Disrupt Your Life With Headspace: Meditation for the 21st Century
Not only has Headspace disrupted the ancient contemplative practice of meditation; it enables users to disrupt themselves by reducing stress and anxiety, improving relationships, and boosting performance at work.
Not only has Headspace disrupted the ancient contemplative practice of meditation; it enables users to disrupt themselves by reducing stress and anxiety, improving relationships, and boosting performance at work. It is a technological solution to our pandemic of burnout fueled by…technology. Headspace makes finding that centered place within as easy as checking Facebook or watching Netflix. As co-founder Andy Puddicombe, a former Tibetan Buddhist monk said, “All you need to do is to take 10 minutes out a day to step back, to familiarize yourself with the present moment so that you get to experience a greater sense of focus, calm and clarity in your life.”
What is it?
Headspace has a freemium business model. Users download the app or sign up on headpace.com. The first 10 guided meditations are free and allow you to experience Puddicombe’s calming British-accented narration. If you want to continue, you can sign up for a paid “gym membership for your mind.”
Subscriptions include thousands of hours of meditations organized into series including “Sport,” “Health,” “Relationships,” and “Performance”. Each series has packs of 10-30 meditations around specific topics. For “Health,” these include cancer, depression, self-esteem, stress, anxiety, sleep and pregnancy. There are also shorter meditations for children and stand-alone “singles” that can be used for everything from meltdowns to fear of flying.
There are currently 10 million users in 160 countries; the percentage of paying users is not public.
To keep users motivated, the first screen on the app is a timeline showcasing completed meditations as well as the next few meditations in their current pack. Key stats are displayed, including the “current run streak,” the number of consecutive days a user has meditated. Awards are earned for achieving milestones, with the holy grail being the “365-days-straight” award. Headspace also integrates with Apple Health, which tracks minutes spent meditating.
Goldman Sachs and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are among the organizations offering Headspace as an employee benefit.  Last year, Headspace raised $30 million in venture capital to develop a specialized offering for corporate clients. As companies are increasingly looking to capitalize on the benefits of mindfulness, this has high potential.
Headspace also partners with companies to bring meditation to their customers. Its videos are featured on the Virgin Atlantic inflight entertainment system. This month, Spotify began offering a bundled subscription with Headspace in Scandinavia at €5.00 off the cost of purchasing both separately. Here is a fun collaboration with Selfridges Department Store in the UK.
Headspace employs innovative digital strategies to raise awareness about its app:
- It is active across social media platforms and regularly engages with people who mention the brand. This encourages users to generate virtual word of mouth advertising.
- It produced a free podcast called “Radio Headspace” on general interest topics related to mindfulness — a great way to attract new customers.
- The founders frequently give interviews to niche sites/blogs (e.g. Fatherly.com) and podcasts (e.g Tim Ferris). Targeting stressed out audiences and people interested in self-improvement is a great free way to build brand awareness and acquire customers
Where should Headspace go?
The founders have suggested a future iteration of the app could serve people the right meditation for any given circumstance based on biofeedback from wearables: “If your heart rate is elevated we can say, ‘Oh hey, why don’t you try a stress single?’” They can take this a step further by gauging how users respond to different meditations through building a feedback mechanism that assesses how users are feeling after a meditation so it can gauge what works for different people and personalize offerings.
Headspace has a basic “buddy system” in which users can keep tabs on the progress of up to five friends who have opted in and send them an encouraging nudge. They could expand this functionality to allow users to find all of their Facebook friends on the platform and allow groups to create challenges and listen to the same meditation concurrently. These network effects created by having more friends engaged on the platform could keep users from falling off the bandwagon and ending their subscriptions. Headspace could also enable users to post automatic social updates from the app letting friends know they are meditating and any achievements they have earned. These would serve as great endorsements for Headspace.
Headspace could create a platform for third-party guided meditations. This would increase the amount of content, add stylistic diversity, and convert other meditation producers into Headspace evangelists. These producers could be compensated on a per-play basis.
Content for Other Apps
Headspace could allow people to download meditation packs on iTunes and Amazon and stream select meditations on Spotify. This is another way to generate revenue from people who don’t want yet another subscription. And who knows, perhaps they’ll be converted!
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 Emma Seppala, “How Meditation Benefits CEOs,” Harvard Business Review, December 14, 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/12/how-meditation-benefits-ceos, accessed November 2016.
 “Andy Puddicombe: All It Takes is 10 Mindful Minute,” TED, filmed November 2012, https://www.ted.com/talks/andy_puddicombe_all_it_takes_is_10_mindful_minutes?language=en, accessed November 2016.
 Sarah Mahoney, “Mainstreaming Mindfulness: Headspace Launches First Ad Campaign,” MediaPost, November 2, 2016, http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/288185/mainstreaming-mindfulness-headspace-launches-firs.html, accessed November 2016.
 Lizzie Widdicombe, “The Higher Life: A Mindfulness Guru for the Tech Set,” The New Yorker, July 6, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/06/the-higher-life, accessed November 2016.
 Justine Hofherr, “‘Mindfulness’ is Coming to the Corporate World in a Big Way, So We Tried it Out,” Boston.com, October 13, 2015, https://www.boston.com/jobs/jobs-news/2015/10/13/mindfulness-is-coming-to-the-corporate-world-in-a-big-way-so-we-tried-it-out, accessed November 2016.
 Andrea Smith, “This Airline’s Aromatherapy and Mindfulness Additions Aim to Help Banish Jetlag,” Lonely Planet, August 3, 2016, http://www.lonelyplanet.com/news/2016/08/03/airline-aromatherapy-banish-jetlag/, accessed November 2016.
 “Spotify and Headspace Partner to Encourage Meditation and Mindfulness,” Spotify press release, November 3, 2016, https://press.spotify.com/my-en/2016/11/03/spotify-and-headspace-partner-to-encourage-meditation-and-mindfulness, accessed November 2016.
 Bill Barol, “The Monk and the Mad Man Making Mindfulness For The Masses,” Fast Company, January 28, 2015, https://www.fastcompany.com/3041402/body-week/the-monk-and-the-mad-man-making-mindfulness-for-the-masses, accessed November 2016.
Featured image from www.headspace.com, accessed November 2016.
Timeline and Progress screenshots from Richard Feloni, “I’ve Used a Meditation App Loved by Wall Streeters and Olympic Athletes Daily for the Past 8 Months, and Now I Can’t Imagine My Life Without It,” Business Insider, Aug 21, 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/headspace-meditation-app-2016-8/, accessed November 2016.
Student comments on Disrupt Your Life With Headspace: Meditation for the 21st Century
Now that meditation has gone digital I think we can spike the ball and go home :).
Seriously, though, I thought this was a really interesting service. It incorporates almost all of the things that make digital services scalable (it’s an app with automated inputs), sticky (streak tracking and social aspects), and high-value (high degree of customization to customer personal needs and pacing).
My concern with this would be that there are aspects to meditation that may not be particularly convertible to digital–that said, the all-time 4.5 star rating the app has in the Apple App Store suggests that users take no issue with it :). One thing I thought was really interesting working with gaming companies while I worked for Facebook was that as apps reached a certain scale, those digitally native-companies with digitally native products would increasingly turn to physical gatherings to drive affinity and create community among their users. I wonder if Headspace will make the same move as they continue to scale up and what those events will look like.
Thanks, Brian. Great timing with this post as we get closer and closer to finals. Your suggestion that Headspace create content for other apps or include some meditations on streaming services because people might be tempted to switch over later makes a lot of sense to me. In addition to corporate partnerships, perhaps Headspace should consider partnering with universities and other schools. Especially in the last few years, universities have become more and more concerned with the mental health of their students and Headspace might be a relatively low-cost way to lessen students’ anxiety and stress. This wouldn’t replace student services like therapists, of course, but might de-stigmatize the idea of needing some help when classes or the job search get especially stressful. Plus, like you mentioned with the Spotify steaming, it could attract customers who continue to use and pay for the meditation lessons after graduation.
Great post, Brian. I’ve used Headspace on and off for the past year and I think it has the best meditation library of any app out there. I really like your idea about connecting it to a wearable device, and my biggest issue I had was that it wasn’t able to show me whether or not I made progress before and after I meditated. I’ve discovered another app, Spire, that has meditation content and a physical clip that measures your breathing rate. Depending on your breaths per minute, Spire can tell whether you are calm, focused or tense and it will notify you by the clip buzzing. Similar to your suggestion, it also prompts you to do a quick meditation if your breath rate is measured as tense. However, the depth and breadth of Headspace’s meditation content is much better than Spire. I would love to see a partnership between these two companies who are both doing great things to solve the underserved stress epidemic.
Super interesting post, Brian! I’ve never used Headspace myself, but I went to a yoga/meditation retreat when I was 12 and find myself using the breathing and mindfulness exercises I learned then even now to center and calm myself. I think the app could play a huge part in improving our everyday mental health, and wonder if there is a way for them to tie up with insurance companies (in the same vein as products and services such as Fitbit) and incentivize more of their consumers to use the app on a regular basis to lower their anxiety levels — which can positively impact their overall health and reduce their need to see medical professionals. They would probably have to do more research on the actual health benefits of meditation before insurance companies would be willing to do this, but definitely an area worth looking into I think.
Very interesting post Brian. I’m impressed with how companies are using technology to bring services that traditionally have been exclusive and expensive to the broader population. Headspace does a great job at recreating the experience of having a meditation coach or even a psychologist at a fraction of the cost. Here’s an interesting post with the top 15 psychology apps: http://careersinpsychology.org/15-psychology-apps-you-should-be-using/.
Great post Brian! I completely agree that biofeedback is the next step for headspace so users can actually see if they made progress with their meditation. I had an uber driver a few weeks ago who was telling me about his startup idea creating a biofeedback meditation ball that gets brighter or levitates as you make progress during your meditation so you can tangibly see the benefits right infront of you! I think headspace should partner with or develop a device like this that comes with your membership (more incentive to become a member vs. stay on the free trial) so you can have the benefit of seeing your progress. Plus, some fun visual like this could be a social media hit like the way a Casper mattress pops out of the box.
Thanks for the post! Chronic disease management has been shifting more and more from hospitals and doctor’s offices to the patient’s home, facilitated by the rise of digitally-distributed care management platforms such as Omada Health. As such, I wonder if Headspace has the opportunity to help patients with more complex behavioral health issues in addition to helping people like you and me who may just be stressed or burnt out. Behavioral health is a huge challenge and medical cost driver for both providers and health insurers, not just as a standalone disease category but also because it is highly likely to be a co-morbid disease (meaning that patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes or CHF are also likely to have a behavioral health condition as well). In the current healthcare system, it is extremely difficult to seek help for behavioral health conditions, with many solutions being “talk-based” (i.e., revolving around having to talk about your problems with a therapist). I think Headspace’s platform could be very conducive to those patients who do not wish to talk about their challenges with a therapist. If Headspace can show results in this area, it could potentially open doors to getting their services covered by health insurers so that patients who use their services can be reimbursed for the cost of using it.