Why Founders Need Meditation

Featuring Guest -
Stephen Sokoler
June 23, 2020
| Evolve
hosted by: Brandon Stover

Stephen has 10+ years of experience building successful businesses, including Altrum Honors which had $20 million in annual revenue and a 33% global market share. His most recent venture Journey Meditation was coined the “Peloton of Meditation'' by Tech Crunch, bringing a 5,000 year old practice to the modern age by building the world's largest, most supportive meditation community both online and off. This startup has rapidly grown it’s corporate programs in 20 major U.S. cities with clients such as Facebook, Disney, Nike and GitHub and launched Journey Live, the world’s only group meditation app with live instructors and real-time classes.

View The Shownotes

Why Founders Need Meditation

Featuring Guest -

Stephen Sokoler

hosted by: Brandon Stover
June 23, 2020

Stephen has 10+ years of experience building successful businesses, including Altrum Honors which had $20 million in annual revenue and a 33% global market share. His most recent venture Journey Meditation was coined the “Peloton of Meditation'' by Tech Crunch, bringing a 5,000 year old practice to the modern age by building the world's largest, most supportive meditation community both online and off. This startup has rapidly grown it’s corporate programs in 20 major U.S. cities with clients such as Facebook, Disney, Nike and GitHub and launched Journey Live, the world’s only group meditation app with live instructors and real-time classes.

what you'll learn in this episode

  • How Stephen's entrepreneurial tendencies started as a kid
  • Why Stephen sold his companies and dove into a startup
  • How time spent in Sydney gave him clarity and inspiration for his startup idea
  • What founders can do to gain clarity
  • How Stephen enjoyed his time in the corporate sector
  • How meditation changed Stephen's approach to life
  • Why Stephen is passionate about bringing meditation to everyone
  • How Stephen decide which market to pursue for his next startup
  • Why Journey has shifted from corporate programs to direct to consumers with the Journey App
  • What the value of community is personally and for your business
  • How Journey balances engaging technology with human experience
  • What challenges Journey has faced getting product market fit
  • Why Stephen decided to take on investment capital for Journey after self funding
  • Stephens best advice for first time founders
  • What practices every founder should have for self reflection
  • How Stephen pitched meditation as a growing industry
  • What other ancient practices such as meditation are useful in modern society
  • How mediation helped Stephen make the decision to fundraise
  • How Stephen achieves work life harmony
  • What is Stephen's recipe for an amazing life & how to write your own

How we can push the world to evolve

The more we know ourselves, the better, right?  For me, part of the thing that made meditation so helpful was I looked at a lot of the things that I did in the past and said "Oh, that was really messed up." Some of those are small and some of those are large, but I wasn't aware of it because I was so just in my own head, moving through the world without taking any time to zoom out.
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[00:02:35] Brandon Stover: Oh, let's go ahead and dive into it. And have you always wanted to start your own business? I mean, as a kid in Queens, you were running a snow removal hustle, hiring other kids on the block. Has this always been something that you wanted to do?

[00:02:46]Stephen Sokoler: [00:02:46] I played a lot of sports. I was super active in that. but I think there was this idea of making money.

[00:02:51] Like I wanted all things, Nintendo games, I mean, this was the eighties. and, and other things like that. And, it was just the idea of like, Creating different things. so you mentioned the snow removal business. He was like, we were shoveling snow. I was shoveling snow and you know, could only do so many houses.

[00:03:07] And then it was like, Oh, okay. What if we can get other people to help? Okay. What if we can, you know, pass out flyers to all the houses and they'll call home and my mom will take the order and then we can send out people. So, you know, that was kind of the Genesis of it.

[00:03:18] Brandon Stover: [00:03:18] Yeah. so you spent 12 years in corporate as a successful CEO.

[00:03:23] Why did you sell those companies and then want to jump into a brand new startup?

[00:03:27]Stephen Sokoler: [00:03:27] I spent 12 years doing one thing, which was great. It had many different versions. So actually the first five years, I wasn't the CEO of the company. I started out working at a company, running a division, then purchase that division and then went through a bunch of other chapters.

[00:03:42] And by the time 2014 rolled around, it had been. Time, you know, like it was great for what it was. I felt like we achieved a lot. many of the people that I worked with there I'm still really close friends with, and it was time for something new

[00:03:58] where you, discovered meditation while taking some time and space from, you know, that, that career that you had, in Sydney.

[00:04:05] Brandon Stover: [00:04:05] How do you think this time helped you to gain clarity and inspire the idea for your startup?

[00:04:10]Stephen Sokoler: [00:04:10] I had no idea what I wanted to do next, which was very concerning for my mother at the time. but I found, I got referred to this woman, Sasha Griffin, who runs from called talent mosaic.

[00:04:22] And, she helps people who are trying to figure out what they want to do, figure out what they want to do. And so, For me, we did all these different exercises on looking at my life in the past, thinking about my life in the future. And I got pretty clear on what I was looking for. And from there, there were still like a number of things that could have fit into that category, but I recognized I wanted to build something meaningful.

[00:04:46] I wanted to build something valuable. I wanted to, do something that. Really made a difference. Like, I feel like life is so short. And so if I'm, if I'm on this planet in this body, you may as well make something happen. And so that helped a little bit. And I felt there was, there was a big opportunity in meditation, to both help people and build a big business.

[00:05:05] And so that was the, that was how the, How the project was born.

[00:05:09]Brandon Stover: [00:05:09] Why is this like having time for that space and that clarity so important for founders and maybe is there some of those exercises that you could share for founders to help do this?

[00:05:19]Stephen Sokoler: [00:05:19] Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think it's important for all people.

[00:05:21] Obviously founders are under unique, you know, stress that is unique to founders, right? Just like mothers are under stress that is unique to mothers, you know, et cetera. but I would say for founders, we have a lot of responsibility. you know, there's. On any given day, I would say dozens, if not hundreds of decisions that are made almost all of the most important decisions go to the founder.

[00:05:44] And oftentimes you don't have a, a community of other people that you can share that, that stress with. and so, you know, for, for all those reasons and many more. having self care practices are very important. So whether that's meditation, whether that's journaling, whether that's, therapy individually or, or in a group, I think those, those are sort of the essential tools for navigating in today's world.

[00:06:09]Brandon Stover: [00:06:09] In your past companies, the focus was a lot around the celebration of like employees and, rewarding them and like happiness in the workplace. did you find any unhappiness in yourself from the corporate world? or do you feel like you had a pretty good time in that world?

[00:06:25]Stephen Sokoler: [00:06:25] I really enjoyed what I was doing. I was very fortunate. I felt like I found something that I could sink my teeth into and really challenge me on an intellectual level, like how to grow and build this business. and I felt like it was important work. I would say that's definitely magnified by the work that we do here at journey.

[00:06:46] Like, it feels so much more important, especially given the times or Hey, like we're certainly a thing and really. Unique unprecedented times. And so, I, I feel like since, since the start of my professional career doing something that mattered, made a difference in the world was something that I prioritize over.

[00:07:07] Some other things, for example, money, as that's just one example.

[00:07:11]Brandon Stover: [00:07:11] What was it about meditation that like personally changed it for you? And you started getting more in touch with yourself.

[00:07:17]Stephen Sokoler: [00:07:17] Well, actually it's funny. I have a book that I started reading, right here.

[00:07:21] My girlfriend is asking me about it. so I don't get out of the bookshelf. it's this, this particular book, as you mentioned, Buddhism, and for busy people tells the story of. I've a guy who has a family works if he was in advertising and he finds Buddhism and it really helped him to find a deeper happiness for me, I found that meditation helped me to calm down a bit.

[00:07:47] It helped me, you know, as like a hard charging, new Yorker and a CEO, it helped me to have a little bit, more patients and more space. it really helped me to gain clarity around, not only decisions, well decisions I was making, but not really so much in the business world, although there as well, but also in my personal life.

[00:08:07]Getting really clear on what mattered to me, what my values were and where I was acting out of alignment with my values. So that, that was all super helpful. and Buddhism in particular, which we don't teach a journey. That's, that's not what we do. Everything we teach is totally secular and there's also lots of great places to go and learn.

[00:08:25] Buddhism. but for me personally, it was the philosophy that really resonated, you know, Buddhism is considered a religion, but like for me, it wasn't about believing something which is, different than I grew up Jewish. You know, you had to believe X and Y and Z, this wasn't bad. And this was there is suffering and there's, you know, et cetera, et cetera.

[00:08:44]so it just felt very, very much like a handbook for living life.

[00:08:48]Brandon Stover: [00:08:48] So why are you so passionate about bringing this to other people with Journey?

[00:08:52]Stephen Sokoler: [00:08:52] Well, you know, I think. There's something very human around. If something helps you, you want to share it. Do you want to share it with people that you care about and people you love?

[00:09:00] And so, for me, it's both of these, these things are true, which is, I want to build a big business. That's fun. That's challenging. It's exciting. and I want to help people. And when I was trying to figure out what to do next, I looked at three different things. So obviously we know where the story ends, right.

[00:09:18] With meditation or begins. But I also looked at weight loss, as you mentioned, I lost 85 pounds. And so I was like, well, maybe there's an opportunity to do something there. And the other thing I looked at was life coaching. It's like, why is there no. McKinsey of life coaching. Why is there no gold standard?

[00:09:32] And so I explored all three of those before ultimately deciding on meditation. And I just thought there was a real opportunity. I thought meditation was, and still is even five years later, pretty misunderstood as religious difficult, spiritual, confusing. You know, I can't tell you how many times a day I hear people say, Oh, I can't meditate because it's thought of as something else.

[00:09:56] And so, you know, I think, I think there's still a lot of work to be done there to be able to bring it to people in a way that really meets them where they are.

[00:10:04]Brandon Stover: [00:10:04] How did you, balance a decision between going between those markets? Was it more of a looking at the logistics of it or the more the meaningful side?  Or some combination of the two.

[00:10:14]Stephen Sokoler: [00:10:14] I'd say, I'd say some combination. No, I think, I think it was originally, the business part has to be sustainable, right? Like I didn't want to run a nonprofit. There's nothing wrong with that. Just wasn't for me. I wanted to build a business. And when I looked at weight loss, obviously, as we know, there's lots of companies that are doing that work some better than others.

[00:10:35]and with life coaching, I found it to be a very murky space. Like there's no accreditation. Anyone could just pop up and say their life coach. And so I felt, I mean, there was some accreditation, but most people don't know it and it's not like being a lawyer or a doctor it's more prominent and forced by law.

[00:10:57] So. It felt like that would be a really uphill battle. and when I looked at meditation, I felt there was a real opportunity. I said to myself, like, where would my brother go? My brother works at Hitchcock.

[00:11:18] What would be a way to meet them where they are?

[00:11:23] Brandon Stover: [00:11:23] Well, let's talk a little bit about kind of the logistics of journey you started with the corporate programs first and, you know, with your history, that was obviously a successful Avenue to go down first, but why launch the app and go to consumers now?

[00:11:37]Stephen Sokoler: [00:11:37] Good question. So we have done really well with corporations and that work is very, very important.

[00:11:44]you know, our clients, you mentioned, you mentioned a bunch of them, but they really range from charter schools to nonprofits, the hospitals, the big companies. And we felt like that was a really good place to start. And I believe there's an even bigger opportunity to be able to help people by allowing them to find these tools themselves.

[00:12:04] Right. And so unlocking it and really democratizing these practices for people. Well, and I didn't want it to sit where only people could get it if their company signed up for it. so that was sort of the, was the like nice reason to do it. And then of course, the other side of the business reason, I think that the space will look very similar to physical fitness where think five years, 10 years, 15 years from now.

[00:12:27] Yes. There'll be companies that have onsite. Excuse me. Onsite meditation rooms, the same way there's companies that have, you know, on st. Jim, there will be companies that, pay for reimbursements to meditation products, the same way there's companies that pay for reimbursements to gym memberships. But ultimately I believe the bulk of the spend is going to come from consumers, spending directly.

[00:12:50] It's the same way in physical fitness, you or I might have, you know, a class pass or an Equinox membership. I thought that's how the space would evolve. And therefore it made sense.

[00:13:02] Brandon Stover: [00:13:02] Well, with over like thousands of other meditation apps, you know, ready for download at any minute, how has the aspect of having it live really  set you guys apart?

[00:13:11]Stephen Sokoler: [00:13:11] Yeah. I mean, you, you, you touched on it, right? There's so many products. There's so many, the way I described the spaces, it's very busy and crowded, but still immature. And by that, I mean, there's lots of competitors. Lots of products, lots of great products, but it's still very early. Like the market's only been around when it comes to digital apps, you know, five years, 10 years.

[00:13:31] Right. so still, if it will, it will evolve quite a bit. for us live is a huge differentiator, you know, nothing really beats, face to face, but of course, if you can't have that weather for COVID or any other reason, you know, having somebody saying, Hey, Brandon, three days in a row, keep up the great work.

[00:13:49]Jonathan, first-class welcome. Mary, so nice to have you here. You know, you feel connected, you could see the teacher, there's more a huge because it's visual. and then you have a supportive community. So, you know, you might ask a question and somebody might say, ah, you know, I really appreciate you asking that I was feeling the same thing, or I went through this or, you know, you might hear someone ask a question and think to yourself.

[00:14:11] Hmm. That's actually a good point. I, I wasn't really experiencing that, but that really helps me to understand different perspectives. So it's a much different experience than simply listening to a recording, you know, by herself. and it also allows us to, to talk about what's going on in the world, right?

[00:14:25] There was so much fear and remains so much fear with Kobe that everything's happening and now we're reopening and what's going to happen there. And now everything that's happening on the social front, you know, with George Floyd and, you know, white supremacy and. And on and on, right. And now we can see how this story continues to evolve.

[00:14:41] And so the way people are feeling about it is there's a whole host of emotions. Now we have this whole thing with the Confederate flag what's happening there. What does that mean to different people and on and on. So I think being able to have a live experience, it's just much different than just a recording that you're doing by yourself.

[00:14:58] Brandon Stover: [00:14:58] How do you create the same emotional and visceral experience of being in a group that you would have physically. Oh online. Cause I think with these situations like COVID, and especially like remote work and stuff like that, it's brought the question of like quality online interactions. So how do you promote that?

[00:15:16]Stephen Sokoler: [00:15:16] Well, it's really important for us to create a safe space. And so making sure that the is really healthy and clean and productive, we haven't had actually any issues with that. So we've been fortunate. And part of that I think is. We're attracting a certain type of person, right? Like the person that might be on some late night Reddit group about God knows what it's probably not the person who's downloading and engaging with journey life.

[00:15:37] So we're, we're fortunate in that regard. but, you know, for us, it's. There's a couple of things that we've done strategically with the product itself. So you can see the teacher, but they can't see you. So you don't have to worry about having your video on, that's. One, two is you have the first name and the last initial we originally had.

[00:15:57]you know, first name, last name, but that doesn't work for certain reasons. First name on its own is hard because then you have four Jennifer's in the class. And is that the same, Jennifer? Is that not the same, Jennifer? Right. we had a story the other day that I heard this week, where a one student went and started a GoFundMe campaign for another student.

[00:16:14] Thank you mind. They've never met in real life. Never seen each other unless they've, they've organized, you know, off-platform but through journey at least, And people are saying, I never felt so connected to people. And they're saying I've never felt so connected to people little on the fact that we haven't even met yet.

[00:16:29] Right. So there, there is something really powerful. And I think part of that has a lot less to do with us and a lot more to do with meditation as a practice creates that container for people to share really authentically and vulnerably and the teachers I should shouldn't take any. Being away from teachers, or I should know, we have teachers who have been doing this for many, many, many years and know how to facilitate those conversations.

[00:16:53] Brandon Stover: [00:16:53] Yeah. I mean, you've personally done like retreats and been part of communities like men's group and stuff. Why are these communities so supportive of that and so important for people to be a part of.

[00:17:03]Stephen Sokoler: [00:17:03] Well, I think we used to live for thousands of years in communities, in villages, in tribes. And now we live these great lives where we move out of home, you know, from our parents when we're at 18 and then we're reliant on big business and government and our employers, the same things that, our families used to provide.

[00:17:21]you know, we'd used to be, you need to fix something, you have your family and your friends there to help, you know, it's, you have to get a loan and then you have to hire someone. And so. We didn't evolve to live these very individual isolated lives. That's actually one of the biggest concerns I have about Corona is in addition to obviously, but the virus itself is people are spending a lot of time alone and isolated and studies have shown how, how dangerous and how detrimental loneliness is to the human body and the human condition.

[00:17:51] So, anyway, I think having the support of a group, whether that's a therapist, a group of friends, family is really essential for the human experience.

[00:18:05] Brandon Stover: [00:18:05] Yeah, absolutely. Cause, you know, one of the worst punishments that we do to people like in prisons and whatnot is seclude them to their soaps. And, I definitely agree that.

[00:18:15]We grew up, as a civilization in tribes had that support. And in modern times haven't been able to have that we've segregated away so much. And I think that, is a core of a lot of problems now.

[00:18:29] I agree.

[00:18:30]you're a pretty firm believer in the human main tech movement and their mission to promote ethical technology.  You guys kinda opted away from like notifications or gamification, unlike Calm or Headspace with some of the other apps might do to bring you back in. How do you balance creating tech that is engaging, but also enhances the human experience.

[00:18:52]Stephen Sokoler: [00:18:52] Well, I think one of the, one of the things is the core experience.

[00:18:56] When you come into journey, is it welcomes you and it shows you classes that you've opted into, right? So we do use push notifications, but we use them only when you opt in for a particular class. I E Hey, you signed up for this country. I'm class 6:00 PM. Class just started, right. That's I think a little bit different than you're getting, you know, five or 10 notifications about.

[00:19:17] You know, X or Y or Z for us, it's the core experience that has to feel humane. It has to feel real. It has to feel warm. Like I'm sure you've had, you know, we've all kind of had one of those experiences, whether it's on Instagram or Facebook or a shopping site where you go down a rabbit hole and next thing you know, you've spent far longer than you ever expected.

[00:19:37] Right? On that. And you're like, you feel kind of shitty about it. and that's a really different thing than you're going here and you're seeing a teacher and they're welcoming you and you're with other people. Right. And so it's using the product like a phone has glass and metal and a bunch of things.

[00:19:52] There's nothing bad about the phones. Nothing good about it. It's like fire, right. It could be detrimental. Or if it allow us to cook food, Same kind of thing. So it's not the phone, it's the, it's the way we're using it. So we want to make sure that the experience itself is one that feels really connected.

[00:20:07]Brandon Stover: [00:20:07] What challenges have you guys faced getting product market fit with the app?

[00:20:12]Stephen Sokoler: [00:20:12] Well, it's a, how much time do we have? I think we've been, I think we've been fortunate when it comes to product market fit because. The practice is 5,000 years old. So there's nothing to really reinvent there. The teachers that we hired are some of the best in the world.

[00:20:27] We're fortunate because, you know, we're a venture backed company. We actually raised another round after the one that you've mentioned that I don't think has been announced yet. We raised another two and a half million dollars in February. So, you know, we've raised over $5 million that gives us the ability to pay teachers a fair wage, which is nice.

[00:20:42] We gave our founding teachers equity. So we're able to go and recruit. And retain some of the best teachers in the world. And that makes a huge difference. So when you have those two things, the practice and the teachers, it goes a really long way. And then the third thing, and these are, I don't know how into Buddhism Gore, but the three jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sanga like the community.

[00:21:06] The support of other people. So even kind of putting journey in product and tech and UX and UI aside, there's some good bones there to be able to build your own. And then when you say, okay, we should really stand in the background. Like let's not try to do too much. Like almost like if you go to a nice restaurant and like the chef lets like the food itself, do the cooking, you know, like the freshness of the ingredients and simplicity of it instead of doctoring it up with too much sauce and this and that.

[00:21:33]so for us, I feel like even from the start, we were able to have a product that people really resonated with, like the average paid user uses over five times a week and spends over 21 minutes a day in the app. so super, super high engagement. So I think when it comes to product market fit, we've been.

[00:21:51] Fairly successful so far, we have a ton of other channel teachers to be clear, but that one, I feel good about

[00:21:58]Brandon Stover: [00:21:58] you began self-funded but as you mentioned, have, since, you know, raised capital, why take on a capital and move forward?

[00:22:05]Stephen Sokoler: [00:22:05] Great question. So, when I started, I was here in my apartment and I said, I don't know if this is a good idea or not, but I'm willing to put some money to work, to see what happens.

[00:22:16] So I put in, I think it was 150 or $160,000. This is in March of 2015. and that allowed us to get up and running, to do some things. And then when I saw, Hey, There's a real thing here, let me raise some money. So I went to friends and family and a few others and was able to raise a small friends and family round, to be able to go and hire some people and do some things and expand to other cities.

[00:22:36] And then when I said, you know, there's actually a real opportunity to build something big. And when you take on venture money, I have a piece of written that's something to the effect of like fundraising sucks. Helpful guide for surviving and thriving during the process. I think it never came out because I think, right, in fact, we didn't want to put it out when I was fundraising.

[00:22:57] We wanted to wait till it was done and then COBIT hit and it just felt tone deaf. And obviously COVID, you know, kind of continuing. but I wrote it with the, the idea that if I was a first time entrepreneur, what would, I want to know where a first time fundraiser. you know, taking on venture monies is a real thing.

[00:23:14] It's, it's, it's very different than taking money from friends or even borrowing from a bank. And, and those, those are actually worth exploring fully also. But I think. Nowadays venture is, I don't know if it's cool and sexy, but a lot of companies want to raise venture money and that might not always be the right thing.

[00:23:31] And so I was very clear, I, in eyes wide open understanding how the risk profile changes and what it means both personally and professionally. So I was very clear about that, but I thought there was a sizeable opportunity that made it worthwhile.

[00:23:46]Brandon Stover: [00:23:46] What's some of the other advice that you might give to first time founders?

[00:23:50]Stephen Sokoler: [00:23:50] In general or about fundraising?

[00:23:52] Brandon Stover: [00:23:52] In general?

[00:23:53]Stephen Sokoler: [00:23:53] Well, I think, I think it's important to do something that you're passionate about. I think most founders know that, but sometimes you can overlook that in the, in the face of a business opportunity. and there's nothing wrong with saying I'm going to make a short term sacrifice and run and run this business for, you know, a year or two years and understand that I'm putting my personal, you know, kind of, personal happiness aside to, to build something.

[00:24:16] That's a, that's a decision, as long as you go into that, again, eyes wide open. So I think doing something you're passionate about really makes a big difference because you end up working way more than you think. You know, I think the. The double edged sword. You know, one thing that people who are not entrepreneurs will often say is like, Oh, you run your own business.

[00:24:35] You can work whenever you want, as if that's a good thing. And the challenge as we all know is like, that's a good thing, but that's also a good thing because come Saturday morning, you're like, I probably should do this. Or. Maybe I want to do this, or I have to do this. And so the lines blur really, really quickly between personal and professional and in fact so much so that I don't really like this idea of work life balance.

[00:24:58] I really liked this idea of work life harmony or work life integration, where you think about it as, as one thing, you know, even something like this, like this work, I mean, I'm not, we're talking about life. We're just kind of hanging out, like, I guess technically it's work. But anyways, so I think for first time founders, if you could do something you're passionate about that, that goes a long way.

[00:25:17]I think the, the best advice that I. Well, the advice that I take to heart often is know thyself. And I think that that's really simple but powerful because, without doing that, you can often, and I still do it now even 41 years old and having a meditation practice for a long time, it can lead you down some particular path that you might not want to be down.

[00:25:37] And so, being able to take time and have. Space and energy to just reflect, to think, is this the right business? Am I making the right decisions? Do I have the right people around me? And you know, the many, many other questions that go with running a business? I think, you know, I think having a practice that could help you a self reflection.

[00:25:58] In practice is really beneficial. In fact, I'd say it's almost kind of necessary.

[00:26:03] Brandon Stover: [00:26:03] Yeah. I think one of the benefits of COVID right now is the  time that we're allotted  to self-reflect. it's kind of forced us to, into slowing down a little bit.

[00:26:13] obviously meditation has helped you, quite immensely in self-reflecting or whether other practices would you say it would be helpful for someone to go through to do that.

[00:26:23]Stephen Sokoler: [00:26:23] I think guided journaling is a great one. there's all different ways to do that. You could do that with an app. You can do that without any cues. You can just sit and write, you know, for 10 minutes for the, for the first 10 minutes of the day.

[00:26:33]I found journaling to be very, very helpful, for me personally, Therapy has been game changing. I actually, wasn't looking for a therapist. I was looking for a coach and a buddy of mine said, Oh, you should talk to this guy. And then fast forward, like a few weeks, I hadn't talked to him about it, but I had, I had hired a coach.

[00:26:52] And so my buddy checked in and was like, Oh, you talked to his name's Ben. So I already talked to Ben and I was like, no, I ended up hiring this other coach. And he's like, dude, Go see him, trust me. And I went and I met with him and I was like, I'm pretty quickly. It was, it was game changing for me having the space we need every other week.

[00:27:07] I think. If I didn't have so many other things, like I'm going to see you and I have a meditation teacher, I would do it every week, which we do sometimes. Like sometimes we'll leave a really juicy topic. Like the other day we were exploring middle school and thought about middle school in, I don't want to say since middle school, but in a long time, decade is least.

[00:27:27] And so I was like, wow, there's something really interesting there to unlock social some pretty formative years, you know, I guess you're what, 13, 14, 15, something like that. So then we said, okay, we don't, I don't want to wait two weeks on this. Let's do, let's do next week. So we do that occasionally, but I think therapy is so powerful and I'm actually quite surprised that.

[00:27:47] As someone who works in the mental health space, I hadn't participated in it sooner.

[00:27:53]Brandon Stover: [00:27:53] Yeah. I think it goes back to finding those people that, you know, can help support you. and building sort of that in modern day today, we have to build that drive for ourself. So if that's a meditation group that you're part of, if, as a therapist that you see, you kind of have to seek those people out.

[00:28:09]Stephen Sokoler: [00:28:09] Yeah, absolutely.

[00:28:10]Brandon Stover: [00:28:10] how did you explain meditation? Obviously it's become more widely accepted, but how did you start explaining meditation as from an investment standpoint, as you were like pitching and trying to tell them that, you know, this is going to be a large industry

[00:28:23]Stephen Sokoler: [00:28:23] when I was meeting with my friends, Some percentage of them thought I was just crazy. They were like, this is ridiculous. Some percentage said. Oh, wow. I see what you see. Right. I could see this being the next thing, right? Like exercise. We take it for granted now, but it wasn't always like people always jog and people always exercise.

[00:28:44] That was something that was a learned behavior. so some people saw that and a lot of people, and, and I'm talking about, you know, the friends and family round of investors, a lot of people were like, we believe in you. We now hard, you work. We know that you must see something. So even if we don't necessarily know what's happening with meditation or mental health, We think that you'll be able to figure it out.

[00:29:04] So that was those first conversations then fast forward. Let's see, we started in March, 2015. I raised that round in January, 2016. So we had like nine months and then I didn't raise the venture round for two more years until 2018. So at that point it was a, it was a real business. Now, granted, we raised on a different premise, right?

[00:29:25] We raised on, Hey, we've learned all these things about group and live. And now we're in, and that was in real life and now we're going to digitize it. And now we're going to build an app and be the first step. So there was something interesting. There, there were enough proof points around, us as a team, me as an entrepreneur to say, okay, there's, there's something here.

[00:29:42] And we were fortunate because. The market had started to come along. So calm had raised a bunch of money. Headspace had raised a bunch of money. You started to see meditation popping up, at companies, at Davos. You started to hear the police cars over here. you know, places like the army getting trained in meditation or NBA teams.

[00:30:02]so it started to be something where people were seeing it. So that made it a little bit easier. and then fast forward now that we raised this round, the company's been around for five years. We've proved that a lot of things comm is worth a billion dollars. You're seeing other mental wellness products coming out.

[00:30:18]and so people are realizing, wow, this is, this is going to be a massive category. you know, journey journey looks like. It could be a decent investment in space. So it evolved over the five years and timing is everything, right? Like it must be really hard now, too. And racy Brown as a new meditation product, because the space to your point is so crowded.

[00:30:40] Also, if you had tried to raise 10 years ago, you probably would have been really hard. I don't actually know Headspace his story around fundraising, meaning that back then, but I would imagine it would have been pretty challenging to raise when people were thinking about meditation, it was just considered a thing for, you know, monks and hippies.

[00:30:59] Brandon Stover: [00:30:59] Yeah. It seems like you had the. In a place of right place at the right time, you know, you had come from standing on the shoulders of giants, but also are early enough to see that you're going to be going off in a good direction.

[00:31:12]Stephen Sokoler: [00:31:12] Yep, exactly.

[00:31:13]Brandon Stover: [00:31:13] meditation, as you mentioned, you know, has been used for thousands of years.

[00:31:16] What other ancient traditions do you think could serve our modern culture now?

[00:31:21]Stephen Sokoler: [00:31:21] Well, you know, community is, is one of those things that gets thrown around a lot. Like you see it at all different in, you know, advertising everywhere and stuff like that. that's less a practice and more something that I think people need to really.

[00:31:36] Be conscious of and embracing. It's very easy to spend time alone. And then it's a slippery slope. Next thing, you know, you're spending more and more time alone. And I think having that group of people, it doesn't have to be a men's group. It could be a bunch of people that you go bowling with or you go dance with or a book club.

[00:31:52] But I think having other human beings that you're having conversations with that care about you, that you care about. I think that's really important. There are other practices that are definitely, Misunderstood. So think hypnosis or hypnotherapy is one that, you know, we grew up the guy, you know, follow the clock kind of thing.

[00:32:11] And then you don't bark like a dog and all that stuff, but like, Hypnosis is now something where you're seeing studies come out. you're seeing people talk about it more the same way you saw that about six, eight, 10 years ago with meditation. So I do think there's a bunch of other practices that are very good for us as human beings, but we've been, we've learned that they're weird or they're, they're goofy.

[00:32:32] And so we've shied away from them. Whereas if we can be a little bit more open minded,

[00:32:38]Brandon Stover: [00:32:38] Yeah. I mean, with depression, anxiety, and, you know, overall poor mental health becoming more prevalent. How do you see meditation and some of these other wellness practices playing a role in society moving forward?

[00:32:49]Stephen Sokoler: [00:32:49] Well, I think it's, you know, I think.  It's so important for people to be able to respond as opposed to react. And we have so much coming out, in a way that our ancestors did it. Right. We get push notifications on phones. There's just the barred mint of information. And. Being able to work with the brain more skillfully to be able to process all of that and then respond from a place of thoughtfulness and compassion.

[00:33:23]Can make a huge difference. So I think, you know, you're already seeing it. You're seeing like we have a partnership with UMass, you know, we're their official mindfulness provider. I was talking to a gentleman at the department of education here in New York. Who's I don't know his exact title, but he's basically in charge of mindfulness.

[00:33:39] At the DOE here. And as a New York city school system product, I went to all public schools. you know, I wish I had these practices back when I was five, 10, 15, 20, because you can teach these kids, you know, practices like this that will change their life. And so you're seeing it in school systems, police forces, universities, organizations, et cetera.

[00:34:03]and, and, you know, As we continue as technology continues to advance the idea of having information in our brains versus at our fingertips, like when I was going to school, we had to learn a lot about the dinosaurs and a lot about the solar system and things like that, which is great, but probably not so useful in terms of how I navigate my days.

[00:34:28] Now. I'm not saying we shouldn't learn that stuff. What I'm saying is we should also learn. Things like meditation and things around happiness and building good habits and a whole host of tools that can help us navigate the world more skillfully.

[00:34:42] Brandon Stover: [00:34:42] Yeah. I think there's a, a set of meta skills basically to learn that hope you kind of learn other things.

[00:34:48] So, you know, thinking about the dinosaurs. Well, we can go look that up on a computer or look in a book or something, but having the Metta skill to realize that's the information you need to go seek out. I think is something more we need to focus on?

[00:35:02] Stephen Sokoler: [00:35:02] Yeah. Well, well said,

[00:35:04]Brandon Stover: [00:35:04] has there been any particular instances or stories that meditation has helped you on your journey as a founder,

[00:35:10]Stephen Sokoler: [00:35:10] well, I'll just say that the decision to fundraise, you know, it's very easy to rush into decisions or to say, no, I'm not doing that. Or so, yes, I'm doing this. but I needed to get really still, I needed to get really quiet to decide whether going the venture route made sense.

[00:35:25]because it changes everything. It changes the entire way the company operates. And so for me, instead of just saying, Oh, everyone's raising venture money. Oh, that's a path to quick money, you know, really sitting and understanding what does it mean for me? What does it mean for the company? What does it mean?

[00:35:43] Like at 41 now, I'd like to get married at some point soon. I'd like to have a family at some point soon. And so how does running a startup that's venture back? What is the risk profile there? What are the expectations? How does that align or not align? So I think, I think meditation helped me in, you know, I would say.

[00:36:03] Every decision that I've, that I've made, but that's a, I think a good example of this very specific one.

[00:36:09]Brandon Stover: [00:36:09] How do you balance the values? So, you know, you mentioned wanting to have a relationship, but also looking at the risk of that, having a startup, how do you balance those values and kind of sort through those for yourself?

[00:36:22]Stephen Sokoler: [00:36:22] Well, I was very clear with myself that starting the business was a risk, for, for lots of reasons, but it was a risk I was prepared to take because at the time I was 36. And so certainly not young young, but, but far from older. Right. And so I was like, okay, I'm prepared to, to make, to take this risk. I didn't, I wasn't in a relationship.

[00:36:42] I didn't have any children now, fast forward. Five 10 years from now, I'm married. I have a bunch of kids. I might not say, Hey, let's roll the dice again. And maybe I will, who knows what, what the situation is or what the opportunity is. But for me, that was, that was pretty clear. The challenge has been, how do I balance the two of finding the time and space for me, me personally, for dating, for relationship building and.

[00:37:06] Building the business because, especially when it comes to the businesses we talked about, it can be all consuming very quickly. It can be 24 seven, you know? So how do I carve out time to actually shut down the computer sometimes to actually take a day off, to be able to reflect or spend time with, you know, whomever.

[00:37:23] So, it's a. It was challenging. I have to say I have a partner. I have a girlfriend who's amazing. Incredibly supportive and, my best friend. So it's, it's actually like. She allows me to work as much as I want. And while I want to work a lot, I also love spending time with her. And so I'm able to find a nice, a nice balance.

[00:37:45] And we also have some rituals, like, you know, in the morning we spend time together, then we'll cook dinner together, on the weekend. So there's a whole host of things that we do where that time is our time. And I think. The more you can build in things like that and not just around relationships, but around exercise or diet or meditation, the easier it is for those things.

[00:38:05] Not to be sort of ad hoc decisions, but to be deeply integrated into your life.

[00:38:09] Brandon Stover: [00:38:09] Yeah. I think, rituals is super important. my wife and I do that as well. having like mornings together and that is solely our time together. And we also have Sundays where there's no work nothing. and I have my own meditation practice to help calm my mind down from thinking about all the other stuff.

[00:38:26] So I can be a hundred percent focused with her during those moments.

[00:38:30]Stephen Sokoler: [00:38:30] Yup.

[00:38:31]Brandon Stover: [00:38:31] I also seeing that, about 12 years ago, you'd written down, something called the recipe for an amazing life enlisted things that make you happy, and read it every so often. What is on that recipe for you?

[00:38:43]Stephen Sokoler: [00:38:43] I can read it to you if you want it.

[00:38:44] I mean, there there's, there's a lot on it. It's I probably need to trim it. I, I read it. I intake every. Two to three days now, granted it's been around for a long time, so I don't need to read it every day to keep it top of mind. Fortunately, some of that is, is in me, but like there's two sections things to do and things to remember.

[00:39:04] So things to do, start with things like eat healthy, get a good nights, sleep, meditate, and exercise every day. So that's, that's one. or it could be spend time with people you love and care about. All the things to remember. It's like, this is the best moment of your life. This is the best day of your life.

[00:39:21] Like that's it kind of. Strange things it's like, well, is this like modern podcast? Is this the absolute best? Most of my life? Well, it's this, it's the only moment right now. Right? Like, so like really deeply understanding and digesting. And then there's a whole host of other things. You know, a lot of them are things that I, that I struggle with.

[00:39:42] Like for example, don't judge just accept and love people, including yourself for who they are. Right. So like I've judged myself. I'm hard on myself. And then I of course take it out on my girlfriend or my mom or, you know, colleagues. So a lot of the things on there are sort of stretch goals, but I feel like the more I keep them top of mind, the better.

[00:40:03] This list changes itself. It's a living, breathing document. So I'll, I'll see, I'll see something and I'll say, or I'll change the wording or something. He'll still be there, but I'm saying that's not how I would express it, so that that's also helpful for me as I.

[00:40:20]Brandon Stover: [00:40:20] How would you recommend somebody writing their own list and trying to filter between what they actually care about and maybe what other people are telling them that they should care about? The ends up getting written down.

[00:40:33] Stephen Sokoler: [00:40:33] So I think there's two questions there. so I think the first one, how to, how to start, I don't know if there's like a particular. Way to do it other than take a clean piece of paper and just start writing what feels true for you. you know, and it could be like, don't do evil, right.

[00:40:48] Or whatever Google used to say. or it could be, you know, be, be kinder to your mom or your dad, or, you know, like what are the things that are important to you? It doesn't have to be too philosophical or, or to, you know, pie in the sky. It could be like, get eight hours of sleep a day. That's pretty good.

[00:41:07]and then in terms of what what's true for you, versus what you've heard is true, that that's really only a thing, you know, that you can answer. And I think like we talked about all these practices that help, you know yourself better allow you to say like, okay, is that actually so like, do I want to have kids?

[00:41:26] Is that I want to have kids because that's what I've always excuse me. Or society's told me that or is that something I. Actually one. so it's, it's religious looking at looking inward. Hmm.

[00:41:38] Brandon Stover: [00:41:38] Well, before I get to my last question, where can everybody find you in journey?

[00:41:43] Stephen Sokoler: [00:41:43] Well, journey journey live, the, the app is available in the app store.

[00:41:47] It's iOS only for now, but we'll be launching Android at some point. I want to say some point soon. the website is journey meditation.com. The Instagram is journey meditation. I think, I'm like not really very good on social media. So I know I have LinkedIn. I'm pretty sure it's my name, Steven saccular.

[00:42:04]I have an Instagram that I'm never on, but that's also my name. Although there's a social media manager who will post things occasionally, like they'll probably post this thing once it, once it comes out. I'm also available over email. So if anyone has a personal question, it's steven@journeymeditation.com.

[00:42:20] Always happy to chat about this or, or riff on other things.

[00:42:23] Brandon Stover: [00:42:23] Awesome. Well, my last question is how can we push the world to evolve?

[00:42:28]Stephen Sokoler: [00:42:28] And it's a really good question. you know, I want to say we didn't really talk much about everything happening in the world nowadays, but I think it's pretty incredible what's happening.

[00:42:39] I mean, long overdue. but the fact that there's all of these people and I'll be more specific. There's all these white people who are waking up and saying, you know, the way we've been treating. Black people and people of color, but specifically black people in this country is really fucked up. And, you know, people are saying, they're not only like realizing, but they're taking action.

[00:43:04] Right. I mentioned the Confederate flag, like NASCAR today, taking down the Confederate flag or. the band lady antebellum changing their name today. and these, these are just small things, right? There's so many other things, right. We have this whole movement around defund the police, and that obviously means different things to different people.

[00:43:21] And. Far far longer conversation than we probably have time for, but I think it's incredible that people are now evolving themselves and their views right before our eyes enter taking action. really, really beautiful to see. so I think, I think, you know, the more we are and I'll go back to, you know, kind of tried and true things.

[00:43:42] The more we know ourselves, the better, right? Like I mentioned, this is kind of in passing, but. For me, part of the thing that made meditation so helpful was I looked at a lot of the things that I did in the past. And I was like, Oh, that was really messed up. Like, and some of those are small and some of those are large, but it was like, I wasn't aware of it because I was so just in my own head, moving through the world without taking any time to like, Zoom out.

[00:44:06] And so, you know, I think that's part of it is, you know, knowing yourself. And then the other thing is being in community. Like it's hard to be in a community, meaning to have friends who are not like you and not realize. These things, right? Like for me, this was not, you know, seeing the death of another young unarmed black man at the hands of the police.

[00:44:32] It was not a new story. Right. Because of the fact that I'm in community with other people who don't. Look like me and have had a different world experience and can share, Hey, I've been racial, racially profiled since I was five. Hey, here's the way. And not their responsibility to educate me, but when you're in community, you start to be able to see yourself in others.

[00:44:53] Right. And so. I would say when it comes to people evolving, I think those two things being in community and taking the time to do those self care practices that give you the space to see things more clearly. I think that would go a really long way. And in fact, one last thing, a journey we talked about this big, hairy audacious goal is 10 to 30 year, mission and ours back when we started and remains.

[00:45:18] Is by 2030 for everyone in the world to meditate. So of course that doesn't mean every single person meditating, but if in 10 years from now, everyone has some type of. self care or reflect reflection, practice. I think we'd have a much different society.

[00:45:34] Brandon Stover: [00:45:34] Yeah. I mean, at the core thesis of the show is any big impact that you want to make it first starts with yourself as the individual and changing yourself, evolving yourself so that you can go out, you can make an impact, be a part of those communities. starting from that  place.

[00:45:51]Well, thank you, Stephen for coming on today for sharing everything about journey and all of your thoughts.

[00:45:56]Stephen Sokoler: [00:45:56] Yeah, this was a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.



The Evolve Podcast is focused on evolving the world through evolution of the individual. Brandon Stover unpacks the stories and mindsets of extraordinary social impact founders, visionary leaders, and social enterprise experts as they share how they built startups that are solving the worlds greatest problems. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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