Mirror Wanted to Be the Next iPhone. Instead, It’s Selling to Lululemon.
Why would the startup sell for $500 million when sales were booming in the middle of a pandemic?
Last January, when I found myself in the basement of Lululemon’s Fifth Avenue store being offered cans of charcoal-activated matcha tea, boxed water, and a charcuterie spread, I had no idea how much of a relic a gathering like this would soon become. It was approximately two months before Covid-19 shook the world like a snow globe — purging us from our shops and gyms and restaurants and anything else that remotely resembled life in The Before. Here, the basement lights were soft, candles burned dimly, the bookcase held a copy of the first Alison Roman cookbook. I, along with some 40 other women were drawn here for a panel discussion on mindfulness, headlined by Arianna Huffington and Christy Turlington. But the panelist I came to see was Brynn Putnam, the founder and CEO of a hot venture-backed startup that had managed to pull off what retailers and technologists had been fantasizing about for years — a magic mirror.
Putnam’s Mirror, with a capital M, is a $1,495 full-length mirror that doubles as a portal to a gym. The Mirror can read your heart rate, track the calories you’ve burned, and personalize workouts based on whether you have a bad back, or want more defined abs. While it currently offers workouts across 20 different genres — from to pilates, to strength training, to boxing — Putnam, a Harvard-schooled professional ballerina and former barre chain owner has had much larger ambitions for the product. “We always said that we believe we’re building the next iPhone,” she had told Fast Company late last year.
Fitness, in other words, was only the gateway drug for the Mirror to become the content delivery system for anything else virtual. “We’re building the third screen in your life,” she said. The possibilities were endless — telemedicine, fashion, therapy. Putnam had raised $74.8 million from VCs, along with celebrity customers including Alicia Keys, Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Hudson, earning the four-year-old startup a $300 million valuation, and a lot of buzz.