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How Headspace remains authentic during the commodification of wellness

Marie Kondo became a global phenomenon thanks to her Netflix series about the art of tidying up. My take on it is the KonMarie method of decluttering is it’s the commercialization of the Shinto religion. As we use Marie Kondo as a verb: “I’m going to Marie Kondo my closet later”, it’s clear that mindfulness has officially gone mainstream and becoming a commodity.

by Nicole on March 21, 2019

Headspace was the first meditation app on the market and the business is estimated to be valued at $320M. I got to meet the founders Richard Pierson and Andy Puddicombe at the launch of Headspace into Germany. This is the brands first official language outside of English. They plan on launching into 5 more languages by the end of the year. They choose Germany as their first market because at 1M German users it was by far the largest non-English speaking country using the app.

The wellness market, which encompasses everything from apps like Headspace, customized home-delivered meal plans, boutique fitness gyms all the way to day spas, is valued at a $4.2 trillion, having grown 12.8% in the last two years. The industry now represents 5.3% of global economic output.

Wellness is officially big business.

Headspace is a for-profit business that is expanding aggressively into new markets at a time when society is in search of mindfulness. As a business, it makes sense but making money off of mental health can ride a tricky ethical line.

I got to talk to Headspace Co-Founder & CEO Richard Pierson about the commercialization of wellness. Phenomenon’s like Marie Kondo have shown that the commercialization of Shinto can be a massive success. I asked him how Headspace remains authentic as wellness becomes a commodity?

I’m going to transcribe his response in full, which I rarely do, since I think it’s worth hearing in its entirety.

Headspace Co-Founder & CEO Richard Pierson enduges my request for a selfie!

So if you think about when we first started out as a non-profit and no one took us seriously. We did give it away for free, but as soon as we charged for it, there is a value exchange, and we found that for people that we gave a free subscription to, their engagement isn’t a high as someone who has paid for it. Which I think actually makes sense.

 

If we trace the roots back of meditation, there has always been an exchange. The monks would teach lay people in exchange for food, or for sponsorship to be a monk or nun in retreat. There have always been an exchange for services, or whatever that barter is. Traditionally there has always been an exchange, so I don’t have a problem with that.

 

Where it starts to get tricky is Headspace was the first meditation app in the app store in 2008. There is now over 3000. There are people who have just done an 8 week mindfulness course that say they are a meditation expert. That’s a worry, and that’s why authenticity and science are really, really important for us. That’s going to be a bedrock of how we present.

 

For us on the commercial side, we think about it as skillful means. The reason I can afford to give Headspace to teachers for free, is because people who can afford to pay for it, pay for it. The reason I can make it for $10 for a student account in the US is because people pay for it.

 

Let’s forget about wellness, I believe that business are going to have to be apart of solving the world’s biggest problems. I don’t think it will all be solved by government, public institutions or non profits. I think it’s going to have to be a collaboration. I believe in business that can do good and perform well, I don’t think that those two things are mutually exclusive.

What is interesting to me about this statement is that it’s in line with several philanthropic organizations. The Gates Foundation have been working with businesses for years to help solve the world’s problems through innovation. Health and Wellness are one of their areas of focus.

Richard processed to outline how he keeps Headspace authentic:

I do think that there are people who are taking advantage of some of these things. For us, it’s all about:

 

  • What is our intention?
  • What did we set out to do?
  • Where did this all come from?
  • How can we make sure that we keep funding back in a way where we can stay true to our values.”

This is why Richard and Andy still own most of the company so that they can maintain a personal ethical line. These are the questions anyone in the wellness space should be asking themselves on a regular basis.

Richard continued to comment on the wellness space and his thoughts on what he was seeing in the ecosystem.

When I look at certain companies, it’s a shame that’s what people think, that’s what wellness is. It will put people off trying something. But we can’t control that, the best things that we can do it try to provide the best possible service in the most authentic way possible.

Andy Puddicombe Founder and “the voice” of Headspace

I was also able to grab a few minutes with Andy, the voice of Headspace and the mastermind behind the program, to find out if he had any thoughts around the commoditization of wellness.

I don’t actually think of what I do as a commodity. I’m fortunate, I teach meditation, I don’t have to worry or get involved with the business side of things. My job is to turn up and be authentic and be true to the teachings I learned as a monk. I translate them in a way that I think it down to earth and accessible.

If you haven’t tried out Headspace I highly suggest you do.