Over the past several years, my mom has gotten into a habit of sending my sister and I emails containing what she has coined “Words of Wisdom,” and are a roundup of two or three articles she comes across in a given week mostly focused on wellness topics. One frequently used source is the Smarter Living column in the New York Times and, in my case, a lot of the articles touch upon ways to reduce stress. It was through one of these emails that I first learned about the Calm app. My mom had downloaded it and tried a few of the free meditations and thought it was worth checking out, so I eventually downloaded it too. To be completely honest, I haven’t done much beyond actually downloading the app and choosing my preferences for what I would want to get out of it. I have yet to dive into the different options available – my favorite excuse to use is that I “don’t have time,” which is exactly why I probably should give it a shot! However, I recently noticed that Calm hit the $1 billion valuation mark earlier this year, thereby earning a spot in the unicorn club. Given that, and the fact that “mindfulness” has become such a buzzword, I thought it was worth doing a little more research into (and maybe by the end of this blog post I’ll be convinced to give it a fair shot).
For those who may not be familiar, Calm is a meditation, sleep and relaxation app that was launched in 2012. It promises to help users sleep better, boost confidence and reduce stress and anxiety, with the help of guided meditations, soothing music, and sleep stories. The app itself is free to download and some free content is available, but a paid subscription unlocks access to Calm’s entire library of content. The company said it has 40 million downloads worldwide and over one million paid subscribers. It was named by Apple as the 2017 iPhone App of the Year and was a Google Play “Editors’ Choice” in 2018. In addition to the app, Calm has also been making investments and partnering with brands to “meet stress where it lives.” One example is stress that is associated with travel. In 2018, Calm invested $3 million in XpresSpa, which is a chain of quick spa stores found in airports. The investment will allow Calm subscribers to in-store benefits and treatments at multiple XpresSpa airport locations, including Atlanta, Chicago, and New York. The company also partnered with American Airlines in 2018 to offer Calm content within the airline’s in-flight entertainment system.
Meditation seems to be having a “moment,” but it certainly isn’t anything new. In fact, it is a practice that has been in existence for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that Western professors and researchers began to test the effects of meditation and learn about its benefits. The popularity of meditation in the U.S. has grown significantly in recent years – according to the CDC, the use of meditation tripled from 4.1% in 2012 to 14.2% in 2017. The meditation industry is now worth more than $1 billion in the U.S. according to the Global Wellness Institute, while the overall “wellness” sector is estimated at several trillion dollars.
Calm has capitalized on this growing craze by leveraging technology to offer a digital suite of mindfulness and wellness tools that people can incorporate into their everyday life. The company’s co-founder and co-CEO, Michael Acton Smith, was quoted as saying “Mental health was something people didn’t really talk about until recently. Something is changing really dramatically. There’s a societal shift of people taking care of their minds and being more interested in sleep and self care.”
Although Calm was the first mental health-focused unicorn, it is not operating alone in this sector. There are other players in this space who are making innovative strides, including one of Calm’s main competitors, Headspace. Just like Calm, Headspace is an app that offers guided meditation sessions and also uses a subscription-based model in order for users to unlock all of its available content. As of June 2017, Headspace confirmed it was valued at $320 million. In a recent move to build an edge over its competitors, Headspace announced towards the end of 2018 that it had acquired Alpine.AI to bring more voice interaction into its main app. The addition of AI and voice technology would allow users to have an interactive voice-based way to discover different meditation sessions available on the app, and use those interactions to make better suggestions to each individual. Time will tell if this move will help Headspace attract even more funding, and we’ll see if it, too, lands among the unicorns.
The use of technology has helped meditation become more mainstream, and the advent of apps like Calm and Headspace have given users a friendly way to incorporate meditation into their daily life. So now as I think about giving meditation via app an actual chance, I’m curious if anyone has tried Calm or Headspace (or others) before. If you have, which one is your favorite?