Former ByteDance marketing head is on a mission to relieve the stress of urban Chinese

Written by Julianna Wu Published on     4 mins read

Vivienne Gong, founder and CEO of Heartly Lab, on how mindfulness benefitted herself and her startup journey.

When Vivienne Gong was studying abroad, she found out about mindfulness meditation. In 2019, Gong left her position as the head of global strategic partnership and marketing at ByteDance to found Heartly Lab, a lifestyle brand that provides content and training related to mindfulness.

According to an article published on Heartly Lab’s WeChat channel, mindfulness is a special mind-body state, in which our mind is fully aware of our internal conditions and external environment.

Through years of practice, mindfulness has helped Gong to reach a calmer state. It improves her efficiency and concentration, relieves her stress, and mitigates mood swings, the founder and CEO told Oasis.

In late 2021, Gong sat down with Oasis to hear about her take on mindfulness and how she used her experience of working for ByteDance and Uber to establish Heartly Lab.

The following interview has been edited and consolidated for brevity and clarity.

Oasis (OS): What was your first mindfulness meditation experience like?

Vivienne Gong (VG): In my first meditation experience, a friend took me to a Zen center, I sat down and meditated for around 20 minutes. Nothing profound happened, but that was the first time I became aware of all the subconscious thoughts going on in my mind. I felt a bit more stable afterwards. That made me curious, so I continued with mindfulness meditation.

Stability does not mean that I’m calm all the time. It’s more of a personal enlightenment or awakening that makes it possible to have a clear perception.

OS: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have towards mindful meditation?

VG: There are two types. The first is that many people think meditation is about emptying your mind and thinking about nothing. They take that as the only goal for meditation. In fact, it’s about subtly focusing on a certain subject.

The second kind is that some people exaggerate the effects of mindful meditation. They may see meditation as a mysterious power—metaphysical and unreliable. In fact, it’s an objective, practical, and scientific methodology that teaches you how to live your life peacefully.

Heartly Lab organized Heartly Retreat mindfulness practice sessions in Chengdu in July 2021. Photo courtesy of Heartly Lab.
Heartly Lab organized Heartly Retreat mindfulness practice sessions in Chengdu in July 2021. Photo courtesy of Heartly Lab.

OS: At what point did you decide to turn your interest in mindfulness into a business?

VG: During the pandemic, I began to practice mindful meditation a lot—sometimes hours at a time—which made me feel more stable and calm. There are so many uncertain and impermanent things in the world, but if you have a relatively steady state of mind, then there is nothing that you can’t handle.

In terms of turning it into a service, I found that many people are in need of good mental health solutions. As the consumption power of people in China increases, they are seeking spiritual remedies to build a more balanced life.

OS: Why do you choose to incorporate Buddhism concepts into your program?

VG: Heartly Lab is a content-oriented online platform that advocates for a mindful lifestyle. The content needs to be closely related to users’ habits and usage scenarios, as well as rooted in Chinese culture.

On a personal level, when I was exposed to mindfulness meditation abroad, because of the cultural differences, I felt the content and context didn’t speak directly to me. There seemed to be a gap. Later, I got to learn about Mahayana Buddhism and Zen philosophy, and the gap was filled.

OS: How has your previous professional experience benefitted your current operations?

VG: I worked for Uber China and Douyin in their early days. This gave me a great vision and plenty of first-hand experience in China’s internet industry. I’ve also seen how individual or contextual factors can easily lead to the great growth or the crux of a product. Many of these observations can benefit Heartly Labs.

The difference is that this industry [spiritual care] does not need to rely on capital to encourage usage. Our service targets the user’s minds, and the kind of problems we solve can’t be addressed by capital.

Vivienne Gong practises mindfulness in Heartly Lab’s Heartly Retreat sessions in Chengdu in July 2021. Photo courtesy of Heartly Lab.
Vivienne Gong practises mindfulness in Heartly Lab’s Heartly Retreat sessions in Chengdu in July 2021. Photo courtesy of Heartly Lab.

OS: What are the difficulties in promoting Heartly Lab in China?

VG: We think the difficulty is that this is not the type of app that becomes a sensation overnight.

Unlike entertainment products, which can attract a larger number of users at a fast pace, consumption related to self-discipline and personal growth, such as fitness, run a bit against human nature.

From the point of view of “business for good” and by considering the greatest benefit for our users, we need to be patient about the growth of this industry.

OS: What is a statement that few people agree with, but that you believe is true?

VG: In the environment I was in before, a company’s success is determined by the speed at which it scales up and the profit it generates. Today, some investors still say to me, “What you want to achieve is good, but it’ll be a pity if the company isn’t successful in the end.” I challenge them by asking how they define success.

There shouldn’t be just one definition for success. I know people who have their own small businesses. I find a sense of accomplishment and self-realization in these people. They are small but have a positive impact on their customers and neighborhoods. Businesses like these can inspire the younger generation to pursue diverse career opportunities.


Julianna Wu


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