Tell us about Kyō and what led you to the idea?
Kyō is the Japanese word for ‘today’, so it’s all about stimulating reflection in the current day.
I’ve been practicing reflection for the past ten years and have always doing it in some sort of digital fashion, as I was travelling quite a bit. It got to the point where I was getting frustrated with the options that were out there. After listening to lots of podcasts, I realised that they were all asking really powerful questions about peoples’ personal and business journeys; so, I started writing them all down, and I’d copy and paste them into another app I was using to do my own reflection. It was annoying and impractical.
I wanted to create a solution to solve my own problem. I linked up with my brother-in-law, Sunay, and cofounded Kyō, and it’s evolved to really modernise and speak in a relatable language.
There’s a lot of perceptions about what journaling is and what the practice is about, and we’re trying to break that down to create a market that revolves around mental fitness.
What are the tools and techniques that you use to stay mindful?
I started with blocking time out every morning to fuel my mind with good and positive thoughts for the day. That could be reading, listening to podcasts, or just taking the time to think.
Physical exercise has always been a staple of mine and I run to either clear my mind, or to solve a problem. If I don’t know what’s going on, I use running to tackle that. Since Kyō’s been out, I’ve had the opportunity to interview so many people, and I’ve learnt so many practices and different types of meditation, such as breath work – taking a moment to stop and take a couple of really big deep breaths can have a significant impact on your day.
If you must generalise everything, it comes down to one question: how can I fuel my body and my mind with good things so that I can perform at my optimal level? By doing so, hopefully I can help others along the way.
What were the challenges of launching Kyō?
There were more challenges than easy scenarios. The uncertainty of how things would roll out; the uncertainty of the market…
It’s getting people’s mindsets into what physical exercise was 15 or 20 years ago. Nobody questions the fact that if you’re going to run a marathon, you’ve got to train before doing so. Back then there were less people running marathons. It was a very small subset, and everyone else looked at them as if they were crazy, right? Now it’s an everyday thing, and everyone has realised that going to the gym or doing yoga is good for you. Mental fitness still has a lot of room to grow, and it’s nice that people are starting to pick up on it.
Back in the beginning, Sunay and I had no development experience; but, we had the ideas. I was coming from a background of ten years in corporate sales, marketing and product management, which was helpful – but nothing related to developing an app. Same with Sunay – it continues to be a huge learning process to bring on team members that can develop at the rate of where our minds are going. How do we get a team to get it out there as quickly as we can think it up? I can imagine that that will probably always be a challenge. But we’re growing with it.
Were there any surprises?
There have been a lot of surprises. One that comes to mind is during one point in our journey we were told by three separate people within the space of two weeks: ‘I think you should think of this a little bit bigger’. That we were beyond creating an app to help people to elevate their mind. But, what does that really mean? And how far can you go if you have 100 million users going through your app? What can you do for them for the better?
What had started in the beginning as solving a personal problem of my own, became the question of how I can help quite a lot of people with it. We’d never really put it in the light of ‘what if we were the biggest mental fitness platform?’
What tools did you use yourself and do you still use them today?
I was using Calm and Headspace for meditation; Apple notes and Microsoft Word for reflective writing and journaling at that time; and, a host of physical exercise apps. It’s been fairly digital.
I’m a photographer, I often go to Unsplash.com, and study the pictures that resonate with me and ask questions of them. Is it the light? Is it how the photo is composed? What exactly about this photograph is compelling? And then try to recreate that in my own photography. Even though I’m taking less photos now, I really value the process because it makes you aware of what is around you at all times.
What have you learnt from the interviews you’ve done at Kyō?
So much. I think the theme that comes out is that everyone has a high sense of self awareness. People have come to that realisation lots of different ways, through stories and life experiences; but ultimately, whether they’re young or old, it doesn’t matter – they’ve got to a point where they’re aware of their triggers. They know where they need to continue to grow, whether that’s mentally or physically – and 100% of them have prioritised their mind. Many of them are meditating, others are going on a walk and not listening to a podcast, they’re not really thinking about anything – they’re just taking in their surroundings.
The interviews have been what makes me smile every day.
What are the best pieces of advice you’ve received?
As well as the ‘think bigger’ advice, it’s to surround yourself with great people. I know that a lot of people say that they want to be surrounded by the Richard Bransons every day – that’s not realistic. But, what is realistic is that you can read their interviews, and you can listen to them on podcasts – pick those people and have them in your ear all the time – it’s just as powerful.
Why do you feel that reflective journaling and mindfulness are important to people who run their own businesses?
It comes back to the classic airline example, where they tell you to make sure to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. In business, it’s no different. If you lose your mind, or you lose your body – what’s left? You’re not there for your family, you’re not there for your work; it doesn’t matter what it is, you’re useless.
Tesla’s Elon Musk said that starting a business is like chewing on glass, and he’s kind of right. That’s where all these mindful practices come in – just like how training for the marathon allows you to keep going when you’re running it.
That’s the biggest difference that I see from being in the corporate world; not that there aren’t problems in the corporate world, but they’re not really your problems, to a certain extent. With entrepreneurship you’re probably going to face something daily that’s pretty big and there’s going to be highs with that; there’s going to be lows. How do you bounce out of those situations? That’s where mental training, and mental fitness really allow you to do that.
How would you approach the paradox of using an app-based system to ‘switch off’?
We have devices, and there’s a lot of good that has come out of them, but there’s also a ton of bad as well.
The devices aren’t going away, the technology is going to continue to expand – just like radio started, and TV and all that stuff. At the end of the day it’s our relationship with these devices and the technology that matters the most.
Yes, we’re running a wellness and mindfulness company, and we’re using technology, but we’re trying to promote the use of that technology in a good way.
I don’t have any notifications on my phone other than Headspace telling me to slow down a bit, and Kyō giving me a prompt in the morning to ask me ‘what would make today great?’ That’s the way that I try to solve, and deal with that battle.
It’s finding what works for you. That’s what we’re trying to do with Kyō – we’re with our phones all the time, so how can we leverage that technology to do a little bit of good?
It’s like anything though – that can’t be the only thing you’re doing. Get into nature, turn your phone off, use a print journal, use a print notebook, draw, sketch – whatever it is, it must be something that you resonate with, something that feels easy to keep it around as a habit.
I’d like to challenge everyone out there to be open to new mindsets and new practices around mindfulness or wellness. Forget the labels that we use; think of it as reflection and thinking. It doesn’t mean that it’s a diary, it doesn’t mean that it’s a journal; it means that when you’re looking at a photo or you’re walking somewhere, you’re being present, and taking in what’s around you.
Drop the labels on these practices, because they’re not new. We’re not inventing questions, and whether you reflect in a book or in an app – getting your thoughts out of your head is not new.
We’re just helping people to relate and creating stories that people can resonate with; but to take it all in – we need to be open to it.
Marc Champagne was the former cofounder of Kyō, a daily reflection app which existed to help you make the most out of every day. Learnings from this app has now evolved into a book Personal Socrates, which you can find out more about here.