While investors are already writing big checks for meditation startups, Elevate Labs founder and CEO Jesse Pickard said that none of the existing meditation apps can replace the experience of working with a human coach.
“This experience where you have somebody that meets with you is wildly better than any digital product that’s out there,” Pickard said. “The problem is, it’s not affordable to 99% of the planet.”
So Elevate Labs is launching a new mobile app today called Balance, which is designed to replicate the experience of working with a live meditation coach.
“Even with meditation increasingly getting into the mainstream, it’s a fairly difficult practice to adhere to,” Pickard said. “We take away a lot of that indecision and present you with a path that is unique to you … People live all sorts of different lives: Some people care about stress, some people care about sleep, some people care about focus. But when you and I go into any of the other major apps, we’re getting the exact same recording.”
With Balance, on the other hand, you’re not just browsing through a library of prerecorded content. Instead, the app starts out by asking you about your goals, your meditation experience and more. You’ll then get a set of introductory meditations that may look familiar, but Pickard said that each meditation is actually “a combination of dozens and dozens of clips woven together that’s personalized to you.”
For example, I told the app that I already had experience with meditation, and that my top goal was to stay focused. As a result, my first meditation skipped most of the introductory explanations, and the main exercise was designed to help me focus on the sound of my breath.
Pickard said the app will continue to ask you questions about your experience over time, which in turn will lead to more personalization. The meditations are narrated by coach Leah Santa Cruz, who’s also involved in writing the content, and there are other meditation experts on the Balance team.
The app’s initial 10-day course is free. After that, to get access to additional meditations, you’ll need to pay $11.99 per month, $49.99 per year or $199.99 for a lifetime subscription. In addition to the meditations, Balance also includes a guided activity designed to help people sleep.
On top of launching a new app, Elevate Labs is also announcing that it has raised a $7.1 million Series B led by Keesing Media Group, with participation from Oakhouse Partners.
Under its old name MindSnacks, the company built language-learning games before shifting focus to Elevate, a “brain training” app that has supposedly been downloaded 25 million times and won Apple’s App of the Year Award in 2014. Pickard (who, thanks to the magic of Craigslist, was my roommate for about a year when I was first starting at TechCrunch) said that unlike most of the other apps that are marketed as improving your mind, Elevate focuses on trainable skills like reading, writing and math — rather than, say, improving your memory.
“We’ve been extremely careful about [not] venturing into untrainable skills — things like improving your attention span, those activities are not as provenly teachable,” he said.
It’s been a while since the company has raised outside funding — seven years since MindSnacks announced a Series A from Sequoia. Pickard said the company actually raised another bridge round in 2015, then “buckled down for a number of years and really just had to build a business that actually was sustainable.”
Apparently that’s paid off — he said Elevate Labs was cash-flow positive last year. With a total of $17.1 million in funding, the plan now is to continue supporting and growing Elevate while also launching Balance and building a whole line of related apps.
“We think there’s a really huge brand to be built around mental fitness,” Pickard said.
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