In Bustle's Quick Question, we ask women leaders all about advice — from the best guidance they've ever gotten, to what they're still figuring out. Here, ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia shares her path to building a successful business, and the importance of never quitting your passions, and what it's like to get a shoutout from Mindy Kaling.
As someone who likes to work out, has limited time, and is always looking to try the latest fitness trend (Perhaps barre in a plant-filled studio, or a Beyoncé-themed spin ride), I have Payal Kadakia, founder and executive chairman of ClassPass and artistic director of The Sa Dance Company, a Indian folk, classical, and Bollywood dance company, to thank for making my workout life a lot more organized, flexible, and exciting. And I'm not the only one! Since its inception in 2013, over 100 million classes have been booked through ClassPass, a fitness class aggregator, that lets customers sign up for single workout and wellness experiences across thousands of studios around the globe. The company is on track to be in 30 countries by the end of the year.
ClassPass is the perfect solution for the busy millennial, which Kadakia was when she first conceived of the idea in 2011. Kadakia has shared in numerous interviews that when she decided she wanted to be an entrepreneur, she gave herself two weeks to come up with a winning idea. She netted on ClassPass (then known as Classivity) after just two days when she was struggling to find a ballet class that lined up with her busy schedule. She left her job at Warner Music Group soon after to pursue her start-up dreams full-time.
"At first I was thinking about running it as a side business, but if you want to create something big, you really have to go all-in!" Kadakia tells Bustle over email.
Dance not only influenced the start of ClassPass but imparted valuable lessons on Kadakia since she first started dancing at the age of three. "Performance taught me how to react quickly and gracefully when things don’t go as planned, and also how to understand, read and adapt for every audience." she says. In 2008, she founded The Sa Dance Company, while working as a consultant, despite being told to quit numerous times once she graduated from M.I.T. in 2005. "The worst advice I’ve ever received was to stop dancing", Kadakia says, "I strongly believe that we should all hold onto our passions, regardless of our age or stage in life!"
Kadakia's journey to founder and chairman of one of the largest and most successful fitness-tech companies is certainly a masterclass in how being strategic, bold, and willing to take a less conventional path can be a recipe for success. Here, she shares with Bustle all the good (and not so good) advice she's gotten, her tips for staying on top of her busy schedule, and more.
Who do you turn to for advice?
PK: I believe strongly in the power of community to lift us all and help each of us reach our potential. I’ve made it a priority to find incredible mentors, partners and advocates, and in turn I’ve made it a point to so the same for others. Outside of ClassPass, I turn to my parents and husband for advice, as well as my trusted mentors and friends, like investors Anjula Acharia and Cyrus Massoumi. Within ClassPass, we have an incredible team and an open, empowered, and accessible culture. I partner closely not only with Fritz Lanman [CEO of Classpass] and the entire executive team, but also with our many inventive, passionate team members spread across the globe. Of course, our ultimate goal is to provide an incredible experience for our customers and partners, so I also work directly with them to make sure that our goals — and success — are aligned.
What's your best (and potentially unexpected) hack for staying organized?
PK: My calendar!
I believe that time is our most precious commodity, so it should be spent carefully and with intent. I also don’t believe in doing anything unless I can do it 100%. As a result, I take organization very seriously. I spend my Sundays planning the week ahead, including everything from my goals and action items per day to the ClassPass classes and experiences I plan to attend during the week. I also start each morning reviewing my daily goals and ensuring my calendar is setup to achieve what I want.
How do you prepare for a big meeting or presentation?
PK: I've been a dancer since the age of three, and I credit my training in dance to so much of what I’ve accomplished — including my ability to perform well during big meetings and presentations. I’ve learned through the tens of thousands of hours I’ve spent rehearsing and performing over the years how to prepare and persevere through any performance, from a dance recital at Lincoln Center to a speech in front of thousands. Performance also taught me how to react quickly and gracefully when things don’t go as planned and also how to understand, read, and adapt for every audience. As such, while I always focus on the content I’ll be delivering, I've also learned to think critically about the people in the room and what I imagine each of their goals to be.
What is one thing you'd wish you'd known when you first started ClassPass?
PK: For me, learning lessons along the way is a big part of the fun! That said, during some of the really trying times in the early days, it would have been cool to know — not just to believe but to actually know — that the hard work and focus on our customers and partners was going to be worth it in spades.
Through all our hard work and our ups and downs, our mission has always been our guiding star. We always knew that if we focused on our mission to connect people with soul-nurturing experiences that we’d find the answer, even when it took patience, iteration, and resiliency to get there.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about starting their own business?
PK: Don’t be afraid to dream big! I think it’s especially important for women to hear that it’s OK and even good to pursue audacious goals unapologetically. Even though companies started by women are more likely to succeed we still hear much more about the successes of male founders. I am so encouraged by the number of high-profile female founders whose companies have hit high valuations, some of which are starting to go public. I believe we all need to keep amplifying these important stories and modeling to the next generation of would-be-founders that if they work really, really hard, their entrepreneurial dreams just may come true.
What's currently on your to-do list?
PK: My to-do list is very long! On the professional side, I’m focused on our global expansion and on maintaining an incredible experience for our customers and partners. On the personal side, I’m so excited to be expecting a baby next year. As such, I want to be sure to carve out quality time with my husband as well as some quality “me” time before the baby comes. I think I may just book a meditation class via my ClassPass app!
What do you need advice on?
PK: I try to get eight hours of sleep each night. That’s always been my secret to being productive and focused. I hear that’s nearly impossible to maintain with newborns. If anyone has any advice on how to maximize sleep as a new parent, I’m all ears!
What was it like getting an Instagram shoutout from Mindy Kaling a few months ago?
PK: I’m such a huge fan! She’s not just incredibly talented; she’s also breaking so many boundaries for women and Southeast Asians in Hollywood while making a point to create opportunities for other incredibly talented women and under-represented groups.
What's the worst piece of advice you've ever received?
PK: The worst advice I’ve ever received was to stop dancing. This is something I was told repeatedly after college. As children, we’re encouraged to nurture our passions. Then, once we reach adulthood, we’re somehow supposed to completely abandon them. In my case, I’ve been dancing since the age of three. Dance is core to my identity and adds vibrancy to my life. It was also my inspiration to create ClassPass! I strongly believe that we should all hold onto our passions, regardless of our age or stage in life!
What's the best piece of career advice you've received?
PK: I’m grateful that I’ve gotten some really good advice over the years (as well as some really bad advice, like to stop dancing. You have to be careful about which advice you listen to!)
One great suggestion was to get a solid business foundation after college. So many people are tempted to take big risks like founding a startup when they first graduate, but I found it incredibly helpful to build up the business skills as well as the financial safety net that made it possible for me to be able to afford a few months without salary after I quit my job and, more importantly, gave me the skills to help ClassPass succeed.
A related great piece of advice was to quit my job to focus full-time on ClassPass. At first I was thinking about running it as a side business, but if you want to create something big, you really have to go all-in!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.