Payal Kadakia is a hustler who hardly needs an introduction. The co-founder of ClassPass, the subscription-based fitness platform, launched the service in 2013 to cater to fitness lovers on the go. To date, the company has raised a total of $173 million from outside investors and boasts a valuation of $470 million. And while Kadakia now serves as the executive chairman of the company, her DNA is the foundation of ClassPass. This is evident in her mission-based philosophy the fuels the brand: It’s not about an individual product, it’s about connecting people with activities and pastimes that they’re passionate about. She also knows you can’t be casual about building your dream business—you need to be all in. ClassPass couldn’t have grown into a multi-million dollar business without Kadakia making it her number-one priority.
Kadakia not just an idea woman—she executes on her ideas. It’s what separates her from the pack and has earned her serious recognition and accolades, including spots on Forbes’ Women Entrepreneurs to Watch list and Fortune’s 40 under 40. Spoiler alert: Reading this interview will make you want to stop what you’re doing and start drafting your dream business plan.
What was your “aha moment” when founding ClassPass?
After I graduated from college, I found it challenging to nourish my love of dance while working in traditional jobs. By most standards, these were great jobs, but they weren’t great for me because they prevented me from pursuing my passion for dance. In 2010, I visited San Francisco and met incredible entrepreneurs. My first “aha moment” was meeting them and realizing that I, too, could build a company.
My second “aha moment” came 36 hours later. I was searching for a ballet class to take after school and found the online search process to be cumbersome and miserable. Since I was in the mindset to look at challenges as startup opportunities, I was able to quickly realize that this frustration was a business idea: to create a company that makes it easy for people to try new classes and pursue their passions.
When you get a new idea, what’s the first thing you do with it?
Think about it all day long and dream of its impact.
You went through a rebrand in the early stages of starting your business and switched up the business model. Were you confident this was the right decision? How did you navigate any doubts you had?
I was always confident because I was mission-focused, not product-focused. I knew there had to be a way to fulfill our mission of reconnecting people with their passions, so I was willing to keep iterating on our product and business model until we found the right approach. To this day, iteration and a constant quest for even more ways to accomplish our mission remain core to our company’s DNA.
How has fitness and staying active made an impact on your life?
In more ways than I can possibly calculate -- fitness has made me who I am, and it quite literally paved the path for me to found ClassPass! The same way you need to challenge your mind, you have to challenge your body to continue to let yourself know you can achieve anything you put your mind to.
Who was the first person you hired for your business, and how much of a difference did it make?
Soon after I got the idea for ClassPass, I bought a URL, bounced the idea off of friends, secured an angel investment, and was joined by my childhood friend Sanjiv Sanghavi. These early decisions were crucial, especially the decisions that led me to exactly the right angel investor (my mentor Anjula Acharia) and the right co-founder. Early on when your business is little more than an idea, it’s crucial to be joined on that journey with people you trust, with whom you can work well under pressure, and who share your vision.
What are the common challenges you've seen among female business owners and entrepreneurs?
I’d love to see more successful female role models. If more women see other successful women accomplishing their dreams, they’ll dare to aspire to reach their dreams as well.
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road + switch gears to find success?
I don’t fit well in a box, and I’ve often found that I need to question professional norms, such as titles and other artificial notions of prestige, in order to determine what’s best for me. When I reach a hurdle I’m not sure how to cross, I enlist the advice of my trusted mentors, but ultimately I also trust my instincts.
What’s the best piece of #realtalk advice you’ve ever received?
Early on, when I was just getting started, my mentor and angel investor Anjula Acharia told me that if I wanted to make ClassPass work, I had to quit my job. Building your dream can’t be a part-time endeavor; you have to pursue it with everything you’ve got.
What are two qualities you think every entrepreneur needs in order to be successful?
A purpose and a lot of persistence!
Who inspired you the most in your life growing up?
My mother! She approaches every challenge as an opportunity for growth. She’s strong and smart. She raised me to believe that women should reach for their dreams and that hard work pays off.
Whose career is inspiring you today?
My fellow female entrepreneurs, including Jessica Alba, Jenn Hyman, and Katrina Lake, among others. I hope this list just keeps getting longer and longer!
What are you most excited for in 2019?
ClassPass’ international expansion and continuing to perform!
Photography by Annie McElwain Photography
Photoshoot skincare provided by Dermalogica