Podcast

Why Yunha Kim Built Simple Habit A Spotify For Meditation

20 Minute Fitness Episode #62

This week on the 20 Minute Fitness podcast we’ve got Yunha Kim, a Duke University graduate and ex-Wall Street investment banker who’s already running her second startup success story. Yunha started meditation a couple of years ago and when she realized that there was a gap in the market, she decided to fill it. This lead to the born of Simple Habit, one of the most popular meditation and mindfulness apps that is used by millions of people around the globe.

Press play to learn about Simple Habit and to get an insight into the story of a real powerhouse woman in a leadership position!

Three Things You Will Learn

1) How Simple Habit Differs From Other Meditation Apps

Simple Habit doesn’t only stand out because it’s the youngest among the most popular meditation apps, but also because it introduces a whole new concept. Unlike its competitors that have a niche focus and mainly create content in-house, Simple Habit acts more like a market place. Tune in to understand how Simple Habit works and why Yunha likes to refer to is as the ‘Spotify for meditation’!

2) The Story Behind Simple Habit

Yunha started off as an investment banker on Wall Street. Then one day she quit her job and founded her own company hopping into a CEO position at a very young age. This obviously came with a lot of stress, so she decided to turn to meditation to reach a more balanced and happier state of mind. However, she felt like something was missing from the market… 

Listen on to hear all about Yunha’s “accidental” entrepreneurial journey and what led her to build Simple Habit!

3) Meditation Trends & Simple Habit’s Mission

Distractions, stress and difficult situations are things that people have to face day-by-day. But you don’t necessarily have to face them alone. Meditation provides a great solution to cope with these situations and the team behind Simple Habit wants to increasingly build on this idea. This is why one of the main goals for Simple Habit is to grow not just their content library, but also their content categories. 

Learn How Technology Can Help To Improve Your Sleep Quality

Press play to get a sneak peak into how Yunha envisions the future of both meditation and Simple Habit!


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Full Transcript

00:03 Martin Kessler: Hi, and welcome back to Why I built this sub-series of the 20-Minute Fitness podcast, I’m your host, Martin Kessler, and on this show, we bring to you the innovators and minds behind some exciting start-up companies that are really driving forward positive change within the health and fitness industry. This week on the show I’ve got Yunha Kim, Duke University graduate and ex-Wall Street investment banker, who is already running her second start-up success story, and given that brief backstory, you’d probably be surprised to hear that Yunha hasn’t even hit her 30s yet. That’s right. Yunha founded her first company and jumped straight into the role of being a CEO when she was just 23. Swapping the sorority parties for running a business wasn’t just merely a fantastic opportunity for someone as young as her, but it also came with loads and loads of stress that she had to suddenly deal with.

00:48 MK: That later inspired the founding of her second company, Simple Habit. Today Simple Habit is one of the most popular meditation and mindfulness apps, used by millions of people around the globe. Listen to today’s episode to learn how a woman in her 20s has become the successful founder of two tech start-ups, not just one, and why you should download the Simple Habit app right now. But before we move on, I would like to thank our sponsor, ShapeScale. ShapeScale is a 3D body scanner, scale and fitness tracker. You simply step on it, and it digitizes your body composition in photorealistic 3D. Now available on pre-order on shapescale.com. Hey, everyone, we are here with Yunha from Simple Habits, and she’s working on an amazing company in meditation. Yunha, why don’t you just introduce yourself a little.

01:30 Yunha Kim: Hi everyone, I am Yunha, and I am the founder and CEO of Simple Habit. So, Simple Habit is the app for daily stress relief. We have over 1,500 short meditations and audio therapy sessions from world-class experts. And these sessions are designed for situations that are very common in today’s world, like not being able to fall asleep or sleeping better, mourning, anxiety, and lack of focus. I actually just meditated before this meeting ’cause I was in back-to-back meetings today and needed some calmness.

02:05 MK: That’s awesome. So it’s really for somebody that either wants to work on their focus or that wants to deal with stress or anxiety that they have in their life or just to reflect. Who’s actually your target group? 

02:18 YK: Our target group is anybody that’s stressed. So we initially started off with millennial professionals, that’s what we started off with in 2016. However, over time, we learned that there’s a lot of students that are using this product for, let’s say, stress with their exams coming up, or uncertainty about career. But also we’ve got a lot of moms in the ’40s and ’50s that are going through some changes in their hormones, but also just in general like with…

02:44 MK: And these are first-timers when it comes to meditation or they’ve been doing it for a long time? 

02:49 YK: Most people that use Simple Habit, I would say, are first-timers, but there are definitely experienced mediators that have been meditating for the many years that also use it as well.

03:00 MK: Right. And this is mostly for some short meditation sessions or you do longer ones as well or how does that look? 

03:06 YK: We market it as five-minute meditation because the bulk of our content is five minutes, but we also have 10, 20, 30, even, I think, on a hour also. So there’s a lot of variety. But also, people have different goals, and reasons why they use Simple Habit. So some people might be like, “I can’t fall asleep at night, so I use it.” But some people might be like, “I am so nervous before interviews, so I use it”, so everyone has their our own goals.

03:30 MK: And our listeners, they’re probably familiar with some of your competitors like Headspace and Calm. How would you say you’re comparing with what they have to offer? 

03:39 YK: So, I started this company because I realized that many apps out there were meditation apps that are based on one meditation teacher. For example, Headspace, the founder of the company is the voice of the app. So let’s say… I actually happen to really like Andy’s voice, but if you don’t like his voice or want medications that are designed by a therapist that specializes in sleep, or a meditation teacher that specializes in woman’s health topics, back then there were not so many options out there, so you have to go find specific meditation apps. And then that’s when I realized that the space doesn’t really have platform for all these content creators, like meditation teachers, therapists, or executive coaches to upload their content. So we are a marketplace, in terms of business model.

04:25 MK: Right, so that’s very different from what your competitors are doing because they all create the content in-house whereas you actually offer a marketplace to connect both ends, right? 

04:36 YK: Exactly.

04:36 MK: Cool, and was that really what inspired you to start Simple Habit, or how did you get into it? 

04:41 YK: The short answer is I was using Headspace, I loved it, but over time, I thought that there’s gotta be a platform. Just like in the music world, like there is a Spotify, instead of each artist creating their own app. So there’s gotta be a platform. So that was why. I was an avid beneficiary of meditation. Meditation changed my life, it’s changed the way I respond to stress.

05:02 MK: How so? 

05:03 YK: I tend to work really hard and sometimes get stressed because I have really high goals, and so I tried meditation, I tried therapy, all kinds of things to reduce my stress, and I found meditation to be the most effective. In that one, you don’t have to change your clothes or go into a different setting. You can do it for five minutes if you want, you can do it for 30 minutes if you want, there’s not a high barrier to entry in a sense. But also, meditating’s not just sitting and doing nothing.

05:30 MK: Right. And can you give us a little of context? What year was it, and what really was stressing you out so much that you were looking for different methods to actually calm yourself.

05:41 YK: Yeah, I was running my previous company called Locket, and this was… It was between 2012 to ’15, and I was under a lot of stress because we decided to pivot our product and this was after we let go half of our team because of the pivot, and it really affected me personally.

06:00 MK: Ouch, yeah.

06:01 YK: Yeah, that was really hard. And also there was a lot of pressure to do well with the company, so I was looking for ways to reduce stress and just be happier, and yeah, meditation saved me during that time.

06:14 MK: Right. And so you were saying this is actually like your second business, so have you been always an entrepreneur? How did you get into entrepreneurship in general? 

06:22 YK: I worked in investment banking right after college, and I wasn’t really enjoying my job. And then one day I just came up with this idea of Locket and I just quickly jumped into it. I never had plans to be an entrepreneur, I was never interested in creating a company or a product ’cause that sounds really tough. I wanted to be… I’m not sure what I wanted to be actually, all kinds of different things, but I’m an accidental entrepreneur and I’m so grateful that I came into this industry.

06:51 MK: What do you mean by “accidental” actually, was it a moment in that can make you slide into it because you had this idea… Was a hobby and then it turned out to be more than that or…

07:01 YK: So this was in 2012, the idea was, “Oh, the lock screen is empty, we could show ads on it.” And then that idea was super cool, and I decided to just build it. Then, I didn’t realize that I was building a tech company, I thought I was just building a product, and I also didn’t realize that I was being an entrepreneur at that time. So that’s why I called it accidental because I just got really obsessed with this one problem that I wanted to solve, and then all of a sudden I realized that I am in tech, and that I’m an entrepreneur now. [chuckle]

07:32 MK: Right. So you were working on Locket, and that obviously had its issue, and you were dealing with stressful times, and then how did you transition to actually starting Simple Habit or is that…

07:43 YK: After Locket, I went to Stanford for business school, I was like, “I’m never starting another company again, that was too hard. “

[laughter]

07:52 YK: “And I’ve no idea what I’m gonna do with my life, so I’m gonna go to business school.” I loved it down in Palo Alto, the weather was amazing. And I loved taking classes on especially things that I just made mistakes on. So I learned a lot. And then I got obsessed with this idea of building a platform for meditation teachers, and then I built the product when I was at school, we launched it, and people around the world were writing to me and saying that… “This changed my life. Thank you so much, ’cause I’m going through final stage of cancer and I have anxiety attacks everyday, and Simple Habit has been the only resource for me.” So I just loved this mission of Simple Habit. And I realized that… The company was doing really, well the product was doing really well also monetization-wise, growth numbers wise. There was something that I didn’t really see at Locket as much.

08:41 MK: Right, and you’re saying you saw it almost at day one, when you got out, it was your initial version of Simple Habit or…

08:48 YK: Yeah. The initial version of it had a really good traction. Yeah.

08:51 MK: And how did it differ from what it is today? The marketplace was your idea from the get-go, right? 

08:56 YK: Yeah.

08:57 MK: And did you have to make any changes to that, or did it work from day one and people were immediately resonating to that concept? 

09:05 YK: Yeah, interesting. Yeah. Actually, people were resonating and they’re still resonating. If there are changes to the product, it’s that we have probably 10, 20X the amount of content. And now that we have a lot of content, we are being better about delivering you the content that you might be interested in. So for example… So before, we didn’t even have an onboarding process, so you would sign up with Simple Habit and you would say, “This is all of our content, go crazy.” But now, we ask you questions like, “What are your goals? What are your problems? Do you sleep well? Are you stressed? So that we can deliver what we think you would like the best.”

09:44 MK: Right. So how did it initially look like when people could just freely choose from day one what they wanted to meditate on, did they choose something that wasn’t a good match for them, or why did you change your approach? 

09:57 YK: Because as our content library grew, there was a paradox of choice problem. So, for example, we may have content for women like PMS meditation, but you might be a man and you may not be interested in that. And so we would be picking a very precious real estate for male users to show that stuff, so that’s why.

10:16 MK: And the target group, did that ever evolve? Was it always students and especially people that wanted to deal with different situations like sleep problems or stress, that were your target group or did that change? 

10:30 YK: Oh, definitely it has evolved, or it has expanded, in a sense. I was a millennial professional, and I targeted myself. So we built it all for millennial professionals. So all of the content on Simple Habit initially was all about work. “How do you perform better at work? How do you reduce stress after a meeting with your boss?” Or things like that.

10:48 MK: Right.

10:48 YK: And then we, all of sudden, just organically realized that… “Well, we are getting users that are students. We’re getting users that are like grandma.” So very different use cases now. So we’ve expanded that variety of topics and content now.

11:03 MK: And was it like a moment in time, was it right after you finished your MBA at Stanford that you decided, I’m gonna do this full time because you’ve seen those numbers that you didn’t see before at Locket? 

11:14 YK: Yeah, I did not finish my MBA from Stanford. I…

11:17 MK: Oh wow.

11:18 YK: Yeah, I decided to leave school and dedicate my time full-time here. Because I was doing some user research, or I was hopping on calls with a few users trying to understand, “Why do they use this product? How can we better create this product?” And I just loved the mission that the products are on, or the company or… At that time wasn’t really a company, but I just loved what we were doing for people out there, and I felt like I personally now had another opportunity in my time where something that I’m working on has amazing business model, great numbers, a great product. But at the same time do really good things in the world. Every day, I do wake up in the morning, I’m sometimes tired, but I oftentimes thinking… Very excited about the impact I would have in this world, and I feel really good about it.

12:03 MK: Yeah, that’s great. And then how does it look like for your users? I believe it’s probably a bit of a common issue that people want to get into meditation, and they try it, they start it, and they really struggle to keep it up. How do you deal with that? Is there a way that Simple Habit is really supporting its users to keep it up and to form really great habits in meditation? 

12:27 YK: Yeah, so we do this in three ways. So one is, if I ask you to meditate 30 minutes every single day, that’s gonna be very difficult.

12:34 MK: Yeah.

12:35 YK: However, we create a lot of bite-sized content, we even have one-minute meditation, two-minute, five-minute, so that… Sometimes, let’s say, I was waiting for this call actually, and I only had five minutes, so I could squeeze it in. But if I were to say, “Let’s do 30 minutes, that’s a really important call.” Second one would be, there’s gotta be always goals or problems behind what you’re doing. So for example, people don’t meditate for the sake of meditating, that’d be very great, but most times, people meditate because they’ve got life problems or goals. Problems could be anything from, “I can’t sleep very well,” or, “I’m stressed all the time,” to goals, “I wanna be a more compassionate manager,” or, “I wanna be a better mom.” So tying those goals and challenges, life challenges together with the content that we provide, is a way to make it more relevant to you. And lastly, we create a journey for you, so every single day when you come into Simple Habit, we recommend you based on what you listened to last, like “Here’s what we recommend,” so that it’s easier for you to decide what meditation to listen to.

13:39 MK: Right. Oh, that’s pretty great, what you’ve been achieving already, and you launched the app only about two, three years back, right? 

13:46 YK: Yeah, about two years ago, yup.

13:47 MK: Yeah. And can you share some numbers of how many people are using Simple Habit now, approximately, just ballpark, and where Simple Habit is now, how big is your team, actually? 

14:00 YK: We have now… We’ve just celebrated our 3 million users actually in December, last month. And let’s see, we have over 100 experts from around the world who have contributed content. We’re growing both numbers of users and experts very quickly.

14:18 MK: Yeah, and where do you see Simple Habit going over the next two or three years? What do you think is next for you? Are you gonna stay in meditation or are you gonna expand in different horizontals or verticals? 

14:29 YK: So over the next year and more, two things that we’re focused on: One is expanding the variety of content. So we already have a ton of data on what our users want more of, and we think that they want more of. For example, grief is one, where everybody in the world goes through grief because somebody in their family or friends die, or something happens. There are grief therapists out there that specialize in grief content. So for us, expanding the variety of content so we can meet our users’ needs is number one thing. And so that means bringing on therapists, executive coaches, on top of meditation teachers, and we’ll be looking at a variety of topics. And two, as we do that, our ultimate vision is to build a destination that people can trust for your mental wellness needs.

15:17 MK: And just thinking about meditation in general. Obviously, it’s become tremendously popular over the last few years. Do you see further a trend of that, that now maybe at some point almost the majority of us are gonna integrate meditation in some form or another into our lifestyle? 

15:37 YK: Absolutely. I think this… We’re at the cusp of a much bigger wave over the next few years, or if not decades. And I think the reason is we are more and more stressed in this modern environment. We are constantly connected. I have, I think, probably almost 100 apps if… I haven’t counted, but a lot of apps that are giving you notifications. So many ways to get connected, Slack, Email, Facebook Messenger. So we’re constantly connected, and I think people are more stressed.

16:05 MK: Do you really think that’s what it is, in general? We have all this technology, all this distraction, all of it is stressing us out, and that’s why people are actually meditating more because we feel more stress? 

16:15 YK: I think that the tech connectivity thing is just one of the many factors out there, so stress is increasing, and I think there are a lot of research that has come out saying that… That have shown that meditation can really help you with stress. And stress is the cause of a lot of health problems. In fact, I think 70% to 80% of physician visits in the United States are because of stress. So because we are being aware of why we need to manage our mental health, I think meditation is really going to get even more popular.

16:47 MK: Absolutely. Well, that’s great. I just wanna finish off with a quick-fire round. So basically, I’m gonna ask you just a few questions where I just really want a quick answer from you. You don’t really have to think very long or give me very long answers on those. Let’s start off with an easy one. What did you have for breakfast today? 

17:04 YK: I had coffee.

17:06 MK: Okay, and besides Simple Habit, what other apps in health and fitness do you have on your iPhone or Android phone currently installed? 

17:12 YK: Let me bring up my phone real quick.

[laughter]

17:14 YK: Yeah, I have Simple Habit, but I’m trying to figure out what I use other than that. I downloaded quite a lot for research purposes, but…

17:22 MK: Anything you use at least once every couple of weeks? 

17:25 YK: I use JUMP. JUMP…

17:27 MK: What’s JUMP? 

17:27 YK: JUMP Bikes, it’s not health and wellness but I use it for health and wellness purposes.

17:31 MK: It’s better than taking an Uber. For everyone that doesn’t understand what JUMP is, it’s like a bike-sharing scheme, basically you just…

17:36 YK: Right.

17:37 MK: And do you have one habit besides meditation of course, that has dramatically improved your life for the better? 

17:43 YK: Yoga. Sometimes there are times where I… In the morning, I love doing yoga because it activates my body as well and it puts me in a really good mood to start the day.

17:52 MK: Gotcha. Final questions. Do you have one thing that you believe that most people actually get wrong about fitness or health? 

18:00 YK: Running. So actually, I run for five minutes every day. It’s possible. Oh, of course, I skip many, many days, but when I call people that I met like, “Oh, I ran five minutes today,” people will get often really surprised like, “Oh, do you get benefits from that?”

[laughter]

18:13 YK: But the answer is, “Yes, I do. By running I feel like I can breathe very well. Also it increases my heartbeat, improves my mood. Also the reason I run for five minutes at a time, unless I have more time, is because I think the habit of doing something very short will only build over time. So if I have this barrier… Mental barrier in my mind that I need to run for at least 20 minutes, then I am less likely to run, I think, over time.

18:40 MK: Yeah. I think that’s a good rule that applies to almost building any sort of habit, because we typically tend to set ourselves a bar that’s way too high, and then we just don’t do it at all, which is really bad, right? So it’s better to run five minutes than running not at all, right? 

18:54 YK: Yeah.

18:54 MK: Awesome. So yeah, I think it’s a wrap. Is there anything else that you would like to share with the audience? Anything, a website or something, how they can find more about you and Simple Habit, of course? 

19:06 YK: Yeah. If you wanna try our app Simple Habit, you can go to the App Store with your iPhone or Play store with your Android phone and search “Simple Habit,” and you will find it. Otherwise you can also go to our website simplehabit.com. If you’re looking for new opportunities, we’re hiring a lot. Please go to our website and see the open roles there.

19:26 MK: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show, Yunha. Much appreciated.

19:29 YK: Thank you so much. Bye.

19:31 MK: Bye. That was a fascinating conversation to have with Yunha. And I really, really wish we would have had time to continue for some more. It really struck me how ironic mankind can be sometimes. On one hand we create some wonderful technology such as the modern smartphone which can make us more connected and available and empower us. But then on the other hand, it also can be very distracting to get notifications all the time. And funny how we then can make use of our phones and use clever apps such Simple Habit to then also disconnect from the world and take a step back once again. Anyways, before I get all philosophical with you guys, I’d like to thank you for tuning in. And as always, if you’re enjoying our podcast, please make sure to leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. Doing so really helps other listeners to discover our podcast. And yeah, thank you once again for listening in. And I’m your host, Martin Kessler. Hope to see you next time. Bye.

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Lilla Laczo

Lilla is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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