Episode #116: Payal Kadakia: Dancing Through MIT, a $1 Billion Fitness Company, & Her New Book LifePass
My guest today is entrepreneur and founder of ClassPass, Payal Kadakia. Hold on to your hat because this 4’11 powerhouse person has a lot to share with her latest book LIFEPASS: Drop Your Limits Rise to Your Potential.
Kadakia shares her complex journey to success in the business world by following her own voice. From selling her company to MindBody, not having time to date in her 20s, to graduating MIT and giving up her grownup job at Bain and Company to follow her passion. Oh, and did I mention she is the daughter of immigrants from India? We get into it all. There is a lot to learn from Payal’s story and tons of inspirational reminders we can bring back into our own lives. Enjoy.
Listen to the episode here:
- Different [00:03:15]
- How to Start [00:16:47]
- Dating and Ambition [00:21:06]
- Epiphany [00:30:02]
- False Signals of Success [00:42:55]
- Caring for the Mission [00:49:13]
- Priorities [00:53:42]
- Being a Good Mom [01:08:19]
- Mindbody [01:13:19]
- What’s Next? [01:17:11]
- Self-Care [01:20:02]
Payal Kadakia: Dancing Through MIT, a $1 Billion Fitness Company, & Her New Book LifePass
My guest is powerhouse entrepreneur, Payal Kadakia. She is the Founder of ClassPass. This is an incredible conversation because here’s a woman who grew up in Jersey, a child of immigrants, did all the right things, kicked butt in school, went to MIT, got a job at Bain & Company. All along, she had other passions, one of them being dance. She’s this incredible blend of highly articulate, systematic, grinding, methodical, entrepreneur, a business person. She’s someone who’s interested in their why, passion, and rhythm, and the beauty in sharing your culture.
She has a new book out called LifePass: Drop Your Limits, Rise to Your Potential. It came out on February 15th, 2022. We had an incredible conversation. Not only did she give the download on how she navigated being an entrepreneur, raising capital, dealing with the hard times. We all know that with any project that we undertake, there will be difficult times.
Even on the human side, all through her 20s, she not dating much because she was in this intense pursuit to get ClassPass successful, which was sold to Mindbody, and how there was pressure on her like, “I’m not dating. I’m not in a relationship.” Also, how she even navigated that this is a woman who has found the way, even though she is doing all the right things, to not lose touch with her heart and who she is and what’s going to make her feel successful. She has a son and is happily married. I learned a ton. She is an incredibly inspiring and strong person. Enjoy.
First of all, thank you for coming to my house.
Thanks for having me.
You’ve been living in this state for over three years.
In 2017, I officially moved here but I travel so much. It took COVID to call LA home.
You’re entrenched. Do you have a deep route now?
I read your book. Congratulations.
I’m always fascinated when people want to take on writing a book, especially like, “I’m going to have a kid simultaneously and try to pivot my business. Let’s write a book. All the lessons are fresh.” I want to get straight into your story because when I was doing my homework, I found this incredible mixture of hard-charging, MIT graduate, entrepreneur, hyper-organized, clear communicator, passionate about the arts, and talking about rhythm in your life. Even the things that you guys wear when you dance, these beautiful flowing in colors and things like that. I thought to myself, “There’s not a lot of people that live in these universes and have found the way to bridge that.” Maybe start with growing up in New Jersey and being a dutiful daughter.
I love the context you put that in. In a way, I do feel like part of it was a struggle knowing I had all these parts to me but then the brilliance of it. What I want other people to find is when I put it all together. Magic happened and the rest of it led me to where I did in my life. Growing up, I was an Indian girl who lived in a town with no one who looked like me. My parents prized education. It was the number one thing.
They came here and sacrificed everything from India. The only thing that they knew that would lead to success would be education, which will get you a good job, which will get you money and security. That was important to them. They moved a mile away from our first home to be in the number one school district in New Jersey. That was their number one mission. When they did that, they didn’t think about community. They weren’t like, “Are there other Indian people here?” They were like, “We’re doing this because you guys need to have the best education ever.”
A lot of my childhood was making sure I did well in school. I got lucky because there was a town that was about ten miles away, which had a great Indian community. That helped me because I needed to be around that too. I needed to explore another part of where I came from. I know I didn’t look like everyone at school. I did get made fun of. It made me want to close into a ball. It made me feel small. It made me feel I don’t belong.
I then found this Indian community nearby where I felt like I came alive and I felt beautiful and confident. I saw myself resembled in the community I was around. I had this dual identity that I lived with for a long time. Up until college, I didn’t reconcile being Indian and American in the same breath. It was two lives, two friend groups. Two weekends were with my Indian community and school was with my American community. I was a cheerleader and I cheerlead for ten years for American football. I was into that word.
You would have been a good girl to throw up in the air. If they saw me coming, they’d be like, “Please, no.” I’d be at the bottom of the pyramid. It’s such an isolating feeling when people feel different. I’m tall. I grew up in the Caribbean. Everybody has their version of it. I always find that sometimes if you saw those people in high school, it seemed like everything went their way.
You pay a different price later. You go, “How do I stand out? How am I different?” You’re a beautiful woman. You were performing in school. You’re cheerleading. Indian dancing is separate. How does that show up for you as far as not feeling a part of it? I’d be curious to know because I can’t see how someone would pick on you.
Thank you. I’m a 4’11” petite person. I had always been small my whole life. You come with cultural baggage in a way, in the sense that people don’t understand you. To be honest, this wasn’t even the people in the school, it was also their parents. It was this entire thing. My neighbors didn’t understand my parents, they didn’t understand the food we ate, and our food may have smelled a certain way. It ends up becoming something that people don’t understand and don’t know. Therefore, it becomes something different and potentially scary.
It comes down to education. A big part of what I have learned in my life is how do I become more educated about it? That does lead a lot to Indian dance because that’s where I learned so much more about where I came from. Part of my life with the dance stuff I’ve done came around, how do I show this culture to other people in a beautiful way that’s accessible? Also, to people who I know aren’t going to potentially understand it from a super Indian way but I had to make it accessible.
What we all need to do is keep making culture, different parts of people, and who people are accessible so people understand. Whether you’re a woman in tech or an Indian girl, any of that needs to feel like it is normalized, it is something that you don’t put expectations on. It’s about the world. At the end of the day, I’m human.
[bctt tweet=”If something is not working, I’m okay with throwing it out and starting over and doing something. When you live by that, you never feel trapped.”]
Part of even what excites me about this book is this is a human story. This is everything I did in my life. I have different ways, I’ve worked in different ways, I think in different ways I spend my time, which are all different skills I’ve learned to succeed. At the end of the day, this is a human story about me loving something and wanting to give it to the world. Everyone has that in their life. Everyone has a calling that drives them. When you have that, you are able to push past so many of these adverse moments that you face.
Back to your point about people who don’t face that, I am grateful for some of those terrible moments because they helped me build an armor. By the time I became this woman who was sitting in the middle of fifteen investors who are all men and I was the only woman, I had already been here before where I looked and felt different. I knew how to shine and how to make myself confident in those because I was so used to being the person who didn’t fit in. At that point, I was like, “I do well. I dance well. I perform well. I’m fine. I’m articulate. I went to a great school.” I knew all these things that were going to make me powerful and I no longer looked at any of those as things that should make anyone doubt me.
It’s interesting when you’re riding up the elevator for those meetings if it’s a capital raise or you’re getting something like that, you almost get that armor up. It’s the art of armoring up and staying exactly who you are at the same time. You’re going into a foreign environment, especially when you’re talking about business. Being a female and a more compact female, it’s interesting for me to be a large female. That’s almost easier.
I agree because you can project.
I even used to put my hand on men’s shoulders, especially if they were smaller or shorter. You give a little squeeze. I learned that from coaches. You learn a different language, a form of equalizing or dominance but still being yourself. It is an interesting art. I’m wondering if also you did that by bridging your life as an American and your Indian family. You’re bridging worlds all the time. It’s an important point that you didn’t lose yourself. You said this a lot. I’ve watched a lot of things about that authenticity. You want to encourage people, like, “Even though you have to bring a certain side of yourself, don’t lose yourself.”
Back to that, it came down to being able to tell a story that was real in those meetings. Until I was telling an authentic story, I was being this robot in these meetings because I didn’t connect. I was more scared about, “What financial question are they going to ask me? Do I know all the numbers? How am I going to articulate it?” I connect this to dance for me. For me, I’ve practiced and trained my whole life.
I’m sure you’ve felt like this anytime you’ve played. There’s something that happens when you’re in a performance state and you come alive. For me, I learned to take on some of those meetings the same way I would a performance. I’m like, “What do I do to get ready for a show?” I rehearse, I practice, I connect to the depth of the music to know what story I am trying to make the audience feel. Now, this is about making the audience feel something instead of me feeling nervous. This is not about me. This is about the audience and what they’re going to take away from it. That helped me transform my ability to be in any room.
I still consider myself an introvert and I still hate public speaking even after all these years of being there and leading. For me, it comes down to when I care, I never feel nervous because I feel like there’s a true story. Some people can go up there and talk about anything, my husband can. Even at our wedding, he wrote his speech and was up there. I can’t do that. I need to find the story and the depth of what I’m saying. I like to rehearse it so I can feel it. To be at a place where my body is doing something but my mind is prepared for this emotionally and all of it that I can get to the next level.
My body is already trained to do it. It’s almost like you can speak it. With all the training you’ve had, you’ve been in similar states of flow where you’re just going. I learned that from dance and that’s honestly back to the ClassPass story. Everyone in the world should know how they get to their state of flow because it makes all these differences go away. It makes you feel centered. The more you can hang on to that feeling in every aspect of your life and whatever you’re doing, if you can enter that state of flow, you are going to succeed and no one’s going to stand in your way.
You said a lot of important things. It’s also important to understand your way. Some people don’t want to rehearse. Some people go, “It’s better for me.” That’s also an important point of how does it work for you that you can put yourself in this environment to be authentic or to flow? When you talk about flow state, there was a documentary called The Music of Strangers by Yo-Yo Ma. I encourage anyone to watch this. You have all these world-class musicians coming together so they’re all working at the same time from flow. One is a Chinese musician.
All of these different people are coming together and using the music and everything to go into flow to bring this togetherness where you do transcend. The timing of it is quite good because it talks about coming together. You do the right thing, you kick ass in school, you go to MIT, a big girl’s school. With certain schools, people go, “I went to Harvard,” or, “I went to MIT.” People go, “Oh.” I know what that means. You know what work that takes. You then get a grown-up job. You go to Bain. Even that, you go, “Oh.”
I’m still checking the boxes. I am living this life my parents have told me to and I’m going there and checking the boxes.
Where do you get the courage when you go to school to say, “I’m going to create a dance troupe, tribe, or company.” You’re there. It’s hard enough already. The workload has to be tough. You’re away from home.
It’s all I did though. All I did was dance and work.
What about dating? How does an Indian girl in Jersey with all white people date?
There are two parts to that. In terms of the dance and work thing, I knew I needed dance because it kept me sane. It kept me confident. It was that center. I always knew I could shine if I was dancing. If it didn’t exist, I’m going to create it and that’s what I did on campus. My life was dance and work. I didn’t socialize. Everyone knew me because I was good at what I did. This has translated throughout the rest of my life. People know that I do good work. It is a part of my DNA to work hard and produce good stuff. I do it in the things I’m good at. By the way, the things I don’t want to do, I don’t do and I don’t feel bad about it.
I didn’t travel during college. I didn’t socialize a lot. I did my homework, I went to a dance class, I was choreographing, whatever I had to do, and it was all I did. That’s part of my college. I’ve looked back and I remember when I went and worked at Bain, which was a lot more fun than my college experience. I remember looking back because everyone had these crazy college lives and I never had that. I had that more after college.
It’s about what’s important to you at the time. I was in a rigorous educational environment that I felt, to me, dance was this outlet so I looked forward to it. Being able to go and dance from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM and then go back to doing homework, I needed that outlet. Even when I was building ClassPass, I needed to dance because it switched my brain from right to left or whatever it might be. It opened up my brain to even being smarter in other areas because I was utilizing other parts of my mind.
A lot of people maybe go into a new situation and they never know how to start. Whether it was initially Classtivity and then eventually ClassPass or creating a dance group on a serious academic campus. When you’re sitting there, how do go, “How do I start?”
For me, it comes down to talking to other people. ClassPass started this way. My dance company started this way. It was talking to 2 or 3 other people who are like, “I want to do that too.” I was a natural leader. My mom is a dominant human being in a great way and was a great role model for me. My sister is too. I was the quiet one in my family so I never thought I was going to be this great leader. All of a sudden, I went to MIT and I was leading dances and I was leading a club. It came down to, “They want this too. Let’s all go and figure out how we’re going to do this.”
For me, a lot of it comes down to having a team that’s passionate about the same mission. What I was always good at was articulating what that mission and vision could be and building the passion towards it and then recruiting people to be like, “I’m going to come with you and do it.” That’s what happened with that. It’s still hard for me to say this because I’ve been trained to be such an analytical person but I was talented in dancing. It’s hard for me to say that because I’ve been trained to not always loud any of my creative pursuits.
It’s a gift. In a way, you’re not saying, “It’s about me.” You’re given a gift. Sometimes, learning humbly how to be grateful for the gift and say, “I seem to have a talent for this.” I’m curious because I’ve done a couple of things. Do you know when you go into a room for the first day and you don’t know who’s going to be there or what’s going to happen? Is it like, “We’re going to figure this out and organize it.” A lot of this is this moment of walking in and being like, “This is what we’re doing.” Are you a person who writes down the plan? Do you have your music ready?
I do a lot of pre-planning. If I’m going to choreograph or if I’m even having a meeting, I like to be organized about what’s going to happen. That doesn’t mean you can have a meeting to get things done without the creativity and without the actual magic of what needs to happen in the room. Even as a dancer, I learned that. I used to over-choreograph. I would be just teaching. Eventually, I realized so much of the magic happens while I’m in the studio with the girls.
Even building a company, I thought my first product was going to work and I was like, “This is what we’re going to do.” After a year, we launched it and it completely failed. In a way, I’ve done both. In Myers-Briggs, it’s the J mentality to be like this. I’ve learned to still be organized and trust other people with certain things too. Also, I realized my job is to guide a little bit. I’ve learned to do that dance. If someone else isn’t going to do it, I’ll do it. I’m like, “Everything needs to get done on the list.” Who’s doing what? I like to know that part but I still want to dream and strategize. That comes from a little bit of the time that’s not planned.
That dance group still exists.
MIT still exists. I wrote a mission statement for the company in 2002 and it’s still up there. I’m like, “That’s amazing.” Someone else reached out to me and she was like, “I danced in it.” I was like, “What?” She’s ten years younger than me but I was like, “It’s amazing.” You start something and it resonates with other people. That’s what it comes down to. I always think about my work as a way to build stuff that is timeless, which means that it should outlast me. That‘s the beauty when you’ve created stuff that’s there for the world to have.
I do want to get into what the expectation was when you were younger. Going into MIT, were your parents preferring that you date within your culture? How did that work?
That was what they would feel the most comfortable with. In India, most people are used to arranged marriages. My parents had a love marriage. People were like, “Aren’t all marriages love?” I’m like, “No. They had a love marriage. They ran away together.” They fell in love in seventh grade. They already were different in the way that they thought about it. They had taken a big risk. They’re also influenced by society. They’re around. In their minds, it was like, “You guys should marry this person.” My sister got married when she was younger, right after college. She married ten years before I did. There was this period of time.
When we were younger, it was mostly about education and not dating. There comes this point right after college where, all of a sudden, the emphasis for a lot of Indian girls becomes, “Don’t worry about your education so much like. Go and find a man.” It’s an interesting rhetoric and it shifts. We talk about this all the time. I’m like, “You told me to be successful. Now, success to you is me getting married and having kids. What?” It is a complete shift in anyone, being an ambitious woman, all of that. You don’t even know this when you’re in your early 20s.
When you start getting these voices in your head, you have to find a mechanism to protect yourself and fight through it. I could have been like, “My purpose in life is to get married and have a kid.” I have that now and I love it but I still want to create an impact and do so much with the lessons I had learned and the experience I had from MIT. At that point, I was entering Bain. It was one of the hardest parts of my 20s. I say this in the book and I do think this is true. When I look back, my biggest regret is I worry too much about boys. I didn’t enjoy some of these unbelievable moments with my dance company selling out a show or ClassPass working and going viral. Inside, I was like, “Am I incomplete because I’m not married and I’m single.”
Do you have that voice inside?
Absolutely. It’s a hard voice. By the way, it is because we were trained in this way to think that’s what accomplishment and success meant. It’s still out there. A lot of girls hear this, not even Indian girls. There is a big part of society that tells the story to us that you need to have a loving family, have kids, and all that. It’s great but it’s important to say that there are two sides to it. I get it, we all have a timing issue with kids and all of that.
There’s biology to consider.
I understand that. We need to realize that there are different ways. People are much older in having kids now. There are many options. At the end of the day, don’t feel inadequate and insignificant. That’s the hardest part. I still look back on it and I did. I would be crying because the greatest thing in the world happened at my company. I’m like, “How could I have such a yin and yang happening in my mind coming from something that wasn’t that important?” At some point, I built a good system. I go into this in the book with my mom. There came a point where I was like, “Mom, I don’t want to talk about this.” I would have to be like, “Mom, I love you so much. I’m going to go.”
It became this conversation that was overpowering my brain and mind. I’m like, “You don’t know who wants to feel alone.” When you see all your friends and they’re dating someone, you don’t want to be that person and then you’re like, “I’m the girl building a company. Am I different? Am I weird for doing what I’m doing? I’m sitting here working all day and not dating. They’re all happily going on trips and stuff.” You start feeling you’re doing something wrong. I want there to be more people who are doing the route I did because it’ll become more normalized to be like, “I spent my 20s working my butt off doing so many great things.” Everything still worked out in the end.
If people follow their hearts and also are realistic, it’s this weird mixture of being calculated and a dreamer. That’s why you’re a good example of this where you have enough whimsical but you’re like, “We’re still pragmatic about it.” I don’t think we arrive at the wrong place when we do that. I know that it is harder because of the biology for women where men have a little bit more time. That’s an important thing to remind women. I used to talk to a friend of mine who’s this kick-ass executive about teaching young women. It’s not about having at all. That’s an unfair thing that they talk about. It’s saying, “Let’s look at the landscape. If you’re going to do this undertaking, then this is going to take a backseat for a while.”
That’s okay. It’s not having it all at the same time. You can have it all but it’s just not at the same time.
It’s unrealistic. It’s like, “It’s not fair.” It is what it is. Maybe if you’re a young mother, then you think, “Now I’ve got to try to go find myself in my late 30s and 40s. What are the prices and penalties for that?” Vice versa. It’s an important example to quiet all the voices because you’re the one who’s got to be in the marriage. You’re the one who’s going to raise the child or children.
For so long, I didn’t even think about what I wanted in a man because I was like, “What are my parents want me to marry?” Even figuring that out took me into my late 20s because I didn’t even understand it. I was more passionate about dancing and my work that I didn’t even realize that it was not a priority. The only reason I even probably went on dates was because of society’s expectations and not because I wanted to do it. I was thriving in the things I was doing at that time. I loved my day-to-day. When I would look around, I’d be like, “Wait.” I always remember this. The holidays were hard for me.
Those stupid ads and stuff.
It became the only time where I couldn’t turn to work because everyone stops working. My work fueled me so much that I never thought about the fact that I didn’t have someone. All of a sudden, during the holidays, that’s when I built the whole LifePass method and goal-setting time because I felt it. Everyone in the holidays is like, “I’m going away.” I got to a point where I’m like, “I have my company and it’s about to succeed but I’m all by myself.” It did take me a second to be like, “Maybe I went a little too far.”
It’s been over five years since I had been working on my company and I’m like, “Maybe I need to reevaluate how, at this point in my life, I could prioritize some other things.” That’s what I started doing. That’s why I built the method I did. It didn’t make sense up until that point for me to want to even care about this stuff. Now, I want to start but let me at least do it the right way, in a way that is going to work for me, and not a way that comes from someone else’s expectations but comes from a way of how do I want to approach dating and love?
[bctt tweet=”The world is your oyster. For me, it comes down to having a deep why. I’m not going to do something unless I deeply care about it.”]
It’s not like those movies where you see snippets of the moms at home and all these different boys coming for dinner, one after the next. You are at Bain and you talk about it in the book where you got your first less than a perfect review. You opted to go to a dance show over something to do with clients. After that, you decided to take some time off. You get inspired. You talk about this a lot, there were no entrepreneurs around you in New York. That’s also not the way you were probably conditioned. You’re not freewheeling. You’re in this big institution.
You stepped out and you talked about giving yourself a short period of time, which is unusual to say, “I’m going to come up with an idea.” You’re looking for a class, it’s a pain in the butt, it takes a lot of hours, and it doesn’t happen. You have this epiphany. A lot of businesses always talk about solving problems. They’re either filling a gap for a need or solving a problem, which can be one of the same. You already have business experience. What is the first step for you? It wasn’t ClassPass. How do you start? How do you go, “There’s something here.” How do you beat it down, shake it down, and then start to put this together?
Firstly, I gave myself two weeks and the reason I did that was that I knew I needed to make a career change. If it wasn’t this crazy entrepreneurial thing, maybe it was probably looking at another job more in the field I was in, maybe more conservative than what I ended up doing. I wasn’t in a rush to do it. I gave myself two weeks to get my brain to focus on ideas and problem-solving.
I wasn’t around entrepreneurs aside from when I went out to San Francisco. It was a new and interesting concept. I talked a lot about this too in the book, when you do maybe need a shift, if you’re like, “I don’t know what I want to be doing,” change your environment sometimes. Be around different people. Try new activities because you never know what can happen. That happened to me too.
When I got back and I had this idea, my Bain research business side went into doing some customer research. I took three months when I did this. I did some market research. I interviewed my friends to see if they would like an idea like this. I was researching models like OpenTable and Seamless Web that existed during that time that was similar to the concept I was formulating about ClassPass.
I was doing a lot of research on learning. Sometimes we forget that the most important part is, “Does this idea exist even out there? Who’s doing it? How did OpenTable even get started? Where did they start?” I didn’t even know how to start but I needed to know how did they start and what did they do. That was one big part of it.
The second part was the team. For me, it always comes down to being super passionate about something and talking about it. There are people who want to talk about it and think it’s interesting and start talking to you too. There are people who aren’t interested will stop talking to you about it. My co-founder who was one of my childhood friends, I went to dinner with him and we talked about it. I woke up in the morning and he had shot me fifteen text messages about the concept.
There are people who gravitate towards things and ideas that you’re doing. He was like, “I want to give you money. How do I invest in what you’re doing?” At that time, I wasn’t even seeking money. Everyone was always like, “You need to raise money.” This wasn’t when entrepreneurship was a thing. We didn’t know what these models look like at all. I had a good background. Everyone was like, “You’ve done well. If you have this idea, I would bet on you to create this.” I started getting friends and family checks.
Was that stressful?
It wasn’t stressful until later in the process. The burden of money is too hard. It’s a responsibility if that makes sense.
Sometimes when people say, “I want to give you a check,” it’s weird because you want to protect them.
I had left Bain at that point. I was working in the music industry and I had built a dance company that was thriving in the middle of the city. I felt confident that anything I was going to do, I was going to do well. I wasn’t going to let anything hold me back. People always ask me, “Did you think you were going to quit in the process of creating classes?” We’ve failed many times so I wasn’t going to stop until I figured that out and I will keep doing it. I knew that from the beginning. I didn’t feel bad taking anyone’s money at that time. I didn’t want to take a lot of money from anyone. I was like, “Great.” I wasn’t letting anyone bet their last dollar on me. It was still a venture at the end of the day.
I had people who were like, “Here’s some money.” It was an interesting time because I wasn’t even fully ready for that. I was like, “I’m putting the idea together.” I got a website name. It was called Dabble in the beginning. I went and bought a domain name on GoDaddy. I had this web developer who had built my dance company website and I was like, “Can we do some mock-ups of what the site could look like?” I was playing. I was spending a little bit of money and a little bit of my time.
Were you still living in New York?
I was still living in New York. I still had a full-time job. I had expenses and all of that. After about 3 or 4 months of doing that, that was when I got to this moment where I remember showing up to work because I still had this corporate job I was showing up to and I was like, “I cannot be here anymore.” I was sad and I talked to my mom about it and she was like, “Quit.” It was an important moment for me, given we know the expectations of my parents. I did want to make them proud because of the sacrifice that they had made in their life. I felt like I could fly when she gave me that permission and that’s when I decided to quit.
The day I quit my job was the start of all of this because I could go all-in on what I was going to be doing and focus and move forward on building the website, getting more money if I needed to, coming up with the full strategy. While I was still working, I was still up and down. People always ask me, “Should I quit my job?” Every company is different. Every business is different. I knew with what I was building in my comps of OpenTable, Seamless Web, Zocdoc. This was a multibillion-dollar concept that required me to be all-in from day one. I wasn’t building something smaller than that. There are other businesses that don’t necessarily need that.
You weren’t opening a restaurant.
People have side hustles all the time. It’s a matter of priorities. I talk a lot about this in the book too, sometimes you have to do it as a side hustle until the point where you are financially able to take that leap. Before I quit my job, my dad and I sat down. We created a full budget for my life. I went through all the money I had saved at that point.
I had six years of savings. In those six years, I lived in a small apartment, I didn’t travel, I didn’t go shopping, I was not the person going out to dinner. I was always hyper-prioritized on the things I wanted to do, which were dancing and working. I did that in college. That’s a big part of the reason I am who I am today. I didn’t feel guilty about missing a bunch of other stuff.
I want to say one thing that is inspiring. If I’m remembering correctly, in your book, you talked about you renting out a space for $30,000. You’re not shopping and going to Bergdorf but you’re busting out $30,000. You got your money back and maybe made a little extra on top. I’m saying within that, there were moves, commitment, and a little bit of risk right into your real passion.
What it comes down to is, what is money worth to you? What are you willing to risk it on? In a weird way, I knew I loved to dance, art, and all that stuff so much that I was like, “At some point in my life, I’m going to do something and I would rather spend that dollar whenever that opportunity came.” Going back to it, it’s okay if you have a side hustle but know what the plan is. Know what you’re saving towards or you’re coming up with a plan. It’s that moment when you’re like, “I know what I want to do.”
Money is one of the most constraining things. A lot of times, a lot of people don’t go for their dreams because of it. You can’t jump off a cliff and be like, “I’m not going to make any money.” Everyone has responsibilities, all of that. It comes down to creating a plan that gives you the freedom to live in pursuit of what you love to do. I didn’t know I was doing that earlier on. I was naturally doing it because I had this huge thing I loved in my life that I was able to make those trade-offs earlier.
When that moment came, my dad and I sat down. I had three years to live off of. I remember thinking back to it and for three years, he was like, “Go for this company.” For me, it’s mentally being in a place where I could focus 100% on my company. Think about if I was like, “I have to go and do a job for 3 or 4 four hours a day to make money.” We all know what a job does to you mentally. It comes with emotional stress, there’s politics, all of that. There’s a sense of, “Am I doing a good job?” I didn’t have any of that eating at my brain. I got to focus 100% on building and solving this problem I wanted to solve.
You probably put a pretty intense framework around the process. Seeking mentors and doing research, I would imagine your days were filled with this. Even though I know you’re dancing at night and on the weekends, this is a full-time and beyond job. I’m imagining you worked harder at this than anything ever.
Building a company, I think about how big it is now and it’s unbelievably humbling. I remember being like, “I don’t want to just get somebody to class.” It was such a simple thing. Even in the beginning, I thought I would do it in New York City. I didn’t even think about this idea as a global concept in the beginning. I was like, “I want to find a dance class. There are other people in the city and there are so many classes. How do we build this easy thing?” Even at the time, Seamless Web was only in New York City.
In a weird way, it was such an innocent idea. I think of it that way. I think about it now. I’ve taken classes with people in Hong Kong where I didn’t even speak the same language as them but I know they are getting the same thing I am out of that class. That’s when I was like, “This is a human behavior problem.” It’s a challenge to get people to try new things, to feel comfortable working out, to make working out fun. To a lot of people, it’s an obligation. I didn’t even know I was solving all of that as I was doing it. I was always trying to help people find what dance was in my life, in their life, whatever that means. I knew everyone didn’t want to dance.
Spinning could be their dance or whatever.
it was a movement. It was this emotional, spiritual unlock for them, this state of flow. We forget as we become adults. I always look back and I remember when I thought of this idea, I’m like, “I know I have to do this.” I was that 26-year-old girl inviting my whole company to see a dance show and everyone was like, “That’s what you’re doing on the weekend?” I’m like, “Yeah. Come and watch me dance. I’m performing on Saturday night.”
I was sending out emails for people to buy tickets to my show. People were like, “What are you doing this weekend?” I’m like, “I have a rehearsal from 9:00 to 12:00 and then I have to go do fittings and I have to go back to rehearsal.” That was what I did on Saturday. I didn’t go to brunch or any of that. I lived by a different drumbeat. I remember people being like, “You’re happy and full of energy.” That’s because I filled my soul with things that I loved, which was that.
Especially when I would talk to my friends, they’d be waiting for a promotion at work or to get married and have kids. I’m like, “How did that become our sense of achievement and goals?” I was like, “I have a show coming up in three weeks.” That drive that I felt gave me everything. I knew people who were unbelievable athletes in college and then they didn’t do their sport ever again. I’m like, “That gave you something that made you who you are and it will continue to help you thrive.” Why do we erase these places in our lives? It was all of that, that fueled this idea that I wanted to build for the world. All of that was packaged into what we ended up building with ClassPass.
There’s some incredible story that you said. I don’t know how many class reservations you guys made.
We’ve booked over 100 million reservations. The first product did 100, which was sad. The next one did 20,000. We had a few products that were going. In the 2 or 3 years, it was 100 reservations.
Let’s look at that for a second. What are you thinking? Sometimes you’re in a vacuum. When you’re doing a new business and you understand the numbers. Getting from here to there, that bridge, how do you get to that end-user and connect them and all of these things? At night when you’re probably up noodling it, thinking about it, being concerned about it, what are you saying to yourself?
In the moments of the hard times?
When you’re getting your ass kicked being an entrepreneur.
Here’s the problem, I didn’t know I was getting my ass kicked until I got my ass kicked. It was one of those things where for the first year, I thought I was doing everything right. I talked a lot about this in the book but I call them False Signals of Success, which are things like I had raised money. I was getting pressed because I was a woman in tech. I got into this huge incubator program. Everything was signaling that we would succeed. We were building a beautiful product.
People were saying that they would use the product so I was getting email addresses. Everything seemed to be going well. We then launched and that was game over, that was the moment. It took me a year to launch. I tell every entrepreneur to please launch quicker than that. Do not take a year to build something, especially if you’re building a business like ClassPass, which had to do with human behavior. All that mattered was getting someone in class. It didn’t matter how many classes I had listed on there, how the technology worked underneath there.
Didn’t you have 1 million classes?
We had 1 million classes. We were scraping this data. We had people updating it daily to make sure the schedules were up to date. We were doing so much work that was so unnecessary at the time. No one was even booking any classes. At that moment, when that happened, I was scared but I was scared more from the sense of, “I need to make sure I have enough money. I got to figure this out. I got to make sure I can still pay people.”
It took me a few meetings with a few entrepreneurs. At this time, there weren’t that many people. I had a few people guiding and advising me. One of them had said to me, “Payal, this is on you. You still have money in the bank. Go and try something new.” With this idea even, I was like, “Can I try something new?”
It’s scary to throw away something but I was like, “You’re right. I have not solved the problem that I had gone out to. No one was going to any classes. I wanted to give dancing to all these people. What am I doing? Having the site wasn’t working.” That’s when the team and I got together and we started going to classes. This was at the time when all these boutique classes started coming about. There was a Pilates class and spinning.
When are we, 2013 or 2014?
This was in 2013. This is right when the boutique fitness craze is about to happen. Every single studio is giving away free classes. They want people in the door. There’s a new one being opened. SoulCycle was a phenomenon. Everyone’s like, “I want to do that, too.” Wellness was becoming a huge thing. It was great.
We had built this website but we were like, “This is not working.” We decided that we would package together a bunch of these free classes for a month for people. We called it the Passport. This time, we were called Classtivity for legal reasons at that time. We were called the Classtivity Passport. People had a month to go and try different classes.
Now, we had something. The magic of this was the variety, which was something we stumbled upon. we weren’t like, “This is what’s going to happen.” You don’t always know these things. This is why when you build products like this, you have to play. This is also what helped me get rid of this J personality I a little bit had. I was like, “I need to learn from what’s going on.” What we quickly started realizing is people loved going to a spin class on Monday, a dance class Wednesday, yoga class Friday. They loved it so much they were trying to buy this product we had for a month over and over again.
Do you mean shyster-ing you?
Yeah. They were signing up with different email addresses. The studio owner would call us yelling at us, “You told me X customer couldn’t come back.” We were like, “They could not technically come back from the way we had built the product.”
Sure, it was there.
They weren’t getting paid because these were free complimentary classes. We were like, “What is going on?” We started looking at the data and we started seeing how people were messing up with their Gmail addresses. It was the same user and we’re like, “Oh my god.” I remember the initial reaction was to send an email being, “You can’t do this.”
“We have another offer for you.”
That’s when I was like, “Do they want to be a subscription?” We started doing more market research. 95% of our customers said they wanted to try this product monthly. They wanted to do this variety thing that we thought was going to be a month phenomenon and then you would pick your favorite studio. They were hooked on the variety thing. They wanted to do that over and over again. Our initial reaction was, “How are we going to get the studios on board? How are we going to price this thing?” This is like creating something from scratch.
[bctt tweet=”Everyone has a calling that drives them. When you have that, you are able to push past so many of these adverse moments that you face.”]
Back to your earliest question on this, what kept me going and what kept me moving was every single time I would get an email when someone went to class and it felt good. I jumped for joy on that first reservation that got booked on the site. I had fought so hard for it. Part of why this journey ended up having the resilience it did was because it was hard in the beginning. It’s almost like what we were talking about when we were younger and faced adversity, it makes you appreciate.
I was grateful because it was hard in the beginning and that’s why I fought for every reservation.
You’re more intimate with your business because of that. People don’t understand the magic when you become intimate with your project and the only way to do that is to not do it. You have a different relationship with your idea. When you’re in that difficult time and people are like, “Maybe you should wrap it up. It’s going to cost so much money.” Where do you get the fortitude to keep believing in yourself? Is it also having a team that’s like, “We’re going to figure this out.” With a lot of people, this is where they start to fold. You go, “This is too hard,” or, “It doesn’t work,” or, “It wasn’t the right idea.”
This is a simple answer but I 100% believe in it, it’s because I cared about the mission. Honestly, if I cared about it any less, I wouldn’t have kept going. I care to figure out this problem for the world. When a lot of people start companies today without caring about what problem they are solving in the world, they are going to stop and they are going to give up when that challenge gets tough because it’s going to. I don’t know any company where everything worked out immediately.
When you care deeply about the work you’re doing, you’re not waking up every day to fight against doubt. You’re like, “I have to change the world. How do I keep going because people need me? I want to make an impact on the world.” It’s a different drive. That did keep me going. I knew I had to do it and I didn’t look back. In those moments, I had people who would remind me of that. That’s what it comes down to.
Honestly, that’s why I always kept dancing through it. I kept going to class and I would see it and I felt everything for the teachers and the studio owners. I could feel what was going on with the customers and I’m like, “This is pure magic.” The most important time for me was after we had launched the subscription. It was three months in.
Are you ClassPass now or Classtivity?
We’re still Classtivity, 2013. We had launched this subscription idea and it was called the Classtivity ClassPass because we were still Classtivity at the time. In terms of intimacy, I love that point that you said. Honestly, when I first launched that first product, I was not intimate with it. It was this big OpenTable. It was this roadshow. It was fancy. When we talk about intimacy, this is when we started building Passport to ClassPass. This is the time I became an entrepreneur, these nine months.
I remember going into the database, putting in inventory, and the schedule data. I was doing it personally because I had to let go of so much of my team. We needed to make sure we were good on the cash that we still had. I would go in and fulfill reservations. I was doing customer service. I could see the same user booking that class, canceling it, and booking it again. I remember being like, “This person booked and then canceled it.”
We started having this fifteen-minute delay because we were seeing the behavior of what people are doing. They try something and they cancel it. We’re like, “Let’s wait fifteen minutes before we even book it because this is a waste of our time if we’re going and making that reservation and then canceling it.”
We were doing everything manually. We were calling up the studio being like, “Sherry is going to come to Barry’s boot camp class.” We were doing all of this on our own. That’s when I felt intimate with my product because I could feel the heartbeat of those reservations. I knew when they were coming in. I knew what time they were coming in. I knew how they were coming in. I knew why people wanted to go to class.
I would know that something was succeeding because I had thousands of customers. In the tech world, it’s about when people say the word thousands and millions. That’s when you’ve made an impact. I got a few emails. I remember it was five emails and it was these stories and testimonials that people were writing because they wanted to tell us how much this product changed their life. In those emails, I’m like, “This is the magic. We had given them dance. This is it, we created magic.” That’s when the product went viral because all those people were telling everyone else to use it.
At the time we were doing all the testing, every person was telling five other people. It was growing. We had to make sure we could keep up with the inventory. It became a fast-moving situation. We had to shut down our other products because we still had them in commission. In March of 2014, we finally changed our name from Classtivity to ClassPass. We shut down the other products and we were ClassPass ever since then.
You guys are thriving and expanding. Where does Nick fit into this? Where does he enter? How is there time for him?
It was two weeks before we changed our name to ClassPass. Going back a little bit to what I was talking about, I created a method in my life during a hard time. It was right in the middle of all this. It was right when ClassPass was probably six months old at this time. I knew I’d built something that was going to take over the world because I felt it in the user stories. In a weird way, I had checked something off in my brain. I knew all this hard work I had been putting on got to a point, which helped me.
This was a holiday break. My parents were in India and my sister was in Boston. Everyone in the world was gone. I decided to tag along with a friend’s family to the Caribbean because I was like, “I got to go somewhere. Everyone’s gone.” I remember being like, “Maybe it’s time for me to focus on some other aspects of my life in a different way.” That’s when I started reflecting on my last year, my coming year.
I have a whole process that I go through in the book about goal setting and this was one of them. For me, during that time, I had put something about longevity. I remember putting that word in there and it tied to relationships for me and stability. I’m like, “I want someone who’s going to make me stronger and stable and not something crazy.” My life was crazy enough.
I remember being like, “I’m going to date.” This was now on my terms. This wasn’t my mom leading this conversation. This is coming out of me. I put in there, I’m like, “I’m going to ask three friends to introduce me to people. I’m going to try and go out once a week.” I was busy with work. My Friday nights were me sitting there working on my laptop with my co-founder. That was exciting for us. I was like, “I’m going to try and go out a bit more.”
A month later, on my birthday, my friend is having a Super Bowl party. I had just started this. I had gone on a few dates. This was a month into the year. I go to the Super Bowl party. It’s a Sunday night and I’m like, “I have to go and do work.” Nick walks in during halftime and we locked. I stayed out till 1:00 AM. I never would do that on a Sunday because I’m always working. We kept talking. I had met him on that Sunday. He was only in New York City for a week at that time. We saw each other every day that week.
That’s big for you.
What was amazing about that moment in my life is that voice of feeling inadequate was gone. Part of it was because I knew I had built this. By the way, ClassPass was small at the time. We had 1,000 customers. Inside, I was like, “I’ve done something. I don’t need anything else.” It was like, “If I find someone, he’d be someone I wanted to add to my life, not complete me.” That’s when I met the right person. It was this shift where I was confident, solid, I felt full, and someone walked into my life.
Sometimes people think it’s immediate. Sometimes we can work on things, even our health let’s say, where the results are going to come at a different time or later. It isn’t always immediate. Even when you talk about this business, it’s like understanding like, “We got hammered. We fix some things. We’ve dialed into some things. It’s going to come.” Even the change within our personal lives. Sometimes we can do a personal reflection on things and go, “The result of this is going to come, it may not be immediate.” Was it like, “I’m going to bring Nick home.” Your mom must have been so happy.
He and I are of different religions. Even though we’re Indian, he’s Sikh and I’m Hindu. He’s Punjabi. Even within, there are enough separations. It was an instant connection for the two of us, which was nice. He had probably gone through a journey a little bit too. Everything in my life brought me to that moment and all the work I had done. Back to what you were talking about iterating a little, everyone always asks me about iterating on my company but I’m like, “I’m all about iterating on myself too.” Whether it’s my career, whether it’s where I live, I’m never going to be like, “I’m doing this because I fit into some box and I’m not allowed to change.”
If something is not working, I’m okay with throwing it out and starting over and doing something. When you live by that, you never feel trapped. You feel like you’re living a routine life. That’s been hard a little over these past few years, especially with COVID. I’m even dealing with motherhood. It’s like, “How do I keep it moving?” I love that sense of growth. Part of the methodologies I’ve created for my life even personally, how do I keep doing that? I want to dance. I want to be a great mom. I want to be a great wife. I want to keep building. I want to do this. You can’t have it all at the same time.
It’s about being like, “What do I want to accomplish right now? What’s most important? What’s going to fill my heart? Where do I want to go? I’m going to focus. I’m going to do well on those things that I decided to do and not feel guilty about doing everything else. I’m going to go for it.” I do a quarterly process. Next quarter, I’m going to focus on some of the other things I didn’t get to if those are the things that now feel like they’re going to serve me. Part of that process was how I started thinking about my life during that time about what I wanted to prioritize.
At that time, I had stopped dancing a little bit too because I was busy in the iterations of the company and I’m like, “I got to get dance back.” Even right after I met Nick, I put on my second big show with a $30,000 check again at the same place. I did that in the midst of ClassPass launching in more cities, meeting my husband, and putting on a huge dance show. I did that all at the same time. I know people are like, “How did you do it?” I’m like, “The same thing, I prioritized, I was passionate about it, and I had a plan.” I didn’t let anything stand in my way.
I’m always interested in partnerships. I’ve been married for a long time. It’s great. I’m also several years older than you. I say in my house, sometimes I’m the farmer and sometimes I’m the flower where I’m going back and forth. What traits or ways does Nick approach it that allows you the space? Sometimes we get squished in on by domestic living. It happens. I tell my husband, “I’ll be your wife. I’ll do everything a wife does for you. Don’t treat me like your wife. Treat me as your girlfriend. We’re going to be fine.” In what ways does he show up that allows this still big space for you? You have a lot of action going on.
The number one thing is he’s good with food. It’s an interesting place but he loves food. He’s good with food. I think of food as getting through the day. I have to eat or I’ll not be able to survive. Even feeding my son is a stressful experience for me. It’s something. I feel forced to do it or whatever it is. He’s like, “Let me do it.” We eat three times a day. He loves food. He handles it if people come over. He’s that person who I don’t have to worry about. That’s such a small thing.
I have to have this conversation even more than Nick with my parents who had been with us. My mom was like, “Did you make Zayn lunch?” I’m like, “Mom, I’m never going to be good in the kitchen. Let’s be honest, I’m never going to be. I’m sorry, that dream of yours is not going to come true. Accept it at this point. I’m not going to.” Sometimes I try but I’m like, “What am I doing? This is not my environment.” I’ve even tried to put it into my own goals and be like, “I’m going to try to cook once a night.” I don’t get connected to it.
My husband loves food. That’s one area but it goes back to a deeper thing where he’s nurturing. He loves to host and he is good with that. We always have people over. It’s nice because I am focused. I’m one of those people that if I have something I’m thinking about, I can go into my own world. He’s good about making sure everyone is taken care of, even my son if that makes sense. Having that relationship is awesome. That’s the second thing, he is such a great father.
I’ve thought about this. Someone was saying this to me because I’m like, “Nick is good with our son.” He even does some of the things that a lot of times people would expect me to do. I was thinking about that and I’m like, “That’s why I probably married him.” My friend said, “That’s probably why you married him because you knew you’re going to need the space to do the things you’re going to do.” I would rather be one of us than someone else. I’m like, “This is great.” There isn’t anything Nick would rather be doing than playing with my son. It’s awesome.
It’s called a partnership. I’m more analytical. My husband is more sensitive than I am. I remember my daughter was probably 2 or 3 and she was laying on the floor and she was whining. I’m like, “Reece, are you hungry? What do you need?” My husband walked in and looked at her. He got on the floor, lay down, and gave her a hug. I was like, “A hug, that’s what she needed.” I was like, “I had my checklist out.” The other interesting thing is when you can be with a partner. You’re a lot, meaning you have a big life. It’s interesting even coming from what would be called traditional. That’s why I was curious about what the hacks are and how it flows between the two of you.
We had to talk a lot more. It was easier before a kid. The other big thing I would say is I’m all about delegating. I used to feel guilty about it. I don’t feel guilty about it anymore. As a woman, we sometimes feel bad about if anyone else is cleaning or anyone else is cooking. There was a point in my life when I couldn’t afford that and I was like, “I will do everything. I will take the longer walk. I will clean every place because I can’t afford it.” You need to figure out where you are and put that plan together. Is an hour of me working more than an hour of me doing something else that is unnecessary for me to do? Those are conversations that, as women, we need to have more of so we don’t feel bad about it.
Also, what you start to realize is all of that comes from the outside. It’s not like you’re sitting on the couch eating bonbons. You’re working your ass off. You’re saying, “My hour spent, maybe I can bring someone in to do this part over here.” I’m curious, is he good at saying, “I need you to pay attention more to me.” You get down to work rabbit hole and all of a sudden, you’re like, “I’m going.” Does he go, “Put it down over here.” Is he able to do that?
He does. We’ve been talking about this a lot. It’s an active topic. We’ve all been home working. We’re like coworkers. Sometimes during lunch, I’ll be on a call while I’m eating and I go into the kitchen and he’ll be there. He wants to joke around and I’m working or replying to emails or something. He’ll want to hang out. We’ve talked about it. He’s like, “Imagine you were at work, wouldn’t you want to hang out with someone?” I’m like, “Yeah.”
I have to remember actively to be like, “When I come into the house and he’s there, I have to pay attention. I’m not necessarily in work mode.” I don’t want him to think I’m ignoring him but I’m engrossed in some email. I realized I cannot multitask. He is good at multitasking. He can write an email and joke around with me. I can’t do that. I’ll be like, “I either wrote the wrong, or I didn’t listen to you.” I cannot do both. I’ve learned to try and set aside the time but it’s still hard. It’s been interesting because we’re all always together.
Prior to COVID, you guys had your first child, your son. I’m curious about you. I’ve asked a lot of people versions of this question and someone thought, “I could keep it all organized and have it all scheduled and it would all line up.” The big surprise when you have a child is there are parts of that, that go out the window. All of a sudden, you can’t get their shoe on as quick as you want it to get off the door at the time.
[bctt tweet=”When you do maybe need a shift, if you’re like, “I don’t know what I want to be doing,” change your environment sometimes. Be around different people. Try new activities because you never know what can happen.”]
By the way, they never do what you want because that’s the lesson for the parents. It’s the full surrender. Where have you had your growth as a mom where you’re figuring out like, “I have this whole list of things I’m doing for work. I even have some big presentations or meetings.” I want to also get into the fact that you guys not only pivoted but you sold the company right to Mindbody. Congratulations. I love that timing. You go, “I have this 1:00 and this is serious and Zayn is over here.” What have you learned?
It comes down to having help, whether it’s knowing who is on board. If I have an important meeting, it’s letting someone know whether it’s my husband, my nanny there, or if my mom’s there. It’s letting someone know if it’s that important. I had a meeting with the White House and it was in the morning. I’m like, “I don’t care. Someone needs to figure this out.” It’s trusting that at some point.
That brings me to the second point. There was a point where I was like, “Am I a good mom?” You go through this conversation, every mom has it, where you’re like, “Does he love me? Am I a good mom?” My biggest learning was coming up with me feeling I know what I’m giving him and feeling confident about what that is. From the hours I have helped, I’m working. I’m not interacting with them.
My husband plays in the morning but I’m in my zone. I always do the morning with him and I love it. No one’s around and it’s my time with him. I don’t look at my phone. I make sure I look at my phone once. I have someone come and take it, my mom or someone. Up until that time, I’m focused on him. It’s an hour or two. It’s not the greatest time. I know once my day starts going, it’s hard for me to shift back. Even at night when we’re doing bedtime and all that stuff, my brain is moving and thinking about other work stuff. I like that healthy time.
It comes back to what you were saying earlier, you have to find what works for you in terms of the scheduling and all of that and what system. On the weekends, I’ve also learned to go with the flow a bit more. There are days when I’m like, “I want to go and do something.” It’s more work sometimes when you have kids. You’re like, “Let’s follow their flow. It’s Saturday. It’s not going to be the end of the world.” You have to go back and forth and do what’s best for them but also not lose yourself in the process.
You talk a lot about in the book the have to, want to, the should. You get more in touch with, “That’s going to be okay if I don’t get to that right now. This moment with my son or daughter is more important.” There’s a time where you’re like, “They’re crying for me and they need me and I still have to shut the office door and deal with whatever this.” That’s brutal. It’s going to be okay.
It’s hard. I’m still learning. I’m two years in and it’s part of the pandemic. I feel like I’m still learning my vibe but I’m feeling much stronger in it. It’s such a learning process from the first week when you have your kid where you’re like, “This is insane.”
My favorite is the drive home from the hospital when they give you your baby. When you go home, you’re like, “There’s a baby. It’s amazing. I know what to do but I don’t know what to do.”
It’s also getting all the voices out of your head.
If you go to the park, you will see a mom many times. I see them and, in a respectful and healthy way, I’m envious of their traits of patience, playfulness, and creativity. I have friends that are super creative. It’s like, “We built a castle and then we filmed the thing.” I don’t do hardly any of that.
I know I can find the resources and the opportunity for my son to do that. I don’t want to deprive him of any of it. I did his playroom. It’s funny because I’m like, “Why did I decide to do that on my own?” It comes down to a part of me being like, “This is how I want to give.” I spent one afternoon putting a decal of the world on his wall. I was like, “This is the way I like to give and I can give.” That feels right. When he paints, I’m always like, “You’re going to get everything dirty.” My heart is like, “We have to clean all this up.” Other people are more natural at it. Let them do it. Everyone should be okay with letting other people do it and not feel bad. It’s the guilt.
Also, being open. Being like, “Their aunty might be a good influence on them over here because that’s not one of my high cards.” We’ll bring that aunty or that person in. Let’s talk a bit about the decision, the opportunity to sell to Mindbody. Is it a letting go? How does that look?
The story of ClassPass and Mindbody starts in 2012. I don’t think it was that shocking anyway but we all knew it was a matter of when and not if. In 2012, I hadn’t even launched the first version of the product. I had met Rick Stollmeyer, who is the founder of Mindbody, and his wife. We were building a little bit of that OpenTable version of ClassPass on their API. They were already working with many of these studios. They were the backend. They were doing the ERPs, scheduling, and all the software for all of that. We knew that they already had all the data so we didn’t have to sit there and scrape it and all of that. We were like, “Let’s plug in to their platform.” This started in 2012. Over that, ClassPass grew.
What was amazing is they helped us launch in many of the new cities. Think about it, at a technical level to get everyday schedule data, to know what inventory is available, that’s not an easy thing to be able to do. Let’s say we went to DC and wanted to launch. For us to find twenty studios with a click of a button and we would have that data was huge. We already were working together. We were always focused on the customer. With the brand and product, we were always focused heavily on the customer side and they were always focused on this beautiful backend that was helping many of our providers operate.
What’s funny is if you look at OpenTable actually, their company had both in it. OpenTable started more with the Mindbody model and then went into the consumer. In the tech, when I was building ClassPass, they’d be like, “You’re doing this wrong. You’re going into the customer. You’re supposed to be going in through the tech. First, sell the system in and then build a customer.” I was like, “No. I’m going to go the other way.” It was pretty shocking because most people don’t do it that way. I went that way and then we built this great relationship.
Over the years, there were many moments where we talked about coming together or whatever it might be. With the pandemic and everything that had happened, we were at a point where we knew that the industry needed us to come together. Instead of at a point where we were either trying to compete with each other or whatever it might be, we were at a place where we wanted to grow together and grow the industry together and we needed to focus on it. The number one thing we could do is to help every single studio survive. It was this better together initiative for both companies that got us there. It was a matter of when and not if. That was part of that.
I built this company for a decade. I was telling you these stories. I feel like a little girl when I was starting it. I had made some decisions already. In 2017, I had somebody else start being CEO. I had made decisions where I knew I was falling into more of a creative and a vision space with the company. In a sense, it was also a time to move forward and start solving other problems that I’ve also encountered in the world that are on my mind.
For me, it was like, “Do I have a small role? What do I have?” I was like, “It’s time for me to move forward. It’s like having a baby and I felt like my kid went to college before and now it was getting married. I’m like, “I have to let go.” If it needs me, I will be like, “What do you need?” It was like, “I need to let it breathe. I need to go breathe and become whoever I’m going to be in this next decade and keep evolving and iterating on myself.”
If it’s a secret, you don’t have to tell me. Do you have ideas about your new whys and the next things that you’re going to try to solve?
I’m in a similar place to where I was years ago. It’s funny, I was rereading my book and almost crying because I’m in the same place I was when I had the idea of ClassPass when I ended up coming up to that ballet class. Part of me needs to live. This book was great for me right now because it’s a nice way for me to give back. I knew and I felt responsible for doing that for all these lessons and this way I lived, which was different than most of my friends in my 20s. I’m like, “I need to give that to people.”
Dancing is a big part of my life and my culture, which is a big thread. I’m still exploring. I’m in that phase. It’s a hard phase for me to be in after all of this action, this building, and scaling. Sometimes being in the explore phase is the most important. I realized I am planting the seeds right now for the next decade of my life. I’d rather spend the time whether it takes me a year or two years so the next decade is spent doing the right thing the same way I did with ClassPass. I could have wasted ten years staying at Bain or going to business school and then ending up in a corporation. I easily could’ve done that.
By the way, even where I am right now, there are obvious things people do. They start investing and they start doing this. I have learned to be like, “I need to be conscious now.” I feel a huge responsibility. Being somebody who I know, asked me so many questions. A lot of this book, I want people to read it so I can be like, “I have learned so much and I’m giving it to you. You can have it and I hope it inspires you to never let anything stand in your way.” We’ll see. The world is your oyster. For me, it comes down to having a deep why. I’m not going to do something unless I deeply care about it.
The book is an easy quick book to read, LifePass. You’ve got chapters in there talking about identity, expectations, and fear. You go through all these buckets. For anyone, it’s whether they’re looking to maybe consider a change or take on a new project. It’s also the observations. You’re not telling someone how to do it. You’re saying, “This is what it looked like for me.”
To wrap this up, you’re systematic. You’re a person who puts these in place. For your own self-care, besides dance and trying to remember to eat, do you have things that worked best for you in your self-care? Are you going to bed early? Are you eating a certain way? Do you only eat a little bit? How does it work for you?
I drink green tea every morning and I have since I was 20 years old, a glass of green tea every day. I do not start my day without that. I like to sleep eight hours. If I don’t sleep eight hours, I’m not operating at 150%. To me, it’s much harder with a kid. Thankfully, he’s a good sleeper.
I’ve said this a lot, I’m never envious of anything, “I’m a gazillionaire,” or, “I’m a supermodel.” When I had kids, it’s like, “My baby sleeps through the night.” I’d be like, “Get away from me.”
Sleep is a huge part of it. There’s this method that I talk about so much in the book. I know how to reflect and be self-aware. We forget how much self-awareness is taken for granted. I can’t figure out what I want to do unless I look inward. It’s not outward. I have always had a good process. A lot of that does come from dance and this connection, something I felt when I was young of center, go in, go out after that, and create a plan.
For me, that system has kept me centered, grounded, and happy throughout my life. I’m happy about what I’ve achieved but I want to keep doing more. I don’t feel like I haven’t done enough. At the same time, it’s about being fulfilled. What does fulfillment mean to you? On a daily basis, that can change and evolve. Every person has to keep finding that. Even for me, I’m on my own journey with it.
You have The Sa Dance Company. What’s your favorite food that your mom makes you? Your favorite Indian dish? Even if it is a staple, what is your go-to that you love?
We call it Bhindi but it’s okra. It’s good.
Do you know how to make it?
No. She taught me once. I made it but I’ve not made it ever again. It’s on my list of things for her to teach me while she’s here.
You say in your book that your mom is the rebel. She maybe is the one who got your dad to move to this country. It’s great. If somebody goes, “I’m going to go get some Indian food,” where are you going to direct them? What should they get?
This question is for my husband.
Pick one that you know someone can get a sense of maybe the spices or herbs that are used. It’s important.
Nobody knows better than an insider. This is a go-to and you have to try it.
I like Mexican food. If you asked me my mom’s favorite food, it’s when she makes me enchiladas. I was like, “You said Indian.”
Let’s go to Enchiladas. Jersey and enchiladas, I like that. Besides your book, LifePass, maybe direct people to all the places they can find you. You have a lot to share. You’re on these new adventures, being a mom. I’m interested to see what your new undertaking is. You’ll be like, “This is cute.” I used to say that I wanted to write a book called Death by Domestication. It’s the repetitiveness of it. Where can they find you?
Sa Dance Company is a dance company. LifePassBook is for the book. I’ve got my goal-setting workshop up there as well, which you’ll find in the book. On Instagram, I am @Payal. On Twitter, I am @PayalKadakia.
Thanks for your time. Congratulations on everything. You’re a real inspiration about finding the way to do it your own way. I never separate men and women. Also, for a woman, we have one other layer to navigate that men do not because of biology. I appreciate that so much and for your time.
Thank you for having me.
Thanks so much for reading. If you’d like, rate, subscribe, and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me, @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.
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- LifePass: Drop Your Limits, Rise to Your Potential
- The Sa Dance Company
About Payal Kadakia
Payal is the Executive Chairman & Founder of ClassPass and the Artistic Director of The Sa Dance Company.
Payal has been a “dancetrepreneur” since the age of 3 when she started training in Indian classical and folk styles of dance. It was her passion for dance, entrepreneurship, and making the world a more active, happy place that led to the founding of ClassPass. ClassPass is a membership program for fitness classes across multiple gyms and studios, making working out more engaging, accessible, and affordable.