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Category: Podcast

The 4 Principles of Insight Timer and Why They Matter: A Conversation with CEO Christopher Plowman

Christopher Plowman is humble when he talks about how his meditation app, Insight Timer, achieved such explosive growth in the last few years.

With 10 million users, 5,000 meditation teachers, 6,500 active online communities, and 350,000 five star reviews, you would think Insight Timer has a massive marketing budget and an army of developers creating new features every day.

But in fact, it’s quite the opposite. As Plowman says casually, “We’re not doing a lot.”

In other words, they’re strategically not doing things, which has led to some unexpected results.

When Non-Doing is the Best Thing To Do

Christopher Plowman, Insight Timer CEO

On a recent episode of the Technology for Mindfulness podcast, Robert Plotkin chatted with Plowman about his novel approach. Throughout their conversation, he emphasized what they’re not doing – and how the purposeful absence of promotion is their defining characteristic.

Although not stated explicitly, four principles emerged during their discussion. They offer clues as to why Insight Timer has been so successful as well as fascinating implications for how we want to engage with technology.

1 – Making Meditation Accessible to All

After Plowman and his brother bought Insight Timer in 2014, one of their first changes was to make everything free. “We wanted to make sure every person on the planet could access free daily meditations,” he says. 

And that will always remain the same, even as they add optional paid features. With more than 28,000 guided meditations in their library (so far), Plowman promises they will always be free. 

As it says on their website, “Magic happens when you give meditation away for free.”

You might think offering something for free would result in a lot of users, but low engagement. After all, most people equate free with a lower value.

But again, Insight Timer confounds the usual expectations. Over 10,000 people use Insight Timer to meditate every day, spending more time than their competitors – 21 minutes on average versus 4 minutes for similar apps.

Is it magic?

It’s the magic of non-doing.

Insight Timer
Insight Timer’s goal is ” Free meditation for every person on earth.”

2 – Not Commercializing Their Members’ Meditation Practice

Insight Timer doesn’t have pop-ups trying to upsell features. There are no notifications. They don’t send promotional emails with special offers. They don’t even advertise.

How does Insight Timer maintain such high engagement? Aren’t these methods necessary to ensure active users and renewed subscriptions?

Not necessarily, according to Plowman. He believes that “attraction long-term is more powerful than promotion. Stillness is the greatest magnet of all.” Insight Timer users have a subliminal understanding that they’re not being sold to. And this encourages them to meditate more. There’s no pressure.

“Attraction long-term is more powerful than promotion. Stillness is the greatest magnet of all.”

christopher plowman, insight timer ceo

Plowman points out that most meditation apps start out with pure intentions. However, as he says, “their financial engine depends on you feeding it with your meditation practice.” This creates a serious conundrum when the purpose of meditation is to detach and let go. 

Now, all this being said, with a free library of meditations and no marketing, he needed another way to create a profitable business. Plowman spent about 18 months speaking to thousands of users and meditation teachers, trying to find a way to build a strong, sustainable company and a reliable income for meditation teachers. All without commercializing meditation practice. They introduced three new ideas:

  1. A handful of popular advanced features and add-ons for a nominal fee
  2. A donation option
  3. New Insight Timer courses (Long-form, interactive courses to purchase individually or for a monthly fee)

Plowman’s goal was to provide an affordable price point for these options and courses, but keep the guided meditation library free. 

However, remarkably absent from the conversation about Insight Timer’s evolution was the introduction of any other new features or major changes. Why? He wants to keep the experience distraction-free.

Insight Timer
A recent social media post playfully talks about their non-approach to marketing.

3 – Creating a Simple User Experience

Plowman says he’s often pushing off his enthusiastic development team who want to add lots of new features. After all, the app is popular. Let’s make it even better!

But better to Plowman means simplifying. In other words, distilling the app down to what it’s really meant to do. “Our users are there to be still. Have quick access to the timer and meditations. Perhaps send a message to friends. That’s all.”

So, rather than adding “bells and whistles,” Insight Timer is focused on streamlining what’s already in place, creating a simple, clean, fast interface. 

And much to the chagrin of his colleagues, he’s not quite ready to change the name either. “Even if we’ve evolved, that’s what we are,” he says, “Call us by our rightful name.”

After all, meditation at its core is about peeling back what’s unnecessary. Discovering what you already are. Not being seduced by the next shiny thing.

It would be easy for Insight Timer to focus their attention on one of the shiniest parts of their app, their online communities. But despite their popularity, Plowman has no plans to make significant changes there either. 

It’s another example of non-doing.

Insight Timer plans to focus on simplifying, not adding new features.

4 – Being Good Custodians of the Insight Timer Community

Plowman says that when they bought Insight Timer, there were about 1,000 groups on the app. These user-generated communities covered wide-ranging topics like managing anxiety, the science of meditation, and artistic expression. 

Without any intervention, Insight Timer now has an unbelievable 6,500 groups. Plowman says they view themselves as “custodians” of these communities. They don’t need to moderate or control the flow of connections, just create a safe space for them to arise. By making the meditations free, it opened the door for these new relationships. 

As Plowman said, “I often hear people say, ‘I downloaded the app for the timer and stayed for the relationships.’” He also pointed out that users with more friends on Insight Timer tend to meditate more, which creates positive reinforcement.

In addition to the draw of these communities, Insight Timer lets users know who else is meditating at the same time – anywhere in the world. For those who have meditated with a group in person, there’s a certain motivating effect that’s hard to explain. Insight Timer seems to replicate that feeling with this feature. 

Could it have something to do with sensing the collective consciousness? Perhaps. You’ll have to try it out and see what you think!

Insight Timer
Insight Timer users can see everyone who’s meditating with them around the world.

Download Insight Timer

Meditators

If you’re seeking a gentle introduction to meditation and a welcoming, open community, Insight Timer is free (and always will be). With over 28,000 titles easily searchable, you’re certain to find a teacher that resonates with you. Don’t forget to check out the free guided meditations from Technology for Mindfulness founder, Robert Plotkin. He also has a new course “Develop Healthy Digital Habits.”

Download Insight Timer on Google Play or The App Store.

Meditation Teachers

If you’re a meditation teacher, there are ten million meditators waiting to hear what you have to say. With Insight Timer there is no contract and no catch. It’s completely free to be involved and you remain in full control of anything you upload.

You can learn more by checking out the Insight Timer for Publishers page.

How to Manage Your Digital Environment – 6 Practical Ideas from Pete Dunlap

The concept of mindful technology is edging its way into the mainstream as more and more people want to break free of unhealthy digital habits.

Pete Dunlap, Founder of Digital Detangler, is poised to help with this uniquely modern problem. He empowers individuals, schools, and businesses to transform their digital environments for greater well-being.

Robert Plotkin recently interviewed Pete on the Technology for Mindfulness podcast to learn how he became the Digital Detangler and what individuals can do to take control of their own technology use. Continue reading How to Manage Your Digital Environment – 6 Practical Ideas from Pete Dunlap

Thriving as an Entrepreneur in the Digital Age – 5 Lessons from Dr. Sherry Walling

Dr. Sherry Walling offers a unique perspective on entrepreneur burnout.

As both an accomplished clinical psychologist and the spouse of a serial tech entrepreneur, she’s combined insights from both roles and developed a much-needed resource called ZenFounder.

On a recent Technology for Mindfulness podcast, our founder Robert Plotkin interviewed Dr. Walling to learn more about her work.

They chatted about entrepreneur stress, how it’s made worse by the frenetic pace of technology, and her recommendations for founders (and their partners). Continue reading Thriving as an Entrepreneur in the Digital Age – 5 Lessons from Dr. Sherry Walling

Group Text Messaging: Productive or Annoying?


Trying to make plans with a group of people can be challenging. Obviously, everyone has their own schedule and it can be hard to coordinate a mutually convenient time for all of you to meet up.

Many of us turn to group text messaging as a quicker alternative to group email. However, receiving text messages in a particular thread or conversation with one or a group of people can quite simply be annoying — especially if you keep getting notifications within that thread!

Continue reading Group Text Messaging: Productive or Annoying?

Ep. 9 – Dave Crenshaw, Time Management Coach & Author Of “The Myth Of Multitasking”

We are so excited about this latest podcast episode!Ep. 9 - Dave Crenshaw, Time Management Coach & Author Of "The Myth Of Multitasking"

Time management author, public speaker, coach & trainer Dave Crenshaw has appeared in Time magazine, USA Today, FastCompany, the BBC News, & his courses on LinkedIn Learning have received millions of views. Crenshaw’s three books, including “The Myth of Multitasking” and his newest, “The Power of Having Fun: How Meaningful Breaks Help You Get More Done”, are in stores now.

Continue reading Ep. 9 – Dave Crenshaw, Time Management Coach & Author Of “The Myth Of Multitasking”

Ep. 7- Mark Bauerlein, Author of The Dumbest Generation: How Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans

Mark Bauerlein earned his doctorate in English at UCLA in 1988 & has taught at Mark BauerleinEmory since 1989, with a two-and-a-half year break in 2003-05 to serve as the Director, Office of Research & Analysis, at the National Endowment for the Arts. Apart from his scholarly work, he publishes in popular periodicals such as The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, TLS, and Chronicle of Higher Education. His latest book, “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don ‘t Trust Anyone Under 30)“, is available for purchase online.

Continue reading Ep. 7- Mark Bauerlein, Author of The Dumbest Generation: How Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans

Ep. 6-Neil Seligman, Founder of The Conscious Professional

Neil Seligman is the Founder of The Conscious Professional, the Author of 100 Mindfulness Meditations and one of the UK’s leading experts in Corporate Mindfulness, Wellbeing and Professional Resilience.

In this episode Neil discusses about his work at The Conscious Professional and what his mission and goal is. According to Neil his practice brings skills of mindfulness to professionals. His vision is enlightened executives and conscious businesses. Neil links mindfulness to professional excellence, and his vision is to find the missing link in many professionals who are not able to express themselves in the exterior reality. The internal world is the key to emotional intelligence and we have to find peace within ourselves.

Continue reading Ep. 6-Neil Seligman, Founder of The Conscious Professional

Ep. 5-Tiffany Shlain, Creator of the “Technology Shabbat”

For the past eight years, Emmy-nominated filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, her husband & two children have embraced “Technology Shabbat”, a modernized version of the Jewish day of rest, where they break away from digital screens & other technology for 24 hours. Shlain joins host Robert Plotkin to discuss how “Technology Shabbat” works & doesn’t prevent her & her husband from embracing technology in their everyday lives. Tiffany Shlain is an American filmmaker, author, & public speaker regarded as an internet pioneer for her work, including founding the Webby Awards, co-founding the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences & running the Moxie Institute Film Studio & Lab. She lives in Northern California with husband Goldberg whom she frequently collaborates with on art installations & other projects. Find more info on Tiffany Shlain’s “Technology Shabbat” at http://www.moxieinstitute.org/technology_shabbats.

Continue reading Ep. 5-Tiffany Shlain, Creator of the “Technology Shabbat”

Podcast Episode #4: Interview with Dr. Susan Maushart, Author of The Winter of Our Disconnect

We’ve just posted the latest episode of the Technology for Mindfulness Podcast, where Dr. Susan Maushart, author of The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale, joins host Robert Plotkin for a discussion about how she and her three teenage children went technology-free in their home for six months.

Continue reading Podcast Episode #4: Interview with Dr. Susan Maushart, Author of The Winter of Our Disconnect

Podcast Episode #03: Interview with Dr. Judson Brewer, Author of The Craving Mind

We’ve just posted the latest episode of the Technology for Mindfulness Podcast, where Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness, joins host Robert Plotkin for a discussion about Dr. Brewer’s recent book, The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love – Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits, which describes how our technology habits share many of the same neurological origins and traits as drug and food addictions, and how we can use mindfulness to break these harmful habit loops.

Continue reading Podcast Episode #03: Interview with Dr. Judson Brewer, Author of The Craving Mind

Podcast Episode #02: Interview with Maggie Jackson, Author of Distracted

maggie-jackson-smallWe’ve just posted the latest episode of the Technology for Mindfulness Podcast, where author Maggie Jackson joins host Robert Plotkin for a discussion about how technology can distract us and what we can do about it. Jackson is an award-winning author and former Boston Globe columnist known for her penetrating coverage of social issues, especially technology’s impact on humanity. Her essays and articles have appeared in publications worldwide, including the The New York Times, Business Week, Utne, and on National Public Radio. Her acclaimed book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, jumpstarted our global conversation on the steep costs of fragmenting our attention. Jackson’s first book, What’s Happening to Home? Balancing Work, Life and Refuge in the Information Age, examined the loss of home as a refuge. Find more info on Maggie Jackson at maggie-jackson.com.

Continue reading Podcast Episode #02: Interview with Maggie Jackson, Author of Distracted

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

Sign up to receive a free, 5 minute guided meditation that helps you gain control over your smartphone, instead of being controlled by it. 

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