Entrepreneur ChatBrynn Putnam, founder of Refine Method & The Mirror
Brynn Putnam has the golden touch. She’s been able to do something that countless other entrepreneurs dream of (twice!): channel her passions around fitness and health into two successful and coveted businesses, Refine Method and The Mirror.
Putnam, a Harvard alum and former professional ballet dancer, created Refine Method in 2010—a New York-based exercise class that combines resistance training with high-intensity cardio. After graduating from college and becoming frustrated with the lack of fitness options that truly challenged her as an athlete and ballerina, Putnam decided to create her own workout practice. Refine Method quickly gathered a cult (and celebrity) following in New York and has since expanded to multiple studios in the area.
Six years later, when she was pregnant with her son, Putnam began to crave the ability to work out from home. Her brainchild was The Mirror, a sleek full-length mirror that streams live and on-demand fitness classes, personalized to every user. It looks like something out of The Jetsons, but it’s very much the real deal. Like Refine Method, The Mirror has already gained a modern-day, celeb following, including Alicia Keys, Ellen DeGeneres, and Gwyneth Paltrow. And there's more growth on the horizon: model Karlie Kloss and fitness apparel giant Lululemon recently signed on as investors.
We sat down with Putnam to hear how she stays healthy, sets goals, and keeps herself accountable.
I was a professional dancer from the time I could walk. I started my career as a ballet dancer in the New York City Ballet when I was 16. I continued dancing through college, as well. When I graduated, I still saw fitness as part of my career, and used to teach classes as a way to make ends meet. That’s also when I came up with the idea for Refine Method.
For me, fitness is not just about feeling confident in your body, but also about giving you the confidence to take on physical and emotional challenges. I use fitness as a foundation for a good life and it’s so important for everyone. Ballet was unusual in that it’s a sport you can never really “win.” You wake up every day just striving to be better than the day before. That’s why the slogan at Refine Method is “be better.” It’s not about the destination for exercise but the process that’s rewarding for me.
In 2016, as the owner of a gym, I was struggling to work out myself. I was managing an increasingly large staff and number of studios. I was also pregnant with my son and had bad morning sickness and didn’t want to go to a class. So, I decided to reimagine what working out looked like at home.
I remain an owner of Refine. I have a great operations team that runs the day to day, and I still take the workouts myself. One of the biggest learnings from my time at Refine was finding a great workout methodology. I think generally people are exercise omnivores who want to do many things to work out. But trends change and needs change. With The Mirror, I was inspired to build a content agnostic platform.
"For me, fitness is not just about feeling confident in your body, but also about giving you the confidence to take on physical and emotional challenges."
I don’t really do resolutions. Across my whole life, I’ve tried to set personal goals on a regular basis. I spend a lot of time each month looking at yearly and quarterly goals at a personal and professional level. Then I track my progress and edit them when they need to be edited. What’s worked for me is that I’ve woven goal-setting into my baseline professional life. The personal layer is new to me with the addition of my son.
What’s your biggest advice on setting goals?
I’m more of a qualitative decision-maker, but I believe that goals with trackable metrics are very important. You also need to know what metrics you are going to use to track your progress. A lot of times we create goals that are too big or too small—they are tough to complete and be successful.
How do you stay healthy, both mentally and physically?
For me, my relationship to fitness has changed over the course of the years. As a dancer, I worked out all day, every day. As a studio owner, I was creating the most effective and efficient workout system possible for busy professionals. Now as a mother of a young child, it’s about making time to prioritize myself vs. physical results from fitness.
Cardio and strength with weights is my bread and butter from Refine, but The Mirror has been a great platform for me for exploration. Now I do things like yoga, which I had a hard time doing in the past, and boxing, which I had not done before.
Being an entrepreneur is stressful and time consuming—how do you manage the mental and physical overload? Did ballet prepare you in some ways for being a founder?
Something that has become new for me is trying to have time where I am more present. It’s really tempting as a mom and entrepreneur to try to multitask and juggle it all. I’m really focused on working to be present in the things I’m doing. If I can do this, I think I’ll have better relationships—both personal and professional.
Do you meditate?
We recently partnered with Lululemon for The Mirror, which led to launching meditation content early next year. I’ve been trying it out myself. We want The Mirror to be part of your everyday life and routine, and so many people aspire to do it daily. But there’s the friction of building it into your life and doing it with other people. The Mirror is a great platform to do this at home.
"It’s really tempting as a mom and entrepreneur to try to multitask and juggle it all. I’m really focused on working to be present in the things I’m doing."
What was your biggest fear when you decided to start The Mirror?
When you start a new businesses, you have the “emperor's new clothes” feeling. We worked on it in complete stealth for two years before we launched at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2018. I was nervous because I didn’t know what the public perception of what we created would be.
Is there another entrepreneur you look to for inspiration or advice?
My husband, Lowell. He’s the founder of a financial tech company, Quovo, that was acquired a year ago. He’s always been a few steps ahead of me with entrepreneurship and I’ve really admired the passion and the focus it took to build his company.
Could you share your favorite wellness hack?
So much of my fitness routine has evolved on my journey from dancer to studio owner to tech entrepreneur. If you treat your body like it belongs to someone you love, you will make the right decisions always. It’s like the golden rule. And my son is a daily reminder that I’m not just living my life for myself, but for someone else.