New York, NY
MNDFL exists to enable humans to feel good. We are New York City’s premier meditation studio.
New York, NY
MNDFL exists to enable humans to feel good. We are New York City’s premier meditation studio.
Ellie Burrows is a true paradox – in the most delightful way. She is a powerhouse businesswoman with a sense of serenity that monks would kill for. Her New York-based meditation studio, MNDFL, was born, as many businesses are, out of a personal need. After struggling to meditate at home, Ellie was looking for a group setting that would facilitate her practice, without luck. She sought guidance from her now business partner, author and meditation instructor, Lodro Rinzler, and MNDFL was brought to life.
Our morning at MNDFL began in true startup style – Ellie was simultaneously greeting customers, serving tea, giving tours and prepping for our photo shoot. She was able to make everyone feel at home, because in a way, the studio is her home. By turning her passion for mindfulness into a career, she has created an often unattainable harmony between her work and personal life. Read on to learn more about her journey, and how she found her way to MNDFL.
Ellie: I was working as an executive in the film business for several years. But I was always into spirituality. Growing up I loved going to Hebrew School. I also had crystals in my house, and I really liked the things you couldn’t see. When most people had books about princesses, I had books about astrology and God. So the pursuit of consciousness has been a big part of my life. When I was working in the film business, any day that was a vacation day was generally spent on retreats or learning from teachers, masters, healers, in pursuit of my own consciousness and/or consciousness in general, because it is all one thing.
Ellie: I knew that I was doing the wrong thing because I would listen to my colleagues talk about film, and I would say to myself, “I will never love my job as much as they love their job, because the only thing I’m that passionate about is present awareness, mindfulness, and consciousness.” Those were ephemeral things. Bosses and mentors said to me, “You know, you’re really great at helping people. People only talk to you about their personal problems, not even about film…and you’re a great writer. You should probably do those things together.” So I quit my job in 2013, and went around the world as a spiritual tourist: Australia, Bali, Bhutan, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, back through Europe. I did India in 2010, so that was its own separate thing, because I believe if you’re spiritual tourist, it is motherland.
Ellie: I got back, got my certificate from NYU in personal coaching, started writing, and got picked up by a couple of blogs – Chalkboard Mag, The Huffington Post, The Numinous – and started volunteering for my now business partner. He had this great nonprofit, called the Institute for Compassionate Leadership. I was really struggling with my own practice at home, and I asked him, “How come there’s no place where I can explore meditation in a contemporary context, with some really high-level teachers? Why do I have to sit in on a whole weekend, or go on a full retreat, or two hour talk? Why do I have to go to a religious center?” I grew up with a lot of religion, that’s not what I’m looking for. I’m looking for a practical tool to help me be a relaxed, more loving human in my everyday life.
Ellie: I knew that if I wanted to open this studio, in order for it to be done with a certain level of integrity, I couldn’t have done it on my own, because I’m not a meditation expert. I’m just a lover and practitioner of meditation – those are really different things.
One of the most important things about running a business, or any type of leadership, is understanding what your strengths and weaknesses are, and not being afraid to ask for support or help. So Lodro and I have this incredible, beautiful work marriage because I can’t do what he does, and he can’t do what I do.
Ellie: I never got my MBA, but I did work in the film business. I would say that on some level going through the William Morris mailroom and being an agent assistant, in terms of customer service, is great training for running a business. You have to make every single human who walks into MNDFL feel like they’re the first human that ever walked in, and give them whatever they need, to make them feel as comfortable as possible. You’re in service to help them be comfortable with themselves, learn how to meditate and to relax.
Ellie: I had a couple of fears, originally. One, that nobody was going to come, and two, what other people were going to say. I think a natural human fear is that of other people’s judgments. I believe that if you have enough self-love, and you believe in what you’re doing, then that’s the best way to manage and mitigate that fear. This business was built out of a lot of love and integrity, and it’s not going to be for everyone. I have to remember that. Of course I want every single human to have the most mind blowing incredible experience at MNDFL, which is unrealistic.
Ellie: If I’m being a hundred percent transparent, I had no idea we were going to open the doors until the day we did. It felt like a need, and I thought I could raise the money, but I didn’t know how to write a business plan, and neither did Lodro. We just waited until we met someone who did.
Then I went on a double date and met a woman who was the director of operations for SLT, and she wanted to start her own consulting business opening boutique fitness studios. I asked her to do my business model – then all of a sudden we had a business model. She suggested we go see some spaces, just to see if it was viable. There was this deep relaxation in the process. It was kind of like this ongoing journey – kind of like a river, where the start and end is unclear if you’re standing in the middle of it.
Ellie: A lawyer is really important to have in the beginning to do your LLC and get your trademark. I highly recommend starting a new trademark process very early because it can go on for a year. We used Legal Hero, which was a flat fee service where you pay $1500, and they handle all of your formation documents. We loved our lawyer so much that she is still our lawyer now.
Ellie: It’s really hard to do it on your own. An important thing about running a business is delegating. I can’t say it enough. Numbers are not my strongest suit. I have the most amazing accountant.
Ellie: I’m a devoted client of Body by Simone, and Simone is a very dear friend. Just going to her studio daily, and being a part of that community, made me feel like the studio model was achievable. Paula Perlis, who is like an auntie to me, owns a company called Taste it Presents, which mass produces desserts for all the all the Darden restaurants – she’s amazing. And my friend, Sarah Perlis, who has her own jewelry line. So just these incredible people who I have seen run their own businesses, and that I can talk to about what it’s like. I have to give some credit to Michael Pollak at Heyday. He does drop-in facials. I also consider my business partner, Lodro Rinzler, a mentor, and my brother. I really love Jesse Israel, who grew up in LA. He’s an advisor to MNDFL, and a general friend to the community.
Ellie: We did what I call, a love round – we raised money amongst family and friends, and people who really believed in what we were doing, and believed in us.
The most important thing, when you are building your business, is that the model is sound. Even if you are going to family and friends, and people who you know, and individuals or investors, you present your plan as if they were strangers. So if you build the business model, you show them all the details. You show them where revenues are going to come from. You show them how you’re spending the money. You show them what the overhead is, all of it.
Ellie: We have 27 expert teachers. They’re all certified in various traditions, generally 2500 years and older. Nothing you are learning here was made up six weeks ago because it worked for one person. You’re learning time tested techniques. These teachers are experts. Some of them have written their own books, or they’ve been teaching for many years. We’re a little like Meditation University. So you come and take different professors and then decide what you want to major in.
So what works for one person, won’t work for another, and that’s the interesting thing about the studio. People are quick to say, “Oh you’re like the Soul Cycle for the mind.” We’re really just a mediation studio. We’re a community. But it’s similar, in a sense. If you prefer working out to hip-hop music, you’re not going to like this teacher that plays 80s music – similar for mediation.
Ellie: The branding was done by a graphic designer named Adam Weidenbaum – he is my best friend from high school’s brother-in-law. Everything that you see in the studio is basically built on the backs of family and friends. For instance my friend Cara Levine, she shot the work of art that’s in the lounge area, it’s called “Crown Chakra.” My sister helped me with these pillows – she is the VP of Ready-to-Wear at Proenza Schouler.
Ellie: No. We had originally wanted another name, but it was already a registered name. It is really important to do your due diligence. We had to change the name, but we had the logo, so we knew it had to start with M because it was so perfect.
Ellie: We post on social. Word of mouth is the best way to find somebody. We look to networks and people that we know and trust to make referrals. But we do share on social media – and that actually generates quite a bit of interest.
Ellie: Lodro and I were freelancers before we opened this business. Imagine going from freelancers to a brick and mortar space. A business that’s opened from 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.. It’s just the level of service, and the kind of service we want to provide, the physical and emotional commitment. And it’s not that I feel depleted, because the meditation supports that.
Ellie: We just want to do one thing super well, which help New Yorkers meditate. If there were ever any reason for more studios, we would hope to deliver. But for now, we’re really focused on this one studio, and making sure everyone is having a positive experience here.
Ellie: I find most of my inspiration from ancient texts – the stuff that people are still talking about that’s been around 5000 years.
Also from humans I love. Humans are the most inspiring thing of all time, and the connection between humans, the inexplicable connection that we share, is where the magic happens.
Ellie: You don’t have to ask people to get in their car for 45 minutes. It’s super accessible. It allows MNDFL to be really available to everybody. And we have all the subways that hit 8th street, so that affects us a lot. Public transportation is the best thing for our business.
Ellie: The best and hardest thing about running your own business, is that the buck stops with you. You are responsible for making every single decision that happens. It’s incredible, but it’s also exhausting. The decision-making never ends.
Ellie: Never, not once. Nope. Absolutely not. It’s the best thing, most exciting thing, most wonderful thing, most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. I never thought I would say that about my job. I feel enormously lucky that I stumbled into it. The idea of bringing meditation in an accessible context to people is a dream. It’s just weird to be living a dream.
Ellie: Don’t ignore the voice. Don’t ignore the small voice inside of you that says, “I want to start my own business. I’m not happy.” Follow your joy.
I also believe that the best businesses come from deep personal needs. Start with what you need in your own life, and go from there. What need are you fulfilling in yourself? What need are you fulfilling in the planet?
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