If you follow Payal Kadakia, the co-founder and CEO of breakout fitness startup ClassPass, on Twitter, you’ve likely been inspired by her work and the powerful quotes she posts regularly. Blown away by her fast-growing company, dedication to her dream, and unbelievable passion for dance, we talked with Payal about how she made the leap to build her business — without a Plan B.
How did you get to where you are today?
I have to credit dancing for being a huge factor in my success. Not only did my passion for it drive the business idea for ClassPass, but always having to rehearse my whole life for performances taught me a lot about dedication and ability to change, which is very much ingrained in my work ethic to this day.
When did you realize that you could turn your love of dance and fitness classes into a business?
My love from dance has been a constant journey in my life from the time I was three years old, to starting an Indian Dance troupe at MIT, and eventually founding my own dance company — it has given me the confidence I needed in myself to realize that I should go after the things I’m most passionate about.
As it relates to ClassPass, I was looking to take a ballet class after work — after hours of searching on the internet only to be left discouraged, I realized that there was a pain point in finding classes and wanted to help remove the friction that often times gets in the way of people doing the things they love. ClassPass is the latest chapter in my journey as I aim to help people find in their lives what dance has always been to me.
What was the first step you took toward making the idea a reality?
Quitting my job without a Plan B! It can be a scary first step but the moment you put what’s important to you first so many doors can start to open.
We’re inspired by your abilities to be both incredibly creative and business focused. Do you find any similarities in the way you work as an artistic director and as a CEO/founder?
Absolutely! In fact, this is something I actually feel strongly about. So often we have made such a huge separation and distinction between being business oriented or being creative, but it’s not a matter of one or the other — I truly believe that it’s at the intersection of the two where really incredible things can happen.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned on your journey to date?
I’ve learned that it’s incredibly important to be true to yourself and lead in a way that is authentically you.
It’s so easy to get caught up in living up to certain expectations of how you think you should be acting, but I’ve found more success by trusting my intuition and representing myself in a way that is uniquely my own.
Who do you admire? Why?
Alvin Ailey and Mira Nair — they have both been such powerful influences in sharing their culture with the world through something they love to do.
One of the best things about a ClassPass Flex membership is the ability to use it in a variety of cities. Which ClassPass studios and/or classes earn a spot on your list of favorites?
I’m a big fan of Exhale and Flywheel in most cities, but part of the appeal for me is discovering brand new studios when I travel — so I always try to mix it up! I love just walking into new barre and dance studios wherever I go.
What activewear lines and gear do you love, rock, and recommend?
I’m a big fan of Outdoor Voices and Lululemon, especially their gym bags – and I just got a pair of really awesome Nike shoes that I love. I also love sporting studio-branded gear. I always find myself shopping right after class.
ClassPass has officially announced plans to launch in the land down under. Why Sydney and Melbourne?
There is already such a vibrant fitness culture in Australia, especially as it relates to boutique fitness, so it seemed like an obvious choice as we continue to think through our expansion globally. It’s exciting that we’ve already partnered with over 250 studios there, and we’re excited to engage with members and studios alike in Sydney and Melbourne.
What events or meet-ups do you regularly attend in NYC?
I went through Techstars when I launched Classtivity, the first iteration of ClassPass, and it was such a valuable experience that I learned a tremendous amount from. I’m still active with Techstars and attend many of their ongoing events, as it’s been an important network for me.
Last, how do you like your coffee?
I actually drink tea! I start my day with a giant green tea, my favorite is the Jade Citrus Mint from Starbucks. I sometimes brew my own tea (Kusmi tea!) in the office in the morning as well.