#71 - Calm Co-Founder, Michael Acton Smith a Pioneer in Mental Health and Wellness

By Stephen Hays

Michael Acton Smith, co-Founder of Calm joins us to talk about building the #1 app for sleep, meditation and relaxation, with over 75 million downloads and over 700,000 5-star reviews. Michael tells us about how the idea was born from his own personal discovery of the power of meditation. In our conversation he tells the Calm founding story, and talks about the journey to making medication accessible to tens of millions of people while taking on stigma around meditation and mental health long before the recent surge in interest around the space. In addition to being the co-founder of Calm, Michael also was the founder of Mind Candy and creator of Moshi Monsters, the online world for children that grew to 80 million registered users and expanded offline into books, toys, games, magazines, music and movies. Michael is also the founder of Firebox.com, Ping Pong Fight Club, and Berwickstock music festival. In 2014, he was awarded an Order of the British Empire for his service to the creative industries. You can connect with Michael here: LinkedIn, Twitter, Calm Website What If Fellowship: https://whatif.vc/fellowship   HERE ARE SOME OF THE THINGS WE TALKED ABOUT: Michael Acton Smith joins us to talk about how he came to find meditation as a resource for himself in his personal life. Michael shares the story of how his experience in the entertainment industry left him feeling burnt out and how meditation is the most valuable skill he has learned in his lifetime. Calm origin story: With his co-founder Alex Tew, Michael wanted to bring meditation to people through something that was accessible, relatable, and simple. The app creation was their idea to achieve all of these goals in their attempt to change the world of mental health for the better. Michael talks about how meditation is so much more than just sitting quietly and breathing. It is a neuroscience that helps to rewire your brain to get out of the fight or flight mindset and how to help your prefrontal cortex frequencies to be normalized. How has Covid-19 and the pandemic affected Calm? Isolation mixed with anxiety surrounding the pandemic has caused mental health to be on the forefront of everyone’s minds. Michael talks about how his business was growing before this but now it has grown dramatically. He tells about his sense of responsibility to react to this current situation and to provide more content for subscribers. Michael shares how calm has extended its reach to not only individuals but to companies as well. Calm is being used in businesses to learn how to manage stress, how to connect with colleagues, and how to increase emotional intelligence within the workplace. Not only is this an affordable and life-changing choice for companies, but he states that it is a no brainer. If companies offer gym memberships to increase physical wellness, they should be offering calm memberships to increase mental wellness too. How do you see the business of Calm evolving over the next few years? Michael talks with us about the breadth of growth opportunities in front of the business in the coming years. He compares it to the scale of Netflix or Spotify subscriptions. In addition to that growth, he would like to see Calm being offered on a global scale in multiple languages. Michael discusses expanding calm into a lifestyle brand featuring clothing, hotels, even a resort on an island of Calm! When asked about what a Calm island would look like, he described it as a week or two getaway to focus on recentering yourself with healthy food, exercise, and meditation services. Advice for mental health founders: We talked about what founders in the mental health space could do if they are just starting to splash around in this space. Michael recommends above all else, patience. He says to not go after the first idea that pops into your head. He gives other tips to get yourself into the right mindset to find the big opportunities. To expand on this, we discussed Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are most important to pay attention to early on as a founder. Michael shares that finances are so key to tracking as well as being incredibly mindful with hiring and workspace. Additionally, Michael shares that in order to keep retention up of your customers, you need to create new content and how you want to keep your business on the front of your customers' minds. Michael talks about the importance of teaching meditation to younger generations. He shares his excitement surrounding how we are seeing mindfulness education in schools.  He raises the question, “what is more important than teaching the next generation how to improve their emotional intelligence?” Finally, Michael shares how meditation is a skill that you can learn, and that means you have to be taught how to utilize it. Not only that, but you need to practice using it in your daily life in order to get better at it. We are starting to move in a direction where more and more people are using these skills in their life and being more open about mental health. Michael shares how he feels privileged to be able to be a part of this movement.                                Connect with the What If Ventures and the Stigma Podcast in the following ways: What If Fellowship, Patreon, Website, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Email Connect with host Stephen Hays here: Stephen Hays Personal Website, Twitter, LinkedIn, What If Ventures (Mental Health Venture Fund)  

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