Michael Acton Smith: The Journey To Launching Calm

By Amit Chowdhry ● Oct 21, 2019
  • At the 2019 Inc. 5000 Conference & Gala, Calm co-founder and co-CEO Michael Acton Smith told his story about what led him to launching the company

Today Michael Acton Smith is known as one of the co-founders and co-CEOs of the Calm wellness app. The Calm app has been downloaded more than 50 million times and Apple named it the App Of The Year in 2017. For that year, Calm hit $22.7 million in revenue. And now Calm is hitting $150 million in annual recurring revenue.

At the 2019 Inc. 5000 Conference & Gala in Phoenix, Acton Smith talked about his journey to launching Calm. Acton Smith’s career started after he graduated from the University in Birmingham, England. And Acton Smith said that he and his friend got bored of working at their jobs. So they picked up a book called “Doing Business on the Internet.”

The book gave them the inspiration to sell toys and devices online. But that involved users faxing in their credit card number. “It was not the slickest operation in the world,” said Acton Smith at the event via Inc. senior writer Christine Lagorio-Chafkin.

However, the website did get quite a bit of sales largely due to the popularity of a chess set made out of shot glasses. The sales for this product were driven by the story told behind the launching of that product, which journalists loved.

Then the dot-com bust of 2000 happened and that company ended up shutting down. From there, Acton Smith moved over to gaming. Acton Smith launched a real-world scavenger hunt where he put in clues in newspaper classified ads and hired actors to stand at certain places around town to give more clues.

Eventually, a group of people were able to find a buried treasure in a forest after a few years. Acton Smith said that it was the most creative business he had launched, but it was a financial disaster.

So he turned back to the Internet and launched an online Tomagotchi-like game called Moshi Monsters. Moshi Monsters went viral and 80 million kids around the world signed up. That business was valued at $200 million at its peak and the company grew internally from there. But one day, the user growth stopped.

“It was a really humbling, painful lesson about the entertainment industry,” added Acton Smith.

After launching 3 ventures, Acton Smith felt burned out and stressed and so a friend turned him to meditation. At first, Acton Smith was skeptical, but eventually he got hooked into meditation. And then he launched Calm with Alex Tew in 2012 of the MillionDollarHomepage.com fame. From there, they relocated to California. Calm has raised more than $140 million in venture capital funding and is now valued at about $1 billion.

“Look after yourself. As entrepreneurs, we obsess over looking over our teams, we spend so much money and time looking at our metrics,” Acton Smith concluded at the Inc. event. “But what’s the most important part of business? It’s ourselves. If that piece of the puzzle is not happy and healthy, the whole thing starts to crumble.”

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