ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia on how dancing led her to create a multi-million dollar company

January 8, 2019, 10:52 AM

Accepting failure was never an option for ClassPass founder and executive chairman Payal Kadakia. After being unable to easily find a dance class in New York City, Payal set out to create a platform that would make finding and booking fitness classes easier than ever before. But becoming an entrepreneur proved to be more difficult than expected, leaving Kadakia relying on her passion for dance to push her company through to success.

“I fought for a way to keep dance in my life and with ClassPass I believe I'm fighting for everyone else to keep their passion in their life,” Kadakia told ABC News’ Chief Business, Technology and Economics correspondent, Rebecca Jarvis on an episode of the “No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis” podcast.

When she was just 3-years-old, Kadakia began learning Indian folk dance in her basement from her mother’s best friend, and said she spent most every weekend at dance competitions in Canada and Boston, learning more about her culture.

“I loved being able to share who I was through movement and I think movement then sort of started defining my life,” Kadakia says.

Kadakia graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), dancing along the way, and went to work for Bain & Company as a consultant alongside Hayley Barna, co-founder of Birchbox, Sam Lessin, former VP of product management at Facebook, and Jeff Raider, co-founder of Warby Parker and Harry’s.

“All of us have been on these journeys now for five to seven years and it's amazing that we have each other to talk to," Kadakia explains of her time in corporate America. "That type of network is something I wouldn’t have received if I had never worked at Bain.”

After leaving Bain and spending a couple of years at Warner Music Group, Kadakia decided it was time to make a switch.

“I would go to work every day and I was this analyst, building models for what we should do with our digital licensing, and then at night I would go be this artist dancer and perform at places like Lincoln Center," Kadakia said. "I think I just started feeling like I'm not going to succeed at either."

From there came the idea for ClassPass while Kadakia was online searching for a ballet class to take in Manhattan. It began as a search engine, aggregating every class in the city from cooking to photography to fitness, onto one platform.

“We got into TechStars here in New York City and we launched it and it's like crickets," she said. No one's booking and people are coming to the site and just browsing and then they would leave.”

After a re-evaluation of the service and discussion with various studio owners, Kadakia decided to pivot to a passport package, where users could try out ten different places for 30 days in the hopes that they would join one when the trial ended.

“Only 15 percent of people were actually committing to a studio, and the internal bar I had was around 75 percent, and I say that because without that, I'm actually not doing a good job to being a partner to any of these studios,” Kadakia said of her second unsuccessful attempt.

Perseverance was key to the founding of ClassPass, she said. Kadakia remodeled the business to be a subscription service, which is how ClassPass functions today, as a smashing success.

“I always think back to you know when I was fighting to get someone to go to class, and it took me two years to get someone to go to class, and then I was like wow people are going to too many classes," she said. "It was solving two different problems right?”

While ClassPass has gone on to partner with over 15,000 studios in over 80 cities worldwide, Kadakia vowed to not let the numbers go to her head.

“We're still small in the scheme of the impact we want to have on the world," she said. "We're small. And I think you have to always keep that mentality.”

Hear more from Payal Kadakia on episode #118 of the “No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis” podcast.