Gwen Sullivan Built a Business Around Being a “Fitness Misfit”

Content Leader
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Name: Gwen Sullivan

Business:  Joyn

Launched: April 2018 (congratulations, Gwen!)

Location: Portland, OR

Gwen Sullivan has spent years working in the sports and fitness industry, but she’s spent far longer feeling like she was a “fitness misfit.” As a kid, she played sports but always preferred the team element to the workout itself. Later, as a busy adult juggling working and parenting, fitness felt like a chore. When Gwen discovered she wasn’t the only one feeling resentful in the gym, she decided it was time to make a change. She’d stop focusing on reps and steps or minutes and miles and start finding activities that she simply enjoyed. This shift in thinking inspired Gwen to create Joyn, a website that curates community-oriented, inclusive group classes designed for fitness – but far more importantly, to promote movement and joy.

Gwen, tell us more about the inspiration behind Joyn.

I created Joyn because I wanted to change the conversation around movement by starting with joy. Joyn aims to change the way people feel about moving and movement. We measure success not in inches or miles but by the level of happiness we bring to people.

One of the things I’m most proud of is the business model. Joyn is a two-sided marketplace, and we are the connector. As we grow, we are helping all of the class leaders grow their businesses, too. Our class leaders are creating inclusive communities by offering classes like Underwater Hockey, Fat Girls Boxing, People of Color Hike, My People’s Cardio, Silent Disco and Meditation for Regular People. The leaders are incredibly diverse, but they all share a passion for inspiring others to find joy in movement.


Is Joyn tapping into a cultural shift in the way we define fitness?

People are finally realizing that the outdoors is for everyone. In general, companies are trying to break down barriers and be more welcoming and inclusive. Joyn is part of this trend, offering classes like Brown Folk Fishing and Hula Hoop Fun in the park. There are more classes like this on the way.

It’s fascinating that so many people associate fitness with being inside a gym. By offering active group classes in local parks and trails, we’ve been able to change the way people think about and experience movement. And yes, it’s starting with joy.

What has been most challenging about starting your own business? 

Nailing the elevator pitch! Joyn is a really unique concept and platform. It’s hard to describe in a soundbite. Our website does a great job of capturing the spirit and energy of the classes as well as the personalities of the leaders.

What do you find particularly satisfying about running your own business?

I love the variety of roles. In the morning, I might be working on budgeting or a strategy to recruit more class leaders. In the afternoon, I’ll be working on how to optimize the website for new visitors searching for classes. And in the evening, I’ll attend a hip-hop dance class to check out a potential new class leader. I wear so many hats! 

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Your business is brand new. How do you get new clients?

Word of mouth is our best marketing tool. Many of our class leaders already have a solid following, and their regular clients bring friends to try out a Joyn class. They have such a great time, they end up bringing another friend, and so on!

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out in business?

Through my work with Joyn, I’ve realized you can invest in and build community and business at the same time. Joyn integrates the two – they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We hope to show how both can thrive.

Gwen, who or what keeps you going on a tough day?

Coffee! Actually, it’s knowing that we’re helping people rekindle their relationship with movement and find joy in doing so. It’s also knowing we’re helping to grow other small businesses. We’re all really proud of what we are building with Joyn.


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1 Comment
Content Creator

I love this quote: "Through my work with Joyn, I’ve realized you can invest in and build community and business at the same time. Joyn integrates the two – they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We hope to show how both can thrive." And it's also smart business -- the more people from more demographics you can include, the more clients/customers you will have!