Fire Away: Vietnam Veteran and Serial Entrepreneur Bob Parsons Talks Psychedelics, PTSD and Philanthropy

UPDATED: May 25, 2024
PUBLISHED: May 27, 2024
Bob Parsons

In many ways, Bob Parsons is not your typical multibillionaire. A self-made man and Vietnam veteran turned serial entrepreneur and visionary philanthropist, the founder of brands like GoDaddy, PXG and more remains guided by passion and a drive to improve. That spirit is at the heart of his new memoir, Fire In the Hole! The Untold Story of My Traumatic Life and Explosive Success, which is now available for pre-order and is set to be released in May 2024.

The book traces the full arc of Parsons’s life story. It begins with an underachieving student from a volatile home before opening up to explore a man who found strength in discipline in the Marine Corps and served his nation overseas. Parsons returned home a different but driven man, and after teaching himself to code software just as personal computing emerged, he went on to found and build a series of innovative companies—including GoDaddy, which he sold for a $3 billion profit. “Not sold it for $3 billion—I made $3 billion on the deal,” he says with a mischievous grin.

Parsons still runs 14 companies today, including the popular PXG golf equipment brand, and he gives $1 million to charity every two weeks. But until recently, he has also struggled. Ravaged by undiagnosed PTSD, Parsons spent decades trying to contain bouts of anger and anxiety until psychedelics finally healed his unseen wounds. “It had been… 49 years since the war for me, and I finally came home,” he explains.

Q&A with Bob Parsons

We spoke with Bob Parsons from his home in Arizona, discussing the drive that made him a winner in business and how it propelled him to want to get better and tell the world about his struggles.

(This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.)

SUCCESS: Fire in the Hole! seems like a labor of love for you more than a business deal. Why did you want to write it?

Bob Parsons: Well, I wanted to tell the story, and I wanted it… to be recorded so my family has it as time moves on. That is one reason. The other reason [is] I’ve been very successful in dealing with PTSD… and how I came down with it. I wanted that there for my fellow veterans so they would know that there is a way, and how I did [got through it] and why they should…. At each step of the way, I talk about what I was up against, what the big issues were and how I dealt with them. 

S: You mention how the Marine Corps helped you turn things around personally. I wonder, do you think that helped you become an entrepreneur?

BP: Absolutely. I owe everything I ever accomplished to the Marine Corps. Here’s what they taught me: They taught me that responsibility is sacred, and they taught me that discipline is key. If you’re going to succeed, you have to have discipline. And the discipline that they taught me is [that] you don’t have to like your job. You don’t have to want to do it. It doesn’t have to feel good, but you gotta do it. You gotta do it to the best of your ability. 

They taught me that “pretty clean” is dirty. And so all [in] those things, they taught me that I could accomplish far more than I ever dreamed I could, and they were so right about that. They also taught me that I have a right to be proud…. So all those things together… are the perfect education for an entrepreneur—but I’m going to tell you, getting taught by the Marine Corps is not a walk in the park.

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S: You mentioned how important it was for you to talk about PTSD for your fellow veterans. Did you understand you were dealing with PTSD at the time? How did it impact your career?

BP: I didn’t know what it was. All I knew was when I came back from the war, I was different. I didn’t like being around people. I was self-isolated, and I had a flash temper. I was depressed a lot, those things…. I found ways to deal with it… but man, it was just brutal. And the thing was, as time went on, it got worse and [worse and worse]. And then when I was treated [for] it, I was treated with psychedelics. It made a profound difference. And the way that happened was [that] I read this book called How To Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan…. It’s a treatise on what psychedelics can do. 

I'[d] never taken psychedelics in my life, but I knew I had a problem. And I said, “I’d like to try it.” She had me hooked up in a couple weeks. And so I met these two guides at an undisclosed location, and they treated me with three forms of psychedelics: ayahuasca the first night, psilocybin the second, and the third was LSD…. Throughout all this and talking with them, you relive all the stuff that has caused you to be the way you are, and you experience, and you learn how to deal with it. And a lot of tears—I mean, a lot of tears. But afterward, I was a different guy, brother.

I no longer had that flash temper. I love being out and going places and being with groups of people again. I was easygoing—things didn’t trigger me like they used to…. So I mean, what a change in me. And when that happened, it had been… 49 years since the war for me, and I finally came home.

S: That’s amazing, Bob. Thank you for sharing that. Switching topics a little bit now, but in your current phase of life, are things less business-centric for you? And do you still find that rewarding?

BP: Coming from a multibillionaire, this is going to not sound right. I have never been in business to make money…. I’m in business to make a difference…. We make golf clubs—I enjoy that, and we keep making ‘em better and better, and there’s no bullshit in our marketing. And so we make the finest clubs in the world. And the reason we do that [is] because that’s what I love…. So it’s just stuff I like to do. And then the other thing that I really like to do is [donate] money to charity. We move about a million bucks every other week to charity.

S: What do you think has been your most successful example of giving over the years? 

BP: The first thing we look at is [whether this is] an organization that’s making a difference…. Number two, is it an organization that has difficulty raising money because their cause is not the cause of the day? If that’s the case in the Valley of the Sun here, that’s where you’ll find us.

For example, one•n•ten is in an organization that helps in all too many cases. When a family finds out their son or daughter is gay, they’re booted out of the house. And so what this organization does is it works to find these kids—and also kids that are in homes that embrace them—[so they] have a community that they can go to and that teaches them they’re part of the American dream, too. When we first started helping them, they couldn’t raise any money. Nobody would give them anything. And then they asked us for something like a hundred grand. We gave ’em [$500,000], and we’ve been supporting them now ever since…. Now everybody helps them, really. 

Another thing that we wrestle with here in the Valley are… undocumented citizens…. I mean, these are people that literally risked their [lives] to come here… and they’re here illegally, so for them to get a job, they’re taken advantage of. They make nothing. There’s a whole economy that preys on them. If you and I pay a dollar for a carton of milk, they pay two. It’s just insane. And [they’re] the hardest working people you can imagine. So when they get a job, here’s the big question: What happens to the kids?

S: They stay home alone, I guess, right?

BP: Or we support an organization that watches them. You drop ‘em off. It’s called [Child Crisis Arizona]. There’s no questions asked. The kid gets a couple square meals. [They get] taught English and Spanish, [American] and… [Mexican] history, and in a fun, fun way. So when they pick the child up, the kid is a little better than when [the parents] drop[ped them] off.

S: Early in the book, you say that one of the most important things to you is that no matter how bad things get or how uncertain they are, you’re always good with the outcome. Do you feel like that’s a necessary trait for people who want to follow in your footsteps to lead in business or be entrepreneurs?

BP: Well, let’s give you an example…. Let’s say I start with a million dollars, and I lose [$750,000]. Now, being good with the outcome doesn’t mean that I’m fine with losing [$750,000] the next time, too. What it means is I don’t spend a lot of time being upset as to why it happened. I spend time learning from it so that I can be better off in the future. One of the things that I definitely believe in is there’s no such thing as a problem. Problems are opportunities. That’s where your opportunities are. 

S: What do you hope folks take away from your book?

BP: First of all, I hope [readers] sit back and think, “Man, it was really an enjoyable read.” And then they will more than likely have some issue that they’re dealing with, or they will find in the book how I dealt with something similar, and it [will] maybe plant a seed where… they can deal with it a little better, or they can get around it…. Things like that, or how I’ve dealt with a certain business issue, or stuff that you can say, “There’s always a reason to be happy” [about]. 

And then, of course, [for] my fellow veterans, I hope they come away with the thought that they can overcome PTSD, because I know there’s so many of them that are hurting from it. They suffer in silence just like I did for the longest time, [but] they can do [it]. And then finally, I have a message to all the guys that I served with during the Vietnam War, and the message is just a simple “Welcome home.”

Photo by PXG/Courtesy of Bob Parsons.