When Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi met working at DoSomething.org seven years ago, they formed a bond that surpassed the standard coworker friendship. They became each other's life coach — though they didn't know that term at the time — offering pep talks before asking for raises and validating concerns.
But when they asked friends where they got similar, day-to-day support they heard something different. It was either "I Google it and there’s a photo of a white man with a briefcase saying '10 ways to ask for a raise', or I pay for it," Lidey, now 28, told Refinery29.
They started looking into the $3.7 trillion wellness industry — one inundated with the likes of A-listers (see Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop), life coaches, and meditative retreats — and they found something obvious missing: The kind of free, relatable support they were giving one another on a daily basis.
"We realized there was nothing that was conversational, trustworthy, and that, ultimately, felt like a friend," Lidey said.
What if, they thought, we could scale the advice we're giving each other and make it accessible to anyone? Enter Shine, a text-based service that delivers motivational messages daily. Since launching their brainchild two years ago, the pair has shown there's a market for the brand of wellness they're serving up: Shine has experienced 30% month-over-month growth, and now, some two million people receive the daily texts.
Those numbers are impressive for another reason: There have been no advertising efforts, and the traction has been a result of word-of-mouth. In December, Lidey and Hirabayashi launched a Shine app. It included the company's first paid product: Audio affirmations costing $7.99 per month, or $59.99 per year. Topics range from "Self-Care For Online Dating" to "Ditch Self-doubt." Today, the founders announced they successfully raised a $5 million Series A funding, bringing their total funding to over $8 million.
That's a lot of money for anyone, especially when you consider that neither Lidey or Hirabayashi have coaching training or MBAs. "We’re always consulting studies and research, but the point of it is that we’re not psychologists," Hirabayashi, 34, told Refinery29. "We’re coming from a bottom up approach. We're two people figuring it out with you." The "it" in this scenario is life. Hirabayashi and Lidey are careful to note in the app that Shine is a "resource, but it is not a replacement for therapy or mental health services."
Each day's Shine text is based on a feeling, rather than a theme such as productivity or confidence. Yesterday, my text told me that "Baby steps deserve applause" and I should "'enjoy' the process." Also included were research-based tips for doing just that, including writing down goals with the "process in mind."
If this advice still reminds you of the sort you might find in online self-help articles, the approach is decidedly more millennial-friendly. Beyoncé GIFs and emoji accompany messages, and a "Shine Corner" encourages members to talk about how they're incorporating that day's messaging in their daily life.
The overall look of Shine is also a game changer: Lidey and Hirabayashi have put extra effort into making it more representative of the population at large. Compared to the standard imagery used by wellness companies, which Lidey describes as being typically white, Shine represents all genders, races, and body types. This is apparent not just in the imagery that's used but also in the audio portion of the app, where 70% of the voice talent is made up of women of color. Lidey, meanwhile, was featured in Vanity Fair's recent spread honoring 26 women of color who have raised $1 million or more in venture capital funding. (Currently, only .2% of VC funding goes to women of color.)
But even as they celebrate today's milestone funding announcement, the founders aren't getting too far ahead of themselves. For now, the focus is on continuing to scale Shine and disrupt the traditional wellness industry, one text at a time.