Founder Focus: Payal Kadakia of ClassPass
Chances are, you have either heard of or used ClassPass, the world’s leading fitness membership network, with over 12,000 fitness studios in more than 55 cities worldwide.
Founded in 2013 by Payal Kadakia, ClassPass has been described by Forbes as one of the ‘Next Billion Dollar Startups’ and has raised $255 million to date. A truly impressive feat.
What’s different about it? Simple, it offers unparalleled flexibility to members with no long-term contracts or tie-in clauses which has resulted in an incredible 95% retention rate amongst studio partners for whom ClassPass opens up a new customer base.
We sat down with Payal to find out what she owes ClassPass’ success to.
WHAT WAS YOUR EUREKA MOMENT?
I had two eureka moments. The first was when I visited San Francisco in the summer of 2010 and met a bunch of entrepreneurs. I had never considered entrepreneurship before. Meeting them, I realized that if I didn’t like my reality, I had the power within me to change my professional narrative. I didn’t have to just seek a meaningful job. I had the potential to create it!
The second eureka moment came thirty-six hours later when I was searching for a ballet class to take after work. I was shocked by how hard it was to find consistent information, much less sign up for classes. Meeting those entrepreneurs put me in the mindset to reframe challenges as startup opportunities. I quickly realized that this frustration was the business idea I’d been seeking.
WHAT WAS YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH?
Our first iteration of ClassPass was an Open Table for classes. The idea was that finding a class shouldn’t be harder than taking one!
What was true then and remains the case today, is that ClassPass gets people excited to exercise. We seamlessly connect members with experiences that nourish their body and feed their soul, and since it’s a two-sided marketplace, we help our partners grow their businesses too, by bringing new customers to their studios.
65 million reservations have been booked on our platform, that’s 65 million hours of people’s lives that have been enriched at our 15,000 partner studios operating across 2500 cities worldwide!
HOW DID YOU TEST CLASSPASS?
I did a ton of research, taking a ton of classes, speaking to consumers about what kind of experience they desired, and meeting with many studio managers to understand how they worked and what business value I could offer them.
It’s not enough to just build a great product, you have to address a real need. If your product doesn’t fully address the need, you need to keep iterating on it until you achieve product/market fit.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE THINKING OF STARTING THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
Make sure you’re absolutely committed to your mission. Otherwise, you won’t have the persistence and drive to make it through the inevitable ups and downs of building a business. It’s not at all easy — but it is immensely fulfilling!
DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR OR ARE YOU ONE?
Yes and yes! I have had several mentors, such as the angel investor Anjula Acharia and my mom. I also try to serve as a mentor when I can. I’m particularly committed to helping other female entrepreneurs succeed.
WHAT IS THE BOOK YOU RECOMMEND THAT EVERYONE READS?
Do More Faster by David Cohen and Brad Feld was helpful during our company’s early days as we worked to balance speed and innovation with thought and deliberation.
WHAT IS THE MOST WORTHWHILE INVESTMENT THAT YOU HAVE MADE?
Time and energy. Time because it’s one of our most important currencies. I plan my time ruthlessly and make sure that every minute is spent with intent. To achieve this, I spend my Sundays scheduling my week, including both my personal and professional goals and responsibilities, and I begin each morning reviewing my goals and schedule for the day ahead.
Energy because I don’t believe in pursuing something half-hearted. If I’m going to commit to doing something, I invest in it 100 per cent. That means I’ve had to say no to a lot, but when I’ve said yes, it has really counted. If I hadn’t devoted myself so fully to ClassPass, especially in our early days, we never would have thrived and grown into what we are today.
WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE DO YOU OFTEN HEAR BUT DISAGREE WITH?
When I started ClassPass, many people told me that an entrepreneur can only do one thing — run a business and that everything else had to stop.
Therefore, they thought that my dancing was a distraction from ClassPass. They couldn’t have been more wrong! Dancing provided the inspiration for ClassPass and continues to nourish my creative soul — and our business innovation.
WHAT ONE FAILURE ARE YOU GLAD YOU EXPERIENCED?
We had two earlier product versions of ClassPass. One outright failed and the other didn’t quite succeed.
I knew what I wanted to accomplish and realized that these products weren’t producing the impact I desired. I’m so grateful for these experiences because they prompted me to keep iterating and persisting until we finally created a product with the desired shift in consumer behaviour. Every failure is an opportunity to learn. I think it’s of critical importance that we seize every learning opportunity we can, and sometimes the greater the failure, the more we learn, and therefore the more we’re able to achieve.
WHAT’S YOUR PLAN B?
I’m always planning, and I’m well past plan B into H or I. In addition to founding ClassPass, I’m also the founder and artistic director of the Sa Dance company, I’ve performed to sold-out audiences at Lincoln Center, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Bryant Park, and I recently choreographed a professional Broadway-style musical for Monsoon Wedding alongside some legends of international theater. I’m already planning my next few challenges!