How I Built This: SoulCycle

  • [Elizabeth] After our 2nd child was born I started to have this strong entrepreneurial urge: The problem I had was how difficult it was to lose weight after having kids. I tried going to every gym. I couldn’t find my class. It wasn’t inspiring. It was super boring. Bright lights. Bad smells.

  • [Julie] I never thought about starting a business: In LA there was some boutique fitness companies starting. I couldn’t find anything like that in New York. I didn’t have a need to start a business. But I did have the need for a very particular product.

  • [Julie] The idea that something was missing wouldn’t go away: Exercise was a daily ritual of mine. I’d try something new. Leave unfulfilled and go back to thinking about my idea.

  • [Elizabeth] Friends told me that indoor spinning classes were over: It is too late. You’ll never make anything happen with this. I wasn’t deterred. This was a calling. This was definitely going to happen.

  • A key to SoulCycle: Exercise didn’t have to be torture. It could be joyful. Our instructors are more spiritual gurus than drill sergeants.

  • They moved fast: We met in January and opened our first studio in April. We committed 5 years and $250,000. The worst thing that could happen was we’d lose the money. At the end of 5 years we’d look at each other and say we tried but it didn’t work out. But as least we tried.

  • Our business plan was simple. It fit on a napkin: If we could have 100 riders a day we’d make enough money to cover costs and have a little left over.

  • Initial customer acquisition: We made post cards and went door to door around the Upper West Side. We asked businesses if we could leave them at the register. Then we made shirts with the name and logo and tried to get 250 “coolest” people to wear them. That didn’t work. We bought a rickshaw on eBay, painted it yellow, and put a sign on it with an arrow pointing towards the front door.

  • The impact of developing your own clothing/merch: People were paying money to advertise SoulCycle. The merchandise at SoulCycle is like buying a shirt from the best vacation that you’ve just been on.

  • Opening a pop-up SoulCycle in the Hamptons was a game-changer: The adults needed something to do besides drink. It was profitable from day one. It took us from being a neighborhood business to being a city-wide phenomenon. 

  • We sold a part to the equinox in 2011. There was tension and Equinox bought the rest in 2016: When we left, we left a piece of our heart there. We went through a period of mourning. Now we are just customers.

  • How would you describe SoulCycle: A secular sanctuary.

  • Full podcast here.