In the recent Ladies Who Impress stories I have been praising entrepreneurs, freelancers, academics and architects, focussing on their ideas, creativity, tenacity and courage. It is time to introduce you to a Lady Who Impresses, who is inspiring in her achievements as a talented manager, who has been instrumental in helping founders of a small London-based start-up achieve worldwide recognition and success.
Meet Shona Mitchell, Managing Director of Headspace, a meditation app, which demystified the ancient practice and introduced simple and effective means to engage mindfulness, reduce stress and anxiety, improve health, productivity and relationships of over a million of Headspace users worldwide.
Shona read Law at Oxford University, but did not pursue law as a profession. Instead, she built a successful career in events management.
“I loved the high pace of my job, especially the thrill of winning new business, putting together amazing events and living off adrenaline of the admittedly stressful but satisfyingly challenging environment. I was in my 20s, I worked hard and played hard, I hardly noticed long hours, frequent travel and stress, eventually taking their toll on me.”
It was fortunate that at some point Shona discovered meditation and found that regular practice genuinely helped her to reduce stress and anxiety. It occurred to her that meditation would be of tremendous help to business people, it could make a real difference to the most stressful of working environments and would make the world a better, more empathic place, if it became common practice.
“And then I suddenly came across the Headspace website, and I could think of little else until I sent its founders an email and told them they ought to hire me.”
Headspace was started by Richard Pierson, a creative and marketing genius, and Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk, who after 10 years in the Himalayas returned to Britain with a mission to demystify meditation and make it an accessible common practice. Together they created simple, yet deeply authentic content to teach meditation.
Andy and Richard agreed to meet Shona and asked her to joined them. Perhaps Shona got lucky, but in reality she came across an opportunity and made it her own. Her experience in project management, track record in the events industry, expertise in working with corporate clients and a network of contacts made her the ideal candidate to complement the creative ingenuity of the business founders.
“Andy and Richard are incredible in how they spot opportunities and come up with extraordinarily good ideas. I then pick those ideas up, bounce them around and help mould them into projects. And then it is just the case of making them happen.”
When Shona joined the company, Headspace ran one-off events and offered free 10-minute meditation downloads. Today it offers monthly and annual subscriptions to a wealth of content, including guided meditation, books, team workshops and other resources for people on the go. The app has been downloaded by over 750,000 users in 150 countries. The company has 22 employees, and has ambitions to change the world.
“When I joined Headspace, I had no experience in managing people, accounting or finance. I did not know how to grow a digital social enterprise but then who does? With Andy’s and Richard’s support, I took each day as it came, focussed on tasks at hand and just got on with them. It was not easy and I still have to pinch myself sometimes, but I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to achieve as a team.”
It seems the trick is to recognise your own strengths and use them. In Shona’s case it is her empathy, resilience, ability to get things done and make ideas happen that made her exactly the right person to lead Headspace.
Recognise your own strengths and others will follow suit.