Every week, Oxygen’s Very Real is featuring 52 outstanding women: that’s one woman a week throughout 2016. This week, I had the honor of selecting an entrepreneur for the series. With so many women making strides in business all over the world, it wasn’t an easy a choice.
However, one startup founder and CEO continuously stands out to me through her tenacity and passion, not to mention incredible success. Her name is Payal Kadakia, and her app ClassPass is revolutionizing exercise around the world. For a flat fee, users can sign up with ClassPass and have access to a wide range of gym classes in their area: from yoga to aqua cycling, from trampoline to dodgeball.
Founded in New York City in 2012, ClassPass has generated more than 15 million reservations via its app, which is now available on three continents. ClassPass has also successfully raised multiple rounds of venture capital—the last being $30 million of funding from Google Ventures.
I spoke to Kadakia about how she got her business off the ground, her impressive work/life balance, and her love of dance.
What inspired you to create ClassPass?
ClassPass really came from my own personal pain point. I was looking for a dance class online, and I realized that it was so difficult to find the information I needed to make a decision. I realized that I needed to fix that. So many people were missing out on staying connected to their passions -- and I really just wanted to make that easier.
Did you hit hurdles in launching the business? How did you overcome them?
In the beginning we weren’t getting the traction we wanted, so we had to pivot the model a few times and change the name, like many start-ups do. We ultimately launched ClassPass in June of 2013 and very quickly we knew we were onto something really special. People started writing us emails, telling us that this product had really gotten them excited to work out in a way that they never felt before.
You said you were initially looking for a dance class when you thought of ClassPass– what is your dance and entrepreneurial background?
I grew up in New Jersey. My parents came from India in the 70s, and like most Indian girls, I got into Indian dancing at a really young age. Then, I went to MIT and got a degree in Operations Research and basically became a physics and math nerd. After I did consulting for a few years, I started missing dance. I was still participating, but I needed to find something else to do to really stay engaged. So, I got another job and worked at Warner Music Group.
After that, I realized that I wanted to pursue dancing a bit more, so I built The Sa Dance Company, primarily for Indian contemporary dance. It was my first entrepreneurial endeavor. It was a small leap, but it gave me the confidence to build something bigger. When I saw that work (I sold out shows at places like Alvin Ailey), I realized that when I put my mind to something, I can do it. I saw this pain point in the market with classes, and I just felt like I had to be the person to fix it.
What’s some advice you might have for women that might be intimidated by working out or trying a new class?
Try a variety of classes. Every time you walk into a new studio, you will feel less and less intimidated. Go with a friend, it makes it more social, it takes away the fear. It makes you want to walk in and go through it with somebody so you don’t feel like you’re alone. Also, go talk to the teacher and tell them that you are new. These teachers want you to grow….They’ll ask you, “Hey are you ok?” and that will help make you feel better as you’re trying challenging moves.
Also, try a variety of classes, so that every time you walk into a new studio you will feel less and less intimidated. Remember that nobody is as critical of you, as you are.
How do you make your business stand out?
I think one of the most important things is making sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons. Your mission and your vision have to be at the center of why you’re doing it. It’s not about making a dollar off of fifty cents -- it’s really about really building something that is going to create change in the world.
Also, running a business is hard! Figuring out how to get users is hard. So is figuring out the right product, iterating it, hiring the right team – there are a lot of pieces to running a business, and every day, one of them is probably not working. To stand out, you have to know how to solve these problems as a business leader.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to launch a business?
One of the hardest things about launching a business and in this day and age is that technology moves so fast. It’s so easy to start businesses today, but you always have to stay on your toes and be thinking about what you’re going to be doing next.
Also, Surround yourself with people that are going to lift you higher. I think it’s so important to have a great support network when you feel like you can’t -- I would actually go and talk to the people who tell you that you can.
How do you balance your life with all this?
I plan my time to a ‘T.’ I plan when I am going to sleep, I plan when I am going to relax. I obviously leave time to have spontaneous life experiences, I think that’s really important. But so much of it is setting up you mental energy in the right way to get the most out of your day and time.
I think we all know the answer to this question – but for anyone who might be unsure, are women just as capable as men in starting and maintaining a business?
Every person is different, and unique, I am a female, I’m Indian, I’m 4’11”, people should never be defined by what they look like and sort of these demographical parts about them, but the most important thing is the work you do so females are just as capable as doing that as males and the same thing with any other person out there. It’s really about if you do the work. Work hard, your results will speak for themselves.
Watch Randi interviewing Payal on Facebook Live!
[Oxygen Photos by Victoria Pett]