Andy Puddicombe, Co-founder at Headspace Inc.
How Andy Puddicombe Turned His Training as a Buddhist Monk into an App Used by Millions
The trials of starting a business—even if you forget, for a moment, the typical travails of day-to-day living—often overwhelm entrepreneurs. Late nights, endless work, big choices, and extreme uncertainty can swirl together to form a raging twister that ravages the landscape of life, shredding business hopes and ideas along the way. But the forecast is much better for some, including Andy Puddicombe.
Puddicombe is one of the minds behind Headspace, a guided meditation app that’s reaching new users every day. He can also say something that few entrepreneurs can: he’s rarely overwhelmed.
Looking back over the past five years, Puddicombe says that he can think of two or three times where he felt beyond his limits. He credits mindfulness meditation—the same practice taught by the Headspace app.
“The feeling of being overwhelmed has less to do with what is happening in the moment and more to do with the idea of what we’ve just done or what we’re about to do,” Puddicombe says. Much of our anxiety, sadness, and frustration—the feelings that overwhelm us—stem from ruminating on the past and worrying about the future. “The moment we let go of that stuff and just come back to whatever we’re doing right now … that feeling of being overwhelmed tends to just disappear.”
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
Meditation is an ancient practice with myriad benefits, but the basics are simple.
Meditation seeks to cultivate an awareness of the present moment—emotions, sensations, thoughts, everything—coupled with a non-judgmental attitude.
To meditate, find a comfortable position. Forget stereotypes about sitting cross-legged under a tree. You can meditate inside or outside, and you can sit on the floor, a cushion, a bench, a chair, or anything else that works for you. Once seated, turn your attention to the natural rising and falling of your breath.
If your mind wanders, don’t feel bad. It’s natural, especially for beginners. Instead of berating yourself or shouldering guilt, you can simply note that your thoughts have strayed and then gently nudge your awareness back to your breath. Self-kindness is essential to mindfulness, so forgive yourself.
In the audio clip below, Puddicombe will guide you through an ultra-short one-minute meditation.
Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment. Mindfulness means being here and now without judging your thoughts and feelings. And meditation cultivates mindfulness, which is why Headspace, billed as “a gym membership for the mind,” has proven so powerful for millions of people.
When users load the app, they’re treated to Puddicombe’s voice—measured and soothing, he walks listeners through the process of meditating, helping to keep them grounded in the present moment.
It’s a process he knows well. As a child, he tagged along to meditation classes with his mother. Later in life, he trained as a Buddhist monk.
“A girl I was going out with [during college] was heavily into Buddhism, and she used to talk a lot about these Buddhist monks and nuns in the Himalayas,” Puddicombe says. “I thought, ‘What a brilliant idea. I’m going to do that.’”
He did. Half way through his degree, he left university and travelled to Asia. Over many years, at several different monasteries in different countries, Puddicombe journeyed into his mind, first learning as a layperson and later being ordained as a monk.
Ten years ago, Puddicombe left monastic life and opened a private practice meditation clinic in London, still endowed with a deep appreciation for meditation. “I’ve never met anyone in the world who wouldn’t like to feel a bit less stressed, who wouldn’t like a bit more calm, [or] who wouldn’t like a bit more clarity,” he says. “It is part of the human condition: our minds are overactive.” Meditation can counteract that tendency.
Puddicombe contends that technology–the constant flood of notifications, the instant access to distraction—has in many ways made it harder to calm our worried, wandering minds. “Every time we find ourselves in a queue,” he says, “we whip out the phone.” In those brief breaks from the bustle of life, when we’re waiting for an order or a friend has stepped away, we should seek to slow down. Instead, Puddicombe points out, we scurry for something to occupy ourselves: “Oh my god: 30 seconds on our own! Quickly, pull out the phone!”
What excites Puddicombe most about mindfulness is how it can strengthen relationships. “If we don’t have a healthy relationship with ourselves internally—if we’re always berating ourselves and giving ourselves a hard time … that is inevitably our experience of relating to others,” he says.
Meditation’s benefits are wide. While entrepreneurs face a fast-paced path, Puddicombe says that “every environment and every ecosystem … has its own stresses and its own challenges.” Meditation, then, can be seen as a universal need. Forget age. Forget culture. Forget background. Puddicombe believes that mindfulness is for everybody. Every day, he receives messages from Headspace users who say that the app has changed their life.
Those users are the reason why Headspace exists. “Our mission is to improve the health and happiness of the world,” Puddicombe says. “Obviously we’re doing that one person at a time, but there’s no end to that.” He wants to advance meditation—person by person, one by one—until it’s a ubiquitous daily routine, like brushing one’s teeth.
With seven and a half billion people on the planet, Puddicombe readily acknowledges that his is a lofty goal. “It’s not like we’re going to get to a point where we’re like, ‘Oh, okay. Everybody’s done now,’” he says. But he’s going to try.
And he won’t have to try alone. Puddicombe’s story underscores a core lesson for entrepreneurs: work with great people. Six years ago, while running his clinic in London, Puddicombe met Richard Pierson, his eventual co-founder. At the time, Pierson was burnt out, and the two sought to learn from each other. Puddicombe says: “[Pierson would] come for an hour of meditation and then we’d cross the street to a café and he’d give me an hour of marketing 101.”
In 2010, the pair started Headspace, focusing on in-person events. While Pierson pushed the idea of an app, Puddicombe was initially skeptical. He came from a tradition in which meditation was taught in a room, not on a phone. But he was swayed once they did more events and came to better understand what people wanted. In 2012, Headspace became available for download. The app caught on, and its user base grew even more once version two hit virtual storefronts last year.
Despite his peace of mind, Puddicombe knows that starting a business is never easy. “It requires absolute commitment,” he says. Some might say that the demands of dogged devotion are incompatible with a mindful emphasis on living in the present moment. But Puddicombe disagrees. “There’s a way of working where we can work long hours and work quite hard but without taxing the body and the mind too heavily,” he says.
He outlines an approach to working mindfully, saying that when we exert effort on a task, there’s often “an element of force or will, which is very tiring.” Saddled with exhaustion, then, many entrepreneurs burn out. By worrying less about the future and making every action intentional, you can avoid falling the same way. Puddicombe says that we should be “simply focused on doing our very best at what we’re going in each and every moment.” Bringing mindfulness to your startup is more sustainable.
Puddicombe also offers advice on a business topic that he deems “exceptionally hard:” growth. Headspace’s approach is simple: listen to customers and create the best product possible. After launching the first version of the app, the team spent a year “just listening to feedback from people–what they liked, what they didn’t like.” Puddicombe emphasizes that it is not enough to think about what people might want. You have to actually ask them.
By meeting people where they’re at and providing a useful app to meet their needs, Headspace has paddled closer to bringing the benefits of mindfulness to everyone.
It’s an upstream battle, but Puddicombe remains committed. Research backs the many ways that mindfulness can help you. But meditation transcends the individual. As people spend more time meditating, “it becomes a bigger picture,” he says. “When you sit to meditate, it’s not just, ‘What can I get out of this for myself?’ but ‘How am I making this mind useful for those around me? How am I learning to be a bit more patient, a bit more tolerant, a bit more kind?’”
- What is Mindful Meditation and how to use it effectively
- The importance of when, and when not, to listen to customer feedback
- How to improve your product by living in the present
- How Andy inspires and leads a worldwide movement for meditation and peace
- Key tips on how to avoid burnout
Full Transcript of the Podcast with Andy Puddicombe
Nathan: Hey guys, welcome to another episode of the “Foundr Podcast” My name is Nathan Chan, and I’m coming to you from Melbourne Australia. It’s very, very cold and I’m missing the U.S. summer. Like I said in another episode I’m just really, really pumped to be back, I’m super energized, I’m just staring to record a whole ton more shows, and I have so much awesome stuff you guys.
And before we jump into today’s show and talk about today’s guest, I just want to share with you a little piece of wisdom, that I took away from the trip. I was lucky enough to actually have lunch with Seth Godin, and it was really cool. He was challenging me on some of the things and I was telling him what I’m planning to do with foundr. And he gave me some absolute gold advice that I really have taken over me, that I just want to share with you guys, which was one of my biggest takeaways from catching up and the whole trip.
Seth was challenging me on some things that he thinks that I should do, and I said you know what, I don’t wanna do these things because it would be a nightmare, and he said, “Well, maybe that’s why you should do them.” And I said Seth, when it comes to doing a project what do you choose? Do you choose a project that you enjoy, or do you choose a project that’s going to be extremely hard? And he said, “I always choose the hard thing.” So that’s when I knew what I have to do.
So now I’ve come back super reenergized and I’m mapping out now, I’m not that concerned like obviously, we have our goals for the year, the end of this year I read them my goal, but now I’m starting to think about what this Foundr look like three to five years from now. I’m thinking 10X bigger, and I’ve got a lot of exciting things in store for you guys. And yeah, really, really want to make a dent in this publishing world, in this content world, in this entrepreneurial I guess scene, this entrepreneurial scene.
Because as you know I like to do things differently, but I really, really wanna make a massive impact, and it’s not about impacting millions of people now, it’s about tens of millions of people, and then hundreds of millions of people, so I’m thinking 10 times bigger. Anyways, guys enough of how me I know I can ramble on some times.
Today’s guest, Andy Puddicombe I am an absolute avid fan of his app, that he created called Headspace, and this app is an absolute game changer. I’ve talked about focus before if I don’t meditate I just do not have the level of focus during the day that I usually have, and I always use Headspace. I cannot recommend it enough, and Andy has a fascinating story about how he started the app meditation, the benefits, he has thoughts, and his findings on his own entrepreneurial journey, how the app started, his life as a Buddhist monk before he even started the app.
All sorts of crazy stuff, so this is an epic interview, I’m really, really excited to bring this one to you, you guys are in for a real treat, and if you are enjoying these episodes, please do leave us a review it helps more than you can imagine. If you have any questions, concerns, suggestions, recommendations, or just wanna reach out to me, you can reach me at [email protected] Now let’s jump in the show. So Andy can you tell us about how you got your job?
Andy: Yeah, I still don’t really know to this day. I guess compared to a lot of entrepreneurs I have quite an unusual background that being sort of training as a Buddhist monk. And I lived in the monastery about 10 years ago, I had a real kind of passion to try and demystify meditation and try make it more accessible for people.
I was very fortunate enough about six years ago, to meet my co-founder Rich Pierson, and together we came up with the idea of Headspace, which is as you said just now is what you we’re using just before we started talking today.
Nathan: It’s a brilliant app, I’ve spoken a lot in the magazine on the podcast about how much I’m big believer in meditation and the power of it, and I’d like to really delve a lot deeper on your story. So you went to become a monk, what triggered that change to go to the Monastery?
Andy: Well, I thought that’s what everybody did Nathan, did you not go to the monastery? I was introduced to meditation at quite a young age. I went along to classes with my mom when I was about 10, 11 years old. So it was kind of around when I was younger, and I had an interest in it but I wasn’t really until kinda my early 20s, I was doing a degree in sports science in the U.K. really just contending having a lot of fun contending with a very busy mind that was always kind of over thinking, that was easily overwhelmed by emotions and kind of internally not feeling that satisfied or fulfilled or happy.
I didn’t feel like the academic quest that I was on, was where the quenching my thirst, and a girl I was going out with that time was heavily into Buddhism, and she used to talk a lot about these Buddhist monks, and nuns, and the Himalayas. And I just thought what a brilliant idea, I’m gonna do that. So I quit university halfway through my degree, and I went off to the Himalayas.
Nathan: Wow, and what kept you there for 10 years?
Andy: Well, I didn’t stay in one monastery for 10 years, I trained as a lay person at first, in different monasteries and retreats in different countries, and then trained as a novice monk in the Burmese tradition. And then eventually after about five years I took full ordination in the Tibetan traditions. I think what kept me there was a desire to understand my mind, and it was an interesting journey. Because I think to begin with most people come to meditation it’s kind of like what can I get out of this for myself.
Whether we wanna feel less stressed, whether we wanna sleep better, maybe it’s a physical things right, we wanna kind of improve our immunity or reduce our blood pressure. Whatever the reason for first kinda coming to it, I think the journey for most people is, as they continue with it, there’s this growing realization that it’s not really about ourselves. Like we live interdependently our own happiness depends on the happiness of those around us.
So it becomes a kind of a bigger picture and when you sit to meditate it’s not just what can I get out of this for myself, but how I’m I making this mind more useful for those around me. How I’m I learning to be a little bit more patient, a bit more tolerant, a bit more kind. Can I we help another person and unless I have a sense of common clarity in my own mind. So I guess over time, the motivations sort of became steadily… a little bit more kind of altruistic if you like, and that eventually led to Headspace.
Nathan: I see, and how did you meet your business partner, and how did the concept come about? Because when I first was exposed to the app, like the user interface, even the design, and just moving around, and just the way that it’s run is very impressive, so I’m curious yeah.
Andy: Well, I can take no credit whatsoever for any of it, we have an amazing team and both which Rich and I are immensely proud of kinda what they’ve done and they’ve put together with the app. Rich and I met say probably six years ago, and I was at the time running a private practice clinic in London, in the city seeing a lot of business people. In fact, pretty much everybody that came along to the clinic, the business people, and they were coming along for different reasons.
They were either overworked, stressed, anxious, depressed, a lot of people have kind of compulsive addictive type behavior personalities, and some are being referred by their doctors, some were simply coming along self referral.
And I met one guy who was working with Rich at the time, and he said, “You’re doing an amazing thing here but you’re only seeing like one person at a time, you should just meet this guy Rich, he’s really keen to learn meditation. And I think there’s a possibility of kinda making this a bit kinda broader, so why don’t you guys meet.” And we met and we actually decided to do a skill swap. So Rich would come to the clinic, and he was totally bozo he was totally blown out at the time. He was working in Adelaide doing everything that comes along with that. Mostly he sort new brand development.
And we did a skill swap he’d come for an hour of meditation, and then we cross the street to a café, and he’d give me an hour of marketing one on one. And we kind of started to look at I guess what this would this look like, and the relationship kind of formed very, very quickly. Where we were just both always on the same wavelength, we understood each other he knew what I wanted to do, and he knew how to do it. And Rich is such… I’m a performing monkey that only kinda goes out and talks about it. But Rich is such an integral part of the success of Headspace.
Nathan: I can see, and when did Headspace launch?
Andy: Well, we actually launched as a company as a project back in 2010. We launched first as an events company, so we didn’t go straight away to digital. The app was a later thing, I actually wasn’t convinced Rich wanted to go the app straight from the off, I wasn’t convinced mostly because I’d only very recently left the monastery, I’d only just got my first mobile phone. I’m not sure I had an email address at the time. So I was playing catch-up and I didn’t really kind of fully understand how it worked, and what the potential was. And I also came from a tradition it’s an oral lineage of hundreds thousands of years, where you don’t learn from an app, you learn from a teacher in a room.
So it was quite a big jump for me, to think how we could maintain the authenticity, and yet put it on a digital platform. So it took a couple of years of doing events and understanding what it was people wanted, and how they wanted to use it before we made the jump to releasing the app in 2012.
Nathan: I see, and can you give the audience a little bit of an insight of the traction that you’ve had to this day with the app?
Andy: Sure, yes as I said we launched version one in 2012, version two launched June, July of just last year. It was really with the launch of version two, which I think we’ve gained kinda like a whole another level of traction, we well over a couple million users now. Engagement rates are very high, we’re very fortunate to be in a situation where we have both a free service that we offer, but also a paid for subscription service.
And we know that once people are using it on a regular basis, that they become really engaged users using it more often than not on a daily basis. And for us that’s a really big focus is not just about sort of demystifying meditation and providing a compelling invitation to practice, it’s also about how do we continue to engage people, it’s like developing any habit. Whether it’s going to the gym, or whether brushing and flossing, like how does it become part of a daily sort of consistent sustainable practice, because that is when people start to see the benefit.
Nathan: And I just like to touch a little bit more about how you’ve brought Headspace together. How big is your team?
Andy: I think we’ve just in the last couple days passed the 50 mark, but we’re not huge, but I would say we’ve kind of at least doubled in size in the last six months. And I would say it looks like we’ll go from 50 to 75 in the next three months, so by the late end of Q two we will be up to 75 in the team.
Nathan: And did you ever anticipate that it would get this big?
Andy: In terms of in users honestly, yes, I had no idea what would be involved in reaching that number of users, and how big a team we would need to actually reach that number users. I think for both Rich and I at the beginning we both felt that if we can reach somewhere between kind of 10 and 100 million people, we would feel like that was meaningful ,and that we’ve really done something we could feel proud of. We feel like we kind of just getting started and we’re on the way.
Nathan: Yeah, look I know what you mean like sometimes people look at me when I’m doing and they like “You’ve accomplished so much.” And for me it’s like I’m just getting started, because you just keep raising the bar right?
Andy: Completely, and our mission is to improve the health and happiness of the world, and obviously we’re doing that one person at a time, but there’s no end to that. There’s what seven and a half billion people in the world, it’s not like we’re gonna get to a point where we’re like okay, so everybody’s done now, everyone’s happy and healthy and there’s no more… like there’s not really kind of an end point.
So I don’t think we’ll ever kinda feel like the job’s done, but I do think when we get to a point where people are prioritizing the health of their mind, when they reappraise what it means to be healthy, not just physically but mentally as well, and when meditation is a daily activity in the same way that we wake up and we brush our teeth. Because we’re looking after the health of our teeth, when we get up and take 10 minutes to look after the health of our mind on a daily basis. When that becomes part of our culture, of our society I think we’ll feel like we’ve made a made a positive impact.
Nathan: Look I am always telling people how much I love Headspace and how much meditation really helped me, because as an entrepreneur you thrash really hard and sometimes it’s a struggle, you go through ups and downs and you need to take a break. And I found just using the app, just guided meditation to be very, very powerful. Can you give us just some more reasons why it’s important for entrepreneurs not even just… if they don’t want to use the Headspace app, but just to take a break.
Andy: Yeah I don’t know, I’ve never met anyone in the world who wouldn’t like to feel a bit less stressed, who wouldn’t like a bit more calm, and who wouldn’t like a bit more clarity. It’s universal is part of the human condition, our minds are overactive they’re over stimulated, and there’s a tendency I think now, like the mind is some of us stimulated that we don’t even know how to stop. There’s almost the fear that if we do start what’s gonna happen? And so we keep ourselves busy, and we keep ourselves distracted the whole time.
Every time we find ourselves in a queue we whip out a phone, every time we find ourselves… even if we’re at a restaurant and maybe our partner disappears to the restroom, and oh my god 30 seconds on our own quickly pull out the phone like keep ourselves busy. And I feel like we have so in a kind of space right now, that there is a real danger, that if we don’t kind of take action now, and learn how to step out of that busy cycle of thought, and be comfortable just kind of resting in the here and now. Then not only are we gonna get physically unwell we know right this isn’t news.
Doctors have known for a long time that when we get stressed mentally we experience it, physically. So it becomes not just uncomfortable feeling, but it also becomes like a physical problem. So whatever our motivation whether it’s something… whether it’s for our physical health, whether it’s for our emotional well being, whether it’s because we want a less busy mind, whether it’s because we wanna be even more productive, and we wanna know how to focus and be clearer in our thinking, in our decision. Whether it is we wanna improve our memory, there’s really, really solid research behind all of these things and their link with meditation and mindfulness.
The thing that excites me sort of most I guess, and it’s not the thing that gets everybody excited, but for me, it’s about relationships. If we don’t have a healthy relationship with ourselves internally, if we’re always berating ourselves and giving ourselves a hard time. Affectionateness kind of highly critical in judgment of ourselves, that is inevitably our experience of relating to others as well, it a direct reflection.
So unless we train that, it’s really hard to have healthy relationships with others, and when you think about what that means in the workplace, start ups, collaborative teams, where you’re working so closely together by when everybody is meditating my experience is that it just it takes the whole thing to another level. It’s as though you have a new level of understanding with one another, where it’s nothing mystical, it’s just everybody is on the same page, and it just makes everything so much quicker.
Nathan: Yeah, look I really like… and you mentioned this also a lot when you’re in ear with the guided meditations, to the relationships with others, and to be mindful of that. And it’s something I never really thought about until you started telling me through Headspace, it’s really interesting. I’m wondering do you have any cool customers’ stories of people that have used the Headspace app and how it’s changed their life. I just be fascinated because I’m sure you’ve got some really interesting stories around that.
Andy: Yeah, it’s generally hard to choose we are extremely fortunate every day to receive letters and emails, and tweets, and Facebook messages from people who… and it can sound so glib and cliché right it’s changed my life. But really people write in and say it’s changed my life on a regular basis. And I think some of my favorites if I think about the different types of people, I love it when kids and teenagers write in and say thank you, my parents don’t shout at me so much anymore, since they started using Headspace.
I get excited by sports people so we have a lot of professional athletes who use it, and we’ve had kinda professional athletes who we didn’t even know who were using it. Who have gone and won gold medals in the Olympic Games, and only retrospectively written in said, “By the way Headspace was a massive part of my journey thank you so much.” And really kinda hanging their hat on the use of that.
I think just recently of there was a father kind of wrote in who had lost his son, a really emotional he kind of painful touching story, but just seeing kind of for him, how meditation had helped him through that process. And you look at all these different types of stories, and there are stories from business and as I say kind of sports and relationships. It just shows you again it’s a universal need, it doesn’t matter how old we are, it doesn’t matter our culture, our background doesn’t matter what we’re doing.
Yes, there is a particular environment to startups and being a founder, but actually the truth is in every environment, in every ecosystem, it has its own stresses and its own challenges. It is the human condition that we kind of all desire peace of mind, we would all like to be happy, it’s just that we don’t always know how to get to that place. And I think meditation and mindfulness just provides a framework, it allows us to let go of so much stuff. And when we let go we find that actually the place the thing that we’re always looking for is already here.
Nathan: I’m loving this I’m curious, can you give us an insight to your day? Obviously, you meditate every day use the Headspace app or you don’t?
Andy: People always seem to be surprised I don’t use the app, they’re like “You don’t use your product?” My reply is usually well, it would be an a little narcissist to sit there and listen to myself on a daily basis. So I don’t use the app I do start every day with meditation nothing’s really kinda changed since… obviously I don’t do as much meditation as when I was in the monastery, but I still start every day with that.
And it’s a really important part of the day, I don’t actually have like a typical day, I travel a lot so I go and give a lot of talks it can be anything. It could be going in talking to a large organization, it could be a sports team, it could be doing a TV interview, it could be going to do some print press. I get invited… I’m very fortunate I get invited to some amazing things, and often I’m in the recording studio when I am here in Venice in L.A. I spend a lot time in the recording studio producing new content.
I’ve a third book coming up, so I write a lot, like at the moment as we’re going through quite a quick rate of growth we’re hiring a lot of people, so I’m involved in the interviewing process especially of kinda seeing the hires. So it’s really broad, but a lot of it I would say is being the voice or face of Headspace for want of a better word.
And say kind of going out there and talking about it for us, there’s the awareness component kind of educating people about how important meditation is, then there’s kind of getting people excited about actually trying it because that’s where the benefit is. And then there’s the engagement bit which is how do we get people to keep doing this once they’ve started, and the team sends me out kind of to do all of those three things.
Nathan: And I’m curious because you are like so calm and you a great sense of your mind and you’ve trained your mind so well, do you ever feel overwhelmed anymore?
Andy: Rarely I would say to be honest not so often. I can think of a number… maybe two or three times over the last five years where I’ve just thought wow this is kind of beyond me. Sometimes the travel schedules and things they can be really, really intense, and trying to do day to day work around that, can be challenging. Especially as I say if you gotta a publisher being pretty firm about a book deadline. And sometimes if journalists are doing longer stories they might come and embed themselves for a few days, and so been shadowed by a journalist or something like that.
Yeah it can be… and the meetings are back to back, sometimes that can feel overwhelming, but I always remind myself… it doesn’t usually last that long. The feeling of being overwhelmed has less to do with what is happening in the moment, and more to do with the idea of what we’ve just done, or what we’re about to do. So it’s really only when the mind tends to wander, and it tends to kind of look at the week ahead, or the day ahead and think oh no how am I gonna cope with all this, or it tends to look back and think so hard and I feel so tired.
If we allow the mind or if we spend a lot of time going to the past and going to the future, then it feels overwhelming, the moment we let go of that stuff, and just come back to whatever we’re doing right now in this moment, that feeling of being overwhelmed just tends to disappear.
Nathan: You really channeled some wisdom there, because I’ve always wondered, I wonder how Andy feels because he’s been doing for so long, is it something that you can achieve like you hardly ever feel stressed out overwhelmed it is hard.
Andy: It is I would definitely not wanna suggest I don’t find it difficult because it is. I would say to anyone starting up… no one needs to say this isn’t you so starting your own business is exceptionally hard, growing it, is equally hard there’s just different problems than there are at the beginning. And yet it’s a really, really challenging thing, but I do think meditation provides a consistency both throughout that journey. It’s like all this stuff is happening but I don’t know level headedness or sense of balance, whatever you wanna call it. Which just seems to kind of allow you to have a peace of mind or a sense of ease while all that craziness is going on around you. So it’s like being in the madness but not part of the madness.
Nathan: Because to be honest it’s funny, when we jumped on the call you said it’s a little bit like when people start meditation it’s like they’re taking something away from it. And I still to be honest think I’m at that stage where I feel better from meditating, it’s kind of like a drug where by just taking and I’m like wow I feel great, and then I used to deal with things.
Andy: But that’s a really good thing as well. As I say I think the motivation does change but that doesn’t mean that we don’t still get the benefit from it ourselves. In fact, funnily enough it’s a technicality but it’s a really important one. Even within the meditation technique itself, when we’re after something for ourselves, the mind tends to kind of grasp, and in grasping it tends to become a bit tighter. Like it doesn’t necessarily feel that soft and open and relaxed, when we sit down and think okay well, this isn’t really about me, we all have a tough time in life this is just simply about being present in this space right now.
With an idea that might benefit others as well, all of a sudden the mind kind of opens, it starts to feel a lot softer, it’s a lot more malleable, it feels a lot more relaxed. So even from a technical point of view, when we bring that attitude to the meditation, we tend to feel even more relaxed and we enjoy the experience even more than, we might do if we only came to it for ourselves let’s say.
Nathan: I see okay, look I’ve been a bit selfish with this interview, I’ve asked questions that I’m interested in. I think the audience would probably like to know around your journey in building Headspace, you’ve got a great product, you’ve got a amazing mission. But what have you had to sacrifice to get where you are today? What are some entrepreneurial lessons that our audience can learn from you, and your business partner Rich?
Andy: Yeah well, they could probably learn a lot more from Rich in fairness, but for what it’s worth my own kind of learning and experience. I remember someone saying to start a business and to grow a business make no mistake about it it’s hard graph. And I remember hearing that and thinking. Yeah you hear these stories of people kind of doing it easy way and everything just seems to kind of happen. But you never really see what goes on behind that, and my experience is like never has truer word been spoken it is hard graph.
And I would say even for the four years before I met Rich for a couple of years before met Rich, I was getting up at 4 o’clock every morning, and I was writing content from 4 o’clock to 2 o’clock in the afternoon every single day. And then I’d go off and kind of do this work stuff. Once I met Rich, the only time I could kind of build up the content like was outside of working hours, because during working hours we were working. So again, I would up every morning kind of doing it before going to work. I’d be at home every evening doing it from going to bed, and I care about it, I’m passionate about it, I have an incredibly understanding now wife then girlfriend, fiancé.
But it requires like absolute commitment, to think that we can get away with it any other way, it doesn’t mean we can’t do it mindfully, and I’m not recommending or suggesting that people should kind of burn selves out. Because I do think there’s a way of working where we can work long hours and work quite hard, but without kind of taxing the body and the mind too heavily. But it requires a huge amount of time and effort, and again to think that it could be any other way, I think is to set ourselves up for disappointment.
Nathan: I know what you mean. And that’s one of the reasons I do these interviews and amazing because I wanna see behind the scenes. One thing I’m dying to ask you is, you believe that you can work extremely long hours and not tax the body and the mind, can you just give us a quick insight to that, and then we’ll work towards wrapping up.
Andy: Yes, so I think most of us come from a culture or background where we think if we wanna get something big done or something difficult done the harder we try the move we’re gonna get out of it. Meditation takes a slightly different approach than that. When we try really hard there’s an element of kind of force of will which is very tiring. It’s tiring for the mind, the mind tends to over think, it tends to reduce a lot of harmful chemicals, and the body tends to really drive our cortisol levels where a higher our adrenaline levels very high.
The body as a result is tired exhausted and we get run down. If we can find a way of working where okay there’s an intention, and there’s a goal, whether that’s the goal for the day, the week, the month or for the entire mission it doesn’t really matter. But there’s a goal, and there’s intention and we’re working towards that. But rather than trying with all our kind of will to get to that place, if we simply focused on doing our very best at what we’re doing in each and every moment, then there’s no real kind of wasted effort.
So that we become extremely highly efficient and productive, there’s no wastage everything that we do is very intentional, there’s no… as I say there’s no kind of wasted energy. Which means as a result the mind is less busy, the body is the less kind of tax, and therefore we can do more for a longer period of time.
Nathan: I see this really interesting. Okay couple of last questions one around growth. I’m sure people are fascinated you’ve got an epic product, but is there any tactics, strategies, marketing strategies, that you and Rich have implemented, the game changes that might be of value to our audience?
Andy: I’d love to think that we were that organized. Do you know what our number one strategy has been to put the user first, and there are different ways of coming startups. I guess for some people it is a financial kind of proposition, and it’s how to make as much money as quickly as possible. For us, is a very difference starting place and we believe that if we offer the very best possible product and service, that we will be successful commercially. So our focus is on the user and on the product, and on the service, and if we are good at that, then that the other bit kinda comes as an afterthought.
So obviously we have to be commercially successful to be sustainable as a mission, but I do think there’s a difference in where the intention and motivation kinda goes. So for us, it’s about that, and part of that has being listening to user feedback and experience. So for example we launched version one let’s say early 2012, it was really a beta products, we put it out there… it was put together like on a shoestring like 50k I think U.S. for everything. The app, the animations, the illustrations, the production, the content the website, the whole thing for 50k on version one.
And then we spent a year just listening to feedback from people what they liked, what they didn’t like. And as we started to gain greater traction as we had a lot more kind of resource and funds to use, we started to become very strategic in our thinking about how we could design a product which offered everything that people were asking for, and that they wanted. And really as I say kind of that switch from V one to V two where we finally, got to a point where we launched something that was very close to what we originally intended and wanted to do that. That was the moment I think where we felt that we were really fulfilling sort of the mission that we’d set out on.
Nathan: You hit critical mass in a sense.
Andy: Yeah, exactly, exactly but it was organic and it was by listening to what the user wants, rather than what we thought the user would want. It was actually asking the community what do you want, and us finding skillful ways of making that a functional proposition.
Nathan: I see, okay last question and I’m sure the audience would love this, I’m really excited about this one.
Andy: I’m intrigued.
Nathan: I’m excited, for anyone that wants to get started on meditation besides downloading the Headspace app, can you give us like a 30 second to a minute guided meditation, just show people how good it is, and sharing the ear buds with you.
Andy: Well, 30 seconds is short, but if you’ve got 30 seconds I’d be happy to.
Nathan: Awesome, let’s do it.
Andy: Okay so wherever you are, no matter of what you doing just take a moment to sit up straight , uncross your arms and legs, and if you can just sit kinda upright with your feet flat on the floor, and the arms and hands just resting on your legs. And just take a big deep breath breathing in through the nose, and out through the mouth, and as you breathe out through the mouth just gently close the eyes. And in closing the eyes just notice how the body feels. Notice how the breath feels in the body maybe notice the sounds around you.
And if we had a bit more time, I’d suggest you kind of sat in for like another minute or so, and simply being present with the physical sensations, the sounds, the smells, the environment, the space around you. When you do that consistently, when you step out of the thinking mind and instead turn the attention to the physical sensations in the body, something really special starts to happen and we get less stressed, less anxious, and we feel kinda happier and healthier as a result.
Nathan: That was awesome, that was really, really powerful Andy, thank you.
Andy: It’s a pleasure.
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