The following story appeared in the 2017 fall edition of SVCF Magazine.
A successful startup's next step
ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia is on a quest to do good
The story of Payal Kadakia and her company, ClassPass, is proof that success doesn’t happen overnight. It was 2010 when Kadakia, who’d been dancing since childhood, became frustrated with how much time she spent searching online to find a dance class to take after work. Her idea was clear: a one-stop shop for fitness class information across all local studios, with the ability to reserve a spot online. But the implementation of that idea was daunting. It took Kadakia, who holds a business degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, three years and two failed startups before she was able to launch the workable web platform now known (and loved) as ClassPass.
Since its beta release in 2013, ClassPass has exploded: Users have made more than 40 million reservations across 8,500 partner gyms and studios. A member service at its core, ClassPass charges users a monthly fee that varies by location and the number of classes desired. Members also enjoy the ability to stream classes over a smartphone or computer, and access to free events like group runs and community yoga sessions. ClassPass is currently available in 30 major U.S. cities from San Francisco to Boston, and nine international locations including Toronto, London and Sydney — and it’s growing. Last year, Forbes included Kadakia among eight women entrepreneurs on the rise, and Fortune named her to its 40 Under 40 list.
Now that her company is finally on the track to profitability, Kadakia, 34, isn’t taking a break. In fact, she’s shaking things up. In March, Kadakia announced that she would be stepping down as chief executive of ClassPass and assuming the role of executive chairman. “I wanted to make sure I was spending my time innovating and creating and taking ClassPass to the next level,” she says, “and I needed to free up time — and my mind — to be able to do that.”
On a path to positive change
Among the initiatives Kadakia is most excited about in her new position is creating a social good program at ClassPass. She first entertained the notion after the 2016 presidential election. “I don’t mean to make this sound like a political thing,” says Kadakia, an Indian-American who grew up in New Jersey, “but in the aftermath of the election, there was a strong sense of wanting to create positive change, of being part of something larger.”
Kadakia initially thought that ClassPass would start a foundation. Then one of her advisers put her in touch with Silicon Valley Community Foundation. “I had this great conversation with Maeve [Miccio, SVCF’s vice president of strategic partnerships, Eastern region]. She told me about case studies of other companies, and the various components of a social good program, and I realized this is so much bigger than just giving money. It’s about creating a culture around social good within your company.”
ClassPass decided to partner with SVCF to ignite that culture. The first step was to engage the employees. “My vision for the social good program is the exact same as theClassPass mission statement: Every life fully lived,” Kadakia says. “But I wanted the ideas for the program to come organically from the company, not top-down.”
More than half of ClassPass’s 210 employees opted to participate in the process. Much of the effort was geared toward identifying the company’s strengths to determine how it could best leverage its skills and capabilities in the giving realm.
Out of more than 50 ideas for actionable giving that came out of the working sessions, ClassPass narrowed it down to 15, and at press time, was whittling that down to the top three. Kadakia says the ideas were rich, like creating a central online marketplace for the charity rides and other nonprofit events that so many of ClassPass’ gyms and studios put on. She hopes to roll out ClassPass’ first social good initiative by the end of the year. Kadakia recognizes that there may have been faster ways to enact giving at ClassPass, but she realized long ago that the kind of success she relishes doesn’t happen overnight.
— Jayme Moye