Jack Dorsey, the founder of the loudest and at times the most rambunctious of social media giants Twitter, spent his birthday on a silent meditation retreat in Myanmar in 2018.
Twitter users snickered and tech journalists still make fun of the politically tone-deaf location choice for his meditation practice, amid other lifestyle choices like intermittent fasting and other habits he shared.
For meditation to mature as a serious business, it will take more than a handful of tech CEOs and lifestyle gurus on a spiritual quest. The population of Americans who meditate more than tripled over five years, to 14.2% in 2017 from 4.1% in 2012, but is still tiny compared to other lifestyle fads.
How long will it take for meditation to become mainstream?
Yoga took centuries to become the behemoth industry projected to reach $11.6 billion by 2020, growing to encompass several listed companies, multiple categories and overall cultural awareness of the benefits of regular yoga practice. Helena Blavatsky, a little-known Russian spiritual guru and author, is credited with bringing Eastern philosophy, as well as yoga, to the Western world in the 19th century, along with others who set in motion practices and schools that enable millions of Americans today master sun salutations.
Since then, a handful of publicly listed companies, and an entire yoga empire has emerged, with dozens of product categories from retreats to clothing, gadgets and multimedia publishing platforms.
With meditation, it’s trickier as it’s not just about exercise in form-fitting clothing. But a growing number of startups are willing to try and disrupt this niche mindfulness segment, ramping up efforts to capture a significant position through music and entertainment as well as vying to persuade Americans to invest as much in their minds as well as they’ve been spending on their bodies.
Meditation to the Rescue
Demand for meditation apps, gadgets and content platforms is fueled by growing scientific evidence showing health benefits of meditation as well as increasing industry leaders and CEOs for personal growth and management.
With American employees among the most overworked globally, more companies are looking for ways to alleviate burnout, help their retention stats and reduce costs through tools like meditation and other natural wellness solutions.
For many, meditation is not just about a feel-good therapy to improve sleep, it also represents a new type of leadership and new management techniques.
Emma Seppälä, co-director of the Yale College Emotional Intelligence Project at the Yale School of Management wrote about “growing interest among leaders in meditation as a way to build leadership skills and achieve business goals” in Harvard Business Review.
“Most of our new clients are not sold by mindfulness as a novelty,” she wrote. “They want to see how these approaches are truly beneficial to existing priorities like retention, talent advancement, innovation.”
And let’s not entirely dismiss the power of a growing cohort of influencers and celebrities embracing meditation.
While a handful of meditation teachers like Deepak Chopra have captured the imaginations of an older consumer base, a new slate of meditation apps and gadgets is vying to win the hearts and minds of the millennial meditators.
With thousands of apps out there, meditation is an increasingly competitive field. So far, no single meditation app has secured a dominant position in the U.S. space.
With Wave, co-founders Mason Levey and Brad Warsh are specifically aiming to target millennial meditators who they feel are still are left on the sidelines of this space.
“We are millennials and we really built this for ourselves,” Levey, Wave’s CEO, told Karma. “All of the meditation offerings all sit in one bucket. They are all very traditional, music is an afterthought. They feel a little sterile. Wave is completely music-driven.”
In December, Wave raised $1.5 million, led by Lerer Hippeau. The latest seed round of $4.15 million, which closed this month, also included Lerer Hippeau and Collaborative Fund from the pre-seed round, in addition to Ludlow Ventures and Crosslink Capital.
Having previously founded Y7 Studio, which positions itself as “sweat drippin’, beat bumpin’, candlelit yoga,” the founders are now aiming to apply the same entertainment approach to the more uptight meditation space.
Investors like Leher Hippeau are are on board. In Wave, they saw founders that have done it before.
“We saw that they had an engaged and growing audience, a beautiful brand, and a novel approach to the market,” Caitlin Strandberg, principal at Lerer Hippeau, told Karma.
Turning their attention to meditation made sense.
“They wanted to make it more culturally conscious and more relevant to the masses,” she says. “When you are meditating and thinking, you can feel and think through music.”
Lerer Hippeau, which does not describe itself as impact investor, backs companies and founders who are “purpose-minded” and looking to change the world. With Wave, the firm is betting they will do the same thing for meditation market as Nike did for running.
“Music is culture, Strandberg said. “Meditation is going to have a cultural moment.”
Lerer Hippeau’s portfolio includes environmentally friendly footwear company Allbirds, Humankind, a personal care brand that wants to rethink use of single-use plastic; and Talk Space, a remote-based therapy app.
Wave’s product, which launched last week, offers 10 original albums and music-guided meditation through the Wave app as well as Wave bolster.
Unlike some of the existing players like Calm who are already working with corporate partners like PricewaterhouseCoopers, Wave is focusing on individual consumers at home.
Calm, the unicorn of the meditation world founded in 2012, has raised $143 million in six rounds. Most recently, the company announced a $27 million round on July 1, led by Lightspeed Venture Partners.
Like Wave, Calm is planning to “double down on entertainment” through their content, TechCrunch reported. With the Lightspeed-led round, the company plans to expand into “self-help masterclasses, stretching routines, relaxing music, breathing exercises, stories for children and celebrity readings that lull you to sleep.”
Calm’s music offering already offers hundreds of hours of original music, nature sounds and white noise.
Headspace, founded in 2010, has raised $75.2 million and has millions of members in more than 190 countries.
The founders also have been on a mission to bring mindfulness to the masses and “improve the health and happiness of the world.” It also has a mobile app-based product, with tiered subscription packages.
“We want to create the most engaging health platform we can,” Headspace co-founder Rich Pierson told Fast Company in 2015. “We certainly don’t have all the answers. But we do think we have a role to play in starting to get the public to reframe how they think about health.”
Headspace boasts to have a scientific approach to meditation and a seven-person science team led by Chief Science Officer Dr. Megan Jones Bell.
Headspace is aiming to launch “the world’s first prescription meditation app” next year.
Nobody is dismissing meditation as a passing fad. But what’s less certain is whether the best way to treat stress is with technology, which is accused of contributing to the disconnectedness that stressed people feel.
Analysts expect consumer spending on mindfulness solutions as well as corporate employee wellness budgets will continue to expand. A survey in 2018 said 83% of the companies anticipate continuing or growing their well-being programs in the next three to five years.
The meditation market is expected to grow to $2.08 billion by 2022, according to Marketdata .
“Meditation is a really amazing market, there is a lot of anxiety and a lot of stress, we know mediation is going to be here for a long time,” says Lerer Hippeau’s Strandberg. “Caring for your brain as well as your body is going to be increasingly important.”