How this company made meditation a business?

People are really stressed. So much so that a company decided to tap on it to develop a business. Richard Pierson stumbled onto Headspace in 2008 when he was burned out from his career marketing Axe deodorant at a major agency. He switched to freelance, but felt so much anxiety he struggled to go out in public. A friend knew just the cure: an energetic, amiable “Jeeves” for taking care of your brain. It wasn’t a drug or a doctor. It was Andy Puddicombe, a Buddhist monk with 10 years of Tibetan monastic training across Asia. Tan, bald and athletic with a soothing Bristol accent, Puddicombe seemed like an unlikely messenger for the roughly 2,500-year-old practice.

But Pierson quickly bonded with the assured, zen guide, who dropped out of college at 22 to “find peace of mind” as a monk after losing two friends and a stepsister in sudden accidents. Pierson offered Puddicombe marketing tips for his nascent meditation business in exchange for one-on-one mindfulness training. It quelled Pierson’s anxiety, and he became just as eager as his teacher to spread the practice.

What the duo started as a meditation event business in London in 2010 has evolved into a meditation and wellness app, Headspace, with annual revenue north of $50 million and a valuation estimated by Forbes of about $250 million. Headspace, which has been downloaded more than 11 million times, has more than 400,000 paying subscribers and hip Santa Monica, Calif. headquarters complete with meditation pods, an indoor magnolia tree and swings. Headcount is expected to grow significantly from 158 to 250 next year, when the company will open its first San Francisco office and expands headquarters.

Increased happiness, compassion and better health and relationships are some of the core benefits of meditation, according to the founders and a growing body of research that supports their claim. Headspace ranked as the highest quality “mindfulness-based” iPhone app in a study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research, in part because only a handful of other apps also offer training programs, such as Smiling Mind, iMindfulness and Mindfulness Daily. As the wellness market grows — mental health costs are predicted to hit $6 trillion by 2030, greater than the cost of diabetes, respiratory disorders, cardiovascular disease or cancer, according to the World Economic Forum – these digitally savvy meditators-turned-entrepreneurs are betting that people and organizations will continue shelling out a monthly subscription fee (ranging from a two-year deal for $6.24 per month to as much as $12.95 per month) as a life staple.

Since 2014, the company has been fleshing out a library of tailored “packs” on topics like relationships (patience, kindness, generosity), performance (creativity, balance, focus), cancer, chronic pain, stress, sleep, anxiety and sports, which the company spent years developing with British Olympic psychologists and athletes. The app also offers tracks for experienced meditators with less guidance and a suite for kids, building a user base with an even split of males and females, a nearly even breakdown across ages from 18 to 65 and subscribers in more than 200 countries, despite only being available in English.

It also doesn’t hurt that the app has the backing of a host of flashy investors. The startup’s $30 million Series A, which closed in July 2015, led by entertainment-focused Chernin Group, featured Breyer Capital, Jessica Alba, Jared Leto, Ryan Seacrest and LinkedIn LNKD +% chief executive Jeff Weiner. And celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Richard Branson and Lebron James are vocal fans. Other buoys have been Puddicombe’s speaking tours and rising profile as a wellness guru and partnerships. Seven airlines offer Headspace on flights, and the app became Spotify’s first bundling partner in late 2016 (users of the music service in most of Scandinavia can subscribe to both apps in a bundled deal). And Headspace’s secular, simple style and cute animations help make meditation approachable.

But perhaps Headspace’s most important strength over time lies in data, which it has been using to understand what makes new users become regulars, when people zone out of tracks and how the app can become personalized to predict users’ needs. In the future, for instance, Headspace could be suggest its fear of flying pack to an anxious traveler when the app detects the user is at LAX. Jim Breyer, a longtime user and investor in Headspace, said data gives the company a key edge.

Taking a customer need and translating that into a business. One Singapore company has also developed something similar. Called Mindfi, I have already downloaded it. Meditation really works! You should try it! Ohm…

Enjoy the music

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12 thoughts on “How this company made meditation a business?

    1. Thanks for pointing it out. My bad and have corrected it to meditation. Typo on my part. Meditation sounds interesting though. Can you tell me more about the challenges you face? Love to write a post on it.


  1. My job as a mediator is to provide a space for people to work towards resolving their conflicts. Any progress is considered a success – the goal is to develop those communication structures that people can build on for the future – rather than just “fixing” one issue at the moment. Because conflict is usually emotion based, my job involves a lot of listening and reframing – saying the same thing in a different way, without the emotional baggage of the original statement. Once people have the chance to hear what is being said – rather than focusing on how it is being said or the history behind the comment – it allows them to start discussing the actual problem. I also extensively use white boards or giant post-it notes. Sometimes people need to see what they are hearing – because often what is said to them goes through several filters and gets distorted. Mediation usually starts out with everyone addressing me and if it goes well, they start addressing each other. Mediators are completely neutral – with no stake in the game it is much easier to keep emotions out of it. Often, one of the first things participants will agree on is that they hate the process of mediation – or the mediator!

    I primarily focus on corporate mediation, but I’m working on educating people about Eldercare mediation. This is for older adults and their families who are facing difficult decisions that arise with the aging process.

    Thanks for asking – I apologize for the long post, but I love what I do!

    Liked by 1 person

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