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Meet The Inventors: Yvette McGaffin of Reform RX On How To Go From Idea To Store Shelf

An Interview With Tyler Gallagher

As a part of our series called “Meet The Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Yvette McGaffin.

Yvette McGaffin is the CEO and co-founder of Reform RX, the world’s first digitally connected, commercial grade Pilates reformer. A former professional dancer, Yvette has taught Pilates and reformer Pilates for over 15 years. In 2015, she and her husband, Neal, opened their first boutique reformer Pilates studio in Belfast, Northern Ireland. They have been running studios for over six years but having tested every kind of Pilates reformer, Yvette wanted to design a more sleek and aesthetically pleasing reformer. It was along this process that they identified an opportunity to design the world’s first connected, commercial grade Pilates reformer. The Reform RX, or ‘RX’ as it’s commonly known, officially launched this year and is available to order in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Ireland.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I was born and raised in Hamilton, New Zealand, where I grew up with my parents and four siblings. At the age of six, my mom took to me a tap dance lesson. From that very first class, I immediately fell in love with dance. During my school years, I continued going to different dance classes as well as playing school sports — netball, athletics, you name it — I was playing it. Even back then, I loved exercise and movement, and how it made me feel. I enjoyed my time at school and was Head Girl at Hamilton Fraser High.

When I was 18 I was accepted into Brent Street Performing Arts School in Sydney, Australia. After graduating, I relocated to London, England when I was 21. My goal was to progress my performing arts career and for the next six years, I danced commercially, including musical theatre.

While I was in London, alongside my professional dancing career I also began working with Heartcore, a pioneering reformer Pilates boutique studio that had appeared out of the woodwork. The studio founder, Jess Schuring had trained in LA and her vision was to bring a new era of reformer Pilates to the city of London. Less about slow, traditional, and rehabilitative postures and exercises, and more about showing people just how incredible reformer pilates was as an all-body workout. During the years I spent in Australia, I had trained in traditional Pilates, but this new concept — using the reformer, really resonated with me. I taught in Heartcore for several years, before travelling to Toronto, New Zealand and Australia with my husband, Neal. The entire time I spent in these different countries, I taught in various boutique studios and personal trained several clients, all while honing my craft and nurturing my own style of teaching reformer Pilates.

In 2015, we relocated to Belfast, Northern Ireland — where Neal is originally from to open our first boutique studio, Reform. Our second studio in Belfast six months later, and a third, located in Edinburgh, Scotland opened in 2017.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I once attended a business and networking seminar in a town called Banbridge, it’s about 30 miles outside Belfast. The key speaker — Justin Cook was discussing the concept of ‘making people feel something’, and how that should be the core purpose in everything you do. I have taken that quote with me ever since and founded our reformer studios based on it. If you think about how it manifests, you will see it in everything — from entrepreneurship to the music you listen to, to how your favourite brands connect with you, to the food you eat in a beautiful restaurant. It’s become a life mantra for me.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

When I was 16, my geography teacher Mr Sigh recommended a book by James Redfield called Celestine Prophecy. It is incredibly insightful and encourages a refreshed approach to life — to focus on connections with people, energy, and optimism. I have read it three times and usually when I’m at a transitional point in my life and need to make some important decisions.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

Through my years of teaching, I had tried and tested almost every kind of Pilates reformer. This instilled the initial idea to design a sleeker, more aesthetically pleasing reformer — one that would look less like a medieval torture device (as they’re commonly described as), and instead something that would better resemble a premium piece of stand-out furniture.

Three years ago, we signed up to an Invest Northern Ireland incentive, which was how we were introduced to Reform RX designer, Austin Owens — who we like to call the James Dyson of reformer Pilates! Neal, Austin, and I were about to head into an Invest Northern Ireland meeting to present our plans, but amongst ourselves we’d been toying with various ideas that would give us a stronger USP. It was right before that very meeting when Neal turned to Austin and I and asked, ‘because of the spine that has been incorporated into the machine, do we have an opportunity to track user metrics?’, and I remember Austin just looking right up at us, and we could see from the reaction on his face — that this was it. The mic drop moment. The lightbulb. The gamechanger — however you like to describe it. From that point in, we knew we could change how the entire fitness industry would view reformer Pilates. Our vision from the outset has always been to elevate the reformer workout — make it more commonly known as an ultimate all-body workout that targets every muscle group but minimizes joint pressure. By making the RX digitally connected, we knew this vision could become a reality.

There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

I’d say our team comes with a combined skillset, and when you bring together a wide range of skills, that’s where the magic happens. For instance, my co-founder and husband, Neal is the strategic thinker — he can translate thoughts or ideas into operational next steps and actions, whereas my skillset comes from years of working in the industry, teaching pilates, understanding the consumer, and being 100% obsessed about reformer Pilates.

Sometimes, it’s equally important to remove yourself from the project and examine everything through a critical eye. critical eye. Identifying what each person’s strengths and weaknesses are (myself included) and recognizing where the gaps — or opportunities lie. Neal and I always knew we were not going to be able to do it all, so we recruited the best in the business in terms of design, strategy and management to help this project come to fruition.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

From our initial cap fundraising round, we have found that it’s ultimately about proving the market is out there for your product — that it exists, that your people (consumers) are hungry for it. John Foley, founder of Peloton paved the way for us and other connected fitness equipment brands in that sense, as he sold the idea that a demand, for high-end, connected and at-home products was out there. While we didn’t have to do that as such, we still had to convince investors that there was a market for our niche product.

I’d recommend to anyone who is at that early stage of their journey, to do as much research as possible. Monitor trends, the wider market space — and most importantly, obsess over your consumer. Understand everything you can about them, from their day-to-day life to the brands they associate themselves with. It adds so much more weight to your case if you can back up everything you’re saying, and why your product should exist with real-time insights and research.

Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?

Without a doubt, our investor — and friend, Hollywood movie producer Bernadette Caulfield. She has been an unwavering support throughout this entire process. When she was in Belfast filming Game of Thrones, she’d listen to me at 5.30am in the morning, three times a week, during her PT session talk about this idea I had to design a digitally connected Pilates reformer. She encouraged me to never stop believing in what was at that stage, a mere concept. She has an amazing career with an unrivalled work ethic and has become a wonderful mentor and friend to us both along this journey.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I remember travelling over to Grove Design in Leominster, England with Neal and our daughter Maddie was only three months at the time to see our first RX prototype. The reformer looked incredible, but when I jumped on the bed to test it out, I completely panicked. It did not feel right, the movement felt was sticky. In my tunnel vision, I immediately thought ‘this is all over’. When I voiced my concerns to the designers, they instantly — and calmly, readjusted a few components and within 10 minutes, it moved beautifully. We all still laugh about my initial reaction, but it was a massive learning curve for me. I realized how little I knew about engineering and the design process at this stage. My panic made me look past everything that they’d built and instead convince myself it wasn’t going to work. This brings me back to the importance of knowing the different skillsets you need, recruiting the right people — and trusting the process.

The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

The tipping point was when we were introduced to a manufacturing and supply partner who equally believed in our product and our vision. It enabled us to pivot our go-to market strategy and launch Reform RX in the US, Canada and Australia and New Zealand markets almost 12–18 months earlier than we could’ve ever anticipated. Securing this partnership felt like after all the endless work turning our concept into a product, was meant to be. It generated immediate momentum and made us, as a company, more organized and efficient. We implemented the relevant infrastructure and partnered with a US marketing agency that had successfully launched other connected fitness products such as Hydrow, Capti and Climbr. All the above further solidified for us that this dream was no longer a dream. It’s real, it’s fast-moving, and it’s really exciting.

My key takeaway from this experience is simple — just keep pushing on. Don’t allow the self-doubt to creep in, don’t let it take up any space in your head. Action kills doubt so keep moving forward, and the more energy you put into your vision, the more you will get back from the whole experience.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

The road may be longer than you think. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have had it any other way, but the ‘Yvette three years ago’ may not have thought like that! I would remind my earlier self that everything that happens along the way — is meant to happen.

Learn how to be efficient in different surroundings. We never imagined when we first started this journey, that a global pandemic would change our entire working environment. But it’s made our team more adaptable. We’ve overcome so many challenges in the last 18 months, that it’s demonstrated to us how strong our team is.

Coffee meetings are great — but sometimes you need to just do the meeting without the coffee to get the work done and meet deadlines. Additionally, I try to keep certain days free from meetings and calls, so I can focus solely on completing required actions.

Trust your gut on the small and the big decisions. From hardware design to the right talent for our brand to the user journey on our software being bespoke. If you have a niggle that a decision is perhaps not right, then listen to that niggle and trust your instincts — it won’t let you down.

Lastly, enjoy it! Live it, breathe it — and enjoy every moment, including the learnings along the way.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Begin researching what local incentive schemes and support packages are available to you, that will help to nurture your idea. When we signed up to the Invest Northern Ireland TDI Grant scheme, it led to a snowball effect and it was from that scheme, that we were able to source our designer, Austin. Prior to that, we had been looking for a suitable designer for over a year, so the support from an organisation like Invest NI really helped us to transition from the ‘idea’ space to a living, breathing, reality.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

For me, I’d say this ultimately depends on the individual. As an inventor, you have to trust your gut. We spoke to several people, but when you meet the person that’s right for you and your idea and business, then you will absolutely know. In an ideal world, you want to search for that ‘synergy,’ where you’re aligned in your thoughts to the point that they will be able to finish your sentences.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

At the very beginning of our journey, we deliberated whether to bootstrap or seek venture capital first. After thorough research and advice from successful company leaders who’d once upon a time been in our position, we felt the best option for us was to bootstrap. So many concepts come from renders and companies will undertake massive venture raising initiatives without fully understanding what their product has to offer the target customer. We didn’t want to do that. We wholeheartedly believed in our product and felt the best way to gain backing from VC’s was to showcase to them a tangible, premium invention that we had bought to market by obsessing over the customers who want it.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Through the creation of Reform RX and developing a connected reformer Pilates machine, we are now able to bring the reformer Pilates offering to a wider audience. Without connectivity, nobody had been able to do that before. It’s really exciting. The reformer Pilates workout is a complete training experience, it’s different to any type of cardio-based training as it improves longevity and doesn’t impact or place pressure on joints. My drive comes from bringing these benefits to more people with the commercial avenues available to us with our commercial grade product.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Having worked in the fitness and wellness space for over 15 years, I know firsthand how beneficial exercise and living an active lifestyle has on that all-important, mind-body connection. Any form of exercise — from a short walk, an outdoor swim, or a cardio-based reformer class, will release endorphins. Exercise is the simplest way to make us, as humans — feel happier and better about ourselves. And when we feel happier, it shines outward, and we’re kinder to those around us. There’s still much work to do in terms of encouraging and empowering people to adopt a more active lifestyle, and I hope that through the work we do with Reform RX, we can play a small part in that.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

I’d love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Lady Gaga. She is absolutely fearless, and I have always admired that from the minute she disrupted the music industry. She doesn’t care whether she’s loved, liked or loathed, but she hones her craft, and her determination is inspirational. As a fellow female entrepreneur — and I’m sure I speak for many other women, I would often tend to overthink everything. It goes without saying that, as women, we constantly feel the need to prove we are deserving of our voice, and our space in the industry that we operate in. And there’s a lot to learn from people like Gaga. It’s about believing in your passion and vision, and never letting anyone squash it.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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