If you look through the library of mental health apps that have sprung up since our imposed lockdown a couple of years ago, you would have thought there were enough offerings in the market.
Certainly from a mobile app standpoint anyway, and apart from audiobook meditations, mood and data trackers, you can get lost for days trying all these solutions.
The next generation
With the ever increasing growth of the Virtual Reality market, more VR mindfulness and meditation apps have begun to emerge before our 3D eyes, though, to date, there are only a few that sit on Meta's (Oculus) full app library, most sit in Meta's own App Lab or have to be loaded via SideQuest.
So after I had a chat with Tevfik from Mindway VR, I thought I'd take a deeper look into what's actually available and see if, like the mobile app market, the offerings were a little "samey" or not.
In a mature, saturated marketplace (mobile apps) there will be similarities in offerings because you can only do the same thing and make it different a few times, or make the branding more appealing, or have more money to spend on marketing and growth to seize market share.
But, VR in comparison is an immature market, less options, plus the Meta factor, a carefully curated app store that is heavily gated and regulated, though, that is all about to change.
So what I found (and I kept this to offerings publicly available in Meta + App Lab) was pretty much what I expected from an immature market perspective, nearly a dozen apps, mostly in the App Lab with a huge diversification of offering, as it's easier at this stage to differentiate yourself with only a handful of peers as competition.
This is how I would segment these apps:
- High investment: Super high fidelity. I have to admit to being a fan of one of these products, but the user experience is shocking, I mean, you can't go back to the start, you have to exit the "game" entirely. One thing that is abundantly clear in this segment, is that some serious development time and money has been spent on trying to deliver a visual cornucopia of delights. But in that sense, I think the empshsis should be more on the spoken word, and making the environments calming over CGI etc.
- Lower investment: Generally later to the market with a good blend of visual experiences and very helpful content.
- Indie experimental: Some of these apps are clearly there to test theories. One of these experimental apps actually made me nauseous, which is the first time I have experienced motion sickness in VR. Others were very low fidelity concepts that were clearly looking at rapid iteration to find traction.
Enter Mindway VR
As I mentioned earlier, this whole article was born out of a connection I made on LinkedIn with one of the 3D artists at Mindway, then one of the co-founders, Tefik.
Mindway and it's team of 12 full time people are based in Turkey, so of course, the first question is, "what's the VR ecosystem like in Turkey", we'll Tefik tells me its small, but I would say, punching way above it's weight from what I've seen.
Tefik's co-founder Tim was travelling when we caught up very quickly on our call, and it was clear that they are impressively busy building a product to distribute cross platform, so rather than be the guy that holds up progress, I aksed them to pen an introduction to both of them, and learn their backstory and the why.
I'll begin with my Udemy story, discussing the series of events that led to my financial independence doing what I love. My journey starts with a simple dream. Since childhood, my ambition was to found my own company.
Believing that starting a company requires a solid education, I earned my Bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering from the prestigious Middle East Technical University in Turkey in 2016.
During my time in college, my desire to become an entrepreneur took hold, leading me to try starting a drone business. But the high startup costs in the aerospace industry made it nearly impossible. This is when I started seeing Software Development as a more practical way to gather the startup funds I needed.
With no financial backing from my family or personal savings, Software Development seemed like a viable option.Besides, It was more practical to launch a software product than manufacture drones. But there was a hitch. As a fresh Aerospace Engineering graduate in 2017, I had no background in Software Development. So, I enrolled in several Udemy courses to acquire the necessary skills for a career in Software Development.
By September 2017, I had secured my first job as a Software Developer, where I was introduced to Augmented Reality (AR). In this role, I developed location-based AR applications to visualize pipelines for local city halls. This was an exciting time. Pokemon Go had just gone viral, Oculus was making waves with their Rift headsets, and the buzz around Augmented Reality was hard to ignore. My first exposure to an XR Software Development Kit was with ARCore, and it blew my mind! XR was set for big things, and I wanted to be part of it!
Driven by this excitement, I spent twelve hours a day, six months straight, at my full-time job absorbing everything I could about AR. But the dream of establishing my own company and making a broader impact began to resurface. I started looking for ways to fund my dream.
Since I was not in a robust financial position and my family couldn't contribute, I needed an income source that could grow autonomously, giving me the freedom to follow my dreams.
Then came my "Eureka!" moment: "the Creator Economy". This was a game changer!
I realized I could develop and publish my own Udemy courses teaching XR, a subject I was deeply passionate about, and generate income! I had landed my first job thanks to Udemy courses, so I knew that they held real value. The best part was that I could manage this independently, and I was aware that there was a significant demand for XR educational resources. So, I began working on my first course, focusing on Location-Based AR applications with ARCore and Mapbox.
The goal was simple: Publish my first course, earn enough to sustain myself, leave my job, and establish my company using the profits. But life had a different plan. Suddenly, I had to leave my first job due to some issues with my boss, and soon found myself unemployed and in a tight financial spot. This time, however, I had something valuable: an online course on a subject I was passionate about. I began working full-time on this course in March 2018, and by May, it was live on Udemy. I managed to generate around $300 in revenue, but it wasn't enough to cover my living expenses and repay the debt I had accrued during my unemployment.
Furthermore, due to Udemy's policy, I had to wait for two months to access this money. Down but not out, and needing to pay off my debts, I began looking for another job. In July 2018, I secured a position as a Unity Developer at a major corporation in Turkey.So yes, my initial attempt was a failure. But I never gave up on my dream of achieving financial independence.
During the 2018-2019 period, I created two more courses on Unity AR and Multiplayer game development. Then, in another unexpected turn of events, I was fired from my job.By July 2019, I was once again unemployed and financially challenged. But this time, things were different. The revenue from Udemy finally started covering my bills. I felt like I just leveled up in a video game! With this victory, I achieved financial independence for the first time in my life.
Also, something legendary happened in 2019. Oculus released its first standalone VR headset, the Oculus Quest, in May 2019, and I managed to order one in August 2019. I quickly dived into learning VR development and started planning new courses, feeling sure that VR would take off as more standalone headsets hit the market. During my research and development phase, I realized the significance of Multiplayer VR Development. Single player VR experiences were okay but felt isolating. So, I started working on a basic Multiplayer VR Template and an online course along with a VR Development fundamentals course.
Then, in early 2020, the world was hit by the pandemic, and the consumption of digital products skyrocketed. That's when I published my two best-selling courses which are VR Development Fundamentals and Multiplayer VR Development with Unity in May 2020. The response was overwhelming. I managed to hit a revenue record after two years of my Udemy adventure.
Imagine making six months of salary in just two days. Definitely the best days of my journey towards financial independence. With this relatively large recurring revenue, I was able to fund my own Limited Company, IRONHEAD Games. In two years, I assembled a team of five brilliant people. Fast forward to today, IRONHEAD Games continues to create and maintain online courses on XR Development, serving nearly 40,000 students worldwide since 2020.
Now, as we draw closer to the conclusion of my journey, let's go back to the same time last year, in May 2022. That's when I took another big leap, co-founding my second VR company, Mindway VR, alongside my partner, Tim We secured a $200,000 seed fund and assembled a team of 15 people with the aim of creating the world's best VR wellness app. You might be wondering why I ventured into creating another VR company focusing on mental health.
Well, as a solo founder, my journey with Udemy was inspiring but also came with immense pressure. I had to juggle development, marketing, finance, and management all by myself.
Consequently, I experienced burnout and mental health issues several times over the past few years. Hence, we created Mindway to help people improve their well-being using the power of VR. So, that is the end. This is the story of an ordinary person achieving financial freedom by pursuing his passion.
Once in a while, everybody experiences certain insights that fundamentally change the way we think about things. For me, one of these insights came around with the pandemic. If regularly washing our hands could be so effective at preventing the spread of a disease, what if we took the same care for “mental hygiene?” What if we regularly tuned into our minds and looked to give it what it needs to be healthy and strong. Wouldn’t that allow us to build a strong “immune system” against mental issues like burnout, anxiety and stress?
Like many others, I got (back) into meditation around the lockdown. As a serial entrepreneur, I also began to track the commercial impact of the pandemic on the wellbeing apps sector and saw something that was very odd: while there had been a 60% increase in signups to mobile meditation apps at the start of pandemic, Only ~3.9% of users were retaining after 30 days. The top two reasons people quit their mental health journey were the time demand, and the learning curve. People were finding it difficult to focus, and this was making them quit.
I started looking around for solutions and found VR - a way to not only effectively detach the user from the outside world and hence help them focus on their mindfulness practice, but also a way to take the meditation experience from essentially “listening to a podcast” to a cinematic, interactive experience where the digital world your in facilitates interactive meditations. That’s how the idea for Mindway came about.
Headspace on Steroids
I like to think of Mindway as headspace on steroids - it’s very much a personal development focused mental health app for the Quest.
The content is a mix of short term, quick relief solutions to daily issues like stress or sleeplessness, but then the heart of the content are the longer term “journeys” that are interactive series of experiential meditations towards a particular goal, such as developing a sense of self love, building confidence or learning how to manage anxiety or burnout.
We do interactive meditations, so for example you might have a campfire in one scene that strengthens as you sit still and weakens as you lose focus - that makes it much easier to focus, which is of huge importance for us. We don’t just want to use VR to provide pretty backdrops to essentially audio-only meditations, that doesn’t really add much to the mindfulness experience in our opinion, and its a waste of the potential of vr. The goal is to lower the time required to see a benefit, and lower the learning curve as well.
Results proving benefit of that
All our theories have worked, and we’re seeing about 4 times the retention that those mobile apps I discussed at the beginning were seeing, and we’re helping users achieve the same effect in 3 times less time. We’re also seeing that people who complained about the same things that I did, like the inability to focus on meditation, are finally able to sit through a 15 minute session thanks to Mindway. It’s reaching a large audience - from hyperactive toddlers to bed bound clinical patients; and its doing what we intended it to do.
Using Mindway, especially after quickly looking at everything else available, you quickly realise that they have found the sweet spot, the graphics and environments are super tight, but they dont distract you from the message each session is trying to deliver.
Mindway comprises of an extensive library of environments that help with sleep, Cinematic ASMR worlds to sit back and chillout in, courses on meditation and mindfulness and even peer support events where you can sit round a campfire.
For $4.99 per month, I would say that's a minuscule amount of money to invest into your own wellbeing, especially as they are building out a truly cross platform experiece that you can take with you anywhere.
Mindway's motto, "Where Science Meets Serenity", I'd say absolutely spot on, and the sweet spot for your mental wellbeing.