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Most entrepreneurs will tell you that adapting to change is a good thing. But Ben Rubin, CEO of 10% Happier, took this idea to a whole new level when he started a business based on making changes—and then decided to change his whole company himself.
Huh? Let’s back up a bit. Boston-based 10% Happier, a meditation courseware platform and app, was formerly known as Change Collective, a company that sold digital courses to help people live better lives. In October 2015, Change Collective began transitioning to its new 10% Happier name and business model.
The new goal: to serve up digital meditation courses for even the most cynical of people. 10% Happier company was inspired by the New York Times bestselling book, with the same title, written by Dan Harris, co-anchor of Good Morning America and Nightline. Initially, Change Collective added a single 10% Happier course to its slate of inspirational offerings, like the exercise program Made to Move with Chris Kresser, the healthy eating course Slim by Design with Brian Wansink, and Inbox Zero with Ari Meisel, a program designed to help you clear out your inbox clutter. Each course is two to four weeks long and comes with daily lessons, actionable advice, and even a personal coach to help you stay on track for measurable lifestyle changes.
From the moment the 10% Happier course was added in July 2015, people loved it, and Rubin and Harris immediately realized they were onto something. The course struck a chord with consumers, helping harried people calm their minds and become more focused.
In fact, 10% Happier calls itself “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics,” and the course breaks meditation down into a language that everyday people can understand. The company website even states: “Without the Woo Woo. You don’t have to sit in a funny position, light incense, chant, or believe in anything particular. Sit down and listen to a daily 5 to 10 minute guided audio meditation to make meditation part of your routine.”
Why the change now? Maybe Change Collective, founded by Rubin and Derek Haswell in early 2014 with $1.4 million in investor funding, hit on too many different kinds of change at once. Up until Change Collective unveiled the hit 10% Happier course, the other courses were taking off, albeit slowly, says Rubin.
10% Happier turned everything around when customers began flocking to the site to buy the new course. Then, in early September, Harris announced the new app on Good Morning America. That was when the floodgates really opened. Sales of the course went through the roof and by mid-September, Change Collective had sold ten times more 10% Happiness courses than all of its other courses combined. People began blogging about their meditation experiences using the course, and recommending it to others. Sales continued to swell.
Rubin says the course offered up something people were craving: an accessible way to learn how to meditate. Up until now, he explains, meditation courses weren’t packaged in an appealing way. The 10% Happier course, however, is edgy and funny. It’s also down-to-earth and real.
Rubin began talking to customers and discovered that they wanted more meditation courses. So Rubin, Harris, and the team at Change Collective took a hard look at how to reshape the company to accommodate a meditation-only platform.
By October, Rubin knew what they had to do: evolve Change Collective into 10% Happier, a site that only offers meditation courses. “We nailed the strategy,” says Rubin.
“The way we look at it today, only a small percentage of people are meditating, yet meditation is poised for tremendous growth. The research is compelling and shows that meditation helps with issues like focus, happiness, stress, cognitive decline with aging, and more.”
In May 2014, Rubin read 10% Happier, which details Harris’ unlikely journey into meditation and his quest to boost his happiness without losing his professional drive. The book resonated with Rubin, who credits his own meditation practice for helping alleviate his stress. Rubin knew that Harris had figured out a way to reach mainstream America and decided to get in touch with him to discuss a partnership.
“When we called Dan, it was a fortuitous moment,” says Rubin.
Harris wrote the book because he wanted to show that meditation wasn’t “weird.” He didn’t expect it to take off. Meanwhile, Change Collective had a platform that could get everyday people meditating. The two joined forces to create the 10% Happier program on the Change Collective courseware site. “We filmed the course in April 2015. From the minute we filmed it, we thought it was something special.”
The two-week course, now offered at the new 10% Happier website, features Harris and renowned meditation guru Joseph Goldstein, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society. According to the course description, “This course is for anyone interested in the benefits of meditation, without any of the baloney. Used effectively, meditation can be kryptonite for the voice in your head. If it can work for a fidgety, skeptical newsman… It can work for you.”
By early 2016, Change Collective will shut down and all of its employees will focus solely on the growth of 10% Happier.
Harris will become a partner in 10% Happier, which plans to raise more financing for its growth and roll out more meditation courses with top-notch instructors. Although the company does have competitors, it hopes to differentiate itself with its “real” human coaches. That way, if you fall behind or struggle to meet your personal meditation goals, your coach can step in with digital nudges. You can also reach out with questions day or night via text. This “human touch,” brought over from Change Collective, is something customers really love, says Rubin.
The new meditation app company will continue to approach meditation in an irreverent but thorough way that appeals to everyone—from urban hipsters to corporate America to retirees. The first new course in the works includes a program with renowned “loving kindness” meditation expert Sharon Salzberg. After that: a course with Oren Jay Sofer, an up-and-coming meditation teacher with a huge following. Sofer’s course will focus on mindful communication.
Within the next year, 10% Happier will have an entire library of courses that allow people to access meditation for all areas of their lives. “We want to make meditation a daily experience, and become the app you turn to when you want to start to meditate.”
It’s never easy for an entrepreneur to make the decision to walk away from a company or change direction. But Rubin knew it was time for a change in order to capitalize on the popular 10% Happier book and focus on the meditation products that his customers wanted.
Sometimes starting all over again is the best course of action. Rubin should know. Before starting Change Collective and 10% Happier, the self-proclaimed change junkie co-founded Zeo, a sleep tracking device and software company. He left Zeo in 2012 and the company shuttered in 2013.
“There were still ideas and direction for the product, but it simply didn’t make sense for the company structure to continue. This is the nuance of entrepreneurship.”
Persistence is also key, not to mention plugging away at customer problems and reacting to feedback. Ultimately, it’s almost always possible to create a company around a product that helps people, as long as there’s a strong business model behind it.