(Bloomberg) -- A new mindfulness platform has drawn the interest of some high-profile Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, suggesting the tech industry’s fascination with the practice is alive and well.Open, an app for guided breathing, yoga and relaxation exercises, launched last year in the midst of the pandemic, when virtual mental health options started to replace gym memberships. The Los Angeles-based company has raised $9 million, led by A.Capital Ventures and Founders Fund, along with participation from Twitter Inc. co-founder Jack Dorsey, DoorDash Inc. co-founder Tony Xu and Aglae Ventures, the venture capital arm of Groupe Arnault SAS. Total funding now stands at $14.5 million.
Mindfulness apps boomed in 2020, with downloads increasing by nearly 40% from January through September, according to PitchBook data. Now, as stay-at-home orders have lifted and traditional gyms and fitness classes reopen, downloads have returned to pre-pandemic levels. But consumer spending on those apps increased 22% this year through September, compared with the same period a year ago, reaching $154 million. The numbers suggest that many people who have tried out mindfulness apps have been converted.
Open’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Raed Khawaja says the need for his platform predates the pandemic. He describes the fitness industry as myopic, failing to take into account all the factors that contribute to a person’s overall health. Keith Rabois, general partner at Founders Fund, an early investor in companies like YouTube and Airbnb Inc. explained, “While countless solutions exist to improve your diet, exercise, or sleep, Open is the first fully integrated and accessible way for anyone to access the benefits of breathwork.”
Open follows other mental health apps like Calm that have caught the interest of tech investors. The company credits its success to the social connection built into its platform. Users can participate in streaming meditation, yoga, pilates, and breathwork classes together, chatting live or prioritizing a friend’s video on the screen. Subscribers can also take on-demand classes synchronously and invite friends to join for free.
Khawaja believes in combining methodologies from different practices or cultures. “I think lineage gets in the way,” he says. “I do think it’s doing an injustice to any one of these tools to not be open to a modern interpretation and combine them.”
Khawaja grew up in a Muslim family, where he said he prayed five times a day. While he’s no longer a practicing Muslim, Khawaja said he thinks his religious upbringing allowed him to pick up mediation in his early twenties.
“We’ve left church, but we haven’t replaced it with anything,” Khawaja says. He’s not looking to create a religious space, but one that teaches the same ability to sit with oneself and others and be present. The company plans to work with musicians and record labels to create playlists specifically for its classes.
A monthly subscription to the app costs $20 — a fee the company acknowledges could be a barrier for some. Khawaja is working to create scholarships, especially for school children, so they can take part in the platform. The company also plans to eventually open a physical space for classes in Los Angeles.
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