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How I Launched: Headspace

Member Andy Puddicombe cofounded the groundbreaking meditation app with Rich Pierson in 2010. Since then, millions have credited it with improving their minds and lives 

By Mikael Jack   Illustrations by Alva Skog .  Monday 13 April, 2020  Long read  

Headspace has grown from the brainchild of Andy Puddicombe and cofounder Rich Pierson into a meditation app loved by millions around the globe, who credit it with improving their minds and lives. As much of the world adapts to a life indoors and the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic, the mental health-boosting app has never felt more relevant. Here, Puddicombe tells us how the company came to be, from becoming an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk to how he met former advertising executive Pierson and spotted an opportunity that would change the traditional face of meditation.

The big idea
‘I lost two of my friends on Christmas Day in 1992 in a freak accident, followed by my stepsister just months later. It left me with a lot of questions. I was midway through a sports science degree when I left England and travelled to Asia to find some form of meaning, and I was eventually ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk after years of training. Ritually meditating four times a day, I became aware that many people outside this tradition didn’t know what meditation was, or had negative preconceptions about it. I thought there was an opportunity to demystify it and make it more accessible. I wasn’t doing much to change those preconceptions at the time, dressed in maroon robes and chanting in a monastery, but I wanted people to know that you don’t need all that. If you can sit down, physically uninterrupted for 10 minutes a day, you can meditate.’

Forming a plan
‘I returned to England – in a suit and tie, rather than robes – and found a doctor who was interested in mindfulness. I worked in his London clinic where I was introduced to an advertising executive, Rich Pierson. We clicked from the start and began doing a skill swap – me teaching meditation and him giving lessons in marketing. Rich had amazing vision and saw the potential of what I was doing. He tried to persuade me to do an app – a very new thing at the time – which I thought was such a bad plan, so we launched Headspace as an events series in 2010. After receiving feedback that people had been inspired at our events but didn’t know what to do when they got home, Rich asked me to record some of the sessions. Almost three years later, those recordings became the main material of the app.’

Money matters
‘Convincing people to put their money into a meditation company was not easy. Before big investments, the first five years came out of our own pockets, and those of our friends and families. I’ll never forget going to Rich’s dad and asking if he could help us. He looked at our business plan and said, “I think this is a terrible idea, but if anyone can make it work, it’s you.” He invested in us rather than in the idea, but he’s now a very happy man.’

'In the early days, most people didn’t buy into the app as an idea. But if you really have that gut feeling about something, you have to go for it.'