Innovator of the week: the founders of Headspace

Innovator of the week: the founders of Headspace

We’d love to welcome to our new series: Innovator of the week! A series where we unveil how big-time entrepreneurs have made it to where they are today.

Today’s post is all about mental wellness…let’s take a look at Headspace; a meditation app that has at least 30 million users spanning over 190 countries across the world and generating annual revenues of $100M!

So. How did Andy Puddicombe and Rich Pierson manage to create one of the world’s most successful meditation apps?

An Overview of the founders

Andy Puddicombe trained as a Buddhist monk for over a decade, whereas Rich Pierson was a dedicated advertiser at a top-tier firm in London.

They met because Rich was burnt out and struggling to cope with the demands of work and Andy knew just how to help by offering 1-on-1 meditation sessions outside of a doctor’s office.

Andy’s Background

In the early 80’s, Andy was introduced to meditation by his mom. She had been attending a meditation group based in Bristol at around the time of her divorce with her husband. Although Andy drifted from meditation as he grew older, following the traumatic incident of a car accident at the age of 18, Andy fell back into the immersive world of meditation to deal with the anxiety caused by this event.

Andy had enjoyed working at gyms and then followed that by studying sports science in London. Not long after, Andy dropped out of his studies because he had been feeling dissatisfied and unhappy with what he was doing. His girlfriend at the time spoke to him about the practice of meditating. After considering meditating more and more, he decided he wanted to become a Buddhist Monk. He genuinely felt that nothing else made sense!

Fast forward a couple of years and Andy ended up teaching meditation in Moscow whilst waiting to go into a long term retreat. In 2004 Andy returned to the UK to study circus arts after being inspired by one of his friends in Moscow. As a mature student, Andy was funded by the government to study the circus arts while still teaching 1-to-1 meditation from a clinic.

Andy’s clinic clients were mostly professionals in the finance industry that suffered from symptoms of burnout – anxiety, depression, insomnia.

Richard’s Background

Richard, on the other hand, had been working 15-16 hour days at BBH, a high-powered advertising agency, in his 20s. This, combined with the ‘work hard play hard’ mantra that came with this career had begun to exhaust Richard as he grew older and gave up drinking.

At the time, Rich was getting more and more anxious with his lifestyle, undergoing acupuncture to try relieving the symptoms he was feeling. After feeling out of place and overwhelmed in his current lifestyle, Rich decided to quit his job at the ad agency and become an acupuncturist.

And so they meet

While helping a friend out on a marketing campaign, Rich brought up his issues with anxiety and this friend then recommended him to a person he was seeing for meditation. Nevertheless, this person was Andy.

Andy and Rich decided to help each other – Andy helping Rich with his anxiety, Rich helping Andy expand his ideas and practice of meditation – essentially trying to demystify meditation. They met before their sessions at a Starbucks across every day to discuss how they could go about expanding the Andy’s practices. 

An idea was born

Their shared sense of ‘anything is possible’ drove them to decide to come up with an idea together.

Andy asked Rich to work as a 50/50 partner in venturing into a new business. They both began with the idea that they wanted Andy’s skills and training in meditation to help more people, but the question was… how do they scale Andy?

Rich had thought of the idea of putting Andy’s knowledge on an software app but this went against the traditional ‘one on one’ and ‘teacher-student’ model of meditation

They then thought of the idea of creating ‘meditation events’ which continued for approximately 2 years. Their client base came from Andy’s former connections from the mediation clinics and Moscow. To get the events business started, their first injection of capital came from Richards dad which had amounted to £50K.

Of the £50k, £20k went to physical collateral to give out at these events, which included cards that taught people how to meditate… In hindsight, they agreed that this was essentially the first version of the Headspace app.

Quick diversion: How did the name ‘Headspace’ come about?

After playing around with names like ‘Mindspace’, ‘Mindgym’ and ‘Recogition’, Rich wanted a name that was more tangible to people (since the word ‘mind’ is less tangible), and thought of the word ‘head’. Andy wanted to have a name that is ‘spacious’ because that is what the people want – space to free themselves. Hence the name: Headspace

The Big Launch

In May 2010, the first event was launched, where 200 people had attended after having seen the advertisement in The Times about ‘Britain’s Top Meditation Guru: The Expert’s Expert”. This article also led to the process of Andy and Rich getting a book deal that secured them £180K GBP.

Soon after, the first version of the Headspace app had launched with the help of their friend, Dre, offering up a recording studio and the old agency that Rich worked at, helping them compile and launch the audios. Andy and Rich reiterate that, throughout the process, Headspace would have not come about without the help of friends and family and connections along the way, which, once again, goes to show that it is not always about what you know, but who you know!

Marketing was also done through connections: Kathy Waters had agreed to put Headspace in every Virgin Atlantic plane after they had pitched it at the Gatwick airport. The Guardian agreed to release 1 million booklets created by the pair for free. This had helped them generate around £32K in revenue in their first month of launch the app!

A former monk and a former burnt-out marketer created a $100M meditation firm

Not too long after, they relocated the business to Los Angeles from London, where, unfortunately, Andy had been diagnosed with cancer. This meant that Richard continued to run the operations while Andy had time to recover and be surrounded by friends and family. In California, Headspace gained even more traction, meaning the pair had investors knocking at their door.

After meeting with about 60+ investors, Rich and Andy had secured an investment of USD$75 within a few rounds. Now, Andy is 5 years recovered from cancer, Richard remains the CEO of Headspace and the team are unstoppable in spreading tranquility and happiness to their app users!