The Cuban Jewish entrepreneur behind 305 Health

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“I’m having a really shitty morning,” Sadie Kurzban told thousands of viewers on a YouTube livestream. It was April 2020, just a few weeks after the COVID-19 lockdown. Kurzban was at her parents’ home in Miami, wearing a sparkling crop top, hoop earrings, and large curly hair; With an earphone over her head, she was standing on a terrace in front of a pink wall, Ariana Grande was playing in the background.

The 31-year-old founder of 305 Fitness, a company that offers popular cardio dance classes to a devoted and growing following, told fans that she had just learned that her business had not received a paycheck protection program loan from the federal government. “Sometimes these systems are set up so that the big ones win and the little ones don’t.”

She spoke openly, without a script, in front of a grainy webcam – a contrast to the flawlessly edited videos of competitors like Peloton. “I’m pretty upset, demoralized. But I’ll tell you what. It’s okay, ”she said. “The reason I love 305, the reason I like to move, is because we are told so much in our lives that we don’t care. And when I move and shiver and connect, I can build that self-worth and that confidence, and most importantly, that burning part of me that tells me I’m worth it and I have to keep trying. ”When she ends her encouragement she started with a 40-minute high-intensity dance training session.

Ordinarily, Kurzban would have taught a class in one of 305 studios in New York, Boston, or Washington, DC. But in March 2020, 305 closed their personal listings and, like so many other fitness companies, began free workouts on YouTube, streamed live from teachers’ homes. The company initially didn’t have a playbook; one trainer used cans of beans for the strength training portion of a workout because she did not have weights at home. Another almost knocked over his parents’ fine china. The lessons were imperfect but authentic and the participants loved it.

“I need your energy! Whoo hoo Sadie DANCE! 👍🏻👍🏻🙌🏻 “said a comment. “Thank you Sadie! I strive to be like you! ”Another read. “You bring me joy and love and you deserve everything.”

For Kurzban, who started the company after winning an entrepreneurship competition as a senior at Brown University, 305 is more than just a dance class. It’s a community and a way of life – one that investors have shopped into and poured more than $ 15 million into the company she founded in 2011. “One of the things that make us stand out is that it’s not just a good workout, even though it is. It’s also just so good for the mind, body and soul, ”Kurzban recently told Jewish Insider in a Zoom interview. She joined the call from a lounge chair in Miami Beach.

Growing up on Key Biscayne, a barrier island across from Miami, Kurzban has no formal dance training. “I’m half Cuban, half Jewish. I think the dancing comes a little more from the Jewish side. It’s just a lot of love for music and confidence and being expressed through the body, ”she explained. “Latin Americans, we’re a very expressive bunch and we do a lot of it through physical humor and exercise.”

The daughter of liberal activists, Kurzban was taught to “question everything, including Jewish doctrine”. As a child, she attended a Jewish day school, learned Hebrew for an hour and a half a day – “unfortunately I don’t know anything about it now,” she admits – and is now trying to find ways that Judaism will fit into her life.

“Friday evening was the time to get together [and] We did the blessing [growing up]“, She recalled, but her family became less attentive when her father’s parents died.

“[My father] allowed us to choose what we believed in, ”explained Kurzban. “In the end I married a man who is Jewish and whose family really has something to do with it. So definitely, it’s in my culture and I feel very culturally Jewish. But how many people our age are we finding out what it means for us to be Jewish in 2021 and beyond. “

Kurzban’s comment in this video from last April is standard for her: sprinkle some light politics with a motivational speech before you smoothly move on to dancing. She learned from her parents how to stand up for issues that are important to her without caring about the opinions of others. “We never learned how to care for other people’s money, or we never got a feel for what the neighbors were doing. It was easy to have conviction and belief in yourself and march and roll forward, ”Kurzban said.

Sadie Kurzban (courtesy)

Her father, Ira Kurzban, is a prominent immigration attorney who has argued before the US Supreme Court on behalf of Haitian immigrants. Her mother, Magda Montiel Davis, is notorious in Miami’s Cuban community for her unfortunate and very public affection for Fidel Castro. “She was known for actually advocating many of Fidel’s policies in Cuba, which is very, very rare for a Cuban in exile,” said Kurzban.

In the early 1990s, Montiel Davis ran for Congress against MP Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who retired in 2019 after 30 years in Congress. “She ran for a Democrat in Miami, which was even less popular at the time,” said Kurzban. Her parents taught her a lesson that did her good in dance and beyond: “They really taught me to think for myself, to think independently,” observed Kurzban.

As he grew up, Kurzban struggled with body image issues and found that dancing “was the only fitness class where I didn’t just totally hate myself, count calories, and be mean to myself,” she noted. “It was the first fitness style class where I really had fun, felt free, and was proud of my body.”

She learned Zumba in high school and “I was slowly but surely getting from the back row to the front row,” she recalls. When she graduated from high school, she taught Zumba classes; When she attended college in Brown, she began experimenting with her own style, teaching fitness classes for extra money at the university gym.

She studied economics but wasn’t sure what to do with the degree. “I wandered through college and found out,” Kurzban said. “I knew that [I would do] probably something where I was some kind of leader or teacher, because that’s where I get the greatest fulfillment. ”

A year before graduation, she began turning her passion into a business, and in her senior year, she won $ 25,000 for the project at Brown’s Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition.

She took the start-up capital with the dream of “building a single studio in New York that felt like a nightclub with the best talent. Since then we have of course grown bigger, ”said Kurzban. 305 Fitness now has three studios, and Kurzban hopes to open more; It also has an online membership program, “305 At Home,” where people can stream courses on their phones or TVs; and the company certifies instructors across the country who can teach 305 inspired courses outside of the company’s three stationary locations.

When she first reached out to investors, some of them didn’t understand what she was up to and suggested changing their fitness regimen to focus on metrics – much like Orange Theory, which measures participants’ heart rate and exercise intensity . “I’ve had all sorts of weird suggestions over the years,” Kurzban said. But she had an intrinsic understanding of her ideal consumer – young women like herself and her friends. “I just knew in my gut that this was the future, this is what people want, is something that is social and community-oriented, fun, and self-expressive.”

Unlike some other fitness classes, 305 trainers don’t have a set choreography to use, nor do they plan their entire classes in advance. Each class has a live DJ who selects the music during the game, and teachers select dance moves that go with the music. “Everything is in time,” explained Kurzban. “It is high-intensity, energetic, aerobics or dance cardio and combines dance movements such as a body roll or a booty shake with other sports exercises such as jump squats and jumping jacks.”

305 workouts aren’t about losing weight or looking a certain way. Sometimes 305’s live streaming workouts – which are now professionally recorded at 305 studios instead of the instructors’ homes – will feature a 305 subscriber next to the instructor zooming in from their bedroom in excitement but generally lacking dance skills. The aim is to convey that the courses are not about skill, but about fun. “305 is about making people feel comfortable in their own skin, making people feel like they can express themselves authentically.” Kurzban has also tried to put LGBTQ and non-white teachers and participants in the spotlight.

Now that 305’s three studios are open again, the company must try to turn virtual attendees into personal, paying customers. “Much of our business is powered only by word of mouth,” she said. “I think it’s hard to do until you see it. I don’t know how well we’re doing in terms of marketing and positioning. “

The name “305” pays homage to her hometown (Miami’s area code is 305), inspired by positive and negative aspects of her upbringing. The company’s vibe is “Miami Vice,” with neon blues, pinks, and greens coloring the studios and branded clothing.

“The idea came to me while I was dancing with a friend in Miami,” noted Kurzban. “We just looked around and it was so much fun. We’ve been dancing for hours. And I wanted to recreate the same party atmosphere. ”

But the culture that emphasized the physical in all its glory – sunbathing, clubbing, and exercising in South Beach – also had a dark side. There’s “all the pressure we put on” [people], especially young girls, how obvious is that when you come to Miami after you grew up in Miami, the emphasis is on how you look, ”explained Kurzban. “I wanted to paraphrase that. I wanted to bring the fun and sexy and confidence of Miami without the pressure to fit in the box and look a certain way. So 305 outside of 305. ”She hopes to be able to open a studio there one day; Before returning to her New York home earlier this year, she taught 305 outdoor classes on the South Beach boardwalk.

Kurzban may not live in Miami anymore, but her heart stays in 305. When asked what her favorite song to dance to, she said, “There’s a funny pit bull out there, ‘Move to Miami’.” In Kurzban’s world, everyone moves to the beats of Miami.