Discover more from Bloom Collective
Uncovering the Best Guided Meditation App
Which Meditation Apps Retain Users the Best, and Why?
Ladies and germs! Let’s talk meditation apps. What’s out there and which is the best?
But wait, what are meditation apps and what’s the point of using one?
Put concisely, the goal of these apps is to notice what is going on within you and to increase your ability to focus and hold attention towards something of your choosing. Often this can be your breath or a mantra. In building the muscle of sustained attention, we can then focus it on listening to another person, thinking through a project, or being present to our own experience, and so on. That is the emergent superpower and gift of meditation. We can generalize this capacity to hold attention on other activities beyond when we sit.
An Objective Look
So, which meditation apps are the most effective? Instead of looking at this from a subjective, experiential point of view I’d like to first look at this from a business point of view. I’d like to do this because I am just one being, with one lived experience, and it is well known that there is no “right” meditation style or approach. It’s highly contextual to you. I have my opinions, but let’s keep those at the door for now.
If we remove our subjective perspective, what do things look like objectively when we ask ourselves which apps are most effective at creating lasting meditation habits? Through a product manager’s lens and toolkit we could ask this question a different way:
Which meditation products on the app store have the highest retention?
Which have the highest revenue per user?
For this article I looked at four of the biggest players in the meditation apps space: Calm, Headspace, Ten Percent Happier, and Waking Up.
I have personally used each of these to a significant degree. For those of you who haven’t, here’s a quick recap of each:
Calm - Calm is mainly positioned as a tool to help with reducing stress and optimizing sleep. Their main allure is the sheer amount of celebrity guided meditations they offer. Calm isn’t strictly about meditating. It is oriented towards giving tools that help with stress (white noise, sleep stories, etc), and empowers the user to explore whichever tool resonates with them.
Headspace - Headspace is a well known mindfulness and meditation app built by Andy Puddicombe who was inspired by his journey to the Himalayas to study meditation. The app has a very fun, coherent aesthetic and offers a wide variety of content. Curation and delivery of meditation is its strength. Diving deeper into the practice seems less emphasized, perhaps because the app is trying to appeal to everyone.
Ten Percent Happier - Ten Percent Happier begins to scratch the surface on going beyond simple de-stressing. Dan Harris, the founder of Ten Percent Happier, started a meditation practice after having an on-air panic attack as a journalist in the early 2000s. The app promotes not only meditations and mindfulness activities, but also talks and videos that support the user’s journey in reframing their perception of reality.
Waking Up - With Sam Harris’ Waking Up there is certainly a deep emphasis on meditation, but its clear that selflessness and reshaping one’s mind is also a core purpose of the app. In addition, there is a depth of quality talks that are above and beyond other value propositions. Finally, 10% of money Waking Up makes goes to charity. As far as I can tell, this is not something any of the other competitors do.
So what does the data say? According to Sensor Tower, Waking Up is by far the best at retaining its users.
Looking at Day 90 retention, which is the percentage of users who come back to the app 90 days after first trying it, we see that Calm retains nearly 2% of users, Headspace nearly 3% of users, and Ten Percent Happier nearly 3.5% of users. Meanwhile, Waking Up is at nearly 6%. This means that Waking Up retains users at a 2-3X rate of it’s competitors. This is a huge delta. Retention is a strong proxy for user satisfaction, as no one engages with a product that they do not enjoy nor get value from. Waking Up is doing something different.
But what does this higher retention mean for the business? How do each of these products perform in regards to their ability to generate revenue from their users?
The results are astounding. According to Sensor Tower we see a high disparity in each app’s Average Revenue per User (defined as the average amount of money the product generates per active user) with Waking Up monetizing twice as well as Ten Percent Happier, and four times better than Headspace or Calm:
Waking Up didn’t start out this way. Their initial Average Revenue per User was around $0.55. But since then, their team has keyed in on a product offering that resonates, as demonstrated by number upwards of $1.00. Interestingly, Ten Percent Happier has caught up to Waking Up, in regards to monetization, over the last 18 months:
Why is Waking Up Performing Better?
Waking Up appears to be the most powerful laser beam mindfulness learning tool on the market. Why is that? This is where we have to venture into subjective-land. A land of hypotheses rather than finite conclusions.
Here are a few hypotheses as to why Waking Up retains and monetizes users better than its competitors:
More Depth, Less Repetitive - There’s a sheer volume and variety of content that doesn’t exist elsewhere. This includes talks, conversations, half day retreats, and exercises by Sam but also other great teachers, including over 100 from Alan Watts alone. There’s various meditation and mindfulness styles to explore from a multitude of teachers.
Superior Onboarding - The onboarding progressively teaches you different ways of thinking about yourself and the world. The first 30 days is basically a course, and I would say, subjectively, that it has immense value in and of itself. I’ve repeated Waking Up’s onboarding 3 times now.
Community Feeling - They do novel, engaging things to foster community. One example is Waking Up’s "100 days of giving" where they commit to giving away a million dollars to charity and the way they're distributing it is by randomly selecting one user each day to choose a charity (from a pre-approved list) to receive $10,000. Having a sense of community is a strong driver of long term retention.
Deeper Spiritual & Intellectual Tinge - Sam is promoting a different relationship with reality that has a more spiritual and intellectual bend. The other apps seem more about relaxing than about having a deeper experience. Waking Up is more concerned with guiding you toward the "truth" of experience. In a way, it treats the user much more like an adult seeking ongoing development. Additionally, I believe Sam’s approach helps our intellectual minds wrap around the mechanics of meditating and mindfulness in a way that other apps don’t. This can be key to establishing a meditation habit.
Eastern Approach - Calm and Headspace align more with the western take on mindfulness as a tool for destressing and achieving a more peaceful less reactive mental state. Waking Up is a lot closer to the source of this practice which finds its roots in Eastern traditions, particularly some Buddhist schools of thought but not exclusively. It’s more about self-inquiry and exploring the true nature of being. Waking up puts a lot more emphasis on the philosophy behind things, Sam is a big proponent that meditation isn't just a tool for stress relief of anxiety reduction but a means of deep insight.
Meditation is a very personal experience so it’s hard to say which of these offerings will resonate with you. But if you look at things from a strictly business point of view, as expressed through retention and average revenue per user numbers, one can imagine that a meditation app with a superior onboarding course, that offers a sense of community and a deeper well of eastern-oriented content that explores self-inquiry, is something that could resonate more deeply with aspiring meditators.
Thanks for reading Bloom Collective! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.