Is it possible to follow your heart and build a wildly successful and impactful business?
From a spiritual awakening in India, to a thriving media business with more than 100 employees: The amazing story of Tami Simon!
I first read about the company Sounds True and its founder Tami Simon in The Healing Organization, one of my favourite books written by Raj Sisodia and Michael Gelb. Tami’s journey deeply inspired me, and it seems to me that she successfully pulled off what so many of us dream about: to make a living and a life based on doing exactly what we feel most passionate and inspired to do.
Since Tami was a young girl she was a spiritual seeker. Her parents were reformed Jews who had relatives lost in the Holocaust and as such, they did not entertain any notions of a higher intelligence behind this Universe, but stuck solely with the inter-human affairs and the material world. Tami describes going to temple with her parents and says: “my mom was rational and kind of suspicious of anything metaphysical, and my father was sleeping in his chair, but I was praying my buns off, really into it”. As soon as she could Tami went to India, toexperience spiritual practices and understanding, rather than only to read about it as her college would have her do. There Tami found her peace as well as her calling:
“When I started meditating, I felt like I had found a gateway, a method, and it was what I needed. I made a commitment to introduce as many people as possible to the practice of meditation, and more widely, to any method that helped people tune in to their own inner knowing through direct contact with a sense of aliveness, purpose, and inspiration”.
22 years old and without other resources apart from her newly found insights and passion, Tami returned to the US. Soon after, she founded Sounds True, to begin with a very humble enterprise selling cassette tapes with recordings from spiritual events and conferences. But Tami stuck with her purpose, which she now described as “Disseminate spiritual wisdom” and with each new technology that came about, Tami was quick to learn everything about it and start leveraging what it had to offer. Gradually, over the years, Sounds True moved into audiobooks, apps, podcasts, and online courses. It also became a book publishing company, and early on built its own radio studio, and has in recent years created certified education programs on topics such as mindfulness meditation.
From the beginning Tami had a talent for discovering the most genuine and powerful spiritual teachers, authors and content providers to work with. Early on, Ram Dass, Stephen Levine and Clarissa Pinkola Estés came onboard with Sounds True, and later on Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach and many other luminaries and icons within the world of spiritual wisdom followed. Today, Sounds True has 614 authors, and more than 1500 titles available. Tami’s own podcast offers around 1,000 episodes, and is downloaded many millions of times each year.
Sounds True has become a lighthouse within not only spreading spiritual knowledge, but also within company culture. The 125 employees have their own blog, Many Voices, where they share about the amazing culture of appreciation, empathy, learning and growing together. Dogs are welcome at Sounds True’s HQ, and on any given day there will be around 20 of the teams’ four-legged friends present to boost the atmosphere and the family vibe.
Already in 1995, while the company was still very small, Tami started working with prisons, donating her materials to them, so that prisoners could also get access to spiritual wisdom. In 2018, Sounds True Foundation was born, as a registered non-profit organisation with the purpose to:
“Make transformational education widely available to communities in need no matter what their financial circumstances are—including survivors of violence, at-risk youth, prisoners, veterans, individuals with disabilities, and those in developing countries. We are also focused on training social leaders in the skills of mindful awareness from areas such as law enforcement, education, social justice, and environmental activism.”
Sounds True is to this day privately owned, and an extraordinary example of how it is possible for a single founder, without resources or credentials to speak of, to gradually build an amazing, successful and impactful company over the years. Leveraging each new technology and each new idea to take yet another step forward. It is for us an illustration that all that we think we need to build a business, we might actually not really need. Maybe what really matters is passion, persistence, empathy and authenticity - and that we contribute, learn and grow every day.
Some of the questions Tami addressed during this Heartful Academy session:
What would you advise people who feel a strong sense of passion, but are in doubt whether they can make a living doing what they are passionate about? How does one figure out if a passion should remain a hobby, or should be turned into one’s full time work?
Why are you so passionate about spreading spiritual wisdom? What can it do for people to engage with the materials and the teachers that your company puts out there?
So many companies have died when a new technology came in, like Blockbuster and Kodak. It would seem that you have disrupted your own business more than a few times! What is your secret to staying relevant, no matter the huge technological shifts that have happened in your industry over the 35 years you have been in business?
What do you say to the argument that workplaces should be kept free from religion of any sorts, including new age and spirituality? Is it not true that some employees can feel uncomfortable if a group of their colleagues sit down to meditate, or start doing affirmations and prayers?
Business leaders would normally say that love is for the family, and the closest friends, but at work you need to be professional, so this is not a place to be all warm, fuzzy and loving. How does love factor in, in the way you run your company and your culture?
What has been the most difficult part of your journey? And how did you overcome it?
What is the hardest part of creating a culture like the one you have at Sounds True? When have you been really challenged?
What mistakes have you made, and what lessons have you learned from them?