Morning meditation in VR: Tripp, EvolVR apps for Quest
After opening their first meditation studio in Toronto in 2018, the Hoame co-founders were looking to expand. However, instead of calling their real estate agent, they decided to go virtual. “We wanted to bring what we knew worked in the studio environment to the metaverse,” said Hoame co-founder Stephanie Kersta.
Work on a VR app for Hoame began before the pandemic, but became even more urgent when COVID-19 prevented people from attending in-person meditation classes. “People miss their studio,” Kersta said. “People miss this studio environment.”
Hoame launched its Quest app just over a month ago and now offers a studio-like meditation experience in virtual reality. People can participate in live classes, catch up on past meditations or do breathing exercises, while watching 360-degree videos of trainers sitting in a lotus pose in front of them, ready to bring some peace to their busy minds.
Hoame is just one of many apps and services that seek to bring mindfulness and meditation to virtual reality. Meditation services were among the first to adopt subscription billing on Meta’s Quest app store, and Meta’s competitor HTC has even built an entire VR headset around the notion of immersive wellness.
It’s a surprising direction for virtual reality, an industry that has focused on gaming for years. But after fitness apps and services became an overnight hit in VR app stores, leading Meta to spend $400 million to $500 million on VR workout service Supernatural, some are wondering: Could meditation be VR’s next killer app?
Swap yoga pillows for trippy graphics
Strapping a screen to your face might not be the first thing that comes to mind when looking to take a break from our screen-based world. But for Tripp founder and CEO Nanea Reeves, it’s a perfect match. The gaming industry veteran was introduced to the power of meditation after experiencing a mental health crisis as a teenager. It was also then that she learned that it takes a lot of work to really let go. “It can take years of regular meditation practice for you to actually get to that state,” she said.
When Reeves experienced similar states during early VR demos, she knew she was onto something. She pitched the concept to VCs, raised a $4 million seed round in 2017, and began tapping into the expertise of medical VR researchers to make Tripp a different kind of mental health app. Instead of trying to replicate the traditional studio experience, Reeves decided to go all out and create a trippy, mesmerizing VR world full of fractals and mini-games meant to provide shortcuts to the flow state of the mind.
“Rather than just trying to simulate this world, we really thought, why not create experiences that you can’t have in this world,” Reeves said. One example is how Tripp makes breathing exercises easier. Instead of just training people to slow their breathing, the app provides visual cues that make it look like participants are inhaling and exhaling magical pixie dust.
This approach has helped Tripp reach and attract new audiences. “There’s this assumption that meditation apps only appeal to women who do yoga,” Reeves said. Tripp’s user base much more closely reflects the general population. At first, like the rest of VR, it was dominated by male gamers. “This audience is very vocal about what they don’t like,” Reeves said. “It actually helped us create a better product.”
It makes sense that early adopters of VR would also be open to experimenting with new ways to manage their stress, said Melody Song, who covers mental health technologies as a freelancer for Fitt Insider. “They are in a new environment and trying new technologies, [so] they’ll also likely be much more open-minded about trying a new experience,” she said.
Reeves declined to comment on the number of users Tripp has attracted for its $4.99-a-month subscription services, but said the company has facilitated more than 4 million meditation sessions to date. The startup also raised another 11 million dollars last year, and it recently acquired VR meditation community EvolVR, which hosts popular mindfulness events on
Tripp now wants to use EvolVR to add a social component to its own service, while growing a community of meditation practitioners across multiple social platforms. “Tripp has the ability to build the connective tissue for what we call the conscious metaverse,” Reeves said.
We all meditate – or lie about it
The success of Tripp, EvolVR and some of its competitors suggests that there is a market for mindfulness and meditation in virtual reality. The size of this market is still uncertain. Even solid numbers for the broader mindfulness market opportunity are hard to come by, with a variety of analysts suggesting anything of a $2 billion domestic market by the end of this year to a total of $4 billion by 2027.
Part of the problem is that mindfulness and meditation itself, like philosophy or religion, are somewhat squishy concepts. People may be quick to profess interest or even active participation, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into real action, let alone a willingness to pay for apps and services.
When the CDC asked people in 2018 if they practiced meditation, more than 14% of respondents said they had done so in the past year. Asked by Pew Research on the same topic in 2014, a huge 40% claimed they meditated once a week.
Yet there is significant and growing interest in using technology for mindfulness and meditation. Calm.com reached a $2 billion valuation end of 2020, and competitor Headspace fused with ginger last year to form a $3 billion mental health juggernaut.
The two companies are still private and under no obligation to share annual revenue figures, but app analytics specialist Sensor Tower told Protocol that the two companies generated $200 million in revenue. combined on Android and iOS app stores in 2021, compared to $177 million in 2020 and $149 million in 2019. (Calm and Headspace also have wholesale subscription businesses and other revenue streams.)
Calm experienced with VR meditation a few years ago, but neither company currently has an active presence on Meta’s Quest headset. That could change. “VR actually makes a lot of sense to both of them, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they lean into it even more in the future,” Song said.
A third pillar for VR
Reeves freely admitted that she was inspired by the growth of Calm and Headspace, but said she did not see the two as direct competitors to Tripp. “I am so grateful to these companies for helping to evolve the narrative around meditation,” she said.
Tripp already has a mobile app, with plans to expand the content offered on phones for times when people aren’t wearing their headsets, but Reeves said the main focus will remain in immersive technologies. Later this year, the company plans to launch a location-based AR app in partnership with Niantic. Ultimately, Tripp also wants to find ways to share revenue with content creators.
Hoame’s plans are a bit less ambitious and include adding regular community events to his app. But while their approaches may differ, Tripp and Hoame share the same goal: to break down barriers and allow more people to experience meditation.
“There are a lot of reasons people can’t come to a physical space,” Kersta said. “Weather, childcare, social anxiety, location. And we have [only] a studio that will fit X people. While there is infinite growth in a global application.
But virtual reality doesn’t just have a lot of potential for meditation, mindfulness and mental health. Reeves also believes that apps like Tripp can help virtual reality grow and succeed with parts of the population less interested in traditional games.
It wouldn’t be the first time the tech had won an unexpected killer app: when high-end virtual reality first emerged, many companies bet on AAA games as a key driver of device sales. Instead, rhythm game Beat Saber, created by a small studio with no marketing budget, became the industry’s biggest success story. And when Beat Saber fans started swapping stories about losing weight and gaining muscle from their daily workouts, they inspired a whole new genre of fitness apps and services, including Supernatural.
“The emergence of fitness was a surprise,” Reeves said. Meditation and wellness could be next and, like gaming and fitness, could become a key driver for VR adoption. “I think it’s a third pillar,” she said.