Malaysian-Indian entrepreneur Vishen Lakhiani is writing three books at once and is the founder of Mindvalley, a personal development online education company.
- Why he’s writing 3, yes 3, books at once
- How meditation helps him become more productive and creative (See more productivity tips in my Forbes article about this interview)
- Why typical approaches to setting goals don’t work
- How he finds time for writing so many books and running a business with over 200 employees
And lots more…
I start by asking Vishen to describe why he set up Mindvalley in 2004.
Bryan Collins: Vishen, it’s nice to talk to you today. Could you start by giving me a bit of background information about Mindvalley and why you decided to set up the company in the first place?
Vishen Lakhiani: Thank you. So Mindvalley is an education company focused on what we would refer to as transformational education. Now what this means is that we look at the education that regular school forgot. The education that actually makes you a better human being. This means education in mind, body and soul in creative thinking, in relationships, the things that truly make us human. Mindvalley works with some of the world’s top teachers in this genre. A lot of men and women who have published some of the bestselling books in the world from people like Robin Sharma to Katherine Woodward Thomas, Neale Donald Walsch, and we work with them to create 30-day programs that transform an individual in different aspects of life. For example, it may help you become a better parent or it may help you get fit. It may help you tap into the powers of meditation and mindfulness. Now what we are seeking to do is to build the world’s foremost education platform for this genre of education.
Bryan Collins: If you don’t mind me asking, there’s a lot of online course providers today. So I’ve taken courses on the likes of CreativeLife, LinkedIn learning and so on. How does Mindvalley stand apart from those other platforms?
Vishen Lakhiani: Well, if you look at any of those platforms, if you look at CreativeLive, they have about 10,000 programs. You look at Udemy, they have about probably 50,000 programs. Mindvalley has 40 programs. That’s it. We may stop at a hundred programs. Now, here’s the difference. When it comes to online learning, what really matters to people is not the price, because education has become really affordable. It’s the time. If you want to become really good at something, it’s the time investment that matters. We’re not looking to create a library of 10,000 programs. We’re looking to create the singular best program in every genre. So when you come to us, you know that every minute you spend, you’re getting the best training in the best way from the top mind in the industry.
Vishen Lakhiani: For example, there are at least a hundred programs out there on memory and speed learning. We produced the number one program in the world on that genre, with the number one teacher, Jim Quick. It outsells pretty much all the other programs combined and it delivers the best results. Mindvalley is obsessed with creating the singular best program in every genre of human transformation. This is why we’re only focused on 40 programs.
Bryan Collins: Could you give me an idea of how many students have gone through your courses over the years?
Vishen Lakhiani: The numbers vary because our company has gone through many evolutions. Mindvalley as we know it right now started in 2013. In 2013 we launched with 1000 programs, and very soon what we realised is that there’s a massive quality difference, almost an exponential shift between the best programs and the average programs. And so in 2016, we decided to kill 95 plus percent of all our programs and focus on 10. And you know what happened? In one year, those 10 programs got more students than the previous 900 plus programs combined. It showed that people cared about investing in the best and quality. It’s like the movie industry, right? If you look at movies in America, there are maybe 30 to 40 movies out of like a thousand that are produced every year. And those 30 to 40, they end up getting 99% of the attention.
Vishen Lakhiani: Now the same thing is starting to happen with online courses. People know that it’s a time investment. They want to invest in the best. Now Mindvalley’s current following is 10 million. We have 10 million people connected to us across all our different channels. This means everything from Instagram to YouTube to a podcast. We distribute content for free across all of these channels. 95% of these 10 million people take our content for free. 5% are the ones who pay for premium content. And it is true this 5% fund our entire media company.
Bryan Collins: I was just fascinated by what you said about focusing on the top 40 courses. Is that correct?
Vishen Lakhiani: Yeah.
Bryan Collins: And you killed 90% of your other courses. That’s a pretty bold decision to make. So how did you decide just to focus on those 10, and did you find it difficult to communicate that to the rest of your team and get them on board?
Vishen Lakhiani: Well, what happened was this. In 2016, I decided that we were going to change the way we ran as a company. We’ve got to ensure that every program we brought on would be something that we tested on our own team, that I personally went through. And we decided that we were going to… See, I used to work at Microsoft, and in Microsoft there was a terminology that we use called Eat Your Own Dog Food. It meant that if you worked at Microsoft, you use Microsoft products, even if they were half-baked and even if they had bugs. Because through using your own products, you improve them massively.
Vishen Lakhiani: So we started out as an online store selling a thousand something programs, but then we decided, “Well, what if we only sold the programs that we truly loved, that I was fully going through?” And that is what created this ship. 10 programs outsold 900 plus. Now the other cool thing is, as our team started going through these programs… Back in 2016, we had about 150 employees. Our employee base transformed. People started losing weight, they started getting deep into meditation. They got so super excited about the changes they were going through. This, in turn, fueled us to be so dedicated to the company that we went through a massive transformation. We started growing as a business by over 50% year on year. And it really was a beautiful cycle. So to this day, we only produce one new program a month. That’s it. In the next 12 months, we are producing 12 programs, but each of them is handcrafted to be the best in the world.
Bryan Collins: What would you say to an entrepreneur who is struggling to achieve the same level of focus, eating their own dog food, so to speak?
Vishen Lakhiani: We’re approaching a world right now where there’s so much variety, and people want quality. Time becomes the most precious commodity. If I’m studying something online, I want to know it’s the best. I want to know that every minute of that experience is going to transform me. Likewise, if I’m watching a movie, I want to watch the best movies, because a movie is still a two-hour investment of time. It’s not about the $9.99 you spend downloading it on iTunes. It’s about the two hours of your time, which is why quality and that dedication to aesthetic ability and transformation is so important here.
Vishen Lakhiani: So if you’re an entrepreneur, I think one of the key things you have to understand is that it’s no longer just about money. We are approaching a world of increasing abundance. It’s about making sure people get the best experience for their time spent. Even if they are in your restaurant, ensuring that the little details matter because time is that precious commodity today.
Bryan Collins: I would agree. I certainly agree with that. One thing that struck me when I look at the Mindvalley courses is they’re more focused on softer skills rather than maybe more technical skills. So for example, you’re probably not going to learn Photoshop, but you are going to learn about… I think meditation was one course that stood out.
Vishen Lakhiani: Exactly.
Bryan Collins: Was that a conscious choice?
Vishen Lakhiani: That is an absolutely conscious choice, and the reason for that is because the gap in our education model today is in soft skills. We know, for example, that if you want to be successful as an entrepreneur or if you want to be successful in work, the most important thing that matters is not the skill, but the attitude. There’s numerous research in a concept called positivity quotient. There’s even a book written about it called Positive Intelligence. And what they found is that the best performing teams and companies, there is one key determinant and it is the positive intelligence of the team. And what this means is people’s mindset, people’s ratio of good emotions to negative emotions such as stress or anxiety, people’s ability to communicate with each other, which creates empathy and trust, all of these are soft skills. Our education system doesn’t really focus on them.
Vishen Lakhiani: When was the last time you took a university program or university course for empathy and got credit for it, or for positivity and got credit for it, or for mindfulness and got credit for it. I don’t remember any such programs when I had my American education. Yet numerous studies today show that this is what truly leads to success. But here’s the special thing. It doesn’t just lead to success at work, it leads to success in all areas of life. There’s an obsession today with measuring success in terms of two metrics, the size of your paycheck and the size of your title. But this comes at a huge cost, it leads to broken families, broken homes, people overworked, people not getting enough sleep, people seeing their health get messed up, the obesity epidemic hitting us all.
Vishen Lakhiani: But when we measure success from a full 360 spectrum and Mindvalley looks at 12 different dimensions of success. We look at your health, we look at your parenting and your family, we look at your relationship. We look at your emotional state, we look at your character. When you look at success from 12 different dimensions, that’s when the soft skills become even more important because when you learn meditation, it doesn’t just improve your ability at work, and there are numerous studies that show that now, it improves your marriage, it improves your relationship with your kids, it improves your wellbeing. Soft skills are the new hot trend in education, but again, I’m using the word trend liberally. I think this is going to be the key thing that truly matters in future education programs.
Bryan Collins: And do you think those soft skills are useful in the workplace?
Vishen Lakhiani: 100% I just gave you a couple of studies on it. I can go further. If you read the book Happiness Advantage and you read the book Positive Intelligence, all of them cite numerous studies. I’m happy to go into these studies if you want from universities like Yale and Harvard that show that it is the soft skills that truly lead to the success of an entrepreneur or a business.
Bryan Collins: So Mindvalley has a lot of courses by authors and how do you approach turning an author’s idea, and I know you’re an author yourself into a course?
Vishen Lakhiani: To understand that you’ve got to understand the difference between learning and transformation. When you read a book, you’re typically going through a learning process. Learning means your brain is taking on more data, more facts. But the ironic thing about learning is that 24 hours after you put down a book, you will typically forget 80% of what you learned.
Vishen Lakhiani: Now transformation is different. Transformation means an identity shift. It is a permanent shift in your world view that actually makes you a uniquely different person. What Mindvalley seeks to do is we bring in transformational experienced designers who work with an author and take what would simply be data and facts and information and we turn it into a 30-day curriculum that through behavioral modification and other forms of education actually transform the individual over 30 days. For example, a Lifebook program transforms you into an individual that has a crystal clear vision of their life.
Vishen Lakhiani: A WildFit program transforms you into an individual who is acutely conscious about the food they put in their body. A super brain program transforms you into an individual who believes that you are hyper-intelligent and have an incredible memory. So to go from learning to transformation, you’ve got to break apart a program into 30 days, because transformation is a little bit slower and you’ve got to bring in behavioral shifts, you’ve got to bring in practices such as say meditation or mindfulness or hypnotherapy. You’ve got to bring in journaling, self-reflection, critical reflection, group work. It takes a little bit longer, but the good news is, once you transform, you stay at that level. You don’t suddenly become wiser and then lose that wisdom. Because you’re going through a perspective shift that is permanent and irreversible.
Bryan Collins: Is 30 days enough time then? Why not 60 or 90 or longer?
Vishen Lakhiani: It depends on the program. Our program, WildFit, which is designed to basically change your relationship with food and helps people get rid of a lot of the bad behaviours around food and that’s it. It’s one of the most effective programs for health transformation and weight loss. That takes 90 days because that’s a tougher thing to ship. It takes 90 days. However, a speed reading program takes 30 days. And in our speed reading program, we’ve been measuring the reading speed of the students who go through it. Thousands have gone through it already, probably actually 10,000. We’re seeing a 300% increase in reading speed in 30 days. So again, it depends on the program. Changing one’s reading speed is easier than changing one’s relationship with food. Because when it comes to a relationship with food, we are all badly programmed by advertising, by culture and by the marketing that you see when you walk into the average American grocery store.
Bryan Collins: You talked there about several thousand students going through the course. So some people who create online courses struggle with engagement. Students buy the course but don’t necessarily log in or complete the materials. What do you do at Mindvalley to get those kinds of figures?
Vishen Lakhiani: We are currently able to get engagement that is significantly better than traditional online courses. Right now we’re at about five times better, and that’s a conservative estimate. We are aiming to get to 10 times better. Now here’s how we do it. Firstly, every course… So there’s a formula. The first step is this. Every program starts on a specific date. You have to begin on a specific date and you join a class of around a thousand other students. Everyone starts together, goes through every day together and they cross the finishing line together. That’s step one, specific date commitment.
Vishen Lakhiani: Number two, everyone joins in a classroom and people are connected as if they sold shoes on an online group. So the students actually motivate each other. For example, if you’re going through our WildFit health transformation, students share pictures of how their body is changing, they share recipes. Students motivate each other. Now the third thing is microlearning. Rather than invest an hour a day, we ask you to invest 5 to 20 minutes a day and that’s really easy to do. You can do it in the morning. You can do it before going to bed. Anybody can carve out 5 to 20 minutes a day.
Vishen Lakhiani: Now the fourth thing, is the Mindvalley app. It pings you, it reminds you, it ensures that you are reminded to take your 5 to 20-minute lesson every single day. And the fifth thing, it’s really, really, really good storytelling and really great teachers. If you have a boring teacher, people lose interest. But if you have the type of teachers we do, men and women who many of them have written books that have sold tens of millions of copies. These teachers know how to engage an audience, and they know how to make these ideas really sticky.
Bryan Collins: I like that. One of your courses, it actually is a quest, is the six phases of meditation quest, and I understand it’s based on an idea inside of your book. Could you talk a little bit about what the quest involves?
Vishen Lakhiani: Sure. Yeah. So The 6 Phase Meditation is an eight-day quest. It’s actually available in the Mindvalley app. And The 6 Phase Meditation is basically redesigning meditation concepts based on modern science and designing it for the western world. The problem in the West right now and the reason why so many people start meditation but do not continue is that the styles of meditation often espoused in the United States come from Eastern practices that are more suitable for a lifestyle honestly, in a village in India. Where you don’t have a career, you don’t have WhatsApp, you don’t have projects to work on. You can afford to spend an hour to two hours a day sitting under a tree meditating. Try doing that in modern America.
Vishen Lakhiani: So what we do in The 6 Phase is, we look at the science of meditation and we create six unique exercises that are stacked together that create the most transformative impact on your mind and your body and your soul in 20 to 25 minutes a day. Now, The 6 Phase has gotten so effective that a lot of American celebrities have come out on their own in the press saying that they use it. One year ago, Billboard Magazine interviewed Miguel, the RNB pop star because he apparently meditates before going on stage. And then they asked him, “What meditation style do you use?” He said The 6 Phase Meditation by Vishen Lakhiani. Likewise, just last month, NFL Hall of Famer, Tony Gonzales in another interview just casually mentioned that one of the ways he got so good on the field is through The 6 Phase Meditation. So a lot of celebrities have been endorsing it and it’s been blowing up like crazy.
Bryan Collins: That’s something you talk about I think in your book, they call it Extraordinary Minds. And I know you have another book coming out shortly. So I’m just wondering, how do you balance finding time for writing books like these with building up Mindvalley?
Vishen Lakhiani: Well, I use the tools of Mindvalley to manage my time. For example, one of the programs that we have in Mindvalley is the program on Flow by Steven Kotler. He’s the grandmaster of Flow. And Flow is basically being able to put yourself in these hyper-productive states so you do better at work and at life. So I take our own programs, I learn to get into these Flow states. I learn to manage overwhelm through mindfulness and meditation programs. And this allows me to be hyper-productive at what I do. So I can run a company of 300 people, I can create my online programs, I can create festivals around the world. I’m currently simultaneously writing three different books. But I’m able to juggle it because I practice what I preach. I go through Mindvalley programs and I learn how to be hyper-creative, how to be in flow, and how to deal with complexity in an elegant way without breaking down.
Bryan Collins: You’re writing three books at once? It sounds like you’re quite advanced with your strategies for productivity and entering the state of flow. Could you give some tips for somebody who’s maybe not quite as far along in their journey as you are and how they can increase their productivity?
Vishen Lakhiani: Well, the first thing to understand is it doesn’t take a lot of time. What it takes are the right practices to be able to do it diligently. So for example, I’m super conscious about what I eat. Today we know that food is medicine. And the right food actually magnifies your cognitive ability, it increases your energy, it causes you to stay in shape, it increases your focus and it actually shifts your emotional states. People don’t understand that about food. People still buy into that bullshit calorie in, calorie out philosophy, and they think that foods only impact is on your weight. So when you understand that you can actually change your thinking, your creativity, your emotional states with the foods you eat, you gain a superpower. So that’s one. Being super conscious about what you eat.
Vishen Lakhiani: Number two, being super conscious about how you exercise. I spend only 45 minutes a week in exercise, but I am incredibly healthy and ripped and scored very well on a lot of different health markers. That’s because the style of exercise I do is scientifically studied and hyper optimal. For example high-intensity interval training, as well as super slow strength training. These are exercise modalities that have proven to give you the best results in the least amount of time. So I’m really conscious about my exercise routines.
Vishen Lakhiani: Now, the third thing is meditation. I don’t do regular meditation, I meditate for between 10 to 30 minutes a day, and I use The 6 Phase Meditation. And so I get the incredible benefits of The 6 Phase in very little time. Those three things itself, food, exercise, meditation allow me to function at my peak. And when I put all of those together, it’s maybe at its most, half an hour to 35 minutes a day.
Bryan Collins: I agree with you with meditation and food, and I’m definitely interested in how you combine exercise into 45 minutes. So perhaps that’s something I’ll look at in one of the courses. Well, what about setting goals for 90 days or 180 days or 365 days. Like if you’re working on three books and building up a business…
Vishen Lakhiani: So firstly, modern Western goal setting is a crock of shit. I’m sorry, I’m, maybe I’m not supposed to say that in an interview. But the reason why so much goal-setting… Alison, feel free to tell me, “Vishen, you can’t say that”, if I say something inappropriate. But the reason why modern goal setting doesn’t often work is that we set goals not based on what truly matters to us, but we often set goals based on what society trains us to believe is normal, is right and it’s respectful. So many people set goals to become, to get into a career or to get a certain amount of money only to attain that goal and realise that they’re miserable. So the Mindvalley approach to goal setting actually comes from Lifebook.
Vishen Lakhiani: Lifebook was a company in Chicago that we currently licensed its methodology. And Lifebook looks at goal setting from 12 different dimensions of being. And they make you look at goals that come from within. So not what your parents or your society or your school teachers or your fathers or your mothers or your preacher say you need to do and be and have, but what your soul, your intuition, your inner voice tells you you need to do to be and to have.
Vishen Lakhiani: And this creates a much healthier way of approaching goals. So when you take Lifebook, what happens is you end up with an almost a hundred-page book with a vision for your entire life in 12 categories. If I were to show you my 100-page book, you will see how exquisite, clear and specific it is. I have deliberate goals for how I show up as a father, how I show up as a man, how I treat my body, how I run my company, how I start my morning, how many books I want to accomplish and release and by when. And so when you have that level of clarity in your life, you cannot help but be productive towards that outcome. So again, the clarity is one thing, but the second thing that Lifebook makes you do is to put in place the right strategies to get there. And now it’s just a question of waking up every day excited about your future and doing the things that you determine you are going to do to get there. It’s a vision plus strategy.
Bryan Collins: And do you track those with metrics?
Vishen Lakhiani: Yes, absolutely. So one of the things you do is you would take a three-year goal and you would break it down into one year, one quarter and weekly. So for example, I know that my goal is to get 10 New York Times bestsellers, and to sell 50 million books by the year 2049. So I’ve broken that down. That’s a really longterm goal. It’s a 20, 30 year goal. I’ve broken that down into how many books I have to release every few years and how successful each book needs to be. And I further break that down into how I invest in my knowledge and training as a writer.
Bryan Collins: I like that. That could be taking courses or improving marketing skills and so on. I’m just curious then, one last question, what’s your ideal early morning routine these days?
Vishen Lakhiani: My ideal early morning routine is I wake up in the morning, I do The 6 Phase Meditation, I then would exercise depending on the day I have a different type of exercise. What I love most is super slow strength training. It’s starting to get really popular and it’s an exercise model that creates maximum strength increase in as little time as possible, and it really keeps you young. Now the third thing I do is I look at breakfast and I either have breakfast with my kids or I have a shake just by myself, or I practice fasting, which means no breakfast. The next thing I do is I listen to a Mindvalley program or I listen to a podcast often as I’m driving to work. So I continue my self-education during my commute. And the fifth thing that I do is I write or I journal. So when I put all of these together, that becomes my morning routine.
Bryan Collins: It sounds like you’re living the principles that you talked about there earlier. I know people can find Mindvalley on mindvalley.com, but where would you recommend they start?
Vishen Lakhiani: So the best way to start, what I think might be a really good way is to actually follow me on Instagram. I kind of act as a tour guide and give people a full view of everything in the Mindvalley ecosystem. And my Instagram is simply @vishen.
Bryan Collins: Okay. And what about your new book Vishen, when is that out?
Vishen Lakhiani: The book is out May 2020. The title for the book is The Buddha and the Badass.
Bryan Collins: Oh wow. That’s a great title. Okay, so people should follow you on Instagram to find out about the book as well.
Vishen Lakhiani: Yeah, just @vishen.
Bryan Collins: Okay. Well it was great to talk to you today, Vishen.
Vishen Lakhiani: Thank you.
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