We caught up with Rich Pierson, the co-founder of Headspace, to talk mindfulness, entrepreneurship and fear of failure. As the meditation platform continues to attract new users across the globe (3 million at last count) – not to mention high-profile evangelists such as Oprah Winfrey, LeBron James and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner – we wanted to hear what wisdom Rich could impart to fellow digital business builders across the UK.
Tell us about headspace?
Headspace is a digital health platform which we often refer to as a gym membership for the mind. My good friend, and co-founder Andy Puddicombe, who used to be a fully-ordained monk, teaches users the techniques of mindfulness through guided and unguided meditations, delivered via an app or online. I like to think of Headspace as a bite-sized approach for keeping your mind healthy. We think there’s a huge opportunity to reframe what that means. When people think of mental health, they tend to think of the serious end of it—and that’s obviously a very important part of society—but our product is very much created around prevention and has more of a lifestyle application.
Why should UK digital entrepreneurs take mindfulness seriously?
I think mindfulness, or mind health as I tend to refer to it, is really important for everyone in order to achieve a little clarity and peace of mind – perhaps even more so for entrepreneurs who tend to be workaholics. Life is way more stressful than it ever was. More and more people, particularly entrepreneurs, are struggling with the barrage of information that modern day technologies are presenting to them. Being connected 24 hours a day, I think, has rewired our brains a lot. We feel stress a lot more than we ever used to. Holidays are no longer holidays, because you can be contacted from anywhere in the world. You can’t escape it. Mindfulness can help people to become comfortable with all those thoughts and develop a relationship with technology that is less harmful to the mind.
What are the challenges you faced as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome them to build your product?
The challenges are constant; as the company grows, the challenges change. Initially it was using our funding. When we started out we gave everything away for free – which was perfect from a social mission point of view, but not great from a business perspective. We were down to our last £50,000 and we had one final shot to get it right. That’s when we decided to release the subscription product. I think that very intense period made us really focus on what we had to do to survive. I think you become very creative when you are really up against it. The challenges now are centred around creating and hiring the best team in the world. We are growing at such a rapid pace and we want to ensure that our new hires and decisions reflect the commitment, effort and success that have been put into the company and the product so far.
What have you learned from failure and how has it informed the headspace journey?
I would say I fail every day. I don’t mean that in a negative way, I actually think it is very positive. There are always things you can do better as an individual and as a project. I think unless you can look at your failures as opportunities to grow and learn you shouldn’t start your own business.
What are the three pieces of advice you would have for tech entrepreneurs looking to scale?
1. Hire people who you would want to work for.
2. Remember that there will always be more to do. The key is accepting you’re not superman. Once you become comfortable with that and realise the world doesn’t revolve around your ability to make stuff happen, you are able to manage your time much better.
What does London offer as a digital capital?
I regard London as the world’s capital – be that from a digital, creative or cultural viewpoint. London may have started a little later than Silicon Valley but it’s now flourishing. With so many other environmental advantages, it’s a prime market for development and growth. With so much competition in the market as well, ideas are constantly evolving – it’s a very exciting place to be.
What’s the one thing you’d say to your younger self as you start out on your entrepreneurial journey?
You should have started meditating when you were 5.