In case you’re not attuned to the stars, Sanctuary Ventures Inc., the digital media company focusing on mystical services for a millennial audience, wants to change that. Wednesday, March 20 is the start of the astrological new year and the launch of Sanctuary’s new astrological reading app. It offers daily horoscopes, first-in-kind live and on-demand readings with professional astrologers, and plans to expand into the e-commerce marketplace (think tarot cards, crystals, sage bundles, and incense).
For readers of a certain age, the question “What’s your sign?” evokes images of open-shirted, disco-dancing Lotharios. But as everything in life is cyclical (sorry, eggs), many millennials and members of Generation Z are gravitating toward the pseudoscience, making the question of what’s your sun sign (Aries, Libra, etc.) once again a generic point of conversation, as well as fueling the burgeoning mystical and psychic services market valued at more $2 billion, according to 2018 market research from Ibis World.
The Sanctuary app builds on the success the company has had with its Facebook Messenger astrology bot, but now expands its offerings beyond free daily horoscopes by allowing users to upgrade to a monthly ($19.99) or yearly ($199.99) subscription membership level granting access to live, chat-based readings from a team of professional astrologers led by Astrologer-in-Residence Aliza Kelly. Subscribers are able to access one astrology live-chat reading per week with the option of additional readings at $19.99 each. (At press time, a weekly $3.99 option was still listed in the App Store, although company reps say that is being removed.)
“Astrology is really ancient practice that has existed for centuries,” says Sanctuary co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Ross Clark, who adds the traditional entry point into the space was daily newspapers and magazines, or in-person or phone-based readings. Sanctuary aims to upend the access model via reimagining the experience as a text-based, one-on-one live chat format in shorter, more digestible bites (15- to 20-minute readings).
“Texting is the language of millennials and younger people today, so we really wanted to harness that,” says Clark. “It’s not only the language they are most familiar with but that medium also enables us to provide this anytime, anywhere experience. The text-based mechanism also provides a filter if you are someone who is just dipping your toe in the water or you’re someone who maybe is reluctant to go and do these sorts of things in person or on the phone, so there is a layer that gives people reassurance.”
Clark sees the Sanctuary app launch as “part of the broader wellness story that has been happening for the last few years,” which includes tarot, Reiki energy healing, and “everything we have seen with the rise of the meditation app.”
The self-care and wellness industry is a booming $4.2 trillion market, according to the Global Wellness Institute, with brands such as Goop and mindfulness and meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm experiencing huge growth. Calm was the top-earning app worldwide in the Health & Fitness category during 2018, with an estimated gross revenue of more than $63.6 million, a 277 percent increase from a year earlier, according to Sensor Tower data. Calm’s downloads increased by 120 percent, from 8.15 million in 2017 to 17.95 million in 2018.
With younger Americans turning away from organized religion (a 2015 Pew Research Poll reported 35 percent of millennials eschew any religious affiliation), Clark believes they are hungry for a system that “helps them understand both themselves and a way of filtering and working through all the chaos in the world.” Astrology provides that, he says, as well as adding a playful layer that’s identity-driven and predominantly expressed via platforms such as Instagram.
Self-identification is what initially drew Alice Bell to astrology. A former fashion assistant at Vogue, the 26-year-old Bell began reading charts “obsessively a little over a year ago” and believes the practice helps explain emotions and personality traits she had struggled with.
“I was always comparing myself to others and wondering why I couldn’t act the same, so it helped calm me by telling me there is a reason why I was acting the way I did,” she says. “Other people find that appealing, too, it helps them understand their emotions.”
New York-based Bell began posting about astrology on Instagram in March of last year, and the response was so great she began reading people’s charts via direct messaging. By summer’s end she was charging for readings before launching Stalk, her lifestyle and astrology website, in late November. Demand for her services had increased so much that by early 2019 she quit her job at Vogue and now focuses solely on her astrological business, which offers astrology chart readings ($40 to $65) and merchandise ranging from sign-specific coffee mugs to phone cases and tote bags.
“After I announced I was quitting, the orders started piling up,” says Bell, whose readings now have a wait time of three to four weeks as she juggles in-person event appearances, requests for written astrological content, and face-to-face readings with clients. “It’s like the universe saw me give my notice and immediately I started getting astrology job offers.”
Sanctuary had a less mystical entrée into the marketplace thanks to $1.5 million in seed funding led by Advancit Capital, Broadway Video Ventures, Greycroft Partners, KEC Ventures, and Blue Seed Collective. Other apps in the astrology space include TimePassages and the AI-powered Co-Star, while the marketplace in general now accommodates items as diverse as a $15 crystal and incense kit from Urban Outfitters and $27 Psychic Vampire Repellent at Goop.
Clark says the paid readings are the central monetizable product on the app with e-commerce merchandise to follow. At launch, Sanctuary astrologers are available every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET, with plans to expand to 24-hour-a-day coverage later in the year.