Respect the people you work with, give them a chance to shine and don’t limit their creativity. Afterward, reward them for sharing their talents with you and backing your cause, because they always have a choice to back someone else’s dream. Structure, clear goals, radical transparency, and a sense of purpose — that’s the way I see the culture.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Burich, Co-Founder and COO of Synctuition.
Michael Burich is an entrepreneur and business owner with more than 15 years of experience in a variety of industries, including entertainment, fintech, hospitality, asset management, and visual media.
Having been raised in four countries, Michael is truly cosmopolitan. In his 20s he signed a record deal as an artist/songwriter with Sony BMG which helped him develop an extremely creative disposition. Prior to commencing his business career and entrepreneurial ventures, Michael honed his management skills at the world-famous Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, where he received a Bachelor of Science and a degree in Swiss Hospitality Management. There he developed a truly cosmopolitan mindset and got to travel around the world. These qualities later helped him with other ventures which included tech investments, heading a hospitality management company, raising capital for a Hedge Fund and other exciting ventures.
After relocating to Estonia, he co-founded Synctuition, an advanced mindfulness and relaxation app providing over 80 relaxing audio journeys, filled with incredibly positive messages, 3D sounds, and other technology which is backed by over 106 scientific studies. In its home country, Synctuition is the number two most downloaded app right now on Apple and it is the third highest-grossing mindfulness app in the US. Michael is dedicated to developing technology that supports wellbeing and makes a positive impact on the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I’ve had a very versatile career. One of the things that impacted me most from a young age is that our family moved a lot. I was born in the Soviet Union and then moved to Israel at a very young age, followed by a move to Estonia, then Switzerland, and then back. This made me very conscious of different cultures, languages and got me interested in behavioral psychology. Since my family was in the hospitality industry, I ended up working in hospitality since the age of 12. After graduating from École hôtelière de Lausanne, I came back to manage the family business and worked in hospitality for 15 years. While I was studying I also had an inexplicable pull towards music. It was part of my DNA and part of everything I do. I started pursuing it more professionally and ended up with a record deal with Sony BMG as a hip-hop artist and songwriter. While I ended up sticking with business and not music, the love for music never left me.
As the 2008 crisis happened, my co-founders and I noticed that certain people that used to “have it together” quickly fell into depression when the economy turned. We started researching mental health and saw an incredibly grim picture of what’s to come ahead. Addiction to mobile phones and social media was skyrocketing, so was the use of anti-anxiety medication, alcohol consumption, diabetes, and depression rates — all going up at an alarming rate. We noticed that people were bombarded with negative headlines from morning till evening and rarely had a way to cleanse themselves.
This was our eureka moment — we wanted to take the healing properties of music, add a layer of technology, and start helping people clean their minds from negativity while improving their mental health. This is where my interest in behavioral psychology, music, and the determination to make the world a happier and healthier place all merged together into what eventually became Synctuition.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Back when I was trying to get my music heard and get a record deal (this was before streaming changed the music industry), I entered a competition where the prize was a record deal with Sony BMG. My best friend used to make the music and I would write and perform the lyrics. We always performed together, and he would often get on parts of the track as he is a great singer as well. We entered the competition together and got all the way to the final round. Unfortunately, on the day of the final, he was booked to perform in a Christmas gospel musical and couldn’t get out of it. The competition had strict rules that we couldn’t change the act. I had to think on my feet and ended up creating a life-size cardboard cutout of him. As the competition was in another country, I had to fly with this thing trying not to damage any part of it. I delivered the cut-out with minimal damage, got on stage, and explained that my partner isn’t feeling that great today so he’ll be kind of still. I think the judges were inspired by the creativity, I ended up doing both mine and his parts and we won the competition getting the record deal with Sony BMG…This literally planted the seeds for wanting to do something with music on a global scale which we later achieved through Synctuition. That creative part of me still drives the way I look at marketing, customer acquisition strategies and other processes that our amazing team is driving in Synctuition.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
Back in university, a very heavy emphasis was put on our dress code. We always had to come to class looking sharp with an ironed shirt, a tie, and generally dress for success. That stuck with me when I was starting my career, I remember one day I was selling one of our properties and I was showing it to quite a few buyers that day. I had one group of guys come in with suits, looking sharp and asking me a lot of financial questions about the operating company, EBIDA etc. At the same time, I had a guy come in with shorts and an un-ironed linen shirt, unshaven, walking around, asking very detailed questions about the room layouts and some things which didn’t feel important. I was annoyed that he kept taking time away from the crowd who I felt were real buyers. I guess it kind of showed as I kept running back to the crowd in suits. Then an amazing thing happened. The guy pulled me aside and basically said “look I think you feel like I may be wasting your time with me and I see that you’re young, so let me give you some advice. My lawyers already looked at all the numbers, we studied your annual report and I only came here today to see if the house is in a good enough condition and estimate when I’ll have to invest more to fix it up. The guys you’re talking to, they’re analysts from a real estate company. They’re here because their bosses just sent them to have a look and find out if they’re not missing anything.” I felt very small right there and then. Funnily enough, he was absolutely right. He ended up buying the property and we maintained a great relationship.
I learned a few things that day. First, unlike what they tell you in school, which is that people that operate with money wear suits — in reality people who own the wallet are much more laid back. Second, I have never dismissed anyone from that day. Some of the greatest deals happened from the people who I would expect it from the least.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
First and foremost, I will forever be grateful to my parents. We didn’t grow up rich, but they always gave their all to make sure I have better chances at success than they did. They taught me to be independent of a very young age and never limited my ambitions or creativity. I’d say my restlessness to do better comes from me seeing their struggle at a young age.
But the person that had the most impact on me since a young age has to be my father’s uncle. He was and still is an incredibly successful businessman in different areas of business across many countries. It was his ownership of hotels that got me into the hospitality industry in the first place and after graduating, he was my mentor for the next 15 years in business. He was very demanding and very tough. When it came to business, it wasn’t “family first” but rather I had to constantly prove that I deserved my spot even more than others. His mentality was, everyone needs to earn their wealth and his success was due to his hard work and the risks he had to take. Furthermore, his success doesn’t extend to me just because we’re family. I’m extremely grateful for that lesson and for him taking that approach with me. It definitely grounded me and made me understand that nothing is promised, and you can only depend on yourself and your hard work if you want to achieve something. He taught me to read people and discern the value of promises and contracts. Funnily enough, it was also the reason that divided us 15 years later. I insisted on enforcing a contract which we had between us and he felt that if he had given something, he could also take it away. Souring a relationship with a mentor of 15 years had a deep impact on me and made me do a lot of soul-searching. In the end, it took away all fantasies I had about “having something to fall back on.” It made me face the reality that I have to create my own luck and inspired me to risk the “stable day job” to start the ambitious journey that turned into Synctuition.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
For a long time, I was at a mental place where “you have to work harder than the next person to get ahead.” I guess it’s due to the “hustler” mentality I developed over the years. Part of me still believes that, if you expect to do little and win big, I think you’re in for a rude awakening. But the secret is all about understanding that you have to learn to say no and you have to learn to choose wisely where you direct your energy. You can’t get involved in everything that you’re being pulled into.
We all need to try different things before we understand what our calling is, but once you find that, I suggest you stick to that no matter what you feel you’re risking at the moment. My love for music was clear to me from a young age and so was the willingness to understand people better and help whatever way I can. That’s why even though Synctuition was a totally crazy idea with very low odds of success, I still pursued the idea. When you do what you’re naturally good at, and it has a purpose, you’ll thrive without looking at the hours.
The other very important thing I learned that mental health is the key to every aspect of life. I got into practicing mindfulness at a later stage in life, but I wish I would have started earlier. There’s nothing more important than making decisions with a clear head and without stressing over things you have no influence on. I’m a big fan of what we’ve created, and I use it on a regular basis to keep my head straight.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
My answer to that is simple. Respect the people you work with, give them a chance to shine and don’t limit their creativity. Afterward, reward them for sharing their talents with you and backing your cause, because they always have a choice to back someone else’s dream. Structure, clear goals, radical transparency, and a sense of purpose — that’s the way I see the culture.
I’m also a big believer in common sense and I wish it would be a lot more common these days.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.
Learn new skills
When you are in the process of learning a language or mastering a new skill, you get this sense of fulfillment with every step you take. You know you are doing something purposeful, which will help you grow in some way or another. A couple of months ago, I began learning German. Immersing myself in the lessons and testing my knowledge has been therapeutic, especially during stressful times.
Learning keeps the mind active at any stage of life. What’s more, it boosts your confidence and sense of self-worth. A very insightful article from researches at the University of Pittsburgh revealed that, as you progress from novice to expert in a specific task, new neural activity patterns emerge in your brain. All of these factors help you optimize your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Be physically active
In 2019, I started jogging for about half an hour every day. I discovered that, while jogging in the mornings, I would often feel exhilarated, a bit euphoric, and simply in a great mood. This sensation is known as the runner’s high. When you experience it, you are able to de-stress and forget about any pain or tiredness you might be enduring.
This is basically the result of endorphins causing changes in your brain and lifting up your mood. What’s truly wonderful is that the wellness benefits of exercise extend beyond the short-term. Research on anxiety and depression shows that exercise can improve mood and reduce anxiety by releasing the feel-good endorphins and taking your mind off worries.
Get good a good night’s sleep
I read somewhere that sleep is “that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together”. This quote has stayed with me ever since and I think it’s definitely true. I’m not my best self when I’m sleep-deprived — I feel grumpy, out of focus, tired, and unable to function. Throughout my career, I’ve known businesspeople who take pride in sleeping just 6 or 5 hours per night. This is quite dangerous, especially because sleep-deprivation has been linked to several mental health issues.
Insomnia wreaks havoc in the brain, negatively affecting our thinking and emotional regulation. Moreover, sleep deprivation can worsen depression, anxiety disorders, ADHD, among other conditions. I believe an excellent way to take care of our mental and emotional wellbeing is getting the recommended seven hours per week and avoiding irregular sleep patterns as much as possible.
Connect with others
One of the positive things that resulted from the coronavirus crisis was how people came together. In the past four months, I’ve reconnected with family members and childhood friends with whom I had lost touch. It was a remarkable experience and opportunity to enquire after each other’s wellbeing during these difficult times. Staying socially connected boosts your mood and gives you a sense of belonging. It doesn’t matter whether you are an introvert, extrovert, somebody struggling with mental health, or not. As human beings, we are social by nature, and reinforcing those social bonds will always be good for our wellbeing.
Pay attention to the present
It’s easy to remain stuck in the past or keep worrying about what the future holds. This is not at all healthy and it took me a while to realize. Early in my career, I used to spend entire nights thinking about everything that was going wrong at the office. The very next day, these thoughts would be there again. And the worst part is that they weren’t alone — not only did I think about past mistakes, but I also kept worrying about all those pending tasks and never-ending to-do things.
After I discovered mindfulness — the ability to focus in the present moment without judgment — I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know. When you are mindful, you are not only able to relax, but you can fully enjoy the world around you, appreciate the things you took for granted, and understand yourself better. A review of empirical studies by researchers at Duke University concludes that mindfulness brings plenty of positive psychological effects that can improve a person’s life quality.
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
Find your passion
It’s important to find things to be passionate about during the years leading up to retirement. It can be writing, collecting art, stock investing or just helping out in the community. The main thing is to have activities that keep us busy. I’ve talked about my uncle previously, he is turning 80 years old next year and even though he left the daily operation of the business into the hands of professionals, he still keeps up by reading reports and watching the markets on a daily basis. Having something to look forward to, to remember, to track, to get excited about, to share with someone and to celebrate are all important in order to optimize mental health. From speaking to a lot of retired people during our work on binaural beats, I found that memory is one of the most important factors when it comes to maintaining good mental health. Plus, it’s all about feeling like you add value and have a purpose.
My research on finding life purpose at later stages in life led me to read about the curious case of Kyotango, a small town in Japan. The town is famous for having more residents over the age of 100 compared to the rest of the country. A study followed the activities of several of the town’s residents and discovered that all of them had a hobby they practiced daily. Although there’s still plenty of research to be done, many researchers believe there’s a strong connection between having a passion or hobby and wellness.
Another excellent way to optimize mental wellness is by practicing meditation or other mindfulness practices such as Yoga or Tai Chi. Meditation, for example, has been linked to plenty of benefits for our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. I practice mindfulness meditation for at least 25 minutes per day and it does wonders for my mental sharpness.
Most recently, researchers from the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison published an 18-year analysis of the mind of a Buddhist monk. They discovered that intensive meditation slowed the monk’s brain aging by as much as eight years compared to a control group. And this is not the only study of this kind. Evidence is mounting for the benefits of meditation for older adults.
How about teens and pre-teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre-teens to optimize their mental wellness?
Our teenage years are a vital period in life for the development of our mental wellness. During this time, teenagers are beginning to discover who they are. They also begin to question their self-worth, which can have a great impact on their transition to adulthood. This is why it’s important to help teens realize their positive traits and skills and learn to appreciate them. As parents, relatives, or caretakers, we can remind them of their strengths whenever they need it most. Ramagya School Noida, one of the pioneering schools in India, opted for taking care of its pupils’ emotional growth by offering meditation lessons. Apart from helping them cultivate a strong sense of self-worth, the lessons are helping students to cope with stress and anxiety to achieve their life goals.
Something we tried to do in Synctuition, especially to appeal to teens, is to package our program as an entertainment program which also reduces stress and helps sleep. I find that positioning and packaging the product in the right way is key to reaching teens these days.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I really love Robert Greene’s books, especially 48 Laws of Power and The Laws of Human Nature. First of all I love all the research and reference to history in these books and how it’s compared to the modern day corporate world. It’s also a great textbook for different types of personalities and how they think and behave, something I’m passionate about from an early age.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I consider myself very blessed because I believe we already started this movement through Synctuition and some of our upcoming projects. We made it our mission to improve mental health hygiene around the world. We are doing it through our app but also by sponsoring research on mental health and getting celebrities and influencers to take action to raise awareness for mental health. We have set specific goals for how we would like the adoption of the usage of mental health tools to increase in the next 10 years and we would like to play a big part in making it happen. We believe anybody has 25 minutes (just 2% of their day) to work on their mental health and we try to inspire everyone we meet to think about it in that way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“ I rather die enormous than live dormant, that’s how we on it” Jay — Z
I’m a big reader and could probably quote from some of my favorite books from Robert Greene, Dan Ariely or others but somehow, I find the rawest emotional connection with hip-hop lyrics. This quote from Jay Z is literally what drove every decision I’ve made in life and it’s the only way I know how to live. It’s relevant to me because of the environment I grew up in, but even as the environment change, I can’t subdue the part of me that’s always ready to do something bigger than life.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?