Shine, an early arrival in a market now teeming with self-care apps and services, has closed on $5 million in Series A funding, the company announced today, alongside the milestone of hitting 2 million active users. The round was led by existing investor by Comcast Ventures with betaworks, Felix Capital, The New York Times, Eniac Ventures, Female Founders Fund
and BBG Ventures also participating.
The investment comes roughly two years after Shine launched its free service, a messaging bot aimed at younger users that doles out life advice and positive reinforcement on a daily basis through SMS texts or Facebook’s Messenger.
At the time, the idea that self-help could be put into an app or bot-like format was still a relatively novel concept. But today, digital wellness has become far more common with apps for everything from meditation to self-help to talk therapy.
“We’re proud that we were part of the catalyst to make well-being as an industry something that is so much more top-of-mind. We really sensed where the world was going and we were ahead of it,” says co-founder Naomi Hirabayashi, who built Shine along with her former DoSomething.org co-worker Marah Lidey. The founders had wanted to offer others something akin to the personal support system they had with each other, as close friends.
“Marah and I are both women of color, and we created this company from a very non-traditional background from an entrepreneurship standpoint – we didn’t go to business school,” Hirabayashi explains. “We saw there was something missing in the market because wellbeing companies didn’t really reach us – they didn’t speak to us. We didn’t see people that looked like us. We didn’t feel like the way they shared content sounded like how we spoke about the different wellbeing issues in our lives,” she says.
The company’s free messaging product, Shine Text, was the result of their frustrations with existing products. It tackles a timely theme every day in areas like confidence, productivity, mental health, happiness and more. And it isn’t just some sort of life-affirming text – Shine converses with you on the topic at hand using research-backed materials to help you better understand the information. It’s also presented in a style that makes Shine feel more like a friend chatting with you.
The service has grown to 2 million users across 189 countries, despite not being localized in other languages. 88 percent of users are under the age of 35, and 70 percent are female.
Shine attempted to generate revenue in the past with a life-coaching subscription, but users wanted to talk to a real person and the subscription was fairly steep at $15.99 per week. That product never emerged from testing, and the founders now refer to it as an “experiment.”
The company gave subscriptions another shot this past December, with the launch of a freemium (free with paid upgrades) app on iOS. The new app offers meditations, affirmations, and something called “Shine Stories.”
The meditations are short audio tracks voiced by influencers that help you with various challenges. There are quick hit meditations for recentering and relaxing, those where you can focus on handling a specific situation – like toxic friendships or online dating – and seven-day challenges that deal with a particular issue like burnout or productivity.
Affirmations are quick pep talks and Shine Stories are slightly longer – around five minutes-long, and also voiced by influencers.
“The biggest thing is that we want to meet the user where they are – and we know people are on the go,” says Hirabayashi. “You can expect a lot more to come in the future around how we combine this really exciting time that’s happening for audio consumption and the hunger that there is for audio content that’s motivational and makes you feel better.”
Asked specifically if the company was considering a voice-first app, like an Alexa skill, or perhaps a more traditional podcast, Lidey said they weren’t yet sure, but didn’t plan on limiting the Shine Stories to a single platform indefinitely. But one thing they weren’t interested in doing in the near-term was introducing ads into Shine’s audio content.
The Shine app for iOS is a free download with some selection of its audio available to free users. Users can unlock the full library for $4.99 per month, billed as an annual subscription of $59.99, or $7.99 per month if paid monthly.
The founders declined to offer specifics on their conversions from free to paid members, but said it was “on par with industry standards.”
With the Series A now under its belt, Shine plans to double its 8-person team this year, launch the app on Android, continue to grow the business, including potentially launching new products.
Now the question is whether the millennials are actually so into self-care that they’ll pay. There are some signs that could be true – the top ten self-care apps pulled in $15 million last quarter, with meditation apps leading the way.
“We’re dominating the self-care routine of millennial women right now and we want to keep doing that,” Lidey says.