There's an elephant in the meditation room.
Three 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 — I didn’t understand 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 six collective years. On the very same day we stream 170,000 guided meditations, log 110,000 Timer sessions, and welcome 8,000 new meditators to our growing community of three million. At the same time 1,500 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 week this year, 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.
- 7,000 guided meditations and music tracks. 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.
We're introducing three optional ideas which have been designed to complement your daily meditation practice — not commercialize it.
Over the next six months we’re introducing three new ideas. All of them are optional and have been designed to preserve the spiritual nature of our community.
1. Optional Features
Many in our community write in wanting additional features. But because everyone has a different daily meditation practice, everyone wants different things.
Most meditation apps bundle their premium content into a single product and charge between $7 and $15 a month. The problem is most meditators only need one or two things and shouldn’t have to pay for everything. We agree. By creating three separate Modes we can offer very specific functionality at a much more affordable price of just $2.99 a month.
And of course if you want more than one Mode, we will apply discounted pricing (2 modes for $4.99 or $6.99 for everything).
2. Optional Courses
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.
The largest conscious classroom in the world.
Insight Courses will change that. They 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. It all happens with a single click. Which means you can do them on the bus, in your lunch break, or even in the wild without internet access.
All 10 Day courses adhere to the same format and take just 10 to 15 minutes per day. They include daily audio lessons, interactive polls, a discussion classroom, and audio replies from the teacher. You can rent one for $6.99 or purchase for $19.99. There will be thirty 10 Day courses at launch in January and throughout the year we'll add hundreds more.
3. Optional Donations
Many of you often ask how you can support our teachers financially. Soon you’ll start to see a Donation button on the app which will make 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 will receive 85% of your donation and Insight Timer will receive 15%.
Will our ideas work?
Honestly, I 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. (By the way, 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 three million meditators will continue to have access to a free and meaningful daily meditation practice.
And that includes you.
CEO, Insight Timer