Mindfulness at the touch of a button? Headspace co-founder and new Venice resident Andy Puddicombe has an app for that.
Andy Puddicombe is admiring the sights en route from his new office in Venice Beach to his local hangout, seasonal neighborhood eatery Axe, the way only a transplant can. “See, this is why I live here,” the Bristol, England-raised 42-year-old says as he spies a native: a woman wearing an elaborate “hat” comprising a Victorian birdcage with a live dove preening inside. He offers her a nonchalant, what bird on your head? hello in passing, then pauses to entertain the idea that she has experienced her own form of enlightenment. “It’s very possible,” he concludes with a wry grin.
Puddicombe is nothing if not open-minded. As the co-founder and face of international meditation movement Headspace, he has made it his personal mission to bring inner peace to the masses. The former Tibetan Buddhist monk—who was ordained in northern India after leaving De Montfort University Bedford halfway through a degree in sports science—hatched the early plans for his brand while teaching at a meditation center in Moscow in 2001 when one of his students, a senior-level executive at a global oil company, invited him to come to the office and work with his colleagues: “He said, ‘But you can’t come in dressed like that’—a bald-headed guy in a skirt is not cool in Moscow,” Puddicombe recalls. “It made me think; what’s more important: me being a monk, or making meditation more accessible?”
Since launching Headspace in London in 2010 with partner Rich Pierson (who runs the business side of things, and brings an advertising and marketing acumen to the endeavor), Puddicombe’s secular, emphatically New Age–free approach has struck a chord. In fact, his breathing-focused recorded meditations, guided in reassuringly steady, South West England–inflected tones, are everywhere: on your Virgin Atlantic flight, in your Westin hotel room, possibly at your workplace (if you’re employed by such companies as Reuters or Credit Suisse) and, thanks to a comprehensive app—whose devotees include Emma Watson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, and whose latest version recently debuted with a flurry of new features including a “buddy system” that allows you to monitor friends’ progress—on your smartphone.
All this, including two books (Get Some Headspace and The Headspace Diet), a steady stream of workshops and a 2012 TED talk that has garnered more than 4 million views, and Puddicombe insists it’s just the beginning. “We’ve only dipped our toe in,” he says. “In terms of the world’s population, 2 million people [the brand’s approximate number of users] is nothing.”
The decision to move the business from London to L.A. last March was part growth strategy, part lifestyle upgrade. “The American market is five times the size as the U.K. one, and we want to be in places where we can scale really quickly,” says Puddicombe, who admits that L.A. shot to the top of his and Pierson’s short list partially because the two are both dedicated surfers. (They frequent Venice Beach, Malibu and El Porto together on a regular basis—in Puddicombe’s words, “It’s a proper bromance.”) “But both of us had always wanted to live in California—who hasn’t?” he asks, taking an appreciative sip of a freshly squeezed lemonade and gesturing to the light-dappled garden he’s now sitting in.
It hasn’t been all sunny: Puddicombe was diagnosed with testicular cancer five weeks after arriving, a development he says he wouldn’t change if offered the chance. “It’s very difficult to be distracted by mindless wandering when you’re faced with your own mortality,” he says. “It brings you into the present moment and intensifies everything, and that can either be a really positive experience or a really negative one—for me, it was positive.”
Shortly after his treatment, he and his wife of three years, Lucinda (whose background is in fitness and nutrition) received another surprise: She was pregnant with their son, Harley. “It’s been an incredible year and one I’m deeply grateful for,” says Puddicombe, sharing a photo of their then-6-week-old, outfitted in a dapper Armani baby ensemble complete with newborn-size bow tie—a gift from personal friend and unofficial brand ambassador Arianna Huffington.
These considerable life developments have barely slowed the company’s pace; their newly expanded office officially opened eight months ago, complete with an in-house production and recording studio, a marketing department, and a chief medical officer and science research team who collaborate with hospitals and coordinate research studies around the world. Plans to further specialize the organization’s offerings are also in the works; they’ve joined forces with a national Olympic team to develop a sport-specific program, and are working with the Committee for Children to roll out a kid-focused pilot in schools in L.A., Seattle and Chicago.
“It’s about putting meditation in places where you don’t expect to find it—that’s what makes me excited,” says Puddicombe. “And as long as there are people in the world who want to be healthier and happier, and we have the ability to provide tools to help them with that, I think we’ll always have a role to play.” headspace.com.
By Melissa Goldstein.
PHOTOS: Mor Weizman.