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Rich Pierson, Andy Puddicombe

Cofounders, Headspace

You’ve probably heard about Headspace, the meditation app founded by a Buddhist monk (Andy Puddicombe) and an advertising executive (Rich Pierson). Short recordings guide users for a few minutes each day. And, like Spotify, it offers both free and paid subscription options. So, how did Headspace start?

“Seven years ago, I was having a bit of a breakdown and a friend told me about Andy’s clinic,” Pierson recalls. “And from the day we met, he said, ‘Meditation’s so easy. More people should do it.'”

It’s true: You can meditate anywhere, without shoes, equipment or clothing. And, according to Headspace, it’s simple when taught the right way. But can a trendy startup really popularize the ancient practice? 13.9M downloads say yes.

“To be honest, I didn’t think it would work,” Puddicombe explains. “When Rich first asked me to record, I struggled to see generic audio replacing the 3,000-year-old way of doing things—to envision meditation taught impersonally.”

$38M in funding later, Disruption asks the company’s cofounders how they turned a meetup for meditating Londoners into L.A.’s hottest startup.

Meditation for the masses

Is it true that before the app, Headspace was a meditation meetup in London?
“Yes. And in many ways, those events were an organic testing ground for the current [iteration] of our company. In my clinic, I worked with people 1:1; these events were my first opportunity to explore what techniques and language would translate to a larger audience—how to speak about meditation in a way that was accessible and authentic.” – Andy

Rich: What did you, the non-monk, take from those events?
“They showed me that the opportunity was there… that hundreds of people would show up to learn meditation together. More importantly, though, I started to look at how meditation was being positioned—all waterfalls, bamboo and gurus. Not everyone wants to see pictures of Andy in Buddhist robes and, to be honest, it’s not particularly important to the practice.” – Rich

And how did the meetup lead to the app?
“Our team [of 15 at the time] started looking for existing materials that people could take home from our events, but none felt on brand. That’s when we started making animations, illustrations and recordings of our own. Then, with emails pouring in from all over the world, we realized how big this content piece could really be.” – Rich

FIRST: A Meetup

I started to look at how meditation was being positioned—all waterfalls, bamboo and gurus.”
With emails pouring in from all over the world, we realized how big this content piece could really be.”

So, you built an app and started charging for previously free content. Especially in the world of meditation, that sounds like a tough transition.
“The only people who struggled with us charging was a bit of the Buddhist community who felt, ‘Hey, these teachings have been around and free for a very long time.’ But in places like London, there are people paying as much for one session as we charge for a month… It took time for everyone to get used to the idea, but we’re five years into the app and no longer getting questions on social.” – Andy

What would you tell someone who doesn’t want to pay?
“People should look at Headspace as learning a skill, the same way you might learn cooking or French. There’s a value exchange… And, unlike traditional CDs that repeat the same audio everyday, we take you on a journey. We’re continually releasing new content that offers a progression of learning.” – Andy

Rich: How did you feel about the monthly subscription model?
“We launched in the U.K. as a nonprofit, at which point we were invited into all these corporations to teach executives about meditation. And, to tell you the truth, they kind of laughed at us… didn’t take us seriously until we proved we were a commercial entity. I think that’s a reflection of how people feel in general; we don’t value what’s free.” – Rich


People should look at Headspace as learning a skill, the same way you might learn cooking or French.”
That’s a reflection of how people feel in general; we don’t value what’s free.”

Do you feel like you created an industry or disrupted one?
“Headspace is definitely more of a disruption, because meditation has existed for thousands of years. The ideas aren’t new; all we did was make them accessible.” – Andy

Why headquarter that disruption in Los Angeles?
“We were actually chatting about this at dinner last night. Even before the app, back when we were doing events, Rich and I shared the ambition of living on the West Coast. And not just because of the surfing and the outdoors, which are obviously hard to find in London, but because L.A. is the center of content. If we were going to become a content company, it seemed like a natural place for us to settle.” – Andy

What’s the biggest challenge facing your company today?
“Our biggest challenge is also our biggest opportunity: ensuring Headspace not only gives beginners an easy place to start, but also a meaningful journey to expand upon that skill. There are lots of apps in this space now, and they’ll give you temporary relaxation. But Headspace wants to help people continue to learn for the rest of their lives. We aren’t just for beginners.” – Andy


L.A. is the center of content. If we were going to become a content company, it seemed like a natural place for us to settle.”
There are lots of apps in this space now, and they'll give you temporary relaxation.”

Seven years into this journey, what advice would you offer other entrepreneurs?
“I would suggest an obvious but overlooked idea: Be really clear about what you’re setting out to achieve. Know your motivation. It’s surprisingly easy to start a business without knowing the problem you’re trying to solve. I revisit the intention behind Headspace every day, so, no matter what’s going on, I see it as part of a stable journey to that ultimate goal. It makes the day-to-day difficulties feel much smaller.” –Andy

“[Laughs] I’m going to go the complete opposite direction and say something very practical: Delete email from your phone. I can’t tell you how big that’s been for not only my personal relationships, but also for my productivity. Instead, I set aside time at the beginning and end of each day to check emails. It’s a game changing move.” – Rich

Any final thoughts?
“Develop your own definition for success. What I’ve realized as a foreigner in America is that the rules around success here are very clearly defined, which might be why it’s one of the unhappiest countries in the world. The American dream is great in that this is the only place in the world where someone like Dr. Dre can go from Compton to becoming the first hip hop billionaire, but not everyone can or even should have that type of success. For many people, it’s a road to nowhere.” – Rich

Visit for more from these cofounders.


Delete email from your phone... It's a game changing move.”


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