Jazz Shaper: Andy Puddicombe

Posted on 19 June 2021

Andy Puddicombe is the co-founder of Headspace, the mindfulness and meditation app that reaches a community of over 70 million members in 190 countries.

Elliot Moss

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya.  What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut due to rights issues.

Welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss.  It’s where the Shapers of Business join the Shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues and we have a Jazz Shapers Encore Special for you today.  Returning to the show is Andy Puddicombe, who last joined me back, I can’t believe it but apparently it’s true, in 2014.  He doesn’t look any different.  I hope I don’t either.  You will be hearing lots from Andy.  He’s the Co-founder of Headspace which many of you will have heard of, if not all of you.  It’s a digital health platform, providing guided meditation sessions and mindfulness training to the masses.  When Andy, a typical student in his early twenties, was hit by some very personal bereavements, he sought a complete life change and made the radical decision to leave University and train as a Buddhist monk, buying a one-way ticket to Tibet.  Over the next decade, his meditation training took him to Nepal, Thailand, Australia and Russia, culminating in full ordination in northern India.  When Andy returned to the UK, he had a huge yet simple goal in mind, to demystify meditation and mindfulness and make them accessible to the West.  While offering one-to-one meditation at a health clinic, he met, as Andy puts it, “the burnt out advertising executive enter stage left,” Rich Pierson and together in 2010, they launched Headspace, at first with books and events and then later launching the app, offering guided meditation sessions to improve focus, sleep and stress.  They now reach an incredibly big community of over 65 – yes that’s right – 65 million members in a 190 countries and operate a B2B business, Headspace for Work, to offer mindfulness products and services to more than 700 companies such as Starbucks, Adobe and Unilever, helping them build healthier, more productive cultures and higher performing organisations and, not surprisingly, interest in Headspace has increased exponentially during the pandemic.  Andy, welcome back, it’s only been seven years.  How are you?

Andy Puddicombe

I’m well, thanks Elliot.  It’s hard to believe, right?  It doesn’t feel that long.

Elliot Moss

But joking aside, it doesn’t.  Is this just a sign of age, do you think?

Andy Puddicombe

I think it might be.  I think… no really, I remember it like it was last week.

Elliot Moss

Yeah, me too.

Andy Puddicombe

Thanks for having me back. 

Elliot Moss

No, no, it’s amazing, I wanted you back, I sought you out because, as I mentioned in the introduction, things have got a bit real.  It was a good idea in 2010, or kind of a crazy idea, it was quite big in 2012, it was nice-sized 2014 but here we are, 2021, and you are genuinely enormous.  Mindfulness is enormous.  The awareness of mental health is enormous.  And coming out, fingers crossed, of this phase of this pandemic, the need for the thing that you have been providing for years, is super high.

Andy Puddicombe

Yeah, my hope is that we have been one small part of a conversation, right, that’s changed around mental health and the need to look after our minds and not just our bodies and I think up until that point, ten years ago, twelve years ago, the focus was always on kind of how do we be physically sort of healthy on the outside and my hope is that now, yeah there’s a… not only a growing acceptance that we need to look after our mind but also a greater sense of vulnerability and permission as well.  I feel like people are more willing to say these days, ‘Ah, yeah, sometimes I struggle to sleep,’ ‘Sometimes I feel anxious,’ ‘Sometimes I feel sad’ and that’s okay that we are actually having those conversations and I think it’s a really important part of it. 

Elliot Moss

The training that you had at the core of mindfulness and meditation, to me anyway and I actually when I first met you I then downloaded the app and I started, you know, for many people listening, your voice is incredibly familiar.  At the heart, and there are many, many tenets of what this is all about but it feels like it’s about being in the present.  A lot of it to me is right now, we are having a conversation and if I am in this moment, there is no past because that’s in my head, there is no future because it hasn’t happened yet, the only thing that really matters is this.  How do you help people remain right here, right now?

Andy Puddicombe

Yeah, well the interesting thing is, you know, people often write in and say thanks, I feel like I don’t have too much to do with it and that’s, you know, in answer to your question, the work is done by you, right, it’s not by me, by you realising when you get distracted, as soon as you realise that you are distracted, that you are lost in your thinking, you are immediately back in the present moment, not necessarily during meditation but at any time, with your kids, listening to a beautiful piece of music, drinking a glass of wine, whatever it might be, the moment we realise we are automatically back in the present and that only kind of… you know it takes a certain commitment and it takes a certain amount of sort of steady patience but all I am really there for is just a sort of a friend along the way, just reminding you, “Hey, by the way, just in case your mind’s wandering off, now is a good time to come back again” and it amazes me, over the years, my thinking has changed around this as well, I think even when we started out, Elliot, I was thinking really, like ten minutes a day is that going to make that much difference for people?  I have genuinely been blown away and we have seen over the ten years as well, the science has started to prove out.  Sure there are benefits to long periods of meditation but actually, it’s frequency rather than duration so, taking one minute, three minutes, five minutes, ten minutes out of our day to look after our mind, that makes a real difference. 

Elliot Moss

And in your own words, just briefly, define what mindfulness is because again, back in 2014 it was a relatively new kid on the block.  Now people throw it around but like a lot of words that get thrown around a lot, people lose the meaning so, in Andy Puddicombe’s own head, how would you describe mindfulness accurately?

Andy Puddicombe

Yeah, the way it was taught to me and the way that understand from my own experience, is the ability to be present, free from distraction, with an open, curious and kind mind and I think ordinarily that differs from how most of us live our lives which is a lot of noise in our heads, we have a lot of confusion in our heads and often we are quite critical and judgemental, if not of ourselves then of other people and I feel like if we can move the needle on any one of those three, then that’s a good thing, not just for us but also for the people around us in our life. 

Elliot Moss

You just described mindfulness, you talked about open, curious and I think your third point was kind.  You, as a human being, you know we look at doctors and doctors have done an extraordinary… the medical profession has done an extraordinary thing over the last twelve months, eighteen months, at least visually and palpably but of course they do it all the time.  They are notoriously unhealthy.  Here you are, I mean, we all know doctors and you go, how do you, you know, they play hard, they are not all of them are like that but there’s a lot of people that say one thing and obviously do another. 

Andy Puddicombe

You are asking me if monks and ex-monks play hard?  Is that the question?

Elliot Moss

No.  I’m not going to ask you that.  I can ask you that but you don’t have to answer.  I guess the point is that you’ve got a smile on your face, you’re there at the top of huge business now.  I’m assuming you practice what you preach a lot but you must have bad days and if you do, how do you deal with those bad days?

Andy Puddicombe

Yeah, you know, I think there is an idea sometimes that meditations or mindfulness can somehow sort of remove us from life, you know, sort of completely take us away from any difficulty or challenges in life.  My own experience is not that, you know, stuff still happens in life, there are still stressful days, still difficult days, you know, whether it’s at work, I have two young kids at home, sometimes, you know, that gets a little much too and for me the interesting thing has been not so much how does it get rid of those things but how it’s changed my relationship with those things, I think maybe in those situations, maybe I’m not quite as reactive as I might have been kind of once upon a time and even when I miss the opportunity and I do react, it tends not to last as long as it would have done, you know, and it’s definitely helped me manage this journey.  I don’t know what this journey would have looked like without meditation or mindfulness.  I genuinely don’t know how I would have coped, like, as amazing as it has been, it’s really, really… it’s stressful, you know, building a business. 

Elliot Moss

Well, I mean it’s… you’re building a global business.  We talked about 65 million people who are connected to you, 190 countries, that’s a huge part of the globe and lots of funding, lots of responsibility, way more people than you were managing when we spoke and even, you know, it will carry on and I know you’ve got a great partner in Rich and I know you are going to focus on the product as it were but all of that people responsibility, all of that business responsibility, have you enjoyed the ride on the whole and if you haven’t, where have you been able to sort of say, do you know what Rich, this is yours, I’m out of here for a bit?

Andy Puddicombe

Yeah, so Rich and I really early on in our relationship agreed, you know, at the very beginning actually, Rich said, “I have no interest by the way in going out and talking in front of people” and I said brilliant because I have no interest in the business so, you look after the business, I’ll go out and talk to people about meditation and we’ve kind of stuck to that pretty much and inevitably, you know, as Co-founders, we both get roped into a lot of the business kind of conversations but I think it has been a really enjoyable journey, I think because we don’t come from a classic business background, I think where it’s become more difficult is where, you know, you move from the exciting, family, creative, adventurous startup into a more sort of serious business, more sort of corporate structure, more kind of focus on operations and that doesn’t come naturally to Rich and I.  We are probably more of a creative team than a business team, it just so happens that that creative idea sort of spurned a business so, we are very fortunate as well to go through this together.  As I look back, I would not have wanted to do this alone, not for one minute, you know, Rich and I, we are there for each other, every single day, I talk as much to Rich as I do to my wife, maybe more, probably over the last ten years I’ve probably spent more time with Rich than I have with my wife and I’m amazed that to this day, you know, that we get along so well, we always live within a stone’s throw of each other, you know, we go on holiday together still, like we’re best mates, so we go surfing together and we hang out and I think that’s a really rare thing in business.  If it had been pure business and nothing else, I think, I’m not sure that it would have sustained me in the way that this has.  It’s been more kind of a… an adventure between two friends, and an incredible team kind of around us rather than a sort of a business sort of challenge or something like that, you know.

Elliot Moss

Stay with me to find out where the adventure goes with my Business Shaper today, it’s Andy Puddicombe on this Jazz Shapers Encore Special and he’ll be coming up again in a few more minutes, he’s not going to go anywhere, I promise you.  Right now though, we are going to hear a taster from the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  They can be found on all of the major podcast platforms. 

You can hear all or former Jazz Shapers and I personally recommend it, on the Jazz Shapers podcast, or if you have got a smart speaker you can ask it politely to play Jazz Shapers and there you will find many of our recent shows.  But back to today, Jazz Shapers Encore guest, it’s Andy Puddicombe who last joined me back in 2014 when the world was a very different place in many ways and probably not very different in many others as well.  Andy is the Co-founder of Headspace, the digital health platform providing guided meditation sessions and mindfulness training to the masses.  You talked about the adventure that you are on with your best friend, with Rich.  The two of you are running this big business, we’ve ascertained that you guys both are sort of like unintentional leaders of a very big business but the question I have is, I guess, the creativity that is within you, the kind of person that you are, how does that square with having to run, co-run, a big organisation?  As much as you will say, “Elliot, I don’t get involved in the business,” you’re going to be involved in a lot of decisions.  So, what’s your leadership style, in your own words?

Andy Puddicombe

I mean, I laugh because really, still now, I mean I don’t know if at any stage I’m just going feel real but maybe it will do.  It still doesn’t… the idea of being some kind of business leader is still kind of vaguely comical to me.  I would say our leadership style for both Rich and I is to look around the world for the very best leadership talent and to employ them as quickly as possible to run the company.  So, recently last year, we took on a COO who is now the CEO, CeCe from Intuit, and we’ve watched and sort of we are there to support her as she builds out a team and genuinely kind of I feel like that, that is the job of a business leader, it’s not necessarily to kind of wrangle and take charge oneself, it’s to put the best people in the roles to build out a team that can function as best as possible to fulfil the mission and the vision as quickly as possible.  I don’t know if it’s a funny way of answering the question but that’s our style.

Elliot Moss

No, no, it’s a good… it makes perfect sense and I guess my next question then is well, how do you make sure that you find these brilliant people because there are lots of people out there but Andy and Rich have certain taste?  Have you worked out what it is that you are looking for?

Andy Puddicombe

Yeah, and look we, like any business, of course we’ve misfired at times and it, you know, it hasn’t always worked out but we have been incredibly fortunate kind of on that journey.  I think it helps that people are interested in what we are doing, they are normally kind of motivated by the vision and mission and so, you know, the people who come along who are interested in working for Headspace, they are already kind of bought in to that mission and then it just comes down to kind of cultural fit, you know, assuming they have the expertise, the experience and everything else, it comes down to kind of cultural fit and it’s actually very, for me personally after all this time, like we know really quickly, of course we’ll have an interview and we’ll make it last a certain period of time which is the expected period of time but actually you know, you know within five minutes kind of whether it’s going to be a good cultural fit or not and I still enjoy that whole journey of kind of finding and uncovering these brilliant people.  We’ve genuinely been really, really fortunate in that regard and I love seeing it because, again, Rich and I, we don’t have that experience, we don’t have that skillset so for us, it is a genuine pleasure, as long as we can sort of still be involved creatively to sort of step back and watch people do these things that we always imagined that we’d be able to do but could never kind of get quite close enough to it. 

Elliot Moss

Well, that’s the thing, you know, it works, right, and at the end of the day a product needs to work.  The back end, technically, is sophisticated, the algorithms, the product team, the people that manage the site, the subscription model, it’s seamless, you know, I’m probably not dissimilar to you, I go, I know what I want but I wouldn’t know how to deliver it which is therefore critical that those people buy the vision.  But have you enjoyed learning all these different technical pieces or is, again, is it a bit more like, as long as it works, I don’t really care what’s under the bonnet?

Andy Puddicombe

Yeah, I just want to know what colour it is.  Yeah, I’m probably…

Elliot Moss

And how fast it goes. 

Andy Puddicombe

Exactly.  You know, I’m probably less, because I… Rich actually has got a lot more, I think because he was CEO for quite some time, he has had to become a lot more educated about a lot of that stuff.  I’ve definitely stayed more on the sort of the brand creative content side of the business.  I couldn’t tell you how most of that stuff works.  They are amazing what they do, I don’t know how they do it but it seems to work. 

Elliot Moss

It definitely seems to work.  Stay with me for my brilliantly honest and humble, I am sure, Business Shaper today, he’s my Jazz Shaper Encore special guest, Andy Puddicombe.  We have been for the last eighteen months in a very, very strange and unique situation for  the most anxious period of time for millions of people, for so many obvious reasons.  You were obviously ready because this was already in the ether, the idea of mindfulness, the idea of Headspace but the numbers I’ve read, and tell me if this is wrong, I’ve read something like the interest in the corporate service that you offer has gone up by about 500% worldwide, ten times more people in the UK followed the reframing anxiety at home session.  These are crazy numbers, Andy.  Crazy numbers, I mean obviously what you do is critical but could you ever have envisaged it would be so fundamental to people’s mental health?

Andy Puddicombe

It is exceptional and it is unusual, this time.  But I always look at meditation in the context of not only it being a universal thing but also a timeless thing, it’s been around for, you know, thousands of years and during that time it will have seen many different things come and go and I think just the nature of being human is quite challenging in itself, you know, and I think add to that the pace of our life and the amplification of all the noise and information and digital chat in our life has made it more challenging.  Add on top of that a pandemic and all the anxiety and loneliness and everything that kind of… and grief that sort of comes with that, I think this is quite an exceptional time so, on the one hand we’ve always needed meditation and mental health and the health of the mind has always been important but yeah, I think we are just simply seeing like a growing, either a growing awareness of it or a growing adoption of it so, I’m happy that we could be there and look, I say this, I didn’t come up with this idea so I can say this, the team really early on in the pandemic said, okay, who’s struggling the most?  Okay, well unless the healthcare providers and the doctors and nurses around the world are helping themselves, then there’s no way they can look after others and they said we should just make it free for all kind of healthcare workers and then, you know, we realised that the employment thing was happening and they said we should make it free for the unemployed and we should make it free for teachers and it’s all come from the team and it’s just been a joy to watch a whole new group of people kind of adopt mindfulness in the midst of a really sort of challenging and difficult situation for so many. 

Elliot Moss

Have you been alright?

Andy Puddicombe

We’ve been very, very fortunate Elliot, you know.  I won’t say it’s been, it’s not been a breeze, I don’t think anyone has been having a breeze this last year. 

Elliot Moss

No, no one’s got away with this. 

Andy Puddicombe

I think we’ve…

Elliot Moss

But generally you haven’t had an existential crisis as it were or a kind of what am I up to…

Andy Puddicombe

No.

Elliot Moss

I suppose in a way you are so focussed on the fact that what you are doing is genuinely helping people, it must feel good.

Andy Puddicombe

We try to focus very much on that.  On a personal level, probably the biggest challenge like, for so many people, is being away from family.  For most of this period, we’ve been on the other side of the world.  We are now a little bit closer but we still can’t quite get back to the UK, my own, my dad had Covid and extremely unwell in hospital, I think not being able to communicate, not being able to reach out to those people, I think that’s really, really tough and it’s… no amount of meditation has kind of, has changed that sort of feeling but it is definitely, it’s helped us as a family to stay grounded and just to focus on those things that are going well and that we do have in our life and to appreciate those a bit more. 

Elliot Moss

We’ll have our final chat with my guest today, Andy Puddicombe and we’ve got some pretty special jazz trumpet for you from Freddie Hubbard, that’s in just a moment, don’t go anywhere but if you do, breathe nice and calmly.

Andy Puddicombe is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes.  When I met you last time, it struck me how simple you seem to keep things.  I’m meeting you now and the business has changed, morphed into, metamorphosised into some beautiful butterfly and it’s flying around the world influencing lots of people’s wellbeing and happiness and you just mentioned some fabulous stuff about giving the service away for nothing.  That simplicity, Andy, do you feel like you keep life simple or are you actually more distracted than it appears?

Andy Puddicombe

Yeah, we are actually, we like as a family, my wife and I, do you know we are probably like the most boring people around, our life is incredibly simple actually, although pre-Covid admittedly there was lots of flying around and everything else for work but our personal life is incredibly simple and I think that’s just, we have our own personal interests and we don’t really kind of deviate too much outside, you know we have a small circle of friends who we love dearly and we enjoy hanging out with and we love being sort of physical so, we, you know I like surfing, mountain biking and running, we share these passions and our kids over time are starting to share those same passions and it means we kind of live quite a simple life, we don’t really do too much. 

Elliot Moss

And I imagine the whole, you know, connection with celebrity, joking before about Jimmy Fallon, though not doing it before anyone could hear, Jimmy Fallon who interviewed you but you’ve been interviewed by lots and lots of people, very, very high profile people, lots of famous people have said “Wow, this thing is amazing.”  I imagine, in the grounded world if Andy Puddicombe, that’s very nice but no more than that. 

Andy Puddicombe

They’ve, thankfully, mostly been incredibly nice people and I’ve genuinely enjoyed the conversations, you know, I think that’s the, I think that’s the thing about the meditation and mindfulness, the mind is the great equaliser, it doesn’t matter what you have in life, doesn’t matter where you come from, what you’ve got right now, you can still be in crisis, you can still be having a tough time and you can still find yourself stuck not really knowing how to deal with the thoughts and emotions that arise in the mind so, that’s the thing that I’m always struck by, you know, even if I meet people who are, you know, ridiculously kind of famous and people round the world might look at them and say but they have everything, how could they possibly be unhappy and you start to realise that actually it doesn’t matter, it’s not about money, it’s not about power, it’s not about fame, it’s not about celebrity, it’s like how comfortable can we be with ourselves and with our mind as it is and in turn, how can we show up for the people around us with a mind that is healthy, happy and loving?

Elliot Moss

And if you could say one thing to people listening today about how they will achieve that, what would that one thing be?

Andy Puddicombe

You know, I’m a little bit biased but I would say just start, just start with a small amount of meditation, one minute, three minutes, five minutes a day and just see if it makes a difference in your life. 

Elliot Moss

I’ve really liked talking to you again.  It hasn’t felt like seven years or whatever it is, it’s ridiculous.

Andy Puddicombe

It hasn’t. 

Elliot Moss

And I’m so happy that you’ve done well.  You deserve to do well, you have got a business which is much more than a business, it actually changes people’s lives so, as you said, I’ve tried it before, I need to go back again because the truth is, I’ve fallen off the…

Andy Puddicombe

Thoughts fallen off.  Hey. 

Elliot Moss

…horse, Andy, I’m being honest.  I’ve fallen off but I’m going to get back on.

Andy Puddicombe

Everyone falls off the wagon.  It’s just about getting back on again.

Elliot Moss

I’ll get back on, I promise.  Just before I say ta-ra again, good luck with everything obviously and I hope everything continues to go well. 

Andy Puddicombe

Thank you so much. 

Elliot Moss

What’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Andy Puddicombe

So, I’ve chosen, whenever I used to go and visit my dad back in the UK, we would always… he’s a massive jazz fan and over the years we’ve listened to all kinds of jazz, Ella is his favourite.  The idea of the song, we often used to listen to Frank Sinatra as well and a lot of the duets that he did with various artists and there was one that he did, Mack the Knife, I think he did it with Jimmy Buffett actually, which we would listen to all the time and I don’t know why but there was something about the melody that, and I’d never heard Ella do it and last time I was back there, I think it was from the Berlin album he played, he played Ella doing Mack the Knife and it was just such a powerful song, it reminded me of my dad, I haven’t seen him for ages and I know he’ll get a huge kick out of hearing this on the radio so, this comes with lots of love, Dad.

Elliot Moss

That was Ella Fitzgerald with Mack the Knife, the song choice of my Business Shaper today on the Encore Special, Andy Puddicombe.  He talked about being open, about being curious and about being kind, and if we can all do that, life would be great.  He talked about keeping it simple which is actually, I think a fundamentally important point and finally, he talked about trusting people to essentially run the business and that’s what him and his business partner, Rich have done over the years and helped it grow to a huge, huge business.  Fantastic stuff.  That’s it from Jazz Shapers and me.  Have a lovely weekend. 

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers.  You will find hundreds of more guests available to listen to in our archive, just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

A former Buddhist monk, with a degree in acrobatics and circus arts, Andy turned his drive to improve happiness and health around the world into an award-winning digital platform, featuring guided meditations that people are encouraged to integrate into their daily lives.

In 2010, he launched Headspace with co-founder Rich Pierson, eventually moving from books and events to an app.

Andy is a best-selling author of three books, including The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness which has been translated into 14 languages. He is a regular media guest and held the first live meditation on a late-night talk show when he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

He is highly sought after for his expertise, working with people as diverse as the US Women's Soccer team, Serena Williams and Ryan Reynolds.

Highlights

My hope is that we have been one small part of a conversation around mental health and the need to look after our minds and not just our bodies.

There’s not only a growing acceptance that we need to look after our mind but also a greater sense of vulnerability and permission as well.

When we started out, I was thinking 'ten minutes a day'? Is that going to make that much difference for people? I have genuinely been blown away and the science has started to prove it.

I don’t know what this journey would have looked like without meditation or mindfulness – it's stressful building a business. 

We don’t come from a classic business background. It's become more difficult as you move from the exciting, family, creative, adventurous startup into a more sort of serious business and corporate structure.

It’s been more of an adventure between two friends, and an incredible team around us, rather than a business challenge.

I would say our leadership style for both Rich and I is to look around the world for the very best leadership talent and to employ them as quickly as possible to run the company.

It doesn’t matter what you have in life, it doesn’t matter where you come from – you can still be in crisis and find yourself stuck not really knowing how to deal with the thoughts and emotions that arise.

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