Meet ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia

ClassPass has revolutionised the way many of us workout, giving us access to hundreds of classes at loads of studios at a great price point. We meet Payal Kadakia, its founder and executive chairman, to talk humble beginnings and expansion plans…

What gave you the initial idea for ClassPass?

I’ve been a dancer since I was three years old: dancing is integral to my identity and my happiness. After college I worked in traditional jobs which made it challenging for me to maintain my passion for dance. Missing this core element in my life, I decided to sign up for an after work dance class. To my surprise, signing up for a class was a miserable experience. I spent hours searching online for information, which was inconsistent, incomplete and distributed across numerous sites.

My frustration was also my opportunity: I decided to create a business to make it seamless for people to sign up for gym and studio classes. Today, our customers have booked more than 65 million class reservations from our 15,000 studio partners across over 2500 cities worldwide.

What was the hardest part about setting it up?

I started ClassPass to make it seamless and easy for people to attend gym and studio classes. I was mission-obsessed, not product-obsessed, and it took us several years and product iterations to finally achieve product/market fit – in other words, to create the right product to create the behaviours we desired. Along the way we had to abandon a lot of hard work, which was painful at the time, but iteration and perseverance were essential for us to finally develop a product that was loved by consumers and studios alike. These experiences built a culture of iteration into our corporate DNA, which has been critical to our success as we’ve expanded our product offering and our global footprint.

Describe a typical day?

Every day is different for me, it’s one of the many aspects of my job that I absolutely love. I do travel a lot, though – they know me by name in the American Airlines Admirals Clubs in New York and Los Angeles! I try to visit as many local ClassPass offices and partner studios as I can so I can keep employees and partners motivated and aligned with our vision and also keep abreast of local cultures and trends.

How do you stay balanced?

I’m meticulous about scheduling my time to maximise productivity. I spend Sundays planning the week ahead, and I begin each morning reviewing my schedule and priorities for the day. I even plan exercise classes and backup classes just in case I have to miss my first choice class. Just as important in deciding how to spend my time is deciding how not to spend my time. I’ve learned not to feel guilt from saying no. If I commit myself to doing something, I want to be able to commit myself 100 percent.

Is ClassPass what you envisaged it would be?

It’s certainly what I’ve hoped it would be! It’s honestly a dream come true, though we still have so much to do. Since our inception, we’ve stayed true to our mission to connect people seamlessly with soul-nurturing experiences. The more we accomplish, the bigger we dream.

Today our members have booked 65 million classes on our platform. That’s 65 million hours of people’s lives we’ve helped enrich. I never take that statistic for granted, each reservation is as special and humbling as the first. I begin every day determined and excited to help even more people live their lives fully.

How is the London market different to NYC?

Each market has its own local flavour. Many Londoners like to work out after work, whereas in New York 7am is the most popular time to exercise. We’ve seen that strength training is the most popular fitness genre in the UK, but it really varies by neighbourhood. Pilates is what’s most popular in Notting Hill, yoga is popular in Peckham, spin is popular in Balham, barre is popular in Hampstead, and boxing is popular in Vauxhall. This city has an incredible assortment of fun and challenging classes and instructors.

Why do you think people love ClassPass?

We manage to make going to class fun! Members get to discover and try out new experiences and bring along and make new friends. Plus, they feel great after the classes knowing they’ve invested time in their self-care and wellbeing.

What do you think people want from a workout?

I think that variety is part of the value that ClassPass offers. People get to try lots of possible options in order to find the right workout solutions for them.

Why are you now expanding into wellness?

It’s our goal to help people live their lives more fully. Attending exercise classes and gyms is a part of that equation, but there’s so much more to living well. We’re thrilled to be expanding into complementary wellness offerings. We currently have offerings including sports massages, acupuncture and non-surgical face lifts. We’re always looking at others to add to the platform.

What does wellness mean to you?

To me, wellness means taking care of yourself whether that’s by attending a gym class, indulging in a well-deserved massage, scheduling time for some well-earned ‘me’ time, or finding other ways to pursue your passions.

By Charlotte

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Charlotte is a London girl through and through. She sweats through spin and puffs through Pilates to justify trying the latest restaurants and devouring copious amounts of sweet potato fries, burrata and bread – preferably on holiday. Her favourite destinations include Italy, the Maldives and anywhere where the sun’s shining and there’s a strong breakfast buffet. She’s obsessed with walking, visiting farmers’ markets and reading. She’s also learning to cook. Wish her (and her husband) luck.

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