How Aura Grew to 100K+ Paying Subscribers With Funding From Braavo
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to mental well-being. That’s why Aura built the world’s largest library of mindfulness and mental wellness content with tracks developed and created by hundreds of expert coaches and therapists. Launched in 2017 by two brothers, Aura became the first wellness app to leverage the marketplace model and use data science to serve users just the right content and deliver personalized wellness recommendations based on their needs. Aura users can listen to a wide range of wellness content, including meditations, stories, hypnosis, cognitive behavioural therapy, prayer, breathwork, and soundscapes, just to name a few, and even receive 1:1 coaching from mental health experts directly. Aura has seen rapid growth because of its differentiated approach – and has transformed millions of people’s lives.
Launching (and learning from) their first company
Before launching Aura, brothers and co-founders Steve and Daniel Lee were gaining traction for another company they had started. The sons of two doctors, Steve and Daniel were studying healthcare at the time, and they were eager to get into the business of helping people improve their wellbeing. They longed to use technology to tackle mental health, yet the brothers realized the first product they were building just wasn’t the right solution. “Our first company was all about addressing mental wellbeing by connecting people together in person,” says Steve Lee, co-founder and CEO. “But it became impossible to continue growing it beyond college campuses, so we made the decision to shut it down, but with incredible lessons learned.”
Still deeply passionate about mental wellness, the brothers started exploring meditation solutions through mindfulness programs they attended at UCSF where Steve graduated from, and they were surprised to discover that existing solutions offered more of a one-size-fits-all approach. “These products were having an incredible impact, but offered only content created by one coach, or very few coaches,” Steve says. “We wanted to create a mental wellness app that anyone could use to access wisdom from hundreds and thousands of the best coaches & therapists around the world. We would then leverage machine learning to create a highly personalized experience for each person.”
With Aura’s launch soon after, they did exactly that. Aura now boasts a content library that’s an order of magnitude bigger than most other apps, and the company has amassed over 100,000 paying subscribers. “People choose Aura because we have become this all-in-one platform for wellness. We work with hundreds of coaches and experts who dedicated their lives to improving people’s mental well-being, and we help them scale their impact to reach millions of people.”
Building a personalized wellness machine
Steve says Aura has differentiated itself in a competitive market by focusing on a highly personalized user experience, and that their users really resonate with this approach. “We’ve really focused on understanding each person’s unique needs and preferences and on having the right kind of content to help them out.”
But developing an app with a highly personalized user experience takes a lot of time, experimentation, iteration, and resources, Steve explains. “Any app developer knows that constantly improving your product is the only way to grow. Every year we run over 1000 experiments across our product, design, and data science, and we always have many different algorithms competing to create the best experience for our users.”
Investing in data science has helped Aura create a magical experience for their users, Steve says. “I know it’s helped increase retention and trust in our product – especially when users come back the next day and see the content that they love and find truly helpful. People recognize and appreciate that we’re actually using data to make a positive impact in their everyday lives.”
Achieving 10X revenue growth with non-dilutive funding partners
While the app market for meditation and wellness remains hot, Steve is also cautiously aware of how the fundraising landscape has changed over time. Competing in this space means having a truly differentiated product, a solid subscription model, and strong cash flow – the same characteristics that make a company a great candidate for non-dilutive capital. “Braavo makes sense for us because we can afford to take on non-dilutive funding and keep growing, and that’s been a really strong driver of growth for us.”
Raising a combination of equity alongside non-dilutive funding from partners like Braavo is a financing strategy that has become popular for startups in recent years – especially businesses with strong cash flow, like subscription apps. “I was surprised to learn that many of my founder friends from different types of companies are taking out debt to grow their businesses. But as a source of capital, I still think it’s under-utilized,” Steve explains. “You don’t want to build your entire company around raising equity funding only, because you could lose focus on doing what’s best for your customer and building strong business foundations. On the other hand, debt isn’t free — you have to pay it back. So I think it’s best to have a good balance between equity and debt as sources of funding.”
When Steve was exploring growth funding options for Aura a few years ago, Braavo stuck out as the right funding product for them – and still does. “We chose Braavo because it really is the leader in understanding mobile app businesses. We’ve tried different companies, but Braavo is our preferred funding partner mainly because it’s an innovator in understanding mobile apps and is very founder-focused,” Steve says. “In the four years since we partnered with Braavo, we’ve increased our revenue by at least ten times.”
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