There may be readers who have never heard of Mindvalley before. How would you describe it to them?
When we ask people: ‘What did you think of education systems you got in school and universities?’ most people feel it was incomplete, because it places a lot of focus on grades and skills, so that you can get a good career and make a lot of money, but life is so much more than career and money. Our lives as human beings are much wider than just getting a job and earning a pay check. It has to do with becoming the best parents we can be, with being able to deal with our own emotions on those days when we get out of the bed and we feel sad or worried or anxious. It’s about being able to be in a healthy relationship, both with others and with ourselves. It’s about learning to quiet our mind and go within. It’s about learning healthy eating, learning exercising, learning to live in a way where we contribute to the rest of the world – and modern education doesn’t teach us a lot of this. Now there’s a category of education called transformational education that focuses on these areas. This is what Mindvalley university is about: we focus on transformational education, on bringing together the best teachers in the world that teach these areas of wisdom and taking this to as wide an audience as we can, and making it accessible to everyone whether they’re a teenager or they’re 90 years old.
How did you come up with the idea of Mindvalley?
I was working in Silicon Valley 15 years ago and back then the dotcom bubble had just burst so there were not a lot of jobs available. The Valley was kind of depressed and I was very unhappy with my job so, in a moment of sadness, I was googling for answers and I discovered a class on meditation. I took that class and it so transformed me that in four months at my little job in San Francisco, I ended up getting promoted three times in four months. I was shocked at the powers and abilities within you that meditation could unlock. So I stayed with that company, I became the very senior person at that company, but 18 months later I decided that I wanted to do something more fulfilling. I wanted to do something where I could impact the world. And I remember Nelson Mandela said: ‘If you want to change the world, change education’ and it occurred to me – the biggest thing about education that I wish had changed for me is that someone had taught me meditation earlier. Why didn’t I learn this at school? It would have helped me deal with so many sad days, with low self-esteem, it would have helped me to become better at my career and so I thought, I want to build a company that would help take this area of education and take it to billions of people globally – and that’s how Mindvalley was born.
How big is the company now?
Right now we have 300 people around the world. In our headquarters in Kuala Lumpur we have over 50 people and in Tallinn we’re opening up a new office at Rotermanni that will hold 20 people starting this year.
Why did you choose to open up a new office here in Tallinn?
Because my wife is Estonian and my children are Estonian and because I truly love Estonia. I think Tallinn is my favourite city in the world and I think Estonian people are truly special. Of course I’m biased since my children are Estonian, but I have noticed that there’s a quality about Estonians that truly makes them incredible thinkers. People who are very conscious about food and lifestyle and creativity and I have never seen this kind of people in any other country. I would say Tallinn is probably one of the best places you can start a company in. The talent is amazing, the food is amazing, the city is amazing, the culture is mind-blowing and most importantly the government is very sophisticated, very advanced, very pro-business, so I’d say definitely go for it.
How much time do you spend in Estonia yourself?
I’ve been in Estonia now for two months. Our main home is in Estonia. In Malaysia we have an apartment, but in Estonia we have a big home that is here in the old town and I like to spend as much time as I can in that home. But because I have to travel a lot – cause I’m a writer and an entrepreneur – typically three months a year, I’m in Tallinn.
What are your future plans here?
One of the things we would really love to do is work with the Estonian government to bring transformational education to the Estonian schooling system. We think if we can do this in a relatively short amount of time, we can transform parenting, teaching and education in Estonia and help Estonia attain the number one educational system on the planet.
But what about Mindvalley in general?
Our goal over the next 20 years is very simple. We want to bring transformational education to the schooling systems of at least 100 countries and to every company in the Fortune 500. We’re already spreading very rapidly with many of the top companies. In just this summer alone two top 100 American companies have reached out to us to train their employees and we’re now launching in schools in Finland, which is the number one education country in the world – so we’re really excited about this growth. Our goal is to go global, to be everywhere, to make Mindvalley as much a part of people’s lives as Apple.
Now that you look back at all the work you have done, what was the hardest part of creating Mindvalley?
The first five years, because the first five years we were thinking small. You know, we were educating maybe a couple of thousand people a year. And when we started out, a lot of this stuff that we were talking about, people laughed at it. 15 years ago people didn’t believe in meditation, but if you look at today, there are close to 20 000 studies that have been conducted on the benefits of meditation. 15 years ago, if you tried to introduce meditation to a company in Silicon Valley, you’ll get laughed off. Today the majority of companies in Silicon Valley including Google and Facebook introduce meditation to their employees. So the hardest part was going to these topics when the world was laughing at you, but I have never been concerned about people laughing at this and I know even the way I’m talking about a vision for the world right now, a lot of people would be sceptical and that’s fine, that’s how I know I’m on the right track.
In your opinion, what should entrepreneurs do to become truly successful?
The most important thing to be successful in business is to not make your life about business. You must make your life about your personal growth. Your business simply becomes the vehicle of your growth. If your business fails, it doesn’t matter, did you grow? If your business succeeds, it doesn’t matter, did you grow? The number one thing in your life as an entrepreneur that you got to place your full importance on is your personal growth, and you have to look at it from all dimensions – your health, your relationships, your self-esteem, your practises of meditation and fitness and healthy eating. A business will always grow in accordance with how it’s founder is growing. So the more you take care of yourself the more you grow, the better off your business will be. Many entrepreneurs don’t get that, so what they do is that they sacrifice themselves and put all their energy into business not realizing that it is the surest way to fail. If you look at all the greatest entrepreneurs in the world that are really doing incredible things, they are all actively focused on their growth.