“You only learn by doing” – Payal Kadakia, CEO, ClassPass

By Aarthi Rayapura May 12, 2016

A simple search for a ballet class in New York City led to ClassPass, a company that has disrupted the fitness industry. Founder and CEO Payal Kadakia founded ClassPass in 2013 after being frustrated at her inability to find a ballet class to attend. The company aims to make working out “more engaging, accessible, and affordable.” It’s membership program is unique in that it doesn’t tie you down to a single studio/gym or even type of workout. Instead, a monthly fee allows members to try out various classes in its extensive network of gyms and fitness studios — over 7500 of them in 39 cities across the US, Canada, and Australia. The only caveat? Members can use the same location for a maximum of three times a month. In turn, studio owners benefit by attracting new customers, and don’t have to offer their entire roster of classes to ClassPass users. So far, over 13 million reservations have been made on the platform and the company is valued at $400 million.

Kadakia has had an interesting,enviable career. After graduating from MIT with a degree in Operations Research and briefly working in management consulting, she decided to pursue her passion — dance. A dancer since the age of three, Kadakia has trained in various forms of Indian classical and folk dance traditions. She’s also the Founder and Artistic Director of the Sa Dance Company which serves as a platform for expressing the Indian-American identity through movement. It was her passion for dance, entrepreneurship,and making the world a more active, happy place that led to the founding of Classpass. I had a few questions for her:

How would you describe the ClassPass user?
I think the great thing about our product is that it’s for everyone. A huge portion of our users were not prior regular boutique fitness users. It has been amazing to see so many people try something new. We are constantly getting emails from people saying that ClassPass has changed their life, so we hope to continue to motivate people to find that time for themselves.

What’s your relationship with the studios and gyms?
We consider the studios and gyms our true partners and that’s largely been mutual. We have a 97% retention rate with the studios and gyms that we work with, and we are constantly looking for ways to add value and to help them optimize and grow their businesses.

The service has evolved from its roots in Classtivity and the acquisition of FitMob. What prompts you to continually change your service?
The goal has always been to motivate people towards taking action – when we first launched Classtivity, people were engaging with the site but they weren’t actually booking classes. As we continued to iterate and try new things, it was when we provided the subscription model that things really took off. At the end of the day, you have to listen to your customers and adjust accordingly.

What made you opt for the subscription business model for ClassPass?
It was really a decision driven by our customers. We had previously released something called a Passport that allowed people to try a handful of classes at a flat rate each month,and we noticed people were signing up with mutiple emails so that they could keep using it. At that moment, we realized we were on to something and so it was an easy decision to iterate. At the heart of things, it’s always about our mission and the why, and so our team was excited about adjusting the product to fulfill that.

ClassPass is growing very fast – what are the challenges that come with it and how is the company managing them?
We’ve seen great success in the past few years, but now it’s about refining and evolving the product and adding features that enhance the user experience for both our members and studio partners. We’ve realized that our users are varied in the way that they work out and interact with the platform. So we’ll continue to explore and evaluate ways to make sure our users are getting the most value for their membership. It’s really about the lifecycle of membership – people need different things at different points in their life.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a dancer and entrepreneur?
My passion for dance and wanting to keep it in my life is essentially how ClassPass was born. And in the same way that I have had to practice to become a good dancer, becoming a good entrepreneur has taken practice as well, but you only learn by doing.