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Launch HN: Simple Habit (YC W17) – Spotify for Meditation
118 points by yunhakim on Jan 10, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 86 comments
Hi, I’m Yunha Kim, founder of Simple Habit (https://www.simplehabitapp.com). We’re in the Winter 2017 batch of Y Combinator.

Simple Habit is a curated library of the best 5 minute meditations from the world’s leading teachers. It’s like Spotify for mindfulness and meditations.

I started Simple Habit because I used to be a perpetually stressed out banker in NYC, and I started meditating, and it changed my life. Happy to answer questions about the app, or about meditation in general.

I should mention my now mostly-ignored Dharma API: http://www.dharma-api.com/

It scrapes the major meditation talk websites to provide unified JSON API access to about 25,000 talks.

Cool app! Thanks for sharing. I think this is great for an introduction to meditation and to help build a habit.

One difficulty I have with apps like this is that they're not necessarily incentivized to produce good meditation habits. If a user builds a real meditation practice then they're likely not going to want to use an app like this -- they'll probably want to meditate in silence and for much longer than 5 minutes. I'm curious how you think about what the ideal end-game is for each user and if you're concerned about churn? How do you plan to serve users who grow beyond 5 minute meditation?

This is a great question! It’s true that hardcore meditators often prefer to meditate for longer than five minutes, so we do have meditations up to 30 minutes in length to cater to that. What’s interesting, though, is that even experienced meditators can see the value of a quick meditation in the middle of their day, like during their lunch break or right before an important phone call. We like to think of meditation as a more integrated practice that’s accessible anytime and anywhere, which is why we believe that 5 minutes of mindfulness can be helpful to anyone.

>>> What’s interesting, though, is that even experienced meditators can see the value of a quick meditation in the middle of their day, like during their lunch break or right before an important phone call.

Yeah! I think that's a great aim. Cultivating a mindset of constant mindfulness is key. As an "experienced meditator," though, I have trouble seeing the value in using this app to do that. IMO there's little need for technology beyond a simple notification to remind you to bring your awareness back to the present, not unlike a bell during meditation. But, I think this is a case where I'm just not in the target demographic since quick guided meditations aren't part of my practice. I'm sure there are folks out there who also qualify as "experienced meditators" and who would find a 5 minute guided meditation valuable.

On further reflection, another thing I might be reacting to is the language surrounding meditation vs. mindfulness. These two things are really just different flavors of the same thing, but to me "meditating" means something much more specific -- i.e., a formal sit. We can meditate at any time, but when I hear "meditate" I think of sitting in a particular way and focusing long enough to at least quiet my mind. Since this _always_ takes longer than 5 minutes, I find the idea of "5 minute meditation" difficult to understand. But, "take 5 minutes to bring awareness back to the present moment" makes lots of sense to me. I think it might be an issue of semantics, and if your positioning is confusing to me it might be confusing to others as well. Just a thought!

there is something very weird to me about calling someone a "hardcore meditator" for meditating >5 minutes. It takes me 5 minutes just to get my brain to shut up. Listening to someone else put words in my brain for five minutes isn't meditation. It's not mindfulness. It's training towards the two, but it's not a substitute for either.

Your parent isn't defining a hardcore meditator as anyone who meditates for longer than 5 minutes. As for the rest, I suspect your parent would largely agree with you, though guided meditation can be useful as part of mindfulness practice. Depending on your level of practice and what's going on, five minutes could be a great break or just barely enough to quiet yourself for a bit.

I hear you and appreciate the reply. I do agree, in that one minute of meditation is better than 0 minutes of meditation, just like 7 minute workouts are better than 0 minute workouts. So any effort to encourage folks to pause during their day, no matter what their motivation (even "hey, a new app!"), is net positive.

i can think of several ways for an app to provide usefulness at that level.

they could have a do not disturb mode for x amount of minutes, provide other peaceful sounds for a duration of time, and continue to currate new mindfulness seasions and techniques.

something like the nike+ of meditation.

This post should be titled as a "Show HN", not "Launch HN". The rules are here https://news.ycombinator.com/showhn.html

A demo page on your website would be helpful for people to get a feel for what the service is about. Currently there is a lot of friction to even understand the service : download the app, signup. My guess is that a lot of people (atleast here on HN) were turned away by the friction involved to understand the service.

Thanks for the feedback! The new, updated web landing page coming soon :)

Neat! If you find this interesting, Thanissaro Bhikku of Metta Forest Monetary has absolutely superb resources with guided meditations, talks, and e-books, all for free under creative commons[1]. This is in the Thai Forest lineage, so not purely secular, but I feel like there's so much being offered to learn from in a full teaching tradition that it would be a loss to just focus on a Jon Kabat-Zinn style mindfulness meditation technique.

[1] http://www.dhammatalks.org/

Thanks! Will check it out :)

Hi, I’m Tim Brady, one of the partners at YC that works closely with Simple Habit. We funded Simple Habit because Yunha is a great founder. She is resourceful, energetic and has created a product that solves a problem she understands well. Happy to answer any questions as well.

How does this turn into a unicorn? I have trouble envisioning the scale tbh (and it seems fairly easy to imitate). I like the general idea but it doesn't strike me as something a VC would find attractive.

Headspace is the leading app in this space and supposedly has revenues of about 50m a year.

Moreover I can just go on YouTube and listen to meditation for free. How to compete with that?

That can be said of a lot of things. Convenience of aggregation? Lots of podcast material is on YouTube or can be downloaded from a website, and people still buy podcast apps. Execution? I personally don't care for YouTube's interface on either the web or their iOS apps. People have shown time and again they're willing to pay for convenience and execution even when free or cheaper alternatives are available.

John Kabat-Zinn masters the link between science and meditation and has published very valuable books (including progressing guided/audio meditation exercises, each 5-10 minutes), such as https://thepiratebay.org/torrent/4180277/Mindful_Way_Through...

> https://thepiratebay.org/torrent/41...

I think it's inappropriate to encourage piracy here.

One legal way to get Jon Kabat-Zinn's material: https://www.amazon.com/Mindful-Way-Through-Depression-Unhapp...

Another great book is The Mind Illuminated, which IMO is as comprehensive and detailed a meditation book as you're likely to find. Plus it's written for a pragmatic Western audience and doesn't feature the sorts of spiritual trappings that tend to turn people off.

Charging people as a subscription service for meditation help feels a little queasy.

Also I think it's a Silicon Valley neurosis that you need an app or technology to address problems like depression and low self-esteem (which meditation in the traditional sense addresses).


kabat-zinn guided meditations with lots of silence, free

body scan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8oKWQiEWYs

10 min: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HYLyuJZKno

40 min: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQkzhyXEc-0

(many others, search kabat-zinn on yt)

you don't need an app.

> Charging people as a subscription service for meditation help feels a little queasy.

Yes and it's sad that they all do it. I would prefer a one time buy.

I believe they have a one-time "lifetime" subscription buy

I use this app which used to be $5 but is now free - https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mindfulness-app-meditation/i...

Apparently they too switched to a freemium subscription model. Having subscription models for meditation apps is like having a subscription model for a music service with 20 albums. I get that there's the whole tracking aspect of it but that's hardly interesting enough and there's not enough demand for new content to make sense to rent monthly. Clearly I'm in the minority because Headspace is hiring in Santa Monica and SF now.

I'll say this, if Converse changes to a subscription model for chucks there's gonna be trouble...

As a counter to this point, there are many people who have more money than time. If this service has any chance whatsoever of improving their quality of life, ~$12/mo is just an absolutely trivial thing to give up in exchange for that.

It’s been interesting seeing the pricing difference between tech’s take on monetizing meditation (cheap subscriptions or high-priced lifetime access) and those done by the mindfulness “thought leaders” or Sounds True (varying levels of lifetime access ranging from very cheap to very high-priced).

I think the proper comparison would be with rocking up at a monastery and talking to some actual humans.

Cost? No idea.

1. Is there any evidence that multiple teachers are better? If so, I'd love citations.

2. Is there evidence that situation-specific meditations are useful?

3. How much are the teachers paid, if at all?

4. What's the criteria for one being a "top mindfulness teacher"?

Thanks for these great questions!

1. Before Simple Habit, I was actually a power user of some of other meditation apps so the benefit of a multi-teacher platform is something I stumbled upon personally. Being able to explore different voices, styles, and techniques helps users experiment with what really resonates with them. We’ve found that our users like the diversity and will often (if not always) engage with content from different teachers on the app.

2. Situation-specific meditations make it easy for users to integrate mindful moments all throughout their day. At Simple Habit, we believe that meditation helps people do more throughout their day, be more resilient, and engage more with life. Situation-specific, meditations make the benefits directly applicable to whatever they might be doing, whether they’re heading into a meeting, about to give a presentation, or going through a conflict.

3. Yes! Part of our mission is to help meditation teachers monetize on their impact and hard work.

4. We primarily vet teachers based on reputable training/credentials (many of our teachers were trained through Google’s Search Inside Yourself program and/or top universities), and the quality of their teaching experience. We’re aiming to create a high quality platform comprised of the most respected teachers in the space.

Thanks for coming by to answer questions. Here's a followup.

You addressed situation specific above, but in general, is there any evidence that the type of meditation affects the outcome, as long as directed focus is achieved? I realize it's hard to quantify results, but what is known?

They absolutely have differing effects, just like different sports can produce generally fit athletes with different specializations in musculature and skill sets.

Furthermore, directed focus is not strictly necessary, depending on what you mean. There are techniques that do not entail keeping the attention fixed on one object, though in my experience attentional control is super important.

Shinzen Young has a talk on YouTube where he discusses the flavors of enlightenment as they differ from lineage to lineage. I'm not aware of research, however, that compares the effects on tradition/technique to another, though there may be some out there.

Question number two asked "is there any evidence". Your response number two explains, "we believe".

Is there any evidence which backs up your belief?

I don't have any specific scientific research or studies to share. I do wish someone did a study on this. That said, it does seem to be working for a lot of people. Check out the user reviews. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/simple-habit-mindfulness-med...

I tried the headspace app for the free trial, and I liked it a lot, but I did not want to pay their price.

A friend tried transcendental meditation but the price for the course was pretty steep.

If I were to try your app, how does it compare to the others in terms of features and price?

Thanks for the question!

What sets Simple Habit apart is that

1) we are a multiple teacher platform instead of just one teacher. We bring top meditation and mindfulness teachers from all over the world and put them on one platform.

2) We focus on 5 minute meditations designed for busy people.

3) Our meditations are designed for different situations and moods so you can find meditations for just about any use cases. For instance, my favorites are meditation for before public speaking, before an important meeting, for going to bed.

We’re a freemium model and we have a LOT of free meditations available. You can find several months worth of free content so try them out first. If you like them and want to access to our premium meditations, then you can subscribe. We have three different pricing options: $11.99 a month, $99.99 a year, $299.99 for lifetime.

Headspace is a great intro. After that all you really need is to set the time aside and practice.

I have a suscription to Headspace that I rarely use to be honest. 10-30 minutes feels like "too much" time to take out of my day. Like most people here, I feel like rests will make me fall behind.

SimpleHabit's 5 minute meditations can be done anywhere and are really easy. I find that 5 minutes is just what I need to kickstart this habit. The "stress fix" is a godsend. Thanks for this!

"You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you're too busy, then you should sit for an hour."

-- passed around as old Zen saying

I've also recently launched a meditation app (iOS only for now), I'm taking a slightly different tack in that I'm not planning to deliver multitudes of teachers and am going for longer duration meditations. The first version only went live in the App Store yesterday and provides a breathing and bodyscan meditation if approx 10min, each time it is played the content is slightly different so as to avoid becoming repetitive. Something like Pzizz for meditation.

The reason I've taken that approach is that when listening to pre-recorded guided meditation from a book that I found myself getting so familiar with the guidance that I knew what was coming up next, and this was quite distracting. In subsequent releases I aim to introduce options to configure the duration and to dial up or down the guidance to silence ratio.

If anyone is interested it's called Alive Meditation in the App Store, and I'd be more than happy to hear any criticism or suggestions.

"This item isn't avaible in your country" on the android play store.

Any plans to make the app available worldwide?

Hey there! Thanks for the question. While our mobile apps are not available in some non-English speaking countries, our web app (http://simplehabitapp.com/) is available worldwide. Try it out and let us know what you think!

Honestly, I don't think people would expect the meditations to be available in their native language and having at least access to english ones would be amazing.

It's not about having them in my native language, it's about having them on my phone as an app instead of a website.

At least the website seems to work well on mobile.

Awesome! Just curious, which country are you based in? We can look into enabling it. The only concern for enabling in non-English speaking countries is that often users give 1 stars for not having meditations translated in their languages, and that's challenging to do so quickly for a small startup, as you might understand :)

Not parent, but chiming in: I am in Brazil, and the Headspace app is available here, despite having only English content.

As of today, both the current version and all versions have a 5-star rating - the current one with 121 ratings, and 345 all-time ratings.

Please enable it for Poland! We usually speak English pretty well :)

Oh yeah, that would be nice.

Will do :)

Looks simple, great, like something I'd wanna use and later on when I fall into the habit possibly subscribe to. Buuuut, not available in my country. How come it isn't worldwide?

Now, I got a bunch of questions:

Why don't you link your instagram/twitter from the site? Had to google it which was "ugh" already.

How do you pick your teachers?

Why do you think you can take the piece of the big player's pie in this market?

What is your marketing strategy (if not secret)?

How well do you sync with calendars (can I put reminders in my Google calendar)?

How come you moved the focus from "keeping the streak" to "choose your meditation"?

Are teachers getting paid based on the number of plays, finishes, fixed rate or?

Congrats on launching and wish you all the best! Go kill it!

Also now that I've found your instagram, why the hell don't you post a 60 second meditation as an instagram video? That would be so awesome.

Thanks for some great questions :)

1. Thanks for pointing that out! We’re going to link our Instagram/Twitter accounts on our site right away :)

2. We vet top meditation teachers from around the world — most if not all of our teachers have been trained through reputable programs (e.g. Google’s Search Inside Yourself), and teach at top universities and institutes, like the University of Pennsylvania or Columbia University. Teachers who express interest in working with us go through a rigorous vetting process to ensure that we’re consistently onboarding high quality and respected teachers in the space. You can read more here: simplehabitapp.com/teachers

3. You can use Simple Habit's daily reminder feature to set a time for your meditation. Also, Simple Habit is synced with Apple Health under Mindfulness Minutes and can track your daily meditations. A lot of our users use both features and find them helpful.

4. Simple Habit provides a revenue stream for meditation teachers. Subscription prices help both Simple Habit operate its business and meditation teachers making a livelihood :)

Thanks for answering Yunha! This is the second time I've heard about Google's "Search Inside Yourself" today, guess I should start meditating. Also, my last question! Why don't you post a 60 second meditation as an instagram video? That would be so awesome and I know I'd love it, think that as a sponsored post would be a pretty interesting marketing tactic.

Hi Yunha, are there any tangible (e.g. psychological) differences between guided/unguided meditation? What do you prefer more?

Strictly speaking from my own personal experience, I found that guided meditations are much more effective and helpful in building a daily habit of mindfulness. A couple reasons:

1) I love learning new techniques every day and this really motivates me to meditate daily. For instance - This morning, I meditated to Simon Moyes' new year meditation on Simple Habit and I learned how to associate a happy moment with an unhappy moment in my day and that was super interesting. I can't laern new techniques from unguided meditations.

2) When I meditate to a guided meditation, I build a personal relationship with certain meditation teachers (even though it is just through recordings) and this helps me to look forward to meditating daily. Perhaps I feel more accountable for meditating.

I'm not yunha but i'll reply and hope it helps.

Guided meditations are substitutes for traditional group practice. Distributed group practice, if you will. The goal is to think of them as training and lessons for your own excursions into non-guided practice, just like taking swim lessons or spanish lessons may help you improve your practice on your own.

And like both of those examples, the real work is in the solo practice, venturing into your own struggle with your noisy brain, instead of relying on the soothing, centering, encouraging words of others, relying on yourself and training your own abilities.

and i have so far to go myself, but even then, i can tell you, guided is just a reminder of what i'm really supposed to be working on.

Interesting, your app store description mentions previous launches from before June 2016. Seems like you got some solid attention on previous launch(es), what kind of traction are you looking for on your definitive launch?

Big fan of the Airbnb approach of launching until someone notices!


Thanks for checking us out — we’ve been growing quickly since our launch in June on iOS. Now, we're available on Android and web as well. We’re excited to announce Y Combinator’s investment in Simple Habit!

How did you settle on the five minute length for meditations?

One of the biggest obstacles for busy people is that they feel like they don’t have time to meditate. As a startup founder and ex-i banker, 5 minute tracks make daily meditation accessible and doable, and significantly lowers the barrier to entry. Studies show that brief meditation, even if it is just a few minutes, if practiced consistently, can have powerful benefits within a few weeks.

FWIW, I think I am a good example of the intended audience for this app: I have never meditated/done mindfulness exercises until ~2 weeks ago, when I found out about Simple Habit from a post Yunha made to the YC class list. I have been stressed recently and have had trouble sleeping/etc, and when she sent the email it sounded like a great use of just 5 minutes of my time. On my first try, I felt noticeably calmer after the 5 minute meditation. I am one of those people who (at least feels) "super busy and doesn't have time to meditate", and if I have time I would prioritize sleeping over anything else. But for me, the 5 minute exercises really reduce any immediate stress I feel, so I am a big fan! While there are lots of people in the world who make meditation a big part of their lives, there are many more who wouldn't do it without an easy and short option, and this is easy and short.

I like the name Simple Habit, without much back ground, its sounds like tiny-habits school of thought. By making the task sound simple, getting rid of starting inhibitions is a great tool. I hope it comes with daily tracking and daily "nudging". Hey, get 5 minutes of meditation for today. The Ultimate goal is to get people meditate way beyond 5 minutes.

After checking out a few guided meditation apps, the one with my favorite library has got to be Mindbliss https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mindbliss-mindfulness-medita...

Hi Yunha,

The hardest part of meditation for me was building the habit. Every time I started to build a practice I either lost interest, had a hard time staying engaged, or simply stopped. What have you done from a dev or design standpoint to help your users build a habit around mindfulness?

Thanks for the AMA!

Hey there - I totally hear you. This has been a challenge for many of my new year resolutions personally, and I think this is also a challenge for those who design and build products in health & fitness space.

We're all about tackling this challenge (thus the name 'Simple Habit!'). And we do this by making meditations as simple and accessible as possible. Try out the app and you may understand what I mean!

Users also have the ability to get daily reminders to meditate at a certain time of day, and this has been quite effective.

I'd love to try it. I have been using Headspace for the past few weeks and getting good results.

Once getting to Google Play Store download page, it says the item isn't available in your country. I currently live in SE Asia and use a local credit card.

Our Android app is currently not available in some non-English speaking countries, but try our web app (http://simplehabitapp.com/), which is available worldwide!

May I ask why, since there are usually many expats and often locals who speak English fluently in most countries around the world?

What are the benefits of restricting distribution and thus market penetration? I'm curious both as a user and a fellow startup entrepreneur.

The only concern for enabling in some of the non-English speaking countries is that often users give 1 stars for not having meditations translated in their languages, and that's challenging to do so quickly for a small startup, as you might understand :)

Yunha, Great App! I have been using it every morning for more than a month now. I have explored Calm, Headspace, etc but I have finally settled upon Simple Habit. Easy to understand UX and great gamification.

Sadly, the website doesn't show anything without JS.

How do you see the competition, not just Headspace but also other upcoming players?

Do you expect many more in this space and how defensible is this model?

The meditation industry is growing fast, and it’s exciting to see what other companies are doing. Simple Habit is one of the only meditation platforms bringing top teachers from around the world to one place and helping teachers monetize their content. We’re continuing to scale our platform, and speaking from personal experience, it isn’t the easiest model to replicate because it requires bringing the best meditation teachers onto one platform ;) We’re aiming to become the go-to resource for meditation and mindfulness content.

Why do I have to sign up in order to meditate?

Because it's a business.

Sure, but it's a bold move to try onboarding users that have zero information about the actual product -- like how much it costs, the pricing model, the quality, the variety, features like offline playback, platform support.

Well, showing some teaser might actually help me comprehend what it's all about. All I see is three icons. I moved on to the next post.

Yup, thanks for that feedback. New & updated web landing page coming soon :)

What makes this better than Insight Timer? That's currently my go-to meditation app.

Why is the app not available in Germany in the android app store?

Do you plan do have meditation in multiple languages?

The awesome thing about meditation is that it involves no language, and is therefore internationalized, right out of the box!

I'm not belittling 'guided meditation', which I assume this app provides and may be a good first step for beginners interested in meditation - but if there's a voice coming out of a speaker giving you suggestions, you're not actually meditating at all.

App not available in your country (BE). Meh.

Our Android app is currently not available in some non-English speaking countries, but try our web app (http://simplehabitapp.com/), which is available worldwide!


Mods, please change the title to "Show HN". It's outrageous in its current state.


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13367682 and marked it off-topic.

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