Ethan Garr & Sean Ellis
Growth Study: Mirror is Driving Breakout Growth to Reflect the Best Version of You
Mirror is a company on a mission to build experiences that connect people to a better version of themselves. The Mirror is a connected fitness device; an interactive home gym that comes alive with a tap on its companion app to provide interactive workouts ranging from yoga and meditation to kettlebells and cardio. But when the workout is complete and the device is turned off, Mirror cleverly fades into the family living room, just another elegant full-length mirror hanging discreetly on a wall.
In this growth study, we will follow Mirror’s growth journey to their $500 million acquisition by Lululemon in 2020. The company is a hardware, software, and content company all-in-one. That is a lot of company to get off of the ground, and it is this breadth that Founder and CEO, Brynn Putnam, says is the greatest challenge the company faces. However, experience and intuition gave her the confidence to believe that the Mirror concept would be the right product for the rapidly expanding connected fitness market, and with passion and ruthless prioritization around vision, plan, and goals she and her team brought her idea from an animated video to breakout growth success story.
So let’s dig in and find out how the Mirror team nailed product/market fit by reversing traditional approaches to building hardware. We will look to understand more about the tools and techniques they use to build trust and enthusiasm for a high-priced product most consumers never touch before they buy, and we will study how their growth engine uses social proof, celebrity influence, referrals, and other ingredients to generate a flywheel effect.
Innovation that reflects the best version of you
“Connected Fitness” once referred to workout apps and fitness trackers, but evolved when Peloton combined both in an exercise machine. Mirror is part of this growing category, along with Peloton competitors Echelon, Hydrow for rowing, FightCamp for boxing, and others. Consumers have always loved the idea of working out at home, but the footprint and costs of building a home gym, along with the challenges of integrating exercise content into a home workout have often prevented adoption.
Brynn’s journey into Mirror began as her life began to change and she saw the need for an at-home workout device to meet her own needs:
I was newly pregnant running an increasingly busy business, and the boutique studio model wasn’t working for me personally anymore. Class reservation, travel, etc, wasn’t working. I wanted to work out at home but didn’t want to sacrifice the quality of the class experience for the convenience of an at-home workout. I didn’t want to put a big treadmill or bike into my apartment.
A former professional dancer, Brynn had developed a chain of boutique fitness studios in New York City, where she obsessed on optimizing the customer experience, in part because she didn’t have the financing to invest heavily in external marketing and had to rely on creating a cycle of word-of-mouth growth.
One year, she added wall mirrors to the studio and later learned from a client survey that her customers thought it was the best upgrade she had made; they felt it created a more immersive experience. As she considered ideas for an at-home fitness solution, she connected the dots between studio mirrors, an immersive home workout experience, and a device with a small and unobtrusive footprint.
To be successful, Mirror needed to engage its audience, with rich and engaging content, and how that content was accessed and integrated would be crucial. Today, Mirror boasts 10,000 available workouts, upsells to live personal training, and on-demand, interactive workouts in more than 20+ different exercise genres for every fitness level. Managed by a mobile app, the software can even automatically adjust in real-time based on a user’s heart rate data, injuries, and other inputs.
But how did Brynn’s team get this right, right from the start?
Bullseye: Nailing product/market fit on the first shot
Rapid prototyping and other technological advancements have made it easier and less expensive to bring hardware products to market, but unlike the world of B2C where form and function can often be quickly and inexpensively simulated to real customers, hardware companies often have to bet on their own intuition when it comes to finding product/market fit.
“For a long time, close to two years, we had to trust our own domain expertise,” Brynn explains, “We knew it would be hard for customers to get a sense of what a polished product would look and feel like so we didn’t really try to get it in front of them.”
Brynn believes two distinct elements helped her and her team succeed early despite this challenge. First, she had 10 years of experience building and running her chain of boutique fitness gyms. This was a hands-on customer development experience that gave her unique insight and understanding of the market. Secondly, she viewed Mirror as a content and experience company, not just a hardware product. Where most hardware companies build function than layer on experience and brand, her team approached the process in reverse, over-indexing on the customer experience first.
Brynn raised Mirror’s first round of capital using an animated video and a series of images to recreate the brand experience, then spent the next two years developing the functional product. While not a substitute for a prototype, these videos helped gauge how investors and consumers would become excited about and develop trust in the product. Mirror’s approach continues to demonstrate what we have learned from other breakout growth stories we have studied in B2B and B2C: companies that over-emphasize the end-user experience position themselves to take markets faster than their competitors.
Once the product launched, it became clear that Mirror had, in-fact, quickly achieved a high level of product/market fit, and in the next section, we will learn how the company uses its focus on customer experience as a catalyst for growth.
Tuning the Growth Engine to Build trust
At just under $1,500, plus a monthly subscription fee of $39/month, Mirror is a premium purchase. While, the company does have three retail locations, very few purchasers actually see a Mirror in person before they buy. The company hasn’t built a sales team or relied on other high-touch methods to build the trust to overcome this challenge, but instead has focused on establishing Mirror’s brand. While they have employed a variety of channels to build brand awareness, Brynn credits strong product/market fit as the foundation of their success in this area.
She explains that building the brand and establishing brand awareness and brand equity early on was especially important for Mirror before employing direct response tactics. “We knew we were creating–not just a new product–but a new category and we wanted people to trust us early on. We made ‘go-big’ choices early like billboards, retail stores, out-of-home, celebrity influencers — and these were all about building brand awareness.”
This is fairly antithetical to typical B2C approaches we have seen that rely heavily on highly-measurable direct marketing methods, but it makes sense when considering Brynn’s fundamental belief that “once you see the mirror you fall in love with it.” By finding channels that put people in front of the Mirror either physically or in their mind’s eye through videos and imagery the team could connect the dots for consumers: “We knew once you saw the visual of the product you would love it and want to get it.”
So with this fundamental understanding, Mirror set about identifying unique ways to pique consumer interest. One exciting place they found this early enthusiasm was when musical artist, Alicia Key’s posted an Instagram video of her screaming with joy when she received a Mirror as a gift. This unlocked celebrity influencers as a channel for the company, and through a test/learn processes the Mirror team has found other channels from PR to paid to ignite that initial interest. From there, they are able to start educating consumers about the product, leading to the final piece to close the sale: social proof. Whether it’s reading reviews online, hearing about the product from friends, etc, this is the moment you as a customer understand you are joining a community of happy and satisfied members.
This funnel that leads users from excitement to education to safety to a purchase decision also fuels a powerful viral loop. In our TransferWise Growth Study, Neilan Peiris, VP of Growth said, “Getting our customers to trust us was hard, getting our customers to trust their friends was easier.” The more customers are falling in love with their Mirrors, building habits around workouts, and sharing their stories through their networks, the faster the product will grow.
Now that we understand Mirror’s growth engine, let us look at how the company is structured, and the strategies and tactics they are using to sustain breakout growth.
Building Brand and Leading Breakout Growth in an Explosive Category
As a business, Mirror is complex in that it includes original hardware, software, and content. This is a large ecosystem, so driving growth requires ruthless prioritization. The company faces constant inbound opportunities, which could easily distract teams from core growth activities, but Brynn and her team have kept this in check by setting goals at the executive level that are mission-focused and well-communicated throughout the company.
She explains that, to some degree, the transparency and focus Mirror leverages today is based on mistakes she made in her previous business. There she did not have a clear North Star related to mission and vision unifying her team. By building these early at Mirror, and disseminating them effectively, individuals and teams have internalized the mission, leading to better prioritization and decision-making. “We still take things on and then look back and say the effort vs. impact didn’t make a ton of sense, but everyone understands what we are building, why we are building it, and how we do it.”
As the company has grown and evolved, so has the team. In the beginning, the team was made up of “scrappy generalists,” wearing many different hats, but prior to the Lululemon acquisition, the team had entered more of a scale-up mode with a full-time team of about 75 employees, plus part-time help in member services and retail. The company also brought on more senior leaders who own their functional silos and began hiring more mid-level and junior teammates to support growth.
Brand building remains a crucial piece of the ongoing growth efforts, and a dedicated brand team focuses on creative operations and creative development. A small digital team handles paid channels including Facebook, Google, Bing, and television advertising. This team is also responsible for testing and unlocking new channels. Email acquisition and retargeting and engagement are shared across both the brand and digital teams.
While the company does not have a sales team, a member experience team handles pre-purchase questions and focuses on a high-touch, post-sale onboarding process. This team ensures that consumers have a great experience from delivery and installation, and especially through their first 90 days of ownership. This period is critical as customers learn how to use the device, build habits, and meet their goals. Delighting customers here helps power Mirror’s flywheel of growth.
Experience-Driven, Breakout Growth
“So the way I see every growth initiative is you have to put the customer at the center. If fundamentally you are serving the customer I think you can make great choices.”
This intense focus on the customer experience has driven Mirror’s growth from a prototype made with a tablet, and a piece of one-way glass into a story of breakout growth in the connected fitness space. Whether a company will find product/market fit is always a bit of a guess, but Brynn did bring extensive experience to the process from her previous boutique studio business. In that business, she didn’t have the funding to test and leverage external marketing channels, but she learned how to “cust-dev” an experience that people loved and shared.
That experience, and learning from mistakes, helped shape Mirror and guide the mission-driven mindset and approach that powered the company’s explosive growth and led to their successful acquisition. Mirror was launched at TechCrunch in September of 2018 to palpable enthusiasm. The company then turned that excitement into a process and a growth engine. That growth engine is building the experiences that connect people to a better version of themselves every day.