Calm co-CEO Michael Acton Smith explains strategy behind ‘mental fitness’ app

'The brain is incredibly complex and doesn't come with an instruction manual'

Mental wellness unicorn Calm has more than two million subscribers to its mindfulness and meditation app, raising over $140 million in funding to bring “mental fitness” practices into the daily lives of mainstream consumers. Anchored in a range of audio courses, the company has expanded to video and even book publishing.

Co-founders and co-CEOs Michael Acton Smith and Alex Tew previously founded gaming startup Mind Candy and news aggregator Pop Jam. For Calm, the duo drew from their experience marketing digital products to figure out a business model, content strategy and long list of celebrity collaborations.

In a recent conversation with Acton Smith, I dug into the company’s strategy and the case study it can provide to other entrepreneurs. Here is the transcript of our discussion, edited for length and clarity.

TechCrunch: How do you view this market of meditation and wellness content? When the internet is filled with free content related to well-being and you have competitors like Headspace, how do you differentiate Calm?

Michael Acton Smith: There’s a mistaken view that Calm is a meditation app. We did start as a meditation app, but we think of what we offer more as mental fitness: How can we help people better understand their own minds? The brain is incredibly complex and doesn’t come with an instruction manual.