Using Digital Technology to Disconnect & Relax

By Pragati Verma, Contributor

“I felt so burnt out that I turned to meditation to manage the stress of startup life,” recalls Yuhna Kim, who, seven years ago, quit her full-time job to build her first startup, at the age of 23. Called Locket, her company developed a platform for displaying ads and other content on Android lockscreens. For about three years, she worked seven days a week with little sleep. Meditation, she says, helped her cope with the overwhelming high-pressure world of tech startups.

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Eventually, she successfully managed to raise $3 million and sold Locket to e-commerce company Wish. But she continued to meditate and experiment with various meditation styles. “I wanted to try different teachers [and themes]. But there was no single central platform for the best meditation teachers,” she recalls.

Kim sensed a business opportunity and began exploring the idea of creating a “Spotify-type app for mindfulness,” while pursuing her MBA at Stanford University. “In the music world, you don’t listen to only Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift. You download an app where you can find out all the content,” she says. In 2017, she dropped out of Stanford after one semester to build her second startup, Simple Habit, a mindfulness and meditation platform that offers guided sessions for busy and often stressed out people.

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Today, Simple Habit makes meditation accessible to its community of 4.5 million users. It operates on a freemium subscription model—a pricing model that offers customers both complimentary and extra-cost services—similar to Spotify. Her meditation app has more than 2,000 guided meditations that range in length from five to 20 minutes; and the “On-the-Go” feature offers sessions as short as one minute to help users’ calm their nerves or anxiety when they’re in a pinch. Additionally, there are guided meditations for specific symptoms, such as sleep, stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as guided meditations for specific life situations, like commuting and public speaking. Notifications remind users to demonstrate mindfulness throughout the day, and flow charts visualize their progress over time, clocking the number of sessions and minutes completed.

Workplace Mindfulness

Simple Habit is hardly the only app making meditation accessible for busy people. Calm, Headspace, Buddhify, Meditation Studio, among others offer guided meditation, deep breathing, and calming sleep stories. Meanwhile, Guided Meditation VR, Flowvr, and Provata leverage virtual reality to transport users to customized meditation locales.

Investors are also buying into the digitized ancient practice. Calm has raised $141 million at a valuation of $1 billion. Simple Habit received more than $12 million from investors, including Foundation Capital, Y Combinator, and many prominent CEOs in Silicon Valley, like Dropbox’s Drew Houston and Gusto’s Joshua Reeves.

“Scientific researchers have shown that meditation can reduce stress and change areas of the mind that are involved in focus and self-control.”

—Yuhna Kim, founder, Simple Habit

Furthermore, organizations like GE, LinkedIn, Adobe, and Roche Diagnostics are embracing these mindfulness and meditation apps, and offering them as perks to their employees in hopes of reducing workplace anxiety. According to a study by the insurance company Colonial Life, employee stress levels affect productivity and cost employers billions of dollars every week. Moreover, one of every five employees polled said they lose more than five hours of productivity to stress each week; an additional 50 percent of employees said they lose between one and five hours of work thinking about stress each week.

For Kim, the answer is meditation. “[Employees] need to make very quick [decisions] in a stressful environment. Taking a minute or five to calm your mind can help,” she says. “Scientific researchers have shown that meditation can reduce stress and change areas of the mind that are involved in focus and self-control. It has changed my life and I want it to be a part of every busy ambitious professional’s daily life.”

Meditation apps, Kim adds, are making the practice accessible to business executives and startup founders. “[Before] you had to buy a book or an audiotape, or even travel to a meditation center. Now, you have the world’s best meditation teachers in your pocket.”

Connect to Disconnect

The practice has to start from the top. “Business leaders should set an example and lead their teams to group or individual meditation sessions,” says Kim. “Another way to encourage employees would be to set up meditation pods or a space where people can take a mental break.”

It’s hard to miss the irony of smartphone apps helping busy executives take a break from an always-on, digital corporate culture. Kim recognizes that irony, but believes that meditation apps can address short attention spans, manage anxiety, and increase productivity by helping users stay in the moment. “We have the perception that technology is in our way of staying in the present. But it can do wonders in connecting people to mindfulness in the modern world full of distractions,” she says.

Whether you’re a busy executive or an overworked startup founder, Kim offers a simple mantra for a happy, healthy, and productive workplace: “Meditate every day using the same device that stresses you out.”