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How we came up with the idea of Calm Sleep. 💭

Here, I am going to cover:

  1. Our Mental Model for research

  2. We could have easily picked any idea we feel passionate about and started working on it. But why Calm Sleep?

  3. The playbook on how to do research before jumping on any idea? 📋

Hey there! This is going to be a series of blogs covering how we came up with the idea of Calm Sleep, scaled it to over 700,000 users in less than a year with less than a $1,000 total investment. 🌱

I’m Akshay Pruthi, an entrepreneur who loves to build products from the ground up. Over the past 6 years, I have built multiple products from scratch and scaled them to millions of users. This is my attempt to share our most important lessons from building one of those apps: Calm Sleep. 🤗

Note - Calm Sleep is my side hustle that I started with Ankur Warikoo, Anurag Dalia, and a team of 3.

Every week I will publish an article about a different problem we faced while building Calm Sleep. This week, I am going to cover what helped us zero in on Calm Sleep as ‘It’.. This is what we are going to build. The Calm Sleep app - A competitor to Calm.

“Calm, the 7-year-old meditation app, says it's now valued at $1 billion.”

When I read this article, I was amazed to see an app that helps people sleep or meditate achieve unicorn status. It was mind-boggling to discover people were willing to pay for a digital platform that helps them sleep. 😳

What’s more, the lack of competition to reach the pinnacle of this niche was not nearly as cut-throat as one would imagine. To be fair, entrepreneurs would never have thought that sleep was a problem they could solve without dipping their toes in the pharmaceutical pond.

Intuitively, it felt like sleep was something that everyone just did, which essentially means that the market had a crater that was primed to be filled.

With the advent and the popularisation of social media and mobile phones, issues like anxiety and restlessness have breached our lives. Not to mention the pandemic. This piqued our interest and prompted us to delve deeper into why it was worth exploring this problem area.

Mental Model for Research

It’s always good to have a mental model of things before setting off towards a new undertaking. If you are stuck somewhere, it helps by brainstorming basic fundamentals. The mental model for research would be:

  1. Learn the basics: It’s important for one to learn the basics of the realm you are operating in. So, we skimmed all the information available about Calm, it’s competitors and industry articles. We documented them in an Excel sheet.

  2. Learn from experts: Talk to people who have done significant work in the same field in the past. Learn from them, what worked, what didn’t work; for what you think you know might not be the complete story. So, reach out to experts in the field and get an understanding of the market. We reached out to many experts in the industry before we actually stepped in.

  3. Set up a foundation: Use a broad understanding of the basic mental models of the world to bolster your understanding of the field.

We started doing our research. It was a simple 4-step process:

  1. Read the reviews of all the top apps that are similar to Calm Sleep. 📒

  2. Surf through online communities that are talking about sleep problems or are sharing their experiences around the problem.😴

  3. Talk to the experts and gain insight into the core problem and the demands of the industry

  4. Look at the data 🔢

Let’s dive into each one of these 🤓

Reading what people are talking about it

We dove into the deepest parts of the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, looking for apps similar to Calm.

We scrolled through almost 1,000 reviews to identify the gaps in these offerings.

I was looking for an app to provide some basic soundscapes to help me fall asleep. I had zero access to any of them unless I paid the fee.”

“Will not renew the subscription. Only 1 author and very few different voices.”

“it’s too expensive for a student suffering from insomnia”

The following patterns emerged:

  1. Users found the current solutions expensive.

  2. Users liked to stick to a particular artist or a sound that worked for them.

  3. Miniscule factors like the ending of a sound or the tone of the artist mattered to them and affected their sleep.

We studied our competitors and realized everyone was focusing on multiple things. We thought to ourselves, what’s the best form of meditation? The answer we got was Sleep.

“You meditate every day. It's called SLEEP”, Ankur said.

It hit all of us hard.

We were almost convinced that we should do this. But we didn’t want our emotions to take the better of us. So we decided to immerse ourselves into further research.

Do we have people sharing their experiences on social media communities?

We went to Reddit and looked for the keywords around sleep. Subsequently, we stumbled across communities that were dealing with insomnia. When we read through the comments and the posts in these communities, we got further convinced that this was real, especially in regions like the US, UK, Canada, Australia.

We looked at the Google trends. The queries around ‘How to sleep’, ‘I can’t sleep’, were on the rise.

We also discovered sleep experts on Instagram who had garnered sizable communities around the pursuit of better sleep. We reached out to them, discussed core issues that people face, why they face them, what solutions are already there in the market and what solutions they recommend.

Our findings took us by surprise; what we never considered to be a big problem was a huge obstacle to people all over the world.

Looking at the Data Available

We wanted to know how many people are looking for similar apps and in which geographies. Therefore, we started exploring data from tools like App Tweak and Sensor Tower.

These tools offered us an insight into popular keywords around sleep and roughly how many people are looking for apps around the same issues.

The 2nd column in the following graphic represents the difficulty level to rank your keyword on the top and the 3rd column represents the popularity of the keyword out of 10.

It was evident from the data, that the demand was extremely high. When we started looking at it geographically, we discovered the demand was highest in countries like the United States, France, Spain, China, Australia.

This summarised the research cost. Now we had to figure out the tech cost to build such an app. With the help of Anurag, we came up with a basic version that could be built within 15 days from designs to shipping the product.

This was it. Our tech cost was not that high and we decided to move ahead with this idea.

Summarising, how you should do the early phase of research:


  1. Is this a problem that is big enough for you to solve? You do this by checking who has solved this before, how they solved it, when they did it, and what was the market response to the solution?

  2. You do the same by looking at the diverse feedback from people that have used similar solutions and posted about the same online, on various communities, reading reviews of various apps.

  3. You validate your qualitative research by quantitative data. You do this by looking at Google Trends, ASO research, SEO research, app downloads across various apps and more.

In our next post, we will learn how we decide what our Version 1 should look like for the launch?

Here, I will broadly cover,

  • How to narrow your user journeys down to the most crucial ones?

  • How to avoid noise in your MVP?

  • How will we know if this is working?

  • A final checklist to launch the MVP.

I publish weekly blogs where I share everything I learn.
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