I met her at a UC Berkeley social event. I saw her across the room, wearing all white. I told my buddy I saw the woman – and I was going to talk to her.
The next evening we were on a date, and we felt like we were reuniting instead of meeting for the first time. I knew she was the one and I told her I would marry her. I was not the type of person to be so brash. But her presence gave me confidence that true love existed in the world and that I was capable of it myself.
At the time, I was working towards my Ph.D. at Stanford, studying how technology can help people learn better. But I convinced this wonderful woman to go on a trip with me to Laos over winter break. And it was on this trip that I had the distance from the daily grind to … to really focus. It was in this moment that I had the clarity of mind and heart to ask (and answer) this question:
“If I could focus my work on one outcome, what would it be?”
“For all people to have easy access to clarity of mind, focus, and balance.”
Clarity of mind has so many benefits. If technology could help us develop it – to help us be, not only do – that would have a major impact on helping people reach their personal goals. So my focus became to use personal technology to improve our state of mind.
Back at Stanford, I made this my Ph.D. topic and, as part of that, studied respiratory psychophysiology (breath-body-mind interaction). I learned that there was an entire field of Western science dedicated to it, including laboratory study of how breathing patterns change and are associated with different cognitive, emotional, and physiological states.
I came across so many papers, studies, and books discussing the intricacies of respiration and stress but they were fundamentally handicapped: they couldn’t take their lab results and translate them into impact in people’s lives. Why not? No sensor! That seemed like a good problem to solve.
So that became my goal: use the simplest, most concrete way to give people awareness and control of their state of mind using two things they already possess: their breath – and their phone.
Two years, an unforgettable wedding, a Ph.D. dissertation, and a Calming Technology Lab later, Jonathan and I started Spire. We first focused on inventing a respiration sensor that didn’t require people to wear straps around their body like was done in the lab. When we finally figured it out, we knew we had something special.
But wait! You have to hear how I met Jonathan! After my masters degree, I invented new products at Microsoft’s Beijing Research office and was experimenting with acting and improvisation in the evenings. A few of us got together and started BeijingImprov.com, with Jonathan as the player/coach. 🙂
I will never forget the first moment, sitting at Atlas Café in San Francisco, when our demo app buzzed to say I’d been tense and holding my breath while working. I realized it was right and relaxed, with it coming the realization that I was frantically writing emails instead of prioritizing my most important task. Or the moment Jonathan and I had a very productive brainstorm and I looked at the app and it said I was deeply focused. Finally, my technology was helping me be who I wanted to be: present, aware, and in control.
If you’ve ever really observed your breath – really given it the attention it deserves – you will be amazed. It is so exquisitely tied to the mind. Breathing is the definition of life! It is the subject of soulful poetry and cutting-edge science.
Spire is a new kind of product. It’s rooted in bringing balance and presence to life. It can genuinely make you more productive. More creative. Lose weight. Have work/life balance. Be a better parent. A better listener. Anything that clarity of mind, balance, and focus can give you. These are bold claims, but the truth is that Spire doesn’t do these things to you – it helps create the conditions necessary for you to focus on achieving the things you value most in life.