Case Study: The Open Heart Project

Susan Piver was a respected teacher of meditation. She had written a New York Times best-selling book, and her classes were well attended. She, like many before her, had a practice and a small following.

What she found, though, was that after a retreat, people from out of town would ask, “How do we find a local teacher we can connect with to continue our practice?”

To meet this need, she decided to build an online meditation center, a sangha.

A few years later, the sangha has more than twenty thousand members. Most of them get periodic updates and video lessons, and pay nothing for the interactions. Some, though, are more deeply connected. They pay a subscription fee and engage with their teacher (and with each other) as often as every day.

How did she get to twenty thousand? Not in one fell swoop. In thousands of small swoops.

After just a few years, this small project has become the largest meditation community in the world. With just one full-time staff member, it connects and inspires thousands of people.

There are countless meditation instructors in the United States, all of whom have access to a laptop as connected to the world as Susan’s is. How did the Open Heart Project make such an impact?

  1. Start with empathy to see a real need. Not an invented one, not “How can I start a business?” but, “What would matter here?”

  2. Focus on the smallest viable market: “How few people could find this indispensable and still make it worth doing?”

  3. Match the worldview of the people being served. Show up in the world with a story that they want to hear, told in a language they’re eager to understand.

  4. Make it easy to spread. If every member brings in one more member, within a few years, you’ll have more members than you can count.

  5. Earn, and keep, the attention and trust of those you serve.

  6. Offer ways to go deeper. Instead of looking for members for your work, look for ways to do work for your members.

  7. At every step along the way, create and relieve tension as people progress in their journeys toward their goals.

  8. Show up, often. Do it with humility, and focus on the parts that work.

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