5 Must-Know Lessons with the Co-founder of ClassPass

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Real talk for entrepreneurs.

Payal Kadakia is a professional dancer and the co-founder of ClassPass, the US$47 million fitness membership program that allows you to book workout classes across a spectrum of venues for a discounted rate. Here’s what she’s learnt in the five colourful years since launching her hit startup.

1. Be honest with yourself

“It’s really important from a financial perspective to feel like you can do this. I remember I gave myself two to three years of being like, ‘I can make nothing and feel okay, I’m going to live on this budget.’ I made sure I had that conversation with myself. I think it’s important for people to know that.”

2. Your job is to get the idea out there

“You have to always believe in yourself. Most people will tell you your idea sucks. For all entrepreneurs out there, you will always face adversity, in every aspect, and a lot of people will be like, ‘I don’t get it.’ I think, as a founder, you have to be like, ‘I will always push through and get my idea out there’ because that’s your job.”

3. Leave a personal impression on investors

“Early on, before I got into Techstars and people knew they should invest, I didn’t have a product. And then I came back with a product, but it wasn’t getting revenue. And then I came back with a product that was better and it had revenue. They kind of got to know me in the process and were like, ‘This girl is never going to stop.’ Any questions someone might have on your hustle or determination, those are gone out the door… It is your job to leave an impression on them; your deck shouldn’t leave an impression on them, you should leave an impression on them.”

ClassPass co-founder Payal Kadakia

Payal Kadakia

4. Deal with copy cats

“The first few times I ignored it – I think it’s really important to focus on yourself, your company. No-one wins looking. Once it started becoming everyday talk in the office, every day I would come into work and there would be email from an investor of ‘Here’s a new one’ or ‘Here’s what this person is doing.’ At that point, we were like, ‘Okay this is ours.’ I remember one day I looked at someone else’s website and it was an exact copy – and now it looked the same,” says Payal. “So we went to war… We went out there, raised capital, and we got really aggressive and launched in all the markets we needed to. Now, we don’t really worry about it any more, but there was a phase in our first year where there were a lot of copycats.”

5. Create culture through brand pillars

“Very early on, I built pillars in Sa [Dance Company, of which Payal is founder and artistic director]. I did the same thing when I started ClassPass. In Sa, my three pillars are expression, technique and respect. In the beginning, I would get dancers who were exceptionally talented with technique, but they didn’t know how to share themselves or they didn’t respect the mission or the vision or each other. You’re like, ‘Well, it’s okay. They have two not three’. And every time, I’m like, ‘Ugh, that doesn’t work, they need to check all the boxes.’ You start realising you need to set pillars like that. You can interview for [these pillars], but it’s just knowing who you want to work with and who you want to build. And so [it was the] same thing with ClassPass when we first started our first three – we’ve added two now – but they were growth, efficiency and positivity. We’ve now added passion and empowerment. Those are the people and the energy you want to walk in the door with. Culture was a lesson.”

Look out for the upcoming issue of Collective Hub for more on ClassPass and Payal Kadakia

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