by Brian Nordli
October 16, 2018

Headspace sprouted out of a simple vision from co-founders Rich Pierson and Andy Puddicombe: improve the health and wellness of people across the world.

Both founders had suffered from poor mental health in the past — and found relief in the form of meditation. Believing that more people could benefit from the practice, they set out to build a meditation app to help others find their own moments of peace each and every day.  

Now, with more than 1 million subscribers and a growing team of like-minded individuals, they’re aiming to expand that reach even further. We spoke with Pierson and two other leaders on the team to learn more about the company’s vision — and what they’re doing to make it a reality. 

 

Headspace office employees
Photography By Michelle Winters
Headspace Kitchen
Photography By Michelle Winters
Headspace bike rack
Photography By Michelle Winters

 

FOUNDED: 2010

EMPLOYEES: 215 (about 200 based locally)

WHAT THEY DO: Headspace’s mobile app teaches people how to meditate, offering hundreds of guided meditations designed to help users reduce anxiety and stress.

WHERE THEY DO IT: Santa Monica

UNPLUG: Twice a day, Headspace employees can participate in a voluntary meditation break either alone or in the company’s meditation room.

MEET THE ENGINEERING TEAM: Headspace engineers are helping people to unplug and unwind. Learn more.

 

Rich Pierson at work

Pierson portrait

 

Rich Pierson, Co-founder and CEO

Rich guides Headspace’s mission. His goal is to help people find peace and happiness in their lives through the company’s app.

BEYOND WORK: When Rich isn’t steering the vision and direction of the company, he can be found in the ocean pursuing a different kind of balance and happiness — riding waves on his surfboard.

 

What was the moment you realized you and your co-founder, Andy Puddicombe, were onto something?

Andy and I started Headspace as a passion project. It began as a nonprofit, but we struggled to gain traction. We had one simple vision: To improve the health and happiness of the world. Andy and I had both suffered from poor mental health in the past, and meditation served as a powerful skill for both of us. That experience inspired us to host live events in London for a couple of years teaching people to meditate, but the business model didn’t work. It wasn’t until we launched the subscription service in January 2012 that we knew we had a successful business.

 

More on HeadspaceHow Headspace engineers are helping people unplug and unwind

 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as a new business?

We didn’t complete our Series A funding until July 2015. The early years were all about scraping enough money together to survive. Our friends were kind enough to help us. They recorded our content for free, reduced their rates, lent us money and worked for us for very little money. Without their help, we would never be where we are today — all because they believed in what we were building.

 

We are very much a meditation app...but over the next year, you will start to see the company evolve into a health and happiness brand.”

 

Where do you see Headspace in one year?

We are very much a meditation app at the moment, but over the next year, you will start to see the company evolve into a health and happiness brand. We are moving beyond guided meditation, building a B2B offering and translating our platform into multiple languages. We have over 1 million subscribers, and I expect us to have 10 times that in the next three years.

 

Paddy at work

Paddy portrait

 

Paddy Hannon, CTO

Paddy oversees Headspace’s product, engineering, analytics and growth teams. His team is responsible for developing products and driving insights to create new experiences for Headspace’s users.  

BEYOND WORK: Paddy enjoys cycling and surfing. While meditation helps him become more centered, his hobbies give him an opportunity to explore his thoughts.

 

Where do you see opportunities for Headspace in the health and wellness app space?  

The health and wellness space is growing so fast. We’ve seen the market of mindfulness apps double in the last year, and as we move into broader health outcomes, there’s no limit to the number of people we can help live happier and healthier lives. I see us scaling beyond an app and becoming ubiquitously interwoven in the technology we use every day.

 

As we move into broader health outcomes, there’s no limit to the number of people we can help live happier and healthier lives.”

 

How would you describe your leadership style?

I expect myself to have meaningful conversations about all aspects of our technology stack, learn new techniques and push my team to think about novel approaches to problems. From time to time I’ll be wrong, and I expect my team to push and challenge me to be better and make better products for our members.

When registration fails or streaming doesn’t work, those failures represent us letting down a person who sought us out for help. As a team, we must do everything we can to serve our members and be empathetic to their needs. We need to be opinionated and passionate about that mission. I try to lead every day with that combination of empathy, passion and opinion. While it’s challenging to be great at all three every day, it’s important to always try.

 

More on HeadspaceHow Headspace engineers are helping people unplug and unwind

 

As Headspace continues to grow beyond its startup beginnings, what opportunities and adjustments does that unlock?

It allows us to go deeper in key areas. As a small startup, we were stretched thin, but now we have the ability to staff up and ensure we deliver an excellent experience for each platform we support. It also means that our developers have more career choices. We have so many areas we need to grow into, allowing for people to move into positions that will help them gain the skills they want.

In terms of adjustments, we are going through some growing pains. Moving from a ship-fast mindset to shipping something fast that is also great presents its own challenges. It requires us to rethink our processes, tools and technology in some fundamental ways.

 

Headspace Office

Bhavini Portrait

 

Bhavini Soneji, VP of Engineering

Bhavini leads Headspace’s engineering team, helping the team build and craft technology and design initiatives that introduce more people to the power of meditation.

BEYOND WORK: While Bhavini shapes the direction of Headspace’s technology team during the day, outside of work, she can be found behind a pottery wheel, hands in the clay as she spins out new creations.


What brought you to Headspace?

Before Headspace, I worked as a CTO and senior vice president of engineering and product at Heal, where I grew the team from single digits to 50 team members. I also have a varied spectrum of experience at Microsoft. I led the Azure Machine Learning Studio and served on key roles to deliver first-generation scalable solutions and large-scale services.

What drew me to Headspace was the company's mission to improve the health and happiness of the world drew me to the company. It’s inspiring to work with people who share this view. Very rarely do you get an opportunity where your work gives back to the community to make it a better place.

 

Very rarely do you get an opportunity where your work gives back to the community to make it a better place.”

 

How would you describe your leadership style?

Being a good listener is crucial. For me, people are the best asset, and I aim to keep them at the forefront of every action or decision I make. I include my leadership team by sharing our goals, creating a joint vision and then empowering each of them to create an execution plan for their respective areas of ownership.

 

More On HeadspaceHow Headspace engineers are helping people unplug and unwind

 

When you are interviewing, how do you know when you’ve found the best fit?

Interviewing is always tricky. It’s not just finding a match but finding the person who will excel in that role. I look for people who can complement the team’s experience and expertise, but who also bring diverse perspectives. That is key to challenging each other and sparking innovation.

 

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