Jessi Duley, Owner of BurnCycle

Editor's Note:  Jessi Duley has an obsessive cult following, and I understand why.  Talking to her on the phone for an hour is like taking a double-shot of espresso laced with the most empowering inspirational quotes you can find with a splash of Bob Marley's "One Love".  This is the impression I got, and I haven't even taken one of her classes, which I have been told rock you to your core in the best way possible.  Jessi's story struck me because of the hard left turn she took in her career. What's funny is that I didn't even know about this turn until midway through our conversation, the point being, sometimes the most inspirational, incredible women who we all admire deeply aren't the ones who have always had it all pulled together, but the ones who have taken a giant leap of faith and not looked back. 

PS- Her Q&A answer about the importance of having a strong network of women pretty much epitomizes the goal of this site.  Preach on, Boss Lady Duley.

Jessi Duley, Owner of Burn Cycle / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

Jessi Duley, Owner of Burn Cycle / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

Jessi Duley is a force of nature.

Tiny in stature, her looks are very, very deceiving. When Jessi walks into one of her two cycling studios at 6am, her small but mighty presence commands attention from her loyal followers.

“She doesn’t just give you inspirational mantras,” one of her students told me, “she gives you these full on speeches during class. It’s like an out of world experience. After one of her classes, I legitimately cried.”

Even the most un-caffeinated cyclist feels the adrenaline pumping, sweating and pushing their body until they walk out of class feeling completely broken, but also completely empowered—ready to dominate the rest of their day.

"Father + Daughter Like a boss from the start." / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

"Father + Daughter Like a boss from the start." / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

It’s safe to say that when it comes to Jessi, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Jessi is one of two girls, her father a self‐proclaimed workhorse that from a very young age instilled the value of hard work into his girls.

“It was a dirt under your nails, rough and tumble, trying to be resourceful kind of childhood. It was just the most amazing upbringing I could have ever imagined.”

If you needed someone to help you move, for example, you’d call Jessi’s family. There was always this emphasis on building a team—a common thread that she carried with her throughout her life.

Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

“I’ve always had a TON of energy. When you’re a kid people look at you as the ‘annoying kid’. In high school you’re the ‘out of control’ kid.  In college you’re the ‘wild’ kid.”

Jessi harnessed this energy and started ski racing at the age of five. By high school she was the team captain, thriving off the incredible energy she received from flying down the mountains.

“Plus, skiers are just fun people to hang out with. There’s a reason they make movies about skiers and surfers, they’re just cool.”

"You learn to be very resourceful when you work in production :)" / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

"You learn to be very resourceful when you work in production :)" / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

In college, Jessi decided she’d major in theater and production, bouncing back and forth from University of Washington during the year, and NYU where she spent every summer of her four years of undergrad.

“Living in the city teaches you more than any class or book ever could. The level of intellect that is expected in normal bar conversations is so much higher, learning to be well-­read and well-­spoken, it exercised a part of me that challenged me and got me WAY out of my comfort zone.”

When she graduated, Jessi moved to LA and did what any aspiring production professional does, she started working, taking any job she could to sharpen her expertise.

“I did everything I could to work my way up. You just hustle, you say yes to everything, you don’t sleep and you never stop working.”

"Watching a Sunrise in Nepal" / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

"Watching a Sunrise in Nepal" / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

After several years, Jessi felt burnt out, uninspired by the work she was doing and ready for a drastic change. She was in her mid-20’s, facing a fork but not sure where each path would lead. She decided to sell all of her belongings on Craigslist and take a sabbatical, to where else… but India.

“This was before 'Eat Pray Love', by the way, I just like to make that clear {Laughs}. I just needed the world to pick me up by my ankles and shake the shit out of me. I felt like a snow-globe, I needed everything to get shaken up so I could see where it would land.”

She moved in with a family, living in India and then Nepal, spending her days trekking from village to village through the Himalayas.

“It was so amazing to feel so small. If it was pouring down rain you’d bundle up because you’d have 17 more miles to walk, there was no electricity, no heat, it was completely raw.  It made my problems feels trivial, it felt so humbling. “

Engagement in Patagonia / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

Engagement in Patagonia / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

The trip was life-changing, but the best was yet to come. Jessi experienced a change in perspective, knowing that she didn’t want to move back to LA, but unsure of where she’d land and what exactly she was meant to do.

She moved back home to Portland and within a few days met her soon-­to-­be husband at a dive bar. “I thought to myself, you’ve got to be kidding me.  I need this guy like I need a hole in my head.”

Six months later they moved in together, six months after that they were engaged, and then they were married.

“He was my soul-­mate, my twin flame.  It’s like I didn’t even have a choice in the matter!”

Before and after the birth of her first Baby, LJ / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

Before and after the birth of her first Baby, LJ / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

Jessi was facing this incredible opportunity.  She was starting a new life and new family with her husband, and was able to pave a brand new path for herself entirely.  She was passionate about fitness, the one thing that had remained a constant in her life since she started skiing at age five.

“Portland in general is a very chill city. The people are chill, the weather is mild, there’s a lot of yoga, there are some workouts that are intensebut I couldn’t find anything that was hard enough, like ‘I’m going to crush your soul right now’ intense {laughs}.”

She knew that if she could permeate that space with her energy, it would be a good and positive thing.

“I believe in the profound impact of the ripple effect. I knew if I could create a space that could change people’s days, I could change the game for them. One good day can lead to being a better boss, a better mother, a better good day can make you feel good. And when you feel good -­ you do good.

Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

Her idea was a boutique spinning studio that catered to the Portland crowd.

“There’s nobody who knows a die-hard local driven market like Portland like a native Portlander”

Jessi wrote a rough business plan, not knowing the ins and outs of launching your own company but having confidence in herself and her work ethic.

“I didn’t even worry about the how, because I knew I had the right reason and I figured everything else would just fall into place, and it did.”

She picked the brain of her family about all aspects of the business. Her mom helped with accounting, her dad helped with the construction, her sister helped with design. Much like her childhood, this labor of love was very much a family affair.

Two Weeks before the birth of her daughter / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

Two Weeks before the birth of her daughter / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

10 months after Jessi’s first business plan was drafted, BurnCycle Portland opened its doors. In true Jessi fashion, she and her husband also welcomed a daughter to the world…four days before her company launched.

“I had my daughter on August 7th, and I instructed my first teacher training on August 10th. We drove from the hospital to BurnCycle and she sat in the corner and I led a training for my first set of instructors.”

This training, she said, was a humbling experience. Jessi was a new mother, carrying the completely normal, completely healthy residual weight that comes with nine months of pregnancy.

Here I’ve opened a fitness studio, and I can’t participate. I’m human, but in the moment I’m humiliated. I experienced the journey firsthand, of starting to exercise without being in shape, and having to lose 42 pounds and get good at something as an adult.

This experience shaped her, allowing her to become much more compassionate and sensitive to people facing their own personal struggles.

Portland Pride Parade / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

Portland Pride Parade / Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

Since their opening in 2013, BurnCycle has been offering nearly 40 classes a week at their two locations, one in Portland and one in Lake Oswego, right outside Portland.

“A baseline for us is always asking, whose goals are we helping reach?  It could be a client’s or the front desk staff or an instructor’s. It’s a family, a community, and the more we grow together, the more successful we will all be.

Jessi was also approached by Lululemon, asked to be a brand ambassador for the company.

I feel like I’ve found my calling. My job is literally just to build people up and that’s what I live for both inside my company and outside in my teaching. Teaching is one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done in my life. That’s where you take the wildly energetic kid and parlay that energy into infusing everyone’s day with copious amounts of positivity -­ I mean people need it, it’s tough out there and I’ve got enough positive energy to go around!

PHoto Courtesy Jessi Duley

PHoto Courtesy Jessi Duley

The goal for BurnCycle is to open four more locations in four years, which they’re on target to do. The option to franchise, Jessi says, “just didn’t align with my personal vision and goals, but more power to those that do!” BurnCycle, she says, will always be her personal and private endeavor.

Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

Photo Courtesy Jessi Duley

How did you raise money to start BurnCycle?

“It was really difficult, especially the first time because I had to approach these investors pregnant. Imagine trying to convince them that you’re starting a fitness studio and they should give you their money even though you physically couldn’t walk-­the-­walk. I’m very lucky in that we don’t have a crazy hedge fund or an IPO, I have people who want to invest in growing small businesses. They’re not the type that need their dividends and their profit projections, they are more passionate about the why and seeing the success of the company.”

Talk me through your day.  How do you maintain this insane amount of energy?

“I wake up at 4:45am, air-­punching thinking ‘oh my God it’s another day in paradise, let’s do this!’ {Laughs}  I eat a bushel of bananas and I drink a ton of water as I head to my 6am class that I’m teaching. I do drink coffee…double shots of espresso, I don’t mess around! After I teach, I’ll eat an enormous breakfast—eggs or protein pancakes, then I’ll run back to the office and lead meetings and take care of correspondence until lunch. I eat constantly to keep myself sustained and am obsessed with burritos because they are so efficient to eat! I’ll also snack-­‐ greek yogurt, crackers with peanut butter, etc. Then I run home to have dinner with my husband and daughter, bath-­‐time, the works. I usually end my day doing my playlist for the next day which I don’t recommend, because no one sleeps well after blasting music at 10pm.”

 Why do you feel it’s so important to have a huge support system of women?

Women understand that you do things for reasons other than for a profit, and will passionately follow a vision based on how they want to make someone feel, versus ‘we’re going to hit a million dollars in sales’. With my specific group of women, we’re all on 'chapter two'. We’ve all pursued the fancy titles, and decided it wasn’t fulfilling and have arrived at this place where we do something that matters, and be surrounded by passionate, inspiring people.  My particular lady pack is very dynamic in their personalities and strengths but overall we and most Women tend to take things on with a sense of community and shared vision, which creates and incredible flow when we work towards our goals.”

How to you approach the obvious competition...SoulCycle, FlyWheel..and other expanding franchises and local competition?

“It’s amazing how the landscape of spin has changed with the creation of SoulCycle. They’ve created a new kind of workout and it’s amazing that it’s caught on. They’re like the Starbucks of the spinning world and of course we’re going to admire what they do. If large franchises come to Portland we welcome it, we feel very strong in our local love #RCTID. As far as Local competition, it’s is a lot different. It is easy to get personal because it’s someone’s passion, and you generally have a face to go with that studio. Getting caught up in always watching the competition means you are taking time away from your own business and your own clients. We stay very focused on our path and our goals and subscribe to the philosophy that a rising tide will float all boats.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“This is one of my favorites, from my dad, of course:  ‘Tough times don’t last. Tough girls do.'"


To learn more about BurnCycle, check out their website here.

Next week, meet Rachael.  She's a professional dancer and actress, performing onstage with Rihanna, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake and tons of others. Her amazing story is up next on DRIVEN for Women!

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