With a passion and a mission to bring happiness to the world, Venice-based meditation app HEADSPACE describes itself as a “gym membership of the mind.” and is on a mission to demystify meditation.
And with a recent $34 million raise, the company plans on expanding minds and soothing souls with a lot more muscle.
Having largely built its following through key partnerships, word of mouth, great press, and organic celebrity recommendations by the likes of Emma Watson and Gwyneth Paltrow, Headspace is bringing old-world practices to the digital age.
Headspace subscribers can listen to hundreds of hours of content via desktop or mobile, either as Singles programs or part of a themed Series (Health, Performance, Relationships).
There are even short-form SOS meditations, which are even accessible via your Apple Watch.
The company was started by Andy Puddicombe, who spent ten years as a Buddhist monk before returning home in the UK to teach Brits how to meditate. These largely one-on-one sessions evolved into large group events in 2010.
It was around this time that Puddicombe met advertising executive (and co-founding partner) Rich Pierson, who worked his marketing skills to help Headspace reach a larger audience. Shona Mitchell soon joined the company to handle event production and communications, and has since become GM of the organization.
In the events days, each participant would go home with the digital audio guide. The team were soon flooded with requests from people outside the region who wanted couldn’t make it to the actual events, but wanted access to the audio guides.
This was around the time Spotify was taking hold in Europe, so it made perfect sense to launch Headspace as an audio meditation content platform, thus expanding the benefits of meditation all around the world.
Mitchell points to key activations in 2011 that really expanded Headspace’s presence — the first was offering a booklet & CD in an early January edition of The Guardian (the UK equivalent of the New York Times). Offering these tools via a national paper, as readers were making resolutions, normalized meditation in a country that wasn’t quite used to such practices.
Headspace then partnered with Virgin Atlantic to offer a Headspace audio channel on its flights, an ideal situation to clear your skull.
Headspace also worked with UK retail chain Selfridges in 2012 to build a “No Noise” campaign by building mindfulness pods around the shops, as well as offering self esteem meditations in the dressing rooms.
And the cost of all these promotions? Nearly zero. Says Mitchell, “A real passion for the benefits that can come from meditation, confidence that this is really really great content,” in order to provide relevant content to an experience instead of jamming people with the noise that comes with traditional promo hype.
In fact, partnerships, press, and word of mouth have been key to Headspace’s growth from day one, and PR has been an important channel to help magnify the mission.
At first, Headspace offered a fixed-path 365-day model, but after studying months of usage data and directly communicating with users, Headspace was able to build new packs that fit users’ lifestyles, and to offer subscribers more on-the-go, varied-length, and subject-specific choices that better fit into their daily routines.
Mitchell also notes that the explosion in video has been a great resource to build upon the foundation of meditation, and expand on the subject of overall well being: “Meditation is at the core of what we do, but really, we’re about mind health. Meditation is one part of that, but there’s a number of other things that come into play, such as a deeper understanding of the principles of mind health, which can best be explained through animations and video.”
Mitchell talks about how the initial four animations about how the mind, thoughts, and emotions work have been some of the most successful pieces of content still. Combined with the Radio Headspace podcast, additional audio and video content have helped users expand upon the subject of mind health, and to enhance the experience in order to further enhance the experience of each user’s journey.
Again, following user data, Mitchell and her team noticed that the US was as big a user as the UK (33% US, 33% UK, 33% all other parts of the world), so the team picked up and moved to sunny California, and moved into their Venice offices in October 2014. And how has it been so far?
Says Mitchell, “LA is incredible, it’s definitely a fantasy lifestyle, it’s very relaxed. It hasn’t changed core of what we’re driving at — we’re very clear & focused on what we want to create.”
However, she adds, “The passion and phenomenal intelligence and skills and evolution around technology, the movement, the people, the pace, everyone has been willing to share, has been really exciting. LA is a real networking culture.”
With a staff of dozens across two buildings, Headspace is already outgrowing their Venice headquarters and will be moving to Santa Monica’s Bergamot station by year’s end.
And when asked if Headspace will come full circle and bring the live events back, Mitchell assures us that they will one day return: “It’s our core passion — we love digital, but in our heart, we’re very much an experiential organization. [We have] more plans to do events — how, when, where, it’s something we’re working on.”