dream fee was an ultimate goal, but needed to be open to reassessment. I did not have a good feeling about signing these contracts but I believed, based on my past experience with Sam, that if we weren't able to garner enough interest in the conference, he would be flexible and do everything he could to make them happen.
Almost immediately after signing these contracts and sending them, Sam connected me to his new business management. I don't know why Sam felt he needed to do this.. We had been working with a successful business model that was open to adapting based on sales performance, but once the music industry managers got involved, it became all about Sam's guaranteed fee and receiving deposits far in advance (which I could rarely do, due to the size of my small company).
It was soon clear that the conference numbers were nothing like Sam and I had hoped for… not doing well at all. In the past, we would have been able to adjust fees, within reason, if an event wasn't looking good ticket sales-wise. But this, all of a sudden, was no longer on the table, which in this case, was a big issue. I think this new attitude was coming from Sam's business management team and I think he was trusting that what they were doing was right, as he was in on most emails.
The corporation took a huge financial hit on the London event with Sam and Jordan, and heading into these conferences with financial flexibility from Sam and others was necessary. This was nowhere to be found from Sam and his team. This was not in the spirit of how the company had been operating.
Due to lack of sales and the unwillingness for Sam and his team to take a reduced fee, I decided to combine the New Zealand audience with the audience in Sydney and offer a refund to any New Zealand ticket- holders that couldn't make the trip to Sydney. With the current financial state of the company, I was able to refund most patrons, minus about thirty accounts. We didn't guarantee a timeline for the refund, but did communicate that we were in the process of recovering from recent financial losses, and making the refunds our top priority.
Meanwhile, in Sydney, a great, although undersold, event took place.. A few speakers did not receive their payments at our agreed-upon timeline. The event flopped hard and there was no money. Some were understanding and waived their fee schedule, etc. Sam took his fee, which we could have used a small portion of it to reimburse the NZ ticket-holders, but he showed no interest in that. I still don't understand Sam and his manager’s thinking here. Sam and I were partners on this event and he would still be making crazy money..
The biggest outstanding investment was yet to come: the NYC conference. Financially speaking, everything was riding on this (as was communicated to most major speakers involved).
This conference was selling, but the conference project as a whole…was in a hole. Sam had a lot of anxiety towards the few accounts that had yet to be refunded from NZ and he and his staff were constantly on my case for updates, which was understandable and I did my best to communicate with them. My answer remained the same: "We are taking care of these as fast as we can, but you have to understand we are trying to recoup here after the losses from the last three events and trying to keep the company afloat. We are a small company."
Sam was contracted to do the Toronto event on Sept 5th, after the Sydney conference with Brian Greene, which more or less broke even. After that event, Sam's anxiety towards the outstanding accounts in NZ continued to grow to a point where he and his team gave me an ultimatum. Essentially - Refund all these tickets and the money we are owed in the next few days or we are walking away from the NYC conference.. I explained to them that I wouldn't be able to do this at the speed they were insisting upon, so as they promised, they backed out of the event that Sam and I had built together. I had large amounts of money already invested in it.. and Sam walked.
He probably thought I would just have to cancel right away because he was the "headliner" , but we had a policy in place with conference pass-holders that "If a speaker is to back out, we will attempt to replace them with a speaker of the same caliber". So, much to Sam's surprise I gather, we announced Brian Greene to take his place. I was then told by many people involved in the conference that certain individuals, likely Sam and his friends/staff, were contacting them, encouraging them to back out because of the few accounts yet to be settled. Some of the other speakers went along with it and abandoned the conference and their fans.
I think this was a massive error. Sam knew that I needed the conference to go well in order to bounce back. I explained this to him. He knew that all of the money was pooled together for the conferences. Despite this, he publicly ripped into me and my company which completely destroyed my company image as well as my own image. This made it impossible to sell another pass when we needed to. But we kept fighting.
Then, due to more behind-the-scenes encouragement, more speakers began to back out. I had to change venues and lose another deposit because the first venue was now too expensive.. I wired another deposit to the new venue. The next morning three more speakers backed out.. and they weren't simply backing out, they were following Sam's example of taking to social media to shame the company.
Social media, our main marketing source, had turned volatile. I sought legal counsel to look at what options I had, and ended up agreeing that the only real option, outside of me pursuing a plethora of defamation lawsuits against those who targeted the company, was to shut down the corporation. I had concerns about the event and its importance to fans, but I truly believed that this would not hurt the speakers’ ability to go to NYC and put on an event anyway, without my involvement. They didn't end up doing this which was completely nonsensical and baffles me to this day. Your fans are there.. go there and do an event. Find a new venue if you have to. Whatever it takes.
This is what disappeared from Sam's and my relationship: doing whatever it takes for the fans.
There were many hurt and negatively effected by this corporation being forced to close. For example, although most ticket-holders from all events received a refund from Pangburn Philosophy or their credit card provider, a small group of people didn't. Some suppliers in connection to the Kootenay Country Music Festival (near my hometown village) like Trowlex, were unable to be paid for their great work and support for the festival that summer. Children's folk music legends Sharon & Bram were unable to receive their final installment of their tour fees..
The corporation folding affected many people from many walks of life, and the truth of what really happened matters. What or who was to blame, matters.
I maintain to this day that I did nothing morally, ethically or legally wrong here. I did take a big risk on these events, in their structure and scale, but this is just part of high-risk investment. Sam and others deliberately and un-apologetically defamed my name and the Pangburn Philosophy corporation, resulting in its destruction. We could no longer sell a ticket to the make-or-break conference, which led to the folding of the corporation.
I don't blame myself for taking a large risk on these events when I decided to, because I believed Sam Harris was in it, regardless of how our combined risk turned out. I am proud with how I fought until the very last minute for that event.
I do blame myself for signing those contracts with Sam. I should've pushed harder to have a clause inserted to guarantee flexibility on the attendance-based fee. If so, the New Zealand conference would've happened. I deserve blame for the lack of, or not necessarily the best form of, communication right after the corporation closed. My defense of this is that I felt victimized with what happened and needed to step away from platforms like Twitter, which was full of defamation and lies that were born out of remarks made by famous intellectuals, such as Sam Harris. I was a victim of mass defamation and only a couple of the famous intellectuals I know stood up for me. A sign of a terrible bug in pop intellectualism: Group identity & virtue signaling over evidence.
After the company folded, my D of Media attempted to steal online business accounts owned by myself. He did manage to steal some of my personal belongings from my office including an HD camera and a zoom recording unit, both of which I had been saving up some time for. I was very close to suing him and involving police, but I took a deep breath and decided to think about it more. I am still thinking about it.
Needless to say, I have some trust issues now.
My D of Audience acted professionally and continued his tasks until the company was shut down. I very much respect how he handled the tough string of work he was faced with in the final few months of his contract.
I took a few weeks off and worked on getting my new company up and running. I eventually released a podcast to outline old and new business which briefly touched on this issue. After all the paperwork was done, I started a new company and re-branded my work under Pangburn.
I hoped that people would have seen the truth of what happened with Pangburn Philosophy based on what was released to the public, but that just hasn't been the case… so many lies, misrepresentations and defamation. There was cruelty on behalf of Sam and others. Coining or repeating terms like Pangburned.. Constant personal attacks.. Allowing their audiences to run wild on social media with tales of the big bad Pangburn man..
I apologize to those that were hurt by this corporation closing. This article is for you.
I expect many of you who defamed me may wish to apologize for the horrible things you have claimed publicly about me. Lying and defamation is wrong and if you see it happening, you should fight against it, not just sit back and laugh or join in.. That is immoral.
I have new policies in place to protect against this madness ever occurring again. They can be viewed at pang-burn.com .
Sam Harris is a brilliant author and philosopher, but more importantly, he is a great human being. That being said, he made a horrible mistake here along with others who followed his lead.
Any attempt to boycott or slander him or anyone else in any way will be met with my protest as he should have done for me.
I outlined the errors that I am happy to take blame for. Sam and others should accept their blame now.
I deeply appreciate those who have supported me and have required evidence to support their beliefs about me.
By Travis Pangburn