(Statistics in this article were updated in August 2020 to reflect the growing number of users within our community).
Five years ago I was in San Francisco with my brother Nicho. The April morning was sunny and cold as we hurried east on Sacramento to our first Wisdom 2.0 conference. Inc Magazine describes the event as “connecting through technology in a way that supports a person’s well-being, work effectiveness, and is ultimately useful to the world.” Don’t worry — we didn’t understand it either.
For first-time attendees it’s a curious affair. Meditation teachers and new-age publishers mingle inside with tech titans and venture capitalists — a perfect microcosm of the city outside. In 2015, LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner sang Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay in front of 3,000 people while Tibetan monks spent 4 days constructing — and then deconstructing — an altogether different microcosm in the lobby.
It hasn’t always been this way of course; meditation and money aren’t obvious bedfellows. But the science has caught up and so consumers have caught on. And where you find consumers, you find capitalists — first as entrepreneurs, then as companies, then as investors — the ritual is as old as meditation itself.
As we turned towards Market street, Nicho and I were contemplating impermanence. A few months earlier we’d pooled our savings to purchase a small meditation app called Insight Timer from Brad Fullmer, a quiet Californian who’d been running the app from his Petaluma bedroom since 2010. The app had 100k users and he was worn out, but in the world of tech it was tiny.
I like to say that Insight Timer is the biggest app you’ve never heard of. (Actually I don’t really because it suggests attachment, something meditators aren't meant to have — ahem — but it’s catchy and it makes a point).
Every 24 hours in 130 countries our community meditates for ten collective years. On the very same day we stream 500,000 guided meditations, log 350,000 Timer sessions, and welcome 15,000 new meditators to our growing community of twelve million. At the same time 8,000 meditation teachers work away in the background uploading meditations, composing music, responding to users and sharing ideas with the world.
In other words, depending on which metric you prefer, Insight Timer is the most active meditation community on the planet. (For context, you might be surprised to learn that when Headspace tweeted a record 186,000 hours of meditation in a single June 2017 week, our community meditated for 350,000 hours in the same week). Yes yes, more attachment.
When we purchased Insight Timer we wanted to create three things
- The best free meditation app on the planet
- Meaningful income for meditation teachers and musicians
- A commercially conscious company which is strong and sustainable
Achieving all three is hard. How do you build a profitable company when you’re committed to a free product which costs millions of dollars a year to run. And how do you to talk about things like ‘monetization’ when you’re trying to build a quiet place of contemplation?
How do you build a profitable company when you’re committed to a free product which costs millions of dollars a year to run?
Here are two things we won’t do
Some apps turn to advertising to pay the bills. We’re not one of them. Other apps offer a limited amount of free content but charge you for the meaningful stuff. We don’t like this either because it locks your daily meditation practice behind a paywall, which leads to all sorts of conflicts…
We’re going to keep everything on the app exactly as it is. For free.
- 55,000 guided meditations and music tracks. For free.
- Live sessions every hour from the world’s best teachers. For free.
- The most popular meditation Timer in the world. For free.
- Stats, Charts, Milestones, and Groups. For Free.
And we will continue to improve the free features while our Teachers continue to upload new guided meditations every day. In other words, if you’re happy with the app as it is, nothing changes for you.
How to make a difference and an income
In order to help our teachers earn meaningful income we’re introducing two optional streams of revenue, which have been designed to complement your daily meditation practice — not commercialize it.
1. Subscription For Unlimited Courses
99.9% of content on Insight Timer is offered for free. For those who are interested in taking their practice to a deeper level, we offer an optional subscription for USD$5.00 a month ($60 a year), which includes access to 400+ micro courses (10 or 30 days, 10 minutes a day).
If you’ve ever done an online course you’ll know there’s plenty of room for improvement. They are often prohibitively expensive and the companies selling them earn more than the teachers who create them. Insight Courses change that.
These micro courses are interactive, easy to follow, and integrated with our community features so you can chat with others (and the teacher) along the way. Best of all, they’re mobile friendly so you won’t need to hand over credit card details, sign up to newsletters, or join Facebook groups.
Most importantly, these courses are optional. You can still maintain an enriching daily practice on the app without spending a cent. But, those who do subscribe directly help our teachers with 50% of all subscription revenue shared with the teaching community.
Many of you often ask how you can support our teachers financially. Now you’ll notice a Donation button on the app which makes this a reality. Donations can be made privately, or you can choose to publicly recognize your donation and appear on the Teacher’s “Gratitude Wall”. After app store commissions, teachers receive 85% of your donation and Insight Timer will receive 15%.
Will our ideas work?
I honestly don’t know.
We’ve spent almost every single day since that morning in Sacramento researching the most compassionate way to build a commercially conscious company. But communities tend to make up their own minds so time will tell if you think we’ve found the right balance.
What I do know is that our team spent months discussing different models with thousands of Insight Timer meditators and teachers. We also spent hours on the phone with friend and Insight Timer investor Bo Shao. (Bo recently launched a $100 million Conscious Accelerator to fund people who want to change the world, so if that’s you, call him.)
I also know that if our ideas work and Insight Timer becomes sustainable, we will no longer have to depend on the generosity of others. Better still, thousands of meditation teachers will be supported with an income, so they can spend more time helping raise consciousness around the world.
And finally, most importantly of all, our 12 million meditators will continue to have access to a free and meaningful daily meditation practice.
And that includes you.
CEO, Insight Timer