Yunha Kim: This CEO Believes Five Minutes of Meditation Can Improve Your Leadership
Take a second to check in with yourself.
Are you feeling tense? Calm? Overwhelmed?
No matter where you might land on that spectrum, Yunha Kim, the CEO of Simple Habit, wants you to stop for just a few minutes, close your eyes and slowly breathe in and out.
You’ve just taken your first step into mindfulness—a practice that’s free, easy and something Yunha believes can change the lives of leaders around the world.
After all, Yunha herself knows what it’s like to be a busy leader. She launched and sold her first startup in her early 20s, landed on the Forbes 2017 30 Under 30 list and now runs Simple Habit, the top-rated mindfulness app on the App Store. By offering bite-sized meditation, Yunha designed Simple Habit with our on-the-go world in mind.
But don’t think that meditation was always part of Yunha’s life. Like most leaders, she struggled to cope with the intensity of life as a budding entrepreneur before discovering the benefits of pressing pause.
So, how did Yunha find early success and later make it her mission to guide others towards mindfulness and meditation? Through fearless tenacity, following her passions—and even a little help from Shark Tank.
From Burned Out Leader to Mindfulness Advocate
“With my first startup, I didn’t really think about my mental wellness or my own health,” says Yunha Kim.
At 26, Yunha had already left a career as a Manhattan investment banking analyst to launch Locket, an app that customized smartphone lock screens. After hustling nonstop for years, this young CEO was experiencing her first real taste of burnout.
Yunha’s mounting stress came to a head when she had to make one of the most difficult decisions a leader is ever forced to face. In order to move Locket in a better direction, they had to significantly pivot their advertising model—which also meant laying off half of her team.
In business terms, the move proved smart. Emotionally, however, it was an entirely different story.
“They were like family and friends,” says Yunha. “It hit me pretty hard. I’d wake up in the morning thinking, ‘Why was I doing the work that I was doing?’ It was kind of like an existential crisis.”
With a company to run, Yunha knew she had to find a way out of her current mindset. She tried everything from improving her diet to lavender oils, and though some worked to varying degrees, Yunha still felt something was missing.
That’s when her therapist told the stressed-out CEO about meditation. “I didn’t even know it was an option,” says Yunha. “I thought it was some Buddhist thing.”
Despite some apprehension, Yunha gave meditation a try—and she immediately loved the results.
“It was the best thing in the world,” she recalls. Just five minutes of turning off—even while on the train or sitting in her office—gave her mind the rest it craved and a chance to refocus on the most important tasks ahead. “Meditation’s like a shower for my brain,” laughs Yunha.
Soon, she was integrating meditation into her everyday routine, and quickly noticed a massive improvement in nearly every facet of her life from work to personal relationships.
Yunha was officially a meditator.
Not long after discovering the practice, Locket was acquired by the mega-successful shopping app Wish, which gave Yunha the time to explore mindfulness on a deeper level.
Little did she know it would change her life in more ways than she ever imagined.
Starting Simple Habit
After her both enlightening and strenuous time at Locket, Yunha decided to further her education and enjoy a better social life, so she enrolled at the Stanford Business School to pursue her MBA.
But like many entrepreneurs, this attempted transition to traditional life didn’t last long. Though she enjoyed everything about Stanford, her desire to build something new couldn’t be tamed. Within just a few months, she already had ideas.
“As a consumer, I had this pain point,” Yunha says. “I felt like listening to just one voice was very limiting…I had this revelation about the [meditation app] space.
“In the music world, you can’t imagine having to download a Justin Bieber app or Jay-Z app. There’s one platform that aggregates that content.”
That’s when it hit her. She’d create the Spotify or Netflix of mindfulness, meditation and mental wellness. Not only would it provide users with an incredible variety of content—it would also give instructors a new platform to distribute their work.
Yunha soon began asking other meditators if they’d find value in an app that offered a multitude of classes, courses, and instructors. The answer was an overwhelming “yes.”
But Yunha had recently started at Stanford. Also, her challenging time at Locket was still fresh in her mind which made her less than enthused to jump back into the startup world.
So, Yunha started Simple Habit just as a side project. However, the more she developed the app, the more it felt like she was onto something special.
Yunha’s mind really began to shift once Simple Habit was released on the App Store. Soon, it was taking off purely via word of mouth, though the decisive moment didn’t happen until she started hearing from the users themselves.
“I was getting emails from people saying, ‘I’m going through chemotherapy right now’ or ‘I struggle with anxiety and your app changed my life,’” says Yunha. “It has such a meaningful impact on people’s day-to-day life. That’s what moved me.”
Yunha was creating something that has positively impacted people’s lives.
Then one day, while sitting in class at Stanford, Yunha was again working on the Simple Habit app instead of paying attention to the lecture. That’s when it officially clicked, “I’m not giving 100% to either [Stanford or Simple Habit]. So, I made the decision on the spot.”
She left the classroom, went to the administration office and told them she was leaving business school behind.
“I loved Stanford,” Yunha says, “but I think I loved Simple Habit even more.”
An Uplifting Ending
Today, Simple Habit has raised close to $13 million in funding, boasts over 2.7 million signups and currently offers over 2,000 guided meditations created to fit any busy schedule. In addition to her Forbes 30 Under 30 honor, Yunha herself also landed on Marie Claire’s 2017 New Guard list of women who are shaping the future.
Yunha’s even been on the hit show Shark Tank. Although she didn’t walk away with a deal, she says, “for what [Shark Tank] did to our business—I’m so grateful. It’s not only the sheer number of downloads or people now using Simple Habit. It also opened up a whole new demographic that we weren’t aware of.
“Through Shark Tank, we got a diversity of people from students struggling with a career decision to people like me to older folks that are retired and trying to figure out their purpose in life.”
It’s just further proof that although she initially designed Simple Habit as a passion project targeted towards busy people like herself, Yunha ended up creating a powerful mindfulness tool that transcends any demographic.
While thinking back on her journey to success, Yunha says, “if there’s one thing I learned the most, it’s how to take care of yourself. When you do a startup…oftentimes, you forget that the biggest resource you have in the equation—is you.”
Want to hear my entire conversation with Yunha Kim? You’ll learn more about how Yunha built her two startups, what she learned from her Shark Tank experience, why every leader should embrace mindfulness and so much more. Listen to the entire conversation on my donothing podcast.
Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne here. Learn about my mission to show business leaders how mindfulness can transform you and your business in my book donothing. Visit www.donothingbook.com for more information.