Bench makes life easier for entrepreneurs by doing their books for them. In this series, influential people talk about what it’s really like building a business.
The following is Payal Kadakia’s story as told to Amanda Smith, exclusively for Bench.
I started ClassPass eight years ago. It all began with a fateful failed internet search. I was trying to find an after-work ballet class and was incredibly frustrated by how painful it was to comb through countless websites in order to locate the information I needed. I spent literally hours trying to find information for a dance class!
Realizing how fragmented the online information sharing process was, I decided to build a product to solve this problem. It’s hard enough to get people motivated to exercise; if you add in all of these layers of pain and friction, few will ever make it to a studio or gym. I wanted to remove the barriers that prevented people from connecting with their passions and staying active. I wanted it to be as easy as possible to exercise.
In the early days of ClassPass, we had a small team and unstructured days—each day was really devoted to solving one problem after another, the most important of which was achieving product/market fit. We needed to create the right product to achieve our mission of getting people to class.
I hated feeling like a victim. I eventually shed that feeling by getting myself stronger through weight training. Lifting weights made me feel strong and powerful.
One of our early products was called Passport. It allowed people to try a one-month membership at studios for $49. Unfortunately, only 10-15% of purchasers returned to the studios after their trial ended. If people weren’t regularly going to class, we didn’t have a great product or a great business. Our third product iteration was our subscription model, and that’s what ClassPass is today. Through a monthly subscription to ClassPass, members can visit any studio in our network of more than 10,000 partners, and try classes ranging from yoga and swimming to barre and cycling, all for a set monthly fee.
Finding product/market fit was hard. But in those early days something terrifying happened to me personally: I was maced and mugged at a coffee shop. It was so scary, and I hated feeling like a victim. I eventually shed that feeling by getting myself stronger through weight training. Lifting weights made me feel strong and powerful. The recovery experience reinforced for me how devoted I was (and still am) to our company’s mission of connecting people with soul nurturing experiences—whatever that may be for them.
Once we landed on our subscription model and achieved product/market fit, our company grew quickly. We hired a ton and expanded rapidly into new cities. I remember one month when we doubled from 30 to 60 employees (today we have close to 400!). Any time you grow that quickly, you’re going to have some obstacles along the way. You not only have to hire amazing people, but also empower them to take on greater challenges than they ever thought possible, support them when some of those initiatives don’t work out as planned, and then work with them to fix and constantly learn from mistakes. The values of empowerment and constant iteration remain core tenants of our company culture to this day.
When I reflect back on what made ClassPass possible, I always return to my passion for dance. That passion not only led to the company’s creation—it has also contributed immeasurably to the company’s success by fueling my creative energy. I believe that we can only be creative when our minds and bodies are connected. Movement helps clear my mind and address challenges with a new, fresh perspective. Some of my greatest professional breakthroughs have come to me while choreographing or dancing. For me, expressing my creativity through art unleashes my creativity in business.
As long as I’m dancing, I’m remembering my “why.” Since my mission stemmed from my passion for dance, dancing helps keep me connected to it. Through ClassPass, we strive to help all of our members find their own “why”—and make it as easy as possible to stick with it.
As told to Amanda Smith for Bench. Illustrations by John Larigakis.