How SoulCycle Scaled Sustainably

20170124 01 Co-founders Julie and Elizabeth

SoulCycle since 2006

  • Take a risk and jump, try something new and follow your dreams.
  • You Find You
  • Aspire to inspire
  • Inhale intention, exhale expectation
  • SoulCycle is a fitness, exercise, joyful community.
  • It's therapy, it's escape and it's fun.
  • People change their lives their bodies and their attitudes
  • Lose yourself in the rhythm so you work way harder than you ever would on your own. The Rhythm pushes us ¬†harder than we ever thought possible and our strength surprises us every time.
  • Raise the roof at your own cardio party.
  • Addicted, obsessed, high on sweat.
  • We reshape our bodies one ride at the time.
  • We are a movement, a motivator, a community connection, a tribe, inspiring and transforming lives.
  • Find your rhythm, your strength, your community, find yourself, your freedom, find your soul.

Melanie Whelan 1

Melanie Whelan (CEO, SoulCycle)

What Was The Intention For The Business?

Tony: What was the intention for creating SoulCycle?

Melanie: When you walk into the studio we want you to experience this as family, an environment of hospitality. We want to get to know the riders, what is going on in their life, what they want to accomplish and make a genuine connection. We also want to know what is going on when they come out of the class.

The staff are our customers as well because riding is a huge part of the culture. We encourage everyone to give feedback on taking a new class, trying a different instructor. We have a transparent dialogue around what's working and what doesn't work so we can all get to the collective right answer.

That creates a connected atmosphere internally where everyone naturally wants to connect with customers as well to build relationships.

Some companies are technology driven using competition to motivate people to work out and that's great for some people. We motivate in a different way, believing the collective good is more important than individual success and the collective will drive you harder individually.

When you enter the candle lit Studio you are disconnected from technology for 45 minutes. You push yourself harder than you ever thought possible because you have 55 other people working together.

Co-founders Julie and Elizabeth moved to New York where fitness is a part of lifestyle be it spinning, hiking or yoga. They couldn't find anything where they could connect with their friends and have a community fitness experience so they created one.

It gave people a space that was social, joyful and a way to connect at a time when we are connected more than ever by cell phones but disconnected physically.

20170124 04 Group cyclists

How Do You Recreate The Experience?

Tony: To create a family culture it's important to establish rules that govern the customer interaction. How do you manage to create the same experience in multiple locations?

Melanie: You need to get really clear on what you stand for. SoulCycle has an overarching philosophy of "yes" with 10 core values where team members are empowered so when they say yes to a customer they can make it happen.

When you get really clear on what your culture is and what you stand for you can take one more step and ask how do I hire for that, what attitude and aptitude do we need not experience. Look for the twinkle in someone's eye that says they really want to be the best part of someone's day, someone that's solution oriented.

The wheel is an online training repository with over 100 proprietary programs like how to market or how to run a class. Whenever there is uncertainty create an SOP and make the training, adding one module at a time.

The key to scaling successfully is freedom within a framework. The instructors bring a lot of creativity to their classroom and allow them to stay connected with the customers.

20170124 02 Hire The Right People

How Do You Hire The Right People?

Tony: How do you hire the right person that will continue your culture?

Melanie: We run behavioral interviews asking a lot of questions that have nothing to do with SoulCycle.

Tony: So, tell me about the worst day you had at work and the best day you had at work?

Melanie: Pay attention to how they answer the question, do they lead with a positive or negative.  How do they close it out and do they frame it as an opportunity, as a learning experience or something they are completely dejected about.

Someone might look at SoulCycle and be really excited about working there but it takes a lot of hard work and we want to know, are they the kind of person that will run into the fire or run away from it.


Tony: How did the transaction come about where Equinox bought the company making the founders $90 million each?

Melanie: I met the founders in 2008 while working at Equinox then we formed a partnership in 2010. SoulCycle is independently run while Julie and Elizabeth remain majority owners as the company continues to scale.


What Identity Do People Come Away With?

Tony: What is the metaphor, I see tribe, warrior, legend, rockstar so aspiration is huge. What identity do people get from being a part of SoulCycle?

Melanie: We are in the business of personal transformation, the bike is the vessel to make the change.

People come for the fitness but they stay for the breakthrough they have. We create a technology free environment where you sit on a bike for 45 minutes with someone in front of you pushing you harder and inspiring you with messages like you can do better today than you did yesterday or you can push through this hill and the change comes through the transition.

All of those coaching moments can then be applied to your life when you walk out the door. We use the bike to create the change to give you the power to view yourself In a different way when you leave the studio.

That creates an addictive connected experience. You come out into the lobby together with 55 other people who have gone through a collective physical, emotional and musical experience. You hear thumping music where everyone is excited then come out and celebrate that moment. You're coming back the next day because where are you going to get an experience like that.


Why Don't You Have More Competition?

Tony: Why don't more people copy what you do when you are this successful ?

Melanie: The difference comes down to our people and the way we invest in our teams. We hire the greatest people and I think we retain more than 90% because we invest in them, we train them and give them the skills to be successful not just in their current role but where they want to be as the company grows.

As a high growth company we are always pushing people into jobs before they're ready. It's so inspiring when you're mission-driven and giving people opportunity for growth.

20170124 05 SoulCycle

What Has Been Your Biggest Challenges?

Tony: What have been one or two of the biggest challenges you faced and how did you turn them around?

Melanie: Our weekly reservations are made at noon Monday when 30% are booked in the first 15 minutes so it's a frantic time when the servers are pounded. In 2013 we rebuilt our website and made the switch, the whole thing crashed.

Everybody in the company knew this was a priority so they all helped out to make it happen. It was really cool to see the whole company come together making sure 10,000 customers got the service they wanted.

There were long nights but what we learned was it's important to be clear on your intention and transparent with your goal because then when things don't go right everyone piles on to help because they are aligned with the vision of where you're going.

What Is Your Proudest Accomplishment?

Tony: What are you most proud of that you've accomplished so far ?

Melanie: We never dreamed the business would be this big.

When we started the partnership we thought we could have 25 studios by 2015 in New York, Los Angeles and maybe San Francisco. Today we are in 14 markets with 70 Studios, 2000 people, seeing over 4 million people per year and the change we're seeing in their lives is so rewarding.

Melanie Whelan

"Some days you just want to
come in and get your butt kicked..."

Why Do Customers Keep Coming Back?

Audience: How do you sustain that high emotional energy?

Melanie: When the company started after the first studio was built the founders had $2,000 left. Instead of taking out an ad they decided to produce a lot of t-shirts with the wheel and the brand.

They thought if people bought and wore the T-shirt that would be the best marketing for the business. That has become an apparel business in its own right. Once you have this experience and come through the gift shop high on endorphin's you take a piece of the brand with you.

As you go about your daily life wearing this t-shirt as a constant reminder of the feeling you got in the room.

There's no doubt that some days you come in and just want to work out and get your butt kicked and go, it's not about an emotional connection or spirituality it's just a great workout. Perhaps you're not feeling connected to yourself or anyone else on that day.

There is a magic that happens when you put your cell phone away and have no other distractions except this challenge with yourself and a connection to this community. It is this rare experience that sustains the connection.

There are a lot of other ways that we try to sustain the connection, like the service team and the apparel, in between the workout classes.

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