This Week In Startups #868 Calm cofounder Alex Tew

Full podcast here.

  • When did you have the idea for the million-dollar home page? It was a web site I made in 2005 with the sole purpose of making me a million dollars. I was broke and about to start university. I came up with the idea late at night: What if I sold a million pixels of advertising space for $1 each. In 4 months I sold out the page. 3,000 ads. . .The real value wasn’t the million dollars in the long run. It was all the connections and learnings from it. 

  • It took years to get the domain: The person that owned it wanted $1 million. We paid $140,000. It took several years before he finally decided to accept my offer. 

  • How did you know a meditation app could grow into a business so early? Meditation apps are popular now. Calm started before them all. What did you see so clearly before everyone else? It actually was just a personal interest. I thought if I’m interested in this and if mediation is benefiting me, then other people would benefit too. I began thinking about how can I get more people into this? 

  • Scratch your own itch: Calm is the product I wish existed when I was learning to meditate. I had to learn from books, poorly made recordings, going into strange places.

  • The problem Calm solves: Calm wants to make people more calm, less stressed, less anxious, happier, healthier and we can do that by teaching people these skills. 

  • Technology is not inherently negative. It’s what we are using it for: It turns out you have the smartest minds in Silicon Valley thinking about how to take more of your attention. There needs to be a counter balance. 

  • A blessing in disguise: The struggle to raise money was great. That constraint on capital meant we had to be really efficient. We could not spend money wildly. 

  • Most companies are charging too little: Marc Andreessen’s number one advice is to raise prices. Calm started out charging $10 a year. Calm was underpriced. When we raised the price to $40 a year our revenues skyrocketed. 

  • Sales growth: In 2014 Calm did a few hundred grand in revenue. 2015 $2.3 million. 2016 $7 million. 2017 $22 million. 2018 $80 million. 

  • The ultimate goal: Nike built this amazing brand on physical fitness. We are trying to do the same but for mental fitness. Ultimately we want to become Nike for the mind. 

  • One of Calm’s most successful Instagram ads: It is a counter that says do nothing for 15 seconds. The idea is you are scrolling through a feed. Take a moment. Take a breath. People don’t see it as an ad. They see it as an invitation to stop mindlessly scrolling. 

  • A quick way to come up with ideas: Flip an idea on its head. Think of the opposite.