Ryan Nell, Levitate

Starting something is really hard.
Growing it is harder.

6 mins

When Ryan Nell started Levitate, his mission was clear – to help others improve their mental health and wellbeing. Initially envisioned simply as a drop in meditation studio, Levitate now offers meditation classes and workshops both in person and online.

As a one-time startup ourselves, we’re always interested in the stories behind the startups so we were delighted to have the chance to chat with Ryan about how his business has evolved and what advice he has for others thinking of starting their own business.

Tell us about Levitate. What do you do and who do you do it for?

Levitate is a modern meditation startup with a focus on improving people’s mental health and holistic wellbeing. The meditation and mindfulness we teach is informed by the latest research. We provide group classes and workshops to Londoners from our home studio, and from our partner studios across London. We also deliver workplace wellbeing programmes and mindfulness courses within companies across the UK and globally, including Google, Space NK and ClearScore.

Since the pandemic, we’ve taught all our live classes and events online. We’ve added breathwork to our schedule. We’ve also taken the opportunity to launch Levitate On Demand, a way for our members to take classes at times that suit them.

Along with teaching the public and workplaces how to meditate and breathe, we also run a podcast where we chat to inspiring changemakers about their life journey and philosophy.

When did you start? Has your business turned out to be exactly as you initially envisioned it?

I started working on the idea in January 2018 and launched our first classes in August of that year. The initial idea was to focus on a bespoke Levitate drop-in meditation studio, along the lines of Unplug in LA. However, rising high street rent prices and hefty business rates, made me pause before investing heavily in bricks and mortar. (This now turns out to look wiser than it was).

Instead, we’ve followed a model of working with established yoga and fitness studios, as well as corporate clients, to deliver our services without the overheads. That gave us an ideal way of testing the market and refining our offering to meet what our customers want.

We’ve also been exploring increasingly delivering online (for example the podcast, classes and courses over Zoom, our Levitate On Demand library, our YouTube channel, and our new online course) to find the sweet spot between rich in-person interaction and reaching a wider audience.

What was the moment when you realised you were really onto something?

It’s been a series of moments. One peak moment was an in-person taster session at a large advertising agency group where 75 people turned up for a talk on mindfulness (I was expecting perhaps 20). Since then though we’ve done online events with over 100 participants, we did a live meditation attended by over 1000 people for Space NK’s Instagram, and we’ve gained members in places as far away as Barbados.

Closer to home, mental health in the UK has reached crisis levels, and we can see it in the increasingly strained public services, rising levels of staff turnover, the growing prevalence of burnout, anxiety, and depression. The last year has only made it worse. The feedback we’ve got from events, classes and our corporate work has been awesome. People talk to us about their mental health, heartbreak, grief, and how our work has helped them get through the hard times. This fills us with hope that we can make a small difference in people’s lives.

You’ve mentioned online classes and podcasts. Where does technology fit in the world of meditation and mindfulness? 

It’s a bit ironic, really. We’re a meditation company focused on helping people reduce distraction, find balance, and connect to their surroundings and yet, we are heavily reliant on tech, which can cause so many of these issues. Everything from the booking system to our accounting and phone systems are in the cloud. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing. It means we can operate like a bigger organisation and automate many functions to free us up to focus on the customers.

What applications or digital tools do you find most useful? 

Zoom has just hit the top of the list. We use GSuite and Google Drive for our email and documents. Dropbox is pretty crucial too. We are on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Acuity takes care of our class bookings. FreeAgent handles our accounting and payroll. We constantly use Adobe Creative Cloud for podcast editing, video, and content production. We host our podcast with Transistor. 

Technology really is helping out in a lot of areas for you. What else do you wish technology could help with?

It’d be great if tech could continue to free me up to focus even more on the really important stuff – helping people get more out of meditation and more out of their lives.

Keeping up to date is an important part of ensuring you get the most out of your technology. How confident are you with keeping yours optimised and up-to-date?

I’m very into tech. I think I was the first person I knew with a smart home. That said, Levitate is getting to the size now where I’d like other people to take some of the tech stuff off my hands to let me focus on strategy and delivery.

If you were to go back and do it all again what would you do differently?

I’d probably have spent more time up front writing a business plan. At the time, I wasn’t seeking investment, so it didn’t seem important. But looking back, knowing what I know now – it would have been a great way of staying more focused in the first year.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting their own business?

Starting something is really hard. Growing it is harder. Everything takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you might initially expect it to. Your patience and motivation will be tested to their limits. So, before you start, ask yourself some hard questions:

  • How are your time management skills?
  • Do you need a partner to bolster the areas where you are weaker?
  • Are you ready to start over and take a very large pay cut?
  • Do you have a fallback plan if things don’t work out?
  • What is your attitude to risk?
  • What does success look like? 

These questions will perhaps help you decide whether you want to work for yourself or stick to the security of a salary. That said, if you do decide you’re passionate about it, go for it. It’s a brave and wonderful thing to do and, in my case, my life is immeasurably better for it.

What do you want to learn in the next year?

I want to get better at time management so that I can practice what I preach. Time is a precious resource, and as a meditation teacher and founder, I want a better balance between being in the moment and being intentional about what I do next.

Thanks to Ryan for giving us his time and his insights. We always learn something new from these interviews – and knowing that even meditation companies benefit from the boost technology can provide has been great. Make sure to check out the Levitate London website for more information on their classes and podcast. You can also follow them on Instagram @levitatelondon or follow them on Twitter @LevitateLondon.

We love finding out what motivates and inspires people to start their own businesses. It’s one of the reasons start-ups have always been a big part of our client list. If you’ve got an idea you want to develop, get in touch. Let’s see how we can help you startup your start-up.

For more advice on how to tackle start-up challenges, pop over to our blog where we dispense advice gained, not only by our own experience, but also by working with startups in a wide range of sectors.

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