Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where as you know, I’ve down interviews for over a thousand entrepreneurs.
And when I go to conferences, people often will introduce me to people who they think I should interview or get to know. And I was at Hustle Con here in San Francisco, Sam Parr’s conference, and he immediately brought me to this guy and said, “Andrew, you should meet him.” And as soon as I saw you, Michael, I wanted to get to know you for two reasons. Number one, you had really cool hair. In an environment of people where everyone was a techie, you had this cool style. You also had this sense of confidence about you that made me feel like you were somebody. Is that kind of a weird thing to say?
Michael: Fair enough.
Andrew: I feel like especially here in Silicon Valley, you feel that either people are insecure and a little shaky and want to prove themselves or know they’re never going to, that insecurity, or they have a sense of self and they feel like they’ve accomplished something or they’re comfortable with who they are. Anyway, you had that in a room full of people who maybe didn’t all have it.
Michael: I appreciate that. Thank you. Any more compliments?
Andrew: Well, here’s the other thing. I did say, “Sam, what are you introducing us for?” He said, “Look, this is the guy who cofounded Calm.” Calm.com is the website. I heard a lot about it. He said, “You should get to know him.” Immediately I met Michael Acton Smith and I said, “Hey, what about,” and I brought up, you might remember this, some of your competition. I said, “How are you doing compared to them?” And I started drilling you for numbers.
We were like nice and chatty and you were calm and comfortable and immediately I go into my hyper state, “What are your numbers? How do you compare to them? Are you guys profitable? How come I never heard of you, but I only heard of your cofounder, the guy who created the Million-Dollar Homepage?” Then I said, “So impressive.” I took a breath and I said, “Can I interview you sometime?”
And that was over a year ago and we’ve been trying for a long time and I’m really proud to have you on here, partially because you’ve got this real calm sense of being that I want to understand and partially because you founded Calm and the numbers that you shared with me were unbelievable. And also because you had this whole history before Calm.com of successes and I realized I was going to say no wonder you’re so comfortable in your own skin, you’d made it, but maybe that’s not what it is. Maybe it’s something else. We’ll dive into that in this interview.
The whole thing is sponsored by two great companies. The first you’ve heard me talk about for over a year, a fantastic company. It’s called Toptal. I’ll tell you more about how they can help you hire your next great developer. The second you never heard me talk about in a spot, brand new advertiser. If you’re into email marketing, you’ve got to hear me talk about Drip.
All right. But first, Michael, welcome.
Michael: Thank you. Great to be here.
Andrew: Let’s talk about the superficial. Am I at all right about this whole sense of calm? Forget calm, calm is kind of–that’s part of your branding. What about this sense of comfort in your own skin? Am I right? Do you feel you’ve achieved that at this point in your life?
Michael: I think I’ve built a lot of businesses and I’ve had some successes and some catastrophic failures and learned a lot along the way. I do feel pretty comfortable in my skin. I’ve got a lot more I want to do, many, many more adventures ahead. I try and do them by staying balanced as I go.
Andrew: When you want to do more, is it because you’re living in San Francisco and you see people who are richer, more successful, better known than you and you want to at some level achieve what they have or is there some other mission there?
Michael: We only get one life. We’ve got 20,000, 15,000 days left, spins on this incredibly planet. I just want to do cool stuff, make a difference.
Andrew: Just for cool stuff, just for funsies?
Michael: Well, leaving a mark.
Michael: When you run businesses, you get to travel the world. You get to go to cool conferences. You get to meet amazing people. That’s so exciting. It’s such a great way to go through life. You’re learning stuff all the time. I love it. I love running and juggling different businesses. It’s just a fun, cool thing to do.
Andrew: You are running a couple of other–actually one other business, Mind Candy?
Michael: Well, I’m not running Mind Candy at the moment. I ran that for many, many years. We’ve got a great new CEO in place. But I’m the Chairman of Mind Candy and now I’m running Calm and the co-CEO and cofounder with my very good buddy, Alex Tew.
Andrew: Okay. The numbers–you guys, basically here’s what Calm does.
Michael: Straight to the numbers.
Michael: Straight to the numbers, here we go.
Andrew: Straight to the numbers. Yeah.
Michael: Let’s go to the numbers.
Andrew: I like your confidence and I want to understand your journey, but let’s like give people a sense of what they’ve built with this attitude. It’s not just about being calm and kind of living life and being okay with making $25,000 because you live in one of these minimalist houses. You’re really building something that’s big and a lot of people are participating and willing to pay for it.
When I went to Calm.com for the first time, all I saw was this serene view of water and some music in the background. What I didn’t understand was the depth of it. I can go in for a free meditation session on there, or I can upgrade and pay a monthly or annual fee to do more intense meditation, guided meditations. That’s the way the business works, right?
Andrew: How many people pay for that?
Michael: So we haven’t announced the exact number of paying subscribers, but we’re doing well north of $1 million a month, very high margin. There are only 12 people on the team. We’ve raised $1.5 million in seed. We were doing about 10,000 downloads a day last year. We’re doing well over double that this year. Most of it is organic.
This is what we’re really proud of–huge, huge word of mouth going on because people love Calm and then we’re riding this wave, this incredible societal shift going on around mindfulness and meditation and people taking more care of their minds, this physical fitness boom we’ve seen over the last 50 years, now we’re seeing the same for mental fitness. I just think that’s such an exciting space to play in.
Andrew: When you say organic, the only organic stuff I see for you is you guys have fantastic investors–Jason Calacanis, the guy’s got a mouth bigger than the building I’m in right now, right? You love having him, I imagine–do you like having him as an investor?
Michael: He’s great. He goes to war for his startups. We’ve got Michael Birch. We’ve got Matt Mullenweg. We’ve got tons of great investors.
Andrew: Tons. Every time I see a post about how Silicon Valley is embracing meditation, there’s a mention of Matt Mullenweg meditating. He’s the founder of WordPress, so of course people want to mention him and it adds credibility and it says, “By the way, he also is an investor in Calm.” So I get that. But beyond this whole Silicon Valley investors and entrepreneurs talking about meditating and saying they’re investing or partnering up with you, what other organic stuff are you guys doing?
Michael: So people love Calm. I think it’s a really valuable state of mind that seems obvious, but we’ve kind of forgotten it, particularly in the last decade in the smartphone era. You just need to walk down any street, go to any coffee shop, look at any bus stop, people are tapping away on their phones and it’s changing and rewiring our brains in incredible ways. They’re extraordinary and amazing, but also if we use them in a mindless way, if we’re slaves to our technology instead of masters of them, it causes tremendous damage. This is why anxiety is on the increase. Depression is on the increase. So many are stressed.
Andrew: When people go through that, I get the pain that you guys are trying to solve. What I’m wondering, Michael, is do people then try Calm and tell all their friends about it? It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing I’d want to rave about afterwards. It would seem like something that would be indiscreet to even talk about or pushy to talk about after meditating.
Michael: I think that’s a fair point. I think meditation has had this baggage for many, many years. It’s an ancient wisdom that’s been practiced for thousands of years. I think some of the baggage it carries recently has been people assumed it had religious connotations. They assumed it was wu-wu and ultra-spiritual or just for hippies. This shift is happening recently as the neuroscience develops and the studies come out showing hard science how this impacts us and how it benefits many areas.
Andrew: I get it.
Michael: That’s what fueling the word of mouth. People are now proud to say they meditate rather than something they might have done privately.
Andrew: I see. Kind of like if I spin, I’m very proud to say I spin or if I’m a marathon runner, I want everyone to know I do long distances. You’re saying meditating now has been elevated to that level and people want to share the fact that they’re meditating and they say, “I use Calm.”
Michael: Exactly. People realize it’s like eating well or exercising well. Looking after your mind is one of those important parts of having a good life. I think that’s helping fuel the word of mouth growth.
Andrew: Are you guys profitable considering you only have 12 people on the team?
Michael: Yes. The business is very cash flow positive. We’re very proud of that, and now we’re just starting to ramp up our spend, hiring a lot more people, moving into a new office. It’s a really exciting time.
Andrew: Interesting. All right. I had no idea. I’d seen the site a long time ago. From the beginning, I think, back when it was called–what was it called? Take a break for two minutes or something?
Michael: Yeah. Alex originally set it up–he’s been interested in using technology to help people relax and calm down and meditate for a long, long time. The initial site that he setup was called DoNothingForTwoMinutes.com, a really silly, quirky idea. It had millions of visitors because people found it so difficult to do nothing for two minutes. If you moved your cursor or touched a keypad, it would restart the two minutes. It spread like wildfire. That was the kind of signal that told both of us there was something big here.
Andrew: I remember Alex from like internet 1.0. He created the Million-Dollar Homepage, right?
Andrew: I think we even bought a few pixels of the Million-Dollar Homepage for my previous company. I remember the guy who bought it was excited for having scored a few pixels on this big site. I get his story. I’m wondering your backstory. I heard that you ran something called Hotbox. I told you before we started this interview that I went to internet archives to search Hotbox.com and I came up with a naked woman and then a bunch of her friends who were also very naked. That’s not the site. What was the site?
Michael: No. I can say that had nothing to do with me. This was way back. I just finished university in the UK. And I was looking for something fun to do. This is about 1998. Me and my buddy had heard about this thing called the internet that was starting to take off. We thought we could sell cool toys and gadgets online. We thought we’d called the company Hotbox because the products were so hot, they were bursting out of the box. That was our quirky little logo.
Andrew: I get it.
Michael: We registered Hotbox.co.uk because we were based in the UK. We didn’t think it mattered that we didn’t own Hotbox.com. But it did matter because it was one of the world’s biggest porn sites. We got all this traffic to our site that didn’t convert very well. My mom would go and tell all her friends to check out her son’s new business and they’d go to the wrong site. So they thought I was a porn baron for a little bit. But now everyone can see the funny side. Then we changed the name to Firebox.com and I learned some really valuable lessons about naming a business.
Andrew: Yeah. What did you guys pay for Calm.com? That must have cost a pretty penny.
Michael: Yeah. That was a six-figure sum. The guy originally wanted about $1 million for it, but we got it for quite a bit less than that. But I think it’s such a beautiful, simple domain name. I love it because we are teaching meditation, but we didn’t want to have a name that had too much of that baggage I was talking about earlier. Calm is universal. Everyone understands it. I think it’s a great platform to build this massive global lifestyle brand we’re aiming for.
Andrew: You read a book called “Doing Business on the Internet” back in 1997. How did that influence the direction of your life?
Michael: So it was this huge tome, which I just read as if it was the most amazing text ever. It just blew my mind. So me and Tom Boardman, my business partner back then, we’d met at university, created the website. There was no Shopify then. There was no kind of tools to build or manage your email lists. Tom kind of hacked everything together from scratch and that was the starting point.
Nothing much happened, because back in ’98, there weren’t many competitors online. But there weren’t many customers either. So we had about one order a week, which wasn’t great. And then we had our breakthrough moment when we invented this new product that took off like a rocket.
Andrew: Before you invented this product, from what I can see, looking at Hotbox.co.uk in the internet archives, you sold a bunch of interesting gadgets like casino dice, exciting bottle opener–I’m not sure why it’s exciting. You quickly say that. The shot glass chess set–was that the big one?
Michael: That was the turning point. Yeah.
Andrew: Up until then, you were selling other people’s products?
Michael: Yes. Because we didn’t have any cash, we would basically list some products online and if someone placed an order, we would then call up the supplier, have it shipped to our house and then we’d send it to the customer. It took the best part of a month. But people were so excited about ordering online they didn’t mind, and we weren’t able to take credit cards online, so people would go to a section of our page, print off a sheet that they’d fill in all their details, their credit cards details, then they’d have to fax that to us and I would sit at my desk and type in their credit card details into our little machine and the put their order in a packet and send it out. It’s a bit simple enough.
Andrew: This bottle cap opener is really cool, actually. I put it on top of the battle cap. I slap the top–do you remember this?
Michael: Yeah, the Zap Cap I think it’s called.
Andrew: Zap Cap. That’s it. I slap the top of it and the bottle cap pops right open. I don’t know how that works, but I kind of want one of those.
Michael: That was great. That was one of our bestsellers back then. I think we sold about seven in the year.
Andrew: Yeah. Actually, it is on the website, it says gadgets and cool stuff, hot products, top five, number one is the Zap Cap.
Michael: That’s great. Now the website is called Firebox.com if anyone is looking for quirky, fun unusual gadgets and toys and gifts.
Andrew: Do you still own it?
Andrew: Okay. All right. So this chess set that did really well for you, who came up with it? Did you guys invent it?
Michael: Yeah. So that was me and Tom. We used to be quite geeky chess players at university. We thought, “How can we make chess more interesting?” We loved this idea of kind of smashing together two different things and seeing what happens when you merge them. So what if you mixed chess with alcohol? The shot glass chess set was born.
So you play chess as normal, but the pieces are little shot glasses. You might be, say, whiskey, and I might be vodka. Every time I capture one of your pieces, I have to drink it. So you’ve got this great in built handicap system. So the drinking man or woman’s thinking game.
Andrew: And it looks like what you did was you assembled a collection of shot glasses that already existed on the market, am I right?
Michael: Yes. And then we made a board that had to be alcohol resistant. Putting all of these 33 bits of glass in a box, we had to design the packaging, this foam and then put an outer board around it. Managing that was pretty difficult. It was this huge box that we then shipped out. It did really well.
Andrew: Just like today where I see you guys in the press a lot, you guys were good at getting press. What did you do to get people to cover you?
Michael: Yeah. So this was a really important learning for us. We learned the power of story. Journalists are fascinated by the human interest angle. They love this idea of these two broke students or recent students living in this attic in Wales in the UK and they just loved the idea of this chess set that involved alcohol.
So we wrote together a little press release. We sent it out to a load of journalists and we got covered all over the place. We were in the local newspapers. We were on radio stations, magazines. That was just incredible that the PR that we got, and the orders that flowed from that made us realize PR was going to be a key driver of the business. It always has been in everything I’ve ever done.
Andrew: So then why move on to Mind Candy. If you had this thing that’s working and it’s still working to this day–I’m on the site right now. It looks beautiful today, by the way. Why shift?
Michael: So I ran it with Tom for several years. Sort of around 2003 I started to get itchy feet a little bit and I wanted to do the next thing. I’ve always been a massive videogame player. I was seeing how the internet and games could merge. What if you could play games not just with your buddy, but your friends down the street or hundreds of people? Maybe even one day millions of people could be playing games on line. I just thought there was a huge area to splash around it.
That’s when I created Mind Candy, and Tom and some other friends continued running Firebox and I set up this new business. We created a game called Perplex City, which was this online/offline treasure hunt. We buried a treasure worth $200,000 somewhere in the world, and then we created clues across all sorts of different media.
You’d get messages on your phone or by fax machine. We’d hide clues in newspapers. There were live events with helicopters and actors. It was this most incredible adventure and experience. Eventually someone found this treasure that we buried and won the prize.
Andrew: Wow. Was it worth all that work?
Michael: It was probably the most creative thing I’ve ever worked on. It was just a fascinating experience. We raised about $10 million. We won a ton of awards. We got loads of press. But it was also one of the most complex things I’ve ever worked on and that was its downfall. It just wasn’t the commercial success that we were hoping for. We didn’t attract a large enough audience. That was a really valuable lesson.
Andrew: Yeah. I’m searching online to see if I can find old articles about it. That one’s hard because Perplex City apparently comes up as a phrase on a lot of other websites from 2002.
Michael: Perplex City.
Andrew: Yeah. It wasn’t PerplexityCardCatalog.com, was it?
Michael: Yeah. So we’d created these cards you’d buy like Pokémon cards. Every card had a puzzle. If you solved the puzzles, you got deeper and deeper into the mystery. So that’s how we generated revenue.
Andrew: I see. All right. I see that now, pretty cool. All right. Wow. I was going to ask if that didn’t work then what did you do next, especially considering how much you raised. But let me take a moment here and then come back to it. I want to tell everyone about a company that’s brand new to me. It’s called Drip. Drip.co/Mixergy is the URL. Do you know about them, Michael?
Michael: No, but I’m intrigued. Tell me more.
Andrew: I will tell you more. You mentioned earlier that email marketing is a big part of business as it’s being done online. Today, of course, every business needs to have email marketing. But email marketing is actually the dumber way of doing things, right? Email marketing just means you have the ability to email people on a regular basis. Today, it’s marketing automation via email that’s the most exciting.
That’s what Drip is about. Drip will keep track of everything your customers do on your site. What page did they visit? Did they download a book? Did they start reading the workbook? All that stuff so that you know if you want to market to somebody via email, you’re not sending the same message to everyone, but instead you’re targeting the people who did some kind of an action, like download that workbook, watch a video all the way through to the end. They’re really good at this stuff.
The reason I know all this is because the owner of the company is Clay Collins. He said, “Andrew, I’m going to buy an ad from you, but I want to show you. I’m excited. I just bought this company, Drip. I want you to see what it does.” Clay is the guy who created Leadpages. He’s a great marketer. So, we did a screen share and he started telling me this stuff and Michael, I’ve got to tell you, right here in my stomach–let me see if my audience can see–right here I felt pain and I’ll tell you why in a moment.
He was showing me all this cool stuff like not only can you keep track of what everyone does, but you can send out an email and if the email doesn’t get opened, you can check a box that says, “Resend it to people who don’t open the email after x-number of days.” They said that if they tried it, they got a 30% lift in click rates just by doing that. Yeah, you can do it with other software, but with Drip, one checkbox allows you to reach the people who didn’t open the email that you sent a few days ago, so it’s really powerful.
They also do split testing via email, which my software doesn’t do. It’s maddening. I want to be able to say, “Here’s the one email, test it to see which headline works, which body works, etc.” Well, mine can’t do it. Drip can do it. They also have these blueprints, kind of like landing pages. You don’t have to create a brand new landing page from scratch. They said, “Why do you have to write a whole email sequence from scratch? If you’re doing a webinar, we’ll create all the emails you need for the webinar just plug your name and your product in and make some adjustments so it’s yours, but it will work.”
In fact, they even teamed up with Ryan Deiss, a great marketer, and they said, “We’re going to copy your email sequence, okay?” He said, “Yeah, great.” So, now I and you and anyone who’s listening to me can actually have marketing that works that Ryan Deiss put together. You have a sequence that you can put together using a flow chart.
If somebody opens this link, clicks this link, then send them that. If they don’t, then do that. If they buy, then send this message, if they don’t then do that. All that stuff is beautiful. Shopping carts–they team up with every other shopping cart you can possibly want like WooCommerce, Stripe, E-junkie, Eventbrite–Eventbrite, somebody buys a ticket, it can go into Drip.
So here’s why it bothered me. Michael, I have for a year now said I hate my email automation software. I’ve interviewed people who told me they used my software and they hate it. We all feel trapped. I saw how good the software could be at Drip and I thought, “I wish I could get into it. I’m trapped.”
The way that I asked Clay about it was I said, “Clay, I can see that a lot of people in my audience,” I didn’t say me, Michael. I said, “I can see a lot of people in my audience would like what you have to offer but they can’t switch because it’s too hard to switch away from email providers, especially the old ones. The newer ones make it easier. He said, “Yeah.”
What a lot of people are doing is when they’re creating a new list, they’re doing it on Drip, especially since Drip will give you a free account so you can fully explore it, fully test it, fully see what’s in there, fully use it for up to 100 people. Then you can start transitioning. He told me about how Drift was using it for one list but not for another and I thought, “I could do that. My audience could do it.”
If you’re listening to me and you like what Drip is doing, do what I’m doing. I’ve got a brand new list that’s coming up. I’m really excited about messaging bots. I’m going to build the list on Drip. If you have a new product and you want to build a new list for it, just go to Drip, Drip.co/Mixergy. You’ll get to use it for free.
If you hate your email software and you want to experience with something new, even if you just want to play around and see what’s possible go to Drip.co/Mixergy. They’ll make it really easy for you to get started. In fact, they’ll give it to you for free for up to 100 people so you can fully explore it. Then you can keep expanding if you want and you’ll get this smart automation. I’m going to try it for my new list.
I urge you to try it. If you’re with a stupid email system, one that just lets you send out the same email to everyone, dude, then it’s easy for you to switch over to drip. If you’re with marketing automation software and you hate it, just create a new account and play around with Drip. I’m doing it right now and I urge you to go check them out at Drip.co/Mixergy.
Hey, Michael, I know I was kind of addressing you but I was also kind of lost in my own world as I talked about it because I’m like a raving–
Michael: Good pitch.
Andrew: What’s the opposite of a raving fan?
Michael: Opposite of a fan?
Andrew: Raving hater of my email software.
Andrew: But you get trapped. All the tags are in there, especially with these old ones. You have no lock in, by the way, at Calm. Doesn’t that bother you? I can hate my software but I still pay them every month. Unless someone keeps using your software, there’s no lock in. They can disappear on you. They could go to a competitor. They could stop meditating.
Michael: It’s true. That keeps making sure we make the product as amazing as possible and keep them. Adding new content, new meditations, new sleep stories, new music–it’s working so far. Hopefully our people build up this deep relationship with the brand.
Andrew: All right. You were telling us a moment ago that Mind Candy was not doing so well. What happened after that–well, I don’t know that it would be a failure, but what happened after that setback, let’s say?
Michael: So it was a pretty stressful time. We realized that Perplex City we’d burnt our way through a lot of cash. We had less than $1 million in the bank and the clock was ticking.
Andrew: From $10 million to less than $1 million.
Michael: Yeah. That’s a lot of money. We urgently needed another idea. I knew in the gut of my stomach, as most entrepreneurs do, when something is just not working. So I was in coffee shops doodling and scribbling away trying to come up with the next big idea and had seen how kids were using the web and realized there was something going on here that was a new wave breaking and created something called Moshi Monsters, which were these little creatures that you could adopt and look after and play with online, a bit like Tamagotchi. We launched the site and kids loved it. It took about a year and a half before it took off. But from the early days, we felt there was something special.
Andrew: So they would go to the website. They’d see these monsters. They’d kind of look a little bit like apples or a little bit like bunny rabbits, but they’re definitely their own unique creations, from what I’m understand, right?
Andrew: They would need to feed them and take care of them, which means constantly logging in and interacting and experience the development of these monsters, right?
Michael: Yeah. Kids love–a really popular play pattern for children is nurturing. They love to look after things. So they had their own little monster. They could name it. As you say, they could feed it, play games with it. They would do puzzles. There was a stealth education angle and they were learning. It grew slowly for the first year and a half. We had to raise a little bit more cash. Then in 2009, it hit its tipping point and just exploded and we started getting one new site up every second.
Michael: It was crazy.
Andrew: The model for it as of 2009 was a subscription approach.
Andrew: What were they paying for and how much was it?
Michael: It was about $6 a month that parents would pay. Again, parents liked it because it was safe for their kids to play and they were also learning. Kids loved it because it was fun and creative. Yeah. It was profitable very quickly. As I say, it just grew like crazy. We got up to about $80 million in revenue.
Michael: Yeah. And about $17 million EBITDA. So, about half came from subscription revenue and half came from physical products. This is a similar model that we’re applying to Calm. I love these businesses that have a digital heart where you have a direct connection regularly with your audience. You make high margin revenue there. Then you create physical products that almost act as on ramps or little marketing bombs that you throw out there that provide new ways for your audience to fall in love with your brand.
Andrew: What were the physical products at Mind Candy and what are they now at Calm?
Michael: So, at Mind Candy with Moshi Monsters we had toys. We sold 200 million trading cards. We had the number one selling Nintendo DS game, number one magazine for kids, books. We did a movie with Universal, a music album, all sorts of different products, sold about $1 billion worth at retail value over the multi-year journey of Moshi Monsters.
Then for Calm, similar, the heart of the business is this digital subscription so people are subscribing and coming back to the app regularly. Then what we want to do is expand Calm, allow you to experience Calm many ways throughout your day. It could be drinking a cup of tea in the morning or listening to Calm music or a story to help me go to sleep or Calm virtual reality, Calm hotels one day or retreats or clothing or books. We have our first book with Penguin.
Andrew: You wrote it?
Michael: Yeah, with Alex and the rest of the team. So, ultimately, we want to build Calm into the Nike for the mind. As I said at the start, in the way that Nike surfed the physical exercise boom, we want to be the brand that is there for the mental fitness boom that is growing like crazy right now.
Andrew: I forgot the word you used for the physical product. I thought it was something like a bomb or something, like a promotion bomb. What was it?
Michael: A little marketing bomb.
Andrew: Marketing bomb. How does the physical become a marketing bomb for the digital?
Michael: So the book, for instance, it’s a bit unusual for a digital product, an app to have a book. But we thought it was super smart. So we were paid a pretty hefty six-figure advance, which was great and we make a little bit of money on every book we sell. Far more importantly, every book out there was a chance for someone to talk about Calm or to share it with a work colleague or give it as a gift.
So many people discover Calm or they take photos of it and put it on Instagram of the different pages. It’s a great way of getting not just free marketing but marketing we actually get paid for, so, an incredible way of getting customer acquisition. And then when we launch candles or the many other products that we’re going to launch, each of these, whether people see them in shops or get given them as gifts, will be ways of bringing people in the heart of the business.
Andrew: All this with 12 people only?
Michael: Yes, although we’ve hired two new people this week. So we’re up to 14 and hiring for about another 10, so pretty rapid growth for a moment.
Andrew: How many of them are engineers at Calm of these 14?
Michael: So we have three phenomenal engineers who are incredibly over-stretched. So that’s a big part of our–
Andrew: Because they’re doing iOS, Android and web.
Michael: Yes, exactly. Super skilled and holding it all together.
Andrew: So you told our producer, “Once we went into subscription, cash flow then started to turn positive.” So $40,000 in sales the first month of subscription. We’re talking about Mind Candy, $80,000 the second month. I’m wondering what do we take from that? What’s the difference between the first version of this company and the second version of this company? Not the external, the physical stuff, but why did the second one work where the first version of the company didn’t work?
Michael: I think one of the key things was just simplicity. I’m a huge fan of stripping away complexity for the user, whether it’s in a user interface or the benefits of your product. So Moshi was much simpler and easier to understand for kids. It was adopt your own pet monster. That was the little message that could be spread on playgrounds around the world. Perplex City took about half an hour to explain to someone.
Andrew: I see.
Michael: Secondly, the business model–I love subscription. There’s a great book called “The Automatic Customer.” When you have reliable, recurring revenue, when you build something that people love, you have huge margin when it’s a digital service. So, same for Moshi, same for Calm. I think that’s an amazing engine to have driving your revenue, and you supplement that with physical products that make both flywheels spin faster and faster. I think that’s how you can build huge global multi-billion dollar brands.
Andrew: You know what? John Warrillow is the author of “The Automatic Customer.” He taught a course on Mixergy called “The Automatic Customer” based on what’s in the book. Yeah. It’s phenomenal. There’s something about subscriptions. But there’s also something very scary about subscriptions. People are afraid to buy something by subscription because they think they’re not going to cancel. They think they’ve got this big weighty obligation. How do you overcome that?
Michael: You make sure what you’re offering the customer is amazing and you continually provide new content and you go above and beyond what they expect. So look at Netflix. Once you subscribe to Netflix, very few people drop out because every month, every week there’s new content. That’s what you have to do. Subscription businesses fail when the entrepreneurs get lazy and they stop innovating and adding new content for their customers.
Andrew: I remember one of the things John told me in that course was he said he thought he should give someone a little bit of something in the first month and then a lot more the next month and he realized you need that overwhelming intro with a lot of real value. You could then have a little bit less the second month, but don’t hold back. Do you feel a little bit less the second month but don’t hold back? Did you find anything else that helps with subscriptions having done two successful businesses like that?
Michael: Yeah. Learned a huge amount along the way. One of the key things is where you put the gate between your free and your paid service. Again, a digital product you can test and figure out exactly the best place to put that. We found that offering three price options was far more successful than two. We found that adding a lifetime service and anchor that was very expensive made more people comfortable paying the annual subscription.
So Calm currently is about $60 a year, which we think is fantastic value. But that looks very attractive compared to a lifetime of $300 or $400. Just the psychology of pricing generally, people like to choose the middle of three options than getting caught up between two options, whether it’s on a wine list or whether you’re choosing a holiday. So I think that’s valuable for entrepreneurs experimenting with pricing.
Andrew: I see. I’m wondering when the first version of the business, Mind Candy didn’t work out, a lot of people would have just at that point said, “You know what? I’m done with it,” especially–this is after the–what do they call it when the internet bubble burst?
Michael: The dotcom boom and bust.
Andrew: Yeah. After that, everyone was a little bit depressed. It felt like there no real possibilities to get rich quick anymore. So people thought there was no opportunity to build anything of substance online. You had a failed business, actually. I held back on that, but you could have said, “This is a failed business. I don’t have the energy anymore to continue.” I’m wondering where that came from for you. Why did you continue?
Michael: Well, because we were–I was super excited about this new product we wanted to create. I could have paused Perplex City, given a little bit of money back to my investors and started fresh with a new cap table, but my investors had been with me on the rollercoaster, they backed me from the early days and I wanted to kind of show faith in them as they’d shown in me.
Andrew: You just felt an obligation to show them that they didn’t misplace their trust?
Michael: Yeah. I think entrepreneurship is a long, long game. It’s far more than just the business you’re building at the moment. I think being honorable and respecting your employees and your investors is very, very important. So I didn’t want to restructure the business, and I wanted to continue with the investors that had been there from the start and a small team that had been working on Perplex City, we had to let some people go. So, yeah, from the ashes, the phoenix was able to come out of the flames.
Andrew: But knowing that you want to take care of your investors, knowing intellectually that there’s some possibility somewhere is different from having the energy, the optimism, the confidence to go and pursue it. I remember talking to a VC soon after the bubble burst. I said, “How did you get through it?” He went and showed me this big book. I forget what it was called but it was a really big self-help book.
He showed me how he wrote the answers to all the assignments in the book to get himself back to confidence so that he could have the confidence to keep building his business and to keep looking after his investments. I’m wondering for you, what did you do that allowed yourself to stand talk through it because I want to learn from it. We’re all going to go through it. I know I am.
Michael: Yeah. It was a very, very humbling battering experience having a failed business or failed product with Perplex City, lots of sleepless nights, lots of stress and headaches. I think the reason I was able to kind of pick myself up was having a big vision. I think this is so important for entrepreneurs. I wanted to build the next Disney. I wanted this new idea, Moshi Monsters, to be remembered for decades. I wanted my grandchildren to play this game and experience it one day. So, I’m so excited about it.
Having that huge vision and that massive mountain to scale is incredible motivating because no matter what obstacles and headache and nonsense you have to wade through on a day to day basis, you’re going to find a way up that mountain whatever it might be. I think that’s key. If you’re an entrepreneur and you’ve got an idea and you don’t have a big vision and you’re just hacking away in the weeds, it’s so much harder to pull yourself over those obstacles and those road blocks you meet every single day.
Andrew: Did you do anything to keep your mind focused on the next version of the business and keep it from getting lost in worry about all the mistakes you made in the first version and how you let people down? What did you do?
Michael: I wrote a fake newspaper article ten years into the future of what would Moshi be like if it was this global phenomenon and stuck that up near my desk. That’s kind of very motivating. You kind of create a version of the world that hasn’t happened yet. It’s about like creating a mood board or vision, The Secret has a lot of fans and a lot of detractors as well. But I love this idea of being positive and believing to make something happen.
Andrew: Where did you get the idea to make this newspaper?
Michael: I don’t know where that came from.
Andrew: It just kind of came to you. Do you still have that paper now?
Michael: Somewhere in huge boxes I’ve got in storage of all the scribbles and notebooks I went through on Moshi.
Andrew: What did it say as the headline? Where were you going to be at the end of this?
Michael: I think it was something like, “Moshi: The Next Global Phenomenon” or something like that.
Andrew: I see. So you already had that idea while Perplex City was starting to go down.
Michael: As Perplex City was crashing and I knew it wasn’t working, I was scribbling away and trying to come up with this new idea. Moshi was just starting to take seed and develop at that point.
Andrew: You know what? If you had a cynical friend, they would say, “Michael, it already exists.” You’re kind of referring to these other products, Tamagotchi, etc. They exist already. You can’t go in and create another one already, another one when one already exists. Why did you think that was okay?
Michael: Well, I’m a huge believer in looking at things that have been successful. Human beings, we’re different but we do respond in a remarkably similar way to the same stuff. I love a book by Robert Cialdini called “Influence: The Power of Persuasion.” So, it’s really valuable to look back in history and see what kinds of products have worked and what haven’t. What I love doing is finding something that has worked and then putting a twist on it for a new audience.
So, Tamagotchi worked in a pre-web era. We thought what if I can take the elements, the nurturing, the play patterns that children loved about Tamagotchi and apply that to a new platform such as the web. What people have done now is applied those similar principles to mobile. People continue doing that forever into the future. I think that’s a really important thing that a lot of good entrepreneurs do.
Andrew: Yeah. That’s right. Tamagotchi, they were those little key chains. So you would just have this black and white or black and green thing in your pocket and go to the screen and feed your Tamagotchi. I see.
Michael: Super simple, but they sold tens and tens of millions of them. That made me question, “What is it about that?” It’s down to this core need of nurture. So we kind of took some elements and were inspired by that, but also Cabbage Patch Dolls and Pound Puppies and Furby and many other kids trends over the last few decades, took some inspiration and created our own thing.
Andrew: All right. That brings us up to–actually, before we get to Calm–no, we did. We talked about the revenue, huge revenue from that. Did you become confident because you made it, because you had enough money in the bank that you weren’t going to get wiped out and so the dangers of life went away. Is that possible?
Michael: No. Well, I think we became a bit too confident. We were growing so quickly. We thought we were going to become the next Disney. We thought that every new IP that we launched after Moshi Monsters would be a success. We learned a really hard lesson. As fast as Moshi grew, it then came down.
As kids moved on to mobile, Moshi was no longer the cool thing in the playground. We went through some very, very stressful times, redundancies, falling revenue. That was a really tough period. I think the kids space in particular is very challenging because it is quite fad and fashion-driven. So, learned some really important lessons there.
Andrew: The company is still up and running now. You guys have a mobile strategy for sure, right?
Michael: Yes. So we went through some tough times, but as I say, we’ve got a great new leader in place, a really good time. The company is a bit smaller, but we’re relaunching Moshi Monsters. We’ve got a great new brand called Petlandia, which is where you can make your point into a star and create a book around it and a whole range of other products. So, yeah, Mind Candy is on its way up again. So, what a rollercoaster it’s been.
Andrew: Jason Calacanis, our mutual friend and your investor has this question that he likes to ask entrepreneurs that I’ll ask you–are you a millionaire, cash millionaire?
Andrew: You are. I’m trying to figure out where your calm comes from. I don’t know if you notice, Michael, but my energy level was very high in the beginning because I’m high on your business and high on your as a person. And then it went calm. And throughout the whole thing, I’m watching your personality.
A lot of other people, when they see me go high, either shrink or they come high with me. And then when I got back to middle, they come to middle with me. You’re always yourself in this and you’re not changing your tone and you’re not shrinking or becoming an exaggerated sense of you as my mood changes. There’s something there. Where does that come from, that confidence, that sense of self, that sense of balance?
Michael: I’m not sure. It’s not a conscious thing. I think mirroring is a very important kind of body language. So it is usually smart to mirror whoever you’re chatting to.
Andrew: You’re not mirroring. I’ll tell you where it comes from for me. I definitely have a very good sense of self and confidence and comfort with myself. It comes from having gone through the dotcom bubble explosion and wondering, “Where am I?” If I’m not the guy who’s going to build a $438 million business which is my goal, then I’m nothing is what I thought. So I’ve got to figure out how to be something.
Then I had to go through this period of two or three years of sitting on the beach in Venice and hanging out and riding my bike all do with nothing else to do for like eight hours and thinking and working on myself. Then I feel like I exited that whole part of my life as a real human being, really understanding who I am completely, but also understanding that there’s an evolution that keeps growing. That’s where it came from for me. What about for you?
Michael: Do you know what? I haven’t thought about this, but I think it could be my meditation practice. I think what meditation does is it increases your awareness. I think you’re able to ride the huge spikes, the ups and downs that are part of the entrepreneurial journey much more smoothly. You don’t get yanked around by your emotions. I think calm leaders are great leaders. I think calm friends are great friends. I think in a crisis or in a relationship, being calm, having that place to come to, that stability, that rock, that foundation is really, really valuable. So, maybe it comes from there.
Andrew: All right. Let’s get into then to Calm and I’ll challenge you a little bit about it because I want to understand it. I’m a big believer in it. So challenge as a way of understanding, not challenge as a way of knocking down.
First, I’ve got to tell you about this thing. I interviewed this guy, James Ashenhurst. A little while–I guess it’s a couple years afterwards, I got a card from him, a thank you card from him. Who writes cards anymore? James does. So James sent me a card and he said, “Andrew, I’ve been putting this off for too long. I used Toptal because. . .” and he gives me a list of searches. He’s got about 100,000 searches a year on his site and the user experience really sucked.
So he hired Toptal to fix it. The developers over there paired him with a guy and he gives me the guy’s name at Toptal. The developer’s name is Stratos. He did a fantastic job. He installed a collective search, which makes sure that even commonly misspelled words still get results and also he built a system search functionality and the ability to hand select which posts are ranked for which search terms. You think about all this, this is the kind of stuff that really has impact on the user experience of the site.
James must have wrestled with this for a while. I know I did. He heard me Toptal. He’s someone that’s come into my office, had scotch with me so he knows I’m not full of it when I talk about a sponsor, that it’s not just about collecting money, but it’s also about doing good work. He said, “I’m going to try it.”
If you’re out there and you’re listening to me, do what James did for his site. His site is Organic Chemistry. Go check out Toptal, whether it’s a search issue that you have or any other tech problem–not tech problem but any other development problem. Toptal is the best. I know they’re the best because they spend so much of their effort screening out 97% of the people who want to work for them. They want just the top of the top, top three percent.
James and so many other people who I’ve interviewed who have listened to me at Mixergy wanted great developers. They went to Toptal. They get matched up with a great developer or often team of developers. You can get started with your developer often right away. Try them out. You’ll want to send me a thank you note because you’re going to be so happy with the results.
Here’s the URL where you’re going to get something they’re not giving anybody else. If you want to go check out Toptal, go to this special URL where they’re going to give you 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours and that’s in addition to a no risk trial period of up to two weeks. Top as in top of the mountain, tal as in talent. That’s Toptal.com/Mixergy.
I use them at Mixergy. James Ashenhurst used them. So many other people that I’ve interviewed have. I urge you to go check them out–Toptal.com/Mixergy. First thing they’ll do, they’ll talk to you on the phone. They’ll understand your problem. Then if it’s a good fit for you to use Toptal, they will match you with the right person the way they did James and you can often get started with that person right–for us it was 24 hours. You can often do it within a matter of days. Go check them out, Toptal.com/Mixergy.
You know what, Michael? As I was reading that ad, I saw my mind wander. I saw myself say like, “That’s not as clear as it could be.” I told you before we started this interview that I interviewed Alex Blumberg of Gimlet. He’s a big editor and so in my head, I said, “Alex would totally edit that out.”
Frankly, that’s the part of the mind that meditation helps me with, right? I need to know that that stuff is going on and then allow it to just float through my head and go out. I need to accept that this ad can suck and not get lost in how crappy it is and be distracted for the rest of the interview. That’s what meditation does for me. What does it do for you?
Michael: I think a good analogy is I’m going to the gym. We go to the gym and we lift weights and we strengthen our muscles with those repetitions. Meditating is almost like going to a mental gym. What you’re doing is you’re not clearing your mind of all thought. You are observing when a thought comes in and then you are gently sort of moving it out and then again and again and again. The mind will continue wandering. The more you do that, the stronger your attention muscle becomes and the more valuable that attention is in everyday life. It’s a very simplistic description.
The neuroscience behind is around the amygdala, which is the oldest part of our brain, which is the fight or flight, which many of us are controlled by. We react instead of respond to situations. Meditation pushes some of the power, your control towards the prefrontal cortex, the more modern part of your brain which does allow you, as they say, to respond to situations instead of react. You almost have a fraction of a second more to decide how to respond to any stimulation in life. That changes everything.
Andrew: I remember trying meditation that period of life I was telling you about when I went off and tried different things in L.A. I would sit there in a room full of other people meditating and my mind would wander to all the greater ideas that I didn’t have before and I should go write them down and then all the to-do items would come in my head and I’d go, “Yes, I need to do that right now.”
I would have to either decide to do it right now or stay focused and I said, “I’m going to stay here at the moment and stay focused. That means I can’t pay attention to the to-dos. I have to let those go. I can’t pay attention to how I was an asshole yesterday. I have to let that thought go because otherwise I can’t sit here.
By training myself to have those thoughts but let them go calmly, I became a better meditator and then when I talked to somebody and a random thought would come in my head, I would know to let that go and stay focused. When I do some work and a random thought would go in my head and it would distract me and I would want to go check Facebook or an email or something, it would bring me back to my work. That’s the upside for me.
Michael: Certainly. There are so many different benefits. Meditation, it’s worth saying, is not easy, like anything in life. If you want to be a great entrepreneur, if you want a fit body, if you want to eat healthily, you’ve got to put the work in and figure out how to incorporate it into your daily habits, which is not straightforward. But the benefits shown by science are so many now, from just having clearer thinking to better focus to lower blood pressure to better immune system, to better sleep, on and on and on, these benefits.
Andrew: Michael, when I’m talking about meditation the way I experience it, the way I learned it, I’m doing it on my own. I’m allowing the mind to be tempted by side thoughts and then training it to bring itself back to what I’m focusing on, which is the breath or my mantra or whatever.
Andrew: What you guys do at calm is guided meditation, where you tell me what to think, where an external voice guides me towards focusing on the voice. Isn’t that kind of a cheat that then keeps us from learning how to focus ourselves on the conversation that we’re having, on the work that we’re doing, on the art that we’re creating, on the sale we’re trying to close. Isn’t that what happens?
Michael: It’s a good question. So meditating on your own, if you’ve never done it before without a teacher or any kind of guide, is extremely difficult. If you’re training to run a marathon, you’d have a coach. What we do at Calm is help you learn the basics. It’s almost like training wheels and then you can take that as far as you want. The most successful feature on Calm is something we call the Daily Calm, which is a new meditation that Tamara Levitt, mindfulness instructor, creates every single day.
A big part of it is silence, so you are quietly meditating, but she tops and tails the meditation with little introduction, advising you to focus on your breath and relax yourself. Then at the end, she will bring you back to your everyday life with a quote or inspiration or technique. It’s kind of like it’s someone guiding and helping and advising you whether you doing this challenging practice all on your own.
Andrew: Do I need to have a membership in order to do that?
Michael: You can do a fair bit in Calm for free. But then to get access to all our deeper content, the meditations, the Daily Calm, the sleep stories, that is a paid subscriptions.
Andrew: Including this thing you mentioned that happens every single day.
Andrew: It’s interesting how meditation is one of the few places where people actually pay for content. Essentially, that’s what you’re doing is content.
Michael: Yes. People are very happy to pay. About a third pay–a third of people who eventually become subscribers do so on day one, which is quite unusual for a digital subscription product.
Andrew: It is, except what you guys do is you’ve moved the–it used to be more free before the payment. Now it’s essentially you sign up for free but except for one or two things, you really are paying in order to experience Calm, right?
Michael: Well, no, there’s a lot behind the pay wall. You get a little bit of stuff for free. As I say, we think it’s great value. It’s far less than the price of coffee per day, per week. Compared to the cost of a therapist, learning any new skill it’s worth paying a little bit of money for. We think it’s great value.
One of the lessons, one of the things we’ve learned actually is that every time we’ve put our prices up, people have continued to pay. I think this is a mantra right here a lot in Silicon Valley. I think Mark Andreessen talks about it. Entrepreneurs are often afraid of charging too much for their product. We’re so proud of what we created, we think it’s a phenomenal product that we think people are very prepared to pay and we see a lot of successful net revenue increases every time we do.
Andrew: You know what? There’s so much I want to ask you about. I’m looking at BuiltWith, what the site is built with. I want to understand so much. Why don’t I go back to the origins of the business? Why did Alex bring you in? Alex is a competent entrepreneur who’s had a track record before who had a site already built where people–I remember seeing it on Hacker News. People were talking about and going and sitting and not touching their screens for two minutes and being amazed they did it.
Why you? Why would you say yes when you already had a track record of being an independent guy who already had something going on? So, let’s start with Alex. Why did he need to bring you in?
Michael: So Alex has been meditating for many, many years. Ever since he was a teenager he was fascinated by the brain and personal development. He got that. The light bulb went on for him a lot earlier for me. I’ll be honest. I never really understood meditation until I dove into it, practiced it and read the science.
We used to live together in SoHo with another friend of ours in an entrepreneurial house in the center of London. Alex and I would play FIFA on the couch most evenings just chatting about different business ideas. We were talking about meditation and clam and how we felt there was an opportunity to create something big. Kind of the trigger was when we had the chance to buy this domain name.
We’d always said we wanted to build a business together. We’d worked on many projects, but we felt this could be the first chance that we could do that. We know each other extremely well. We both bring different talents to the table. I bought the domain name and put a little bit of money into the business and we cofounded it together. Alex ran it for the first few years in San Francisco while I was still running Mind Candy in the UK. Then about a year ago, I moved over to San Francisco to run it full-time with him.
Andrew: You bought the domain?
Andrew: The model, who came up with the model?
Michael: It was a bit of both of us. We kind of just batted it around together. Alex was definitely the more experienced on the meditation and mindful side and brought on board the first instructors and knew how to structure that. Then yeah, it just grew from those very early beginnings.
Andrew: What about Headspace? How much did that influence you?
Michael: So Headspace have built a fantastic business. They raised about $34 million about a year or so ago and growing very rapidly. They tell a great story. They’ve had a huge amount of press and Andy is a brilliant teacher, but we’re different to Headspace. We’re not just building a mindfulness app, of which Headspace and Calm are by far the two biggest. There are hundreds and hundreds of apps where you can learn meditation.
What we’re trying to do is build a global lifestyle brand around the idea of Calm. A key part of that, probably the most important way to become Calm is through learning meditation, but there are many other ways, from listening to nature sounds or watching beautiful videos to listening to our sleep stories that we’ve created to all these physical products we’re going to create down the line. That’s why I think the two businesses may look similar but are actually quite different.
Andrew: They do have more users than you, more customers than you.
Michael: Yes. But they also have over 10 times as many employees as us and 20 times as much cash raised. So they do because they started earlier than us and I think full credit to them. We’re in mindful competition for them. We have a lot of respect for Andy and the Headspace team. They have quite a few more downloads than us and more revenue, but I think we’re growing fast as well.
Andrew: I think that what they have is also a risk in Andy. Notice how many times you mention Andy. He’s the voice you hear when you sign up. He’s the person who’s on there. It’s a big risk of a company that size to be built on one person’s personality. Don’t you agree?
Michael: It can be a pro and a con. He’s a fantastic personality and he has helped the company grow tremendously. But you’re right. It can also be a downside and there are many businesses that have been built on one person that have stumbled.
But what I would say is I think we are competing in an enormous market. This is not a winner takes all space. It’s not like an eBay or a Facebook or a social network, a network style business. What we’re creating and what Headspace is creating is relevant for anybody with a mind, 7 billion people, from little kids to folks in care homes. There are going to be many winners in this space that approach it slightly different. We wish them the best and their growth helps ours and vice versa.
Andrew: Michael, when you and I talked, I remember also badgering you about a lot of stuff and one of the things I badgered you on is the name meditation the baggage that comes with meditation and you agreed with me on that we both agreed there needs to be a better name for it. In a way you guys have done it with the word calm. You didn’t replace meditation with calm because meditation used throughout your site. What do you think about this branding for meditation and this need for something else? Do you still think what you and I discussed, which is you need a better name? We need something with less baggage?
Michael: Well, mental health is a big huge issue at the moment. There’s been a lot of stigma around it. Many people have not been coming forward and talking about it. Doctors and physicians haven’t been able to know quite how to deal with it in many instances. That’s changing.
I think that’s really, really important on a huge level in western society. The way we like to term it is mental fitness, like physical fitness. It’s second nature that we look after our bodies, but 50 years ago, that wasn’t true. Jogging was this crazy new trend that weird people were doing. People didn’t realize that you could lead a healthy life by doing physical fitness. As the science developed, that changed.
We’re seeing the same now with mental health and mental fitness. So, meditation does come with some baggage and is a loaded phrase, but that is changing. As I say, this is why we love referring to this as calm. Calm has much less baggage. It’s a universal emotion that I think people really appreciate. Spas are a multi-billion dollar business, as is the massage industry, as is kind of chill out music to listen to. It’s a big old space.
Andrew: What’s Checky?
Michael: So Checky is this brilliant idea that Alex came up with. He’s the master of creating ideas that are tangential to a core business that helps the core business grow. So Checky is an app that he and one of our developers hacked together in like a day that basically allows you to tell you how many times you check your phone a day. It’s a bit weird to use your phone to tell you how many times you’re checking your phone to see how addicted you are to it. We got a ton of PR for it. It was amazing. There’s a little advert for calm on it. It’s a very simple way of getting user acquisition.
Andrew: I see. And did it work?
Michael: It worked really well. We were on some mainstream TV shows, the Colbert Show. We got loads of PR for it. So, for one day’s work, it was very, very, very effective.
Andrew: I didn’t realize the iPhone kept track of it. I use this app AutoSleep that I read about. As long as I wear my Apple Watch while I sleep, it tells me how well I slept. I find it really helpful. I didn’t realize until I used that app that the iPhone will tell the app how many times I check my phone. So, if I wake up at 2:00 in the morning and check my phone, it’s recorded.
Michael: I should hope so. You shouldn’t be checking your phone at 2:00 a.m.
Andrew: I intentionally don’t, partially because I know the app is watching me and also because I know I’ve got to wake up at a certain time and I need my sleep.
Michael: Sleep is such an important area. That’s something we’re spending a lot of time on at Calm. Again, something that every single human being does every evening. Most of us go to bed. I used to do this, tapping out one last email, checking my social feeds, first thing I do when I wake up in the morning before I get out of bed, reach for my phone.
Andrew: You don’t do that now?
Michael: I don’t do that anymore.
Andrew: What do you do now?
Michael: So now I don’t check my phone until I’ve left the house. I have a shower. I scribble in my notebook. I’ll meditate. I’ll have a cup of tea. It’s incredible when you give your mind that freedom to start running off with various thoughts. You know how when you go on holiday and you get a chance to relax and rest, you often have your best ideas. It’s the same when you give your mind a little bit of breathing space in the morning.
If you’re checking Twitter first thing in the morning and screaming at your phone because of what Trump has done or some other crazy thing, how are you going to give your mind a chance to come up with those wonderful ideas and go off on important tangents? Most of us don’t. I think that’s a mindful way of starting the day that meditation has helped me with.
Andrew: That’s kind of why I want to–I like to go away and leave my technology behind. I like those seven-day, ten-day no tech meditation retreats, those are really helpful for me. I just went to the funeral of–I can’t even remember his name, the guy who created Digital Detox.
Michael: Levi Felix.
Andrew: Yeah. You know what? I was so moved by him. I was so moved by him. We didn’t know each other super well, but we knew each other for like a decade now. When he died, I was so moved I had to go to the funeral. I see all these people who are crying because they were so deeply moved by him.
One of the things he did, his biggest thing he did was say, “I’m going to create experiences where you’re not allowed to touch your phone.” I remember going to a night that he did where the first thing tell you to do is check your phone. I go, “What the hell? No one else can touch my phone. Not even my wife can take my phone. But let’s try it.” And you give the phone and he created this whole experience with no technology. Did you ever go to one of his events?
Michael: Yes, I did. I thought he was amazing. I loved what he did with Camp Grounded.
Andrew: Camp Grounded is a whole event where you go and no technology, right?
Michael: And you look people in the eye and you connect with them and you don’t swap emails or Instagram accounts. You go into the woods and you bathe in streams and you play guitar late at night. You rediscover what humanity has been doing for tens of thousands of years. I think that’s really important.
Andrew: You leave notes for each other in mailboxes?
Andrew: I feel like that’s a thing you guys are eventually going to do. I had this secret dream that I should be doing something like that. I don’t know if I can get to it, but man, I love that whole experience of let’s get away from technology. Let’s go to a place where someone’s created an experience for us that both is connecting us to the experience but separating us from the world and getting us back to our own heads.
Michael: Here’s the important thing. We don’t advocate a complete digital detox. These devices, the smartphones and technology is amazing, changing the world in so many wonderful ways, connecting people. The key is our relationship with it. It is how we interact with our technology. Most of us do so in a mindless way. We just whip out our phone without thinking. When we consciously and when we have sharp attention because we have a strong meditation practice, we decide when and how and where we use our phone. I think that makes all the difference.
Andrew: All right. Why don’t we close it out with one thing that you do now beyond meditating to keep your mind focused where you want it to me? You talked about how you had that newspaper years ago to help you focus. What else are you doing today to help you focus? Are the beads you have on your wrist helpful?
Michael: I love wearing random stuff on my wrists, but usually it’s just from places I’ve visited. Good question. I love notebooks and pens, old school technology and I think it’s so useful to get into a state of slow as often as we can, peak human performance. Most of us find that tough. I go to meetings and everyone has their phone face up on the table while they’re taking notes on their laptop. I think just going into a coffee shop for a couple of hours and turning your phone on to silent allows you to go deep into crazy ideas and doing so with a blank page of paper and a pen I think is really valuable.
Every couple of months, I will often on airplanes, I’ll just sit with one sheet of A4 and fill it with everything in my head related to calm. It’s incredible how many ideas flow from that. And then looking back at it over the years of how the ideas have changed and evolved and what we’ve done and what we haven’t. I think that’s a great technique for entrepreneurs.
Andrew: I get that. That’s a good thing to remember. I used to do that, just take a notebook and say, “I’m not leaving here until I fill up this notebook or a piece of paper as you say on the flight and say I’m going to completely fill it with whatever thoughts are in my head, like a brain dump.”
Michael: Yeah, a mind map, one thing connects to the next and you doodle and scribble. It’s a huge amount of fun but really valuable as well.
Andrew: All right. If you guys are out there listening to me and you want to check it out, it’s just Calm.com. One of the first things you’re going to get to do is experience meditation, guided meditation. They even say if you’ve never done meditation–one of the things I like, Michael, that you guys say is it has nothing to do with religion, it has nothing to do with all this stuff you’re scared of. Here’s a walking process. What’s that? You’re taking a picture of me?
Michael: That’s my phone with the Calm branding.
Andrew: I see the Calm branding at the end.
Michael: I’m just going to share this with the team on Slack.
Andrew: Yeah. One of the first things you see is a guided meditation, takes less than ten minutes, you see the timer. If you’re a little anxious, you’re going to see that it doesn’t go on forever, but as soon as you let go of your mouse, the timer disappears, am I right? You just focus on this beautiful body of water, the woman guiding you through and all the things you would hear if like me you went to a session where they guided you through meditation to introduce you to it. You’re going to hear on your computer and you’ll experience it. I like the way you guys do that.
Michael: Or you can download it in the app store and that’s a really good experience as well or buy the book.
Andrew: Right. There are lots of different touch points. Actually, I wonder why for you I always think of the website. I think it’s because the website is so uniquely immersive. Usually the homepage of an app or a business has all the features of the business and all the–all you guys have is this body of water and music. I have to mute my tab every time I open it up while you and I are talking because it’s immersive that way. I like it. I like the way you guys have done things. I’m proud to have you here on Mixergy. Thanks for doing this.
Michael: Thank you. I really enjoyed it.
Andrew: Thank you all for being a part of Mixergy. If you’re listening to me, don’t forget three things first, the two sponsors–if you need a good developer, a great developer, Toptal.com/Mixergy. If you want to finally embrace proper email marketing automation, do what I’m doing. Go use it for free and see what it’s like to actually good email marketing automation–Drip.co/Mixergy. Finally, I don’t say this enough. If you’re listening to me because you just like Michael or you’re just checking out Calm or whatever and you don’t know you can subscribe to the podcast, do yourself a favor, subscribe to the podcast, lots of great interviews, including with Shep Gordon, who I’ll be recording with tomorrow, longtime fan of his. I’m glad that he’ll be here.
Andrew: Yeah. Thank you, Michael, for doing this.
Michael: Thank you.
Andrew: Thank you. Bye, everyone.