Meditation is about finding peace of mind, but it’s also increasingly turning into a money maker. For example, take Journey Meditation.
Inner peace may be hard to achieve, but a profitable business model is sustaining Journey Meditation’s growth. Teaching meditation at co-working spaces, corporations and virtually keeps company costs down and has enabled the company to expand at a rapid clip.
Its founder and CEO, 38-year-old Stephen Sokoler, graduated from NYU Stern School of Business and founded Altrum Honors in 2002, a successful business that revolved around helping companies improve productivity. He sold Altrum in 2014.
He described his next goal as pursuing something that “mattered in the world.” What Sokoler was passionate about, most of all was meditation. “If we could create something that was simple, approachable and accessible, we could help people and transform lives,” he said.
He launched Journey Meditation in 2015 and self-funded it. In the past, Sokoler considered meditation “misunderstood and confusing by how it was packaged. If we could be successful, we could help people lead happier, healthier and less stressed lives.”
In 2011, Sokoler had taken some time off and lived in Australia, where he studied meditation. “It changed my life. It made me calmer and more balanced. I was able to thoughtfully respond instead of instinctively react,” he said.
A streamlined technique
To establish his own meditation credo, Sokoler draws from a variety of techniques. He defines the Journey Meditation approach as “revolving around mindfulness and combining four ancient meditation methods in one streamlined technique — mindfulness, awareness, contemplation, and compassion.”
A native New Yorker raised in Douglaston, Queens, Sokoler, a current West Village resident, explained that meditation plays an even more crucial role in the city that never sleeps. “In New York, we’re caught up with achieving the next great thing and then the next great thing,” he said, suggesting the quest for happiness and self-satisfaction is never-ending and rarely achieved here.
In fact, that’s why he named the company Journey Meditation. “I believe that life is about the journey and not simply the destination,” he said.
But it’s Sokoler’s business savvy that fuels the company’s success. Rather than targeting individual consumers, he tapped his business connections and reached a wider audience by focusing on corporations.
By teaching meditation at the office and work sites and virtually via videos, he reduces his company’s overhead by not having to rent pricey studios. “The meditation industry is still developing so keeping costs low is essential. We spend no money on marketing and much of our business comes from referrals,” he said.
Meditation as a team benefit
To get his business off the ground in March 2015, Sokoler contacted the audience that he knew extensively: CEOs, C-suite executives and HR directors, in short, key decision-makers. “We could offer this product as a benefit to their team members,” he said.
He marketed it not as a feel-good add-on, but as a strategy to maximize the productivity of employees, encourage them to feel satisfied on the job, and retain them longer, which helps revenue and morale.
In essence, he took everything he learned at Althum Honors and translated into what works for a meditation enterprise.
But one of the first things that Sokoler did was to create an advisory panel of experts, several of whom were medical doctors who understood science. In concert with David Nichtern, his key teacher, he hired seasoned meditation professionals.
Within the first year, Sokoler secured ongoing contracts with such major corporations as Time Warner, Nike, and Conde Nast. Clients sign quarterly, semi-annual and annual subscriptions, and most tend to renew.
The growth was so palpable and rapid, by the end of that first year, he had hired meditation teachers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and Boston. And this year he’s adding Austin, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington,
The fast, nearly instant, growth stemmed from consumer demand, since many corporations wanted to know if Journey could teach their classes outside of New York. In 2016, to handle the expansion, he raised additional funding from family and friends.
He currently draws from a roster of about 30 meditation teachers and has a staff of eight employees who handle sales and content development, including staff based in Los Angeles.
His corporate list keeps proliferating. The journey has contracts with Lululemon, WeWork, Facebook, and Sweetgreen’s.
When meditation staff teaches at the company’s site, the class can be given at any time of day and lasts a half hour. Because it is meditation and not yoga or spinning class, the staff doesn’t have to change into special clothes or shower afterward and can be in and out and still eat their lunch in an hour’s time.
Furthermore, each class conveys a different weekly theme such as reducing stress and increasing resilience.
Virtual and in-person classes
Its Facebook page lists free classes at WeWork, for example. Sokoler said, “People can sign up, come down, and have a great experience, although they usually sell out quickly.
Moreover, Journey Meditation organizes virtual classes with a live teacher who follows the same themes. Students log on from their computers and interact with the teacher via software. Currently, about 25 percent of its revenue stems from virtual meditation.
Feedback from meditation students often transcends what corporations usually hear from employees. Comments such as “’ I feel less stressed, the class has made me a better mother, I’m more present for my partner’” are expressions that most corporate people don’t read on most questionnaires.
Sokoler envisions a future with ubiquitous Journey Meditation classes taught in a slew of platforms. In the future, he envisioned, “People will be able to find Journey everywhere — on their phones, in their workplaces, at local community centers, gyms, yoga studios, hospitals and everywhere in between.”