Startup Q&A is an interview series showcasing early-stage health, fitness, and wellness companies.
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In this Q&A, Othership CEO Robbie Bent discusses how backyard ice baths sparked a community that’s redefining mental clarity and control. We cover the emerging brand’s response to the pandemic, its digital ambitions, and the first guided ice bath and sauna classes in North America.
Can you tell us about what you’re working on at Othership?
Robbie Bent: We’re the first consumer brand making mental health inspiring and fun.
In a physical sense, Othership is the future of healthy IRL social experiences. We provide the first guided sauna and 32℉ ice bath classes in North America combined with a beautiful tea lounge for socializing. Available for classes and drop-ins, this combination of heat, cold, breathwork, and sound teaches customers to regulate their nervous system and emotions.
We also train professional guides to facilitate breathwork, sound journeys, and meditation in these formats while hosting social dance parties at night.
In the digital sphere, we facilitate these same peak experiences via a mobile app focused on breathwork. But all of our experiences create a sense of belonging for the mainstream user that has struggled to build a mental health practice.
How did you come up with the idea? What key insight led you to pursue this opportunity?
RB: We’re in a mental health crisis, a loneliness epidemic, and people are struggling, so for four years I searched for the “first step” somebody would take on their emotional wellness journey.
Personally, I’m a huge advocate of Vipassanā meditation and psychedelic medicine work. I’ve used both to conquer an addiction, find career and financial success, and establish amazing personal relationships, but I struggled to teach either to friends.
Meditation is quite challenging to learn and retention is pretty low, and psychedelic medicines—in all places but a few—are illegal. So, these tools that transformed my life just weren’t transferrable to the increasing amount of people struggling with overwhelm.
The first breakthrough for Othership came in my backyard. My co-founders and I built an ice bath and would have friends and neighbours over every evening for an entire summer. During those first sessions, we stumbled on a way to combine sound, aromatherapy, and meditation with the ice bath and saw immediate results — lawyers, bankers, accountants, entrepreneurs, and people with no prior meditation practice were able to disconnect from stress and use the session as an onboarding into better emotional well-being.
Those first sessions led to transforming my garage into an underground wellness space with a sauna, ice bath, and tea room, and in that space we started hosting classes combining all kinds of emotional wellness modalities, like breathwork, sound baths, hypnosis, trauma release, psychotherapy techniques, group shares in the dark, and eye gazing in the ice bath.
People loved sharing and connecting in a place that felt inspiring, cool, and safe, and we realized there was a huge opportunity to make teaching people about their emotions fun, social, and accessible in the same way SoulCycle created a real community experience around fitness.
The realization that working on mental health can be cool led us to focus all our efforts on mastering the facilitation of “peak” experiences like sauna classes, ice baths, and breathwork.
How did you turn your idea into a company?
RB: What started as a side project in a backyard is now a platform for improving your emotional well-being with a network of physical spaces and a digital experience for daily practice.
We’ve spent two years iterating on our products and ideas. After the backyard ice baths, we grew that offering into a 200-person WhatsApp community. As it got colder outside, we converted my garage into a social space for classes, and the community grew to 2,000 customers primarily through word of mouth.
The “aha” moment on the digital app happened during COVID. While our physical space was closed, we started free breathwork Zoom sessions for our community and were getting 500 people to show up weekly. We produced each session to be a mini work of art, combining breathwork, self-hypnosis, and therapy techniques along with famous DJs and producers.
Based on customer requests, we bootstrapped a course platform called Kajabi to test if people wanted to pay for daily, longer-form breathwork sessions. That course platform grew to over $100K in revenue and 2K customers, and people kept asking for a mobile app. So, my wife and I decided to take the Demand Curve growth course and go through OnDeck to learn about building a consumer product.
From there, we hired our first external employees, and OnDeck wrote our first angel check along with Vine Ventures. We also raised $1M from some of the best wellness CEOs and founders in the world like those from SoulCycle, Levels, Mindbloom, Eight Sleep, Perfect Keto, Kettle & Fire, and many more.
During the same time, we also signed a lease for our flagship physical space, which launches in Toronto in December. We are already scouting locations for major markets in the US as well.
How big can this get? What’s the addressable market and how do you go about capturing it?
RB: We are aiming to build a movement with the same ferocious customer passion as CrossFit, SoulCycle, and other leading group experiences, and we are seeing that level of passion in our community now.
Since there are no locations offering these types of classes in North America, our goal is to build a space in every major North American hub, supplemented by our app which can be used at home. This market size extends to anyone with a mobile device that is currently using a meditation app.
For physical spaces, we built a playbook similar to early SoulCycle, focusing on partnering with local influencers and using complementary sessions and user-generated content to drive growth through word of mouth.
For the mobile app, we use the physical spaces as an acquisition channel. We also aim to tell our story on podcasts in a similar manner to the Levels playbook. Additionally, we have seen traction partnering with ambassadors that are looking to provide fun transformational experiences to their clients — therapists, coaches, retreat centers, psychedelics conferences, yoga teachers, and meditation teachers, specifically.
Othership’s goal now over the next few months is to scale up our ambassador partnerships and grow our early community of ultra-passionate users. My personal focus is really on giving people the tools to make lasting change and finding emotional connection.
Who is the core customer? How are you acquiring customers? And how will you grow the customer base?
RB: We have five major audiences:
- Biohackers, longevity, athletes, coaches, and people interested in physical health
- Personal growth and transformation advocates, life coaching, and psychedelic medicine users
- Emotional trauma sufferers — those who are overwhelmed, anxious, lonely, in therapy, or struggling with a breakup, job security, and financial security
- Entrepreneurs and “type A” busy people looking for a performance edge, more energy, more focus, or a way to de-stress and stave off burnout
- Creators like artists, designers, and writers who use breathwork specifically to overcome procrastination and tap into their inner creativity
We will grow our targeted customer base through a combination of new physical spaces, written content around peak experiences, podcasts, IRL events, and thousands of local partnerships.
Looking at your road map, what are some of the milestones you’re targeting over the next 3-6 months?
RB: In the next three months, we’ll have launched our flagship physical space in Toronto, will have our first lease signed in the US, will have our mobile app live on iOS/Play store, and will have transitioned to growth mode from two years of product iteration and perfection!
Our internal target is 10K digital subscribers and community members and partnerships with a number of the largest brands, podcasters, therapists, and coaches in the mental health and emotional wellness space. We want to make the terms “emotional regulation,” “peak experiences,” and “emotional fitness classes” mainstream in the same way boutique fitness launched a revolution.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers?
RB: We’re building the first real-life community for people interested in meditation, biohacking, entrepreneurship, psychedelic medicines, longevity, and personal meaning, where these people also have a physical space designed for their social needs!
All of these fringe subcultures are growing, and there is no community space or format for them to gather — until now. We think peak experiences provide an aspect of fun and community that will be the first step to onboard these people towards stronger emotional health.