Michael Acton Smith is the perennial entrepreneur and believes that start ups are the engines of human liberation. With Calm.com, he's on a mission to make the world a happier and healthier place.
In the workplace, Calm improves employee well-being by promoting better sleep, reducing stress and anxiety, and developing more mindfulness.
Michael is also the founder of entertainment company Mind Candy and creator of the global kids phenomenon Moshi Monsters. He has been described by The Daily Telegraph as "a rock star version of Willy Wonka" and by The Independent as “a polite version of Bob Geldof”.
He studied Geography at the University of Birmingham where he met Tom Boardman and the two became best friends. During 1998, whilst in their early twenties, they founded online gadget and gift retailer Firebox.com with a £1,000 loan from one of their mothers and with rent-free space in her attic.
It was aimed squarely at the ‘lads' market, and Firebox's breakthrough moment came in the form of the “Shot Glass Chess Set”, an idea that was born during a drunken night at the Union Bar! Within five years they were listed by The Sunday Times 'Fast Track 100' as the 13th fastest growing, privately owned business in the UK.
Michael confesses to his naivety about business in the beginning, but was determined that, with no other competitors in the market, their idea couldn't fail. They set about absorbing information from every publication and source they could get their hands on in order to gain the help they needed to drive the company forward.
Following their success with Firebox, Michael secured £10m backing and launched Mind Candy in 2004. The next three years were spent developing a game called ‘Perplex City'. Aimed at 18-30-year-olds, ‘Perplex City' was an alternate reality online game with a real life £100,000 prize up for grabs. It drew critical acclaim and gained positive press coverage, being hailed as the future of gaming and even receiving a BAFTA nomination in 2006, but it only attracted a niche audience and commercially it flopped. So, having spent £9m of development funds, Perplex City was eventually placed on indefinite hold.
With just £1m left in the bank, Michael took a final roll of the dice. In 2007, having been inspired by the growing success of Facebook and kids brands including Tamagotchi, Mind Candy launched online world Moshi Monsters.
Moshi Monsters accumulated over 80 million users in more than 150 countries around the world and expanded offline into best selling toys; the UK number one selling kids magazine; a best selling video game; top selling music album; books; trading cards and more.
In 2012 Michael was awarded 44th place in the Guardian's, MediaGuardian 100 and Tech Guru 2012 in The Guardian Digital Innovation Awards. In 2011 he was voted 12th in Wired's Top 100 of Britain's Digital Power List. He was also appointed OBE in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to the creative industries.
However, Michael had reached breaking point. He was forever tired and suffered from headaches and the joy of work had faded to a dull ache. So in 2012 he took a much needed break — went on long runs, played tennis and read a lot of books on a subject that he kept hearing about: mindfulness.
Before this trip, Michael had been intrigued by meditation but had always been too busy to give it a try. He discovered that guided meditations helped enormously and the more he practised the more he managed to tame his mind.
He began to discover the many benefits that flow from having a strong, focused, calm mind and felt like he’d stumbled across a secret power. He returned to work in London rejuvenated. He was fired up and ready to take on anything.
“Calming the mind is not about switching off and retreating from the bustle of life. It’s a superpower that rewires our brains, changes the way we see the world and helps to unlock our true potential." Says Michael.
And so Calm was born.
It was named iPhone app of the year by Apple in 2017, started with a focus on meditation but has broadened its scope to other well being issues such as curing insomnia.
In 2022, Time magazine listed Calm as one of the world’s most influential companies, alongside Apple, Disney and others. It’s also an Apple Best of 2018 award winner, iPhone app of the year (Apple, 2017) and Google Play Editor’s Choice 2018. In 2020, Calm was valued at more than $2 billion USD.
Michael Acton Smith has long been fascinated by neuroscience, flow states and mental fitness. Learning to meditate had a profound impact on his life and he is passionate about spreading this simple but valuable skill around the world.