I am thrilled and proud to announce that Foundation Capital is leading Simple Habit’s Series A. We’ve been a believer in Simple Habit’s mission—to help people live better lives—since it was a simple meditation app powered by one person: founder and CEO Yunha Kim. We provided her with seed funding, as well as space in our SF office, and we watched with pride as the Simple Habit team grew and what started as a five-minute meditation app matured into a full-fledged marketplace for mental-wellness and self-improvement content.
Since Simple Habit is an audio-content marketplace, Yunha and I thought it would be fun to share this news via an “audio announcement.” So we recorded a brief conversation about the company’s origins, Yunha’s vision, and our partnership. You can listen to it below.
For a bit of context, first, my own experience with meditation began a half dozen years ago. During a particularly stressful time for me, I read Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness. That prompted me to drive down to Esalen to take a course in mindfulness-based stress reduction, and led to my conviction that, when it comes to stress, you can either meditate or medicate—and I much prefer the former. So I could not be more gratified to help support a company as necessary as Simple Habit.
The world desperately needs better ways to manage stress and anxiety. My Foundation Capital partners and I believe in the importance of Simple Habit’s mission to help people achieve mental wellbeing and live better, every day. And, we’ve been impressed with the company’s spectacular growth in just two short years. The market for its solution is enormous because the demographic of people who suffer from stress or who want to improve is roughly everyone. As a leader, already, in the massive health and wellness category, Simple Habit has an incredible opportunity to both do well and do good.
But I’ll let Yunha tell you the story in her own words….
What follows is a transcript of Yunha and Steve’s audio announcement, lightly edited for clarity.
Yunha Kim: Hi, my name is Yunha, and I’m the founder and CEO of Simple Habit.
Steve Vassallo: And I’m Steve Vassallo, general partner at Foundation Capital. And I’m here at Simple Habit’s office to share some exciting news with you all today. Yunha, what’s going on?
YK: So we’re announcing our Series A round of 10 million dollars led by you!
SV: Yaayyy! Tell us a bit more about what Simple Habit is and why you’re so excited about this announcement.
YK: Sure. So, we started out as a five-minute meditation app for busy people. And we’ve got meditations for break-ups, sleeping better at night, or right before a presentation. But what we really are, is a mental wellness platform of not only meditation features—but also therapists and coaches, and we’re helping people to access their expertise.
I started meditating about five years ago. I was doing another startup at the time, and the highs and lows of a startup was a lot of stress. Meditation was one of the best ways to manage stress and it changed my life.
So I was using meditation apps out there—and I liked a lot of them—but one thing that I saw was a pain point, was that a lot of these apps only had one teacher on the app. So, if you’re using this app and you don’t like that teacher or—
SV: —or even how they sound or what they’re talking about—
YK: —or if you get tired of their voice, then you have to switch to another app. And then I realized, wow, this space is so nascent that meditation teachers have to create their own apps to get their content out there. In the music world, you couldn’t imagine having to use a Justin Bieber app, a Jay-Z app, and so on, right? There’s a platform like Spotify that aggregates all their content. And that’s what Simple Habit is. That’s how we got started.
SV: You’re reminding me of one of our first meetings at Foundation. We were talking about the analogy to Netflix, in which we were an early investor, and this notion of, there’s all this long-tail content out there and it’s interesting for different reasons. To your point from a minute ago, maybe you’re stressed out about a relationship issue this month, and then after that, you’re stressed out about your company and getting it financed, and maybe the month after that you’re unable to sleep. So it sounds like what Simple Habit enables you to do is, have all the different kinds of content out there for whatever it is that’s giving you trouble or causing you stress.
YK: That’s right. And also some of the positives things too. If you want to become a better manager or a better parent. We now have coaches that are creating content around that as well.
SV: You also told me once about self-improvement and mental wellness. It’s a massive market and yet it’s only really met by books. We go to the bookstore and there are shelves upon shelves of self-help books. Of course, we all know that people don’t read—but they do listen to podcasts!
YK: I have a lot of self-help books in my home. In fact, whenever I see titles of books, I get very intrigued by them because I want to be a better person. I want to be a better leader. So I buy all of them, but I don’t have the time to actually read them all. We are really targeting the same intent of wanting to improve and live better lives, but we offer it in bite-sized audio content. It’s way more digestible, you can listen on the go. So let’s say that you are—give me an example of the last time you were stressed.
SV: This morning.
YK: This morning, okay. Why were you stressed?
SV: I was stressed because I hadn’t filled out my voter registration form.
YK: In that case, you probably don’t have the time to read a book about [managing that stress] or even go on Youtube. So, Simple Habit gives you five-minute content, by world-class experts, that you can listen right then and there.
We have meditations for when you have too much to do, even things for like negative news.
SV: I remember pointing my 13-year-old son at Simple Habit, the night before his really big parkour competition. He was stressed out about it and I was trying to calm his mind. He’s someone who just naturally gets worked up about things. His mind was racing and I remember [Simple Habit] calmed him down.
So, I do feel like there is something for everyone on Simple Habit. Having more of a marketplace model as opposed to one person trying to cover all these needs. That’s one of your key innovations.
YK: That’s right. By being a marketplace, we can bring in different types of experts who can focus on pregnancy; or if you’re a mom in your fifties, when there are a lot of hormonal changes, there are different problems you’re going through.
SV: What are some of the far-out-there stuff?
YK: So, we look at what people are requesting for creating new content. And I was really surprised by the variety of topics. Now, I’d say there are no far-out-there topics because all of them are fair game.
We’ve got things like, sex meditation is one of our popular ones. Overcoming orgasm anxiety. Another one would be when I hate my boss. Also, it’s seasonal. When it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas time, there are more things around family—
SV: —and in-laws!
SV: Do you have any special sections for stressed-out CEOs?
YK: Yeah, we’ve got a special meditation for entrepreneurs.
SV: How to deal with your board members?
YK: Hopefully, I will never have to listen to that!
It would be fun to roll the clock back a minute and talk about how we first met, and your journey of going from just you working on this idea for yourself, building a product that would matter to you, to building that idea into a company.
I remember it was one of our CEOs, Matt Humphrey, who made the introduction. And then you came and hung out with us at Foundation, in our offices in San Francisco. And I started to see the Simple Habit team beginning to multiply. But at the time, you were just starting out at Stanford?
YK: Yeah, after my last startup I wanted to go to [Stanford’s] GSB. And I was never going to start another company again. But then when I was waiting for school to start, I was really passionate about meditation. And I was talking to meditation teachers and they were all looking for a platform like Simple Habit to distribute and monetize their content. So I started playing around with the idea, and school was about to start soon, but I was getting really excited about Simple Habit. I was designing the wheel that we have on the app and thanks to you guys, we had an amazing office.
I did not expect this much success early on. We were getting a lot of word-of-mouth growth and we were also monetizing very well. It’s a freemium service. A third of our entire content library is unlocked for free, but if you want unlimited access, then you pay. And we were generating a lot of revenue for a one-person team.
But what really got me to decide to leave school—even though I loved the GSB so much—was, I was reading all the customer emails and I hopped on a few phone calls. And I thought that I was building this app to solve my own problem, but what I realized is that people have a lot of different difficulties in life. They are going through difficult times like depression, going through divorce. This matters a lot. This product matters a lot to them.
I was talking to this one person in Minnesota. She found out about Simple Habit through her doctor. She was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. And her doctor told her to use Simple Habit as a stress management tool. She started using it six months ago and now she’s says she does three things to elongate her time on earth. One of them is nutrition. Two is religion. And lastly, is Simple Habit.
And I thought that this would be once in a lifetime opportunity, where I get to work on a company that can scale really fast and is economically a very sound business model, but at the same time has a positive impact in this world. That’s what I get the most energy from, because I realized, we might just be coding or designing the interface, but this actually touches people’s lives.
SV: I remember one of my first performance reviews back when I was at IDEO, and one of my colleagues said, “Life is maintenance and you’re never done.” And it was for me, one of these ways of feeling better about the feedback that I got and the stress that I was dealing with. And one of the things that really resonates with me about Simple Habit is that, no matter what the circumstances—maybe you’re dealing with a challenging situation at work or a relationship outside of work, or how to be a better parent—we are always going to be dealing with these things. This is the nature of life.
YK: Life has both low and high moments. And there’ve been a lot of tech innovations for the high moments. If I have something to brag about, I go to Facebook. And you can look at my Facebook profile, it’s all about nice things, right? I live the dream life. And I go to AirBnB if I can afford to take travel time.
But when I’m feeling insecure or when I’m feeling sad about something or depressed, there’s no place for me to go.
SV: There is now!
YK: Yeah, now there’s Simple Habit. And that’s what we’re building.
SV: So you’ve grown 10x in a year. You’ve got, I think you said, 1,500 session on the platform today. And yet, there’s so far for you to go. What is your vision for the future? What are you most excited about? What does the next year or two look like for Simple Habit?
YK: Number one, I think we’re just getting started with the content. There are so many topics that we haven’t covered. So that’s why we’re expanding beyond meditation and getting therapist and coaches to create different types of content. Our vision is to be the destination for mental wellness and self-improvement. At the end of the day, what we are trying to do here, is to help people live better lives, every day.
SV: I’m not sure there’s a better mission. When I think about some of the entrepreneurs working on big, hairy, awesome, audacious goals that we’ve been fortunate to back, very few have been as compelling as helping people manage stress and live better, healthier, more fulfilling lives. This is such a cool mission that you’re on.
I’m excited. I know we all at Foundation are thrilled to be a part of your future.
YK: I’m really excited, as well. Throughout this fundraising process, I’ve gotten to know a lot about the Foundation team and the family there. I couldn’t have thought about a better partner than you to be working with.
SV: This is going to be fun. I think you’re planning to expand the team, certainly expand the content. What are some of the most critical hires over the next few months?
YK: Our team is super lean for the amount of work that we have. So if you go to SimpleHabit.com there’s a Jobs button you can click on to see all of our open roles. We have 20 open roles across engineering, design, marketing, and content.
SV: So if you’re a mission-driven entrepreneur who wants to work on products and services that matter, that help improve the world, that make a difference, Simple Habit sounds like it could be a great fit.
YK: Yeah. Hit me up on LinkedIn!