When Payal Kadakia launched ClassPass in 2013, she had no idea her fitness startup would be valued at over $1 billion just a few years later.
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. She did just that, and along the way became a massive source of inspiration for entrepreneurs everywhere.
Payal used her passion to help people feel connected — to their bodies, communities and, for many female entrepreneurs, a sense of incredible possibility.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we dove deep into the internet and harvested a handful of lessons from some of our favorite interviews with Payal. Keep reading to hear how this unicorn female founder deals with failure, focus and everything in between…
On facing failure…
Payal told Forbes that one key to survival as a new start-up was focusing on expanding and establishing itself as a market leader instead of perfecting the product. That meant that the initial version of ClassPass — then named Classtivity — wasn’t quite what she hoped it would be.
“Something was off, but it turned out to be a beautiful thing,” said Payal. “People kept asking me ‘Did you fail?’ I’d say no because I learned how much people love variety.”
This perspective ultimately led her to adopt a game-changing subscription model and to rebrand her initial idea as ClassPass in 2014.
On the fundraising process…
In another interview with Forbes, Payal discussed the reality of early-stage fundraising as an entrepreneur. In response to the question of “how did the fundraising process change with each funding round for ClassPass?” Payal shared the following:
“In the earliest days, people are really investing in you as a human being—what your connection is to your product and what your vision is. As you raise more rounds, you realize that your business has to be in good shape. Over time, it becomes a combination of you plus your business. There is more emphasis on the business and the performance of it during later rounds and you need to be prepared to be able to talk about that.”
On the building business relationships…
“When I was early-stage, I didn’t have anything to offer mentors,” the ClassPass founder shared in this interview. “I asked five different people to introduce me to this one man because he’d basically built my business in another sector and I needed to talk to him. I remember when I finally got to meet him he said, “Look, I want to see your progress before I’m willing to invest in this.”
Over time, Payal kept him in the loop, reaching out with questions here and there. “I didn’t bombard him—I think it’s important to realize that these people are really busy.” About six months later, he finally messaged her saying that he was proud of her progress and he wanted to be involved. He became one of her most influential mentors.
“With relationships in general, it sometimes doesn’t happen for you initially, but I think you have to cultivate it and offer information, said Payal. “Get them excited! At the end of the day, it’s like recruiting a team. They need to feel passionate about what you’re trying to do.”
On staying focused…
Every entrepreneur has her secrets for setting goals and sticking to them. ClassPass founder, Payal, is no different. In this interview she shares her best advice for early-stage startups, including insight into her personal goal-setting process:
“I have a very intense goal-setting process that I do every year and I set goals for myself every three months. You can pick a few areas to focus on, but you can’t have it all at once.”
In a separate interview, Payal dished on her top productivity tip. “I live by my calendar. I put everything in it — not just meetings, but thinking time and brainstorming time, even when the only person I’m brainstorming with is myself. It is unified across all elements of my life: personal, professional and everything in between.”
On embracing social media…
Is social media still important to billion-dollar company founders? You bet. The ClassPass founder uses her platform to stay connected to her mission and her audience.
“My Instagram channel is helping to promote ClassPass, but it’s also about inspiring people and sharing positivity with the world,” shared Payal. “It’s another way to get my voice out there. I post when it feels right and genuine. It’s all about authenticity. I don’t think you should post just because you feel like you have to, and I definitely don’t do that.”
On the value of passion…
ClassPass was born from Payal’s personal passion for fitness — and her struggle to find group classes she loved. Without her deep and authentic connection to the mission behind the app, she would’ve burnt out before it ever took off.
“I think it’s important for founders to be very tied to their mission,” she said to CNBC. “Start a product at a company that you’re willing to work on for decades. Solving problems takes time, and it’s going to be a hard journey and there are ups and downs. If the passion is not there, you’re just never going to get over those humps, because you’ll never have the fuel to get through it.”
On preventing burnout…
In an interview with Entrepreneur, the ClassPass founder recommends preventing burnout in three ways. “Be passionate about what you do. This makes the long hours worthwhile. It doesn’t feel as much like work when you love it. Be intentional in your actions. Prioritize ruthlessly, eliminate the obligations, and focus only on what truly matters. And surround yourself with an amazing team.”