Using Technology for Meaningful Connection: An interview with Christopher Plowman

Last February, I attended the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco, which focuses on business, technology and mindfulness. I was fortunate to have the chance to catch up with Christopher Plowman, the co-founder of the Insight Network and CEO of the Insight Timer phone app we featured in our winter newsletter. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Insight Timer, it is a timer app with bell chimes for meditating, as well as a great source for a wide variety of guided meditations. In addition to tracking and providing stats on your meditation practice, you can also track other mindful activities like yoga, tai chi or walking. But the one feature that made me completely fall in love with this app was the ability to connect globally with fellow meditators. After every session users can see how many people around the world were participating in a mindful activity at the exact same time and have the option of sending each other messages of gratitude for practicing together. Users can build social networks with like-minded individuals and participate in various chat groups.

Talking with Christopher–who, by the way, has a wicked Australian accent– provided a great opportunity to learn more about the backstory of the app and find out more about its owner.

Christopher and I met up in the swanky lounge area of the Marriot Marquis Conference Center, where he was in the company of a few team members preparing to take a lunch break. After introductions, hand shaking and declining a polite offer to grab some food for me to eat, his team left Christopher and I to get our conversation started.

 

“And that’s what I love home-community-phoneabout our community. It’s all about connection and contribution and an understanding that the collective is more important than the individual.”–Christopher Plowman, CEO Insight Timer

 

Chantelle Diachina: How many Wisdom 2.0 conferences have you attended?

Christopher Plowman: This is my second.

CD: What brought you back …outside of meeting with your team who are spread out across the globe?

CP: (chuckling) I mean, that’s one of the reasons, definitely! When we bought the app there was 20 guided meditations for users to listen to. We decided to really focus on publishing more of them and in the last 12 months more than 420 teachers have become Insight publishers. This conference is the best place to meet new publishers, so that’s the reason we’re here!

CD: So you’re scouting people! (laughing)

CP: Yep…Plus it’s the one place you can where you can tell people you’re building a meditation platform and they don’t look at you like you’ve got three heads! We’re amongst our own here. (laughing)

CD: Before Insight Timer, what were you doing?

CP: I spent the last 20 years building software. I also founded a company called Tix.com.au which sells discount tickets to sporting events, theatre and concerts in Australia. I did that for 10 years and it now has 1.5 million members. But I reached a point where I wanted to do something a little more meaningful (and which wasn’t just about making money) so I stepped down from the CEO role three years ago and became Chairman which freed up my time because I’m no longer operationally involved in Tix.

CD: And this is where Insight Timer came in?

CP: Yes. At the same time as I was stepping away from Tix, my brother Nicholas became a meditation teacher. Soon after I became a meditator too. He kept saying to me, Come on… We’ve got to do something in this space! At the time I was like, ‘ Ugh… I’ve done my start up, it’s going great… I live in Bali with my family now, I’ve hired a CEO to run my company in Australia… I’m not doing this againnn…”. He kept at me and so eventually I agreed, but on the single condition that we didn’t try and build a platform or community from scratch. I spent ten years at Tix doing this and it takes long. So we decided to buy an existing meditation platform and use it to accelerate our plans. We looked at a whole bunch of meditation apps… and Insight Timer definitely wasn’t our first choice. It was built on a very old code base, and the interfaces were very dated. Yet despite this, it had become a highly engaged community of dedicated meditators. So we flew to San Francisco, met the owner and made an offer to buy it. He agreed and in April 2015 we became the new owners.

And after we started making some cosmetic changes to the app, all things that we hoped would happen, happened! The number of meditation minutes logged each day doubled within 6 months. Guided meditation rates grew by 45%. The number of messages being sent tripled. And the number of one-to-one friendships grew. Best of all we were really grateful with the support from the existing users. We spend a lot of time engaging them, asking them what they like, and running surveys.

CD: Sounds like you’re listening…

CP: We do a LOT of listening. You just can’t be single minded anymore, especially not with the Internet and especially not with a community based app. We’re custodians of the community – nothing more. And if a community doesn’t like the way things are being run they quickly move on. So we always make sure we’re looking out for the community’s interests first. Sometimes of course we have to make decisions based on commercial parameters, and this can be tricky at times, but everything we try to do is about building a better platform for Insight Timer to make sure it has a future.

CD: I can feel that you are really committed to the Insight community and I thank you for that.

CP: Thank you… Nicho and I feel this responsibility very deeply. I mean can you imagine what it would be like if Insight Timer didn’t exist? There are hundreds of thousands of people who depend on the app every single day. This is why I love my new job because before that, in my other companies, when you posed the question can you imagine if “this” didn’t exist, the answer didn’t really matter? With Insight Timer, it absolutely does.

CD: What does your meditation routine look like?

CP: Ahhh… these are easy questions. (chuckles) I’m normally meditate for 20 minutes twice a day…

CD: Do you use the timer?

CP: Of course! Three bells at the start, one bell halfway through, and three bells at the end. I normally meditate at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning in Bali, before I go for my walk and then I meditate at about 4:00pm in the afternoon, just before the kids come home from school. And by the way, I like to think that I stick to this routine, but obviously I can have weeks where my practice disappears for some reason…

CD: We all do! Let’s be honest… (laughing)

CP: Every now and then I’ll also go through a phase where I’ll play some of the music tracks as well as the 20 mins twice a day. I like the Savasana Crickets track.

CD: The “Theta Mare 20” track is my favourite. What wisdom have you gained since taking on Insight Timer?

CP: Somebody asked me what I like most about my team. And the word ‘humility’ popped into my head. I think humility is so important for peace. And the reason we bought this timer is summed up in our tagline: Peace in our Timer, which is a play on the phrase “Peace in our time” because we genuinely believe that meditation leads to higher levels of consciousness. And in our time means we have to do something now, we can’t afford to wait for years.

I think that that’s what Insight has taught me. There’s stuff bigger than me and I don’t think I really understood that before this app. I mean of course some people do from birth… maybe I’ve just got too many flaws (laughs) but that’s what I’ve learned… the collective is really powerful and humility is required if you want to be a part of the collective.

CD: I can’t help but to get a little choked up because you hit on something that really struck a chord and that is your realization that by doing what you’re doing you are a part of something that is way bigger than all of us.
CP: And that’s what I love about our community. It’s all about connection and contribution and an understanding that the collective is more important than the individual.

After meeting Christopher it became clear to me that he is making an earnest effort to live up to the tag line he has on his Insight Timer profile: Be the ocean, not the wave.

The Insight App timer is free and available in iTunes and Google Play. Also, be sure to check out the two guided meditations I’ve published on the app to help you manage stress: “Relaxation for Busy People” and “Reconnect with Self”.




About Chantelle Diachina

Chantelle is the founder of Prana Yoga & Wellness. When she is not teaching yoga class or facilitating workshops, Chantelle relishes the time with her husband and two school-age children. She also enjoys volunteering and collaborating with the various non-profits in her community. 3 things you may not know about Chantelle: 1. Most Memorable Moment: Being saved by a random motorcyclist from California while alone and lost in Thailand 2. Biggest Pet Peeve: Hearing her children fight 3. Most Embarrassing Moment: Showing up to a potluck party on the wrong night
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