We Had to Close Our Meditation Studio, so We Launched an App Instead. Here’s What We Learned.
Still Life was founded as a meditation studio in Venice, CA, a beautiful space to host immersive meditative experiences centered around the practice of stillness, a state of awareness with no perception of past or future. It is a flow state of complete absorption in the “present moment.” Stillness allows you to tap into your most clear, productive, and creative selves at a moment’s notice and ignore the chaos around you. Little did we know, we’d really need stillness for how much chaos was to come.
Our core offering began as courses for executive teams, teaching meditative tools and techniques for mindset optimization. We opened our doors for business at the start of March of 2020. What happened next was a little unexpected, to say the least.
We, along with nearly every other in-person space in the United States, closed our doors as the pandemic mounted. The writing on the wall became clear: To survive, we had to change direction fast and reinvent ourselves.
Our fundamental mission has always been, first and foremost, to share the practice of stillness (by whatever means necessary). We were not just a meditation studio, we defined ourselves as far more than that. Internally, our cultural narrative has always been that we are “The Stillness Company.” This expansive definition of our mission gave us the freedom, and even the imperative, to pivot to a completely new industry. It prepared us for what had to come next. Our market, our strategy, our offerings: They all changed overnight.
How We Made Our Pivot to Tech
- Constant Self-Questioning
- Eliminate the inessential from our product offering
- Implement a guerrilla market strategy
- Always go back to the consumer for feedback
Pivot Strategy: Constant Self-Questioning
So, we huddled up. In such a turbulent time, it was clear that the world could benefit from stillness. But how do we get the world still? The world was turning to online, virtual solutions, like Zoom, and so it made sense to bring stillness into that space as well. That was our starter pistol. We couldn’t see the finish line, but we could see the first set of hurdles.
We needed to find a foothold in this foreign industry—a place to push off from—so we evaluated the competitive landscape and observed ourselves as consumers. This took the form of questioning every aspect of the current marketplace. We walked through each competitor’s customer journey, asking, “What pain points exist in this flow of content consumption?”
Many of our competitors showcased bloated content libraries. This provoked a sense of anxiety when trying to identify where to start. Here we were, looking for peace of mind yet feeling overwhelmed. A little counterproductive, wouldn’t you say?
Then we asked the follow-up question: “Do other people feel this way?” We audited consumer reviews and interviewed other customers to find out that indeed they did. It actually had a name, option paralysis, a.k.a. The Netflix Effect.
Product Strategy: Eliminate the Inessential
Having identified a major opportunity for innovation in our area, we asked ourselves, “Can we solve this with our own product grounded in stillness?” The answer was a resounding, “Yes!” When developing the app and considering its features, we kept simplicity, the fundamental base of stillness, at its core. So, we launched the simplest mental health solution on the market: the Still Life app. All you have to do is just press play.
We started auditing our product with two big questions. They served to ensure that the verticals of company mission, product design, and content were all in a tight alignment.
- What does the practice of stillness really embody?
- How can we best digitalize the content and deliver it in a way that mirrors the practice?
Then we brainstormed expanded uses for the practice that we, as a team, found most germane to our current circumstances. This boiled down to three situations: getting to sleep, focusing at work, and remaining calm when in high-anxiety situations. That helped to form our three states: Sleep, Go Mode, and S.O.S. With this in mind, we got to work on creating the content necessary and getting to code.
Market Strategy: Guerrilla
Now that we had a product in development, we had to devise a marketing strategy. We realized the advantage of being lean: making small bets, deciding quickly, getting smart fast. In other words, becoming wirey little b*stards. We tried the whole range of social media platforms, changing the subject, the creative, the copy, etc. Then came finding the difficult balance of being responsive to trends without over-analyzing the results.
We found appeal with a demographic on Instagram and started to double down on similarly themed content. The platform itself could tell us a lot about our user and what type of content they’re looking for when on the app, and data is always a powerful tool. For example, we found that talking about us as a company was not very intriguing to our audience. People don’t come to Instagram to read up on start-ups and share product ideas.
This adjusted our focus to be more value-driven, with snippets of stillness presented in a way that were thought-provoking and shareable. We had and continue to have a test-and-learn mindset. We observed and conducted enough small experiments to begin to learn how the algorithm behaves. We learned what gets rewarded and when it does. For example, Instagram’s algorithm rewards exponentially if an account has engagement. Thus, an account can hit an inflection point with how it exposes a post on the “discover feed” and grow the brand’s following with less of a time investment on our part.
We fell into a common trap and overlooked the function of organic search for too long. At first, we didn’t see the value and the leveragability in ASO and SEO. Our values in order were: design, marketing functionality, and searchability. This meant that we focused too heavily on design with our website and app store assets. In reality, this was backwards. If the search algorithm can’t find you, who cares about aesthetics? No one will be seeing it. This flipped our strategy completely, leading us to start learning how best to optimize and gain organic traffic.
Feedback Strategy: Always Go Back to the Consumer
It is so key to be consumer-centric and always be curious to test the uncomfortable, deep hypotheses. That’s the fastest way towards mission-centric insight. It never fails to help you grow.
When we initially launched our app, we kept it simple. Turns out, there is such a thing as too simple. Consumer feedback informed us that our content did not visually communicate the depth of the stack in a satisfactory way. In their feedback, they asked if they needed to repeat sections over and over, while a closer look revealed that they hadn’t explored all that the app had to offer them--because they didn’t know so much more was there.
Our update in progress, The Journey, will solve for this pain point. Thanks to this feedback, we’re upgrading our design to make this meditative path visually clear without sacrificing simplicity. This deep curiosity for hard truth over comfortable self-talk is not an easy mentality to uphold but it orients you to the best possible outcome.
Pivoting Again: Doors Opening to a Hybrid Space
Over a year after first opening (and promptly shutting) our doors, we’re allowed to reopen them again. But what does that mean? More change! The good thing is that we’re all used to quick change now and welcome it. With this in mind, we asked ourselves, “Should we adjust our business models again to better serve the community?”
Today at Still Life, we have a foot in both the digital and physical world. This hybrid of in-person experience and take-home practice is an exciting opportunity. We are already seeing how complementary the two are. Now we face the challenge of making the two as complementary as we can, having one hand wash the other. This will face its own set of challenges: a discrepancy in potential customer scale, contrasting operating demands, differing target markets, and plenty more. All of these are exciting new problems to solve, rife with opportunity — and we’ll face it together, as a team, with many iterations, a lot of movement, and even more stillness.