5 Challenges of Being a Mindfulness Entrepreneur

Rohan GunatillakeArticles

Having just had a major buddhify iOS update approved through the App Store, we’ll be pushing that and the new Android version live some time next week. That means the next couple of weeks will require me to do a fair bit of promo and PR action and alongside all that we’re working on our 2015 product range.

So ahead of that particular storm I wanted reflect on what it’s actually like to be an entrepreneur working in pop mindfulness and at the same time be someone with a deep commitment to a personal practice.

These are in no particular order.

1. Holding the perspective of non-self in a culture where the hero entrepreneur is valorised
As part of my Buddhist training, the meditation lens that I find most powerful is that of non-self or not-me/not mine. This means seeing experience as a process in which things just happen according to cause and effect and not necessarily assuming that Rohan or a Rohan-ness is in charge of the show. It’s a beautiful tightrope of a practice and while those uninitiated in meditation practice might find the idea cold or artificial, it is in practice beautiful and incredibly freeing. Startup and tech culture has a strong history of the hero practitioner and the system of media and conferences can inflate the sense of self and self-importance quite a bit. Even in the little exposure I’ve had I can definitely feel that siren call. Ensuring humility and seeing through the magician’s show of self in a hero culture isn’t always easy.

2. Keeping an edge in deeper practice when creating products which are more introductory
While some people can be a little dismissive of pop mindfulness – including people I love and admire, I think it’s important. It’s important both in its own right and also as a way for people to explore other contemplative routes. It opens access to this remarkable set of tools to explore and understand inner life and that is a good thing. And with buddhify and the other products that I’m working on and if you excuse the boast, I’m really quite good at making pop meditation products – both in writing content and in product design. The content of buddhify however is very far away from my own personal practice which you could say is more in the deep end of the pool – looking and how experience itself is constructed and playing with the various macros which hold it all together. While it is an absolutely privilege to be working in a field related to such a personal interest of mine, there is a strange tension working professionally at the introductory level and working personally at the deeper level. In a way it blunts my personal practice and makes the professional work sharper. And means I need to work twice as hard in my personal practice. To remedy that I’m taking on an extra level of practice mentorship and can’t happen soon enough.

FOMO is the currency of the technology ecosystem. It’s what makes investors invest. It’s what makes entrepreneurs bust a gut. And it’s what makes people buy products and services in the first place. It is also – to paraphrase the Buddha – the cause of suffering. For me it is the cause of restlessness and doubt – at both a very pronounced and a very subtle level. Liberating myself from FOMO is a daily practice for me and I wish it wasn’t that which makes digital culture work.

4. Making lifestyle as part of business design
Not enough people build their lifestyles and wellbeing into the design of their startup or their business. It’s something that is utterly fundamental to me, part of the reason I live in Glasgow and the reason I haven’t worked in the evenings for years. Not everyone agrees with me that employee wellbeing should be a corporate metric and it may be a challenge I face as I raise money for the first time in the next couple of months.

5. What is scale when you feel complete love when receiving user feedback?
The great joy of working on mindfulness products is receiving messages from people who have been touched by your product in a very real way. I have received several hundred emails from users, and for many of those the only authentic response is to cry tears of appreciative joy. As I write this now, two emails come to mind, one from a woman in New York back in January and another from a couple just this month. Just these messages make all the countless hours of work and all the personal costs and risks worthwhile. When I read these emails there is a resonance with the heart and there is no reader, no writer, no email and just the knowing of love. What does scale mean in this moment? What is the bodhisattva entrepreneur’s vow? Users are countless I vow to monetize them all? No, I don’t think so either.

Would love to hear if any of this has resonated with you. It’s an ongoing exploration for me and a beautiful journey. And as we see more practitioner-entrepreneurs make work I look forward to this becoming a vibrant community of conversation.

And apologies if it got meditation-geeky at any point – that’s sort of what I’m like IRL too.