I lived on friends’ sofas for six months to bring my VR meditation app to life

I lived on friends’ sofas for six months to bring my VR meditation app to life

Edwina Griffin

After collapsing at work due to workplace stress in a toxic environment several years ago, Australian high performance and wellbeing expert Edwina Griffin was inspired to help others in the same boat.

Audio meditation wasn’t enough to help her switch off, and it’s only when Edwina started meditating with LED lights that she had her own ‘lightbulb’ idea. 

The result is AtOne, the world-first multi-sensory meditation app – which is Australia’s first fully immersive virtual reality (VR) guided meditation app – and the first in the world to combine moving scenery with music from Australian and Indigenous artists, music and scent.

AtOne targets stress and anxiety and using the Oculus Quest virtual reality headset, users can meditate with LED lights or be situated in more than 30 real and virtual scenes, including forests and the beach – which the user can control the meditation in real time.

Eddy has worked with Indigenous elder Woobula Kevin Duncan of the Gomeroi, Mandandanji Awaba people, Yantra de Vilder and Joshua Tree on the app’s original music, featuring the likes of didgeridoos, Himalayan bowls and gongs. Some tracks even featuring the ‘sound’ of the plants – including cannabis and geranium. 

Users can even experience scent, thanks to the University of Sydney and the University of Queensland’s ‘Serenascent’ and essential oils.

It’s proving popular with Aussie businesses who are snapping it up to invest in their employees’ mental health – even Tennis Australia has also been trialling it – and the Rhythm heart rate band tracks heart rate variability, which gives people an idea of how they’re faring along with assessing emotional states for individual and group reporting while roviding bosses with overall team data.

Sydney-based Edwina tells Women’s Agenda what it took to bring AtOne to life…

How the concept came about:

The AtOne concept came from both my personal experiences with stress and burnout and the feedback of thousands of clients I have worked with teaching meditation.

After collapsing at work from workplace stress, I found that in this anxious state, my typical meditation practices were not effective in stopping my ‘monkey mind’. This inspired me to explore extra support which included using visual and olfactory inputs to help shift me out of stress and into a space of relaxation. At this time, the visual input was LED lights that I used, as virtual reality technology was not an option back then.

The other more recent inspiration for AtOne was when teaching meditation both within my Fitwomen and Fitmen exercise centres and then in large corporates. I found that many clients, when learning meditation, were getting stressed about the fact that they didn’t believe they were doing meditation ‘properly’ – which was taking away from the benefits the meditation practice had to offer. 

The multi-sensory approach of AtOne enables users to ‘experience’ relaxation in a beautiful location – such as at the beach or mountains, or looking over the planet, listening to relaxing music (from all Aussie musicians) and smelling relaxing scents that have been scientifically proven to reduce cortisol. Regardless of whether someone ‘thinks’ they are meditating or not, the experience itself will relax their physiology, which then enables shifts in their emotions and mindset.

The other motivator for creating the app was presenting to large corporates and noticing that some of the younger generations were not as interested in the practice of meditation and were more interested in engaging with their mobile phones. This highlighted to me the need to communicate in a different way in order to access younger generations. I needed to communicate in a language they know and like, and so I explored the latest technology of virtual reality and the integration of wearables, which provide tangible data (heart rate and heart rate variability)  to measure their results.

 My process involved:

  • Renting out my house for 6 months to finance creating my first prototype of AtOne which was developed on the Oculus Go headset.
  • I wrote and recorded all meditations in the first version and sourced real scenery footage from local video and film production companies. I then engaged with several friends who were talented musicians to include their beautiful music on the app.
  • Researched solutions for using scents and found two other friends involved in this space – one was an Australian founder of essential oil company in Australia, and another involved with product researched by Sydney and Queensland University specifically designed to reduced Cortisol levels. 
  • We sourced various technical experts to test brainwave technologies to integrate with the app. After importing several different brainwave hardware options and testing them all, we established the data wasn’t reliable enough unless we had users wearing full caps. So, we decided to research other biofeedback.
  • Spoke to neuroscientists to establish the best HR and HRV measurement tools on the market to integrate. We tested some of them and then established a reliable product to integrate data with our AtOne VR experience.
  • While development continued, I approached some of my contacts about the product- in both sporting organisations and large companies to get feedback.
  • Applied for patents and trademarks and ensured all legal contracts were drafted.
  • Updated my business plan, worked out pricing and cash flow projections to present to investors.
  • Secured an investor and received quotes from new developers. I have always engaged Australian developers, and received feedback from other startups that this was a good decision as I have heard horror stories of overseas developers disappearing with code overnight in the final stages of projects!
  • Engaged contacts in the tech industry to advise me in areas of technology I was not aware of (such as data storage and security etc).
  • I continued to engage with my contacts to gauge interest in different markets while development continued on the latest headset.
  • Expanded the image and audio library and for this updated version.
  • We re-recorded all voiceovers to give the option of both a male and female voice for the guided meditations.
  • Engaged sales consultants, a publicist and a marketing expert to spread the word.
  • Began testing with Tennis Australia and some large corporates (whom I cannot name, unfortunately) who gave feedback on the app.
  • Began applying for government grants.
  • Once the updated version was released on the Oculus Quest, we launched the website.
  • Started selling AtOne to businesses who are investing in their employees’ mental health and began to expand conversations to international contacts.
  • Awarded an NSW Treasury MVP grant.
  • Short-listed for Singapore Tourism Accelerator Program (final outcome not announced yet).

Key learnings:

  • Ensure I have great advisors in all areas to call on at all stages, particularly when entering a new industry, i.e. me being a wellness expert in the technology space. (note* I am NOT a tech expert – I am a wellness expert using technology to access a larger market!)
  • Trust my gut always in business decisions … it is proven time and time again to be right.
  • Technology is a fast-paced and quickly evolving industry, so flexibility and adaptability have been crucial to keep shifting with the changes in tech.
  • Continuing to engage with and listen to our customers has been important to shape our product development as in some instances it has shifted our direction to meet the customer needs.
  • I have been sure to watch one of my earlier career lessons – to be careful who I align with and trust. I have a fantastic group of people around me now based on a more conscious, diligent and clear selection process for partners and staff.
  • Surrounding myself with others who are creating new innovations in all different fields has been key in the growth of AtOne so far. Those conversations and connections often result in outcomes I had not considered prior as we bounce ideas off one another; these people have not only created new opportunities but the conversations have inspired me to think differently sometimes which has resulted in new and better approaches to solutions.
  • Connecting with international associations and expanding into international markets has offered new opportunities and has been easier than I expected thanks to technology.  It has been interesting and useful to get insights and trends from international markets as well as expanding our opportunities for revenue.
  • To stay patient and stay focused and trust when hurdles are thrown your way. Covid-19 was one hurdle that appeared to slow everything down (including our ability to launch earlier). However, this setback has meant that all our potential customers are even more tech-savvy and open to technology products such as mine as a result of the crisis. This also prevented me from the temptation to want to launch too quickly to get it out  into the market. Instead  we had a year of testing and gaining user feedback. The synchronicities of opportunities that are presenting now may not have been available or have aligned if we had launched a year earlier so it was another lesson for me to maintain focus and trust when these perceived obstacles pop up. 
  • At the time of hurdles coming my way, it may have felt disappointing and/or frustrating at times, but in retrospect, there have been positives have that come through in other ways as a result.

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