Back in 2011, Payal Kadakia found herself clicking through ballet studio sites across New York City on the hunt for a class she could take after work that day. “I was on 17 different websites trying to map things out and figure out which class was best for me and ended up getting so overwhelmed that I just gave up,” she says. The longtime dancer and MIT grad realized her pain point was a serious hole in the fitness world, and four months later she quit her job to create what is now ClassPass, a subscription service that offers members access to thousands of fitness classes and studios for a set monthly fee.
Signups have sold like gangbusters over the past two years, and for good reason: The $99 (or $125 in NYC) fee for a month of unlimited classes is a steal, considering boutique classes cost up to $40 a pop; meanwhile studio owners are pleased to bring in new faces and fill vacancies. ClassPass, valued at around $200 million, is now available in 30 cities and 4,000 studios across the US.
Bummed you didn’t think of the idea first? Join the club. But 32-year-old Kadakia makes it obvious that a genius idea is only one piece of the puzzle—check out her other tips for blazing your own path.
1. Get Real
It can be lonely at the top for a female exec, but you can still own it. “Sometimes females feel like they should act like men, but they should really just be themselves," says Kadakia. "I’m 4’11", but that doesn’t matter if I’m showing conviction and confidence in what I’m doing. When I started fundraising like me and leading like me, that’s when I really started to shine and find my own rhythm.”
2. Build a Support System
“It’s really lonely trying to build something by yourself," says Kadakia. "It’s good to have thought partners to bounce ideas off of. One of my original partners is a good friend of mine who quit his job when I told him about the idea; I also had three friends who immediately took out their checkbooks asking to invest when I first explained ClassPass, which is really encouraging.”
3. Roll With It
Kadakia’s earliest iteration of ClassPass, called Classitivity, was a search engine without a subscription model. The platform didn’t register with users, so she switched gears and came up with a plan B. “It’s not always going to be perfect on the first try," she says. "Getting the best product out there is the most important thing, and you can worry about details like the name or trademarking later.”
4. Take Care of Yourself, Then Business
“When you throw yourself into something like this, your own wellbeing is often the first thing to go,” says Kadakia, who has found a work-life balance but admits it’s a constant process. Her strategy now: morning workouts (“it’s how my brain wakes up,” she says), KIND bars for energy, and an endless supply of butterscotch and Sour Patch Kids candy in the office for afternoon pick-me-ups.
5. Fear? What Fear?
Startup CEOs have more than their fair share of job worries (like not running the whole company into the ground), but Kadakia has learned to break bigger problems down into manageable steps. “I never get scared, and that’s because I take that moment of fear and turn it into action—what do I have to go do, or who do I need to call? Every challenge has an opportunity in it.”