Imagine arriving in the US at the age of 14, alone, with your entire family on the other side of the world, working incredibly hard to live up the expectations of your family, to succeed at the highest levels, and doing exactly that. Excelling in school, landing a high-profile job in New York City, then realizing, this was never truly your path. Then, making a decision to blow it all up in the name of blazing your own path. Then, succeeding on an entirely different level, but in a more heart and mission-centric way.
My guest today, Yunha Kim, has navigated many ups and downs since arriving in America alone as a 14-year-old immigrant. She worked hard to land a job in investment banking in New York, making great money, having a big-name job, and a great apartment. All the trappings of success. Still, there was something missing. She felt increasingly called to do her own thing and to the surprise of many, left what seemed to be a dream job to found her own business, and spend years living and working with 5 other roommates who were also workmates to build her first business.
It was an amazing experience, but it also taught her that owning her own business wasn’t enough, it also had to be in service of something bigger. So, when she exited that first company, she immediately set to work building a popular meditation app, Simple Habit. It was helping millions of people find peace. But along the way, her own chronic insomnia started to take its toll. No amount of ambition could outrun her constant exhaustion. Restful sleep felt out of reach.
Until one day, when everything changed. After being waitlisted for 6 months at a Stanford sleep clinic, Yunha knew there just had to be a better way. That’s when she stumbled upon the power of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, also known as CBTi. The results were nothing short of life-changing. She was able to improve her sleep dramatically in just a few weeks. At the same time, she realized that, while only 10% of the content on Simple Habits was sleep-related, it accounted for 70% of engagement. She realized how big this problem was, and set out to solve it.
Partnering with researchers, and acclaimed labs and developers, she launched a new endeavor, Sleep Reset, to help people find a way back to sleep without medication. The results were astounding. And, seeing how her products helped people reduce stress and sleep better that sparked Yunha’s deeper sense of purpose. The startup journey became about more than just VC funding or a flashy exit. It was about changing people’s lives.
In today’s episode, Yunha shares how she reinvented herself and uncovered her motivational superpower along the way. We’ll hear how she dealt with a viral TV drama after her appearance on Shark Tank, made the leap from employee to founder, and evolved from building tech products to truly changing lives.
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Yunha Kim (00:00:00) – That deeper sense of purpose is what keeps you in the game when things are super hard because like, entrepreneurial journey is like up and down, right? There are times where you love your job. There are times where you hate your job, right? But if I have that strong mission behind it, like I know that my time is being spent on the right things by helping people with their sleep at scale, it like keeps me going and keeps me motivated. It’s so rewarding. It’s a cool job.
Jonathan Fields (00:00:31) – So imagine arriving in the US at the age of 14 alone without your entire family who was on the other side of the world working incredibly hard to live up to the expectations, to succeed at the highest levels, and then doing exactly that, excelling in school, landing a high profile job, then realizing this was never truly your path, and then making a big decision to pretty much blow it all up in the name of blazing your own path. And then succeeding on an entirely different level. Well, my guest today, Unichem, has navigated many ups and downs since arriving in America alone.
Jonathan Fields (00:01:09) – As a 14 year old immigrant, she worked hard to land a job in investment banking in New York, making great money, having a big name job and a great apartment, all the trappings of success. And still there was something missing. She felt increasingly called to do her own thing, and to the surprise of many, left what seemed to be a dream job to found her own business and spent years living and working with five other roommates who were also her workmates in a small apartment to build their first business. It was an amazing experience, but it also taught her that owning her own business, it just wasn’t enough. It had to be in service of something bigger. So when she exited that first company, she immediately set to work building a popular meditation app. Simple habit that was really about helping people find peace. But along the way, her own chronic insomnia. It really started to take its toll. No amount of ambition could outrun her constant exhaustion in restful sleep. It just felt entirely out of reach until one day everything changed.
Jonathan Fields (00:02:10) – After being waitlisted for six months to try and get into a lab for a sleep clinic knew that just had to be a better way. She had tried every option and every medication and it just wasn’t helping. And that’s when she stumbled upon the power of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia known as CBT. The results were nothing short of life changing. She was able to improve her sleep dramatically in just a few weeks, and at the same time, she realized that while only 10% of the content on the Simple Habits app was related to sleep, it accounted for 70% of the engagement. And she realized how big this problem was and set out to solve it. Partnering with researchers and claim labs and developers, she launched a new endeavor Sleep Reset, to really help people find a way back to sleep without medication. And the results were equally astounding. And seeing how her product was helping people reduce stress and sleep better, it sparked a deeper sense of purpose in the startup journey transformed. It became about really more than founding a company or justifying VC funding or a flashy exit.
Jonathan Fields (00:03:22) – It was about changing people’s lives. In today’s episode, Yuna shares how she reinvented herself many times over and uncovered a certain motivational superpower along the way. And we hear how she dealt with this viral TV drama after an appearance on Shark Tank and made the leap from employee to founder and evolved from building tech products to truly changing lives. So excited to share this conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project. You such an interesting journey from what I understand. You come here alone at the age of 14 and end up in boarding school in Portland. And that alone I’m so curious about because to make a decision to do that is one thing, folks in South Korea. So I’m curious about the decision behind that.
Yunha Kim (00:04:18) – I think it’s like, what is that? Is there a saying like this where like not knowing is the bravery kind of like naivete is a bravery? I feel like that’s a theme in my life where I had no idea like what I was like diving into, but it sounded cool, like, oh, boarding school, Sure, sign me up.
Yunha Kim (00:04:34) – And I did that. And it was a big change in my life. I think it happened because my parents, they studied in the States. They did like grad school here. So it wasn’t like a foreign idea to them. And they suggested it because like a lot of my friends back then from my middle school, I went to a private school in Korea. A lot of them are doing that too. So they’re like, Do you want to do that too? And I was like, Sure. And so that’s how it ended up being.
Jonathan Fields (00:05:00) – What’s it like when you first arrive? Do you have a recollection of those first moments or those first days and and how you felt?
Yunha Kim (00:05:08) – Scary. Very scary, because I didn’t really understand what people were saying. And so, like, I used to be an extrovert back in Korea. And this extrovert is like now here you cannot talk about like, you can’t say, express your feelings. You want to connect with people, but you have no idea what they’re saying.
Yunha Kim (00:05:25) – And sometimes when they when they like laugh, you’re like, Are they laughing at me? You know how like you end up thinking that quite often? And then people would like use all these slangs that I don’t know. And I would feel embarrassed that like, don’t really I can’t follow with them. So I just felt like I was like tiptoeing all the time for a while. And then I remember because initially my parents came, you know, when I was 14, like they came here to drop me off. And then like I was saying goodbye to them, I was crying. It was so sad.
Jonathan Fields (00:05:54) – Do you have a sense for what made you start to feel more comfortable?
Yunha Kim (00:05:58) – My first year I had a boyfriend that helped.
Jonathan Fields (00:06:02) – Always bridge the gap.
Yunha Kim (00:06:03) – Right? Yes. And a boyfriend. And that was like not a possibility thing. Like in Korea. I was like, too young. Right? And then, like, now I didn’t have my parents looking at me asking. They found out later and they were like, You need to come back to Korea.
Yunha Kim (00:06:17) – And so that happened. But that was helpful. And also I had a roommate who came from China and her English was even worse than mine. So like we could not communicate, but like at least made it feel like it was like a norm.
Jonathan Fields (00:06:30) – Right? You weren’t alone in the experience.
Yunha Kim (00:06:33) – Yeah. She ends up becoming like, one of my best friends. She ended up investing in my first company that I started, actually. Yeah, but even in my college or high school. So senior year of my high school, when I got into Duke for I did early decision like, you know, the early stuff. And I think some people at my school knew that happened. So I was like walking down the aisle and someone said, Go Blue Devils or something like that. And I had no idea what that was and I had no idea what he was saying. It only clicked after many years later when I was at Duke, like kind of like a flashback of like, Oh, that’s what he meant, because my English wasn’t good even until then, even until college.
Jonathan Fields (00:07:16) – And the other thing is that you’re away from family. I mean, family is literally on the other side of the world, which is really tough. Even if you’re in an environment like a boarding school where like you have built in community, if you feel like you’re in some ways different or it’s not easy to communicate with that community, it doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re a part of that community sometimes. Like you can feel like you’re surrounded by people, but you’re still on the outside.
Yunha Kim (00:07:38) – Yeah, it’s interesting that you can understand that.
Jonathan Fields (00:07:41) – Yeah, sometimes you get an experience like that and through the experience like. But I think a lot of people also have felt their version of being surrounded by people that in theory should be their peers and should be their community, but it just doesn’t feel like they’re a part of it. So for different ways and different circumstances. So you do end up you end up in Duke studying economics, Chinese first job out. From what I understand, you drop into New York City, into the world of investment banking, having lived my entire adult life until fairly recently in New York City and having a lot of friends who made the same decision.
Jonathan Fields (00:08:13) – I know that life and the life of being like a first year analyst investment banking in New York City on the outside, like when you’re coming out of college sounds really awesome. Like great salary, prestige, awesome business card. You can afford a sweet apartment, but tell me what the actual lived experience was like for you.
Yunha Kim (00:08:30) – All the things that you’re saying is what was like, Oh so cool. Like they fly me into like a five star hotel, like that kind of stuff. I actually think it was a great training ground for me. It like really helped me understand or like it teaches you work ethic. So I remember going to work at like, I don’t know, 8 or 9 a.m. you’re done at like 2 a.m. Sometimes you have to do later. And like on the weekends you have this BlackBerry that’s like things all the time. And so on the weekends, like I was getting a massage and like, ding. And, you know, as a first year, like now to think about it, you could just be like, I’m just not going to respond for a while.
Yunha Kim (00:09:05) – But before it was like the first year analyst Like, you have to respond within ten minutes. So I like stopped the massage to like respond like I did that quite a few times. And but so of all the things like what got me to get out of it was not really the work part, like how long it was and all that. I don’t think I just understood or felt connected to the work and the impact that was having. I was in the health care group. And so I like health care a lot. Like, I think it’s such a good industry like meaningful one, but I just didn’t feel the connection between the spreadsheet work that I was doing with like saving lives. So I was like, If I’m going to work this hard, I might as well like want to see the impact in people’s lives. So I even thought about applying to med school.
Jonathan Fields (00:09:49) – Oh, wow.
Yunha Kim (00:09:49) – Yeah. So actually, like filled out my application and I realized, Oh, I need to do people call post back to get all these the prereqs.
Yunha Kim (00:09:57) – Yeah. So then I was like applying for that and then that’s when the idea for my first company came out. Yeah.
Jonathan Fields (00:10:03) – So when you land this plum job, right, and this is what you’ve worked so hard for, you’re doing really well and you’re in New York City, and then you start to realize more and more, this really just doesn’t fit with who I am and like the way that I want to be. And you start to think about like, well, maybe I’m going to leave. Did you think about leaving to start your own thing as the only option, or were you thinking, Well, maybe I should try a different investment bank or something else? Because, you know, to a certain extent, you arrive here at 14 and you’re sort of like heads down, working really hard, building towards an aspiration, and you sort of you land the dream job, right? And then you’re in the dream job and then all of a sudden you’re like, This is not okay for me.
Jonathan Fields (00:10:49) – I would imagine that there were stories and scripts playing in your head that were saying, But I still have to stick this out because this is just what I do. Hmm. Or is that not true at all?
Yunha Kim (00:11:01) – My parents were like, Don’t you need to stay there for a couple of years? Like they ask that. But like, every day I was going to work, I was dreading it. And so the thing is, I had another data point before, which was so the summer before I worked at McKinsey as an intern management consulting. I loved it. I loved every minute of it. And the work hours were like really bad too, because we’re on this project. And I was like always going home at 1 a.m. but like, I had so much fun. It was like, it’s like a team work. So I think what I learned about myself is like, I like working in a team. Whereas I’m thinking like, at least in that short experience that I had, it wasn’t like a teamwork.
Yunha Kim (00:11:39) – So I think I knew like, this is not what I wanted. And it was like, I need to switch.
Jonathan Fields (00:11:44) – Yeah. It’s interesting that you also said that part of what was going on is you wanted to feel more of a direct connection to the impact that you were having. Yeah, And I feel like that’s one of the things that you hear a lot of people who leave to found their own business say, because I feel like it allows you to create a circumstance where you feel that. Tell me more about like what that need was in you and what was that driving you to just feel that level of impact that was not disconnected by ten spreadsheets and a whole bunch of intermediaries?
Yunha Kim (00:12:15) – I’m like thinking because it was like ten years ago. Yeah, I remember thinking, my time is so precious. I love giving it all, but if I’m going to work this hard, I might as well like, go be a doctor or something so I can save people’s lives. It was like the return of my time that’s invested.
Yunha Kim (00:12:33) – I just didn’t get the feedback of my work. And actually I initially thought that if I could create something and I get the feedback, that’s enough. And that’s why I started my first company and I learned through the first company, though that’s not enough. I need to get feedback of like this product’s impact in people’s lives. So I’ve come kind of far, far along actually, like in that realization. But it was like little threads of breadcrumbs that got me to realize today that I need to do things that’s going to actually have positive impact on people’s like daily life. But at that time it was more like, I need to see feedback loop.
Jonathan Fields (00:13:11) – Yeah, I mean, so you end up leaving in 2013, I think you quit and you start a company called Locket, which is sort of a different approach to lock screens on devices back then, which was a very different world a decade ago. So when you go from living the life of an investment banker to living life of a startup founder, I would imagine you had to make a whole bunch of very quick and pretty deep sacrifices.
Yunha Kim (00:13:34) – Totally moved out of my cushy apartment, sad, and then moved in with like five other guys into a two bedroom apartment. And then we had bunk beds in the bedrooms and then we worked in the living room. You know, I was like eating sushi, like that was paid by my company. And like, all of a sudden we had to remember, like, specifically. Remember this because it was like an initiative that we had. We raised money from my friends and to like as a seed round. So I felt super responsible for the way we spend this money. And the company, quote unquote, the small company was paying for like everyone’s like meals and things like that. So we had an initiative where we were trying to get each meal to cost less than $2. So on the weekends we would go to Costco and like buy hot dogs and all these, like, really gross like, unhealthy stuff that we can just microwave so we don’t have to spend time making them. And so that’s a very good example of how how life changed.
Yunha Kim (00:14:39) – Yeah.
Jonathan Fields (00:14:39) – So the people your five roommates then were these also the people who you were working with were like, it was. So you’re basically living and breathing and working 24 seven with all the same people?
Yunha Kim (00:14:48) – Yes. I think that the like lack of what is called lack of awareness or naivety. Right. Right. Is the bravery.
Jonathan Fields (00:14:55) – And it’s interesting also, you described one of the things that that company taught you is that to a certain extent, you like the startup world, you like building your own thing, but it still wasn’t building an alternative technology around Lakshmi and son phones. It didn’t have a level of purpose or mission. Yeah, that would really impact people’s lives on a deeper level. And it sounds like that experience really taught you that it was important for you to have not just control over the company and the culture and the people, but the impact too.
Yunha Kim (00:15:24) – I didn’t learn that through that company. I learned it through the next company I started because, you know, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t have unless you experience it.
Yunha Kim (00:15:32) – Yeah. As you can see, I had no work life balance because I was like living and breathing, right? And I started being really stressed out and I started meditating and like, that just had a really positive impact on me. So that’s how I start a simple habit. And when I built that thing and people are sending me emails around, this product changed my life. I’ve been struggling with depression and your product saved me, like getting that kind of feedback as a founder, and I’ve never received that before from Lockett. Like that’s when I was like, Oh my God, Like, this is the kind of impact I can have. And that’s when I learned, Oh, like that’s what I missed at my previous company.
Jonathan Fields (00:16:12) – Yeah, there’s something else there. Yeah. Let’s fill in just a little bit of gaps here. You were able to sell Lockett about two years after you started. It took a bit of time and ended up in Stanford, B-school. And then in 2016, I guess it was you founded this company called Simple Habits, which was from the outside looking in.
Jonathan Fields (00:16:34) – Okay. So this is a meditation app, but there were a bunch of other meditation apps on the market back then. What made you look at what was happening and say, there a need that’s not being filled here?
Yunha Kim (00:16:46) – 2016 It was like still early in the meditation market, but there was calm and headspace at that time. I was using headspace. I liked Andy, his voice a lot, but I didn’t like the comms voice. There was only one voice on both of these at that time. And then I started getting just like because I was like into meditation. I was going to these meditation retreats and I started meeting some of the meditation teachers and they were like, You know, I heard that you’re an app developer. Can you help me? Like make another headspace for me? And I just was like, Huh, There’s got to be a platform like Spotify that would allow these meditation teachers to easily distribute their content. So that’s how the idea for Simple Habit came about. I wasn’t like, I’m going to start a company now, like yet another one because I was like, after Lock It, I was like, I am never starting a company again.
Yunha Kim (00:17:34) – That was too stressful. So it was more like a project. And I just like loved meditation activity itself and was like, Oh, meditation teachers need this thing. I know how to build stuff. So I hired an engineering contractor like then designed it a little bit and built it. That’s how it got started.
Jonathan Fields (00:17:53) – Almost like it was in part scratching your own itch, in part listening to the feedback of friends or other teachers who around you saying, Wouldn’t it be cool if this existed? But it doesn’t really exist and we would love it? And you basically saying, I know how to build things and I like building things and this would be kind of cool. Did I get it right that you were was this a Y Combinator company also?
Yunha Kim (00:18:14) – That’s right.
Jonathan Fields (00:18:15) – Yeah. I’m curious about that also. So for those who don’t know Y Combinator, is this some people call it seed accelerator model. And it kind of came out of Silicon Valley where you would apply and you would end up being a cohort of maybe a dozen other founder teams in almost like a bunker working together, you know, but parallel playing, working on your own projects, your own companies.
Jonathan Fields (00:18:37) – But you knew that you were not alone. You had a lot of communal support. You had a little bit of money from them to invest to sort of like get you up and running. Curious what that experience was like for you, because to a certain extent you came out of an experience which was classic startup founder, 24 over seven zero balance, just completely nonstop. Then you realizing that actually isn’t how I want to live and work, but then you kind of go into another experience which largely normalizes that again. So I’m curious how that was.
Yunha Kim (00:19:10) – Yeah. So after, you know, lock it experience, I did have like a year or two off and actually like before I started at Gsb, that’s when I was like, Tinker was so bored, so tinkered around, simple, have an idea. And then when I was at Gsb, I started dating this guy who ended up being my husband. Now, he also went through like, but the thing about Locket is that we started in New York and like, like a mobile startup in 2013, in New York, it was like a new thing.
Yunha Kim (00:19:40) – But like so from the New York consumer founder perspective, the Silicon Valley seemed like a different scene. So when I came here, started dating this like, new guy, and I was like, huh, this I see things like everyone’s talking about. It sounds kind of interesting. I want to know what it is about. So I interviewed at YC and they told me, Hey, if we accept you, like we’ll need you to do this full time, aka you have to drop out of school or Gsb. I was like, Sure, I’ll do that. And that’s how it ended up being. And I am so glad that I went through that experience. It was something different. You only meet once a week though. It’s not like you live and breathe this, but it’s like once a week. But like there’s pressure. There is pressure of like you’re going to demo and like raise money at this time. And everyone else is doing that too. So it’s like this like little community but like structured program.
Yunha Kim (00:20:38) – And it makes it so efficient to raise money. Where with Lockett I had to like pitch people individually. Here I’m just pitching in front of all these people and if they’re interested, they let me know and it’s just like so efficient. So yeah, had a great experience.
Jonathan Fields (00:20:52) – Yeah. Again, for those listening, part of the experience is everyone sort of works over, I think it’s a 12 week window or ten week window and then at the end of it you like everybody basically takes the stage to present to like a room or an audience or a theater filled with potential investors. And this is like demo day, and it’s like, this is kind of make or break, you know, it’s sort of like you get funded and you keep going or you don’t. And this is probably the end of the road for. Yeah. So there’s a huge amount of pressure. Yeah. It doesn’t escape me. The fact that you’re at this point working on an app which becomes simple habits, which is about helping people relieve stress and find stillness and find calm.
Jonathan Fields (00:21:31) – And you’re sort of like back in the cauldron doing the exact opposite.
Yunha Kim (00:21:35) – Yeah, I remember on the stage I went up and I got everyone to meditate. I thought that was pretty cool, getting all these like top investors who are probably stressed out because they’re also competing against themselves too, because they’re trying to look for the hot company and try to get into their rounds and having everyone like meditate, that was awesome. It was like intense. But I think by this time I had this like strong meditation practice and I’ve done a much better job managing stress. I remember going like before going up on the stage, I meditate for such a long time that I was like super calm and it went really well.
Jonathan Fields (00:22:15) – That’s amazing. So you are even though the app wasn’t officially out or anything yet, you had developed your own personal practice around meditation to a point where it really helped you navigate this second pass through. Going through the Founders journey. Yeah, I’m guessing that you don’t remember this at all, but you actually emailed me in 2016.
Jonathan Fields (00:22:36) – No way. You did.
Yunha Kim (00:22:37) – Yeah, 2016 about being on Simple habit.
Jonathan Fields (00:22:41) – About trying out the app. No way. Yeah. It’s funny when I said like, Sorry your name again more recently, I was like, why is that sticking in my head? Yeah. So I just typed your name into my email and I was like, October 2016 you reached out to me. You’re like, Hey, I’ve got this app, simple habit. I love you to try it out. And so it’s funny because we had that point and I’m sure like back then you were just emailing anyone you could to try and suddenly say, We have this awesome thing. It’s on the market because you had emerged from this experience at the end and you’re in building mode the next couple of years. It sounds like you end up going to like taking this out to the market. It becomes a real, you know, a real product. It’s building eventually millions of users around it. What’s happening in your mind as you’re seeing this really start to get traction at a large scale? I mean, how does that affect you? Like, I know it’s nice to see the business growing, but just personally, when you see like I created something from nothing around like a couple of like helping myself and helping these couple of other people who said, wouldn’t this be cool? And now you’re seeing like millions of people are using this thing.
Yunha Kim (00:23:48) – I think it felt like a privilege, privilege to be able to create something that has like positive impact on people’s lives. And like, I just felt like I had a dream job and a dream startup. So there was that piece. But then there’s also this piece of like, whatever I have accomplished is not enough. Like, I got to do more and more and more. It’s like we got to 5 million users, not enough. We got to get to like 10 million, like not enough. So there’s that piece that I’m like struggling with a little bit where it’s like never being satisfied. But at the same time, there was this kind of piece around like, I’m doing a good thing for the world.
Jonathan Fields (00:24:25) – Yeah. So what was the aspiration at that point like once you saw this is a real thing and it’s helping a lot of people because a lot of times, like you have the dream when you’re first starting out, then you’re a couple years in and you’re much better informed and the dream sort of shifts or grows or expands.
Jonathan Fields (00:24:40) – So what does the dream become for you?
Yunha Kim (00:24:42) – The dream and initially was like, I want to build a product that people use and they get like benefit out of it. It becomes like all the way to it needs to be a number one in the market and you need to beat all the competitors and I need to drive all these returns for my investors that believed in me. And a little like that.
Jonathan Fields (00:25:02) – So how does I mean, granted you have a meditation habit at that point. Yeah, but once you start piling not just that level of dream, but that level of pressure on yourself, how does that affect you? Are you still just like, okay with it?
Yunha Kim (00:25:17) – So I had a therapist that I did great, like he helped me so much, like just understanding where is this drive coming from? And I think that helped me understand why there was such a drive. And one of the drive was that I am not enough. Like I need to prove to myself my worth and I need to prove to myself that I can accomplish all these things.
Yunha Kim (00:25:38) – But I realized this thought process that like, I will never be enough. And just accepting that’s what’s happening helped me to just accept myself a little more. Yeah, I think I learned a lot through that journey.
Jonathan Fields (00:25:50) – So once you accept that though, which basically means like I need to disconnect myself worth from the things that I’m making, right? Yeah. What then becomes the primary driver of you continuing to push to grow this thing? Because this is a really big, deep personal awakening. It’s like, wow, there’s this thing that I haven’t realized that’s inside of me. Yeah, that’s been pushing me so, so, so hard for years. Like more and more and more. Bigger, bigger, bigger. And maybe this is actually a personal thing that I need to figure out and really disconnect from the product that I build or the company that I build, which is awesome. But then once you start thinking about that, even if you’re not there yet, something else has to replace the drive.
Jonathan Fields (00:26:35) – If it’s going to keep at that pace and maybe it doesn’t need to keep going at that pace anymore because the thing that pushed you so hard to get to that place gets dismantled.
Yunha Kim (00:26:47) – This being dismantled actually didn’t mean that my drive stopped. Actually. It was like replaced with something else. And something else was like my team members who believed in me, who joined this company. Like, I want to make this their like career break for them. I want this to be the company that, like, they’re going to look at ten years from now and be like, I am so glad that I joined that company. I learned so much. So like those different elements came in. That was one. The other thing was like I started just being appreciative of this job that is so intellectually challenging. And I started thinking of this as a game. Like almost like you’re playing a game where you’re like, I have to strategize. You have to think about like, what’s your next move? So I think that made it more like a positive thing.
Yunha Kim (00:27:35) – But the thing is, like even though you dismantle that, that piece of software, whatever it comes up, it’s a habit, right? So then, you know, I would like be like, Oh, that’s playing in again. So I don’t think it like ever disappeared 100%. It was probably always there. And it’s just just like, how much of that voice do you listen to?
Jonathan Fields (00:27:55) – It’s not like it’s a clean break. Like, Oh, I just realized this. Okay, I’m good. It’s sort of like it’s a year long process. It takes time. So you’re sort of like continuing to grow and your reason why starts to shift. It’s more of a devotion to the employees, to the culture, to just an amazing work experience and to eventually, like the users whose lives you really, genuinely want to change. You have this weird moment in 2018 which has been written about and where you’ve appeared on screen, where you show up on Shark Tank. But behind the scenes between the time that you pitch to be on Shark Tank, if I have this right and the time that it’s actually taped, you have the ability to raise a chunk of money.
Jonathan Fields (00:28:37) – So when you pitch, you need money. By the time you show up, you’re very fortunate, You worked really hard and you have a chunk of money in the bank. And that sets up this really funky dynamic when the show actually happens. So yeah, take me there a bit.
Yunha Kim (00:28:55) – So I was like on the Forbes 30 under 30, like one of those list. And the producer from Shark Tank saw that called me up and said, Hey, do you want to be on the show? And so when I was like, at that time, I don’t have we don’t raise around. So I was like, sure, this is perfect timing. And then we raised because there were like months in between. By the time I was in down in Southern California on the place shooting, we raised quite a bit. And it would be unfair to my existing investors if I gave them a different deal, right? So I had to give the same deal. And, you know, Silicon Valley has a different valuation from the like packaged goods type of products that are often pitched on the show.
Yunha Kim (00:29:38) – So that was the root cause of that dynamic where they were like, your valuation is too high, so.
Jonathan Fields (00:29:44) – You show up and it gets adversarial really quickly. You’re like, I have this awesome app. It’s helping millions of people. Here’s my valuation. And at that point you kind of knew your valuation because you knew what other investors had invested at, right? So and you’re showing up and saying, this is what it is and like, it’s still love to have you on board, but I got to do right by them. And then one of the very high profile sharks kind of goes at you and uses some not very flattering language that may not have been used with other people and other genders that eventually leads another shark to throw a glass of water in his face. Yeah, I don’t know. I do know people that have been on the show and I know like what gets filmed is actually like way more than what actually shows up on TV. So you never know what actually happened in real life versus what gets manufactured by the producers when it actually hits the air.
Jonathan Fields (00:30:37) – But I’m curious for you, just like standing there showing up, thinking yourself, what an amazing opportunity. Like I genuinely and creating something that’s that’s helping my team build better lives and giving them an amazing experience and making a difference in millions of people. And then to have this really bizarre experience happen and you’re standing there watching it all go down, like, what was it like for you?
Yunha Kim (00:31:01) – I was just so shocked. I was never called that word before in my life. I remember just being stunned and like what just happened. And I was just like digesting that. And then this water thing happened. So on the show. When you watch it, it seems like they’re asking one question at a time. But when you’re on the like on the stage, actually, people all like five sharks all asked questions at the same time. So you have to pick and choose which questions to answer. And I was answering someone else’s question. And when the water was drawn and the next thing I see, he’s wet.
Yunha Kim (00:31:35) – So it was just like a lot to take in. But thankfully I meditated a lot before being on the on it. So think I like reacted pretty calmly actually but they did edit things so like think it was an earlier or later in the segment where like I started talking about the purpose behind this product. And actually that week or that month my grandma had like was diagnosed with cancer and a lot of cancer patients were using our product. So as I was talking about people with cancer, I started like kind of like, what’s it called curing? And they use that image with like it made it seem like I was like crying because I was cold, that word almost. But anyways, um, it was a good experience. Interesting experience, I would say.
Jonathan Fields (00:32:19) – Yeah. It’s a little strange to hear you say it was a good experience.
Yunha Kim (00:32:23) – It was good experience for the business, I would say, right?
Jonathan Fields (00:32:26) – Because there’s, I mean, there’s exposure that goes along with it no matter what happens on screen.
Jonathan Fields (00:32:30) – And as many people know, like segments get rerun, especially very high profile ones, which this ends up being in no small part because of what went down. So it’s like kind of this mixed blessing type of thing, right? It’s like a strange, bizarre experience for you personally, but then professionally, because so many people actually start sharing it around and it gets re-aired a number of times, it gives the business a lot of exposure. So at this point, are you able to just sort of brush off experiences like that? Like at that moment? I mean, after you’ve been through a number of cycles of entrepreneurship, weird things tend to happen all the time and bizarre things and challenging things and stressful things like, was this just another thing like that for you or did this affect you more?
Yunha Kim (00:33:16) – Hmm. It’s interesting because what would impact me more is the employee stuff that would like, you know, there are times where it’s like, let someone go. Like those will be harder than this, actually, because I have a personal connection with people, right? Whereas this one, it’s like just a stranger calling me something.
Yunha Kim (00:33:32) – And surprisingly, because that that clip got like everywhere. And some people like, right. Negative stuff like that actually didn’t impact me either. Like, they don’t know much about me. The segment looks this way, but what I do remember feeling like. So for a while I didn’t go on like live shows, even podcasts like this actually, because I needed a break. So I only did like interviews that are written, actually.
Jonathan Fields (00:33:57) – Yeah, right, right. Understandably. So you sort of step back from there and you’re continuing to keep on keeping on. The app is growing. It’s serving a lot of people. We hit March of this year, 2023, right? From what I know, at that point, you’ve got millions of users and then somewhere around, I think 90,000 active users. And you make an interesting decision, which is not surprising because you took money to help start the company. And part of that, whenever you take other people’s money, like part of the expectation is at some point there’s going to be an exit, you’re going to sell or there’ll be some sort of acquisition.
Jonathan Fields (00:34:34) – So earlier this year that happens with simple habits like the company actually you’re able to transition it to a company called Engineer, but you have this exit. It’s kind of a partial exit where they sort of like take a chunk of it. But it’s also this thing where you pivot to the next thing, but the next thing isn’t entirely disconnected from the company you had just built. It’s sort of like based on a realization that you had about how and why people were using simple habits for years.
Yunha Kim (00:35:02) – Yeah. So one thing that we learned from meditation app simple habit, is that number one reason why they were using our customers were using our app was because of insomnia and sleep issues. And so I was interviewing a lot of our customers like, why are you using this product? And a lot of them are like, Well, I use melatonin or sleeping pills like like Ambien or Trazodone, and I really don’t want the grogginess. There’s like nothing else that I can do. So we were looking at, okay, how can we help people better with sleep? Like, how can we help people with the root cause of their sleep issues so that they’re not just doing a Band-Aid solution to their insomnia and sleep issues and then 2020 hits And luckily and unluckily, I started having insomnia.
Yunha Kim (00:35:48) – I went through this whole experience again that I only heard about melatonin pills. You wake up super groggy, so tired and you just feel so stupid throughout the day. And then I was like, I cannot live like this anymore. So I signed up for Stanford. Sleep Clinic was waitlisted for six months, and if you have insomnia for even one night, like your day sucks, six months is like a death sentence. So that’s when I learned, wow, access to care for a problem that 2,030% of Americans have. Care does not exist. So we started working with some of the doctors at the Stanford Sleep Clinic and some of the other hospitals digitize what they do at the clinic and created this thing, which at that point was upselling. We’re going to offer this to simple habit customers because they have issues with sleep that ended up being like a separate product because we ended up doing some research realizing that the market for sleep is bigger. So it ended up being what’s called sleep reset. And by the time we built the like Alpha version, I was still on the waitlist at the clinic.
Yunha Kim (00:36:53) – So actually use sleep reset and it eradicated my insomnia in just a few weeks. And that’s when I realized, Oh my God, we’re on to something really big. I had this such a strong conviction about this product. And so then we started I ended up actually telling the entire team, you know what? Starting today, everyone’s working on sleep reset now. And like, so we were just maintaining simple habits. So I felt like we’re not giving simple habit the love that it deserves. At the same time, we have to focus. So we’re focused on sleep reset. And we did this study. So a team of doctors did a study on it which showed that it increases somebody’s sleep time by 85 minutes, which is something that you’ve like basically unheard of. Even Ambien increases your sleep time by 30 minutes. And melatonin does not increase your sleep time. It only changes the onset of your sleep. So this product is so efficacious, it reduces time to fall asleep or time awake in bed by half half.
Yunha Kim (00:37:49) – So that’s when I was like, you know what? We need to get this in the hands of way more people because they are right now on sleeping pills unhappy with the side effects and grogginess of it. So that’s how it came about. So I had to make a very hard decision, which is like, I love simple habit. It’s like a dream company, but at the same time, sleep reset is awesome. And in fact, I think that the problem that we’re solving is the same How can we improve people’s quality of life? And one is by helping people reduce stress and anxiety. The other way is by helping people with sleep issues, which I think is fundamental to one’s well-being and mental health. So that’s how it came about.
Jonathan Fields (00:38:28) – I love the way that you came to it. You know, it’s interesting. I’m a long time meditator also, and I’ve used a whole bunch of different apps and one that I’ve used for many years, which has a lot of different people and a lot of different types.
Jonathan Fields (00:38:37) – And I realized one day that you can sort for the type of meditation and then you could also sort for the most popular. So I was like, Oh, let me check this out. Like, what’s the most popular? And so I hit the button and I’m like, Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep. And I was like, wow. So the vast majority of people are using this not just for daily meditation or stress relief or for work. They’re using it. For sleep. And that was a huge light bulb moment that was, I think, similar to what you were saying. It must have been interesting for you, though, because you also had data from the inside of like how people were using simple habits for years. And I would imagine that data showed that of all the different content on there, probably the vast majority of people, even of that app, were using probably sleep related meditations. And that must have been another signal for you.
Yunha Kim (00:39:25) – Actually, that’s what got us to start talking to customers, start talking to doctors, because less than 10% of our content library was for sleep, but it represented over 70% of engagement.
Jonathan Fields (00:39:38) – That’s huge.
Yunha Kim (00:39:39) – Yeah. So we knew there was something about sleep that we need to do. And then as we were interviewing customers, we realized there’s no access to like care that all these clinicians talk about all the time as the most efficacious thing. CBT. So there was that disconnect in what’s what’s available for consumers today and what clinicians and doctors agree on.
Jonathan Fields (00:40:05) – So one of the reasons why Americans I think in particular we love a quick fix. You know, we’re always kind of like, give me the button, give me like the pill, give me like whatever it is that’s just going to fix it. And I’m happy to keep taking the quick fix for life if you tell me that it actually fixes a problem. So when you come out with an app that basically says, I’m actually not going to give you that, I’m going to give you something that actually is going to require you to invest like a minimum in about like eight weeks of behavior change. You know, like you said, CBT is built into it being short for cognitive behavioral therapy coaching, and there is no pill that you’re getting in the mail.
Jonathan Fields (00:40:48) – There are no meds attached to this. There’s no magic bullet here. That’s a really bold thing because you’re asking people to basically say no to a whole bunch of things that are already on the market, promising effectively the same outcome as you. But you’re saying I want you to actually exert a lot more effort to get what is being marketed as similar results from a business standpoint. I would imagine that’s not an easy sell, but it sounds like maybe what you’ve built is actually working so well that it’s converting people to become not just customers, but evangelists.
Yunha Kim (00:41:27) – Yeah, you have to believe that the market of people out there who have tried quick fixes and they didn’t work and they want something different, like you have to have the hypothesis that that market size is big. And I do. And I actually talked to them every day. These are people who have done sleeping pills and they’re either worried about getting Alzheimer’s because there’s research around how sleeping pills can increase your risk of that. The other thing is that the a lot of these pills impact your ability to have stage and sleep, which is what you need in order to feel like well-rested in the morning.
Yunha Kim (00:42:02) – Which is why oftentimes when you use these pills, you feel like groggy and a little hungover and you still feel like you’re not yourself. These are the types of people that are willing to do something like this because they know that the quick fixes don’t work for them.
Jonathan Fields (00:42:17) – Yeah. When you make this shift, is it the same basic team that you had for simple habits? Yeah. So you go into them. Imagine it’s not one day. It’s like a series of conversations that says basically we’ve all been working so hard to build this one thing and now we’re kind of doing something. It’s related, but something entirely different. As a founder, I’m always curious about those moments. What was that like?
Yunha Kim (00:42:44) – Terrifying, especially because we were in a market where good talent is scarce, right? It’s a fight for talent. And these people joined this company thinking they’re working on a meditation app now they’re working on a sleep program. So it was terrifying. I was like, Oh my God, what if they all quit? But I am so grateful to my team.
Yunha Kim (00:43:07) – So like my first engineer that hired at Simple Habit, the second engineer that hired that simple habit, they’re all still asleep. Reset today after many years now and think it’s the relationships that I built with them. I appreciate that they trusted me as a leader, but also I think they were part of the journey too. It’s not like one. Like there was a curtain where I went back and was like, You know what? I’m going to do this thing. It wasn’t like that. It was like everyone had access to the same data, right? The data that there was something about sleep. Everyone had access to the interviews where we were talking to customers with insomnia who are not having enough solutions or the right solutions. And they were also part of this Alpha program, and they saw firsthand the testimonials from customers who are like, I’ve been on pills for a decade now. I’m able to get off of pills because of this program. So they all see it. Two. So in retrospect, it was not a hard journey at all.
Yunha Kim (00:44:05) – But when I thought, Oh, am I going to lose all of these people that love that I trust? So yeah.
Jonathan Fields (00:44:12) – Hindsight is always like like, of course, that was like obvious it would happen this way, but in the moment you’re like, This is terrifying. I have no idea. Everyone could walk out the door. This isn’t what they signed up for. So when you think about what you’re building now with sleep reset, circling back to the early part of a conversation where like that first company lock it, you’re like, This is cool. I work hard. I like to work hard. I have like more control. But it was really starting simple habits that made you realize that I need to actually be able to see that I’m having a tangible impact on people’s lives. It seems like that thing for you has become this consistent through line. Like it can never just be about starting a company or making a profit or having like a nice exit for my investors. There’s got to be a deeper sense of purpose.
Yunha Kim (00:45:01) – Yeah, that deep purpose is deeper. Sense of purpose is what keeps you in the game when things are super hard because like, entrepreneurial journey is like up and down, right? There are times where you love your job. There are times where you hate your job, right? But if I have that strong mission behind it, like I know that my time is being spent on the right things, it like keeps me going and keeps me motivated. And you just get it’s so rewarding when I hear from customers who are like, This program changed my life. Like I’m now able to sleep better and I’m able to be a better mom, better coworker to my other coworkers. Yeah, it’s really nice and I think kind of comes full circle because I always told people like if people ask like, Oh, what do you want to be like? If you could be born again and like do a different career, I would. I always said like, I want to be a doctor. That wasn’t an option for me because I didn’t go to like I didn’t take biology classes and like all these stuff, right? Like full circle back to like when I was thinking about going to med school back in banking times.
Yunha Kim (00:46:03) – But I feel like I have also like, not that I’m a doctor, but almost have an impact of what a doctor would do by helping people with their sleep, but at scale. So it’s a cool job.
Jonathan Fields (00:46:16) – And kind of a fun way. Also, the different things that you’ve created are also helping solve the problems that so many entrepreneurs deal with on a regular basis, You know? So it’s sort of like you continue to scratch your own. It’s while also creating a culture for other people while having a bigger impact on the customers. And I think when you as a founder can sort of align those things, right, the possibility for magic increases like there’s no universal solution, like this is how you build a great company that’s super profitable and like a really happy and healthy and all these things. But when you’re doing something that’s genuinely like personal to you, when you can create something where you’re supporting the people that you’re working with, like feel supported and engaged also, and it’s making an impact in a way that you really care about.
Jonathan Fields (00:47:08) – The stores tend to align much more readily. At least I found that. And like you said, it’s really hard no matter what. So you might as well work on that level of purpose if you can. Yeah, it feels like a good place to come. Full circle in our conversation as well. So in this container of Good Life project, if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?
Yunha Kim (00:47:32) – I actually asked this question to myself a lot in my therapy session, like, and everyone’s good, life is different. But for me, I have this like ingredients that I look at for ingredients. One is like health, and then the other one is relationships. Relations with my husband, with my family, my friends. The other one is meaningful work and last one is very personal, but relationship with God and the last one I struggled with because was like, Does God exist? Does a creator exist? Like and that’s been like a kind of exploration of mine, like why are we all here on earth? But anyways, these four so always like, look at these four ingredients, like four kind of sections and I put in green, yellow, red like health, green, yellow, red.
Yunha Kim (00:48:19) – I’m green relationship, green, yellow, red. There are times where I was like not talking to any friends because I’m so busy. There were times I was like not talking to my family. So it was like red. And I tried to make a green by like, you know, having that connection. Meaningful work has been recent years that’s been always green for me. And then this relationship with God part was like has been red for a while. And I’m trying to be like, okay, like I’m, you know, doing more there. But yeah, those are the elements that I look at and to see, Do I have a good life or not?
Jonathan Fields (00:48:53) – Very cool. Thank you. Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode, safe bet you’ll also love the conversation that we had with Brad Feld about the journey from finding your purpose to guiding people through founding companies to find their own purpose. You’ll find a link to Brad’s episode in the show notes. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project in your favorite listening app.
Jonathan Fields (00:49:18) – And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven second favor, and share it maybe on social or by text or by email, Even just with one person. Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action. That’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields, signing off for Good Life Project.