'Headspace Guide to Meditation': Who owns Headspace? How tragedy led Andy Puddicombe on path to creating an app

A series of losses when Puddicombe was doing a sports science degree led him to drop out to become a Buddhist monk. That's how this success story starts


                            'Headspace Guide to Meditation': Who owns Headspace? How tragedy led Andy Puddicombe on path to creating an app
Richard Pierson and Andy Puddicombe (Getty Images)

If the past year has taught us anything, it is that it is very important that we take some time for ourselves. As the pandemic raged on, many of us turned to apps to fill in for meditation classes and even try the practice out for the first time. 2020 was stressful, to say the least, but thanks to technology, it's never been easier to put away even just five minutes for ourselves to find our centers. 

One of those apps is Headspace, a meditation app that has grown quite popular since it first released in 2012. The company is teaming up with Netflix to release an animated series narrated by Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe through which viewers can learn more about the tools to build a meditation practice and explore the science behind it. 'Headspace Guide to Meditation' arrives on Netflix just in time to start 2021 and makes the concept of meditation less daunting. The series is produced by Vox Media Studios and is the first of three Headspace projects on Netflix planned for this year. 

But how and where did Headspace begin? The company was founded by Andy Puddicombe and Richard Pierson in 2010, but its origins possibly began much before that, when a series of tragedies struck Puddicombe's life.

The idea of becoming a Buddhist monk in the Himalayas was first inspired by a girl Puddicombe was seeing in college, according to his interview with Foundr. He said, "A girl I was going out with [during college] was heavily into Buddhism, and she used to talk a lot about these Buddhist monks and nuns in the Himalayas. I thought, ‘What a brilliant idea. I’m going to do that.’"

It was tragedy that led him to actually do it. According to a report from BBC, Puddicombe was 22 years old when a drunk driver plowed into him and a group of his friends outside a London pub. Two of his friends died in the accident. A few months later, Puddicombe lost his stepsister to a cycling accident, and then an ex-girlfriend passed away during surgery.

At the time, Puddicombe was halfway through a sports science degree when grief overtook him and he dropped out. Seeking a change in his life, Puddicombe traveled to Asia and spent the next several years at different monasteries in various countries. For 10 years, Puddicombe was a monk and this involved him meditating up to 16 hours a day — a practice that helped him come to terms with everything.

In 2005, Puddicombe returned to the United Kingdom to set up a private practice meditation clinic in London at a time when the practice of meditation was not as popular as it is now. It was during this business that Puddicombe would meet his Headspace co-founder, Richard Person. Pierson was one of the struggling professionals overcome with stress through his work in the advertising industry. 

Pierson and Puddicombe ended up learning from each other — after Pierson went to Puddicombe for half-hour meditation sessions, they would then go to a cafe across the street where Pierson would teach Puddicombe marketing skills. 

Headspace first started in 2010 and focused on in-person events. Pierson was the one who suggested making Headspace an app and Puddicombe was skeptical at first — he learned meditation as a tradition that was taught in a room, not on a phone. But when the pair continued to do more events and came to understand what people wanted, the app for Headspace was made available for download in 2012. The rest, as they say, is history.

In 2019, Headspace brought in $100 million in revenue and raised $215 million in 2020. Today, Headspace is valued at over $320 million and boasts over 2 million paid subscribers, with the app having been downloaded more than 60 million times.

'Headspace Guide to Meditation' will be available on Netflix on January 1, 2021, at 12 am PST.

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