My co-founder Ellie Burrows Gluck and I met when Ellie began volunteering at my non-profit, the Institute for Compassionate Leadership. Over tea one day, Ellie asked me why there wasn’t a modern non-religious drop in studio where she could meditate like the way she could drop into a fitness studio and workout. As a busy New Yorker, she wanted a place to go throughout her day that brought NYC’s best teachers under one roof and fostered a community that could help hold her accountable to her practice. Based on my years of teaching meditation, I had been thinking the same thing. Simultaneously I serve as an author and my sixth book was released last year. My passion starting with my first book, (best-selling) The Buddha Walks into a Bar…, has been trying to make meditation as accessible as possible for people. This work has led to me leading meditation at locations as diverse as Google, Harvard, and the White House. I knew that in order to do that we would need to focus on tearing away the barriers people have around starting a meditation practice, specifically around pricing and timing so we hatched M N D F L, which became the premier non-denominational drop-in meditation studio in NYC. While still in college I was encouraged and trained by my mentors to begin teaching meditation. After leaving college I was recruited to the position of the Executive Director of the Boston Shambhala Center and began leading numerous workshops at meditation centers and college campuses throughout the United States. After my time with Shambhala I founded a leadership training program called the Institute for Compassionate Leadership, before co-founding and serving as the Chief Spiritual Officer of NYC's premier drop-in meditation studio, MNDFL. Since founding MNDFL in 2015 it has expanded into three studios, a corporate meditation program, an online portal of teachings and a non-profit arm bringing meditation into the education system.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
I had never started a for-profit business before, only non-profit, so a lot of my inner work was around looking at my relationship to money, which is something I think anyone starting a business of any sort will need to do. The best book I’ve found on the topic to date is Lynn Twist’s The Soul of Money. Outwardly, I realized I had to develop a work-life balance, which meant taking more time than I felt comfortable with away from the business early on to exercise, sleep, and eat well, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to show up for our community and staff in a meaningful way. Finally, I had to come to terms with large holes in my knowledge base and artfully delegate to those who knew a lot more than me, which was an important lesson early on.
What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?
Rajat Paharia’s Loyalty 3.0 is a lovely book for the entrepreneurial mindset, but mostly I focus on books that allow me to go deeper with my own area of expertise in meditation. I just finished Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance, which is a meditation book but has really good advice for anyone who will be confronting the strong emotions that come with starting your own business.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
Not really. I had already done so many ventures in the realm of making meditation accessible that the brick and mortar studio idea felt like a natural progression for many people in my life. The first year of business was hard on my now-wife and I, as MNDFL was priority number one during that time and that felt like a radical recalibration in our relationship. We managed it well overall though, with a lot of hard talks and understanding, and I think it taught us a lot about how we manage stress as a couple. In hindsight I would have put her more toward the front-burner during that year, specifically taking full days off for just the two of us - I think that would have gone a long way to keep us feeling fully connected.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
The community. We could design the best spaces and classes for meditation but never could have predicted how much the people who came to take them would become a part of the co-creation of MNDFL. Our community is incredibly kind, diverse and inclusive - our studio is reflective of the city we live in and our teaching staff. MNDFL’s community is made of people who are interested in living life with a more open-heart. They know that the change we wish to see in the world begins with the self. We want to make sure all New Yorkers feel welcome at our space so our offerings include things like free classes in Spanish, classes for the LGBTQ community and free classes on holidays like MLK Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day among others throughout the year.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
There is no straight line of success in any entrepreneurial effort. It’s more of a roller coaster than any straight-forward success story narrative that we’re normally told. There will be days when there are money concerns, community concerns, staff concerns or more. There’s never a romantic-comedy ending where the credits roll and everything is “good.” Instead, you have to celebrate the good every day, the small wins, the ability to pay rent and the community member who says what you do helped them or the staff member who f-ing kills it. All of it is worthy of rejoicing and that simple act makes the effort more sustainable.
What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Meditate. The more you meditate, the more you know yourself. The more you know yourself, the more you will feel grounded in navigating a business.
Photo Credit: Joshua Simpson