Sitting silently with your eyes closed isn’t fun, but it’s good for you… so you probably don’t meditate as often as you’d like. In that sense, it’s quite similar to exercise. But people do show up when prodded by the urgency and peer pressure of scheduled group cycling or aerobics classes. What’s still in the way is actually hauling your lazy butt to the gym, hence the rise of Peloton’s in-home stationary bike with attached screen streaming live and on-demand classes. My butt is particularly lazy, but I’ve done 80 Peloton rides in four months. The model works.
Now that model is coming to mindfulness with the launch of Journey LIVE, a subscription iOS app offering live 15-minute group meditation classes. With sessions starting most waking hours, instructors that interact with you directly and a sense of herd mentality, you feel compelled to dedicate the time to clearing your thoughts. By video and voice, the teachers introduce different meditation theories and practices, guide you through and answer questions you can type in. Each day, Journey also provides a newly recorded on-demand session in case you need a class on your own schedule.
” ‘I tried Headspace’ or ‘I tried Calm.’ With a lot of the current meditation apps, people go on but they drop off very quickly,” says Journey founder and CEO Stephen Sokoler. “It means that there’s an interest in meditating and having a better life but people fall off because meditating alone is hard, it’s confusing, it’s boring. Meditating with a live teacher who can connect with you and say your name, who makes you feel seen and heard makes a huge difference.”
Journey subscriptions start at $19.99 per month after a week-long free trial. That feels a bit steep, but prices drop to $7.99 if paid annually with the launch discount, or you can dive in with a $399 lifetime pass. The challenge will be keeping users from abandoning meditation and then their subscription without resorting to growth hacking and annoying notifications that are antithetical to the whole concept. Journey has now raised a $2.4 million seed round led by Canaan and joined by Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, Betaworks and more to get the company rolling.
Sokoler’s own journey could set an example of the possibilities of sticking with it. “Meditation changed my life. I was fortunate enough to move to Australia, find a book on Buddhism, and then I had the willpower to start practicing meditation every day,” he tells me. “I lost 85 pounds. People ask me how I lost the weight and they expect me to say a diet like keto or Atkins, but it was because of the program I was in.” Suddenly able to sit quietly with himself, Sokoler didn’t need food to stay occupied or feel at ease.
The founder saw the need for new sources of happiness while working in employee rewards and recognition for 12 years. He built up a company that makes mementos for commemorating big business deals. Meditation proved to him the value of developing inner quiet, whether to inspire happiness, calm, focus or deeper connections to other people and the world. Yet the popular meditation apps ignored thousands of years of tradition when meditation would be taught in groups that give a naturally ethereal activity more structure. He founded Journey in 2015 to bring meditation to corporate environments, but now is hoping to democratize access with the launch of Journey LIVE.
“You could think of it as a real-life meditation community or studio in the palm of your hand,” Sokoler explains. Instructors greet you when you join a session in the Journey app and can give you a shout-out for practicing multiple days in a row. They help you concentrate on your breath while giving enough instruction to keep you from falling asleep. You can see or hide a list of screen names of other participants that make you feel less isolated and encourage you not to quit.
Finding a market amidst the popular on-demand meditation apps will be an uphill climb for Journey LIVE. While classes recorded a long time ago might not be as engaging, they’re convenient and can dig deep into certain styles and intentions. Calm and Headspace run around $12.99 per month, making them cheaper than Journey LIVE and potentially easier to scale.
But Sokoler says his app’s beta testing saw better retention than competitors. “If you’ve ever been to the New York Public Library, there’s so many books versus going to a local curated bookstore where something is right there for you. This is much more approachable, much more accessible,” Sokoler tells me. “There’s a paradox of choice, and having so many options makes it hard for people to stick with it and come back every single day.”
With our phones and Netflix erasing the downtime we used to rely on to give our brain a break or reflect on our day, life is starting to feel claustrophobic. We’re tense, anxious and easily overwhelmed. Meditation could be the antidote. Unlike with cycling or weightlifting, you don’t need some expensive Peloton bike or Tonal home gym. What you need is consistency, and an impetus to slow down for 15 minutes you could easily squander. We’re a tribal species, and Journey LIVE group classes could use camaraderie to lure us into the satisfying void of nirvana.