You will cry almost every day and want to quit at least 8 times in your first year. I can’t tell you how many times my husband literally picked me up off the floor in our kitchen and said, “you can keep going, I believe in you.”
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna Peterson Macsalka, the proud founder of Zenimal. As a child, Anna suffered from severe anxiety and panic attacks. She found peace in a mindfulness meditation practice that changed her life forever. After becoming a mother, Anna was determined to find an engaging, screen-free solution to teach her children awareness of their minds and bodies through meditation. Unable to find any tools that met this criteria, Zenimal was born.
After a career in acting/voiceover, she spent the last 5 years educating herself further about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and how it can benefit not only children’s brains and behavior, but adult’s as well. Currently, Anna is applying all her learnings of mindfulness and meditation into developing devices that will help improve the lives of children and adults across the globe.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was six years old, I started having night terrors. I’d go to sleep fine but after about 20 minutes I wake up in an inconsolable panic and cold sweat. The frequency continued to increase and the only thing my parents could do was hold me until it passed. My dad would sit in my room and talk to me until I finally fell back asleep which sometimes took hours. He used to joke that he spent a large chunk of my childhood boring me to sleep. This worked for a while, but as I got older, slumber parties and overnight field trips were impossible for me and resulted in me being made fun of by other kids. Eventually, it amplified into everyday anxiety as soon as the sun would set. This was the point that my parents turned to a pediatric psychologist for a solution. She taught me how to control my breath, relax my body, and visualize my happiest place whenever I felt uncomfortable. Meditation was still considered a bit “crunchy” back then but that’s ultimately what she empowered me to do. I no longer needed my dad to get me through the night. I had the power and it changed my life forever.
I realized it was my calling to find a way to empower other children with this gift after I had my first kid. I was paralyzed in thinking she might one day suffer as I had. It was overwhelming. There is nothing on the planet more innately gut wrenching than watching your child suffer. I thought there has to be a way for a kid to press a single button for relief on something that doesn’t require a screen and that they can have in their control. Thus, the little Zenimal was born. I began recording mediations that I felt most kids could invest their time in and took them to a happy place. It brings me a lot of joy knowing that my job is to bring peace and ease into people’s lives.
Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In May of 2018, my perfectly healthy dad was hospitalized with meningitis. I felt helpless watching him suffer. Here was my superhero that spent years helping me in my worst of times and I couldn’t help him for single moment. While sitting with him in the ICU, my stepmom mentioned that he really liked the meditations I had started recording for Zenimal, so she suggested I play them on my phone for him. So I did, and the energy in the entire room seemed to soften and ease. It was so simple and lovely. It was at that moment that I realized that Zenimal is not just for kids. It’s for everyone. My dad passed away the next day, and he was a beautiful human that helped hundreds of people in his lifetime. So now it’s now my mission to use this company to multiply his hundreds of people into millions.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
I try to focus solely on what the right thing is for the current moment. I don’t really have to do or know what the next 10 right things are, just the current one. It’s pretty simple and surprisingly efficient and effective.
The other principle that helps me immensely is something my Dad taught me which is “surround yourself with people who you want good things for, and who want good things for you.” This has never failed me. Not once. It builds this beautiful cocoon around you so you can grow into your most magnificent self.
Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
My “big idea” is Zenimal, a screen-free portable meditation device that plays nine guided meditations at the press of a button. Meditation has been shown to improve focus, sleep, and emotional regulation; not to mention that it can also cultivate a deeper sense of peace, joy, and empathy. The second leading cause of death for kids aged 10–14 is suicide. This number has increased 56% in the last 10 years. We can easily look at what has happened in the last ten years to draw, if even the smallest, conclusion. Screens. Everywhere. So few kids are given the gift of stillness and peace from the never ending tornado of information and expectations on a daily basis. I want to offer this to every child — and soon every adult in the world.
How do you think this will change the world?
The Dalai Lama stated, “If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” I aim to do this by putting a Zenimal in every backpack and on every nightstand in the world.
I think you’d be hard pressed to find a drastic drawback to mindfulness and meditation. It’s been around for thousands of years and I’m not sure anything too horrible can happen when people sleep better, decrease stress, and are more empathetic.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
It was a combination of suffering as a child from stress and anxiety and then losing my Dad so unexpectedly. I found solace in mindfulness and meditation to cope with both of these experiences and it continues to drive me to fill my life with purpose and love.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and continue to pivot as I watch it unfold. We are growing at an incredible rate, so I hope to be able to steer it in a positive direction as time goes on.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You will cry almost every day and want to quit at least 8 times in your first year. I can’t tell you how many times my husband literally picked me up off the floor in our kitchen and said, “you can keep going, I believe in you.”
- The first time a complete stranger buys your product and says they love it will make you fall to your knees and weep with joy. I knew I wanted to help people, but I had no idea the amazing impact this would have on my soul.
- How important it is to have a core group of people, who have built or are building companies by themselves. People you can turn to for advice or at least to commiserate with when times are tough. Otherwise, the journey can feel unbelievably lonely and scary.
- Nobody knows what’s exactly right for your company except you. It’s good to seek out advice from people you trust, but the final decision should always come from your gut instincts.
- That you will love this company like you love a child. I never guessed I could care so deeply for a non-living thing.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
Work hard, but work efficiently. Find a way to move quickly without rushing. If things aren’t working and they continue to fall apart, you need to make adjustments and pivot with the tide. Don’t keep banging your head against the same brick wall. And after you pivot, rest and reset. You are a workhorse, not a racehorse, take care of yourself so you can get up and do it again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. When I’m feeling beat up and pushed down, I simply take a day where I don’t look at my computer or my phone and I only do things that relax me and bring me pure joy. Being in nature works miracles. But the idea will die if you don’t take care of yourself.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
While I admire and respect VC’s immensely, I love bootstrapping this company myself and the sphere of scrappiness and freedom that this allows me to operate in. My sole purpose is to be profitable as quickly as possible so I can continue to help those in need and be around for the long haul.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
We can be found on IG/Facebook/twitter @thezenimal.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.